Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Maximizing the Disney Dining Plan

I know that some people traveling to Walt Disney World focus on being insanely frugal.  Getting the biggest bang for their buck if you will.  I'm not too far from that description so I shall help those of you out that are opting to use the ever popular Disney Dining Plan.  This applies even if you are taking part of the "Free Dining" promotion.  If you read my previous post you'll know that the Free Disney Dining Plan is far from free so you should still take advantage of maximizing the plan.

For the sake of easy generalization I'm going to refer to the Basic Dining Plan.  You can use these tips even if you opt to partake in a different dining plan that Disney offers.

Snack Credits
Though your largest savings isn't going to come from your snack credits, you can still use a few tricks to not just waste them.  In general you can assume that anything under $4 on any given menu will apply towards a snack credit.  There are some exceptions where things over $4 work but let's just disregard everything I'm saying.  Just look for the little DDP emblem next to an item.  Then you know!

A big piece of advice I like to give people is to not waste a counter service or even table service credit on breakfast.  Rather, use a snack credit!  Or even better... eat breakfast in the room before you leave for the day!  Bring along granola bars or Pop-Tarts in your suitcase.  Should you decide to use a snack credit on breakfast, stop in at your resort food court and get a giant muffin.  You can also have more choices if you wait and grab a pastry from a place like the Main Street Bakery.

Counter Service Credits
Again, this isn't where your largest savings will be but nevertheless you should still take advantage of saving a few extra dollars.  Just be aware of the dollar amounts of menu items.  Please don't think that Disney counter service is all burgers and fries.  Really open your eyes and pay attention to other options available.  Give things a try!  It's a perfect time to be brave and try a food you've always wanted to try but couldn't bring yourself to before.

I encourage people to opt for the large bottles of water instead of pop (or soda, whatever you call it) because then you can keep that bottle all day and refill it.  If you get filled up on your counter service entree and have an easy to go dessert, take it back to your room and keep it in the fridge for a late night snack.  Don't throw anything away if you can help it.

Sharing is caring y'all!  While you can't really share using a table service credit you can however share counter service meals.  Maximize your credits by splitting a meal with someone else!  Most entrees and desserts at WDW are large enough to share between two light eating adults or an adult and a child.  Families that enjoy eating a full breakfast, lunch, and dinner will benefit from sharing meals.

Table Service Credits
Here is your make it or break it opportunity.  I'll break it down for you as easily as possible.  The number one tip I can give to you is to do your homework and figure out what restaurants cost.  You'll have to primarily look at entree prices. 

For this example we'll pretend our "guest" ordered a pop to drink, an entree, and a dessert.  I'll be using the "lowest" priced option at a very inexpensive restaurant during lunch and then on the flip side of the coin I'll be using a "highest" priced option at a more expensive restaurant for dinner.

The Plaza Restaurant - Magic Kingdom
Drink - $2.69
Grilled Reuben - $10.99
Milkshake - $4.69
Total not including tip and tax = $18.37

Chefs de France - Epcot
Drink - $2.95
Grilled Beef Tenderloin - $34.95
Creme Brulee - $7.25
Total not including tip and tax = $45.15

This is just for one person.  Imagine the "savings" for a family of 4 adults!  If you are using your single table service credit for The Plaza instead of a place like Chefs de France then you are seriously not getting the biggest bang for your park.  You REALLY aren't getting a good deal if you dine at all Plaza Restaurant type locations during your vacation. 

Should you NOT eat at one of your favorite dining locations just because it's not cost effective when using the DDP?  No!  Definitely not!  Pay out of pocket for that meal!  You'll be saving money doing it that way even.  Trust me.  For some crazy reason my husband loves Sci-Fi Theater at the Studios so every trip we pay out of pocket for that meal.

Another thing to look at is a family style or buffet style restaurant.  Often these are the most cost effective options when looking at pure mass of food alone.  If you're a family that can eat a lot and maybe have some picky eaters on your hands, then I seriously suggest booking more buffet type meals.  Your per dollar savings won't be as high but you'll be able to consume as much food as your stomach can handle.

Boma - Animal Kingdom Lodge
Buffet cost for one adult - $39.40 tax included

Of course at a buffet or family style meal your drink and dessert are already included. 

A way to make your meals "last" is by eating at off times.  If you can book a late breakfast at a buffet then you'll probably be set until dinner because you'll be so stuffed.  This tends to work for those who really like breakfast food better than any other meal of the day.  Eating at off times is also a good idea if you're booking your Advanced Dining Reservations less than 180 days out.  It's often hard to get into popular restaurants around noon and 6:00 p.m.  So try eating lunch at 2:45 p.m.or dinner at 8:30 p.m. 

