Planning A Florida Vacation – 10 Months To Go – Dining Plan

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.

Walt Disney World WDW planning a Florida vacation holiday

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:

  1. 12 Months Out – Initial Planning
  2. 11 Months Out – Accommodation

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.

3 Options

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!

Walt Disney World Dining Plan Hacks to save money and get great value

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.

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.)
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. You can use a quick service credit to purchase 3 snacks.
  10. 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.

Next Month: Saving Up & Booking Flights

Planning A Florida Vacation – 11 Months To Go

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.

Walt Disney World WDW planning a Florida vacation holiday

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:

  1. 12 Months Out – Initial Planning

11 months to go: accommodation

Last month I talked about figuring out your budget and how this would determine an awful lot of the rest of your decisions, such as duration and accommodation. Well, today I’m going to talk you through your accommodation options. Not all of them, because, you know, this is one of the top tourist destinations on the planet. There are literally thousands of places to stay!

Your most basic options come down to this:

  • A Walt Disney World property (often described as “on-property”)
  • A Universal Resort
  • Another local hotel
  • A private villa

Deciding which of these four options is best for your family comes down to a few basic, interlinked factors. The size of your family/travel party, your budget, where you intend to spend most of your time, what amenities are important to you, whether you want to hire a car or not, and how immersed you want to be.

I can’t tell you the answers, but hopefully, you went through the worksheet and figured some of this out.

off-property

A villa is great if there are quite a few of you. It can work out much cheaper than booking multiple rooms at a hotel. You also get privacy, your own pool, and can save money on food. The disadvantages of this option are that you absolutely have to hire a car and pay parking fees at the theme parks. You also miss out on significant perks of staying on-property, which also goes for the other non-Disney options. Although Universal has its own perks for guests staying there.

Local hotels can also be an economical choice if you are a family of 5 or less. Often the Orlando resorts will provide coaches to the theme parks, so a car isn’t always essential. You also get to retreat from the Disney experience at the end of the day, which might be essential for some members of your family. Or perhaps you’re only planning to spend a day at Magic Kingdom, and visit plenty of non-Disney attractions during your stay. In which case, it makes little sense to stay at a Disney resort. There is certainly plenty to see and do besides WDW. But more on this in a few months time!

universal

Universal now has several resorts to choose from, none of which are cheap, by any means, but there are two value options that offer the convenience of being nearby and early entry to the parks. The edge that the luxury resorts have, aside from the obvious luxury, is that you also get Universal’s queue-jumping perk included in the price.

The queues at Universal can get pretty monstrous and the only way to beat them is to buy their Express Pass on top of your park ticket. This is an extremely expensive option, costing upwards of $49.99 per person per day. It’s perfectly possible to manage without it, we have done so on all but one day that we have spent in the Universal parks. You can check the queue times and hop straight to rides with low waits, but this might result in missing out on a ride or two if the line never gets below an hour.

If you’re planning to spend a lot of time at Universal and can justify the financial cost, then staying at one of the luxury resorts to get this perk might save a little money on buying the Express Pass separately.

on-property

I’m unashamedly biased. This is our preferred option. It isn’t the cheapest option, but booking in advance in the UK holds a significant appeal: free dining. Disney offers three tiers of dining plan (well, four if you include the resorts that offer a breakfast only option) and for UK visitors booking the year prior to visiting, most resorts offer one of these dining plans for free. It’s a great money saver, not to mention the convenience of having the majority of your food paid for in advance. I’ll go into more detail on the dining plan in my next post because it deserves a post of its own. Guests from the USA can often pick up dining plan offers when booking in advance as well, but the offers vary. It’s worth keeping an eye on the WDW blogs for updates of offers if this applies to you.

Staying on-property also has other advantages. Disney provides various modes of transport around the vast World; bus, monorail and boat. All free. They also offer free car parking to guests staying at a WDW resort. So if you still want to hire a car for getting about then it’s not going to cost you an extra $20 a day to visit a Disney park. The other significant benefit is Extra Magic Hours; on certain days one of the parks opens early or closes late for guests staying at a Disney resort.

the Walt Disney Resorts

If you decide to go with a Disney resort, you then have a bigger choice: which one? There are nearly 30 options!

