Posts Tagged ‘dining plan’

Enhanced Dining Calculator Released for Walt Disney World!

by on October 23, 2017

In August we released a simple tool that provides the average costs of food provided under Disney Dining Plans offered at Walt Disney World in Florida. Today this tool becomes more powerful, allowing you to customize your analysis based on your group’s dining preferences.

Our Dining Calculator tool now lets you estimate the cost of your meals, as well as determine how well (or poorly) a Disney Dining Plan will meet your dining needs based on average costs from our Disney World menu database. To access this tool, click on the DINING button on a trip on your dashboard.

Here is what the new Dining Calculator looks like:

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Tips on Tipping at Walt Disney World: Transportation, Restaurants, Hotels, and More

by on March 4, 2016

IMG_9618-1-300x200-300x200A frequent area of confusion for Disney guests is the topic of tipping. International guests may be unfamiliar with American tipping in general. There are some Disney travel situations where guests tip differently than at other travel destinations. And some folks are just plain miffed that they have to tip at all. Nonetheless, gratuities are a part of life when you travel in the United States.

To answer all your Disney World tipping questions in one place, here’s an overview of all the situations where you have to tip, and where you don’t have to tip, on your Disney vacation.



Disney table service restaurants provide information about tipping.

Disney table service restaurants provide information about tipping.


    • Luggage Handling: At the airport, at your hotel, and throughout your trip, you should tip anyone who handles your luggage for you in your presence. The rule of thumb is that you tip about a dollar per bag, or two dollars if the bag is extra heavy. Round up, and don’t ask the porter or valet for change. If you’re claiming your bags yourself at the airport carousel and taking them to a cab, rental car agency, limo service, or Magical Express bus on you own, then you won’t need to tip anyone while you’re in the airport. If you use a porter to assist you with moving your bags from the luggage carousel to ground transportation, then you tip the porter. If you’re at a Disney hotel and using their Resort Airline Check-In service, tip the luggage handler their just as you would a porter at the airport. If hotel bellman assists with bringing your bags to/from your room, tip a dollar or two per bag. If a hotel bellman also provides you with a resort tour or other help, tip a bit extra. If you’re looking to economize, you can avoid a lot of tipping if you transport your bags yourself. This may not be feasible for guests with medical challenges, copious amounts of luggage, more small children than adults, or owners of non-wheeled luggage. However, if you’re able-bodied and each member of your party can handle their own rolling bag, then by all means deal with your own luggage and circumvent the tip stream. This is an easy way to save cash.
    • Transportation, Magical Express Drivers: You’ll see a sign at the front of the bus telling you that driver will accept tips. If you’re just hopping off and on the bus, you shouldn’t feel obligated. However, if the driver is helping your store luggage under the bus, go by the dollar per bag rule. If you’ve used the yellow Magical Express luggage tags and had Disney take your bags directly to the hotel for you, then you won’t see the person who’s doing your luggage transport. In this situation, you’re off the hook for tipping.
    • Transportation, Limo or Town Car Drivers: Depending on the agency you’re using, the tip may be included in the price. Be sure to ask this when you set up your booking. In general, plan to tip about 15% of the fare. If the driver has done something extraordinary for you, such as making an extra stop or assisting with car seats or colossal amounts of luggage, tip more.

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    The Basics: A Cost Analysis of the Disney World Dining Plan

    by on February 26, 2016

    This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to find links to our other Basics posts.

    The first thing to understand about the Disney World Dining Plan is the transformation it has undergone since its introduction in 2005. At one time, the promotional material for the dining plan emphasized value, trumpeting savings of up to 40 percent. Today, the emphasis is on convenience. That’s because the potential savings of the Dining Plan is very dependent on how you use it. In fact, it’s fairly easy to lose money on the Dining Plan.

    Disney Dining PlanDuring its debut, the Standard Dining Plan cost about $35 per day for adults and $10 for children. For this price, visitors would get the familiar offering of one table-service meal, one counter-service meal and one snack. The big difference from the original offering to today is in the table-service meal, which no longer includes appetizer or gratuity in the cost.

    And, of course, that cost has gone up markedly as well. In 2016, the price per day of the Standard Dining Plan is $61.82 per adult and $20.98 per child (tax included). In addition to the table-service meal, counter-service meal and single snack per day, guests using this plan will get a refillable drink mug, valid for the length of stay.

