Author, Walt Disney World with Kids
No one could have predicted the runaway success of the Walt Disney World Dining Plan. It's part of the Magic Your Way packages, which include lodging at on-site hotels, theme park tickets, and meals at your choice of over 100 Disney World restaurants. But how do you know which package to choose? And how can you make sure those dining credits are getting maximum bang for the buck?
1. Do your research.
Start at Disney's web site, where there are four options. Since hardly anyone traveling with children needs the fine-dining-oriented Premium Plan, and the Deluxe Plan includes so much food that you'll spend your entire vacation in restaurants, the vast majority of families end up deciding between just two plans:
- the Quick Service Plan, which provides each family member two quick-service meals and two snacks each day
- the Standard Plan which provides one table-service meal, one quick-service meal and one snack each day
Which works for you? The Quick Service Plan is cheaper and a good choice for families with young kids who might not want or need a big, table-service meal every day. The downside to Quick Service is that you end up eating a lot of fast food and, because your restaurant options are limited, you can't combine credits for fun extras like character meals.
The Standard Plan works well for families with older kids, who'll enjoy the atmosphere and pageantry of Disney restaurants, and who'll eat enough to justify the increase in cost. It's also the better option if you plan to take in character meals.
2. Make reservations as early as possible.
Once you've chosen your plan, make your dining reservations either online or by calling 407-WDW-DINE. Ideally you should lock in reservations 90 days in advance, especially if you're booking character meals. Because the plans have made full-service dining more affordable, suddenly the restaurants—especially those within the theme parks—are so crowded that families without advance reservations risk getting frozen out of the most popular restaurants. Even worse, during summers and holidays they may wind up unable to get into any full-service restaurants at all. Nothing is sadder than having to burn a table-service credit on a quick-service meal!
3. Keep track of your credits.
When you arrive at Disney World, your dining plan is loaded into your Key to the World card, which is also your room key and theme park ticket. Pretty handy! Present it to your server or cashier before ordering your meal, and the card electronically monitors your allotted meals. Afterwards, your receipt shows your balance, so you can easily keep track of how many meals are left on the plan.
4. Make smart choices so you can splurge at least once.
If you want to try one of Disney's signature restaurants—somewhere swank like California Grille, Jiko's, Flying Fish etc.—or if your kids have their hearts set on the princess character breakfast at Cinderella Castle, these upscale experiences will cost you two credits. Many families consider it well worth it, even if that means making do with fast food the next day.
5. Have a Plan B.
If you were napping during step two and manage to arrive in Orlando without having made advance dining reservations, all is not lost. Guest Relations in either the theme parks or your on-site hotel may still be able to find available seating - most likely at "off" times such as 4:30 pm, when many of the full-service restaurants open for dinner. Your odds also improve if you're willing to leave the theme parks and venture to the hotels for meals. It only takes fifteen minutes, for example, to hop the monorail from the Magic Kingdom to the Kona Café at the Polynesian Resort. And finally, buffets move people in and out quickly and are more likely to be able to handle last minute walk-ups than other table-service restaurants.
The dining plan can really help your family's bottom line - my readers who've chosen the standard option estimate they saved about 30% on food costs. But to make sure you end up eating where and when you want, get your Donalds and Daisys in a row and book early.