To Dining Plan or Not To Dining Plan. That is the question! Part 1.

We have Disney’d on the dining plan many times. We have also gone without. For the most part, the decision has been a no- brainer. On occasion, I need to pull out my trusty notebook and calculator to do a giant comparison.

Let’s start with what the Dining Plan even is:

Quick service meals are an entree and a drink (soft drink, alcoholic drink, specialty drink) and are worth approximately $18

I would explain it as your fast food restaurants or a mall food court.

The croissant doughnut breakfast at Be Our Guest.

Pulled pork nachos, Aloha pork sandwich, and specialty sandwich from Captain Cook’s at the Polynesian.

Tonga Toast from Captain Cook’s at the Polynesian.

Woody’s Lunch Box at Hollywood Studios.

Table service meals include an entree, dessert, and a beverage (soft drink, alcoholic drink, specialty drink) OR a buffet meal and are worth about $41

I would explain these as your Olive Garden to really nice Steak House restaurants. We tend to go for the Character Buffets, which are relatively expensive, and a pretty good use of the credits.

There are some signature restaurants/ dinner shows that count as 2 table service credits. You will want to look at the menus in advance to decide if they are a good use, or if you should just pay out of pocket.

Typically, you will want to have reservations for a table service restaurant. These open up 180 days prior (you can book up to 10 days of your trip at that time if you are staying on site) and the really “good” reservations go FAST. If you really want to eat at Be Our Guest or Cinderella’s Royal Table, you better be waking up at 6am Eastern Time to jump online, or calling Disney the second they open their phone lines at 7am. It probably wouldn’t hurt to plan those coveted reservations toward the back half of your trip so you are more likely to score them.

You do need to now that gratuity is not included in the credit, so be sure to calculate that in advance for yourself so you don’t have any pricey surprises on your bill! For parties if 6 or more, Disney will automatically add an 18% tip, so please keep this in mind for larger parties.

Minnie’s Seasonal Play and Dine Buffet at Hollywood and Vine.

Tusker House Buffet at Animal Kingdom.

Cape May Cafe buffet at the Beach Club.

Celebrating a special 4th birthday for E. Mouse at Cape May Cafe.

Snacks can be almost anything, as long as they have a snack credit label next to them: popcorn, drink, cookie, cupcake, etc… They are worth about $5

As just about any Disney advice site worth their salt will tell you, don’t waste your credits on bottled water or cheap snacks. Ask for a free cup of ice water at any quick service establishment, and make good use of your credits!

Look for this symbol at quick service restaurants, snack stands, bakery counters, candy shops, and around stores!

Stitch cupcake at All Star Sports quick service. What it lacked in flavor, it more than made up for in blue food coloring!

Light, flaky, and sweet, this Mickey cinnamon roll can be found at Starbucks throughout ‘the World’.

School Bread in Norway at Epcot. These things have a cult following. We decided they aren’t that great. The other is a troll horn… ehh, so so. They are $3.99 each. Yikes!

Starbucks is our ultimate favorite place to use credits up. Every size, flavor, preparation, and addition is included. We go big, and we go caffeinated. (Yes, I will add 3 extra shots of espresso. Why not!)

Woody’s Lunch Box makes some delicious tarts!

The Mickey’s premium ice cream bar. Found EVERYWHERE.

This girl loves babybel cheese, so we finally said yes at a resort quick service.

Don’t forget the cup. They cost about $18 for unlimited fountain beverages, coffee, tea, and cocoa at the resorts and you can use them for the length of your stay. They have RFID chips that monitor how often you get a drink and won’t let you grab one more that every 2 or so minutes.

What plans are there:

Quick Service Plan with 2 snacks, 2 quick service (QS) meals per night, plus 1 refillable mug ($52.50 per adult/ $23.79 per child)

Dining Plan with 2 snacks, 1 QS, 1 table service (TS) per night, plus 1 refillable mug ($75.49 per adult/ $27.98 per child)

Deluxe Dining Plan with 2 snacks, 3 meals of any kind per night, plus 1 refillable mug ($116.25 per adult/$43.49 per child)

Do remember that adults are categorized as ages 10 and up. Child pricing is from ages 3 to 9. Children under 3 can either eat off your plate, or you can purchase them a meal of their own. You can’t purchase a dining plan for a child under the age of 3 unless you purchase theme park tickets for the child, which is likely not a wise use of your money.

I drew up this semi- fancy explanation for family a year or two back. Not too shabby.

It is important to note that meal credits are per night of your trip, not per day. (I bet it’s because you are rarely there first thing in the a.m. of your trip and leave at midnight the last day. If you do happen to keep those hours, your credits should be active the entire time.) Make sure you are extremely aware of this as you plan out how many credits you will use daily.

Credits are pooled between everyone in your room. If your roommate Johnny goes off and eats 4 snacks the first day, chances are he ate yours, but you can’t prove it! You still just see that there are 4 less snacks available.

The easiest way to keep track of credits is to watch the bottom of your receipts. There will be a running talley of how many credits have been used.

I am also crazy, as we expected. I keep a calendar with credits used, where, prices, everything. I am not ashamed!

You don’t have to use 2 QS (or 1 QS/1 TS) credits/ day/person if you don’t want to. Take another look back to the examples above on my handwritten explanation of the plans. If your room of 4 people would like to share 3 meals for dinner on day one, 2 meals for breakfast/ 3 for lunch/ 2 for dinner on day two, and 3 for breakfast/ 3 for lunch on day three of a 2 night/3 day (16 QS credits total) stay, they can!

Next, no matter what plan you have, you can always purchase any food you want out of pocket. Say you want a Turkey leg and you don’t want to try to make it into a QS credit, so you just buy it. Or you are on the QS plan and you really want to go to a few character meals, you just do it. Or, you want to do the bread service at Sanaa (and trust me, you do) but your meal doesn’t come with an appetizer, just pay for it. It’s not rocket science.

The bread service at Sanaa (Animal Kingdom Lodge) really is all it’s cracked up to be. Make sure you photograph some zebras while you are at it!

We are big eaters. The first three trips we made, Mr. Mouse and I were the only ones with the dining plan, as our children were under the age of 3. I was pretty nervous the first time that we would be hungry. No need! While it may not seem like that much food, I can almost guarantee that you will be overly stuffed for most of your trip, even if you are sharing meals. We just added a little TS meal here, a pop tart from home, and the next thing you know, we always ended up with ~ 15 Mickey cookies in our luggage on the way home because we didn’t finish all our credits (by the way, if you have left over QS credits, you can trade one credit for 3 snacks in one transaction. I have also heard that if you stop at your resort front desk, they can change them over in the computer system to 3 snack credits so that you can use them at different locations/ times. I haven’t ever tried this, though.)

When we continue on in part 2, we will get to the hard hitting truth on purchasing Dining plans! But for now, would you buy one? How do you eat at Disney? Do you have a favorite food? Inquiring minds!!!


If you would like more help planning your Disney vacation, contact our friend Audra, a travel agent with Travelmation LLC, which is an Authorized Disney Travel Planner. She can help you plan the vacation of your dreams at no cost to you!

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