One of the best ways to help you stay on budget during your vacation is to use the Disney Dining Plan. By making a selection when booking your vacation, you can add the Dining Plan to your vacation package. These plans are only offered to guests staying on site in one of the Walt Disney World Resorts.
Before You Decide
Know the lingo.
Quick Service meals – these are also known as Counter Service meals and can most easily be described as a location where you walk up to place your order and take the food to your seat. Compare them to a fast food type location in the real world.
Table Service meals – restaurants that require an Advanced Dining Reservation can be classified as Table Service. Here a hostess will seat you and a server will take your orders and bring your food or direct you to the buffet. These locations can be compared to a local sit down place like Outback outside the parks.
Snacks – tasty treats found all over Disney property! Some classic examples are Dole Whips and Mickey Ice Cream Bars. Compare this to the pretzels or chips you’d grab out of your pantry.
Advanced Dining Reservation – similar to a reservation you’d make at a local place. Before your trip, you can make Advanced Dining Reservations either online or by phone for your preferred location and meal time. These reservations can also be made in the parks at Guest Services if there’s availability.
How often will you eat in the parks?
Consider how often you’ll be eating in the parks. By doing a little bit of legwork, you can get an idea of what each meal will cost your group. Snacks average about $3 each, Quick Service meals average about $15 each and Table Service meals average around $30+ each depending on the location, if it’s a character meal or several other options.
How will you spend your days?
Will you spend time before you trip planning which parks you’ll be visiting and make Advanced Dining Reservations or do you plan on winging it while you’re in the parks? While both methods will work with the Dining Plan, you might be more successful making reservations to dine in places you’ll most enjoy.
Know your options.
Disney Dining Plans are offered several different ways. If your family wants to enjoy Quick Service meals, you can buy a plan that offers credits for just Quick Service meals during your stay. For families that want to enjoy a mix of Table Service and Quick Service meals, there’s a plan for you as well. Both plans include snack options in addition to the meal options available in the plan.
How long will you be staying?
Longer stays usually mean more eating inside the parks, especially if you’re staying on site. You can bring your own drinks and food into the parks which will help with the overall cost of your trip but preparing full meals in your resort room can be tricky.
How many credits do I get?
For each night you stay on site in your Disney Resort, you’ll get one set of Disney Dining Plan credits. Based on the plan you choose, Table Service, Quick Service and snack credits will be loaded to your Magic Band for each person in your group.
By taking all these things into consideration, you’ll have an idea of what you’ll be spending on meals if you eat inside the parks during your vacation. Now, compare that information to the cost and inclusions of the Disney Dining Plan options and see if it will be a better fit for your family.
Why choose the Dining Plan?
Comparing the cost of meals you’d like to enjoy while on vacation to the cost of the applicable Dining Plan may help you be able to enjoy the meals on your list (or maybe even more!).
Many Disney planners will tell you that you should never leave Disney with credits remaining on your Dining Plan. I certainly fall into this category. If you come down to the end of your stay and you’ve got meal credits left, considering paying it forward at the food court or in a Quick Service line and purchasing another family’s meals with your remaining credits. Snacks don’t just need to be enjoyed in the parks. Bagged items from Goofy’s Candy Company can be found in many locations on site and qualify for purchase with a snack credit. Grab a few bags to use those credits and keep the Disney magic alive when you get home.
Most bang for your buck.
Occasionally you’ll see that it’s suggested that you get the most bang for your bucks spent on the Disney Dining Plan. By reviewing the menus and costs for different restaurants, you can make Advanced Dining Reservations based on the cost of the meal as opposed to where you’d like to eat. I personally think you should choose meals that you enjoy and order whatever you’d like from the menu while you’re there.
Read the fine print.
Some dining locations will count as two credits on your Dining Plan instead of just one. This should be disclosed to you either on the phone or online when you’re making your Advanced Dining Reservations. Again, you should eat where you will enjoy the food but be sure to calculate the cost of these restaurants at the higher cost of two credits when budgeting. Many guests will pay out of pocket for two credit meals and use their Dining Plan credits for other places during their stay.
How long does it last?
Your Dining Plan goes into effect when you check into your resort and remains in effect until midnight the last day of your resort stay. Your credits are all preloaded onto your Magic Band so you don’t have to wait for any additional credits. If you wanted to eat two Table Service meals in one day and skip another day during your vacation you could certainly do that. Despite checking out of your resort at 11:00, you’ll still be able to use remaining credits for the rest of the day so you can still eat and snack before heading back home.
Keeping track of credits.
Longer stays mean lots of credits available. Because credits are on each of your party’s Magic Bands, anyone can use any of the credits available on the plan. You won’t all need to dine together to use credits so if one of the kids wants to grab a Mickey bar, they can simply tap their Magic Band at the cart and pay for that snack. At the bottom of the receipt a total number of remaining credits will be shown.
The Disney Dining Plan can help you not only budget for your vacation but make it attainable for your family to eat at more locations during your Disney vacation.
Have your tried the Dining Plan?