With the spring approaching and the typical unveiling of “free dining” in regard to the Disney Dining Plan likely to follow soon after the change in seasons (if it is offered this year), today we’re taking a look at a few Disney Dining Plan tips and tricks that we’ve learned over the years.
Before we get started, there’s a few things I would like to clarify. First, free dining (when and if it rolls out) is not the same as offers available to those staying at select resorts for a select number of days in order to receive one free counter service meal per person per day. Those type of offers do exist and many took advantage of that offer before the last booking window ran out on February 11th. While that is certainly free dining to an extent, Disney’s typical “free dining” Disney Dining Plan promotion can prove more useful for a majority of guests.
Each year, with variation from time to time, Disney puts out a promotion offering their dining plan option for no additionally charge when booking a room at non-discounted rates. In previous years it’s been utilized mostly to fill rooms and aggressively book any empty slots. However, when booking that promotion, it typically includes the regular tier Disney Dining Plan rather that simply one free meal per person per day.
One last thing to note is that the discount may or may not be released this year so I would personally recommend booking under the current discount and attempt to change your reservation later on if you can find availability when and if free dining rolls out. That way, even in a worst case scenario, you will have a reservation booked at a discounted rate which may even work out to be cheaper for your situation. In the end, if booked in this fashion, you’ll be able to weigh the differences and see which option is better for your budget. We’ve found that an Authorized Disney Travel Planner can be quite helpful in these situations. If anyone is wondering what the Disney Dining Plan entails this year, here’s a closer look at the breakdown of what you receive:
-1 table service meal
-1 quick (counter) service meal
-2 snacks per day
-1 resort refillable mug
With all of those little details out of the way, we’ll jump right into some recommendations.
Avoid 2 Credit Disney Dining Plan Table Service Locations
I know it’s incredibly tempting to book that iconic Cinderellas Royal Table reservation or that Yachtsman steak dinner, but before you do consider what you may be giving up to do so. I love Le Cellier (an excellent dining location at the Canada Pavilion in Epcot), but when it went to two table service credits on the dining plan I stopped eating there. The food is still outstanding and we do go from time to time when we’re not on the dining plan, but in the big picture of dining options, it’s just not worth the tradeoff. Essentially what you give up for any two credit dining location is an excellent buffet at any number of locations on property, an equally excellent steak at Teppan Edo at the Japan Pavilion or even potentially the cost of an additional meal to be bought out of pocket.
In the long run, you have to convince yourself that the one special dining experience is worth giving up two excellent meals elsewhere. When you dive a little deeper, the costs don’t entirely align either. While a great meal at Le Cellier may cost upwards of $70 per person (depending on what you order), two meals elsewhere on property could easily add up to well over $80 per person when you take into account the costs of desserts, drinks, and of course your entree. For many, the trade off may be worth it, but for us it’s never really been worth what we would be required to give up.
If you’re looking for some dining recommendations, here are a variety of options and additional tips:
I can’t say that I’ve been to a buffet at Walt Disney World that I didn’t enjoy. You’re almost always guaranteed hot food, the staff is typically excellent, and you you get to explore a vast variety of food rather that simply one entree. Additionally, buffets are an excellent option if you are traveling with young children. No matter if you have kids or not, we’ve all been in that circumstance where the child’s food arrives and then they don’t really care for what was brought. It happens all the time and Disney is no exception, but if you book buffets you simply set that item they didn’t like off to the side and go grab something else. In all honesty, that same concept applies to adults as well. If you don’t like something, just go grab another item from the vast array of choices. Plus, they’re an outstanding value that is a part of 2 of the 3 Disney Dining Plans currently offered when booking a vacation (excluded only on the quick service dining plan).
Our top buffet choice tends to be Crystal Palace (sorry to spoil the article below), but it truly is one of the best options, especially in the Magic Kingdom.
If you’ve read even a little bit of what we share on the site, you’ve probably heard us share this tip before. Make the most of your snack credits. As you tour the parks, there are so many incredible snack options beyond the packaged desserts sold in stores and at the ice cream carts. When I see guests buying those prepackaged cookies, it makes me cringe from time to time, because typically there’s a fresh baked bakery style cookie (that can be bought with the exact same snack credit) less that 100 yards away. Now, that’s not to say that all packaged treats are terrible. The Mickey-shaped ice cream bars are legendary and delicious, and the Goofy’s candy company offerings are great for last minute snacks to carry home with you, but there are so many delightful treats that many guests completely overlook.
