Friday, May 3, 2013

Disney World Dining Tips & Tricks

*Updated 2019
Let me start by saying, I am a fan of the Dining Plan. It makes the trip feel all-inclusive, & saved us money since we used our credits to book character dining & other expensive dining options. There is plenty of food, even for those with hearty appetites. If you are NOT staying on-site & therefore, can't buy the Dining Plans, skip down to Character Meals & Recommendations mid-post.

I recommend the Disney Dining Plan (inclusions have changed since 2017)
1 Quick Service (QS), 1 Table Service (TS), & 2 snacks, per person, per night of stay. Guests over 21, get 1 serving of an alcoholic drink (or specialty drink-smoothie, shake, etc., if you prefer). Guests under 21 can choose a fountain drink, milk, or 1 serving of milkshake, smoothie, or special drink at the restaurant. 

As a guest at a Disney Resort Hotel, you'll get 1 mug, refillable (with fountain soda, tea, coffee, juice, etc.) at the resort. There is PLENTY of food for the day. We pack meal bars & small items we can eat for breakfast on-the-go. (More on what I bring from home below)

Quick Service (QS) you are not served at a table, counter-service
Table Service (TS) you are served at a table. Tip is NOT included in Dining Plan. 
Snacks: This varies from a water bottle to a decadent sundae or Starbucks drink and at many resorts, can be used to purchase a side of fries or yogurt. A purple decal is listed on the menu next to items that qualify as a "snack". A QS meal can be converted to 3 snack credits, usable at the same location, in the same transaction. Generally, if the snack is $5 it is a good value for your credit. 
Each meal includes: an entrée and drink (and dessert for Table Service Dining at lunch & dinner)
·      Credits are applied to your account, accessible by your Magic Band (or card.) 
·      Use credits HOWever/WHENever you choose from check-in until midnight on the day of checkout. Meaning, if you are staying for 6 nights, you’ll have 6 QS & 6 TS & 6 Snack credits (per person in your room, over age 3) Eat all 6 snacks one day, if you wish, or spread them out;it’s up to you. Cast members are very helpful & knowledgeable regarding the DP.
*Remaining credits will be printed on the bottom of your dining receipts, so you can keep track.  
 YES! You can use TS credits for Character Meals! In fact, you'll get the most value out of it, if you choose them and other more expensive TS options.
A few locations will require 2 dining credits per guest, this is indicated online when you click "dining plans accepted" for more info.
Items on the Dining Plan are noted with a purple square decal on the menu.
The Dining Plan does not include gratuity with the exception of some locations that require 2 TS credits (Cinderella's Royal Table, Hoop de doo Musical Revue, etc.) 

Dining TIPS:
·      Table Service credits are designated as Adult or Child according to your party. Quick Service are not. If your child, (3-9) has a hearty appetite or you wish you have extra to share, consider ordering them an Adult Quick Service meal.
·      Guests under 3 are complimentary when Table Service (TS) dining. The cast members are very gracious regarding them. 
·     Dessert comes with every table service lunch & dinner. We're often too full for dessert. Dessert choices can be fruit or something easily transported, (possibly even saved for on-the-go breakfasts) so keep that in mind when ordering. Ask for carry-out containers for the irresistible cupcakes & pastries!
·      If you’d like to get your dessert a bit later, ask. The cast members do whatever they are able to satisfy you. We were accommodated on several occasions, especially at the resort.
We often split quick service meals between our family of 5 because of how much food is included. For example: at Wolfgang Puck Express where a pizza is 1 QS credit and we don't need 5 pizzas! 

If you have young kids: 
·      Consider grabbing a banana or an apple from buffet meals to bring out in the park for later.
·       Bring along a couple sandwich-size Ziploc bags to store the barely eaten snacks. These are perfect for waiting in lines or for parades.
·      Ask for to-go beverage from your server 

(you can use Dining plan credits!) 

Characters come to your table, pose for family photos & sign autograph books in an orderly fashion. Meeting characters while eating is a win! Opens more time in the park for attractions and is a valuable use of dining credits, as they are expensive meals.
Cast members & characters do parades & activities with your kids too. 
They only guarantee certain character appearances. Check the WDW dining page or call 407.WDW.DINE.
*PHOTO TIP: Sit with your back to a window so that your subjects are facing the light when you're taking photos. 
TIMING TIP: Character breakfasts booked first thing in the morning are a great way to get into the park early. Try 8am reservations. There is a special entrance for this purpose when the park isn't open yet. If you cancel within 24 hours or do not show up, you are penalized $10/guest= extra incentive to make it there.

*I don't recommend spending precious early hours on a meal at Magic Kingdom, however. Those early hours are far more valuable spent in the park on rides with no wait.

Book your reservations online or by calling 407.WDW.DINE, like NOW! (Up to 180 days in advance)

 Our TOP picks
Character meals
Cinderella's Royal Table: (Magic Kingdom) Inside the castle. Requires 2 TS dining credits. This experience is fantastic. Meet Cinderella & other princesses. The food, while pretty tasty, was secondary to the ambiance.

