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10 Do’s & Don’ts of the Disney Dining Plan
The Disney Dining Plan is a nice option to add to your Magic Your Way travel package if you are staying at an onsite Walt Disney World resort. Many of my travel clients enjoy it because it makes your vacation feel “all-inclusive,” and you don’t have to worry about budgeting for meals once you are on vacation. Also, depending on your dining habits, the dining plan can save you money over paying out of pocket for your meals. You can add the dining plan to your Walt Disney World resort reservation with or without tickets so you can take advantage of it if you are an Annual Passholder, or even if you are planning a trip without the parks. There are 3 options for dining plans: Quick Service, “Plus” Dining, and Deluxe Dining, for the purpose of this post I’m concentrating on the Plus Dining Plan, but the basic tips apply to all three. Here are my top 10 Do’s & Don’ts for using the Disney Dining Plan on your next vacation:
10. DO the math
Before you book your package you should run through the numbers or discuss with your travel agent whether adding the plan is the best value for your family. For many families it is, and, as I mentioned, many want to add it just for the convenience of having dining paid for before you travel. However, if you are a family who will be bringing snacks with you, sharing meals, or even preparing some of your own meals in a villa you will may not get the full value out of the price you pay to add the dining. If you are booking far in advance so that you can make your dining reservations as soon as they open to take full advantage of your table service credits and you are planning to do multiple character meals then you will likely see some savings with the dining plan rather than paying for each meal individually (particularly if you have several children in your party). Either way you need to decide if it is really the best option for your vacation.
9. DO use your resort mug
All of the dining plan options include a refillable resort mug for every person in your party ages 3 & up. Make full use of this at your resort. You can fill the mug in the morning for breakfast and use a snack credit for a muffin or other item. Or, if you use your resort food court for one of your quick service credits you can get a bottled beverage to save for later (take to the parks) and fill your mug for your drink with your meal. Rather than purchasing extra drinks always remember to fill up that mug—some resorts have multiple refill stations to make it convenient for you whether you are in the food court or by the pool. We drive to Walt Disney World so when we have mugs we fill them up in the morning and then use the cup holders on our stroller to take them into the parks with us full of drink. Although you can’t refill them in the parks with soft drinks, you can rinse them out & fill them up at the water fountains.
8. DON’T choose menu items only to maximize your value
While it is tempting to order the most expensive menu item eligible for the dining plan that isn’t always the smartest tactic. If it isn’t something you like, then it is wasted regardless of the dollar value Disney assigns to it. Also, if you go with that strategy you might end up having steak at every meal which can make for a pretty boring dining experience overall. Try to strike a good balance between getting foods you know you will enjoy and those that make the value of the dining plan work for you.
7. DO Tip!
Gratuity is NOT included on the Disney Dining Plans, a fact that some guests to not realize. This is the part that makes it not entirely an all-inclusive option because you do need to pull out your credit card/magic band/cash to tip your servers. Recommended tip is around 18%, and you should tip at both a la carte restaurants as well as buffets. Most of the initial receipts will listed suggested tipping percentages at the bottom with the amount that will be for your meal. Along with this, DON’T forget to bring cash or a credit card if you do not want to charge the gratuity back to your room account.
6. DO experience new things!
While, I want you to choose entrees that you will enjoy during your vacation, I also think the Dining Plan gives you a little freedom to enjoy restaurants and dishes that might be slightly outside of your comfort zone. Coming from a small town, the options in types of cuisine at Walt Disney World far outnumber those I can find locally. When I’m on the dining plan I feel like I can experiment more and try Mediterranean food, or Japanese, or African, or Indian . . .and try that dish on the menu that sounds intriguing but that I wouldn’t allow myself to get if I was paying cash out of my pocket. I’m not sure what it is, but once I get to Walt Disney World those dining credits feel like a free pass to try new things.
5. DO consider paying out of pocket to add on
While most people find the number of dining credits they get on the plan (one per night of your stay) to be plenty, you may occasionally want more. Some restaurants including signature dining, dinner shows and Cinderella’s Royal Table require you to use 2 dining credits, so if you are a family who likes to have 1 table service meal per day and you are doing one of these you will need to pay out of pocket for the additional meal. In these cases you can see if the Deluxe Dining Plan makes more sense for you than the Plus Dining, or you may just want to pay for the extra meal. Look at the value of using 2 table service credits for those signature meals versus 2 separate meals to decide which one is going to work out best for you financially to pay out of pocket.
4. DO keep track of how many credits you have
Disney makes it fairly easy to figure out how many dining credits you have at any time once you figure out their system. On the bottom of each receipt you receive when using dining credits you should see how many credits you used of each type at that location and how many overall you have remaining. So if your family of 4 is staying for 4 nights you have a total of 16 Table Service credits to use through your stay. If you dine at Chef Mickey’s on your first night you will use 4 of those. Your receipt should indicate you have 4 used and 12 remaining. At any time if you have questions your resort desk in the lobby can pull up your balance and assist you. Just remember that if you plan out your dining in advance and book table service to fill up all of your credits—if you add a sit down meal while you are there you will run out of credits.
3. DON’T waste snacks
Disney snacks are one of my favorite things in the world. There are so many delicious sweet & savory options that I don’t want you to waste your snack credits on mundane items like bottled water. In 2017 each person receives 2 snack credits per night of your stay. Please use these for cupcakes, soft pretzels, ham & cheese croissants, ice cream, etc. My recommendation is to bring bottled water with you, swing by a store to buy a case, or have some delivered from a service like Garden Grocer (minimum purchase required). Then you can bring your waters with you, use your mug at the resort, and you don’t have to use your snack credits for drinks—but for fun stuff! Remember anything with a purple and white DDP logo next to it on a menu can count as a snack credit—and there are a lot of options.
2. DO use all of your snacks
As I said, Disney has amazing snacks. But, the dining plan is a lot of food and sometimes you lose track of how few snacks you’ve actually eaten. If you plan ahead to use snacks as meals (muffins at breakfast, a ham & cheese croissant or bowl of soup for lunch) then you will be ahead of the game. But, if at the end of your vacation you find yourself with extras you have some options. Check out your resort gift shop, or something like the Confectionary on Main Street because there are many pre-packaged items that you can take home as snacks that will remind you of your vacation in Walt Disney World for at least another week. Just don’t leave any credits on the table or you won’t be getting your maximum value out of the plan.
1. DO have a plan
The other 9 Do’s and Don’ts lead into this one . . . plan ahead. This is the only way to make the most out of your dining plan. If you are using a travel planner most of them offer complimentary itinerary planning to help you make your table service dining reservations. You can make these as far ahead as 6 months before you travel, and to get your top picks you will want to make them as early as possible. Make sure that you have reservations to cover all of the table service credits you have because once you arrive at Walt Disney World you will likely find that restaurants are booked and are not accepting walk-ups. You definitely don’t want to pay for table service credits you don’t use. You may want to have somewhat of a plan for your quick service credits and snacks. Visit a website like DisneyDining to check out the menus to see what places fit into your itinerary and have dishes that your family would enjoy. Look at the top snack lists on the internet to see what snacks are must-try’s and where to find them so you don’t miss out. Again, if you are using a travel planner you can go directly to them with any questions or to ask for recommendations.
Do you use the Disney Dining Plan? What are your top Do’s & Don’ts to make the most of it?