    The other dining plan options include the Quick-Service Plan, which includes two counter-service meals and one snack per day, along with the refillable drink mug. Per day, this package will run you $42.84 for adults and $17.47 for children (tax included). Then there’s the Deluxe Dining Plan, which offers a choice of 3 table- or counter-service meals per day at any participating restaurant. In addition to the three meals a day, the plan also includes two snacks per day and a refillable drink mug. Both child and adult credits can be used for adult meals, if desired, on the Deluxe Dining Plan. The cost per day is $111.73 for adults and $32.56 for children (tax included).

    Read on to find out where you can find value in the Dining Plan and where you can fall short.

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    Planning for Spontaneity: Disney World Counter Service Meals

    by on July 30, 2014

    By nature, our family tends to over-plan. On one vacation, we even set aside specific time to ‘be spontaneous – within our own limitations.’ But for some reason, our quick dining – while generally guided – wasn’t set in stone. On our first day in Epcot, we chose Sunshine Seasons, one of the jewels of counter service dining in the parks, according to all the checks we’d made. We began enjoying our Asian-infused lunch until our only adventurous eater started to look a little queasy. The sights and aromas had overcome our (somewhat) melodramatic child. Thankfully, she was only four. And we didn’t stick around for the clean-up.

    A nice variety of food offered at Casey's Corner, but tough to locate an indoor seat.

    A nice variety of food offered at Casey’s Corner, but tough to locate an indoor seat.

    Since then, we have planned all of our meals. For many Walt Disney World vacationers, counter service fills up half – or more- of our theme park dining. Plenty of information exists for table service restaurants: menus, meal reviews, countdown to reservation times, and strategies for landing the elusive meal spot. Comparatively little exists for the compulsive planner when it comes to quick service. While outlining burgers and nachos may seem overly obsessive, building a plan – with a back-up, too – may save time, effort, and enable you to put more enjoyment into your vacation. If nothing else, you might slide a column into your managed spreadsheet for your ‘other’ meal.

    Counter service restaurants participate uniquely with the Disney Dining plan. Almost all table service restaurants in Disney World parks are on the meal plan, but only some counter service restaurants are. Some will serve snacks only. The leg conundrum for me seems the strangest. Some places – like the pork shank legs at Min and Bill’s in Hollywood Studios-Covered. Gaston’s Tavern in Magic Kingdom-Not covered. You can use a snack credit there, just not on the shank.

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    Quick-Service Universal Dining Plan Price Increase

    by on December 26, 2013

    Universal Dining Plan price increase

    New Universal Dining Plan Quick Service pricing as of yesterday (photos by Seth Kubersky)

    Universal Orlando quietly delivered a lump of coal to guests this holiday week with a stealthy Universal Dining Plan price increase affecting their new Quick Service prepaid food program. The Universal Dining Plan — Quick Service program, which replaced the former all-you-can-eat Meal Deal earlier this year, formerly provided adults with one quick-service entree, two beverages, and two snacks for $18.99.

    Yesterday, I noticed that all of the parks’ signage advertising the Universal Dining Plan — Quick Service, the price has increased by $1 to $19.99, and the snack allotment has been reduced from two to one. The children’s plan for those age 3-9 is unchanged.

    Universal’s web site about the dining plan was temporarily disabled yesterday, but now it is back online with a new PDF detailing the table service version of the plan; we’ll keep an eye out for updated fine-print on the quick service plan, and share it with you when available.

    Universal Dining Plan handbill from early December with old pricing.

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    2012 Disney Dining Plan Coverage

    by on February 9, 2012

    Len’s Note: Below is a draft of our coverage of the Disney Dining Plan for the next edition of the Unofficial Guide.  I’d love to hear your comments and questions about the dining plan or our recommendations below.  If you’ve used the dining plan, what worked and didn’t work for you?  If you’re thinking about using the plan on an upcoming trip, what questions do you have?

    Magic Your Way Dining Plans

    Disney offers dining plans to accompany its Magic Your Way ticket system. They’re available to all Disney resort guests except those staying at the Swan, the Dolphin, the hotels of the Downtown Disney Resort Area, and Shades of Green, none of which are Disney-owned or -operated. Guests must also purchase a Magic Your Way package from Disney (not through an online reseller), have Annual Passes, or be members of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) to participate in the plan. Except for DVC members, a three-night minimum stay is typically also required. Overall cost is determined by the number of nights you stay at a Disney resort.

    If you’re booking your trip through a third-party site such as Expedia, you must purchase a Disney package vacation – including the dining plan – at the time of your initial booking; Disney won’t let you add the plan later.  If you book through Disney, in most cases you’ll be able to add the dining plan at any time up through your check-in.

