by: guide4wdw – Collin
Our Picks For the Best Disney World Dining Plan Restaurants in 2018
Today, we’re taking a closer look at the Dining Plan at Walt Disney World and what we see as some of the best value for your dining credit offerings in the realm of Walt Disney World dining opportunities. As with anything Disney, every individual guest is going to have their own particular preferences and that’s one of the main reasons I recommend trying any restaurant on property and attempting to do so with an open mind at least once before passing judgement on the particular location.
Honestly, we’re typically those Disney guests that tend to repeat our favorite dining locations time and time again, but at the same time we strive to try at least one entirely new dining offering each and every time we visit Walt Disney World. With that being said, we are inevitably bias towards a few of our favorites and truth be told we enjoy Disney buffets more that the average guest, but it tends to be what works for us. Of course, we do try various table service offerings in a more classic since and a few even made our list today, but don’t be surprised if you see a buffet or family style offering pop up along the way. Truth be told, that’s really the only foreword we should really add to this post before we dive right in.
Is The Disney Dining Plan Even Your Best Dining Option
It is worth mentioning that over the years we have largely avoided the dining plan. If you really think about it, most guests are buying the dining plan for one of two reasons (of course there are a few exceptions): 1. convenience or 2. perceived savings.
The first option is perhaps the most beneficial facet the Disney dining plan expertly brings to the table and quite possibly should be the selling point for of the plan altogether. I will say, more that anything else, the Disney Dining plan is outstandingly convenient. You don’t have to worry about hidden meal costs, or setting aside a budget for that part of your vacation once you arrive at the parks, or even be too concerned about knowing what your dining will cost. Disney sets up the payment for you and essentially you have a set number of what your vacation is going to cost before you ever leave home. It’s incredibly convenient, but also features on major caveat in my opinion.
Unless you plan on a focus of your vacation being dining, a vast majority of guests will not and likely can not physically eat and enjoy all that is provided on the regular dining plan. It’s a ton of food, and if you know that and want that going in, by all means enjoy the dining plan. We’ve done it before ourselves and sometimes that turns out to be a perfect trip, but don’t fall into the perceived savings mindset that we mentioned as our second reason.
A shocking amount of guests have told me over the years that they thought the dining plan was going to save them money. Honestly, for a vast majority of guests that isn’t going to be the case and that is likely one of the biggest reasons Disney does not market it in that way. If you really break it down and order all high priced menu items, use every single snack credit you are provided, and really go all out on the dining plan, the numbers typically come out to within a few pennies of what you would have spent out of pocket if bought the exact same thing. That’s the kicker to the whole thing. Most guests are not going to buy as many meals and snacks when they’re paying for it directly out of pocket compared to the meal plan.
Personally, I don’t want to tell anyone what’s “best” regarding the Disney dining plan or avoiding the Disney dining plan, largely because that is a question that I can’t answer. We’ve had excellent trips doing things both ways. Chances are you’ll save money by avoiding the plan, but at the same time it’s quite difficult to put a price on the convenience factor. Overall, I’d say do your research and figure out what is going to be the better option for your situation. Every single guest is going to travel just a little bit differently and it’s something I’d recommend considering for sure, but also recognize that it’s not a make or break decision in the overall Disney World vacation experience.
With all the little details out of the way, here’s a few of the locations that we see as top Disney World Dining Plan Restaurants for your dining plan credits!
Table Service Disney Dining Plan Offerings
Table service is typically the place where you can really make the most of your dining plan offerings. Table service is typically a high priced meal on property and most of the time you can order anything on the menu when you’re utilizing the Disney dining plan credits. For many, this is where the plan shines. Many guests, including myself, will either order something they never would have paid for directly out of pocket if they visited the restaurant previously or they will choose to try something entirely new just because it’s already paid for. Of course, you are paying for it in a round about way, but it’s not quite the same shock when you receive the bill for the meal.
