by: guide4wdw – Collin

Disney World Dining Tips For 2018  

No matter how many times you’ve been to Walt Disney World or even if it’s your very first time touring the parks, Disney dining is ever changing and continually growing. So, taking that into consideration we’ve come up with a few tips regarding Disney dining that you may have overlooked. 

To be quite honest with you, dining has been a huge part of our Disney vacation planning for years. When we were quite young, our family made a special effort to book character meals, table service dining, and buffets throughout our time in the parks. For years, as a kid, I loved these little experiences, and while I wasn’t the one paying for it at that time, it was worth it to us to have those special meals that set Disney apart from all other vacation destinations. 

We spent vacation after vacation touring the same locations time and time again, and many of them became a portion of Our Top 5 “Must-Do” Walt Disney World Table Service Dining Locations, but in recent years we started to branch out and try a few new things. The change resulted in a greater appreciation for different cultures (found at Epcot and Animal Kingdom), but also diversified our Disney vacation. Today, we mix buffets with resort meals and typical table service offerings, but also make a special point to seek out the best of the best counter service locations, but we’ll touch on that a bit more later on. 

Tomorrowland WDW

In the end, dining plays a huge role in how you plan your Disney vacation, and while we have yet to try every dining location on property, we’ve been through a vast majority and have come up with a few tips of our own. I know there are dozens of Disney dining tips across the web, but hopefully our list is a little more creative that most. If you like something on the list, do me a huge favor and share it with friends! Thanks!     

Plan Out Your Days

This one seems fairly straight forward for most guests, but it’s something some first time and returning guests run into time and time again. Between planning fastpasses and park days, it’s easy to get things to the point where they start overlapping. However, a good way to overcome that challenge is to use the My Disney Experience day by day viewing option on the “My Plans” page to check your days and assure nothing overlaps. Additionally, a good way to visualize your plans is to write everything out. As you make changes and alter reservations it tends to be easier to visualize their impact on your overall schedule.

Knowing what you’re doing and when you’re doing it can make a huge difference in the quality of your vacation for first time guests. You tend to waste less time, enjoy meals to a greater extent, and more easily leave the stresses of the world behind to simply enjoy all that unfolds during a Walt Disney World vacation. 

All things considered, I list this tip here with a certain level of caution. Personally, I do not recommend planning every little detail of a Disney trip. Most people tend to get frustrated when they plan everything out down to each attraction being ridden at certain times or certain shows they want to see in each park at specific times. Some guests do this and it works for them, but for a vast majority of us, it’s not practical and will cause more unnecessary stress that it will create solutions. Set your meals, grab your fastpasses, and choose your must-do attractions and let the rest unfold around you as you enjoy your time in the parks.   

Magic Kingdom Entrance

Schedule A Few Table Service Meals

Unfortunately, this tends to be the most commonly overlooked aspect of Walt Disney World. Many guests expect the theme parks to be just like all other theme parks when it comes to food, but that really isn’t the case if you “do Disney dining” affectively. I my opinion, if you’re eating fast food cheeseburgers and chicken nuggets at every meal, you’re missing out on a  multitude of dining offerings Disney brings to the table (quite literally). I understand, many guests are limited by what their kids will eat, but most Disney dining, and even many of the more adventurous offerings, will offer a special menu for kids that will feature at least a few typical kids menu items. 

The best way to take a step towards a more in depth Disney culinary experience is to try a few table service meals. I know a table service meal, due to their price point, every day may not fit everyones budget, but if you can at least squeeze one in the experience it develops may surprise you. Also, if you’re selective about what you order at menu-based dining locations, they don’t have to be expensive at all. For example, we recently shared 5 Excellent Entrees Under $15 at Walt Disney World. At Disney, some counter service meals will cost you $15, so it’s something you may definitely want to look into. The table service offerings typically offer a unique theme that can not only create but also play a hand in developing cast member interactions and memories that will truly last a lifetime.
Additionally, on hot summer days, you’ll be amazed at how much an hour or so in the air conditioning with some excellent food can jumpstart the rest of your day and rehydrate you for an afternoon or night in the parks.  

