When planning a trip to Disney, there are several things that we all think of: which parks to visit, where to stay, what to bring, how much we can spend, and what we can stuff into our faces. Seriously, have you ever thought about your upcoming trip to Disney and not considered all of your junk food possibilities? Walt Disney World can be the mecca of calories, fat, and sugar if you let it and most don’t usually say no to Mickey shaped snacks and fried concoctions on a stick. The truth is that feeding yourself while at Disney is one of the most important things to consider and factors such as cost, location, and timing shouldn’t be ignored.
While planning and considering your food options, it’s necessary to know about, research, and decide on a Disney Dining Plan (if any), what is available to you in each park, which table-service restaurants are worth it, and what other aspects are important for you to keep in mind. My goal here is to help you decide which method of consumption is right for you and to keep you from dining with ankle-biters and fairytale characters if that’s not your preference.
Disney Dining Plans
As part of the Magic Your Way Vacation Package system, Disney has added a Disney Dining Plan option, a feature that can be added and adjusted to best suit your group. The plans essentially allow you to choose how often you want to eat each day, what you want to eat each day (full meals or basic snacks), and where you want to eat each day (quick counters or table-service restaurants). Plans are only available when you purchase a hotel and ticket package and are never sold as separate deals. When you’ve decided on which plan works best for you, your “meal-credits” are added to your Key to the World card and work similar to a college meal plan.
Most Disney Dining Plans include 3 meals and two snacks per day. Whether these meals are had at a picnic table near a fast food counter or enjoyed on a table cloth with waiters in bow ties depends on which package you buy. As packages increase in value your location options expand. Larger plans even let you choose from character dining, dinner shows, and other delightfully tacky experiences. When considering whether or not you want to make reservations at nicer table-service restaurants keep in mind that not all locations can accommodate your Dining Plan. When you purchase a plan, information will include where, specifically, you can use it.
Quite frankly, the differences in plans confuse me and there are so many loop-holes and variations that depend on where you’re staying, what you want, who your grandmother is, and what color your socks are that it’s best to look and decide for yourself here:
In my research and experience I’ve gathered the following positive and negative factors that may help you to decide which plan is right for you or if a plan is right for you at all.
Positives: You’re prepaying for all of your food so there’s no worrying about carrying extra cash or budgeting for meals when you get there. Your eating will be regulated because you’ve already had to essentially plan your dining experiences out.
Negatives: You really don’t save any money with a Dining Plan when all things are considered. Gratuity is not included. You have to keep track of what meals you’ve used and what you have left- a truly stressful task. If you don’t use all of your meal credits you’re kind of SOL.
All of this being said, do I think it’s worth it? For a family of four with small children, maybe. For you as a twenty something traveling with your boo love and judgmental lady friend, definitely not. The plan never allows you to be spontaneous and requires you to spend almost twice as much money up front. My advice to you is to consider which table-service locations you want to try and make reservations for them. Only plan your eating around these reservations and wing it as you go about your trip, keeping in mind your budget.
Tips and Reccommendations
Park dining options range anywhere from stands devoted to single items to full service, candle covered, tiny-portions and weird sauces fine-dining restaurants. The following tips can help you to regulate your time, same a little money, and enjoy your experiences as much as possible.
*If fine-dining is your idea of dinner, keep in mind that the most popular restaurants are full months in advance and take up a large chunk of your park time. Plan one or two “sit-down” meals during your trip and make reservations as soon as possible. Disney starts accepting reservations exactly 180 days before your intended dining date and some restaurants will require you to call that far in advance at 6am Orlando time (sorry, California gals).
*You’re on vacation. Don’t eat healthy. You’re already exhausted, sun burnt, and broke so why spend the rest of your energy worrying about how many calories you’ve had this morning or whether the ice cream or churro was a better nutritional option? Indulge and enjoy.
*If there is one park to save your food money for, it’s EPCOT. Each country’s exhibit poses incredibly authentic choices and sells each one in snack sizes. Try a drink and small plate in every (or most) countries and pose your focus on items that you’re never tried before. I suggest the “pink slush” drink in France and the chips in the UK. Those are some seriously good freedom fries.
*Try a pork shank at Gaston’s Tavern in Magic Kingdom. It’s better than the turkey leg. I swear.
*BRING YOUR OWN FOOD. Eat Poptarts in your hotel room for breakfast, take snacks into the park with you, and drink from a refillable water bottle rather than purchasing drinks each time you’re thirsty. I try to allot myself one snack and one protein in the park per day and rely on Uncrustables, 100-calorie packs, and clementines for the rest of the day. The amount of money that I save is unbelievable (Disney is trying to charge over $5 for an Uncrustable?! WTF?!) and it’s such a joy to pass a long counter-service line and realize that I have the sweet and savory snacks of my choice in my backpack. FOR FREE.
*I can only be of service for recommending specific restaurants when it comes to a few. My favorites are Cat Cora’s Kouzzina at Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and the San Angel Inn at EPCOT. Both are moderately priced and tables aren’t reserved as quickly as other locations. For reviews and ratings on almost all Disney restaurants, I recommend The Unofficial guide or All Ears: