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Learning all of the ins and outs about Walt Disney World can be like learning another language. And, when it comes to the Disney Dining Plan, there’s everything from cost to where to dine, that needs to be considered. So, where do you begin? Right here! I’ve narrowed down everything you need to know about the Disney Dining Plan. Let’s dig in!
Ahh, Walt Disney World (WDW) restaurants. As a gal with a foodie family, planning our vacation to the most magical place on earth wouldn’t be the same without making sure there’s time to dine. And, when it comes to dining at WDW, there are plenty of options to choose from.
There’s quick service meals, buffets, Disney World character dining, and more, and they all have something to offer guests. For several years, WDW has offered Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests the option of adding the Disney Dining Plan. And while it’s easy to add to your vacation, learning the hows and whys can be the opposite. Fear not! I’ve done the footwork for both my family and our readers to help you decide which plan to choose.
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In a nutshell, the Disney Dining Plan (DDP) is a way for adults and children 3 years and older to purchase meals ahead of time if they are staying at an official Walt Disney World Resort. Each meal plan has certain allotments for each meal and includes at least one snack per person, per day. Depending on how you use it (and how much you like to eat!), you can potentially save money on dining.
Note: The Disney Dining Plan cost increases as you move up to a more-inclusive plan.
In addition to dining and snack credits, each member of your party will receive a refillable mug that may be used at your resort for the length of your stay. It can be used for soda, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, and offers unlimited refills. If you have kids that drink a lot, it definitely pays for itself. Of course, you can always purchase one out of pocket as well. At the time this was written, each is right around $20. They offer cute, Disney-themed patterns on the side and different colored lids, too.
When it comes to which meals that may be chosen, kids between the ages 3-9 must order off the children’s menu when available. Of course, should you choose a buffet for one of your table service credits (Disney likes to call them “all you care to enjoy” meals), kids may eat as much as they like – no children’s menu needed.
As for entitlements (the Disney fancy word for credits), apart from Signature Dining Restaurants that cost two credits, each meal will use one dining credit per person. Should you decide to dine in a WDW theme park, make sure you have a valid park ticket. Even if that’s all you’ll be doing inside, you’ll still need it.
Because it can be a little confusing, here’s exactly what you’ll get for each style of meal:
Each Quick-Service meal includes (for breakfast, lunch or dinner) one entrée and one nonalcoholic beverage (or alcoholic beverage, for guests 21 and older). Think of quick service restaurants as Disney fast food.
Each Table-Service meal includes (for breakfast) one entrée and one nonalcoholic beverage (or alcoholic beverage, for guests 21 and older) or one full buffet or family-style meal.
Each Table-Service meal includes (for lunch or dinner): one entrée, one dessert, and one nonalcoholic beverage (or alcoholic beverage, for guests 21 and older) or one full buffet or family-style meal.
Snacks on the DDP can be a little tricky to narrow down, but there are more than plenty to choose from. For example, an entire box of donuts is not considered a snack credit, but a single serving is.
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There are three tiers to the Disney Dining Plan. The DDP offers several tiers to allow you to customize your dining experiences.
Quick Service Plan – Each person will receive two quick service meals and two snacks per day. Each meal also includes a nonalcoholic beverage (or if over 21 years old, alcohol is now included with the plans) per person.
Disney Dining Plan – I like to consider this one the most popular of the DDPs as it offers a little of everything. Each person gets One Quick Service Meal, one Table Service meal, and two snacks. Drinks are included with each meal as well.
Deluxe Dining Plan – This one’s a lot of food! Each guest receives three meals and two snacks everyday. Those meals are Table Service meals, too. Walt Disney World doesn’t skimp on portions, either. So, unless you’re full-on foodies that love visiting for the dining experiences, you are better off choosing a lower tier.
First, let’s start with the types of dining experiences that are offered. At the resorts, Disney Springs, and in the theme parks, you’ll find table service and quick service locations. If your family is the “ get in and eat and head back to the attractions” type, quick service is the way to go.
If you’re looking for more of an experience when you dine, you’re going to want to look into table service (sit down) restaurants when you go. As a rule, a quick service restaurant is less expensive than a table service restaurant. You’ll need to figure in gratuity for sit-down style meals as well. In addition, you can absolutely dine at a table service restaurant and simply order appetizers or snacks, but to do that on the DDP would make it less cost-effective.
In the parks, you’ll also find snack carts that offer all kinds of tasty treats. Personally, I love Mickey Premium ice cream bars and, my favorite, Dole Whip Floats from Aloha Isle in Magic Kingdom. If you like sweet snacks, you’ll definitely want to head to an indoor location with a bakery counter. It’s there you’ll find candy apples, giant cookies, fudge – you name it. Also, drinks (fountain or bottled)are considered snack credits if not combined with a meal. Look for the DDP symbol in front of snacks to make sure it’s on the plan.
When you purchase a DDP, there are plenty of locations where you may use your credits. In the theme parks, there are sit-down locations, counter service locations, and locations to purchase snacks. Depending on which Disney Resort hotel you select, you’ll have either quick service or both quick service and table service available. In general, Value Resorts offer only Quick Service dining, while Moderate and Deluxe Resorts offers both. Deluxe Resorts offer Signature Dining experiences that really amp up meals with character dining or super delicious food. Again, each Signature Dining experience will be two table service credits per person, so you’ll have to save up your credits. You can also pay out of pocket for less-costly meals if you won’t have enough credits.
Dining at Walt Disney World is very popular, especially when it comes to table service restaurants. Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) are the way to go if you’re certain about dining in particular restaurants. No matter if you’re staying on property or not, ADRs can be locked down at 180 days from your dining date. For many of the most popular restaurants (Cinderella’s Royal Table and Be Our Guest at Magic Kingdom, for example), locking down a date and time as soon as possible makes sense.
To make an ADR, you’ll first have to have a My Disney Experience account set up. It’s very easy to create an account and from there, either via online or the app, you’re able to pick and choose your dining experiences. You’ll also need to have a credit card on file to hold the reservation, just in case of a no-show. If you decide not to show up, and don’t cancel 24 hours before, you’re credit card will be charged a no-show fee per person. You won’t have to link every dining party member to the reservation, just make sure to have the correct number of guests.
As a gal that’s both purchased the Disney Dining and paid out of pocket on family vacations, there are benefits to both. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Don’t use DDP snack credits to pay for bottled water. At every quick service counter that sells fountain drinks, you can ask for free cups of ice water. And, you can do that as many times a day (for as many people) as you’d like. If you only like to drink bottled water, consider purchasing a case of it from Amazon Prime Pantry and having it shipped to you.
If you have snack credits left over at the end of your vacation, use them for bagged snacks. They can be taken home or eaten on the plane.
One Dining Credit equals three snack credits. If you have any leftover, again, use them for snacks to take home.