    Magic Your Way Plus Dining Plan Disney’s standard dining plan provides, for each member of your group, for each night of your stay, one counter-service meal, one full-service meal, and one snack at participating Disney dining locations and restaurants, including room service at some Disney resorts (type “Disney Dining Plan Locations”, followed by the year of your visit, into your favorite Internet search engine to find sites with the entire list). The plan also includes one refillable drink mug per person, per package, but it can be filled only at Disney resort counter-service restaurants.  The prices for 2012 are:

    Adults (ages 10 and up)                 $51.87/night off-peak and $53.54 summer and holidays

    Children (ages 3-9)                        $15.02/night off-peak and $16.02 summer and holidays

    Children younger than age 3 eat free from an adult’s plate.

    A counter-service meal includes:

    • A main course (sandwich, dinner salad, pizza, or the like) or a complete combo meal (such as a burger and fries)
    • Dessert
    • A nonalcoholic drink

    A full-service sit-down meal includes:

    • A main course
    • Dessert
    • A nonalcoholic drink

    If you’re dining at a buffet, the full-service meal includes the buffet and a nonalcoholic drink.  Tax is included in the dining plan’s prices, so you won’t be asked to pay 6.75% of your meal when you’re finished eating.

    The snack includes items normally sold from carts or small stands throughout the parks and resorts: ice cream, popcorn, soft drinks, fruit, chips, apple juice, and the like.

    For instance, if you’re staying for three nights and four days, each member of your party will be credited with three counter-service meals, three full-service meals, and three snacks. All those credits will be put into a “meal account” for your entire party. Meals in your account can be used on any combination of days, so you’re not required to eat every meal every day. Thus, you can skip a full-service meal one day and have two on another day.  Your meal plan expires at midnight on the day you check out of the Disney resort.

    Disney’s top-of-the-line restaurants (dubbed “Disney Signature” restaurants in the plan), along with Cinderella’s Royal Table, all the dinner shows, regular room service, and in-room pizza delivery, count as two full-service meals. If you dine at one of these locations, two full-service meals will be deducted from your account for each person dining.

    In addition to the preceding, the standard dining plan comes with several other important rules:

    • Everyone staying in the same resort room must participate in the plan.
    • The plan must be purchased for every night of your stay.  You cannot, for example, pay for the meal plan on only 3 nights of a 5-night stay.
    • Children ages 3–9 must order from the kids’ menu, if one is available. This rule is occasionally not enforced at Disney’s counter-service restaurants, enabling older children to order from the regular (adult) menu.
    • Alcoholic beverages and some bottled nonalcoholic drinks are not included in the plan.
    • A full-service meal can be breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  It rarely makes financial sense to use your full-service meal credits for breakfast or lunch.
    • Unused meals are nonrefundable.
    • The dining plan is occasionally unavailable when using certain room-only discounts.

    Quick-Service Dining Plan A less expensive version of the standard dining plan, this plan includes meals, snacks, and nonalcoholic drinks at most counter-service eateries in Walt Disney World, but no meals at sit-down restaurants. The cost (including tax) is $34.99 per day for guests age 10 and up, $11.99 per day for kids ages 3–9. The plan includes two counter-service meals and one snack per day, in addition to one refillable drink mug per person, per package (eligible for refills only at counter-service locations only in your Disney resort).

    Magic Your Way Deluxe Dining Plan This plan offers a choice of full- or counter-service meals for three meals a day at any participating restaurant. In addition to the three meals a day, the plan also includes two snacks per day and a refillable drink mug. The Deluxe Plan costs $89.52 for adults and $25.79 for children for each night of your stay during peak season, $85.52 per adult and $23.79 per child off-peak (prices include tax). Cranking it up another notch, there are even more extravagant dining plans associated with Magic Your Way Premium and Platinum packages, both described a little later.

    In addition to food, all the plans include deal sweeteners such as a free round of miniature golf, a certificate for a 5×10-inch print from Disney’s PhotoPass, a sort of two-for-one certificate for use of Sea Raycers watercraft, a “commemorative” luggage tag, and such.

    Disney ceaselessly tinkers with the dining plans’ rules, meal definitions, and participating restaurants. For example, it’s possible (though not documented) to exchange a sit-down-meal credit for a counter-service meal, although doing this even once can negate any savings you get from using a plan in the first place.

    Should You Get The Dining Plan?

    The dining plan has been one of the most requested of Disney’s package add-ons since its introduction; families report that their favorite aspect is the peace of mind that comes from knowing their meals are paid for ahead of time, rather than having to keep track of a budget while they’re in the parks. Families also enjoy the communal aspect of sitting down together for a full meal, without having to worry about who’s picking up the food or doing the dishes.