In the last post, I asked you to think about what kind of vacation you want. Whatever you’re after, Disney can provide it. Laid back comfort? Life on the wild side? Rustic charm? Sheer luxury? You got it.

wdw resorts,hotels, Grand Floridian, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Pop Century, Wilderness Lodge Cabins

Disney resorts by location

The first thing to consider is where in Walt Disney World you want to stay. Which park do you anticipate spending most time at? It makes sense to stay in the vicinity of that park. So to help you out, here is each resort listed by resort area. I also recommend you take a look at the official WDW map.

Magic Kingdom

  • Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Polynesian Village Resort
  • Wilderness Lodge
  • Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
  • Contemporary Resort
  • Bay Lake Tower

Epcot (also close to Hollywood Studios)

  • Beach Club Resort
  • Yacht Club Resort
  • Carribean Beach Resort
  • Boardwalk Inn & Villas
  • Swan Hotel*
  • Dolphin Hotel*

The Swan and Dolphin hotels are third party hotels located on WDW property. You still get some benefits of staying at a Disney resort, but they aren’t strictly considered to be WDW properties.

Animal Kingdom

  • Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village
  • Coronado Springs Resort
  • All Stars Resorts – Music, Sports & Movies

ESPN wide world of sports area

  • Art of Animation Resort
  • Pop Century Resort

Disney Springs

  • Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
  • Old Key West
  • Port Orleans – Riverside
  • Port Orleans – French Quarter

resorts by category (price range)

You’ll probably want to cross reference the above list with the one that follows: each resort by category. Disney has three categories for its resorts; Value, Moderate and Deluxe. There are also Deluxe Villas and the campground at Fort Wilderness. The villas are essentially suites with basic kitchen facilities in-room, with separate bedroom/s and living area.

value resorts

The Value resorts offer basic, motel-like accommodation. You can expect these resorts to be clean, well-maintained, with excellent customer service and serviceable amenities. The pools are fun and simple, as is the food. The rooms tend to be on the smaller side, while the buildings can be quite spread out, requiring a lot of walking to travel between your room and the communal areas. If you’re on a tight budget or are not planning to spend a great deal of time at the hotel, then these resorts are perfectly suitable.

  • Pop Century
  • All-Star Resort – Music
  • All-Star Resort – Sports
  • All-Star Resort – Movies
  • Art of Animation (worth noting that this resort is priced like a moderate resort)

moderate resorts

This tier offers more comfort and variety than the Value resorts. The pools have more features and some of these resorts have table service dining options. It’s usually worth upgrading to one of these resorts if you can. Free Quick Service Dining is also available from the UK at these resorts.

  • Caribbean Beach Resort
  • Port Orleans – Riverside
  • Port Orleans – French Quarter
  • Coronado Springs Resort
  • Cabins at Fort Wilderness

deluxe resorts & villas

If you want to really indulge, then these resorts offer genuine luxury and exemplary facilities. Rooms and villas have more space, there are more dining options and the pools are stunning. Some resorts have spa facilities. The theming is also more detailed and immersive. Advanced bookings from the UK get Disney Dining Plan free for these resorts.

  • Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Polynesian Resort
  • Wilderness Lodge
  • Beach Club Resort
  • Yacht Club Resort
  • Boardwalk Inn
  • Contemporary Resort
  • Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
  • Old Key West Resort
  • Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
  • Bay Lake Tower
  • Villas at Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village & Jambo House
  • Boardwalk Villas
  • Beach Club Villas
  • Boulder Ridge Villas at Wilderness Lodge
  • Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Wilderness Lodge

You can pick up rooms at these resorts at lower rates if you book at the right time. Last time we went we stayed at Saratoga Springs and we almost booked this resort again for this trip as it crops up among the cheaper options this far in advance.

Each resort has its pros and cons, and it takes time to read up on each. Hopefully, this post will help you to narrow down your options. For in-depth reviews of the resorts, and details about their individual amenities, decor, and so on, I highly recommend Disney Tourist Blog.

For what it’s worth, we are staying at Port Orleans – Riverside next year, after MUCH deliberation! Animal Kingdom Lodge is also high up on my wish list. I love to hear from readers, so if you have a strong preference for a resort, or if you have any questions, do please leave a comment and I will do my best to reply.

That’s all for now, folks. Happy planning!

Next Month: The Dining Plan