Here are my best tips and tricks for getting the most out of the Disney Dining Plan. If you want some basic info, check out my Disney Dining Plan 101 post. I suggest reading that post first if you are new to the plans or this stuff may just be confusing!
TIP #1: Take Advantage of the Dining Plan’s Flexibility
My first tip is that the Dining Plan is actually much more flexible than it may sound!
You do not actually have to use a credit for every member of your party every time you dine. For example, one Table Service credit includes:
- One entree
- One dessert
- One beverage
However, if your spouse wants a beverage and entree but no dessert and you want an appetizer and dessert, you two can essentially “share” one Table Service credit and just pay for the appetizer out-of-pocket.
This can really help you get the full value of the plan, save your credits for a Signature restaurant, and avoid wasting food (a common complaint about the plan).
The credits you receive for each member of your party are actually pooled together and can be used in any combination on any day of your trip. So you could, for example, eat at two Quick Service restaurants on one day and the next day use two Table Service credits each to enjoy dinner at one of Disney’s fantastic Signature restaurants. Plus the credits are good from the time you check into your resort (which we often do as soon as we arrive, as early as 8 am) until midnight on the day you check out.
You can now even share your credits with guests who are not on your reservation, so if you have friends or family dining with you who aren’t on the plan, you can use your credits to cover their meals if you desire.
TIP #2: Maximize Your Credits
Though there are certain dining locations that give you the best value in terms of your dining credits, I would suggest that you don’t let this fact drive your decisions about where to eat on vacation.
If you want to eat somewhere but it isn’t necessarily the best value on the plan because the entrees are less expensive than other places, then by all means eat there! Overall, you will get your money’s worth out of the standard Dining Plan almost anywhere you eat, so try to dine as if you weren’t bound by the plan. You’ll get incredible value if you are able to get the dining plan for free with Disney popular “Free Dining” promotion, which you can read all about in this post.
That said, locations in which the total cost of your Quick Service Meal is around $20 and Table Service is around $40 give you the best return on your investment on the Dining Plan. Here are some of the best locations for getting the full value out of the plan (find all of their menus here):
- Flame Tree Barbecue (Animal Kindgom)
- Sunshine Seasons (Epcot)
- Tangierine Cafe (Epcot)
- La Cantine de San Angel (Epcot)
- Be Our Guest – Breakfast/Lunch (Magic Kingdom)
- Columbia Harbor House (Magic Kingdom)
- Peco’s Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe (Magic Kingdom)
- Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe (Magic Kindgom)
- Landscape of Flavors – Lunch/Dinner (Art of Animation Resort)
- Pepper Market – Lunch/Dinner (Coronado Springs Resort)
- Wolfgang Puck Express (Downtown Disney)
- Fantasmic Dining Package (Hollywood Studios)
- Chefs de France – Dinner (Epcot)
- Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (Epcot)
- Tutto Italia -Dinner (Epcot)
- Crystal Palace – Dinner (Magic Kingdom)
- Boma – Dinner (Animal Kingdom Lodge)
- Cape May Cafe – Dinner (Beach Club Resort)
- Chef Mickey’s – Dinner (Contemporary Resort)
- ‘Ohana – Dinner (Polynesian Resort)
- Whispering Canyon Cafe – Dinner (Wilderness Lodge)
- California Grill (Contemporary Resort)
- Narcoossee’s (Grand Floridian Resort)
- Yachtsman Steakhouse (Yacht Club Resort)
- Cinderella’s Royal Table – Dinner (Magic Kingdom)
The best use of Quick Service and Table Service credits on the Dining Plan tend to be for lunch and dinner. It is very hard to get good value out of your credits for breakfast, so I would suggest eating a light breakfast in your room (we almost always bring some food with us for this purpose) or paying for breakfast out of pocket at your resort. Often my husband and I share a huge breakfast platter for around $9 and we are full until lunch.
Snack credits may seem like a throw-away addition, but if used wisely, they really can increase the value of your Dining Plan. And in 2017, each member of your party will get two snack credits per day as part of every Dining Plan (as opposed to just one in prior years)!
I estimate the value of a snack credit to be around $4.00. If I want a snack and it is less than $4.00 I usually pay out of pocket for it, even if I’m on the Dining Plan.
If you happen to be visiting Disney World during the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, you can get incredible value out of your snack credits at the festival. Most non-alcoholic drinks and food items available at the more than 30 Marketplace Booths are “snack credit eligible”. Some of these items are in the $6-$8 range which almost doubles the value of your snack credit. We always save up our snack credits for the day we are visiting the festival, then use them on the most expensive items we purchase at the festival. Last visit we had eight snack credits that we used to make a meal of eating our way around the festival.
TIP #3: How to Get Appetizers, Specialty Drinks and Even Alcohol with the Dining Plan
Even though Table Service credits include only an entree, dessert and non-alcoholic drink, there are instances where you can get much more using the Dining Plan. Keep in mind that these have worked for me in the past (I’ve personally done all except the Dinner Shows) and Disney can change their policies and menus at any time without notice.
- Get a free Appetizer + Preferred Seating with the Fantasmic Dining Package – One of the best uses of one Table Service credit is the Fantasmic Dining Package at Mama Melrose’s in Hollywood Studios. Not only do you get preferred seating to the Fantasmic show for the evening (the not-to-be-missed nighttime show at the Studios), but you’ll also get your choice of an appetizer, entree, dessert and beverage. The trade-off is that you’ll eat at an off-peak time (lunch or an early dinner). You can also get a Fantasmic Package at Hollywood & Vine and The Hollywood Brown Derby, but they aren’t as good of a deal.
