Disney Dining Plan Tips and Tricks
Disney’s Dining Plans at Walt Disney World, including the Quick Service Dining Plan, standard Dining Plan and Deluxe Dining Plan, are very popular, but are not really a great bargain for most people. You can save money by using them — IF you plan and use the options carefully.
If you aren’t familiar with what’s included in the Disney Dining Plans, click on the links above.
Please note that all information below is subject to change at any time.
- Helpful Tips for Making the Most of the Disney Dining Plans
- Getting the Most Value for Your Table Service Meal Credits
- Getting the Most Value for Your Quick Service Meal Credits
- What Can You Get With Snack Credits?
- All of the meal credits for everyone in your party are “pooled” in the sense that any member of the party has access to all of the credits assigned to the entire party. For instance, if you have a family of 4 (2 adults, 2 kids) and stay for 5 nights, you’ll have a “pool” of 20 table service credits to use (10 adult credits, 10 child credits).
- You can use the meal credits whenever you want during your Disney World vacation. For example, if you’re on the regular or Deluxe Disney Dining Plan and you want to eat two table service meals one day and three quick service meals the next day, no problem. Or if you’re on the Quick Service Dining Plan and you want to use up all of your snack credits in one day, that’s fine.
- At most quick service restaurant locations (not kiosks or carts), you can exchange one Quick Service credit for three snack items. All three items must count as dining plan snacks (they’ll have the special “snack” logo next to them on the menu), and all three must be purchased together in one transaction. This is not typically a significant savings, but it might be useful if you want to make a meal out of three sides, or want extra sides for other meals.
- The 2016 dining plan includes dessert with both lunch and dinner, which is a lot. Fresh fruit (if available) can be counted as a dessert, so if you don’t want dessert when eating a quick service meal, take a banana or apple to go and use it as a snack later in the day. Or pick a muffin as your “dessert” and save it for breakfast the next day. At most quick-service locations, you can substitute a snack item for the dessert; ask first to see if they allow it. (The 2017 dining plan removes the dessert from quick-service meals, so the regular Dining Plan includes only one dessert per day, and the Quick Service Dining Plan includes no dessert at all.)
- At most table service locations, you can trade in your dessert for a soup, side salad or fruit plate. Not all locations have all of those options, and some might not have anything to substitute. If you want something other than dessert, though, it’s definitely worth asking what options are available.
- If you don’t want the drink that is included with your quick service meal, you can generally get a snack item instead, or you can ask for a bottle of water to go.
- You can use a table service credit at a quick service location. This is a terrible idea from a value standpoint, but it does add flexibility. You cannot, however, go the other way. Quick service credits are not worth anything at table service locations.
- Gratuities are NOT included except for In-Room Dining (room service), Pizza Delivery, Disney Dinner Shows and Cinderella’s Royal Table, so you’ll need to budget for that. No gratuities are necessary at Quick Service dining locations.
- The list of participating restaurants changes occasionally. Note that when packages are first put on sale for the following year, contracts may not be in place with all of the non-Disney-owned restaurants yet. (Several restaurants at Walt Disney World, especially at Coronado Springs Resort, Epcot and Disney Springs, are not owned or operated by Disney.) If your favorite restaurant was participating in past years and is suddenly dropped from the brochure for next year, don’t panic — it will probably be added later, when the contract is signed.
- Some special menus (i.e. special prix fixe menus at certain restaurants) and menu add-ons (such as “add lobster tail” to a steak entree) will not be included in the dining plans. The menu will note an upcharge, which may be based on the type of dining plan you’re using.
- Any leftover snacks or quick service meals can be used to pack a lunch for the trip home. Your resort’s food court has packable food.
- If you have snack credits left over at the end of your vacation, many of the quick service restaurants offer Mickey-shaped rice krispy treats on a stick that you can get with snack credits. These make cute gifts to take home for friends and family — or you can eat ’em on the plane!
- MouseSavers.com reader Christie B. says she learned “we could use our snack credits to buy German, Swiss and Belgian chocolate bars in the candy store in Germany at Epcot. On our last day we used all of our remaining snacks at the candy store on Main St in the Magic Kingdom. After eating all we could, we brought pounds of homemade fudge, candy apples, truffles, etc. to friends and family back home. Don’t think all your snacks have to be used at the carts — we found out several stores had included items.”
