To Eat or Not to Eat

The world of Disney Dining is huge and complex.  There are more than 400 places to purchase food within the resort, including 90 full service restaurants, over 30 of which are located within the parks themselves.  This number includes both full service and quick service restaurants.  For those of you not 100% familiar with the terms, the difference is this:

  • Full service restaurant – a traditional sit down restaurant with hosts, servers, etc.

  • Quick service restaurant – a counter style service such as a McDonalds or Chipotle where you place your order with a cashier, receive your food, and find a nearby table.

  • Signature Dining – you’ll also see me mention this a few times.  Signature Dining is a table service meal (or buffet style) that is either considered very fine dining (such as some of the restaurants at the Grand Floridian hotel), a dinner show (such as the Hoop Dee Doo Revue), or a Character Dining Experience

I will also use the term “snack” a lot and it’s pretty much what it sounds like.  Snacks include items such as popcorn, candy apples, cake pops, etc. 

Cake Pops using Snack Credits!

Cake Pops using Snack Credits!

Arguably and truthfully, there are too many restaurants on Disney property, especially at the newly reimagined Disney Springs: an issue that Disney is actually facing now and struggling with.  Disney World is consistently offering dining discounts in an effort to fill all their restaurants, something that is especially tough to do in the off seasons.  This brings me to the Disney Dining Plan.  It’s a polarizing offering at the resort, one that has many fans and many critics.  Truthfully, there aren’t many people that fall in the middle of this debate.  But with so many dining discounts being offered recently at the parks, I am finding more and more that it is a worthy option when booking your vacation package.


Quick reminder (or heads up) for those of you who read my “where to stay” post: The Disney Dining Plan is only available for those staying at a Walt Disney World resort.  For those of you staying of-property, feel free to skip down this post a bit.

So what is the Disney Dining Plan?  The DDP is a prepaid meal plan that gives guests a certain amount of “credits” to be redeemed at participating dining locations around the Walt Disney World resort (very few restaurants do not participate). 

There are three tiers to choose from that are outlined below.  The pricing listed is for 2018.  Disney has released 2019 Dining Plan pricing but there weren’t many changes.  Adult costs stayed the same while children’s pricing went up slightly.  For all table service meals, tax is included but tip is not.  Certain credits can be combined for other options and while the plans say you get A, B, and C per person, per day, the credits are actually just a lump sum and you can use them however you like (i.e. all your quick service credits in one day).  It’s confusing, I know.  Stay with me!

The famous Dole Whip! You can use a Snack Credit for this too!

The famous Dole Whip! You can use a Snack Credit for this too!

  • Quick Service

    • Offers 2 quick service meals and 2 snacks per person, per day plus one refillable mug that can be used at your resort (and some locations around the water parks)

    • Each quick service meal includes one entree and one beverage (including alcohol where available)

    • One quick service credit can be substituted for 3 snack purchases in a single transaction

    • $52.50 per adult, $21.74 per child, 3 & under are free

  • Table Service/ Standard  (the most used, traditional meal plan)

    • Offers 1 counter service, 1 table service, and 2 snacks per person, per day plus one refillable mug that can be used at your resort (and some locations around the water parks)

    • 2 table service credits can be combined for 1 signature meal, 1 dinner show, 1 pizza delivery, or room service

    • $75.49 per adult, $25.75 per child, 3 & under are free

  • Deluxe Dining Plan

  • 3 meals that can be used at your choice of quick service or table service locations and 2 snacks per person, per day plus one refillable mug that can be used at your resort (and some locations around the water parks)

  • $116.25 per adult, $39.99 per child, 3 & under are free

  • Overall, I really do not recommend this meal plan unless you have an unlimited budget and plan on doing mostly character dining, dinner shows, and fine dining.  If this is the case, you can combine credits and make the most out of this option.  Otherwise, this is just way too much food.

The Disney Tourist Blog averages that meals at Disney World cost the following per person

  • Table service: $45 per person

  • Quick service: $21 per person

  • Snack: $3-5

So as I mentioned above, the Disney Dining Plan has a lot of fans and critics.  You can call me a fan but as with anything else, it is not right for everyone.  Here’s a quick breakdown of some winners and losers on the meal plan:

  • Vegetarians lose, every time

    • Sorry veggie lovers but vegetarian meals, like salads and pastas cost less and therefore, you don’t come out ahead spending $75 per day

  • Drinkers win

    • Alcoholic beverages cost an average of $10 at Disney World.  So if you’re someone who enjoys a drink or two at dinner, this is a great way to save money.

  • Festival attendees win

    • Festivals like Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival or Flower and Garden Festival accept snack credits on most of the food offerings which is a great way to use a snack credit on something that typically costs more than the snack credit is worth

  • Water drinkers lose

    • If you are planning to use snack credits on water or a last minute bag of pretzels for the plane, this is not the plan for you.

