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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Disney Dining Plans

One of the things that kept me from booking our first trip to the Walt Disney World Resort was worrying about meals. . . where would we eat? When would we eat? How much would it cost? I wanted dining at the World to be more like taking a cruise or staying at an all inclusive resort where your meals are built into the cost of your trip and there is some convenience to dining so I didn’t have to worry about making the decisions to the above questions when we were all hungry.



As if by magic, Disney magic, just prior to our first resort stay in November 2006, Disney introduced the Dining Plan. Basic dining plan which included a table service meal, counter service meal, and snack per person per night of your stay. The credits for the meals are electronically added to your Key to the World card and you can use the credits any way you like. For example, if you eat two counter service meals one day you can use two table service credits the next day. Chef Mickey’s is a restaurant where you would use one table service credit per person while Pecos Bills is a counter service credit per person.



When the Dining Plan first came on the scene it included appetizers for table service meals and the tip. Both of those went away by the end of 2007 when contracts were renegotiated with cast members. Now, table service meals include entrée, dessert, and drink (non alcoholic) while quick service meals include a combo meal, dessert, and drink. Snacks range from popcorn or a drink at the parks to a bag of apples or carrot slices. Mickey Bars can be had for a snack credit!



Just as everything Disney, the Dining Plan has evolved over the years to now include 3 different dining plans so you can have the magic your way.



Quick Service Dining Plan: This plan includes two counter service meals and two snacks per person per day. This plan also includes a refillable mug per person. This plan is good for people staying at a Disney Resort—the only place you can refill your mug is at the food court in a Disney Resort. Also, for folks who don’t want to take away any park time by sitting at a restaurant or are traveling with light eaters. I was recently visiting with a fellow Disney enthusiast who was helping another family with teenage girls plan their trip. Their reasoning was teenage girls don’t eat very much, at least in this family, so they were leaning towards the Quick Service Dining Plan.

The Quick Service Plan would have also been good for the gentleman we bumped into at 'OHANA's one morning.  We were waiting for our 7:30 am ADR to eat breakfast with Lilo and Stitch when he appeared.  Obviously a guest at the Polynesian, he wondered if breakfast was served at 'OHANA's and when he found out he needed to have an ADR, he was a bit miffed.  Upon visiting with him, I discovered that he and his family had come to Disney and had booked either the Basic or Deluxe Dining plan, but failed to make any Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR's) so they weren't having any luck using their table service credits.  I had two suggestions for the man. . . for this trip, see about exchanging a table service credit for a counter service credit and a snack.  This can be done and is somewhat better than having the table service credits go to waste.  He didn't know he could do this.  The second suggestion was for next time and that the Quick Service dining plan may be a better option for his family.  Again, he didn't know about the Quick Service dining option.  While he walked away still hungry, he was armed with more information that could help him.  This is exactly the scenario I want to avoid when traveling with my family and illustrates once again, that you gotta do your homework and planning prior to coming to Disney.  I know, the two words homework and vacation conjure up some sort of twisted oxymoron, a juxtaposition of two words that typically don't go together.  But just as all things magical at Disney, they do go together and make for a happier Walt Disney World Vacation.


Basic Dining Plan: This plan includes a table service meal, counter service meal, and snack per person per day. The Basic Dining Plan is good for folks who want to eat at restaurants at the Walt Disney World Resort but not spend all of their time sitting at a restaurant. The counter service meal credits allow for even more flexibility. This is our “go to” plan and it has worked for us . . . numerous times!



Deluxe Dining Plan: This plan includes 3 table service meals, including appetizers, and two snacks per person per day and also includes a refillable mug per person. You will definitely not go hungry on this plan. I visited with a family who had tried this plan and they said they spent almost $500 on tips. Given that the a check for a table service meal can be $90 - $150 just for a family of 3 and then you tip 15-20% of that times 3 times per day, the tips can add up! This plan only makes economic sense if you are planning to eat at restaurants that require “2 table service credits” per person per meal. Examples include: Cinderella’s Royal Table, Hoop Dee Dodo Review, Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, and the Luau at the Polynesian Resort, etc.  Dollar for dollar, this is the most economical plan if you don't include park time you may be missing.



Disney has variations on the theme that are a part of the Premium or Platinum packages which include the Deluxe Dining Plan. You can also add a Wine Package to your Deluxe Dining Plan if you like.



So, here’s how we do it to avoid the questions and decision making while park touring and being hungry . . . Where are we going to eat? When are we going to eat? How much will it cost? We add the Basic Dining Plan to our trip—now the only cash we need for eating is our tip money. And, we have been able to score the dining plan for free 3 of our last 6 trips and will once again get free dining on our upcoming trip! (You still pay the tip even when the Dining Plan is free.)



Knowing that we will be using the Dining Plan, we make our Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR’s) 180 prior to our first day of our trip. (I’ll write later about how to decide what, where, and when you want to eat 6 months ahead.) If we want to eat at say, Hoop Dee Doo Review (click here to read more) then we pay for that restaurant rather than use our table service credits. Typically on every trip, we end up paying separately for one meal. Sometimes that is Mickey’s Backyard BBQ (click here to read more) and sometimes it is an extra counter service meal when we have used all our credits. Combine the Dining Plan with some goodies we pack—small boxes of cereal, granola bars, juice boxes, our refillable mugs, and we are good to go!

Check out the Disney web-site for more information about Dining Plans.

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