So, as some of you may know, my family is somewhat obsessed with going to Florida. We went when the Munchkin was a toddler and the Bean was a baby. We went again a few years later, and we are planning another trip next year!
I absolutely LOVE planning these holidays. I love the magic of Walt Disney World and the epic fun of Universal Orlando. I spend hours and hours in between vacations browsing Pinterest, reading Disney blogs, watching vlogs and everything. It brings me so much joy! But it is also extremely practical because this kind of vacation takes an enormous amount of planning and if it’s your first time, it can get overwhelming.
So, I decided to share the
obsessive planning magic, and write a blog series to guide other families through this process, from start to finish, in real time.
One year is really the ideal time-frame in which to plan a holiday of this magnitude, especially if you are travelling to Florida from outside the United States, like we are. About twelve months out from travelling is when many of the offers are announced and the most popular accommodation can book up this far in advance too.
It is possible to grab a late bargain, of course, and if this is how your family rolls, then that’s terrific, go for it! But this series probably won’t be for you. This is one for the planners, the organisers, the folks who want or need to get their travel plans firmed up well in advance.
You can catch up with this series here:
10 Months To Go: Dining Plan
So, you’ve decided to stay at a Walt Disney World Resort and either created a short list, or already picked out the exact one. It’s time to book and time to decide about the Dining Plan. Is it right for you, or can you manage without?
For me, personally, this is the number one perk of staying at a Disney property. The Extra Magic Hours and complimentary transportation are nice, but nothing adds more value to a vacation than the Dining Plan.
There are 3 basic tiers of Dining Plan. As you might expect, they increase in cost and value:
- Quick-Service Dining Plan
- Disney Dining Plan
- Deluxe Dining Plan
I haven’t included prices in this post, as they are subject to change without notice. For up-to-date Dining Plan prices, check with Disney directly.
All three options work basically the same way. At the start of your vacation, your meal and snack credits are pre-loaded onto your Magic Band; a wristband that each guest can wear throughout their stay, which acts as room key, Fast Pass, park ticket and credit card (kids’ bands can’t be used to charge purchases to your credit card, don’t worry!) When you opt to pay for a meal or snack with your dining plan credits, you tap your Magic Band to a reader that the cast member has and the credit is deducted from the total.
It’s ridiculously simple and convenient!
Also, you don’t have to use your credits on a given day. Although you are allocated a certain number of credits “per night of stay”, you can use them whenever you like. If you really wanted, you could use them all on the first day or save them all until the last! But I don’t fancy eating that much food in one day. But if you venture off property for a couple of days, to check out Universal, for example, you don’t “lose” your Dining Plan credits for those days if you don’t eat at WDW. You can use them another day.
Snack credits can go a long way. A number of times on our last vacation, we got the kids their breakfast using just their snack credits. This left us two meal credits to use elsewhere. There are a number of tricks you can use to maximise the value you get from the dining plan. More on that later.
Quick-Service Dining Plan
The Quick-Service Dining Plan does what it says on the tin; each guest gets 2 quick-service meals per day, plus a drink (non-alcoholic) with each meal, 2 snacks per day, and a refillable mug. There are over 50 locations around the whole of WDW that you can redeem these foods and beverages at.
This is the cheapest option and really good value, especially if you aren’t that bothered about having table service meals. The moderate resorts often offer this tier of the dining plan for free when booking during promotions.
Disney Dining Plan
The middle tier is the one we had last time. With this plan each guest gets for each night of their stay:
- 1 table service meal
- 1 quick-service meal
- 1 non-alcoholic/alcoholic drink per meal
- 2 snacks
- Refillable mug
You can redeem these credits at over 100 locations, and character dining experiences are included in the table/waiter service credits. Some dining experiences cost 2 table-service credits, but this often works out cheaper than booking without the dining plan.
This dining plan is the one included with deluxe resorts during promotions. We got it for free when we stayed at Saratoga Springs in 2015. We didn’t quite use all our credits. Just before boarding the coach to the airport at the end of the two weeks, we were rushing around the resort quick service dining area loading up on snacks that we could take on the plane!
Deluxe Dining Plan
I honestly can’t imagine ever needing this much food. Given that we left with credits to spare last time, and that the quick-service meals and snacks can still be substantial enough for the average person to only require one table service meal a day, this plan seems excessive to me! But if you really want to eat three huge meals at the best restaurants Walt Dinsey World has to offer every single day of your trip, then go for it!! Each guest, for each night of their stay, gets:
- 3 table or quick-service meals
- 1 non-alcoholic/alcoholic drink per meal
- 2 snacks
- Refillable mug
You probably get the best value out of this plan by booking a deluxe resort with a promotion on the Disney Dining Plan and upgrading to this plan for a reduced cost.
When looking at your budget, make sure you check for Dining Plan promotions, because it may well be worth upgrading resort in order to get free dining. Without the Dining Plan, you’ll want to budget for food. Obviously, all families are different, but most will want to allow about $60-$100 per person per day. You can eat for less, especially if you buy groceries off-property and take hand-made lunches into the parks. But if you want convenience and sit-down meals more often than not, then the dining plan needs serious consideration. If a free dining plan is on offer when you book, and the difference in accommodation cost is less than your food budget, then don’t hesitate!
Dining Plan Hacks!
On the surface of it, all three tiers of the Dining Plan look costly. But make sure you run the numbers and be realistic about how much food you eat and what it might cost without the Dining Plan. Then be sure to factor in these hacks in order to assess the full value of the dining plan.
- Turkey legs only use a snack credit, but they are HUGE! They could easily serve as a lunch on the go for one adult or two children!
- Be Our Guest offers a unique experience: you order from a monitor on entering, then take a seat and your food is brought to you. It’s a sort of quick/table service hybrid. But it counts as a quick service credit on the dining plan.
- Breakfast can easily be acquired using just snack credits. Muffins, croissants, fruit and drinks all use snack credits. Don’t be afraid to use snack credits for drinks throughout the day either!
- Epcot World Showcase offers delicacies from around the world as snacks. Strolling from one stall to another sampling these can make for a full meal.
- Some quick service meal options are much larger than others. For example, the breakfast bounty platters offer exceptional value for one quick service credit. Whereas the Mickey-shaped Waffles cost the same credit but are a much smaller portion. Without the dining plan, the bounty platter costs $11.49, whereas the croissant sandwich is $6.99, both use one quick service credit. Maximise the value you get by picking the more expensive options (or not! Your choice.)
- Character dining experiences give you the chance to load up and have a huge meal, as well as getting to meet your favourite Disney characters.
- Table service credits include dessert for lunch and dinner, but not breakfast. So only use a table service credit for breakfast if it’s a buffet, as you can eat as much as you like and maximise the value of the credit.
- The system doesn’t differentiate between adults and children’s credits, so if your child eats little and often, you can use spare adult snack credits to keep them going.
- You can use a quick service credit to purchase 3 snacks.
- For kids who are big eaters, they can get adult portions with their meal credits.
I hope this post has given you some insight and helps you decide whether to purchase the Dining Plan or not. What are your thoughts? Any questions or comments very welcome below. I try to reply to everyone.