Wrapping It Up
It's important to remember that you can absolutely come out behind and not get a "deal" using the DDP if you, well, abuse the DDP.  The best way to prevent that from happening is by doing your homework and analyzing the eating patterns of you and your traveling companions.  Please feel free to leave comments below on YOUR tips and tricks when using the Disney Dining Plan!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Free Dining... Not So Free

I had a request from a friend and follower to talk about the popular Free Dining promotion that Disney sometimes offers.

Free Dining Promotion = "Free" Disney Dining Plan 

You never know exactly when Disney will offer this promotion to guests but typically you can count on it being offered in the fall from August through September.  You must be booking a Magic Your Way package.  Which means you will need to pay rack rate for your resort room (obviously on property) and your tickets.  You must book a certain amount of nights (this varies) so be aware of that if you're planning on a super short weekend trip.

Back in the day when Free Dining first started, you would get the "basic" Dining Plan no matter what level resort you chose.  That included one snack, one counter service, and one table service meal a night per person.  Since the popularity of FD has spiked Disney has caught on and realized they could make more money if they restricted guests who stay at Value resorts by giving them the "new" Quick Service Dining Plan.  Also, when FD first started the Dining Plan included your gratuity.  Well, Disney caught onto that too and cut that out.  They also cut out the appetizer in the table service meal.  Throw in the always rising room rates and you're starting to lose the "free" part of Free Dining.  You get where I'm going with this, right?  Paying more while getting less?

If you compare another popular discount, the "Room Only Discount," to Free Dining then you'll see where Free Dining truly isn't as amazing as Disney (and uneducated WDW guests) think that it is.  I'm not gonna break down the math for you because it's sort of boring for most of you who don't enjoy the nerdy mathematical stuff like me.  What I can tell you though is that if you're staying at a value resort and participate in FD then you are probably getting a good deal.  Even if you upgrade your Free Dining Plan to the "Basic Dining Plan" for a small additional fee.  Moderate resorts are sort of hazy but most of the time it's still a good deal as long as you can maximize the Basic Dining Plan fully.

If you're choosing to stay at a Deluxe resort then please think about discounts presented to you in THIS sense.  When you opt for a "Room Only" discount you can often get 25%, 30%, even 40% off of your standard room rate.  That's a HUGE savings if you're paying $450 a night for a room!  I just helped my friend save $700 with a "Room Only" discount at Animal Kingdom Lodge.  He will definitely not be paying $700 in food for his week long trip so the savings is pretty obvious.  My point is clear.  Pay out of pocket for food if you're staying at a Deluxe resort and use the "Room Only" discount.  Don't be fooled by the Free Dining Plan.

I suppose it's relevant to touch on the fact that the actual value of the Disney Dining Plan is slowly becoming obsolete.  I wish I could remember how much the DDP cost when it first premiered but I believe it was around the ballpark of $35 per night per adult.  Back then the only DDP offered was what is now referred to as the Basic Dining Plan.  And back then you were given an appetizer, entree, and dessert with a table service credit.  On top of that your gratuity was included in the meal plan!

The Quick Service Dining Plan offered now is $35 per person per night while the Basic Disney Dining Plan now runs you $46 per person per night.  Isn't that kind of sketchy that Disney is now offering a less bulky dining plan at the same cost as they used to offer a very full packed dining plan?

Disney has since removed the appetizer and the included gratuity in the Basic Dining Plan.  After this change occurred I was among many folks that e-mailed Disney and inquired about what spiked the change.  We were told by Disney that guests complained about having too much food.  They also claimed that guests wanted to control their gratuity instead of having 18% chosen for them.

Around this time we started to notice that many restaurants menus became a little more pricey.  Yet the menu items remained the same.  Every year since then this trend has remained.  Portions get smaller and prices get bigger.  What I believe Disney is doing is making their menu items more pricey so people feel like they're getting their monies worth using the DDP.  In actuality, guests are just paying more for their meals out of pocket or more for their DDP.

I'm a firm believer that the reason the appetizer was removed from the Basic DDP and not the dessert is because it's much easier to mass produce desserts than appetizers.  Mass producing cuts costs for Disney.  Most guests would never think of that so no harm no foul in Disney's eyes.

How far is Disney going to go with this?  How many more years can they increase the price of the DDP and still keep guests hooked?  When will guests begin cutting out or cutting back on out of pocket sit down meals?  Eventually Disney will hit a wall and they will have to remain at a point that guests are still willing to overpay for food.

Next up... Maximizing the Disney Dining Plan.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Making Walt Disney World Affordable

Sort of sounds like an oxymoron... doesn't it?  It's hard to believe that you can make a WDW trip relatively inexpensive for your family but it's totally possible.  You have to know what the shortcuts are though. 