And some overall, general information about the Dining Plan

  • When using snack credits, you should aim to purchase items worth $5 or more.  Anything less than $5 is costing you money

  • Critics will argue that meal plan costs have gone up but here’s the thing: so have menu prices. 

  • Pre-planning is the name of the game with the Dining Plan.  Compare prices at restaurants you are interested in, pick your snack credits ahead of time, and make sure you are making the most of your money.  Last minute decisions don’t benefit you on the Dining Plan.

  • Heads up, it’s a lot of food. My mom calls it the “Make it Stop Plan” because of how much food you get on it.  But again, you want to get as much as you can for your money.

  • It’s convenient.  You pay for the meal plan with your resort and ticket package so by the time you get to Disney, you don’t have to think about spending money on food.  It’s a great way to help with those who struggle with budgeting.

Again, the meal plan isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay.  I’m just here to say that I like it because it takes some of the stress out of my vacation and helps me budget and plan, something I am a big proponent of.  But enough about the Dining Plan, there are plenty of other blogs who detail it too.  On to the good stuff: food and alcohol!

There are hundreds of dining options to choose from; there is truly something for everyone.  For a complete list of every food option on property with updated menus, click here.  As you can see, they’ve done a lot of the work for me here so I won’t expand too much here. 

I’ve already explained Quick Service, Full Service, and Signature Dining but these can be broken down even further.  I will just expand a bit on the different types (a bit more than above) and throw in some of my favorite as well as some tips and tricks:.

The delicious Night Blossom!

The delicious Night Blossom!

  • Quick Service

    • There are a few different kinds of quick services, although they don’t have individual names.  For example, Sunshine Seasons Food Court in Epcot’s Future World is a large food court style eating area with 3 different food windows and a large seating area.  Conversely, Storybook Treats in Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland sells strictly ice cream treats. 

    • Magic Kingdom Favorites

      • Aloha Isle – Dole Whips are a MUST when visiting Disney World.  They can also be purchased Disney’s Polynesian Resort

      • Casey’s Corner – the best hotdog on property

      • Gaston’s Tavern – do NOT miss Lefou’s Brew

      • Sleepy Hollow – the waffle treats here are divine

      • Torguga Tavern – the only open this quick service location during peak times throughout the year but it still is one of my favorites              

    • Epcot Favorites

      • Karamell-Kuche – okay, it’s more like a store than a quick service establishment but you will never find a caramel treat like they make them here

      • La Cava del Tequila – the #1 spot for margaritas

      • L’Artisan des Glaces – Macaron ice cream sandwiches!

    • Hollywood Studios Favorites

      • Woody’s Lunch Box (New!) – the Raspberry Lunch Box Tart is the best pop tart you’ll ever try.  I also love their Grown-Up’s lemonade; they even serve it when the park opens!  Breakfast of champions, am I right?

    • Animal Kingdom Favorites

      • Anandapur Ice Cream Truck – They make ice cream floats with whatever soda you choose.  For me, I love an Orange Soda Float

      • Flame Tree BBQ – don’t skip the pulled pork nachos

      • Yak & Yeti Local Food Cafes – I love their Honey Glazed Tempura Chicken 

      • Pongu Pongu – I love both the Mo’ara Magarita and Night Blossom. 

  • Full Service

    • As I mentioned above, full service can include regular dining meals, signature meals at more expensive locations, character dining experiences, and dinner shows. 

    • All full service dining experiences can be reserved through the Disney World website 6 months out from the date you intend to visit.  Beware; some of the more popular restaurants require booking 6 months out down to the minute such as Be Our Guest and Le Cellier.  If you miss this tiny window, don’t give up just yet.  Check the website regularly for cancellations and check out the restaurant the day off for any last minute cancellations.

    • Disclaimer:  Disney World is constantly moving chefs around and the servers are always changing (a topic worthy of its own post; maybe one day).  Menus are also consistently changing and being updated.  For example, my first experience at the Turf Club at Saratoga Springs was absolutely fabulous.  I made it my “favorite” restaurant after that one experience.  Two years later, I finally went back and I had a completely different experience, though it still lands on my top places.   Consistency can be tough to find.  That being said, here are some of my hits and misses:

    • Epcot

      • Via Napoli – some of the best pizza I’ve ever had…and I’m from New Jersey which makes me extremely qualified to judge

    • Hollywood Studios

      • 50’s Prime Time Café – the best fried chicken on property

    • Animal Kingdom Lodge

      • Boma – I stop here EVERY visit.  I love it here.

    • Coronado Springs

      • Maya Grill – the service here is outstanding! And so is their fried ice cream

    • Fort Wilderness Resort

      • Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue – it’s a great dinner show with great food

    • Grand Floridian

      • 1900 Park Fare – my favorite breakfast buffet; they even have gummy bears for breakfast!  Here you’ll meet Mary Poppins, the Alice and Wonderland Folks, as well as Tigger and a few others

    • Contemporary

      • Chef Mickey’s – if you’re dead set on a character dinner, this gets my vote. The selection is larger than other of your other options.