Akershus: (Epcot) Storybook Princess breakfast. We met Belle, Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel, & Sleeping Beauty. Egg, bacon, sausage, potato platter served to your table (all you care to eat) & fruit/pastry buffet. 1 TS dining credit. Fills quickly since Frozen Ever After is next door. 

Chef Mickey's: (Contemporary Resort) strictly for the enthusiastic character meeting of the Fab 5 & not necessarily for the food-which is certainly decent American standard food, but nothing exceptional. 

OHana. (Polynesian Resort) Mickey & friends breakfast (We met Mickey, Pluto, Lilo, & Stitch) You’ll get a Hawaiian lei greeting at check-in!
We adore the family-friendly atmosphere & service at OHana. It’s a quick Monorail ride from Magic Kingdom.

Tusker House breakfast (
Animal Kingdom).  Mickey, Donald, Daisy, Pluto, Goofy in safari gear. American & African fare.

Hollywood & Vine (Hollywood Studios) breakfast. Disney Jr. *Sophia the First and Doc McStuffins are now here with Jake & Handy Manny
We also LOVED the Minnie's Holiday Dine dinner here at Christmas time, meeting Goofy (dressed as Santa!), Mickey, Donald & Daisy.

If you have Pooh fans, try Crystal Palace (MK). Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet, Rabbit. We had dinner. Tasty buffet food; nothing special for us but, no big Hundred Acre Woods fans in our party.

VERY High-risk of sell out at these 3:
1. Be Our Guest. Dinner with the beast in his castle. Book this at 6am EST on the 180th day prior to your trip online or you'll likely be unable to get a reservation. *We eat here for lunch-no Beast, but all the ambiance. 
2.    Chef Mickey’s (Contemporary Resort), accessible by monorail from (MK) Fab 5 (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto, Goofy). American fare. 1 TS credit.
3. Cinderella's Royal Table (MK in the castle!) 2 credits every meal, not an economical way to use dining credits but for the unique experience it was worth it to us. We had delicious food and excellent service.
*Character Meals count as Table Service (TS) credits at any time of day, in and out of the parks.

Favorite Quick Service meals
Be Our Guest Restaurant, Magic Kingdom

Be Our Guest: (MK) eat inside the Beast’s castle!
The line gets long quickly for QS, so my best tip is book a LUNCH RESERVATION as soon as you are able (180 days before, if you're staying on property) or arrive immediately at opening (10:30am-11am).
 The French-inspired menu may be more palatable at lunch than dinner, especially for the younger set. In the dark West Wing, it frequently thunders & the enchanted rose dwindles. Outside the ballroom windows, it snows! It’s pure magic in this place.
Wolfgang Puck Express (Disney Springs)
If we had to choose, this is the best food at Disney World. Quality ingredients & absolutely delicious food! The pizza is among the best I've ever eaten in my life. From rotisserie chicken to Cobb salad, you're likely to exclaim, "this is the best meal I've eaten at Disney" Literally everything we've eaten here was delicious. Even the packaged cookies & brownies were yummy. It's worth the trip for any meal, if you prefer to eat tasty, good-quality food. 

Pecos Bill: (MK, Liberty Square) Mexican fare. A bar with toppings is available with salsa, cheese, sour cream, etc. to top your burrito or salad. The parade goes by here, finish lunch & grab seats before it begins!

Captain Cooks (Polynesian Resort) My crew gobbled the juicy Angus burgers, & my grilled Chicken sandwich was tasty. An easy monorail ride from MK, if you want a break from the park. 

Pork Shank (an alternative to the turkey leg) Gaston's Tavern
Columbia Harbor House (MK) Lobster roll
Turkey legs. (Frontierland @MK, Epcot, Futureworld-cart& Hollywood Studios) 
Flame Tree BBQ (AK)
Yak & Yeti (AK) does Asian-type QS 
Create-your-own salad or pasta at resort is always a hit for days off at the resort pool & is a large enough portion to share. 

Favorite Table Service Meal: 
OUTSIDE the parks: (no park admission required)
Hoop de Doo Musical Review (Ft. Wilderness Resort) Requires 2 TS Dining credits. It's a rambunctious dinner show with all you can eat comfort foods like BBQ ribs, fried chicken, potatoes and the most delicious strawberry shortcake. 

OHana (Polynesian Resort) Family-style service of tasty foods with polynesian flare-noodles, dumplings, chicken wings and skewers of beef, chicken, and shrimp fresh off the grill. All-you-care-to-eat. Save room for dessert! The servers were enthusiastic and attentive. It is hard to get a reservation here, reserve as near to 180 days as possible!

Raglan Road (Disney Springs) Irish singing & dancing. Irish pub atmosphere. Our kids were invited onstage. The food is tasty too. Relatively easy to score a reservation. We opted to wait for a table closer to the stage, which ended up being just a few minutes but, well worth it.