Years ago my husband and I did the ultimate "no-no."  We paid full price for everything.  We didn't wait for discounts and we didn't shop around enough.  It's no secret that in the past couple of years, Disney seems to be seriously increasing prices but giving guests LESS for what they pay.  Of course I don't agree with it but does that mean I'm going to stop going to my favorite vacation destination?  Heck no!  I simply learn how to cut corners. 

Follow these simple rules and you'll be on the fast track to saving tons of dough.



No, I'm not asking you to take up yoga.  I am however suggesting that you take a look at what Disney considers a "value" season.  You can get on-property rooms for a much more fair price if you are willing to visit Mickey at a time when not everyone else does.  Typically this means any time that is not around a holiday and is often prone to cooler temperatures.  A perk to this is that while you are saving money by going on an off season, you'll experience shorter wait times in the more popular attractions.

Understandably, many parents (and teachers) prefer that their children aren't taken out of school for a week.  But, come on... I think your 8 year old can learn that 4 x 3 = 12 a week later than the other kids.  Plus, you can do some math with them on the plane ride to WDW by showing them how much money you saved by pulling them out of class!  It's a win win!

Here is an example of how much money you could be saving by making your travel time flexible.  I'm using resorts that I would likely stay with just my husband.  So, keep in mind that this is for 2 adults.  Room only... not including a discount or resort tax added.

Value Resort - Standard view room at Pop Century
Value Season - As low as $82/night
Peak Season - As high as $149/night

Moderate Resort - Standard view room at Coronado Springs
Value Season - As low as $159/night
Peak/Holiday Season - As high as $244 night

Deluxe Resort - Animal Kingdom Lodge - Savannah View
Value Season - $325/night
Peak/Holiday Season - $550/night

Deluxe Resort - Boardwalk - Boardwalk/Water View
Value Season - $425/night
Peak/Holiday Season - $660/night on New Years Eve

Notice how the amount almost doubles with some of these resorts!  By booking your vacation on a value season you are saving a ridiculous amount of money. 
Another way to "be flexible" is the actual days of the week that you travel.  Now, this is debatable and sometimes doesn't matter but it could pay off and save you a small amount.  We try and fly on Tuesdays if we make our vacation a full week.  Certain days of the week are more expensive to fly with certain airlines and in specific months of the year even.  If you know you want to go in the fall, look and see if there is a difference in flight prices from week to week or month to month.


If you're paying full price for a room, you should be getting a discount on food.  If you're paying full price for tickets, you should be getting a discount on a room.  Disney is constantly pumping out deals that could suit you and your family.  If you can combine rule #1, being flexible, with rule #2, shopping around, then you're setting yourself up for success!

One of the discounts that seem to pop up every year is the infamous "Free Dining" deal.  How it works is you pay rack rate for your room and tickets (book a Magic Your Way package) but you get the dining plan for "free."  This discount is by far the easiest to be fooled by because it's not suitable for everyone.  In general, if you're booking a value or sometimes a moderate then you can benefit from free dining.  If you're booking a package with a deluxe resort then I seriously suggest that you book with a "Room Only" discount.  A 40% off discount on a $450 a night room is HUGE!  You can pay for your dining out of pocket and enjoy your resort savings.  For more of the mathematical details on this just check out this article by the amazing

You can also get a slight discount on park tickets if you purchase them from an authorized seller online such as Undercover Tourist.  They are real park tickets and you use them just the same as you would if you had purchased them straight through Disney.


By this I simply mean that you should sit down with your family and determine what matters most to you in your vacation.

Some families will choose that more days spent in the parks is more important to them than staying in a "nicer" resort.  Others will realize that they want to indulge in some of the best Disney dining and they will splurge for the Disney Dining Plan.  You have to decide what's best for you and your traveling companions.

I do warn those thinking of using Disney Dining Plan that you may be losing more money in the long run if you aren't maximizing the plan by choosing restaurants that have a higher dollar amount.  I have spoken on this before in previous blog entries but I constantly feel that it's necessary to remind people that while the DDP can save you money... it may not be best for your family if you're just looking for burgers and other standard American food.  Families staying in a room with a kitchenette could choose to just pack their lunch every day and save some money.  Disney allows this and it's a great way to pinch pennies.

Really think about if certain "add-ons" matter enough to you to spend the extra dough.  If you think you can handle one park a day then don't bother with the "Park Hopper" add-on.  If you're perfectly okay with eating breakfast in the room, packing a lunch, and eating dinner at a counter service restaurant, then I'm positive the Disney Dining Plan doesn't suit you. 

In the end, planning ahead and doing your homework for a WDW vacation can be your greatest help in saving money.  And let's be honest... who doesn't like saving money?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

WDW In Pictures - Day 3 - Part 2

Glory glory! We made it to Disney's Hollywood Studios just in time for the new Pixar parade.  Reading reviews and watching a little video clip on line of the parade made me insanely fearful that it was going to be craptastic.  I wouldn't say it was "craptastic" but I would say that it had a foul odor.  All of the floats are just modified from the previous parade and the music isn't anything exciting.  The dancers costumes look like slightly altered outfits from Block Party Bash.  The characters sort of saved the parade. 

