Here are my best tips and tricks for getting the most out of the Disney Dining Plan at Walt Disney World!
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 post may just confuse you.
Tip #1: Take Advantage of the Dining Plan’s Flexibility
My next tip is that the Disney Dining Plan is 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 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.
You can eat two Quick Service meals on one day and the next day use two Table Service credits to enjoy dinner at one of Disney’s fantastic Signature restaurants. Plus your 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 Disney Dining Plan Credits
There are definitely certain dining locations that give you the best value on the Disney Dining Plan. That said, 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 Disney 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’s popular “Free Dining” promotion, which you can read all about in this post.
Locations in which the total cost of your Quick Service Meal is above $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 (Disney Springs)
- The Polite Pig (Disney Springs)
- 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 Boathouse (Disney Springs)
The best use of Quick Service and Table Service credits on the Disney 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 (check out how to get groceries delivered to resort for free in this post) 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 throwaway addition, but if used wisely, they really can increase the value of your Dining Plan.
And starting in 2017, each member of your party will get two snack credits per day as part of every Disney 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 one of the Epcot festivals, you can get incredible value out of your snack credits.
Most non-alcoholic drinks and food items available at the Marketplace Booths are “snack credit eligible”.
Some of these items are in the $6-$10 range which can double the value of your snack credit. Last visit we had eight snack credits that we used to make a meal of eating our way around Food & Wine festival.
If you want someone to help you pick the best restaurants AND make all of your dining reservations for you (at no cost to you), then I strongly suggest that you get a free quote from the expert Disney travel agents over at Destinations in Florida!
Tip #3: Get Alcohol, Appetizers, Specialty Drinks, and More with the Disney Dining Plan
Even though Table Service credits include only an entree, dessert, and a beverage, there are instances where you can get much more using the Disney Dining Plan.
And starting in 2018, you can get a specialty drink OR single-serving alcoholic beverage with every meal on the Disney Dining Plans!
I’m happy to report that pretty much ANY alcoholic drink is included in the Dining Plan.
For example, you can get a top-shelf Patron Lime Margarita from La Cantina de San Angel in Epcot that would cost $15.75 out-of-pocket as your drink with a Quick Service credit! If you are going to get a drink with lunch and dinner anyway, the Dining Plan makes it very affordable to do so.
Here are other ways to get more with the Dining Plan:
- 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. 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 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 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 (for 1 credit) and The Hollywood Brown Derby (for 2 credits).
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 Disney 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 a room booked with Disney Vacation Club points can add a Disney 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 (check out my post all about how to rent points to save bunches on deluxe accommodations here).
Another 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. Members of the military can also add a dining plan to their resort stay without having to buy park tickets (which can be bought at a steep discount at a military base or Shades of Green – thanks for this info, Peg!).
Keep in the mind the Disney 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 is 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 Disney Dining Plan
In my opinion, the dining plans are not for everyone on every trip.
They make 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 Disney 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 is 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 Disney 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 about the popular free dining offer), it is an especially inexpensive way to try out different restaurants.
If want help planning a vacation with or without the dining plan, I suggest getting a free quote from the expert Disney agents over at Destinations in Florida. They can help you find the right resort, book your dining reservations, FastPasses, and more, all at no cost to you!
Or if you have any other questions, leave a comment below or send me a message on The Frugal South’s Facebook page.