If you notice below, there’s on main caveat to our list and that is that you will not find any 2 credit signature restaurants on our list. While those are outstanding meals, the fact that the offerings essentially replace another table service meal has and always will be hard for me to rationalize. In my mind, if I’m going to potentially give up an additional table service meal for a two credit signature offering, that one meal is going to have to be near equivalent in price to make it worth it. For me it’s hard to give up two $40 meals and accompanying meal experiences for a single offering elsewhere. For some guests, that may work out great for you, but it’s not something I would personally recommend.
The Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace is and likely always will be a top pick for my family. For us, it is the perfect array of options. There’s something on the buffet that all of us like and just about every guest will find something they really enjoy from the lineup of options on the buffet. If you don’t like what you pick, go grab something else and keep repeating the process as you go until you find something you really enjoy.
For me, the ideal meal at Disney’s Crystal Palace is breakfast. If you schedule it late enough in the day, you might catch a few bites of the lunch buffet offerings, and if you schedule it at just the right time you can accomplish a ton of attractions from the time Magic Kingdom opens to the time you arrive at your meal just as the crowds start to build. (As we shared in our How to Ride 6 or More Attractions in 90 Minutes or Less: With Only 1 Fastpass+!
If you wait just a touch later in the day, Crystal Palace offers a great buffet lunch that is great for families with kids. It’s not the most luxurious of offerings and isn’t entirely designed to be, but the array of food from salmon to chicken offer each and every guest something to enjoy. Just be aware, if you are paying out of pocket, dinner here is far more expensive that lunch and is a very comparable menu.
The Garden Grill Breakfast
With this one I’m even surprising myself. For years I did not like Garden Grill. The menu didn’t appeal to me and to be quite honest it wasn’t something I would ever look forward to on a vacation when we did decide to book it on rare occasions.
A few short years ago that completely changed. I’m still not a huge proponent of their other meal offerings, but I can honestly say Garden Grill is the best Epcot area breakfast I’ve personally experienced. To me, it’s the ideal offering and the ideal location to eat for an Epcot morning. You can schedule a mid-morning breakfast, tour the main attractions near the front of the park early on in the day before your meal, and prepare for the world showcase after your breakfast. As the afternoon turns into night you can set up a table service dinner or enjoy the various festival kitchens and limited time offerings of the showcase depending on when you travel the rest of the day.
Setting that thought aside, the food at Garden Grill is quite simple and while I wont go into it in too great of detail, you can read our full review over on our The Garden Grill – One of the Best Breakfasts on Disney Property post. I know that title alone sounds like an over exaggeration but we really enjoyed this offering and it truly is an outstanding way to jump start your day with a nice breakfast and quality cast members.
As touched on above, Teppan Edo is the perfect late lunch or dinner offering at Epcot (or to accompany a table service breakfast earlier in the day if you’re hungry enough to do a table service dinner too!). The offering is fairly pricey out of pocket but on the dining plan you walk in and order whatever you want and it all (in theory) costs the same amount. Teppan Edo is great because it’s not only a great meal and a filling meal but it’s sort of a dinner and a show. Many guests are hesitant to take kids here but they are fairly accommodating to children and most young guests really enjoy the hibachi style experience even if they don’t necessarily love their meal.
A few words of warning on this one. If you are your kids do not like to be around strangers, this may not be your best option. Every once in a while groups will get paired with other families to fill the spots surrounding the hibachi grill. It’s not just a Disney thing but a commonly accepted practice for this type of a meal. Disney seems a touch more hesitant to group parties but it’s something to be aware of. Additionally, if your kids are sacred of fire or do not like loud-ish noises, I cannot recommend this meal. Other that those two things, I highly recommend this offering. The food is excellent the display is entertaining and the cast is top notch as well.
Tusker House makes my list for two main reasons. One, it is likely the ideal and perhaps only true family centered Disney branded offering in Animal Kingdom for table service. There are other meals in the park, but none that really offer the ideal situation for families that this restaurant provides. The character interaction is great, the food is a good variation of creative African inspired offerings and slightly more typical and recognizable buffet items that other options in the park.
