Planning for Walt Disney World Dining

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When I started planning our recent Walt Disney World trip, choosing where to stay and when to go were actually not the most difficult parts…it was planning for our dining experience! I probably spent more time stressing over this than anything else.

 

Man, that’s a lot of food!

 

For those of you who have never been to Walt Disney World before, you are probably thinking Don’t you just show up at a restaurant and eat? Ummm, not even close. There are over 100 places to eat in the four parks and the resorts. Then there’s the whole Disney Dining Plan thing. Oh boy! I thought I would walk you through our decision making process in case this is something you will need to do. Here are some decisions you will need to make and how we handled it.

 

Should you buy the Disney Dining Plan?

If you purchase a Magic Your Way package, which includes your hotel stay at a Walt Disney World owned and operated hotel and your park admission passes, you have the option of adding on the Disney Dining Plan. Essentially, you are prepaying for your meals before you even arrive. There are several different levels of Dining Plans that offer you different types of meals at different types of restaurants. This can get very confusing. For detailed information on how this all works, I recommend you visit The Disney Food Blog. They thoroughly explain all of the plans and have several FAQ pages.

 

Here’s how we made our decision…My boys were only five at the time and they are extremely picky eaters. Plus they are not very big eaters yet. I knew I needed to think very carefully about this. I went on the official Walt Disney World website to do all of our planning. Since you can’t buy the dining plan separately, it’s hard to get a quote just for that. Once I knew when we wanted to go, where we wanted to stay, and what type of park passes we wanted, I entered all of that information in to get rates. Then I was able to see how much extra the different Disney Dining Plans would be. Here’s a simple breakdown for two adults and two children staying seven nights at a moderate resort, with all amounts rounded to the nearest dollar:

  • Quick-Service Dining Plan = $775 extra (Each person gets 1 quick-service meal and 1 snack per night)
  • Dining Plan = $1086 extra (Each person gets 1 table-service meal, 1 quick-service meal, and 1 snack per night)
  • Deluxe Dining Plan = $1882 extra (Each person gets 3 meals of any type and 2 snacks per night)

I don’t know about you, but we typically eat three meals a day. For the Quick-Service Plan and the regular Dining Plan, you are still paying out of pocket for any other meals you want to eat. The only plan that includes all three meals is the Deluxe Plan. That plan works out to be $269 a day. If you ate at least two of your meals every day at a table-service restaurant, you would eat your money’s worth easily. We didn’t want to do that. My boys are too picky, plus most of the table-service restaurants require advance reservations. We didn’t want to tie up our trip with that many scheduled meals this time.

Our decision…No Disney Dining Plan for us. Financially, it just didn’t make sense. Maybe when my boys are teenagers and eating us out of house and home! By the way, we spent $1184 on all of our food for this trip. We only had three table-service meals on the whole trip, but we ate three meals a day and had snacks every day. This total also includes what we ate on our overnight stays (lunch and dinner) on the way down and back!

***Special note: There have been many times over the years when WDW has offered the Disney Dining Plan free. When they do that, they typically don’t offer hotel discounts at the same time. So, in that case, you need to whip out your calculator and decide which is better for you!***

What advanced dining reservations should you make?

If you are staying on Disney property, you can make reservations 180 days ahead of your arrival. Yup, six months! It may seem crazy making restaurant reservations months ahead, but it is somewhat necessary, especially for character meals. If your little girl wants to eat at Cinderella’s Royal Table, you better book your reservations 180 days ahead.

 

Here’s how we made our decision…I booked our room and tickets about five months ahead. I knew already that we didn’t want too many table-service meals, but I also knew that we absolutely had to do at least one character meal. That meant research. There are soooo many all over the parks and the resorts! The folks over at Chatting Over Chocolate have tips on Choosing the Perfect Character Meal for Your Family with lots of photos, if you need help choosing.

 

Our decision…We only made two advance reservations. We decided on a late breakfast at Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort and an early dinner at The Garden Grill in EPCOT. By the time we finally decided, our trip was less than three months away. We made reservations at slightly off times because that’s what was left. In the end, we were very happy with those times. Yeah, you really do need to book ahead!

 

One final tip for families with picky eaters:

Did you know that you can see menus from all of the restaurants (table-service and quick-service) online? Before our trip, I went to AllEars.net and looked at EVERY SINGLE RESTAURANT. Yes I did. I even made a spread sheet for each park, listing the restaurants we could eat at and what they offered. Have you ever been at a theme park for the first time with hungry children and you have to walk around to a few food places before you find one that has food you all like? Well, I didn’t want to waste time doing that. That’s why I went to all of that trouble. It was totally worth it! To give you an example, if we were in the Magic Kingdom, in Tomorrowland, all I had to do was pull out my paper and I knew we could head over to Cosmic Ray’s and we would all find something to eat.What should you do? If you are planning a trip in the near future, you should do three things right away:

  1. Think long and hard about how your family eats and then do some math to see if it is worth it for you to buy a Disney Dining Plan.
  2. Decide if you want to do any character meals. If you do, choose which ones and make your reservations ASAP.
  3. If you have VERY picky eaters, start looking at the restaurant menus so you know where you can eat on your trip.

Do you have a trip to Walt Disney World coming up? What dining plans have you made?

10 Comments

  1. Amazing!! Great advice! Not only did I have a picky eater to contend with at Disney World, but I also had a food allergy child. 🙂 Fun fun. But Disney is the best place to be for all of those issues. Enjoy your trip!

  2. Lets see, we will be there the end of October through the beginning of December. I know we have:
    Hollywood and Vine Character (Studios)
    Crystal Palace Character (Magic Kingdom)
    Tusker House Character (Animal Kingdom)

    We just made these ADRs the other week but we can get away with late booking because we have such a large time frame to work with. When we are there we keep checking on other places in case we want to add them in… If you can’t get a reservation somewhere before you go, keep checking because you might just find an opening because someone canceled their reservation!

  3. When we went (before LO) we did the Disney Dining plan both times. We were lucky to get free dining both times, but we would have bought it anyway. Hubby loved paying everything in advance and not having to worry about extra costs. We did the regular dining plan with 2 meals a day, and luke you, I was concerned about paying out of pocket for the 3rd meal. We managed to do things like eat breakfast in our room from food purchased at the resort hotel (at reasonable prices) and the Disney folks were really accomodating – you can use snack credits for any food item up to $4 (at the time we went). We always had extra snacks and could actually buy breakfast, or at least milk & fruit with our snack credits and pay for the difference. We even once used a credit for a turkey leg & waters, which we shared for lunch (I think this may have been a mistake…but we loved it!) So all in all, if you get creative, the dining plan can be a good deal. Can’t wait for our next trip (LO’s first!)

  4. Great tips. I don’t know if we will do Disney with Liv or not. Florida is a common destination for us since my stepson lives there, but I am ready to go to the Caribbean again! Have you ever done a Disney cruise?

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