Using the Disney dining plan isn’t as straight-forward as simply walking into a restaurant and handing over your Key to the World Card: While all credits are created equal, not everything you buy will be. While it’s obvious that missing meals is essentially throwing money away, so is using a snack credit for a soda. Fortunately, using the plan effectively is actually quite easy. Here are the top ten tricks that will help you get the most out of the plan:
10. Use your dining plan for character meals and other more expensive dining locations. Look at it this way: For guests 10-years old and up, the dining plan costs $56 per person per night: This gives you a table service, meal, a quick service meal, a snack, and a refillable mug. If you estimate $4 for a snack, and $14 for a quick-service meal, you still need to “spend” $38 on your table-service meal that day. That’s not difficult to do if you’re eating dinner at location like Boma or Ohana, but if you’re eating at Via Napoli or 50s Prime Time Café, your tab is going to come in at around $30 per person. Not only did you not break even that day, you actually lost money.
9. Pay out of pocket for less expensive meals and you avoid the scenario above. This only works if you plan on eating more table-service meals than you’re actually allotted on the plan.
8. Avoid using your snack credits for drinks. As noted above, the dining plan works best when you save your credits for more expensive items, so save your credits for items cupcakes or ice cream (both $4 or more) and pay out of pocket for your drinks (usually under $3).
7. Live it up. Since everything on the menu is one credit (or two at some locations), buy the most expensive thing if you like. While you shouldn’t do this simply so you can get a “better” deal, now is certainly the time to order the filet rather than the chicken if that’s what you prefer.
6. Substitute bottled water, fruit or yogurt for quick-service desserts. Most people don’t want dessert with every meal, but that’s what you’re getting on the dining plan. While table-service desserts are usually very good, those at most quick-service locations are barely worthy of the name. Instead of taking another piece of dried-out cake, ask the cast member if you can exchange it for a bottle of water or fruit. Most locations will allow you to do this without any questions asked.
5. Eat breakfast in your room. One of the easiest ways to save money is also one of the smartest. Rather than eating a high-sugar, carb-filled breakfast while you’re on the run in the parks, try some cereal and milk in your room. All Disney resort rooms now have refrigerators, so it’s easy to do. I also like this option because it means you can feed your kids before the long bus ride to the parks. Full tummies mean they’ll be a lot happier once they get to the parks and it means you won’t have to wait in long lines full of hungry guests when you should be running to Toy Story Midway Mania.
4. Think twice about using two credits on a meal. I’m not suggesting that you skip Disney’s signature restaurants, which take two dining credits: They’re too good to be missed. What I’m suggesting is that quite often, it’s better to pay out of pocket for these meals. Look at the scenario in part 1 above: Two credits means you’ll need to spend around $76 to break even. The most expensive entrée s at Disney signature restaurants top out at around $42. Desserts will usually set you back around $10. Add a $4 drink and you’ve only spent $56, far below the $76 you’ll need to break even.
3. The best deal on the dining plan is for kids ages 3 to 9. You can’t feed a kid for $17 a day at Disney World, so kids in this age group really benefit from being on the plan. The problems start when your kid turns 10—they might not eat like an adult but you’ll certainly be paying for them as though they do. Think about reevaluating how the plan works for you when your kids are in that “gray’ area. It might be more cost-effective to skip the plan during this time.
2. Missing meals on the plan is a big no-no. Worst –case scenario, you trade a missed table-service meal for a quick-service meal, but even under the best circumstances, you’ve lost money. If you find yourself with leftover credits at the end of your trip that you simply can’t use, make sure you “pay it forward.” Most cast members will allow you to pay for the meals of other guests around you. If you have left over snack credits, head over to one of the candy shops and buy packaged treats. They make great stocking stuffers or small gifts for friends back home.
1. A little preparation before you go will result in a more relaxing vacation. It doesn’t take a ton of research, but make sure you check out menus online so that you can determine which restaurants are the best use of your dining credits. I’m not a big fan of over-planning, but it’s important to make your advanced dining reservations as soon as possible so that you actually have a place to “spend” your credits. Finally, understand the basics of the plan, how credits are allotted, and where you can use them.
Do you have any unique tips for using the dining plan. Please share them in the comments. We’re always on the lookout for better ways to use the plan.