I’ve already written about whether or not the Disney dining plan is a good deal, but I haven’t discussed how you use it. Chances are if you’re a first-timer using the plan, you’re a little overwhelmed: You’ve got credits and refillable mugs and desserts that you might not even want coming out of your ears! Fortunately, using the plan doesn’t have to be confusing and it can be easy to maximize your credits so that you get the most out of the plan. Here’s how.
1. The dining plan starts as soon as you check into your resort and get your Key to the World Card. Contrary to popular belief, “check-in” at a Disney resort doesn’t start when you get your room, which may be as late as 3:00 in the afternoon, but when you check into the resort, which can be any time of the day. You’ll get all your dining credits and then you can start using them immediately. On a related note, your credits are good until midnight the day you check out.
2. Quick-service and table-service meals each come with one entrée, dessert, and a non-alcoholic drink. At buffets, this means access to the buffet and drinks.
3. The dining plan has a lot of flexibility. Use three table-service credits one day and none the next. Spend all of your snack credits on the last day. It’s your choice.
4. All of your dining credits are “pooled” under the names of everyone on the reservation, which means they aren’t assigned to anyone in particular. So say you have three adults and two children in your room and one of those adults, Cousin Orville, just doesn’t like eating dinner at a sit-down restaurant every night, preferring a leisurely soak in the tub instead. You and your wife can use Orville’s credits another night since you’re all on the same resort reservation.
5. All credits are created equally, so buy the expensive stuff! Okay, so I’m not saying always order the steak over the chicken, but the dining plan does allow you order anything you like, so feel free to experiment. It’s one of the advantages of the plan.
6. Pay out of pocket for less expensive meals if you’re going to come up short on your credits. I like eating at table-service restaurants most nights of my trip, but sometimes those places take two credits, which means that I’ll run out of credits before the end of my trip. To minimize expenses, I simply pay for the least expensive meals out of pocket. In other words, use your table-service credits for places like Ohana and character meals, which will run you $35 or more, and pay out of pocket for that $12.99 order of pancakes at Grand Floridian Café.
7. Say no to using snack credits for drinks. A soda on property costs around $2.59. A cupcake costs around $5. It’s easy to fall into the trap of just reaching for your Key to the World Card and buying a drink when you’re tired and hot, but save those credits for when you really need them: When confronted with a massive cupcake as big as your head.
8. There’s a difference between a child’s table-service credit and an adult’s table-service credit. Simply put, kids must use a child’s credit for these meals. Snacks and quick-service credits, as of this writing, do not differentiate based on ages; in other words, these credits all look the same to the computer. Do with that information what you will. Keep in mind that an adult may use her child’s table-service credit and her child may use the adult credit if that family so wishes.
9. Your dining plan includes a refillable mug which can be used at your resort only. You’ll find soda (Coke products), sports drinks, coffee, and tea available. There are small sinks near the drink stations where you can wash your mug. Most pools also have a drink station, so this can be a money-saver on days you decide to camp out by the pool.
10. Quick-service desserts are, for the most part, terrible. Since you’ll be getting a dessert with both your quick-service and your table-service meals, consider asking the cast member to substitute a bottle water, piece of fruit, or even a yogurt for dessert and save the empty calories for your table-service meal.
As you can see, using the plan is actually pretty easy. Do you have any tips you can offer? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.