    In our survey of families who have purchased the standard dining plan, a little more than half (57%) would buy the plan again.  That being said, we think many families, if not most, should avoid the standard and deluxe dining plans and simply pay cash for their meals.

    That conclusion is based on the following three factors, which are described in detail below:

    • The economics of the plan require you to eat a sit-down dinner (not breakfast or lunch) every night of your trip
    • You’ll pay adult prices for children ages 10 to 13, but most kids can be fed for a lot less
    • The average family cannot get dinner reservations at the best restaurants – there simply aren’t enough tables to go around
    • The potential savings are so small, on average, that missing a single dinner can mean the difference between saving and losing money

    Regarding the economics of the plan, it’s illustrative to know how the $51.87 cost of one day on the standard dining plan is spent on each plan component, such as a snack or counter-service meal.  We’ll spare you the math (it’s a set of linear equations), but an approximate value for each item across every 2012 Disney dining plan is shown in the chart below:

    To see how those prices stacked up against the food in the parks, in early 2012 we collected menus from every sit-down, and counter-service restaurant in Walt Disney World, plus every food stand, cart and kiosk on property.  We entered every menu item – more than 11,000 in all – into a database for our analysis.

    That analysis showed that using your sit-down meal credits for breakfast is a particularly bad deal.  The average breakfast entrée costs around $10 in Disney World, the average breakfast drink is around $3 and the average breakfast “dessert,” such as a croissant or muffin, costs around $3.  Thus, using a sit-down dining credit for a typical Disney breakfast means paying almost $31 for food everyone else buys for $16.

    Lunch is another waste of money under the dining plan: The average lunch entrée costs around $15, drinks are $3 (water is free) and dessert at lunch runs about $6.75.  Using a sit-down credit there means you’re paying about $6 per person more than everyone else for the same food.

    That also assumes that every person in your family can eat all the food Disney offers at every single meal.  The Unofficial Guide staff love to dine at Walt Disney World, but we can tell you from experience that it is incredibly difficult to eat all of the food Disney provides at every meal.  In fact, at the end of one five-day trip we had a whopping 16 unused sit-down credits available, and we’re professionals.  Most days we weren’t hungry enough to go to the trouble of a sit-down meal.  A St. Louis family of three agrees:

    We purchased the dining plan and would never do it again. Far too expensive, far too much food, and then you have to tip on top of the expense. Additionally, table-service meals were hard to use for us, reservations hard to obtain. Much easier to purchase what you want, where and when you want. (Intended to use a counter-service meal at … Epcot for 12-year-old. Found out you had to get the nine-piece nuggets, the large fries, a large drink, and a McFlurry in order to use the counter-service meal. Most adults I know wouldn’t eat that much food, let alone a 12-year-old!) Food is a “gotcha” at Disney, but the dining plan proved to be a poor choice for us.

    We don’t think the average 10- to 13-year old is going to be able to put away $51 worth of food every single day.  Our own ‘tweens and teenagers eat very well in Walt Disney World, and it almost always costs us less than $40 per day.  When we spend more, it’s usually because we’re staying out late and eating a second or third round of snacks in the parks.  While you can shift snack credits from one day to another, it means that you’ll end up with no snacks on some days of your trip.

    The comments above also illustrate another factor working against most families: the limited availability of tables at Disney’s best restaurants, especially those in the theme parks.  For example, while approximately 30,000 people visit Epcot on an average day, fewer than 900 (3%) can get in to the popular and highly-rated Le Cellier steakhouse at the Canada pavilion.   Reservations at the top restaurants are highly sought after and most are usually taken months in advance.  The less popular restaurants still serve decent meals, but you have to ask yourself whether you’d choose to eat at those places if you were not on the dining plan.

    Along similar lines, a Bethany, Connecticut, dad adds this:

    We took the dining plan and were disappointed. It was a lot of work to coordinate. We made travel plans six weeks before departure and were unable to procure reservations in our favorite restaurants (or they were at inconvenient times—9:50 p.m. at Boma).

    If you’re still interested in the dining plan, book your restaurants as soon as possible, typically 90–180 days before you visit. If you’re able to obtain reservations at your first-choice restaurants, then you can decide whether the plan makes economic sense.

    Finally, note that skipping a single full-service dinner during a visit of five or fewer days can mean the difference between saving and losing money. In our experience, having a scheduled sit-down meal for every day of a weeklong vacation can be mentally exhausting, especially for kids and teens. One option might be to schedule a meal at a Disney Signature restaurant, which requires two full-service credits, and have no scheduled sit-down meal on another night in the middle of your trip, allowing your group to decide on the spot if it’s up for something formal.