- The author and founder of The Disney Food Blog, AJ Wolfe, has written The Disney Food Blog Guide to Dining at Walt Disney World, a stunningly illustrated, annually updated guide that lays out what meal choices are available at Walt Disney World, provides excellent planning tools, and offers useful tips and tricks that you just can’t find in one place anywhere else.
Thanks to Heather G and Small World Vacations for suggestions.
- As a very rough rule of thumb, when you break down what you’re getting from a dining plan and what it costs, you’re paying (as of mid-2016) about $35 (pre-tax) for each adult table-service meal. If you get food worth less than that at a meal, you’re not getting your money’s worth.
- At a regular table-service restaurant, a non-alcoholic drink is worth about $3, and table-service desserts average about $7, so your entree needs to average $25 or more for you to come out ahead. Typically you can only do that at dinner; most lunch menus don’t have anything that costly on them. At many restaurants there is only one item that expensive, usually a steak.
- Paying for breakfast with a table-service credit is typically a very bad deal. Breakfast is relatively inexpensive, even at sit-down restaurants, so you’re better off paying out of pocket as a general rule.
- Often the highest value for a single table service meal credit is a dinner buffet. Buffet dinner prices are very high, starting at $38 per adult and $23 per child (at the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom) and going as high as $50/$30 (at Hollywood & Vine in Disney’s Hollywood Studios), as of mid-2016. If you plan to eat at a lot of buffets, you’ll generally get full value from the dining plan, especially if you have a lot of children 9 or under, as the child price for a buffet is much higher than any other children’s meals at table service restaurants.
- Deluxe dining plan meal credits are not differentiated in Disney’s system between children and adults (as of mid-2016), so you can order an adult meal for your child if you wish, if you are on the Deluxe Dining Plan. At some locations, they may ask that you order for children from the children’s menu, but lately they seem to have relaxed that requirement. Note that this will not work with the regular Dining Plan – their table-service credits for children and adults are tracked separately, and children have to order from the children’s menu (or see below; some restaurants will make child portions of other food).
Children’s Meal Selections
Kids’ selections at some restaurants can be limited. Some table service locations in the theme parks are now using a standardized kids’ menu that some feel is not very good. Two things to keep in mind:
- Ask for alternatives. If your kids don’t like anything on the kids’ menu, ask the server if they can have a child-sized portion of something from the adult menu. Often this will be accommodated.
- Ask to see the chef if your child has an allergy or dietary issue (i.e. vegetarianism) that causes a problem with selecting from the standard kids’ menu. Better yet, call Disney Dining at (407) WDW-DINE (939-3463) before your visit and have this noted on your reservations. Disney is very good about accommodating this sort of issue.
- Choose buffet locations, where the selection is broader and your child can pick what he or she likes.
- As a very rough rule of thumb, when you break down what you’re getting from a dining plan and what it costs, you’re paying (as of mid-2016) about $16 (pre-tax) for each adult counter-service meal. This drops to $12 in 2017, as quick-service meals will no longer include dessert. If you get food worth less than that at a meal, you’re not getting your money’s worth.
- At a regular counter-service restaurant, a non-alcoholic drink is worth about $3, and counter-service desserts average about $4, so your entree needs to average $9 or more for you to come out ahead. There are usually several options that are at least that expensive at most counter-service locations for both lunch and dinner.
- It’s rarely a good deal to spend a counter-service meal credit for breakfast, especially with the 2016 plan, as you’re paying for a dessert but not actually getting one. It’s a little better deal on the 2017 plan, but again you need to get fairly expensive breakfast items to make it worth the money.
- As of mid-2016, counter-service credits are not differentiated in Disney’s system between adult and children, so you can order an adult meal for your child. At some locations, if it’s obvious that you’re buying the meal for a child, they may ask you to order from the children’s selections, but mostly they don’t seem to care much what you order for each person.
Disney’s resort food courts tend to have the greatest selection of high-end quick service food selections. If you want a change from the typical burgers and chicken strips, consider these locations:
- Be Our Guest restaurant in Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland offers amazing theming and a menu of mostly traditional French food. It is a Quick Service location at breakfast and lunch ONLY – in the evenings you’ll have to use Table Service credits to eat there. The breakfast is a great use of a Quick Service dining credit, as it’s a flat $21.99 per adult; probably the most expensive Quick Service breakfast in all of Walt Disney World.
