Citricos at the Grand Floridian,
one of Disney's signature restaurants.
There are three main dining plans at Disney World: Quick-service, counter-service, and the deluxe plan. All of them can save you money, but in order to do so, you have to determine which plan is right for you and how you travel.
Basic rules on the plan:
1. Kids are required to eat off the kids’ menu at table service restaurants. At some counter service locations, children are allowed to order from the adult menu. This is an area of some confusion, so make sure you ask first before you order and don’t be surprised if they require your child to order from the children’s menu. This is the rule as stated by Disney.
2. Refillable mugs are good at your resort only, not in the parks or other resorts.
3. Meals include the following:
Quick service: One drink, entrée, and dessert.
Table service: One drink, entrée and dessert. On the deluxe plan, you’ll also receive an appetizer.
Snack: Usually drinks, bakery items, popcorn, ice cream and the like.
4. You do NOT need to use a certain number of credits per day. Use all your snacks in one day or spread them out. Same with your meal credits. Disney allows a lot of flexibility on the plan.
5. Credits expire at midnight on the day of checkout.
The Quick Service Plan: The quick service plan gives you two snacks and two counter-service credits per night of your stay, plus a refillable mug.
1. Who does it work for? People who don’t want to make dinner reservations or be held to a dining schedule, families with very young children who feel their kids aren’t yet ready for a sit-down restaurant, and individuals who will only eat one or two table service meals per trip.
2. Pros: Economical and flexible.
3. Cons: In a word, variety. A lot of Disney World’s counter service fare is pretty standard across the resort: Burgers, fries, nuggets, and usually a salad and a vegetarian item, make up most menus at counter service locations. If you aren’t careful, that can get old fast.
For more variety, try the ethnic counter service locations in Epcot. Many of the counter service locations at the resorts offer more variety; for example Mara in Animal Kingdom Lodge has great sandwiches and flatbreads. You can’t beat Wolfgang Puck Express in Downtown Disney; it’s a counter service location that feels much more upscale, in part due to the presence of real flatware, dishes, and the varied, healthy menu.
The Basic Dining Plan: Sometimes called the regular or plus dining plan, this plan offers you one counter-service, one table service, and one snack per night of your stay.
1. Who does it work for? Guests who want a more leisurely meal and the variety of a table-service location.
2. Pros: Allows you to experience a wide variety of food and different types of restaurants.
3. Cons: Requires you to be somewhat more prepared. You’ll need to make most (ideally) of your dining reservations when they open up at 180-days out. You’ll have to stick to a schedule; if you miss your reservation, you run the risk of not being able to replace it easily, as table-service locations fill up quickly.
A lot of people I talk to love this plan, which I feel gives you the best of both worlds for only slightly more money than the quick-service plan. The amount of scheduling you’ll have to do is pretty minimal and you’ll still get the flexibility of the counter service options. To me, if you look at the menus and do the math, this plan is the best use of your money for most people.
The Deluxe Dining Plan: This plan gives you three table-service credits per day plus two snacks and a refillable mug. Unlike on the basic dining plan, your meals will come with an appetizer in addition to the drink, entrée, and dessert. You can exchange any of your table-service credits for a counter-service meal.
1. Who does it work for? Foodies who want to experience the wide variety of food the resort has to offer. People who want to try several of Disney’s signature restaurants or certain dinner shows, both of which require two table-service credits. Groups or families that want to ensure they’ll sit down for at least one or two meals per day as a means of connecting and sharing their experiences. Those who want a more relaxing vacation.
2. Cons: For some, the cost. The basic dining plan costs about $47.99 per day; the deluxe runs $78.99. For those who intend to eat mainly at table-service locations, it’s a pretty good deal, but you need to be the type of person who actually travels that way. Before your purchase this plan, ask yourself how you feel about sticking to a schedule that includes one or two sit-down meals per day. For some people, it’s difficult to break away from the parks to eat.
One caveat: I don’t usually recommend this for families with children under the age of five unless those children are used to eating out frequently. Young children or children who don’t transition well may object strongly to being told they have to leave Dumbo (again!) in order to make a reservation.
3. Pros: For me, this plan is a dream plan because I love to eat! I also like the idea of the appetizer being included, since I’m more likely to order an appetizer rather than dessert (although since its included, I’m ordering that too!). For those who want to try a wide variety of foods and experience Disney’s top restaurants without having to go without table-service meals on other days because they’ve already used their credits, it’s ideal.
I find that if you use at least two table-service credits per day, you’ll break even cost-wise. In other words, you don’t have to feel guilty about using that third credit at a quick service location if you need the flexibility. Because of this, this plan can be economical, but only if you're to be the type of person who eats this way while on vacation.