November 15, 2011

Disney Dining Plan

***If you're already familiar with the way the Disney Dining Plans work, scroll down to the bottom for tips on how to make the most of your dining plan credits or go HERE for information on the 2013 FREE DINING OFFER***

2013 UPDATE:
The biggest change in the dining plan (other than cost which we have updated below) is that the popular Epcot restaurant, Le Cellier is a full time signature restaurant. No longer just a table service at lunch...if these terms confuse you...keep reading, we break it all down.

When you start planning a Disney World vacation, especially your first, one of the biggest questions that you will need to answer is how and where you'll eat. IF you stay at a Disney-owned resort (not just at a resort/hotel which is on or near Disney property) AND you purchase a vacation package with a resort stay and park tickets, you'll also have the option to purchase a Disney Dining Plan. The dining plan (actually there's three different plans) is one of several benefits to being a Disney Resort guest but I'll cover the resorts and their benefits in another post.

As I mentioned, there are technically three different plans and it can be a bit confusing so I'm going to attempt to break it down as succinctly as possible. They are the QUICK SERVICE PLAN, the BASIC DINING PLAN, and the DELUXE DINING PLAN. I'll go into the differences and details of each plan and approximately how much they cost (Disney prices are always subject to change and usually if there's a change, it's upward) but first an overall explanation of dining at Disney World.

Disney World offers three different meal options (plus, all the snack opportunities...can't forget the Dole Whips and Mickey Ice Cream Bars) and all three (as of 2012) include a complementary refillable resort mug (for ALL dining plan participants).

The first type of meal is what's called a QUICK SERVICE MEAL. It's essentially a fast food style restaurant...sometimes with seating inside, sometimes outside...with much better quality food. Quick service (sometimes referred to as "counter service" because you order at a counter) restaurants don't require or accept reservations. Each of the four main theme parks, both water parks and Downtown Disney all have several Quick service restaurants.

The second type of meal is what's called a TABLE SERVICE MEAL. It's a sit down meal with servers like you'd have at home with any normal restaurant except with Disney World's table service meals sometimes have characters like Mickey and Minnie (Chef Mickey's, Donald's Safari Breakfast, Garden Grill to name a few) or the Princesses (such as Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot's Norway) and RESERVATIONS ARE A MUST. I cannot emphasize this enough. Currently, Disney World will take reservations 180 days in advance for the general public and if you're a Disney Resort guests you can call 180 days before your check-in date to make reservations for your entire stay. You can now make a reservation either online at Disney Dining Reservations or by calling Disney World's direct line for dining at 407-WDW-DINE between 7am and 10pm EST. It cannot be overstated how important reservations are at some of Disney World's more popular table service restaurants. I've known people who have waited just a couple days to call and make their reservation but the restaurant they wanted on the day and time they wanted was already booked up so be sure to call as soon as you can.

The last type of meal is a variation of the table service meals called a SIGNATURE MEAL. A signature meal is an extra special meal...either a higher end restaurant (such as California Grill or dinner at Le Cellier) or has something extra about it like a special character experience (for example, a special photo package and dining inside Cinderella's Castle at Cinderella's Royal Table with several of the Princesses in the dining room going from table to table) or a dinner show (like our personal favorite the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue). Signature meals absolutely require advanced reservations and if you are not planning on using a dining plan to pay for your meal, expect to pre-pay with a credit or debit card when you book the reservation.

Ok...still with me?

Now that you understand how Disney World categorizes the various meals they's how the dining plans work...

Adults are considered anyone 10 yrs and up for dining purposes
Children are 3-9 yrs
Children under 3 may share off anyone else in the party's plate

All credits are per person and are based on the number of nights in your reservation NOT THE NUMBER OF DAYS

Credits can be used all at once or spread out and do not need to be used up on a daily/nightly basis

Credits are kept on your "Key to the World" card which is also your room key AND your park ticket

Tax is included but gratuity is not included (except for some specialty meals such as a dinner show like Hoop Dee Doo Musical Review). An 18% gratuity is automatically placed on any party of 6 or more at all table service restaurants

Everyone in a resort room must be on the same dining plan

(per person 3 yrs and up per night of stay)
2 Quick Service Meals (either a complete combo meal OR an entree, dessert  and a non-alcoholic drink)
1 Snack credit (ice cream, chips, veggie dish, etc...generally anything under $4 is the rule)

Each person on the quick service dining plan will also receive a free refillable resort mug.

Current pricing for the quick service plan:
Adults (10yrs and up) $37.58/night of stay
Children (3-9yrs) $14.32/night of stay

(per person 3 yrs and up per night of stay)
1 Table Service Meal*  (entree, dessert and a non-alcoholic drink...unless otherwise noted on the menu, appetizers are NOT included on the dining plan)
1 Quick Service Meal
1 Snack credit

*Guests with either the Basic Dining Plan or Deluxe Dining Plan (details below) can exchange 2 Table
Service Meal credits for 1 Signature Meal per person.

Current pricing for the basic dining plan:

Off-Peak Season:
Adults (10yrs and up) $55.59/night of stay
Children (3-9yrs) $17.16/night of stay

Peak Season:
Adults (10yrs and up) $56.94/night of stay
Children (3-9yrs) $18.16/night of stay

(per person 3yrs and up per night of stay)
3 Meals (EITHER quick service OR table service)
2 Snack Credits

Adults (10yrs and up) $85.52 off peak season or $89.52 peak season

Children (3-9) $23.79 off peak season or $25.79 peak season

Pizza Delivery (not offered at all resorts):
2 Table service credits are required for each meal and includes the gratuity. Included is: 2 non-alcoholic drinks, a pizza and 2 desserts

Room service (not offered at all resorts):
2 Table service credits are required for each meal (just like a meal at a signature restaurant) and includes the gratuity. Each meal includes an entree, dessert and drink (children 3-9 also receive an appetizer)

Wine & Dine Plan (optional add-on that can be added to any package plan):
$39.99 per night per room and must be added for the entire length of stay
1 bottle of wine per room per night from a select wine list. Locations and wine lists are subject to change and wine is subject to availability.
2 wine credits may be exchanged for one bottle of wine with in-room dining or one bottle of wine at a signature restaurant.


If you are visiting Disney World during the Food and Wine Festival (generally the very end of Sept through the first week of Nov), having a dining plan is great. You can use snack credits at the various extra country pavilions-often for small meal samples normally higher than the typical $4 limit. (You cannot, however, use a snack credit  for the wine samples).

Don't waste snack credits just to get water...all the snack vedors will give you a free cup of water and there are water fountains all over the parks (although many would say and I would agree that the tap water doesn't taste very good so consider bringing flavor packets).

Call to make dining reservations at the 180 day cannot be said too many times.

Be sure to keep your restaurant reservation confirmation numbers...either jot them down or just store them in your doesn't happen often, but sometimes Disney loses a reservation or gets the number of guests wrong.

Don't let food allergies keep you away from dining at Disney World. All of the table service restaurants will accommodate you and most of the quick service restaurants have large binders full of food allergy alternatives that they can offer.

Vegetarian and kosher meals are also not hard to find at most Disney World restaurants.

At the end of your vacation, if you still have snack credits available (as we always do), you can go to your resort's gift shop and exchange them for great little souvenirs for kids in your a large (approx 5") lollipop or a box of Minnie's Cookies.

Whichever dining plan works for your family and whether or not you get it as a free package inclusion, you'll love all the great dining opportunities found all over Disney World. We've loved everything from having steak at Le Cellier to watching fireworks from California Grill to seeing our son dance with Mickey and the gang at Mickey's Backyard BBQ.