    Dining Plan Alternatives

    One of the biggest selling points for Disney’s dining plan is that you’ve paid for your meals before you leave home.  It’s possible to get the same results by purchasing a pre-paid debit card and loading it with the same amount of money you’d pay for the Disney plan.  The big advantage to using your own debit card is that you get to keep any money left over at the end of your trip.  American Express, Visa and MasterCard all have pre-paid cards that can be ordered and loaded from your phone or computer.  (The American Express Prepaid Card, which has no activation or monthly fees, seems to be the best deal right now.)  We’re very interested in hearing from families who try this option.  Drop us a line if you do, and let us know how it worked.

    If your peace of mind absolutely requires a Disney meal plan, the quick-service option is the best way to go for most families.  As with the standard dining plan, you’ll get the most savings using the quick-service meals for lunch and dinner.  Even if decide to splurge on a sit-down meal or two, you can use your saved quick-service meals for breakfasts without feeling like you’ve paid twice as much as everyone else for the same food.

    Reader Comments

    Readers who tried the Disney dining plan had varying experiences. A mother of two from Marshalltown, Iowa, volunteered the following:

    The dining plan is great in theory, but it had way too much food and used too much valuable park time for the table-service meals. We won’t use it again.

    From a Minnesota family of three:

    We purchased the basic Disney Dining Plan, and my wife and I were almost overwhelmed by the amount of food we received. I skipped a counter-service meal one day, which allowed my son to use the meal credit for breakfast from the resort food court the next day.

    A Toronto family says gratuities add up:

    Families should be warned that tips in Disney table-service restaurants can add up quickly in a week. The tip for our party of five at Le Cellier alone was $45.

    A father of two from Danbury, Connecticut, however, gave the plan a thumbs-up:

    We had the dining plan, so all of our meals were on the property. We were pleasantly surprised at both the service and quality of food. The entertainment during the meals, especially at the 50’s Prime Time Cafe and Whispering Canyon, really added to the meals.

    A Belmont, Massachusetts, dad is a fan of the Quick Service Dining Plan:

    If you intend to eat Disney food, the counter-service meal plan is a good option. We didn’t want the full plan because the restaurants seemed overpriced, and the necessity of reservations months in advance seemed crazy and a bar to flexibility. You get two counter-service meals (entree/combo, dessert, drink) and two snacks (food item or drink) per person per day as part of the plan, and even though kids’ meals are cheaper, there’s no distinction when you order—kids can order [more-expensive] adult meals.

    But a reader from The Woodlands, Texas, laments that the plan has altered the focus of her vacation:

    For me, the Disney Dining Plan has taken a lot of the fun out of going to Disney World. No longer are we free to enjoy the parks and fit in meals as a secondary matter. Now, dining for each day must be planned months in advance unless one is to eat just hot dogs, pizza, and other walk-up items. As heretical as it may sound, I’m actually less inclined to go to WDW now. I want to have fun. I don’t want to be locked into a tight schedule, always worrying about where we need to be when it’s time to eat. I don’t want to eat when I’m not hungry just because I have a reservation somewhere. Eating has become the primary consideration at WDW, not the parks and entertainment.

    A mom from Orland Park, Illinois, comments on the difficulty of getting Advance Reservations:

    I purchased the dining plan for this trip and must say I will never do that again. It’s impossible to get table reservations anywhere good—the restaurants that are available are available for a reason. We found ourselves taking whatever was open and were unhappy with every sit-down meal we had, except for lunch at Liberty Tree Tavern. I don’t enjoy planning my day exclusively around eating at a certain restaurant at a certain time, but that is what you must do six months in advance if you want to eat at a good sit-down restaurant in Disney. That is ridiculous.

    As this reader from San Jose, California, explains, guests who are not on the dining plan need to know how the plan has affected obtaining Advance Reservations:

    The Disney Dining Plan has almost eliminated any chance of spontaneity when visiting any of the sit-down restaurants. When planning 90 days out for the off-season, I was told by the Disney rep to make all my priority-seating reservations then because the restaurants are booked by people on the dining plan. In fact, I was told that most of the sit-down restaurants don’t even take walk-ins anymore. Sure enough, even though I was well over 90 days away from my vacation, a lot of my restaurant choices were unavailable. I had to rearrange my entire schedule to fit the open slots at the restaurants I didn’t want to miss.

    A family from Wilmington, Massachusetts, shared this:

    We found the basic dining plan somewhat limiting, and it provided way too much food for us. Dessert came with both the counter-service and table-service meals. If you tell the server that you don’t want dessert at either of these meals, he or she will try hard to convince you that you are making a life-altering mistake because you aren’t getting your money’s worth. I understand that the dining plan is a great value for many people, but we aren’t a “strap on the feedbag” kind of group.