- Get an Appetizer with the Prix Fixe Dinner Menu at Chefs de France – Another great use of one Table Service credit is the Prix Fixe menu at Chefs de France in Epcot’s France Pavillion. You get to choose an appetizer, entree, and dessert from a set menu and all are included with your one table service credit. Though this restaurant sometimes gets spotty reviews, I think the food is excellent (though not very adventurous), the atmosphere lively, and the servers helpful and eager to talk about their country and cuisine.
- Get a Cheese Plate as An Appetizer at Several Signature Restaurants – Signature Restaurants are the high-end dining establishments at Disney and all require two Table Service credits in exchange for an entree, dessert and drink. However, several restaurants include their Cheese Plate as one of their options for dessert, which means you can order it as part of the dining plan. The cheese plate is usually fantastic and pricey (some upwards of $20) and you can have it served before your meal as an appetizer. One member of your party will have to give up their dessert entitlement, but most folks share desserts anyway so that likely won’t cramp your style too much.
- Get Milkshakes and Smoothies at Several Restaurants – The dining plan gives the examples of soda, coffee, or tea as the beverages included with the dining plan. However at some spots in Disney World you can get specialty drinks such as milkshakes or smoothies instead of the basic beverages. A few I know of are Whispering Canyon Cafe at Wilderness Lodge, Prime Time Cafe at Hollywood Studios, and The Wave at the Contemporary Resort. This might come in handy for a hungry little one, or if you are tired of tea or soda and want to try something fun.
- Beer & Wine is included at Dinner Shows – Though the pamphlet for the dining plan states that no alcohol is included on the plan, you can actually get beer and wine with the Dining Plan in a few spots. The Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Resort as well as the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue andMickey’s Backyard BBQ, both at Fort Wilderness, serve free beer and wine as part of the meal.
TIP #4: Kids Under Three Eat for Free at Certain Restaurants
You may have noticed that the children’s dining plan is for kids ages 3 to 9. What about one and two year-olds who seem to eat their weight in food each day, you say?
Well, you will either have to purchase food for them out of pocket, or dine at restaurants where they can eat for free. Disney’s policy is that kids under three can eat off of their parents’ plates at any buffet. This includes all of the character meals and any other buffet such as Boma (Animal Kingdom Lodge) and Biergarten (Epcot). And they don’t physically have to eat off of your plate, you can get them their own plate of food at no charge.
Even better, at any all-you-care-to-enjoy table service meal (such as the Garden Grill, ‘Ohana and Akershus Royal Banquet Hall), kids under 3 can get a kids’ meal off of the menu totally for free. I was really surprised when I learned about this about a year ago and it has influenced where we decide to eat with our daughter while she is still in the under 3 crowd.
TIP #5 – How to Use the Dining Plan Without Buying Park Tickets
The official line from Disney is that the Dining Plan must be purchased as part of a package that includes a minimum of two-day park tickets. However there are a few exceptions to this rule.
The one we have used most frequently is that anyone staying in room booked with Disney Vacation Club points can add a Dining Plan to their reservation without also adding park tickets. Disney Vacation Club (DVC) is Disney’s super flexible version of a timeshare and there are nine different deluxe resorts with DVC rooms at Walt Disney World.
Anyone can stay in a DVC room by “renting” points from a DVC owner through a site such as MouseOwners or the DVC Rental Store (read my post all about how to rent points to save bunches on deluxe accommodations here). We have been DVC owners in the past and have added the standard Dining Plan to our reservations without any issue.
The other exception to the package requirement is for Annual Pass Holders, who can add the Dining Plan to a room-only reservation without having to buy an additional ticket.
Keep in the mind the Dining Plan has to be purchased for every night of your stay and for everyone in your room. But if you don’t mind switching resorts once during your stay, you can just book one or two nights in a DVC room and add the dining plan for that part of your stay.
This in the one instance I have found when you may be able to get your money’s worth out of the Deluxe Dining Plan. My husband and I stayed one night in a DVC room and added the Deluxe Dining Plan for just that night. We got our refillable mugs (which we could then use for the rest of our stay), two Snack credits each and three Table Service credits each to use over the course of those two days. We used the credits for all of our meals for both days so it worked out to be far less than we would have paid out of pocket for our food.
My Experiences with the Dining Plan
In my opinion, the dining plans are not for everyone on every trip. They makes the most sense for guests who plan on eating several Character Meals or buffets, have big eaters in their party (think teenage boys), and those who don’t mind being nailed down to a schedule. On the other hand, it doesn’t work as well for light eaters, those who prefer Signature restaurants, or those who like to be spontaneous and not be held to hard-and-fast plans for their dining.
My husband and I have taken advantage of the standard Dining Plan on many occasions and I think it is really fun. I like the freedom to choose any entree on the menu without worrying about how expensive it is (otherwise I can’t shake the inner cheapskate, even on vacation).
The way I decide if the Dining Plan if best for our trip is I first try to make a rough plan of how we plan to eat on the trip. Sometimes we like to eat at several Signature restaurants and eat snacks or share a quick service meal for lunch. Other times we have planned on several buffets or all-you-care-to-eat experiences. Then I decide if we can get the same experience with the same type of food for less using the dining plan. Sometimes we can, but sometimes we can’t.
In my experience, servers actually like it when guests are on the dining plan. It guarantees that they will spend a minimum amount on food and (hopefully) tip accordingly. Guests on the dining plan are also more willing to take suggestions for more expensive entrees and desserts, since they are already included with their plan.
In summary, the Dining Plan is just one way to experience the amazing dining options at Walt Disney World. And if you’re able to get it for free (read my post all about the popular free dining offer), it is an especially inexpensive way to try out different restaurants.
Have you ever used a Disney Dining Plan? If so, I’d love if you’d leave a comment and share your experience!