    • Old Key West

      • Olivia’s Café – get the key lime pie, trust me.

    • Polynesian

      • Ohana – I love the family style meal and the bread pudding is legendary.

      • Kona Café – the food is some of my favorite on property

    • Saratoga Springs

      • Turf Club – classic dining experience that’s great for adults

    • You’ll also notice that most of my favorites are located at resorts.  I find that many of the in-park restaurants are a little underwhelming.  Here are some of my places to avoid besides Be Our Guest (my opinion only, experiences may vary, folks!):

      • Be Our Guest – I know this one is extremely popular and I’ve heard many people have had amazing experiences.  I personally found it overrated and overpriced.  The cast member experience was one of the worst I’ve had.

      • Cinderella’s Royal Table – wait in line for the regular Princess meet and greets and get dinners somewhere else

      • Tony’s Town Square – once you’ve had real Italian, it’s hard to settle for anything less

      • The Crystal Palace – breakfast buffet is okay but the lunch and dinner are underwhelming

      • Biergarten – I love the concept of long table, family style seating but the food just wasn’t that great

      • Hollywood & Vine – similar to the Crystal Palace, breakfast is fine but lunch and dinner are MEH

      • Mama Melrose – similar to Tony’s, mediocre Italian food

      • Jiko – was not overly impressed.  With this being a finer dining experience, I expected more

 Disney also runs special events throughout the year ranging from food festivals to special dessert and fireworks shows.  I’ll be honest, I’ve never done the dessert shows but I‘ve heard mixed reviews.  Some people rave about it and others think you don’t get as much as you should for the money.  I’m not against them; I’m just always full from my other favorite treats around the parks to even bother.  But what I have participated in and what ultimately keeps me coming back are Epcot’s two main festivals: the Food & Wine Festivals and the Flower & Garden Festival.

  • Food & Wine Festival

    • My absolute favorite thing.  Starting in late August, the Food & Wine Festival runs through early November, arguably the best time to visit Disney World.  Kids are back in school and the holidays haven’t started yet.  In addition to the permanent countries that offer food and wine specialties in Epcot’s World Showcase, Disney adds approximately 30 more temporary food and drink carts serving up small portions of items native to the corresponding country.  The countries change from year to year as well as the offerings.  Disney posts the menu about 6 months in advance.  If you ever have a chance to visit during Food & Wine, I highly recommend it.

  • Flower & Garden Festival

    • I also love the Flower & Garden Festival.  Disney’s incredible horticulture department brings out some of the most beautiful Disney topiaries, flowers, and even a butterfly garden.  Epcot also brings out a number of additional food and beverage carts similar to Food & Wine Festival.  I always refer to it as a mini Food & Wine.  While it is during a busier time of the year (Spring time is big for families with children on spring break), you will still find it quieter than the holiday and summer seasons.

 One thing I didn’t cover, and won’t really touch on, is the dining options at Disney Springs, formerly Downtown Disney.  There are tons of new restaurants to try in Disney Springs with more opening every month.  I have heard great things about Chef Art’s Homecoming, specifically.  But the reason I don’t talk about them is because, frankly, I’m not a fan of the Downtown Disney revamp that took place a few years ago.  It feels more like a fancy, outdoor outlet mall rather than the Disney themed shopping experience it used to be.  Of course, that’s a personal preference and I’m happy to answer any specific questions you may have about it.

 Now, I know you’ve been hit with a lot of information and I know it’s overwhelming.  Walt Disney World has really stepped up its food game in the last five or so years to become a true foodie destination.  If you have a favorite food destination at Disney World or an experience that’s different than mine, I’d love to hear it.  And as always, if you have any questions, I’m here to help!  Drop me a line over at the contact page.

 Misc. FAQs

 Are character dining experiences worth it?

  • EH.  Kind of.  Maybe.  Depends.  Sensing a theme on my Disney posts?  I enjoy character dining, I do.  But not all experiences are worth it.  You pay more to meet them.  Be aware, they only stop at your table for a minute or two to take some pictures and sign autographs.  You do not have unlimited access to them.  They are also typically buffet style meals and not all Disney buffets are created equally.  If you or your child loves a character dearly, it may be worth it.  For example, I adore Eeyore but he only does meet and greets at the Crystal Palace and in the parks on special ticketed events.  I’m not a huge fan of the Crystal Palace but I will eat breakfast there because I want to meet Eeyore.  See how this works?  Breakfast buffets are pretty standard across the parks so it’s not a big deal where you go.  For dinner, I only really recommend Chef Mickey’s, in total honesty.

·         For a complete list of all Disney Character experiences click here!