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.
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!