Last time we hinted at some of the areas we would be covering this time about Disney Dining. As any Disney World veteran will tell you, planning and eating at the Disney restaurants is one of the very best aspects of a WDW vacation. After all, where else can you dine: in a fairy tale castle; at a Sci-Fi movie; at an elegant French restaurant (in shorts and t-shirt); inside a Mayan pyramid; at a German Biergarten where it is always Oktoberfest; and (soon) in the ballroom from Beauty and the Beast?
WDW has over 100 restaurants so the really tough part is deciding where you and your family/friends would like to eat. So let’s start off with a basic look at how Disney characterizes it’s dining options.
There are two basic types of service options: Table Service and Counter Service which Disney refers to as Quick Service. Disney has taken a great deal of effort making healthy alternatives available including: vegan, gluten-free and vegetarian options.
Table Service is exactly like any sit-down restaurant where you are waited on by a server. Quick Service is analogous to a McDonald’s, Hardee’s, etc. but also provide expanded and healthier options. There are numerous snack carts located all over the parks as well. These serve mostly snack items like popcorn, ice cream, churros and drinks. I won’t say much about these. You can find them all around when you need a snack fix.
Let’s look at Quick Service locations first. To start off with, they are like a commercial “fast-food” restaurant in function only. Sure you can find the usual assortment of burgers, hot dogs, fries and chicken nuggets but the choices are much more varied. You can find tuna, sushi, waffle sandwiches and salads as well. These establishments are listed in your Times Guide/Park Map that you receive at each park when you arrive. Shown below is a sample menu from one of my personal favs in the Magic Kingdom, Columbia Harbour House located between Fantasyland and Liberty Square.
The best place to get an overview of what is available where, is to go to the WDW website and select where to dine. The best place to get a comprehensive look at both QS and TS restaurants is at The Disney Food Blog. They have a very comprehensive review of WDW eateries including photos and menus as well. Hint: don’t start looking there if you are hungry!
Table Service restaurants vary widely in price and menu. Again, the two resources above are a great place to start looking at your options and deciding where you would like to eat. A sample menu for the Rose and Crown restaurant in the UK pavilion in EPCOT is shown below.
Cost estimates for Disney Dining will be covered later. For now, you have two basic options for paying for food. The pay-as-you-go option and selecting a Disney Dining Plan (DDP) option.
Paying as you go is simply that, you pay for each meal as you get it. The DDP is a prepaid plan that you pay for in advance with your resort reservation. There are various levels of plans consisting of combinations of QS and TS meals. A QS meal consists of a beverage (non-alcoholic), an entree and a dessert (no dessert at breakfast). The TS meal consists of an appetizer, entree, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage.
The current offerings are:
- Quick Serve DDP (2 QS + 1 Snack + Resort Mug) cost $34adult/$12 child per day
- Disney Dining Plan (1 QS +1 TS + 1 Snack + Resort Mug) cost $52/$15 per day
- Deluxe DDP (3 TS +2 Snack + Resort Mug) cost $87/$24 per day
Premium and Platinum DDP (adds non-dining + alcoholic beverage options) are very pricy (cost $179/$129 per day for Premium; cost $239/$170 per day for Platinum).
Most of the TS venues cost 1 TS credit but the Signature Restaurants require 2. These include dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Castle, The Hoop-De-Do Musical Revue and many others. The WDW website will let you know which ones fall into this category.
The process Disney follows for all DDP plans is basically the same. All persons staying in a resort room must be on the same DDP. You must select the plan for your entire stay. Each night’s stay counts as one day. So, if you are staying for 5 nights, on say the Disney Dining Plan plan, you get 5 QS meals, 5 TS meals, 5 snacks and a Resort Mug for each guest. A child on the dining plan must order off the children’s menu if one is available. Note: DDP does not include gratuities.
One additional consideration is that if you are an Annual Passport holder and/or a Disney Vacation Club Member, you are eligible to purchase a Tables in Wonderland (TIW) Card for a cost of $76 as of this writing. This card allows you to save 20% off of your entire bill at virtually all TS Restaurants, including alcohol, for up to 10 people on the same check.
So, you may be getting the notion that dining at WDW is not cheap. Well, you are correct, it isn’t. That doesn’t mean there aren’t options for cost savings available. The next question is then, how much does it cost?
On our recent trip to the World a couple of months ago, we did not use a DDP for our group of seven adults. We used TIW instead. We had one TS and Two QS meals each day plus one snack. We had one Character Breakfast and also ate at Cinderella’s Royal Table one evening. Including tax and gratuities, we spent $45/per person/day. This is less than the Disney Dining Plan and also includes an additional QS meal each day. A few times we split entrees, though only for a few meals. In times past, the portion size of TS entrees, especially at dinner, was easily large enough for two adults to split. This has changed recently. Probably bowing to pressure from the “food police” they have reduced the size of portions. We found that many of the entrees were no longer of a size we felt we could split. One exception was the pasta dishes at Mama Melrose’s at Disney’s Hollywood Studios which were large enough to split. We found that asking your server was a good way to get suggestions on splittable entrees.
My recommendations for structuring your dining is to use TIW if available to you. If not, consider use of the Disney Dining Plan especially if your family tends to be big eaters. Use QS for lunch and TS for dinner. Pay for breakfast out of pocket as it will usually be the cheapest meal. If you choose any Signature Restaurants, compare the cost to 2 TS meals and then either use the 2 credits required or pay out of pocket depending on which way is cheaper. If you want to maximize money saving, split some meals and do not select a DDP.
Some other guidelines to save both time and money: At QS restaurants, adults can order kids meals but not at TS venues. When splitting meals, you can make up for smaller entrees if you add a side salad or appetizer. This will be cheaper than a second entree. Consider doing some park touring early and then have a later brunch and make it a two vs three meal day. This is easy to do if you have a buffet meal for a Character Breakfast or dinner such as Cape May Seafood Buffet.
Disney frequently offers a “free“ DDP during some of the fall season. The DDP you get depends on the resort type (value, moderate, deluxe) also this is offered only with the “Rack” rate (non-discounted) price of the room. You should evaluate whether a discounted room might be a better value for you.
All right, you’ve studied the Disney Food Blog. Spent time on the WDW website and discussed it all with your family and friends and you’re ready to finish your plans for dining. For QS dining, all you need to do is go to the selected location for the date and time you selected. I have found that most people eat lunch between 11:00 and 1:00 and dinner between 5:00 and 7:00. Eating outside these times will help to avoid a longer wait. Even so QS lines generally move rather fast. If it is crowded, have two members of your party scout out a table while the others get in line. When a table is located, have one person stay to hold it and the other return to the order line to assist with the food and also take the party to the spot that is being reserved.
For TS restaurants, reservations are almost required. Although you can try a walk-up, you may find that none is available or else you will have a significant wait. Disney’s application of restaurant reservations are called Advanced Dining Reservations or ADRs. You can make ADRs either on the WDW website or by calling 407-WDW-DINE. Once you have the ADR and associated confirmation number, just show up at the restaurant about 10 minutes before your scheduled time and check in at the desk. ADRs allow you to try the wonderful variety of Disney dining opportunities. I suggest that you do not do more than one TS per day for a couple of reasons. First of all, TS restaurants do provide plenty of food at least for one person so having more than one TS meal will likely provide more food than you want or need. Secondly, TS meals consume a lot more time than a QS meal and also force you to be in a specific park at a specific time which reduces your ability to park hop.
In Part V, we’ll cover Park Tickets and options, a planning timeline as well as how much time to spend at WDW and look at an estimated cost for a Disney World Vacation.Share