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Top 10 Tips To Get the Most from the Disney Dining Plan

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.

9 thoughts on “Top 10 Tips To Get the Most from the Disney Dining Plan”

  1. Some more tips:

    1) You’ll never use all of your snack credits. You’ll already be eating full meals 2 times, even sometimes 3 times per day, at Disney portion sizes. You just won’t have physical room for the snacks. So, make a plan to spend some time on your last day to visit a confectioner’s shop. There are 2 very good ones for this: Main Street at MK, and the Boardwalk. Go in there, ask for a CM’s help if you don’t know which snacks qualify, and start filling up. On one of our last trips, we managed to stuff two large shopping backs with non-perishable snacks. Not only will they last forever on your pantry shelf and provide nice memories until your next trip, but you can repackaged them as gifts to family and friends back home.

    2) That midnight deadline on the last day? It’s a little fuzzy. If you’re in the middle of Magic Hours and you’re still in the park, either the CMs look the other way as a group, or the system still allows you to spend snack credits after the deadline. We were in the MK on some extended hours until 2AM, and the cards still functioned for snack purchases.

    3) Everyone says “buy the most expensive item on the menu to get your money’s worth”, but what they don’t mention is that you still have to pay the tip on the meal. Tips are not covered by the dining plan. If you’re in a party of 6 or more, in fact, the tip is required and predetermined. So, if you’re buying the most expensive thing, factor in the idea that you’re going to be paying for 20% of that out of pocket. Eating a lot of 2-credit meals with 6 people, and you can find yourself dropping 50-60 dollars per meal on the tip alone.

    4) Try your hardest to not schedule more than 2 table service meals per day. Not only is it a lot of food to ingest, but a Disney meal takes at least 1-2 hours out of your day (from getting a table, deciding what to eat, waiting for the food to arrive, and then arranging the dessert or even paying the bill. Don’t get me started on time-to-eat if costumed characters are present). If you try and eat 3 meals a day, no only will you still be full at the start of the last meal, but you’ll spend your whole day riding maybe one or two rides in between chasing the next meal.

    5) Some of the best meals can be found at the resorts, instead of the parks, and they’re also covered by the dining plan. Disney buses will take you everywhere, but you may need to change to a different bus at a central location, like the Transportation Center or Downtown Disney. If it looks like you’ll need to change a bus, consider calling a cab, so you don’t spend yet more time chasing down a meal.

  2. This is one of the best articles I have seen written on how to actually use the dining plan instead of just which restaurants to use it at. Thanks for the information.

  3. Many people–the guys at WDW TODAY esp.–are against the Dining Plan. But if you have kids, it really is the best way to go, esp. if you are going to do character dining. One character dining meal on a certain day is equivalent, if not more than the cost of a kids’ regular DDP, so in essence you get counter service and snack free.

    With adults too, it allows you to buy what you like and not worry about the cost. If I was paying for a disney meal, I would not order the steak, but if I want to on the DDP, I can and not feel guilty. If you like to eat, and eat good expensive stuff, it helps too.

    GREAT ARTICLE by the way.

  4. Are you saying that I could instead use my children’s quick service meals to buy adult meals? On our last trip there were places that didn’t offer chicken strips for the kids but forced them to eat the nuggets and my kids just ended up throwing them away. If we would be able to get them food they’ll actually eat, that would be awesome…

    1. Yep, my 6 year old ate from the adult menu for our last trip everywhere except Wolfgang puck express. They looked at our party and said “ok so three adults meals and one child’s meal?” What would you like? They are on to us lol but I think that’s because they are more of a table service place even though they are considered quick service.
      Never a problem anywhere else.

  5. You can go online and pull up the menus for the restaurants and you can make reservations up to 6 months in advance to save you time waiting in line to get seated in a restaurant.

  6. I have never been a fan of the dining plan (mainly because I could not understand it). After reading this I might have to give this a try. The way you explained it I can get my money out of it.

  7. Thank you so much for this article! This next trip to DisneyWorld will be my first time staying onsite, and DDP is completely new to me. The tips and comments are super helpful. Many many thanks!

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