Take for example a favorite of mine, the ice cream cookie sandwich from the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor on Main Street at the Magic Kingdom. The cookie is enormous and typically features 3 scoops of hand dipped ice cream (flavor of your choice) sandwiched between two giant homemade cookies. When the creation is complete it’s around 2-3 inches thick and is easily sharable among two people (if you’re nice and want to share lol). By comparison, throughout the park you’ll find ice cream carts selling another ice cream sandwich packaged and sold in mass quantities. Those treats taste great as well but when offered either one, I’d take the plaza creation time and time again. Here’s the kicker to the whole thing, both are sold to guests using the exact same snack credit. Pro tip: If you’re in a park and want a snack, typically there’s a bakery location not too far away. Pop in a few stores near by and look for a glass display case and you may be surprised what all is considered a snack credit.
When we’re on the dining plan we tend to pass a snack location and think that it looks good, but then second guess ourselves and think about how we’d rather save that snack for another time or another item somewhere else. Don’t do what we do! (lol) I know it’s tempting but use the snack when something looks good to you. If you don’t, you’ll get to the last day of your trip and realize you have a ton of extra snack credits or even an extra counter service meal credit (which can be turned into snack credits) that you have to use on your last day. Learn something from our mistake (time and time again I might add) and eat what sounds good in the moment. You’ll have plenty of food on the Disney Dining Plan, I guarantee it!
Get a Little Bit Adventurous
The dining plan is perhaps the best way to get adventurous with your dining reservations and selections. Occasionally one of your favorite dining locations will not have availability or the exact time that you need to work around fastpasses or other scheduled events, but that’s not always a bad thing. Try something new, and you may be surprised what may become your next favorite dining location on property. In a personal example, we ended up dining at Teppan Edo instead of our typical Le Cellier reservation when the pricing structure changed. It’s not something we would have booked in the past, but now it’s one of our favorite dining locations on property and that experience has convinced us to return quite a few times even when we are not traveling on the dining plan.
Try a Breakfast and a Dinner
I know this particular tip sounds strange, but trust me, it works. Choose one day of your trip and book two table service meals for the same day. I recommend doing this on a Magic Kingdom day. Pick a breakfast around 10:30 in the morning at one of your favorite locations. If you need suggestions, I highly recommend Crystal Palace breakfast, Whispering Canyon, 1900 Park Fare, or Ohana (all for breakfast). Additionally, make a reservation for dinner at another location for that night around 6:00 or 7:00. By the time you eat both table service meals, you wont need your counter service offering for the day, so as a result you can use that counter service meal on another day of your trip (creating two meals for another day). When we do this, we typically schedule our two counter service meal day as a park day in Epcot or Animal Kingdom. Both offer a vast variety of counter service options that rival table service food for a single counter service credit.
The whole two table service in one day situation sounds a bit strange but when you’re on the dining plan you don’t have to use that days counter service, table service, and snack credits that day of the week. The Disney Dining Plan is set up as a total allotment of credits for the length of your stay. If you wanted to you could use every credit of a 5 night stay on the first day. It would be near impossible but it would be an option.
Book Table Service Breakfasts Closer to Lunch
As touched on above, I tend to recommend eating a late breakfast or an early lunch for your table service dining credit. Typically breakfast and lunch reservations are easier to secure, and in my opinion the timing works substantially in your favor. If you book a late breakfast at around 10:30, it will give you plenty of time to get to the park and ride as much as you can before the crowds build. As soon as the crowds start to file in and wait times start to climb you have the perfect escape set up in the form of a hot meal and an air conditioned timeframe during those summer months. Need more dining suggestions? Check out our Disney World Dining Tips For 2018
Don’t Give Up Any Leftover Credits
At the end of the week, you’ll likely have leftover snack credits. Don’t worry about it, because it truly happens to just about everyone, but don’t just let those credits go unused. To me, hearing a guest in a bakery or gift shop early one morning talking about how many snacks they aren’t going to use and how they’ll just let them go to waste is one of the worst things I overhear at Disney. If you have those let over credits, attack a gift shop or near by food location that sells shelf stable food and cash out those snack credits. At the very least, grab a few PEZ dispensers or Goofy’s candy company packaged treats to take to family or friends rather that letting them go unused. This particular situation bothered me so much on our last trip that I wrote up 5 Quick and Easy Ways to Use Left Over Dining Plan Snack Credits – Plus a BONUS!
Across the board, were really is no perfect way to do dining at Walt Disney World. Some prefer the dining plan, some don’t feel like it’s the best use of their money, but that’s the joy of Walt Disney World. Every guest is different and every guest has their own variety of concerns when booking but Disney provides an incredible amount of options to meet any needs presented.
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!
A few short years ago, I was sitting in a college apartment trying to figure out what was "next" and came up with this idea to share my accumulated knowledge of the Disney Parks and Resorts with others. The end goal was to help others make the most of their Disney experience and it's been quite the journey!