Disney Dining Plan Tips & Tricks {Updated for 2018!}

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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 be confusing.

Tip #1: Take Advantage of the Dining Plan’s Flexibility

My first tip is that the 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 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.

Tips & Tricks for the Disney Dining Plan at Walt Disney World!

House-made Gelato at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

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

Tips & Tricks for getting the most out of the Dining Plan at Walt Disney World!

Sunshine Seasons at The Land pavilion in Epcot

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. 

California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort

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):

Quick Service

  • 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)

Table Service 

  • 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)

Signature Restaurants

  • California Grill (Contemporary Resort)
  • Narcoossee’s (Grand Floridian Resort)
  • Yachtsman Steakhouse (Yacht Club Resort)
  • Cinderella’s Royal Table – Dinner (Magic Kingdom)
Tips and tricks for maximizing the Dining Plan at Walt Disney World, including how to get the most for your money and take advantage of the value in the plans.

Steak for brunch at Cinderella’s Royal Table

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.

Tips & Tricks for getting the most out of the Disney Dining Plan at Walt Disney World!

Frushi at Epcot Flower & Garden Festival

If you happen to be visiting Disney World during the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival or Flower & Garden Festival, you can get incredible value out of your snack credits at the festival. Most non-alcoholic drinks and food items available at the 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.

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.

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 working with one of the expert Disney travel agents over at Destinations in Florida! You can get a free quote for a Disney trip here.

Tips and tricks for maximizing the Dining Plan at Walt Disney World, including how to get the most for your money and take advantage of the value in the plans.

Wine & Cheese Sampler at the Food & Wine Festival

Tip #3: How to Get 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 Dining Plan.

And starting in 2018, you can get a specialty drink OR single-serving alcoholic beverage with every meal on the Dining Plans! I’ll share examples of the types of drinks you can get with the Dining Plan in 2018 as soon as it is rolled out.

  • 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 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

Tips and tricks for maximizing the Dining Plan at Walt Disney World, including how to get the most for your money and take advantage of the value in the plans.

Desserts at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, one location where kids under 3 eat for free

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

Tips & Tricks for the Disney Dining Plan at Walt Disney World!

1900 Park Fare, Disney Grand Floridian Resort

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 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.

Tips and tricks for maximizing the Dining Plan at Walt Disney World, including how to get the most for your money and take advantage of the value in the plans.

Quick Service Salmon at Columbia Harbor House

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 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 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).

Tips and tricks for maximizing the Dining Plan at Walt Disney World, including how to get the most for your money and take advantage of the value in the plans.

Brazilian Crispy Pork Belly at Food & Wine Festival

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 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!

Tips and tricks for getting the most out of the dining plan at Walt Disney World! #disneyworld #familytravel,/div>

Or if you have any other questions, leave a comment below or send me a message on The Frugal South’s Facebook page.

 

 

Tips & tricks for getting the most out of the Disney Dining Plan at Walt Disney World!

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43 Responses to Disney Dining Plan Tips & Tricks {Updated for 2018!}

  1. Leah says:

    I’ve updated the post to reflect the change. Thanks again. 🙂

  2. Leah says:

    Thanks so much for the update, Nina-Marie. It was such a good deal I guess it was inevitable!

  3. Nina-Marie says:

    Please note that I saw on the Disney Website that the Fantasmic package for 2018 will no longer include an appetizer. So now you’ll only get a soft drink, entree and dessert. Another value down the drain.

  4. Leah says:

    Pizza delivery costs 2 Table Service credits on the dining plan. You’ll get a large pizza, 2 non-alcoholic beverages, and two desserts. The cost is not per person, but 2 TS credits total. I wouldn’t recommend using Dining Plan credits for pizza delivery since I estimate the value of 2 TS credits is around $70, but you’ll only get roughly $35 value out of the meal.

  5. Terri says:

    How does pizza delivery work on the dinning plan.

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  7. Leah says:

    I agree, Nicole, a dining plan can make vacation much more enjoyable!

  8. Noelle says:

    I have been to Disney World once with a dinning plan but it really made all the difference. They are really great for big parties(more then 2 or 3) and takes the stress out of worry about food money or if u will be able to eat where u want.

  9. Leah says:

    Thanks for the great tip, Tricia! I agree those bounty platters are definitely big enough to share… and they are SO GOOD!

  10. Tricia says:

    Another way I save and use points is splitting a breakfast at hotel. Most have a “big breakfast” platter with eggs, waffle, potatoes and meat. Me and my daughter share. She loves the eggs and potatoes I eat waffle and meat. We get a water bottle as drink and then use our dining mugs for coffee and juice! A great way to share the quick service!!!

  11. Leah says:

    Thanks for the awesome tip, Amy! We do the same thing, right down to the chocolate milk. My daughter only has chocolate milk at Disney World so she thinks they only make it there. We’re going to keep that illusion going for as long as possible. 😉

  12. Amy says:

    On our trip last year, we ate a few nights at our resort & we chose bottled drinks with our meals, such as chocolate milk. Since our room had a fridge, we had them for breakfast. Rather than purchase breakfast, we brought items to eat in our room. Saved us money.

  13. Lesli says:

    We are going in July with our four year old and I did the deluxe for these reasons. We are doing a dinner show, three character meals and I plan on ordering pizza the night we arrive. Plus, my husband and I are semi-foodies (met working in a restaurant) and I have no doubt he will fly through those snack credits, lol.

  14. Leah says:

    Thanks Romo, that’s good to know!

  15. Romo Ruz says:

    Visited Flame Tree the first week in January and I changed items in the selection with no problem. I do not like beans and they changed for fries. Guess I got a nice Cast Member.

