There are a lot of dining options at Disney World and dining has become a huge thing for Disney visitors of late. On this episode of Disney Deciphered, we took a bird’s eye view of Disney dining and offered tips on why to eat on property, the different food options at Disney, and why character meals can be very valuable. We also offer our favorite tips on how to save money on food at Walt Disney World and talk a little bit about making reservations. Listen above or read below and let us know your thoughts on Disney dining in the comments!
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Should you eat on or off property?
The reality is for most families, unless you’re staying at a location that features a kitchen, you’ll have to eat at least SOME of your meals on property. The question is, should you eat ALL of your meals on property?
To us, the best way to answer this question for your family is to ask yourself what you’re paying extra for by eating on property. Food at Walt Disney World is generally pretty good and sometimes great, but obviously you will pay a markup to eat in the theme parks.
The reality is, you’re mostly paying extra for convenience and time. The value of these two things cannot be understated at Disney World. As we’ve stated, the entire Disney World property inhabits a very large footprint. If you leave the park to grab something to eat, even fast food, you can easily be looking at a two hour trip outside a park like the Magic Kingdom.
For many families, lunch can be combined with an afternoon nap at the hotel, so eating outside of the parks makes sense. For others, it’s more important to stay in the parks and maximize time with attractions. If you do plan to eat off site, we definitely recommend pairing your meal with a break from the parks, which is a good idea regardless. Just be sure to factor in the cost and time of transportation.
Types of Restaurants at Disney World
Disney World offers a dining plan (more on that later) and classifies it’s restaurants into two categories: counter service and table service. Counter service restaurants require you to order at a counter, pick up your food and find your own seats. There are two types of table service restaurants. The first is your standard restaurant where wait staff take your order off of a menu.
The second type of table service restaurant is “all you can enjoy” (read: buffet). Some of these are traditional buffets where you grab your food at a buffet station, while others, like Ohana at the Polynesian, feature wait staff bringing plates of food to you until you say stop.
Some restaurants offer character meals, a chance to meet and greet Disney characters while you enjoy your meal. Character meals run slightly more expensive than other table service meals, but the benefit is you get to save time. Instead of waiting in lines in the parks to meet characters, they come right to your table!
Chef Mickey’s and Cinderella’s Royal Table are two of the most well known character meals, though the latter is expensive and a tough to get reservation. Some of our favorites include Ohana (brunch only), Crystal Palace, and the underrated Cape May Cafe. Akershus at Norway is a cheaper princess dining option, though we find the food to be pretty mediocre.
Saving money on dining at Disney World
There are a few ways you can save money on dining at Disney World, even if you’re staying on site. We For snacks and soft drinks, we love using Amazon Prime Now to deliver groceries to our Disney hotel. You pay a $5 delivery charge to your hotel, but it’s not hard to make that up with savings. We like to buy breakfast items, soda, and other simple things that we can eat in our hotel room. Eating breakfast at the hotel saves both time and money.
A second suggestion would be to eat two large meals during the day instead of three small ones. You can eat at a character brunch, have your fill, and then just ride that wave all the way to dinner. With the amount of food you end up consuming at the “all you care to enjoy” table service restaurants, this isn’t too difficult.
With small children, we like to share plates, which can also save money. Via Napoli in Epcot, a wonderful Italian pizza restaurant, is a great example of this. While the pizza may cost more than you are used to, it can feed your whole family and you’ll save money overall.
Can you save money with the Disney Dining Plan?
Disney offers on site guests the option to buy a Disney dining plan. There are three different options with varying costs. The bottom line is, you usually do not save money getting the Disney dining plan. If you eat with all your allotted credits, it’s not difficult to break even. The reason you often don’t save money is because you often end up having more credits than you feel like using – due to being too full, too tired, or both.
There are some niche instances where you can save money using the Disney dining plan, see this post for more details.
If you are the type of family that doesn’t like worrying about how much you are spending on food, the dining plan could be a good option for you even if you end up spending a little more than you might a la carte.
Making dining reservations
You can make dining reservations 180 days out. We highly recommend doing this as it can be tough to wait in long lines with young children. One note, you can often get hard to get reservations through sheer persistence of will – so check back often!
We will discuss nabbing hard to get dining reservations in more detail in the next episode of the podcast.
Dining at Disney World has become a hot ticket item, so Leslie and Joe break down the basics of dining at Disney World and offer tips on how to save money, why it’s worth eating on property, and our love for character meals. We also chat a bit about making reservations and discuss whether you actual save money using the Disney dining plan.
If you like what you hear, please share the podcast with others you think might enjoy it. Also, we’d appreciate if you subscribed on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, TuneIn, PlayerFM, or Google Play (please leave a positive review if you’re enjoying the show), liked our Facebook page, or followed us on Twitter!
You can also e-mail us at disneydeciphered AT gmail DOT com. Connect with Leslie @TripswithTykes on social media and Joe @asthejoeflies.
0:00 – Should you eat on or off site?
1:40 – Different types of Disney World restaurants
4:13 – Character meals
6:06 – What you’re paying extra for at Disney for dining
8:18 – How to save money eating at Disney
11:46 – Does the Disney Dining Plan actually save money?
13:16 – Favorite character meals
15:44 – Dining reservation windows