    Pesky Technicalities and Administrative Problems

    Readers report experiencing a host of problems with both understanding and using the Disney Dining Plan. A dad from Tonawanda, New York, opines:

    The dining plan is great, but unfortunately, not enough guests actually read the literature about it and become confused, leading to long, slow lines at some counter-service locations.

    A family of four from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, observes:

    The impact of the Disney Dining Plan was amazing. It created longer lines at the registers because they were programmed to ring up each thing individually, or so it seemed. For instance, for a Mickey Meal, the checkout guy had to push buttons for chicken nuggets, applesauce, milk, and fries—not just one button for the entire meal. It took the guy about 7 minutes to figure it and process us. Meanwhile, people stood there gazing up at the menu trying to figure out how they could fit their meals into their dining plans. It was incredibly frustrating for those of us who paid with cash and had no interest in the overpriced plan. One mother did say that with her three boys, she was spending more time in the restaurants eating than on the rides, so hey—maybe it isn’t such a bad thing after all!

    Many readers report that Disney cast members are more knowledgeable about the dining plan these days. A Washington, D.C.–area couple writes:

    The kinks are worked out, and everyone at the parks we talked to seemed to get it, but we still spent $40 or more at most sit-down dinners on drinks and tips.

    Many families purchase the dining plan without understanding how limited the menu choices are for kids age 9 and under. First from a West Chester, Ohio, mom:

    All three of our girls are under 9 and had to choose “Kid’s Picks” wherever offered.  … They were so sick of mac-and-cheese and chicken nuggets after day two that going out to eat wasn’t that exciting for them. We were given a hard time by food-service workers when we asked about substituting something different, and we were turned down 50% of the time. On our last day, a sympathetic employee told us we could get any counter-service food we wanted and just not tell the cashier that it was for a child (apparently, for counter service, Disney doesn’t keep track of whether it’s for an adult or child). It did work for us on that last day, but I wish we would’ve known that sooner. Hope this info will help some families with young kids.

    From a Midwestern reader:

    We could almost relate our dining experience to that of a person who receives food stamps—very restricted and always at the mercy of someone else for food selection. We spent close to $1,000 on food and were extremely frustrated with the entire experience.

    From a Wisconsin father of two:

    On the last day of our visit, we were still learning about acceptable substitutions. For example, at breakfast you can have two drinks (coffee and OJ). You can also do this for lunch, but you have to give up your dessert. In the 90-degree heat, I would’ve gladly given up my fattening dessert to have a bottle of cold water to bring along.

    The dining plan left a family of five from Nashville, Tennessee, similarly dazed and confused:

    What was annoying was the inconsistency. You can get a 16-ounce chocolate milk on the kids’ plan, but only 8 ounces of white milk at many places. At the Earl of Sandwich, you can get 16 ounces of either kind. A pint of milk would count as a snack (price $1.52), but they wouldn’t count a quart of milk (price $1.79) because it wasn’t a single serving. However, in Animal Kingdom, my husband bought a water-bottle holder (price $3.75) and used a snack credit.

    Readers also report difficulties in keeping their accounts straight. A Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, father of three says you have to watch vendors like a hawk:

    We had a problem with a vendor who charged us meal service for each of the ice-cream bars we purchased. This became evident at our final sit-down meal, when we didn’t have any meal vouchers left. Check the receipts after every purchase! You could save yourself a lot of hassles.

    A Havre de Grace, Maryland, mom had a similar experience:

    I did want to tell you that we used the dining plan and found it to be not at all user-friendly. There was a lot of confusion on how many meals were on which card, and each place charged differently. It was very frustrating to use. Anyone else using this plan should make sure they put the correct number of meals on the correct cards.

    Reader Tips for Getting the Most Out of the Plan

    A mom from Radford, Virginia, shares the following tip:

    Warn people to eat lunch early if they have dinner reservations before 7 p.m. Disney doesn’t skimp on food—if you eat a late lunch (where, by the way, they feed you the same ungodly amount of food), you WILL NOT be hungry for dinner.

    A mom from Brick Township, New Jersey, found that the dining plan streamlined her touring:

    We truly enjoyed our Disney trip, and this time we purchased the Dining Plan. This was great for the kids because we did a character-dining experience every day. This helped us in the parks because we didn’t have to wait in line to see the characters. Instead, we got all of our autographs during our meals.

    From a Missouri family of four:

    Regarding dining, we found the Dining Plan worthwhile but probably not a fantastic bargain. I felt pressure to spend all of our credits—we went crazy our last day there! It was particularly hard to spend the kids’ counter-service credits. We wouldn’t have been likely to order many desserts, but they come with the meals—leaving the cost of the desserts off, we probably didn’t save much money.

