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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.

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).

We saw the teaser trailer for Cat Cora and the Muppets new web series last week. Turns out it wasn’t for The Disney Channel, but rather for Disney Online and DisneyFamily.com. “Muppets Kitchen” and “Hasty Tasty” both aim to help families rediscover together time through cooking.

Disney Online, part of the Disney Interactive Media Group, launched two new original video series today featuring The Muppets and celebrity chef Cat Cora. “The Muppets Kitchen with Cat Cora” on Disney.com (www.Disney.com/MuppetsKitchen) inspires and entertains families through cooking and classic Muppet comedy, while “Hasty Tasty Cooking Tips with Cat Cora and the Muppets” on Disney Family.com (www.Family.com/HastyTasty) was created specifically for moms, offering recipes, step-by-step cooking tips and fun family-time ideas. “Muppets Kitchen” and “Hasty Tasty” are exclusively sponsored by the all-new Honda Odyssey and the National Milk Mustache “got milk?”® Campaign.