Beaches and Cream Soda Shop:(Beach Club Resort) American fare, famous for the Kitchen Sink dessert. But the Peanut Butter & the Banana Bread sundaes are among the most delicious desserts we've ever had.

Boma (Animal Kingdom Lodge) Go for the exotic flavors of Africa on buffet and the ambiance.

TRex: (Disney Springs) This is a chain restaurant with over-the-top immersion in the Dinosaur experience. It's loud & family friendly. The food is typical chain-restaurant fare. 

Others recommend:
Kona Cafe (Polynesian) arguably the best steak in WDW. Sticky wings appetizer. Tongo Toast at breakfast.

Whispering Canyon Cafe: we didn't love it. People get a kick out of the rude-on-purpose customer service & bottomless milkshakes to wash down loads of American BBQ-type foods. It wasn't bad, but not a favorite.

Cape May Cafe: seafood buffet. If eating-your-weight in crab legs, breaking for shrimp is your idea of a yummy meal, book this dinner at The Beach Club resort.


Via Napoli: (Italy) Delicious pizza-not your average park pizza, for sure. Save room for pistachio gelato or tiramisu.  The service varies, ours was friendly. 
Biergarten: (Germany) it doesn't look like much from the entrance, but inside you'll be entertained with music & dancing while you eat from the buffet. Sausages, potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and salads, etc. 
Teppan Edo: (Japan) Hibachi style. Very minimal/sleek atmosphere-quite a departure from overly-thematic Disney.  
Rose & Crown Pub: (England) fish & chips, English fare. Outdoor viewing of Illuminations. 

Something more formal & less kid-friendly. Requires 2 Dining Credits per person.
  • Le Cellier(Epcot) What a steak! The pina colada was yummy too. Reserve dinner in enough time to make it out for the Illumination show, viewable from just outside the restaurant. Our date-night choice
  • California Grill (Contemporary resort) With a panoramic view of MK, as well as an observation deck, if you time this right, you can watch the Wishes fireworks here-they even pipe in the music! Can't imagine a more romantic dining option.
  • Yachtsman Steakhouse (Yacht Club Resort) Steak!
  • Narcooses (Grand Floridian) views of Magic Kingdom fireworks 

Snack Credits: (Identified by a purple square decal on the menu) 
If it's $5, it's a valuable use of the snack credit. 
In Parks: 
Starbucks drinks
Scoops. (HS) Homemade chocolate cookies & vanilla ice cream. Hot fudge sundaes.
Dole Whip. My favorite. MK (Adventureland) by Magic Carpet ride. Also at a walk-up window at the Polynesian
Main St. Ice Cream Parlour, Storybook Treats, & Sleepy Hollow (MK) "homemade" chocolate chip cookie & ice cream sundaes, floats (they had a Nutella & fruit topped waffle that looked decadent. Not on the snack plan.)
Las Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie (Epcot, France) SO many decadent baked goods! 
Vivoli il Gelato (Italy, Epcot)
Lotus Blossom Cafe (China, Epcot) Egg rolls
Writer's Stop (Hollywood Studios)
Peanut butter cookies & Large Mickey Mouse-shaped chocolate chip cookies
Gaston's Tavern (MK) cinnamon rolls
Out of parks:
Goofy's Candy Company Disney Springs Marketplace. the BEST place to use snack credits. Besides candy, you'll find a variety of candied apples, the best peanut butter cookies, fun shaped & decadently topped rice crispy treats, pecan/chocolate, fudge, the list goes on & on. When you have snack credits to use up, make time for a stop here instead of using them up at the resort.  
Beignets (New Orleans French Quarter Resort) 3 for 1 Snack credit. They make them to order & they're devourable. 
Resort QS spots: gelato, smoothies, scones & other baked goods, dirt & worms cups for the kids.
Cupcakes! Almost too cute to eat! Resort QS restaurants, bakeries in parks.
Epcot World Showcase features delicious varieties of each countries' specialty treats:
Napolean Cake (Epcot, France) Boulangerie Patisserie Les Halles
Schoolbread (Epcot, Norway)

And there's always Mickey ice cream bars & sandwiches 

Let's talk about a few other dining-related things.
1. Water is FREE in every park. Sometimes they'll only give you ice, you fill it with water. You could use the cup or bring your own bottle.Orlando water has a reputation for being yucky. You may want to bring a flavored pouch or drops. I hit up Starbucks locations in the parks for (free) filtered water.
Disney Resorts provide a FREE mug, refillable at resort only-(soda, coffee, hot chocolate). Resort mugs are not spill-proof enough to bring into the parks with you. 

2. Should I bring snacks from home?
I recommend bringing a few snacks from home, especially if you have kids. (For a complete packing, including what to buy beforehand guide read this post.)
LaraBars or Kind bars (any meal replacement bar) work well.
If you have young kids, Goldfish or other crackers, fruit squeezable pouches, and lollipops work well while waiting in line or for a show to begin.
Pack them in your bag on park days.
If you'd rather not bother, be sure to grab a banana or apple from the buffet meals to have with you.
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