  16. Leah says:

    Hi Vanessa! My sister and her husband splurged on the Deluxe Plan for their honeymoon. They said that, while it was fun, it was just too much food. They said they would get the standard plan next time and pay out of pocket for anything beyond what they got with that plan. I think you would save money that way, still have the fun experience of being on a Dining Plan (it is really cool!) and not be so stuffed you can barely move. Hope that helps!

  17. Vanessa Sylvia says:

    I am going on a mini-honeymoon in Disney the end of December (30 December – 3 January). I am trying to decide between the Disney dining plan, or the deluxe dining plan. My fiancé (who isn’t as well versed in all things Disney as I am) is suggesting the basic Disney dining with one counter service, one sit down, and snacks. Knowing that I want to take him to some of the places that need two dining credits (La Cellier, The Boathouse), would you recommend the deluxe? It has been a while since I have gotten the meal plan, and I have never tried the deluxe before. We cant splurge on a lot, and since I believe the food will be my fiancés favorite part, I was considering splurging on the meal plan.

    Thanks in advance!

  18. Leah says:

    Yes! Thanks for sharing this awesome tip, Jen! It is a great way to stretch Quick Service credits. You could likely have enough for free breakfast everyday if you did this at each lunch! Also good to know if your kiddo gets tired of the kid’s meal options, which can be kinda boring after a while.

  19. Jen says:

    One tip that we realized half way through our trip was that for Quick Service meals they don’t differentiate between Adult and Kids. So for lunch I could get 1 QS adult meal for both kids instead of using 2 QS credits for 2 kids meals. (Note, this is not the case for Table Service credits.)

  20. Leah says:

    Hi Ali! It depends on the restaurant. At a regular table service restaurant, yes! I’ve shared a meal with my little one many times. At a buffet or “all-you-care-to-enjoy” meal (such as character dining) there is a set price per person, regardless of how much or little someone eats. So you would be charged the kid’s meal amount there, which is MUCH lower than adult prices thankfully!

  21. Ali says:

    If I have a picky 3 year old can I just let him eat off my plate?

  22. Leah says:

    That’s a great question, Alyce! Cinderella’s Royal Table is a like a buffet in that you are charged a set price each person in your dining party. You do choose an item (or items since it is actually “all you care to enjoy”) off of a menu but you will be charged for each person at the table regardless. We ate breakfast there in November and I personally thought the experience was worth it for two table service credits. The food was excellent but not the highlight – the setting and the princesses are the main attraction! Hope you enjoy. 🙂

  23. Alyce says:

    We are going to Disney World for the first time next month. We have a reservation at Cinderellas Royal Table for breakfast. I’m not a big breakfast eater, and my question is if I can share an entree with my mother that’s going with us? I was curious because I don’t eat much for breakfast and this would save us 2 dining credits.

  24. Leah says:

    I wish the plan worked that way but unfortunately it doesn’t. If you add the dining plan to the first reservation, you will have to use the credits by midnight on the last day of that reservation. So at least that gives you four days to use the credits with one day overlapping into your next stay. I have done this and had no trouble transferring credits when I changed rooms, by the way. Have fun!

  25. Kristen says:

    We have a 3-night DVC reservation using point rentals and are in a queue for an additional 3 nights at a separate DVC resort. Can we purchase the dining plan now for the 3 nights and stretch that out over our 6 night stay?

  26. Leah says:

    2 credits 🙂

  27. Leah says:

    That’s great, Sandra! Sound like y’all have so much fun!

  28. Leah says:

    Hi Erika! Yes, you still get a drink with your QS meal at the resorts. However, you can substitute anything that qualifies as a “snack” for the drink. So if you prefer ice water or are using your refillable mug, I suggest grabbing a snack for later or a dessert instead of the additional drink!

  29. Erika says:

    Im curious about QS meals at the resort. Do you still get a drink? Isnt that redundant since you have the refillable mug.

  30. Sandra says:

    My son is crazy for characters so we always splurge and do the deluxe dining. We have a big breakfast and a big dinner and use extra credits for things like the dinner shows and a meal at the castle. We also usually squeeze in a pizza delivery to our room at some point, which makes the extra credits nice.

  31. Ali says:

    How many credits do the meals at the signature restaurants cost?

  32. Leah says:

    Sorry to hear you had a negative experience at Flame Tree, Melissa. I guess you can’t substitute fries for the beans. They should have told you in a nice way.

  33. Melissa Nicholson says:

    Don’t go to flame tree barbaque they are not very nice. They won’t substitute anything my kids don’t eat beans so I asked for fries they said no. Wanted just an order of fries and onion rings for my oldest they said no and not in a nice way at all

  34. Michelle says:

    Can you pay out of pocket for kids table service meals if you are planning more table service meals than allowed on Plan, saving credits for higher priced meals?

  35. Cathy says:

    Be careful if you have more than 1 room and going to Be Our Guest. We had 4 rooms and 10 people and told there would not be any problems. They never asked for anyone’s bands but my daughters. When we tried to explain to the manager that we needed to devide yo the credits she said they would not be a problem. Well went to dinner and my sons room had no credits because they had taken 10 credits off of his room instead of 3. We had to charge it back to the hotel and then try to straighten it out. This took us a couple of hours and took us away from enjoying our stay at the park.

  36. Jen says:

    Awesome! Thank you so much!

  37. Leah says:

    Hi Jen! Yes, you are able to share table service credits with others and they don’t have to be on the dining plan. This is a recent change! It went into effect mid-2015 and was official as of 2016. Here are all the details from the authority, the Disney Food Blog: http://www.disneyfoodblog.com/2015/07/08/2016-disney-dining-plan-changes-and-updates/

  38. Jen says:

    I know you can share quick service meals. Did I understand that you can now share table service meals? Is that a recent change? Thank you!

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