If you see this sign, it's on the plan.
But will it work for you?
Let me first say that you don't need the diing plan. In fact, you can sometimes save money by not getting it. While most of my clients get the plan and feel that it benefits them to do so, it clearly doesn't work for everyone. Here are some common concerns and easy fixes to help you determine if the dining plan will work for you.
1. "It's too much food."
I don't think it's too much food. I think it's sometimes too much the wrong kind of food. None of us eat at buffets and consume countless sugary snacks daily at home, but at Disney it just feels okay to do that. The problem of course is that after a couple of days of eating this way, you start to get bored. Where's the fun in that?
What I usually suggest when a client has too many buffets scheduled (particularly character meals, where the food tends to be fairly heavy and kid-oriented) is that they try out a signature restaurant. Yes, you're using two credits, but these meals are an experience meant to be savored and enjoyed. You're also lot less likely to feel stuffed after eating an elegant meal at Citricos than you would at a buffet.
Another idea is to save some of your snack credits for the end of your trip and then buy items for friends back home. Bags of chocolate coins with Disney characters on them, rice-crispy Mickey ears, and hard candies make great small gifts (or even stocking stuffers at Christmas) for teachers and your kids' friends back home.
Finally, quick-service meals can be a lot of food. Consider asking for a bottle of water or some fruit instead of dessert and then save it for later. You might also consider splitting a meal and saving your credits for another day.
2. "You have to stick to a schedule." It's true that sometimes the dining plan can feel like a forced food march through the parks.
Again, I'm going to suggest going to a restaurant that takes two table-service credits. By choosing two-credit meals, you get a more upscale dining experience and you've cut out one day of sit-down dining. You can eat lighter on your "off" day.
On a week-long trip, consider making dining reservations for 4 out of 7 sit-down restaurants only. Try walk-ups with the other three. You can usually get a walk up at most World Showcase restaurants except during the most busy times of year. This gives you the flexibility to eat when the mood strikes you.
3. "What if I miss a dining reservation?"
Try to make a new reservation right away. You should be able to find an alternative during all but the busiest weeks (Easter and Christmas), although the time might not be ideal. Remember that you can also use your table-service credits at quick-service locations. This isn't the most idea use of your credits, obviously. If you makes you feel better, head over to Wolfgang Puck Express where dinner for a family of four can easily set you back $90 out of pocket.
4. "My ten-year old is a Disney adult; he doesn't eat like one."
This is a tough one and one that I've struggled with as well, but did you know that your adult table-service credits are pooled among your entire group? This means that you can pay out of pocket for your 10-year old to eat some meals (even from the kids' menu) and you can use those table-service credits for the grown ups. That way, your child is still getting all the value out of the quick-service meals and snacks but you're not wasting the more valuable table-service credits on meals your kid might not eat.
This works particularly well if you're eating a signature restaurant that takes two credits but your child is clearly not ready to eat off the adult menu. You might even consider using those extra table-service credits at a signature restaurant so that mom and dad can have a nice meal out.
5. "I'm not sure how to make it work."
There's a lot of flexibility with how you use your credits. A lot of clients think they have to use a certain amount of credits per day, but this isn't the case. Make sure you follow the golden rule of snack credits: Use them for more expensive items, usually $3 and up. Make your dining reservations as far in advance as possible so you can get the restaurants you really want. And do your homework. Study menus online to get an idea of whether or not the plan will work for you.
Ultimately, only you can determine if the plan will work for you. If you're struggling a lot with the decision, there's a good reason for it: It might just be that it doesn't work with how you travel. However, if you still want the convenience of the plan, you can always take this suggestion from the folks over at Touring Plans and purchase a pre-paid gift card and put the amount you would spend on the plan on the gift card. Then just use your card in the parks the way you would use the dining plan.
What about you? Do you use the plan? Or have you tried the Touring Plans option or some variation thereof? If you did, I would love to know how that worked.