Everything seemed to have a really long line on this day.  Great Movie Ride was bananas.  We walked over to the Animation building to see if any characters were around but there wasn't anything new and exciting out.  One Man's Dream came next because I hadn't seen any of the changes.  I really liked everything that they did and they kept the multi-plane camera so I was a happy camper.

Up next was Toy Story Mania... have you ever noticed how awesome the ceiling mural is?  There is this illustration of a big brother being a jerk and then there is another one of a kid who clearly doesn't want to be taking a bath.  I wish we hadn't practically ran through the queue because I actually would have liked to enjoy the ceiling a bit more.

Down Sunset Boulevard and onto Tower Of Terror and Rockin' Roller Coaster.  Tower of Terror's line was extra long due to one of the elevators being "serviced."

Ashley used to work at American Idol Experience so we had to go watch a preliminary show.  I was shocked when all of the performers could actually sing and work the stage.  That doesn't happen very often.  My favorite girl, number 2, took the cake!

After we left DHS we went back to the room to get around and went out to Seito Sushi in Orlando and met up with Ashley's friend, David.  Absolutely, without a doubt, the yummiest sushi I've ever had.  I dream about the Tatami Roll regularly.  We had a late night adventure in Magic Kingdom and I finally got to see the Kiss Goodnight for the very first time.  It was really sweet and made me realize that I have to make that a "must do" on every WDW vacation from now on.

Monday, May 2, 2011

WDW In Pictures - Day Three - Part One

This day started like the one before it.  A trip to Ashley's bank off property and then moving onto our park of the day... Animal Kingdom.  I find this park is one to enjoy slowly otherwise you might not enjoy it at all and appreciate all of the little things.  This is a "little things" park.  

Ashley and I were really hungry by the time we got into the park and decided we should eat something since it was basically lunch time.  We hit up my favorite counter service in the park in Dinoland U.S.A.

Ashley's favorite show is Festival of the Lion King so we made sure we made it to a showing of that.  I was really focused on I could get the best possible shots with my new and challenging camera.  I learned a lot about photographing this show.  It's really hard but it pays off when you get some of your favorite shots of your vacation.  The one below with the mother and child is probably my absolute favorite ever.  Something sweet about it to me to watch them interact throughout the show.

A quick meet and greet with one of my favorite Disney women of all time was in order.

For some reason, I don't remember why, but we skipped Kilimanjaro Safari.  I think Ashley wasn't a big fan of it or something.  It was time for Expedition Everest though.  Ashley took my point and shoot and I had my DSLR in hand.

After this ride we decided to leave the park and head to Disney's Hollywood Studios.  Coming up in part two!

WDW In Pictures - Day Two

After getting a late start to our day we made it to Downtown Disney at about 10:30 to grab some goodies from BabyCakes NYC.  For a full review on BabyCakes make sure to check out my previous blog post!  Let me just tell you right now though that you can describe BabyCakes in one word... YUM.

Who said you can't have cupcakes for breakfast when you're on vacation?

Ashley and I went to Epcot at around 11:15 but couldn't go inside yet.  We had to wait for her friend Jarret and his friends to arrive because she was getting them into the parks.  It was killing me not being able to walk through the gates yet and start having fun so I decided to try and get interesting pictures.  But, let me tell you.... there aren't that many interesting things to photograph OUTSIDE of Epcot gates. 

Ashley was wondering where the heck those boys were!

We finally made it in around 11:45 and had to haul tail to World Showcase with only a little time to stop for a few pictures.

We arrived at our lunch spot, Teppan Edo, a little early and had a very delicious meal.  I've realized the only down side to this restaurant is how loud it is.  In fact it's so loud we could barely hear our waitress/chef.

It was such a beautiful day out.  Ash wanted to head back for a nap after lunch but I wanted to ride just a few things before we left.

After some R&R we went back to Epcot to finish off the night before our rescheduled Boma reservation.  We stopped at La Cava in Mexico and got a few margaritas and then some caramel in Germany.  Ending up in the UK of course to visit The Hat Lady.  Little did I know she'd be smittened with me and ask me to sing "Part Of Your World" with her!  It was an absolute BLAST and the bar went crazy!  Maybe because Ashley ordered a Welsh Dragon for me and I had a hard time putting it down.  :p

I think I fell asleep on the way to Animal Kingdom Lodge for dinner.  We were one of the last tables seated that night.  Our meal was excellent but let me give you a tip... a buffet is never the easiest option when you're intoxicated.  Ha!