Consider the Dining Plan

In a vast majority of cases, I would recommend the dining plan for first time and a majority of returning guests. In the grand scheme of things in the planning process, the dining plan just makes things that much easier. Of course, you have to plan your table service meal for each day of the trip, but that’s something you’ll likely do anyway unless you plan on eating strictly counter service (as some do). 

The dining plan in 2018 will not be cheap at $75.49 for adults and will feature 1 counter service meal, 1 table service meal including one specialty beverage or alcoholic beverage, 2 snack credits, and a resort refillable mug. However, it is a pretty good value for the money and typically breaks down to a near identical cost to what you would have payed out of pocket if you dined in the same places and bought the same snacks etc. Essentially, it’s more of a convenience factor that anything. 

Disney World Dining Tips

Personally, the dining plan tends to be a bit more expensive for our typical dining strategy, but for many the aforementioned convenience is well worth the additional costs. However, when I refer to additional costs, I say that in a bit of a round about way. Sure, the dining plan aligns near perfectly with the costs of the actual meals included in the plan, but most guests wont utilize that many meals when they are touring the parks and paying out of pocket. Especially with the new additions to this years plans, two snacks, a counter service meal, and a table service meal is typically more that enough to satisfy a guest for a day. 

At the end of the trip most will have a vast amount of leftover snacks, which we recommend you use in the folioing ways as described in 5 Quick and Easy Ways to Use Left Over Dining Plan Snack Credits – Plus a BONUS! 

Again, the value of the dining plan is largely going to depend on your vacation strategy and what you want to experience (or not experience) during your trip. 

Consider An Authorized Travel Planner

Using a travel planner is something that I never even considered for many years, until about a year ago we partnered up with our recommended vacation planner. For years, we booked our vacations from the ground up and to be quite honest it helped us develop a better understanding and appreciation for the planning process, but I missed out on a few things along the way. 

I recommend a authorized travel planner for a few reasons. First and foremost because an authorized planner is certified by Disney to know the parks and deliver that magical experience you have grown to expect from a Disney vacation. Second, because it can save you money in the long run. Disney releases new discounts and offers every few months and if you book far in advance (as many do) you’re likely to miss out on a special offer that may shrink your vacations overall costs. It doesn’t always happen, but if a new offer does arise a good vacation planner will contact you about the offer and attempt to save you money that you could have potentially overlooked. 
Disney World Dining Tips Pinterest

Additionally, having someone help you out can play in your favor in a vast way. If you have  a dining question, they can answer it. If you don’t want to do a part of the planning, they can do it for you. However, perhaps the selling factor on it for me (which isn’t really a selling factor because authorized vacation planners cost nothing extra to utilize) is that they allow you to do as little or as much of the planning as you want to do. When we booked our most recent trip (for next March) we booked with Destinations to Travel (quote request form below) and had a small issue with Disney’s reservation site showing a room that was available, but was not available on another browser on Disney’s site. Our designated agent went out of her way to call (right that moment) and managed to secure a rather elusive reservation for a 2 bedroom Boardwalk Villa. It wants entirely a make or break moment, but they did everything they could to go above and beyond and make that reservations work for us. We are affiliated with that particular travel group and do receive compensation for any sales made through the site, but I wouldn’t recommend them so highly if I hadn’t have had great experiences with them in the past.        

It may not be completely necessary for every vacation planning experience, but maybe something you want to consider either way, especially if you’re booking for a large group, corporate conference, or even a wedding party. The situations are endless and they’ve often seen and done planning for parties of all sizes.    

Don’t Bank on Walk Ups But They Do Happen

Everyone has been there at one point or another. You get to the park, and decide you want to find a Table Service meal for the night, but you forgot to make (or did not expect to need) a reservation. Some days, to be quite honest, you will just be out of luck. However, never be afraid to ask about walk up reservations at the parks. Sometimes guests cancel or something happens with the reservation system, and you can get into that coveted reservation you wanted more that anything else. We’ve managed to do this many times over the years and even as recently as July of this year on our last major vacation when crowds were a bit insane the week of July 4th, 2017. In our experience, the key to securing a walk-up is being willing to eat at somewhat unconventional times. 