If you’re traveling with a picky eater, this is a must do table service meal for you on the dining plan if you plan on spending a full day in Animal Kingdom. If they’re really picky, try and grab a breakfast reservation and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the experience. Breakfast is the most popular dining offering here and it is quite difficult to secure a reservation as a result, but if you book it early in your reservation scheduling window, you shouldn’t have too hard of a time nailing down a time.
Quick Service Disney Dining Plan Offerings
To the surprise of many first time guests, Disney quick service (counter service) is really starting to change and has been for the last 5 years or so. When New Fantasyland opened, and quite possibly even before that, a shocking move towards more unique quick service offerings started to arrive in the parks and over at the resorts. A movement started to take place where meals started to move away from burgers and fries and towards more filling and creative offerings. Perhaps the best example of this is Magic Kingdom. Currently at Magic Kingdom I can only think of one restaurant off hand that offers a burger as it’s main offering and that is over at Starlight Cafe (which is facing a variation of changes right now). If you posed that same circumstance 5 or even 10 years ago you’d likely face a much different realization. Personally, I love it and it has worked out excellently for Disney in the realm of social media.
Today, it seems like every time you turn around a new fad or trending Disney meal item is sweeping the internet. It’s a great time to be a quick service fan and while there’s a ton of great offerings across property here are a few of our top picks.
Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory
Floatworks is without a doubt my favorite quick service location on all of Disney property. Sure, unless you’re staying at Port Orleans, you’ll have to go out of your way to go visit it, but it is absolutely worth it. If you’re on the dining plan you can pick almost anything on the menu as your meal credit. The menu is vast and features a New Orleans inspired flair that is distinct but not necessarily off putting to those of us who have not been raised in New Orleans.
If you’re going to go try it, stay for dessert and try the beignets. It’s the highlight of any trip to Port Orleans and perhaps the greatest “not-so-hidden” hidden gem of Disney dining.
The Artist’s Palette
As another somewhat out of the ordinary offering to make our list, I highly recommend the Artist’s Palette at the Saratoga Springs Resort. Again, this will involve venturing out to a resort location you may or may not be staying at but it’s something I highly recommend trying.
I always recommend heading to the resorts to new and returning guests. It’s a great way to explore something entirely free of cost (minus the food costs), it expands your knowledge of where you may want to stay on a future trip, and opens up an entirely new world of hidden Disney elements to uncover and learn about along the way. It sounds so incredibly strange in writing but head to a resort and spend a few hours exploring the grounds and you may be shocked at how much you enjoy just being there. It’s tough to pull the time out a vacation to do just that, but I will guarantee you wont regret it.
Exploring resorts is one of the most relaxing elements of any Disney trip for me, and has a way of opening up your mind and allowing you to let the worries of the world fade away as your kids play on a playground, play ping pong by the pool, or even ride a boat over to a neighboring resort. It’s beauty is in the simplicity and frees the mind in a way that is quite difficult to explain. When you feel it, you just know that you’re experiencing something special and everything else fades away.
The Artist’s Palette itself is not too dissimilar to a typical deluxe resort dining location but it’s lack of crowds and slightly more interesting menu sets it apart in my book. With the soft music playing in the background, the pool within sight and a buffalo chicken panini headlining the menu (ok, maybe not headlining the menu for everyone but it’s headlining the menu in my book lol) there’s very little not to like about this offering and it’s a great value for your dining credit.
La Cantina de San Angel
If I’m on the dining plan and not eating at one or both of the aforementioned dining locations above at Epcot, I’ll likely be stopping for a quick lunch here. With a waterfront location, a casual elegance when the interior seating is open to guests (just around the corner from the main outdoor dining area), this is simple quick service option at it’s finest. The meal offerings are nachos, tacos, empanadas and other typical Mexican food, but everything is largely sharable and a great way to get a taste of the Mexico pavilion before continuing on your way around the showcase. In the past, we’ve found that this location is a great way to start an afternoon of eating “around the world.” Share a nacho here with a friend or two and continue on your way around the showcase trying a a few bites of something in each country.