June 3, 2011

Tip of the day—The Disney Dining Plan

CIMG3399PHOTO—Our daughter with Ariel at the Royal Banquet Hall.

The next big decision you’ll need to make when planning your Disney plan after whether or not to stay on site is whether or not to purchase the Disney Dining Plan.  The plan is only available to those who stay at Disney Resorts.  When you purchase your package, you have options on what type of dining plan will be best for your family:

Each package has its own virtues.  We opted for the Magic Your Way Package Plus Dining Plan.  With it, we received a snack, quick service meal, and table service meal for each day we were there for each person in our party.  That may not sound like a lot of food, but trust me, it is!

A snack—one of the cast members explained to us that a snack constituted almost anything that cost less than $5.  We were told by a friend that you could purchase turkey legs as a snack, and we had planned on having those as a lunch one day.  We were disappointed to learn that because they cost almost $8 they could not be used as one of our snack items.  Things we used as snacks—our daughter’s first taste of cotton candy, Mickey shaped ice cream while watching a show and waiting for the parade in the Magic Kingdom, caramels at Germany in Epcot, etc.  We had a few snacks leftover and on the day we left, we bought some fruit and other goodies to pack for the trip.  Note that drinks constitute a snack, but I wouldn’t recommend wasting your snack purchases on them.  Any vendor that has access to cups and ice will give you plain tap water for free (a tip I learned through Couponing to Disney).  Plus, you’ll have drinks included in your meals and can usually bring a to-go cup with you after you dine.

Quick service meals—the easiest way to describe these is that these are meals where you are going to do most of the work.  You’re going to place your order, get your own drinks, and get whatever else you need.  Think fast food.  We found that most of the restaurants available in the Magic Kingdom were quick service meals.  In the Disney Dining Plan, with each of the quick service meals, you’ll receive:  Breakfast—1 entree, non-alcoholic beverage (we were given two drinks a piece for breakfast); Lunch/Dinner—1 entree, dessert, non-alcoholic beverage.  When we go out to eat as a family, we almost never order a drink other than water and rarely order desserts unless we have a coupon that makes them free.  As a result, we ate a LOT more sweets than we normally would have!  We didn’t see many other substitutions other than yogurt available.  Note that kids opt from a separate list of meal choices.  Unfortunately, those choices are more limited and usually are foods like hot dogs and chicken tenders.  They do give you a list of options for sides—carrots, grapes, cookies—and you can choose two for your child.  This at least helps to limit the sugar for the kiddos some.  The best quick service meals we ate were at our hotel (Coronado Springs).  The portions are HUGE, and you could easily split a meal with your spouse or child to help spread out your meals a bit.

CIMG3484PHOTO—Me with Mickey at Tusker House

Table-service meals—these are meals where you are seated, have a server, and have a check brought to your table.  In the Disney Dining Plan, with each of your table service meals you’ll receive:  Breakfast—entree, non alcoholic beverage (we were given two drinks for breakfast) OR 1 full buffet; Lunch/Dinner—appetizer for guests ages 3-9 only, entree, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage OR 1 full buffet.  Again, the portions are very large!  We were very, very pleased with our table service meals. 

  • We highly recommend the Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall for breakfast.  They serve Scandinavian foods, and someone told me that it wasn’t as good for lunch or supper.  We ate brunch at 10:45am and saw Snow White, Belle, Aurora, Ariel, and Cinderella.  Everyone goes on and on about the Cinderella breakfast, but I could not imagine it being any better than what we experienced. 
  • We also dined at the Biergarten Restaurant in Germany at Epcot and the food was amazing!  You’ll have entertainment from a traditional German band and eat with other people in a family style.  It is a great way to get to know others.
  • We had another character breakfast/brunch at Animal Kingdom—Donald’s Safari Breakfast at Tusker House Restaurant.  It was nice to see some of the core characters and have individual attention with each of them.  The food was yum, and we were able to try some traditional African dishes.  The only disappointment was that Donald wouldn’t autograph.
  • We enjoyed a fantastic seafood buffet at Cape May inside of the Beach Club Resort.  All you can eat crab, shrimp, mussels, and clams—need I say more?  Oh yeah, some of the best mac and cheese I’ve ever eaten, too!  The only problem was that our daughter would have nothing to do with it.  The sweet waiter ended up getting the kitchen staff to make her a PBJ on whole wheat and that is what she ate.  UGH.  Oh well, at least Momma and Daddy enjoyed it!

Signature Restaurants—There are some restaurants and dining options that take more than 1 table service credit.  The two most popular ones are the Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show and the Fairytale Dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table.  Both are booked up quickly!  We went to the Spirit of Aloha show, and it was well worth the two table credits! I had been when I was younger, and the show was different than I remember.  It was no less impressive, though, and our daughter LOVED the hulas!

Is the Disney Dining Plan worth it?

In our opinions, yes!  I’m a frugal person.  I would have never spent the couple of hundred dollars that the Spirit of Aloha show would have cost out of pocket for our family to enjoy a luau, but it was one of the best parts of our trip.  We looked at the cost of our meals versus the cost of the dining plan and estimate that we saved at least $300.  Here’s the catch—if we didn’t have the dining plan, we would not have ordered drinks or desserts, and we probably wouldn’t have gained as much weight as we did.  Everyone that I spoke to in the parks and those who have visited the parks in the recent past agreed that the Disney Dining Plan was well worth the money. 

How did we make the meal plan work for us?

  • We brought instant oatmeal with us and used the coffee maker to heat water in the mornings for it.  (No microwave in our room).  This sufficed for a quick breakfast to get us going.  Then, we ate a little earlier in the day for a brunch that carried us through until we were out of the park in the evenings and could enjoy a nice meal elsewhere. 
  • We kept track of how many credits we had and what we would want to use them for throughout the week. 
  • Hubby and I split a meal here and there so that we would have extra food for the day we left.  Your meal credits stay on your card through midnight on the day you checkout of the resort. 
  • We brought any extra food back to the resort to add to our breakfasts or as snacks.  Some of it went to waste, but extra juice, fruit, and such were enjoyed. 
  • We tried to opt for foods that we wouldn’t normally enjoy at home. 
  • We tried to pick places where the ticket value was higher.  Example, the Cape May experience and character breakfasts would have cost us around $50 a person had we paid out of pocket. 

Note that the dining plans do not include tips/gratuity unless they specifically state it on your ticket (the Spirit of Aloha show, for instance, does).  The servers are fantastic at Disney.  TIP WELL!

While talking about the Disney Dining Plan, I also want to discuss the drink cups that you can buy at your resort and use for free drinks throughout your stay.  They cost around $12-$15, depending on the cup.  We thought that these are going to be amazing because when we originally learned about them we though you could use them in the parks.  NOT SO!  The cups are only good at the resorts for free drinks.  Since our meal plan already gave us free drinks and we could get free water whenever we needed it, the cups were not worth the price.  Now, if you want them as a souvenir, by all means do it.  We chose other souvenirs.  We also didn’t feel like we had to keep up with the cups in the parks and had our hands free.

Any other thoughts or questions about the dining plan?  Be sure to include them in the comments section.

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