The Disney Dining plan can definitely be a huge convenience saver and provide value on your Disney vacations if used correctly. Here are 10 tips and secrets for utilizing the Dining Plan at Disney World and how you can make sure that it is right for your family:
10. Understand the different plans
There are three different dining plan options for you to choose between based on the needs of your family and your budget. There is the Quick-Service Dining Plan, which gets you 2 quick-service entitlements and 2 snack entitlement per person, per night of your stay. The Disney Dining Plan gets you 1 table service, 1 quick-service and 2 snack entitlement. The Deluxe Dining Plan offers 3 table service entitlements and 2 snack entitlements, and is also the most expensive of the plans. So many options, and so many things to consider, but hopefully you can make the best choice to meet your needs!
9. How the plan works
The dining plan can only be purchased if you book a Disney vacation package. This means that you are staying at a Disney World resort and purchasing park tickets as part of the package. If you make these options, then the dining plan can be added onto the package. The cost is figured based on the type of plan and the number of nights that you will be staying. You will be issued a Magic Band, and at the restaurant they will scan your Magic Band to detect your entitlements and let you know what is included at the meal with your specific dining plan.
8. Do the math
The amount of savings that can be had on the dining plan is all dependent on your dining and location preferences. If you are someone who eats all of your meals on property and would benefit from the amount of food that is given on the dining plan, then it would be a good option for you. On the Deluxe Dining plan, you get 3 table-service (or quick-service) meals per day and a meal on this one is considered an appetizer, entrée, dessert and beverage. That is for each person in the party. You also still get 2 snacks. That ends up being a ton of food. If you wouldn’t normally eat that much or splurge on the meals, then that particular dining plan may not be the best fit for your family and would cost you more. Before each vacation, I usually spend time looking at menu prices and determining what I think we may order or would like versus what we would order on the dining plan and do cost comparisons to determine which is the better deal. Sometimes it make more sense to do more sharing of apps and desserts to save the money!
7. Be careful with 2 entitlement restaurants
If you are going for value with the dining plan and getting the most bang for your buck, the 2 entitlement restaurants aren’t usually the best bet. You end up using double the entitlements for a meal that really isn’t double the cost. This also depends on what you plan to order. The $75 steak/lobster at Narccoossee’s may be a good value for 2 entitlements, while other menu items wouldn’t. Spend time looking at the menus and determining what would be the best value before making your selections. If value isn’t your primary driver, then this tip isn’t for you!
6. Make your reservations in advance
You are able to start making your dining reservations 180 days in advance of the first day of your vacation. I highly recommend that you get your plan together ahead of time and make your reservations at the 180-day mark. There are even some quick-service options that can have reservations made for them, and it makes your life much easier. Disney dining locations are extremely popular and you don’t want to find yourself on the dining plan and unable to get into dining options around you, and have to hunt around to find a place that is taking walk-ins. The reservations go quickly, so it is best to just plan ahead.
5. Get the most out of your snack entitlements
Snack entitlements can be used for many items that you might not realize. It isn’t a good value to use a snack entitlements on water or soda (unless that is just really what you want). There are many $5-6 items that can be purchased using the snack plan. Be sure to check out the bakeries in the different parks, since many items there are on the snack plan. It is also a good idea to save up snack credits for Epcot. The snack stands there accept dining plan (most of them, anyway) and you can sample foods from around the world with only using snack entitlements. (This is especially helpful during Food & Wine Festival!)
4. Don’t forget about gratuities
If you are on a dining plan that includes table service entitlements, it is very important to remember that gratuities are not included unless otherwise specified for particular dining locations (Cinderella’s Royal Table, Hoop De Doo Revue, etc.). You will want to make sure to include gratuities in your budget for your different dining experiences. 15-25% is usually a good rule of thumb depending on the quality of the service. This can definitely add up quickly if you didn’t plan for it. You can charge the gratuities back to your room from your Magic Band if you prefer to make it easier for you.
3. Get the most out of quick-service entitlements
Be Our Guest is a great example of how you can use quick-service entitlement and still get to experience an amazing restaurant. Breakfast and lunch are both quick-service, while dinner is a table service meal. This seems like it may be a model that Disney is moving toward as they add restaurants. Another way to get the most of out of quick-service entitlements is to pool them together. The system doesn’t denote a kid’s quick service entitlement, so you are able to get a full size meal with what you would think is a kid’s entitlement. There are also quick-service establishments that really don’t have a kid’s meal option anyway, so you would get a full-sized meal for the entitlement. You do get a lot of food, so if you are able to share a couple quick-service meals instead of using the allotted amount of entitlements, then you will have more to use and share for other meals.
2. Don’t forget about dinner shows
Now, I know I said that 2 entitlement offerings may not be the best value, but that may not be as true when it comes to dinner shows. These experiences currently are Hoop De Doo Revue and Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show. They usually cost around $65-70+ per person to attend, and include gratuity and unlimited alcohol options for adults. Since you won’t pay additional gratuity for the experience, the shows are amazing and entertaining and you can enjoy alcoholic beverages (which are not included at all in other entitlements) this can become quite a value and an entertaining evening for the whole family!
1. Don’t leave unused credits
If you come to the end of your vacation and find yourself with extra meal or snack entitlements, don’t leave them behind unused! You can get various Mickey treats with the entitlements to bring home to enjoy later or share with others. Now you can convert one meal into 3 snacks, so if you have meals left you can use them to get bags of candy and other treats so that they don’t go to waste. This happened to us one time and we told a cast member in the gift shop of our resort and they walked around with us to help us find the best options and show us items that we might not have realized were on the dining plan. We got to bring home a great selection of treats to enjoy later when we were craving more Disney magic.