The Tree of Life

If you’re trying to get a lunch reservation, head to the location of your choosing at around 10:50-11:30 for your best chances of getting in. You will likely have to wait, but typically they will not completely turn you away. In the worst case scenario, a cast member will tell you when your best chance to get in will be and a time to return to attempt a walk-up once again. If you’re flexible, typically you can find a way in. It’s not fool proof, but it will occasionally get the job done. 

Additionally, you may want to consider eating at lesser known dining locations in that type of a situation. Magic Kingdom is a great example. You may not be able to get in Cinderella’s Royal Table (even though I’ve heard of guests that that’s worked for), but you can nearly always get in Jungle Skipper Canteen over in Adventureland if you’re willing to wait. Personally, our go to walk-ups are Crystal Palace for lunch or The Plaza for dinner. 

Last but certainly not least, if you don’t want to risk it last minute, but can’t seem to find that reservation you’re looking for time after time, be sure to check out How to Secure Popular Reservations At Walt Disney World Nearly Every Time! If you can’t get a reservation with those tips, make a last ditch effort utilizing the tips we just mentioned. You may be shocked by what you can come up with at the last minute.  

Be Selective About Counter Service

As with any vacation destination, some dining offerings are better that others at Walt Disney World. The best way to decipher the dining “code” is by trying multiple counter service locations. Of course, not everyone has been to a vast variety of Disney dining offerings, but thatkfully we have a few tips for you in selecting some of the better options. 

First and foremost, as a general rule, any counter service location that offers a typical Disney fast-food cheeseburger or chicken you’ll likely want to avoid. Every Disney guest has been there and while the food is likely pretty good by theme park standards there are much more creative options near by 90% of the time. For example, here’s a few of our top picks in each park for a greater variety throughout your vacation: 

Magic Kingdom: 

  • Pecos Bill’s – Mexican food with a topping bar and a variety of choices.
  • Pinocchio Village Haus – Flatbread Pizzas, Garlic Knots, and other simple Italian offerings 

Near Magic Kingdom: 

  • Captain Cook’s (at the Polynesian Resort a short monorail ride away) – Pulled Pork Nachos, Fried Rice, Roast Beef, Grilled Chicken, Flatbreads, and much more.
  • The Contempo Cafe (at the Contemporary Resort) – Pasta, Grilled Cheese, Fried Chicken, etc.


  • La Cantina De San Angel – Fairly budget friendly Mexican food, empenadas, tacos, nachos, churros, and much more. 
  • Yorkshire County Fish Shop – Friend Fish and Chips (french fries) from a simple walk up style location in the United Kingdom Pavilion 

Animal Kingdom:

  • Yak and Yeti Local Foods Cafe – Fairly simple asian food and excellent fried rice served from an outdoor walk up style location featuring outdoor seating. 
  • Flame Tree Barbecue – As arguably one of the best bang for your buck counter service meals on property Flame Tree has a vast following of Disney Parks guests. The barbecue is excellent for the price but the sauce is the true highlight of the experience. This is my must-do counter service at Animal Kingdom. 

Hollywood Studios:

  • For years our go-to quick service dining offering here was Pizza Planet (which I understand many loved and others really did not enjoy), but it was recently re-themed and redone as Pizza-Rizzo and it hasn’t been near as high on my list since. It’s not bad and the food is actually quite good, but it’s far from my favorite in the grand scheme of offerings. Hollywood Studios is a little low on counter service offerings currently due to construction, but the redesigned menu of ABC Commissary looks quite promising. Personally, I’d make a table service reservation for Sci-Fi or Brown Derby at Hollywood Studios for a great table service meal instead of the counter service offerings. Another option would be to eat at your resort or another resort/park before you head that way. 
By spreading out the cheeseburgers, and blending in these other offerings, you not only avoid eating the typical theme park dining, but also allow yourself to be a touch more adventurous. A vast majority of Disney counter service has become incredible over the last 3 or 4 years. The counter service is getting more elaborate and certainly more creative and I’m overjoyed to see the continual transformation of dining locations for the better.

