Now that you know when you want to go and where you want to stay, it’s time to figure out how you want to eat. You are asking yourself at this point: Do I need a Disney Dining Plan? Well, that is an excellent question…with a lot of answers.
Part 3: DINING
I’ve seen a bunch of theories on this: every argument from bare-minimum planning/spontaneity to over-the-top foodie/obsession. A case can be made for just about every scenario, and – as you’ve by now guessed the theme – it all depends on your needs.
Disney currently offers 3 Dining plans (DDP):
-Quick Service Dining
-Dining (no adjective needed apparently)
Each has its own benefits. None are perfect.
We tend toward the middle, Disney Dining plan. It gives each guest (ages 3 and older) 1 Table Service (TS) credit for a sit-down style meal, 1 Quick Service (QS) credit for a counter-service meal and 2 Snack credits per night stayed on property. Plus your own refillable Rapid Refill mug for coffee, soda, water, etc. We choose this plan because we try to either bring our own in-room breakfast options or order groceries for snacks and breakfast to be delivered to our room through places like Garden Grocer. That way, we can use our TS and QS credits for lunch and dinner and not worry about the fact that we’re only covered for two meals a day.
For reference, the Quick Service Dining plan offers 2 QS credits and 2 snack credits per person per night and the Deluxe Dining plan offers 3 credits per person per night that can be used for EITHER TS or QS, plus 2 Snack credits. Gratuity is not included. All come with the mug…which, while bottomless, can only be filled at a Disney resort…not in the parks. In my opinion, the Quick Service plan is tough because it really limits your restaurant options (that’s why it’s the least expensive) and the Deluxe plan can be WAY TOO MUCH food. If one of your main goals is to eat at the very best restaurants that WDW has to offer (and there are some GREAT ones) for as many meals as possible, then maybe the Deluxe plan is for you. For us, it’s just too much. Unfortunately, there is nothing in between Regular Dining and Deluxe. And that’s how they get ya.
Once you’ve picked the right plan for you and added it to your reservation, the next step is making any Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) at the places you want to eat. These are typically Table Service locations throughout all of WDW and you can make reservations up to 180 days out if you’re staying on-property. As I mentioned, if you go with the regular Dining plan, you get 1 TS credit per person per night. You can use one per day or save them up and use a couple in a single day (*cough* EPCOT *cough*). The options are all over the place from upscale resort restaurants to in-park character dining experiences. There are a few that fill up very quick (Be Our Guest lunch and dinner and Cinderella’s Royal Table in Magic Kingdom, etc.) but for the most part, you can find something that you’ll like. There are lots of ADR tips and tricks once you’re booked. For instance, unlike lunch and dinner, Be Our Guest breakfast is Quick Service. Currently, it’s the ONLY quick service option that takes reservations. It’s a favorite of ours because if you get the right time, not only are you eating breakfast in the Beast’s castle…but you can finish and get out into Fantasyland before the park officially opens. And it’s just 1 QS credit per person.
But I digress. Selecting your Table Service ADRs is important. If you get good times and good locations locked down, you can plan the rest of your day around them.
Please do make note, however, that some dining experiences require 2 (two) TS credits per person. Cinderella’s Royal Table, The Hoop Dee Doo Music Review and Le Cellier Steakhouse are among these, but there are others. PLEASE make sure to check before your trip. It is not always obvious from the My Disney Experience website when a reservation requires 2 TS credits. And, the last thing you want is to show up hungry to a restaurant to find out that you are suddenly about to spend TWICE the number of credits you had planned. Typically, Cast Members taking ADRs over the phone will be very clear about the number of credits required for a particular reservation. The website isn’t quite as outspoken. If you plan on taking in some of these 2 credit experiences during your trip, perhaps the Deluxe plan is for you.
Another note that may or may not come in handy at some point is that Disney counts Adult credits and Child credits VERY differently. Meaning, if you find yourself getting a little too creative about splitting meals and using partial credits for a reservation, you could run into some issues. It’s not a basket where you can just draw out any 6 TS credits for any given meal. It’s very specific to age categories. When in doubt, ask a Cast Member.
Unlike Table Service credits, Quick Service credits can be used at any number of counter service locations. These range from food court style restaurants to specialty counters like Flame Tree Barbecue in Animal Kingdom or Columbia Harbour House in Magic Kingdom. “Quick Service” doesn’t necessarily mean low quality either. There are some GREAT meal options just about everywhere you look. So, look at menus ahead of time and locate some options that appeal to you.
Bottom line: It is important to realize that purchasing a Disney Dining Plan simply makes eating on-property easier. It does not, necessarily, make eating on-property cheaper. Eating at Walt Disney World is expensive. So, if you go with a DDP, try to maximize the value of your credits whenever possible. The base value of a Table Service credit – i.e. the point at which you break even on the amount you have paid for it – is roughly $35-$40 per meal. So, you’ll want to find and order meals that equal or exceed that total to ensure you are getting your money’s worth. Obviously, the higher the meal costs, the more value you are getting out of your credits. But spending a TS credit on a $20 salad is probably not the soundest financial decision…if you care about such things. Similarly, the base value for a Quick Service credit is roughly $16. The base value for a Snack Credit is about $4. Check menus for items that can maximize these credits and let the system work for you.
In the end, if you decide to go with one of the Dining Plans, you’ll be able to take advantage of a HUGE number of varied and memorable experiences: from burgers or lively Irish Pubs at Disney Springs to authentic world cuisine at Animal Kingdom or EPCOT. Buffets with roaming characters or comfort food served family-style. There is no shortage of wonderful food to choose from. We have done our best to try new places each time (while always returning to favorites – hello, Liberty Tree Tavern!) and have yet to have a bad experience. You simply can’t go wrong.
So, do you need a Disney Dining Plan? No. But it does take some of the guesswork out of the actual vacation and allows you to spend the money up front. If you’re the type that likes to pay for as much as possible beforehand, the DDPs are for you. If you’d rather not commit at your initial booking, you can still make reservations at table service restaurants and pay out of pocket. Or, you can just see what you are in the mood for once you are in the park. Again, the benefit of the Dining Plans are convenience..not necessarily financial savings.