by Pixie Dusted Diva
Everyone in our family is a huge fan of the Disney Dining Plan. Disney offers three levels of the dining plan, and we always choose the middle plan which gives you one snack credit, one quick service and one table service per night. The dining plan is based on the number of nights you are staying at a Disney resort, not the number of days. The dining plan will start on your day of check in and the credits will expire at midnight the day of your checkout. One of the major perks we like is having our meals paid for in advance. Then you don’t have to listen to your significant other question if you really just paid over $40 an adult to eat with Mickey! You will only have to worry about gratuity while on your trip. If you are a party of 6 or more diners (including infants), you will automatically be charged 18% gratuity on the entire check. You can increase the 18% to a higher amount if you like, and will be given the opportunity when cashing out.
Your server will ask you if you are on the Disney Dining Plan, which plan you are on, and explain the plan to you as it pertains to the restaurant you are eating at. Your Magic Band will be scanned at some point during your meal. For the gratuity you will have the option to charge it back to your room, pay in cash or pay with credit.
DIVA TIP: If you are eating at a buffet, children under 3 will eat for free. There are a few table service restaurants, which will allow you to order the infant a meal, but that is not guaranteed. We have had this opportunity at Akershus and Cinderella’s Royal Table.
I wanted to give you a sample of how my family uses the dining plan. This is a suggested way to use up your credits in a given vacation. We find there is enough food if you space out when you eat. However, if you are a family which eats three defined meals a day this may not work for you. If you want breakfast, lunch and dinner every day you may want to look at the deluxe dining plan, or plan to pay out of pocket for meals. You can easily bring food into the parks including drinks and snacks for the kids as they tend to get hungrier quicker.
Arrival Day – Depending on when your flight gets in we typically do not make dining reservation for arrival day. However, if you have an early morning flight you might want to. I always am concerned with travel delays, allowing time for the Magical Express, travel time to the restaurants and other delays which may happen along the way. We usually use a quick service for this day.
Dinner Reservations – Our dining reservation on our second day would be for Chef Mickey’s for dinner. We would have something small in the room before heading to the park. It could be something simple as a granola bar, cereal, or muffin/bagel. Snack credits can be used for quick breakfast ideas as well. Your resort food court will have options, but you can also pack small items in your suitcase. We will each lunch around 11 am at a park quick services using a dining credit. This also allows you to eat at a less crowded time to avoid crowds and lines at the restaurant. If you do your research before heading to the park, you’ll know you have plenty of meal choices, and it’s not just burgers, chicken nuggets and fries. Should you get hungry in between lunch and dinner, everyone will have a snack credit to use. Use your snack credits for larger food items, not a bottle of water! You could get a huge sundae at the Main Street Ice Cream Parlor or a Mickey pretzel!
On another day that we have a dinner reservation we will eat breakfast at our resort. Have you tried the bounty platter at a Disney resort? It’s enough food to share! We will usually share two platters among two adults and a child or two. Choosing the right meal at your quick service location will allow for sharing or holding you over until the next meal, so choose your meals wisely!
Breakfast/Brunch Reservations – We like to do at least one breakfast or brunch throughout the trip. ‘Ohana is a great family style choice. Since you have to travel to the restaurant you have to make sure you allow enough time for Disney transportation. The buses do not run from resort to resort only from resort to park so you will need to plan out your route in advance. We think eating on the monorail loop is the easiest as you take the bus to Magic Kingdom and then have a few options to get to the resorts. You can walk to the Contemporary, take a boat to the resort or hop on the monorail for the highway in the sky. Also, it’s easy to head to Epcot after as well. We do not make our breakfast/brunch reservations until after 9:30 a.m. Yes, you are missing rope drop, but that’s why we only schedule one or a couple of breakfast reservations per trip. Getting to the park at opening allows you to enjoy the parks before the crowds pick up, but sometimes eating with the characters is more important.
Departure Day- Depending on the time of your flight, you most likely will only have time for a quick service on departure day. The Magical Express will pick you up approximately three hours before your scheduled flight, so you will want to keep that in mind. Again, travel time plays a role here along with the amount of time you will need to dine. You also never know if you will have to wait to be seated. These are all variables I would not want to risk missing the Magical Express for. However, if you are staying at a resort which has a restaurant you might want to take advantage of that. We’ve stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge and eaten at Boma for breakfast before taking the Magical Express.
Diva Tip: Character Meals are a huge hit! While they may take longer for the dining experience, you are inside at an air-conditioned location and not waiting outside in a line to meet a character. You can find a guide to character meals here.
You’ll want to plan out your credits in advance. There is nothing worse than getting down to your last day and having several credits left. Reservations are suggested for any table service restaurant. Buffets will help you achieve this, as everyone is able to fill up with as much food as they want including your infant! I would suggest reviewing the menus of each restaurant you plan to eat at to make sure everyone in your party will be happy. We have it worked out to not pay for any meals out-of-pocket and not go hungry!
Need help planning your dining reservations or resort reservation? Contact Patricia Payne with All for Dreams Travel, our trusted Travel Agent here at Tips from the Disney Diva.