- Landscape of Flavors at Art of Animation Resort has many interesting offerings, including a tandoor oven producing items like naan, tandoori chicken and shrimp; a Mongolian grill; gelato; coffee/espresso drinks; and a variety of “better for you” foods such as multigrain rice, buckwheat pasta and waffles, egg white frittatas, make-your-own yogurt parfaits and low-fat smoothies. The usual burgers, fries and Mickey waffles are also available.
- Everything Pop at Pop Century Resort has a great selection, including flatbreads (pizzas), grill items, Italian and Asian options.
- Pepper Market at Coronado Springs Resort has many more selections than the average quick service location. From the various stations you can get Mexican food, steaks, ribs, Caesar salad with shrimp, pasta, pizza, rotisserie chicken and more. Note that this restaurant is not operated by Disney and may not appear on the list of allowed restaurants currently, but based on previous years, once a contract is signed, it will be added.
- Mara in Animal Kingdom Lodge has a few “exotic” quick service food choices. The soups are the same African-inspired ones served at Boma, the buffet restaurant at the Lodge.
- Contempo Cafe at Contemporary Resort has some nice options such as a spicy mahi sandwich, marinated beef flatbread and chicken basil pasta.
Kids’ quick service selections can be very limited. At some locations, the only side orders listed for kids are carrot sticks, grapes and applesauce and all the drinks are “healthy” (milk, juice, water), but you can usually substitute french fries and soda if you wish. If your kids don’t like the kids’ meals, here are a couple of ways around that:
- A few quick service locations don’t have a kids’ menu. That means you can order any combo or entree on the menu with a child credit. These locations are: Casey’s Corner at Magic Kingdom; Catalina Eddie’s and Toluca Legs Turkey Company at Disney’s Hollywood Studios; Sommerfest at Epcot (Germany) and Yorkshire County Fish Shop at Epcot (UK).
- You can buy your two adult meals at a location offering meals the adults like, then go to another location that has better kids’ options and buy their meals there.
If you are on the regular Disney Dining Plan, you may want to consider sharing quick service meals. For instance, a family of four might try ordering two adult quick service meals and sharing the food, possibly supplementing the meal by paying out of pocket for a few a la carte items (like extra side orders or drinks). If this works for you, you may be able to stretch your quick service meals to cover two meals a day. Some of the best locations for this strategy:
- Sunshine Seasons at Epcot (Future World) – there’s an Asian combo that allows you to pick two entrees and two sides, plus they have a much more extensive selection of desserts than most counter service locations
- If you like chicken, the following restaurants offer a half chicken meal, which can serve two people who aren’t big eaters: Flame Tree Barbecue at Animal Kingdom; Cosmic Ray’s at Magic Kingdom; Mara at Animal Kingdom Lodge.
As a rule of thumb, most snacks will cost less than $5 (before tax), but Disney has lately expanded the definition of snack considerably, so that price is no longer the primary determining factor. Generally speaking a snack includes any single-serving item that isn’t an entree (like a muffin or cookie), anything that is listed as a “side” at a quick service restaurant, any single-serving non-alcoholic beverage in a regular (not souvenir) cup or any ice-cream novelty or up to two-scoop ice cream creation is a snack. In addition, many small prepackaged food items like small boxes of cookies, pretzels, etc. If you want to know whether something is a snack or not, look for the purple “snack” symbol on the menu, or just ask if something is or is not a snack. In some cases, optional add-ons (like sauces, toppings or syrups) are included, and in other cases not. Again, ask first if it’s included.
Snacks can be redeemed at quick service, theme park shop, resort shop or snack cart locations. Qualifying locations display a “dining plan” logo on their menus indicating items for which you can use your snack credits.
Among the items usually available with Disney Dining Plan snack credits:
- Starbucks or Joffrey’s coffee or tea beverage
- ice cream novelty
- frozen fruit bar
- box of popcorn
- piece of fruit
- snack-sized bag of chips
- bakery items
- caramel apples
- Mickey rice krispy treats
- bottled soft drinks
- bottled Powerade
- bottled water
- bottled fruit juice
- plain or flavored milk
Also, during the Food & Wine Festival, snack credits can be redeemed for most “tasting portions” offered in the booths around World Showcase.
Want more details on snacks? The author and founder of The Disney Food Blog, AJ Wolfe, has written specialized e-Books about the snacks at Epcot and Magic Kingdom, which are ideal for helping you get the most from your snack credits.
Thanks to Sue Pisaturo of Small World Vacations for updated information.