    Finally, a Brooklyn family of four warns that the plan doesn’t always eliminate the need to use cash:

    We ate dinner at Jiko—we each ordered a salad and a main course and skipped dessert—and while the food was good, we ended up leaving annoyed by Disney’s cheapness. We were on the dining plan and were told that our meals would be two points each. This translates to about $80 apiece. Fine. But when the check came, we were not only charged the two points each, we were charged $12 each for the salads. Plus tips. I asked why we had been charged extra, and I was told that dessert was included in the meal plan but not first courses. It is pretty annoying to pay $80 per person for a one-course dinner and STILL have to put down more cash.

    Trip Planning 101: Budgeting for Your Trip to Walt Disney World

    by on October 17, 2011

    Let’s face it, a trip to Walt Disney World can be an expensive undertaking. The good news is that there are plenty ways to conserve funds and still have a magical vacation. I’m going to walk you through the process of creating a budget for your trip, and suggest some areas of potential savings. What you should know right off the bat is that planning an accurate and economical trip budget is going to involve some math, some research, and possibly some hard decisions. As a first step, download the TouringPlans Budget Planning Worksheet.

    You’ll see that there are seven main areas in which you’ll spend money on your vacation:

    • Transportation
    • Lodging
    • Theme Park Tickets
    • Food
    • Activities
    • Souvenirs
    • Miscellaneous

    Let’s go through these one by one to see where you can find information on obvious costs and hidden costs, as well as where you can find information on ways to save money.


    The main options here are flying vs. driving. In some cases, the choice will be clear; if you’re coming from Tampa then you’re driving, if you’re coming from the UK then chances are you’re going to fly (or get very wet :)). However, for most of the rest of us, the decision may not be so easy.

    Your ultimate choice must be based on real numbers – not only the cost of plane tickets vs. gas, but also factoring in all related expenses. For example, if you’re flying, you’ll need to get on the phone or search the airline website for hidden fees such as baggage or onboard snack charges (yep, AirTran recently charged me for crackers). Fliers should also consider the cost of parking or taking a taxi to the airport, tipping for baggage handlers, and other related expenses. Even if you are using frequent flier miles, many of these ancillary charges will apply. You may also want to consider the opportunity cost of using frequent flier miles. Would using your miles for this trip impede your ability to take a more expensive trip later on?

    Drivers must consider not only the cost of gas, but also meals on the road, wear and tear on the car, and possibly more on-the-road entertainment. Longer drives may even include a night in a hotel along the way depending on the length of the drive and the number of drivers in your party. For a good rough estimate of gas cost on your trip, try consulting AAA’s Fuel Cost Calculator.

    Additionally, your fly/drive decision will impact transportation charges once you’re in Orlando. For example, if you’re flying and staying at a Disney resort hotel, you have the option to use Disney’s free Magical Express bus service to get you to your hotel. If you’re flying and staying off-site, you’ll need to pay for a car service or rent a car to get to your hotel. If you’re driving and staying off-site, you will need to pay for parking at the theme parks (unless you are a Walt Disney World Annual Passholder) and possibly also at your hotel. If you need to work while on vacation, or just want to upload your digital photos at night, budget for in-room internet charges if your resort does not include them (usually around $10/day when there’s a charge). Be sure to factor all of these stealth charges into your budget.

    When looking at the cost of flying, there are now dozens of online tools and apps that can help you locate the most cost effective flight. Popular choices include Kayak, Google Flight (new), Trip Advisor, Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity. These tools make it easy to experiment with your flights to find the best deal. Try playing with departure dates or number of connections. Sometimes a Saturday night stay or a brief stopover can save you hundreds of dollars.

    If you decide to fly to Orlando, many of the sites above also offer discounted rental car opportunities. When renting a car, be sure to check your personal auto insurance policy and your credit card benefits. These often make the purchase of insurance on a rental car redundant. Declining insurance on the rental can also provide big savings.


    As a starting point, log on to and get a price for your preferred hotel during your travel dates. This will tell you the standard “rack rate” for the room. A little sleuthing can often uncover discounted prices on the exact same room. Twice this year I have saved about $20 per night at the Pop Century simply by booking through Expedia rather than through Disney directly. I had no loss of Disney benefits, I still got Magical Express service, Extra Magic Hours, and the like, I just paid less for them.

    If you’re looking for room discounts, try asking a travel agent or using one of the online services listed in the transportation section. Additional discounts might be available for Disney annual pass holders or AAA members. You may even want to tinker with the timing of your reservation as a cost variable.

