By now, most people know all about Disney World’s extensive list of luxury resorts and exclusive perks that come with being a Disney Club Vacation member. But it still helps to shed light on some of their offers. For example, the Disney Dining Plan can become quite complex and difficult to gauge whether it’s worth the extra Disney Dollars.

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Understanding the various dining plans, credits, and exclusions will give you insight into how it might affect your Disney budget and itinerary. Here’s everything you need to know about the Disney Dining Plan for your next vacation into the land of enchantment and magic.

10 Book A Disney Vacation

Just because you’re planning a family vacation to Orlando and spending upwards of $500 on theme park tickets, does not grant you the option of choosing a Disney Dining Plan. The dining plan is an exclusive promotion available to visitors staying at a Disney Resort. A sample package listed on the site starts at $3,943 for a family of four (2 adults, 2 children) staying for 6 days and 7 nights, and includes tickets for all 4 theme parks.

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This option includes the basic Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan where families can grab meals in a casual dining setting. No reservations are required and no table service is provided.

9 Be On Alert For Free Dining Plans

Disney unveils its annual “Free Dining Plan” promotions for vacation bookings during pre-determined dates. The minimum stay to qualify for this discount is 4 nights, and you’ll have to check-in during the dates pre-determined by Disney. You’ll also have to purchase the minimum 4-day Park Hopper tickets to gain access to the theme parks. Families staying at the more moderate resorts receive the basic Quick-Service Dining Plan while those staying at a luxury resort will be granted the standard Disney Dining Plan which includes access to over 50 Table-Service restaurants.

Unfortunately, the 2019 offer was released earlier than usual to tempt vacationers into booking ahead of the much-anticipated fall opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and the promotion is no longer available.

8 Compare The Dining Options

As you may have noticed, there are several dining plan options to choose from. The most basic (and most affordable) is the Quick-Service Dining Plan which allows guests aged three and older to choose meals from fast-service counter eateries. This plan includes 2 quick service meals and 2 snacks per day. Note that quick service meals include 1 entree and 1 beverage, so you’ll go without a meal during the day with this plan. Of course, you can choose to supplement with a snack.

The standard Disney Dining option offers guests over the age of three one Quick-Service meal, one Table-Service meal, and 2 snacks per day. Table-Service meals include an entree, dessert, and a beverage during lunch and dinner, but only an entree and beverage when using it for breakfast. Family-Style Buffets are also an option with table-service.

The Disney Deluxe Dining plan includes 3 full meals and 2 snacks per day. Guests with the Deluxe plan can choose between Quick-Service, Table-Service, or Family-Style Buffet for any of their meals. Children aged 3-9 must order from the children’s menu at Table-Service restaurants.

7 Maximize Your Credits

It can take some calculating to determine how to maximize your dining credits. For example, based on the sample costs for a family of four staying 6 nights, 7 days, with access to theme parks, there’s a $976 difference for packages that come with and without the Quick-Service Dining Plan option; that’s $34 for two meals and two snacks per day, per person. If you assume the value of snacks to be about $5, then you can assume the value of Quick-Service meals to be about $12. Therefore, in order to maximize credits, every family member should order meals that are at least $12.

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To keep things relatively simple, go for the more expensive items on the menu. Some Table-Service restaurants are considered “Signature Restaurants” and require 2 credits. This is almost never worth the extra credit because meals aren’t valued at twice as much as those from the standard restaurants. Also, if you’re limited to 2 meals per day (Quick-Service and Table-Service plans) don’t use credits on breakfast since it’s typically the cheapest meal. Character meals are a great use of credits.

6 Consider The Exclusions

Your plan might include meals, beverages, snacks, and desserts, but none of the plans include gratuity. You’re still responsible for tipping your servers and wait staff on the full bill amount. If you take the advice above and maximize on your credits, gratuities can certainly add up quickly. In addition, none of the dining plans include any appetizers or in-room service nor can you substitute meal credits for such.

Another exclusion to consider is the fact that many restaurants aren’t available as part of the dining plan, so if you’re enticed to try something else, you’ll still be paying out of pocket.

5 Vary Your Snack Credits

Snack credits can be pretty versatile in terms of what’s considered a “snack” at Disney. All snack purchases will bear a purple snack symbol making it easy to determine how to use your credits. Typically, a snack will consist of any single serving item that isn’t considered an entree. A cookie, muffin, ice cream cone, and even the “sides” at quick-service restaurants. Snack credits can also be used during the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, and you can stock up on pre-packaged snacks before your flight out of Orlando if you have some credits left to use.

4 Get In On The Alcohol

Parents, rejoice! As of this year, Disney amended their dining plans to include alcoholic beverages. All quick-service or table-service beverages can be substituted for beer, wine, or a mixed-drink for guests 21 years and older. There are no limitations to the kind of alcoholic beverage you choose, either.

Top shelf liquors are fair game as long as they don’t come in a Disney souvenir cup or serve more than one person. The addition of alcoholic beverages instantly increases the value of your credit. One meal that includes a $16 patron margarita along with a $15 taco entree pretty much pays for your day’s worth of food on the Quick-Service plan.

3 Contemplate Your Dietary Restrictions

Restaurants available for guests with dining plans include cuisine options for all dietary restrictions. However, in terms of value, vegans might not fare well with a dining plan. Vegan and vegetarian options tend to be the cheapest items on the menu, so likely, investing in a dining plan would result in a loss.

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Also, since you’re limited to specific restaurant options, you might find a place that isn’t part of the dining plan that works better for your diet, and choose to eat there instead. The dining plan proves valuable for big eaters who have little to no dietary restrictions.

2 Use Military Discounts

Disney acknowledges those who currently serve, or previously served, in the military. Unlike the standard vacation packages needed to qualify for a dining plan, active and inactive military qualify for room rate discounts without having to purchase Park Hopper passes.

Unfortunately, when purchasing military discounted rooms, families are ineligible for the free dining promos - even if they are visiting during promo dates. Still, military personnel receive discounted rooms and discounted passes if they choose to visit the parks. The only full-price purchase is the dining plan. Still sounds like a win!

1 Don’t Waste Time

Determining whether buying into a Disney Dining Plan is worth the value is an ongoing debate with no clear winner. To really determine whether you got your money’s worth, you’d have to account for every meal, beverage, dessert, snack, gratuity, and extra unforeseen food expense, and compare it to what you paid for your package. Only an accountant could be so diligent in assessing such a profit and expense report. But there is one clear winner - the time saver.

Those who would rather put up the money to ensure an all-inclusive experience really benefit from the time saved in preparing a separate dining budget. Checking in and receiving your dining wristband allows you to forget about one extra detail - and that can mean a lot for a family set on thoroughly enjoying their experience in Disney World.

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