The Disney Dining Plan is Walt Disney World's pre-paid meal system that, when understood and used correctly, can give resort guests flexible dining options with great potential savings. However it is also viewed by many as a complicated system that quite often adds more stress to their vacation whilst trying to use it rather than less. So I thought I would do a beginner's guide to using the Dining Plan, so that hopefully the next time you use it, it will add to your dining experiences and not take away from it!
So from the very beginning ...
The Disney Dining Plan is a pre-paid meal plan offered at Walt Disney World that allows guests to better budget for all dining expenses with the potential of saving money. It is only offered to resort guests purchasing a Magic Your Way Package or booking using their Disney Vacation Club Points. Depending on the type of plan you purchase, and more importantly, the way you use it, you could enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner for your entire trip without having to spend much more on food.
Here is an overview of the two main plans available and current pricing as of March 2016 (Pricing information from wdwinfo.com). Each guest will receive the Dining Plan's meal/snack allocation for each night of their resort hotel stay. There are other plans available but these are the two most popular. The plan will expire at midnight on the day of check out.
So here are my top tips that will hopefully help you to better understand each of the credits and how you can use them effectively:
The Quick Service Credit:
- In Disney World, you can redeem your quick service credit at most quick service (counter service) restaurants located within Walt Disney World property. This includes the theme parks, water parks, Disney Springs and Disney Resorts. The quick service restaurants can be likened to a fast food restaurant where you order your meal at a counter, receive it and then find your own seats. You are not being served by anyone and you don't need to add a gratuity. However one common misconception is that all quick service restaurants are going to serve burgers and fries. That is simply not the case. At Disney World the quick service restaurants all have very different menus that include foods from around the world that will suit varied tastes and dietary requirements. However, as each restaurant menu is limited to one specific theme or cuisine it is also very important that you do a little research on what is available at the park you are going to be visiting and pick restaurants that most suit your tastes.
- Most quick service restaurants open at 11am for lunch service and will be open until the park closes, so you can use your quick service credit to buy lunch or dinner. Some open for breakfast too. This means that you can absolutely find healthy options suitable for dinner that are usually very generous in their portion size. So a quick service meal is not necessarily lunch only! It can absolutely be dinner as well and even breakfast at select locations. Many prefer eating quick service because they don't want to loose valuable park time!
- At a quick service restaurant the entrées may range significantly in price however all will be eligible for the quick service meal credit. The same will apply to the dessert/side/beverage options available. This means the more expensive the meal is that you order, the greater value you are getting from the plan.
- Recent changes to the dining plans mean that you are now allowed to substitute the dessert option for an alternative side or soup option. Great for those who prefer not to eat too many sweet treats.
- Quick service credits can also be converted into 3 snacks at select quick service locations that will include most Disney resorts and some theme park locations.
- In Disney World you can redeem your table service credit at most table service restaurants (including character dining locations) located within Walt Disney World property. This includes the theme parks, water parks, Disney Springs and Disney Resorts. The exception to this is will be the fine dining or signature restaurants on property and the dinner shows. These usually take 2 table service credits per person instead.
- Table service restaurants are self explanatory. You are seated at a table and waited on. You will however need to add a gratuity which will not be included with the Disney Dining plan. The majority of table service restaurants accept Advance Dining Reservations and these are strongly recommended especially at peak season.
- Most table service restaurants will be open for lunch and dinner. Some may also have a breakfast or brunch sitting. This means that the table service credit doesn't necessarily have to be used for your dinner. It could instead be used for a sit down breakfast or lunch.
- Buffet style restaurants are also included in the table service restaurant bracket and will also be eligible as use with the dining plan table service credit.
- At table service restaurants the entrées may range significantly in price however all will be eligible for the Table service credit. The only exception to this is if an entrée is specifically created to serve more than one individual. The same will apply to the desserts available.
- The non alcoholic beverages at table services restaurants eligible on the dining plan will normally include sodas, tea and coffee. However if there are milkshakes or smoothies on the menu these are usually also allowed so always ask! Drinks in souvenir cups will not be allowed.
The Snack Credit
- The snack credit can be redeemed at many Quick-Service restaurants, most outdoor food carts and select merchandise locations.
- An eligible snack on the dining plan is a single serving item that isn't an entrée. It is usually an item under $5.00 however with recent changes to the dining plans, there are now snacks over $5.00 that are eligible too. A snack can include bottles of water, soda, single pieces of fruit, ice-creams, pastries, bakery items, cookies, muffins and much more. On previous trips we have discovered ice cream sundaes that are eligible too!
- An eligible snack can also be a side or a soup at a quick service location.
- The Disney snack symbol located beside each item on the menu or on display makes it extremely easy to see which items are eligible as snacks under the plan.
The Rapid Fill Resort refillable drink mug
- The mugs are equipped with a Radio Frequency Identification chip (otherwise known as RFID). If received as part of the Dining Plan they will be activated for your entire resort stay.
- Once you have arrived at your resort, you need to go to the resort quick service restaurant to pick up your mug. This can be done at any point, not necessarily upon immediate arrival, however the sooner you get it, the sooner you get free sodas!
- The refillable mug can only be used at the quick service restaurants located in the Disney Resort hotels and not in the theme parks.
- The Disney Water parks also have a separate refillable mug system and the resort mug can not be filled up here either.
- Although you won't be able to get refills inside the parks, you are allowed to bring your mug with you into the parks.
- The drinks available at the refill stations are the usual types of sodas, teas and coffees.
Some general bits of information regarding the plan.
- The meal/snack credits can be redeemed in any order at any time from the moment you check in, and until midnight on the day of check out. This is especially useful if you want to eat off property one day at a non-Disney attraction, you still have your credits to use the following days of your vacation.
- All meals or snacks are redeemed using your MagicBand and each time, a receipt will print out showing your remaining meal/snack credits so it is very easy to keep a track of what you have remaining.
- At a quick service or snack kiosk location only one family member needs to queue to order the meals for the entire party. Their MagicBand can redeem the meals/snacks for the entire family as long as they are under the same resort reservation.
- The Disney Dining Plan is unavailable for Guests under the age of 3, but they may share from an adult plate at no charge, or a meal may be purchased from the menu at an additional cost. However if you eat at a buffet style restaurant they are allowed their own plate which means those restaurants can be more cost effective for parents with younger children.
So hopefully this makes the Disney Dining Plan seem a little simpler or at the very least a bit more understandable. As I said at the outset, when used correctly you can have really great dining experiences for less money. Bon Appetit!