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?
- Dining plan credits can be used to pay for other people who are not on a dining plan. For example, if a friend visits you one night and you all go to dinner you can use one of your credits to pay for their dinner. Similarly, if you have two rooms booked, you can get the dining plan for just one room and not for the other, but use the credits from one room to pay for meals for everyone (someone who is actually on the dining plan must be present at each meal to use the credits). If you really only want to use dining plan credits for one meal a day, this can be a good way of stretching the plan to cover more people.
- You do not have to use a credit for each person in your party, at most restaurants. The big exceptions are buffets and all-you-can-eat restaurants: at those, everyone has to pay, either with a dining plan credit or out of pocket. But for most restaurants, you can order using credits for some people and pay out of pocket for others, or some people can just not order anything, or order something small like a salad or appetizer if they’re not super hungry. Restaurants are technically not supposed to “split” a dining plan meal credit for two people, but if one person orders a whole meal and the other doesn’t, they’re not going to stop you from sharing your food, and will usually be willing to bring you an extra plate. They just won’t split the entree onto two plates for you.
- 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, and all of the credits are available as early as the morning of the day you arrive and check in. Each time anyone uses a credit, their receipt will list the remaining credits for the entire group. For instance, here’s the credits a family of 4 (2 adults, 2 kids) staying for 5 nights would have available, based on which dining plan they chose:
- Quick Service Dining Plan: 40 quick service credits (child/adult credits are the same for quick service), 40 snack credits
- Standard Dining Plan: 20 quick service credits, 10 adult table service credits, 10 child table service credits, 40 snack credits
- Deluxe Dining Plan: 60 deluxe credits (child/adult credits are the same for deluxe), 40 snack 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, or want snacks for your trip home.
- 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 about $38 on the 2018 plan for each adult table-service meal or lunch/dinner deluxe meal (including beverage and dessert, and an appetizer for deluxe meals). If you get food worth less than that at a meal, you’re not likely getting your money’s worth.
- Paying for breakfast with a table-service or deluxe credit is typically a very bad deal. Breakfast is relatively inexpensive, even at sit-down restaurants, so you’re usually better off paying out of pocket as a general rule. The big exception here is character breakfasts, which tend to be pricey.
- Using deluxe credits for quick-service meals is always a terrible deal. There is no way we know of to come out financially ahead on that.
- In theory, the deluxe plan has the potential to save the most money, but it requires that you have three table-service meals per day (or one regular and one signature table service meal) to realize those savings. If you have even one quick-service meal each day, the savings pretty much disappear.
- Signature restaurant meals are almost never a great value on any dining plan, because they cost two dining plan credits but the food isn’t twice as expensive as other restaurants. The average prices at signature restaurants are in the neighborhood of 50% higher than the regular restaurants, but you’re using 100% more credits.
- Often the highest value for a single table service or deluxe 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-2017. 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-2017). Technically, you are supposed to order from the children’s menu, even on the Deluxe plan, but in practice many restaurants will let a child order an adult meal with a Deluxe credit. It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask. 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 use a child credit and order from the children’s menu (or see below; some restaurants will make child portions of other food).
- With the Deluxe plan, one strategy that can work reasonably well is to pay out of pocket for children’s meals (or share food from an adult meal), conserving your credits to use for adults. For example, say you have a party of 4, 3 adults and 1 child, which gives you 12 Deluxe credits per day to use for any kind of meals you want. If you only use your credits for adult meals, you could use 3 credits for breakfast and 3 credits for lunch, leaving you with 6 credits to buy three adult Signature meals. You would either pay out of pocket for the children’s meals or share food from the adult meals.
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 about $19 on the 2018 plan for each counter-service meal (including beverage). If you get food worth less than that at a meal, you’re not getting your money’s worth.
- It’s rarely a good deal to spend a counter-service meal credit for breakfast. Be Our Guest’s very expensive breakfast is one example where it pencils out as a good deal, but most of the time it’s a roughly break-even proposition unless you order the most expensive thing.
- As of mid-2017, 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. And if one adult goes up to the register and orders for the whole family, they have no way to know who is eating which entree.
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 $24 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 (any normal beverage is covered, even fancy caramel macchiatos and frappuccinos)
- ice cream novelty
- frozen fruit bar
- box of popcorn
- piece of fruit
- snack-sized bag of chips
- bakery items like cookies and brownies
- 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.