    Another rule-of-thumb is that if cost is your primary concern, then staying at an off-site hotel can be a big money saver. While this often the case, be aware that some off-site hotels tack on additional fees not represented in the room rate. For example, the non-Disney-owned Swan and Dolphin hotels add resort fees and charge guests to park at the hotel. These add-ons can add up fast. Before you settle on an off-site stay, pick up the phone and ask what additional fees you might expect.


    The best place to start for park ticket pricing is the Ticket Calculator. The Ticket Calculator makes it easy play around with variables and see the real price differences between several choices. For example, a few clicks will show you that once you’re visiting for several days, the price of adding another park day has minimal impact on your admission ticket price.

    While you’re figuring out how much park tickets will cost, don’t forget to consider the price of the popular evening parties at the Magic Kingdom if you’ll be traveling during the fall or winter. You’ll also want to consider the price of admission to other nearby attractions if you’ll be venturing off campus to see the Wizarding World at Universal Studios.


    Planning your food budget takes some serious number crunching. Some Disney guests swear by the Disney Dining Plan (available to guests staying at the Walt Disney World resort hotels), but by no means does the Dining Plan make sense for everyone. To see if the plan is right for you, take a few minutes to look at the detailed menus and pricing for Disney restaurants available at or Ask yourself some questions and map out a few days of sample eating for your family. Will we eat full breakfast or will a muffin and coffee do? Will we eat dessert with lunch and/or dinner? Can our children share a meal? Do we eat appetizers? … and so on. By really pricing out several days of eating, you can extrapolate your actual food budget needs.

    Don’t forget to factor in the cost of snacks you bring from home or buy at a local grocery, as well as the price of tips and alcoholic beverages, which are not included on the Dining Plan. Be aware that many Disney restaurants tack on a surcharge during peak seasons such as the winter holidays.

    On the cost savings side, many restaurants offer discounts to Disney Vacation Club members, Disney annual pass holders, Disney Visa holders, and other affiliations. I ALWAYS ask my server what discounts are available.

    One cost savings measure might not be all it’s cracked up to be. I’m talking about “Free Dining,” a promotion that Disney has run each of the last several autumns. I’m going to leave it up to the extremely capable Tom Bricker, who explains the pros and cons of free dining HERE.


    While there is certainly plenty to do at Walt Disney World with just your theme park tickets, there are also many ways to enhance your experience with activities and entertainment. And, no surprise, many of these items cost money. For example, strolling through Downtown Disney is free. But then your child sees the oh-so-enticing-and-not-so-free Characters in Flight balloon and begs for a ride. For my family of five with older children, that 10-minute ride is $90 proposition.

    Of course the best way to economize on these activity extras is to simply say “no,” but you may want to indulge a bit with that balloon ride, a visit to the spa, or a round of golf. Pricing for these items is readily available online or with a call to 407-W-DISNEY. Factor them into your budget if you’re planning to partake.


    The purchase of souvenirs is another area where saying “no” is your biggest budgeting tool. However, as I discussed in a previous post, coming home with absolutely no souvenirs is unrealistic. Use the advice in the post found HERE, to help create realistic souvenir expectations for your family.

    While you’ll likely not get away without souvenirs for your kids, you can often skip souvenirs for friends at home. Does your dog walker really want a Mickey sweatshirt? Do you absolutely have to bring a mug back for your child’s teacher? You may be able to easily trim these items from your budget.


    This is where everything else settles: stroller rentals, PhotoPass purchases, shipping fees, kennels, and so on. Not all of them will apply to all guests. As with nearly everything else in your budget, it pays to shop around for these miscellaneous items. For example, there are several ways to save money over renting a stroller from the Disney parks. You can save money on airline baggage fees by doing some laundry while on vacation, but then you’ll need to factor the cost of washing into you budget. Again, play around with numbers to see what works for you.

    So what’s your budgeting process? Where have you found ways to cut corners? What do you spend money on that I forgot to include? Let us know in the comments below.

    Magic Kingdom’s Diamond Horseshoe Saloon Showing Up in Disney Dining System

    by on July 10, 2009

    We’ve noticed a couple of instances of the Diamond Horseshoe showing up as an available sit-down restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, probably related to the upcoming free dining promotion. Disney is describing the food as “Diamond Horseshoe at Magic Kingdom theme park serves American classics in an all-you-care-to-eat, Western-themed restaurant located in Frontierland. Savory entrees like carved beef and smoked pork loin are paired with tasty sides like herb bread stuffing.” with prices from $15-$36 per person.