Normally, we’re a Disneyland family, but we recently decided to head east to experience the magic of Walt Disney World Resort. Our goal? To hit four parks in three days while keeping our sanity and as much money in our pockets as possible!
Available at Disney World, we investigated the Disney Dining Plans (DDP). The plans are available for guests who’ve booked a Magic Your Way Vacation Package. Depending on the level of your plan, you’re allocated a certain number of credits to use during your stay at over 100 locations throughout Walt Disney World Resort. The DDP is available at nearly all the parks’ restaurants, resort restaurants, and Disney Springs restaurants. There are a few places that don’t accept the dining plan, but most of them are upscale like Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa; a few places in Disney Springs don’t participate either, like Sprinkles, but the majority do.
KidTripster Tip: It’s a little-known fact, but you actually can add a dining plan to a room-only reservation (without the package), but you have to call to do it.
KidTripster Tip:Disneyland does offer dining plans, but the voucher program works very differently, and in our opinion, isn’t a good buy.
Here’s a look at the different DDPs:
Quick Service gives you two counter service (think cafeteria and fast food-style with trays) and two snack credits per person per night, plus a refillable mug (only refillable at the resorts). A quick service meal consists of an entrée with side or combo meal and non-alcoholic drink. Cost: Youth (3-9) $20.88/night; Adults (10+) $48.19/night.
KidTripster Tip: Quick Service credits don’t differentiate between adults and kids, so kids can use their quick service credits for adult meals. Think about splitting those bigger meals to make your credits go further.
Plus Dining offers one quick service meal, one table service meal, two snacks per person per night, plus a refillable mug (only refillable at the resorts). A table meal consists of an entrée or buffet for breakfast with a non-alcoholic drink; lunch and dinner include a dessert. Cost: Youth (3-9) $24.95/night; Adults (10+) $69.35/night; table service doesn’t include gratuity.
KidTripster Tip: Character dining is included with the table service meals. Here’s where your DDP can pay off! For example, at Chef Mickey’s, it regularly costs $20 for a kid to dine; so for only about $5 more on the DDP, you’re getting that meal, plus all the others. However, know that some experiences (for example, Cinderella’s Royal Table) require two credits.
Deluxe Dining includes three table or quick service meals, two snacks per person per night, plus a refillable mug (only refillable at the resorts). Table meals on this plan also include an appetizer. Cost: Youth (3-9) $38.75/night; Adults (10+) $106.68/night; table service doesn’t include gratuity.
KidTripster Tip: Skip the Deluxe Dining package; in our opinion, it’s a total waste of money.
What did we choose?
We opted for the Quick Service dining plan. With limited time at the parks, we didn’t want to spend an hour of our day waiting to be fed at a sit-down restaurant. We found a wide selection of Quick Service restaurants in the four parks that we visited. I thought that the Quick Service plan wasn’t going to offer us enough food; however it actually was more than enough for my 6- and 8-year old daughters, my husband, and myself.
To get the most bang for our buck, we used our snack credits for breakfast. We simply picked up a muffin, cinnamon roll or bagel. This small breakfast was enough to get us through most of the morning. By the time that we started getting hungry, the Quick Service restaurants were open and serving lunch.
Kidtripster Tip: If you can, get your breakfast snack in the parks rather than the resorts. The portions are bigger; in fact, some items like cinnamon rolls and Elephant Ears are so large, you can share with another person and save snack credits.
That being said, if you do a character meal or two, which most families visiting for a few days will, you’ll end up saving more money on the Plus Dining plan. Also, most families like to have a built-in break with a table service meal at some point in the day.
It pays to do some research in advance; restaurant planning is key. Before you leave, study the Disney website which lists restaurants, menus, and locations. We chose some of our dining based on our Fast Pass reservations. You don’t want to be eating at Cosmic Ray’s and then traipse across the park to ride on Splash Mountain. We used our Fast Pass on Pirates of the Caribbean and then made the short walk to Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe. The Tex-Mex food was delicious with huge portions.
KidTripster Tip: Reservations are strongly recommended at sit-down restaurants and for all character dining experiences. Read more here.
KidTripster Tip: You can use your snack credits on more “meal-worthy” snacks like egg rolls, sweet potatoes or yogurt parfaits at different park kiosks. Also, don’t waste your snack credits on bottled water. Any counter service location with a soda fountain will give you a free glass of ice water, if you ask.
KidTripster Tip: Download the Disney World app, so you can have access to all the eateries on the go. The app can filter dining choices based on the different parks, dining plans accepted, guest rating, and more!
Would we choose DDP again?
Most likely, yes. It was nice to have the food expenses paid up front; it helped us better budget for our trip. While the Quick Service plan worked for us, if I had two teenaged boys instead of two petite girls, I may have decided differently.
Lastly, know that Disney won’t refund unused credits. So if you have leftovers, use them! On your last day, go to the resort gift shop. Any table or counter service meal can be converted to three snack credits. Use them to buy prepackaged items like Mickey sour gummies, Chip and Dale crackers, or lollipops for friends at a home.
Holly Thiel lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two daughters. Growing up as an “airline brat,” it was natural for her to wander into the world of travel.
Jamie Farber also contributed to this article. Jamie lives in West Michigan with her husband and three sons. Her English degree somehow has led her to a career planning Disney vacations with Mickey Travels.