Monday, March 12, 2012

Dining at Disney

Yummy main entrees served family style at the Garden Grill Restaurant in Epcot - a Character meal with Mickey, Pluto, Chip & Dale

Whew! I am soooo ready to be back to 'normal' blogging - you know the boring stuff like what we did today, etc. So here, without further ado (adu?) is my final Disney segment. Friends who are visiting this a long time later, I'm so sorry I split this up over three months, I know it's harder to find that way! :-(

First things first - After the fact that all Disney hotels are AMAZING and that we LOVE staying on property and using the free buses, etc., the #1 reason we stay on property is so we can purchase a package that includes the Disney Dining Plan. It really is the BEST use of your money as far as food goes.

Now. It's only the best use of your money because Disney has MADE it the best use of your money. For example, I don't know of a buffet in the country that could get by charging $35.99 for a nice dinner buffet. But at Disney, that's par for the course. Crazy prices like this, make the Dining Plan (where you could get that $35 buffet, plus a lunch and a snack for just $8 more) seem like a steal and therefore, more people buy the Disney Dining Plan, right? Following along here?

And here's the kicker. In order to get the Disney Dining Plan, you have to be staying at a Disney Resort Hotel. So do you see how smart this makes Disney? In order to make the best use of your dining money, they have you buy a dining plan (where you pre pay all of your meals) AND they fill up their hotels. Pretty genius, right? Guess they didn't become a muti billion dollar company by accident! Ha!

So, there are 3 types of Dining Plan, plus a few add ons. I don't know much about the add ons, as we have never used them, but I will describe the 3 types that we have used and hopefully that will be some useful information to start with.

I did want to mention, before I begin describing the plans, that you will prepay for all of your food and at that point your meals will be put on your account as "credits." You will be able to use those credits whenever you order and pay for your meal by handing the cashier/ waiter your Key to the World card (KTTW.) Your Key to the World card is essentially just a glorified hotel room key. It will be personalized with your name and it will be your room key, your dining credits and your park ticket (all on one card - how awesome is that?) Once you hand the cashier/ waiter your KTTW card, they'll just deduct what is called a 'dining credit' from your account. So 1 meal = 1 credit. Hope that's clear as mud! Ha!

Quick Service Dining Plan:
Quick Service (also called Counter Service) is a meal where you order at a 'window' and carry your meal to the table yourself. Kind of like a fast food meal, but not entirely. People often tell us they 'got tired of eating chicken nuggets and hamburgers at WDW.' Which is something you can do if you want, but you are NOT in any way limited to just hamburgers and chicken nuggets at Disney Quick Service locations. One of our favorite Quick Service locations is Cosmic Ray's in Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom. There, I get a 1/4 rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans (for the same price as a hamburger!) and Big Daddy usually gets the 1/4 chicken and ribs with green beans and mashed potatoes. THAT is a yummy dinner and not in any way 'fast food.' There are choices like that in all of the parks and at the resorts, so with Quick Service, you are never limited to standard fast food fare.
Chinese Stir Fry (kids meal!) and Grilled Chicken Ceasar Salad from Sunshine Seasons in Epcot - not your standard 'hamburgers and chicken nuggets!

The Quick Service Plan currently comes with 2 Quick Service meals and one snack per day. If you are a big breakfast eater, or if you will need an additional afternoon snack, you'll need to budget a little extra ($3 to $10 per person per day) in food costs. You can totally use your snack credit for breakfast - muffins, donuts, pastries, bowls of cereal, bowls of fruit, yogurt parfaits, etc. all qualify as snacks. As do bottles of water, popcorn, pretzels, soft drinks, smoothies, cupcakes, desserts, ice cream and soooooo much more in the parks!

All of these items pictured - cakes, fruit, uncrustables count as snacks on the Dining Plans! Sooooo many choices!

Another favorite! And a way Snacks can be 'breakfast.' This giant cinnamon roll from the Main Street Bakery in the Magic Kingdom is considered a 1 credit Snack. As is the coffee!

Next is the Disney Dining Plan:(Update: Also called "Plus" Dining as of 2012)
The Disney Dining Plan currently includes 1 snack, 1 Quick Service, and 1 Table Service meal per day. (well, technically per night since if you are staying 4 nights, you get 4 'days' of meals, and so on)
Table service is any meal where you have a waiter/ waitress.

This is our favorite dining plan and the best use of our money that we have found. If you are going to do ANY character meals, this is the plan for you! A few tips:
If you are a math/ money/ budget loving nerd, I feel I need to point out that the BEST use of your money/ Table Service credits will be to book Table Service dinners instead of lunches or breakfasts. For example, if you take your kids to the Pooh and Friends breakfast at the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom, and pay out of pocket (no dining plan) you'll pay roughly $20 per adult. If you go for dinner (same characters, just different time of day) you would be paying $35 per adult.
Since we are on the dining plan and have already paid our $45 (or whatever the rate is at the time you read this) per adult for our meals that day, the 'Best' use of our money would be to eat at the Crystal Palace for dinner.
Now, if you don't care about the best use of your money - and sometimes we don't for various reasons, early morning castle pictures, etc.- then you can book whatever time of day you want. I just wanted to point that out. :-)

Finally - the Deluxe Dining Plan-
The Deluxe Dining Plan has changed from when we used it last. It now includes 1 Snack, and 2 Table Service meals per day.
When we last used the Deluxe plan it was a ridiculous amount of food - I think it was 3 Table Service and 2 snacks per person per day. Gah! It was waaaaaay too much food! This plan is pricey, but if you like to have a waiter/ waitress and you want to experience more of WDW's awesome restaurants, this is the plan for you!


Those are the only 3 plans I feel I can cover. The add ons include things like Wine & Dine (or something like that?) where you prepay for some alcohol costs, but I'm not sure which or how much they are.

A few more points about the Dining Plan:

1 -There is pretty much NOWHERE on Disney property that you can't use your Disney Dining Plan credits. Every restaurant in the parks, every counter service in the parks, every snack cart in the parks, most restaurants at Downtown Disney - they all accept the Disney Dining Plan. (Yes, even Cinderella's Royal Table in the castle!) So don't stress that you'll be limited in your eating choices.

2 - MAKE YOUR RESERVATIONS 180 days in advance! Critical! When we were new to this, I would get up at 6 am Central (because the 407-WDW- DINE opened at 7 am Eastern) to be first in line to get my dining reservations! This is most crucial if you want to dine with princesses, followed by dining with Mickey, and so on. Now, you can get on as early as 5 am Central to make your reservations online using Disney's online Dining Reservation system. You can make your reservations for your entire stay 180 days before the first day of your trip.

Everyone wants to dine (and dance!) with Cinderella and Prince Charming - seen here at 1900 Park Fare in the Grand Floridian, so make those reservations!

3 -You can use your credits whenever you want. They aren't tied to specific days. So for example, if you wanted to do nothing but eat for the first 3 days and then not eat again for the last 3 days, that's totally up to you (although who would do that? Ha!) You can stay for 6 nights and use all 6 of your Quick Service Credits the first 3 days and use your 6 Table Service credits the last 3 days, Disney simply doesn't care. They just credit them to your account/ room and they are yours to use as you wish!

Okay, hope I have helped! I will be adding more pictures as I come across the or take them! Thanks for reading all of this and I hope it helped!