Cinderella's Castle Morning

If you’re looking for even more counter service recommendations, be sure to look into Our Top 5 Quick Service Dining Options at Walt Disney World! For those of you who may not know, the main difference between counter service and table service at Walt Disney World is how you receive your food and the cost associated with the meal. Most counter service meals require you to walk up to a counter and order your food and then it is either brought to you or you wait at a second counter for that food to be prepared. Table service is the more typical dining layout you would receive at most restaurants featuring a server. At Disney these tend to be quite expensive, and feature high end dining offerings, a buffet style meal, or character interactions that counter service will not provide.

Beware of “Free” Dining

While “free” may sound outstanding, especially for a week long vacation, “free” almost always comes with a trade off in the realm of Disney vacation planning. Typically, the lost opportunity is for a greater (or equal) discount on the room itself. Of course, there is one major deciding factor that tends to hold true from year to year despite changes in cost structure. That one factor is the amount of people staying in your guest room. If you’re staying in a villa or at a deluxe tier resort with more that 2 guests in your party, typically free dining is the better discount when everything is added up and considered in the big picture planning process. Either way, the difference is often negligible. 

Free dining is an incredible perk when booking a Disney vacation and something that is great to have as an available offer, but you certainly want to consider all of your options before jumping on board with the discount. Truth be told, you’re paying for the dining either way, so it’s really just a matter of if you’ll save more money booking the discounted room offer and adding a dining plan or taking the “free” dining offer. 

One last thing to consider is the fact that some other resorts “on property,” while not run by Disney, may be a cheaper option as well. None of the non-Disney resorts will allow the use of the Disney dining plan, but by paying out of pocket for your meals and utilizing the cheaper resort rate you can save some money in the long run. In this particular scenario, my top pick for a non-Disney resort would be the Swan and Dolphin or the Double Tree near Disney Springs. We’ve stayed at both properties many times, and while you unfortunately don’t get that “Disney Bubble” feel, the savings can occasionally play in your favor.

Something you will want to consider when going this route though is that many non-disney resorts feature parking fees, resort fees, poor bus transportation (with the exception of the Swan and Dolphin – they utilize Disney transportation), and you’ll have to pay to park at the Disney parks on top of that. To really make it worth it, the difference in price has to be fairly drastic to beat the accommodations and perks of the Disney resorts which do not feature any hidden fees. If you aren’t desperately looking for ways to save money, stay on property. You really won’t regret it.      

So, that about wraps things up for today. If you have any questions or planning concerns feel free to shoot me a message on your favorite social media account. Links to our accounts are throughout this page. More that anything, we aim to help you create the greatest Disney vacation you possibly can. Our plans aren’t perfect in any way, but we truly hope they help you out in some way or another. We’re hear because of your support and we wouldn’t have it any other way. If you liked this article, as always, please share it with friends and help build this Disney community. We truly appreciate it!      

Your Thoughts

As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you’re there, and we’ll keep the conversation going in the future. We’re not the largest Disney community, but we’re one that’s there and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are!

Ready to Plan?

Need help planning your vacation? Let our friends over at Destinations to Travel (FREE – no obligation quote request form below) help you out at no additional cost to you! Their services are free and a great way for you to help out the site at no extra cost to you! Here’s a closer look at why I recommend an Authorized Disney Travel Planner!

Last but certainly not least, if you’re starting the planning process, a great place to start are with some of our top planning articles! Looking for dining? Check out Disney World Dining Tips For 2018. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2018 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2018 are a great place to begin! Looking to save money on tickets? Check out our friends over at The Official Ticket Center for great deals that even made it into our 2018 Discount Disney World Ticket selections and another great way to help us create more content through your contributions at no additional cost to you! You’ll probably even save money along the way.