Disney done right: Dining in the ‘World’

Healthy? No. But they'll burn it off in the parks!

If you’re looking for tips on how to save money on meals in Disney World, this is not the place. Nor will this article tell you where to find the best fries, best pizza, or best cinnamon roll (although that would be the Main Street Bake Shoppe). Instead, this article is all about how to make dining in Disney easier…on you, your kids, your schedule, and your sanity. Because let’s face it, during a Disney family vacation, sometimes a meal feels less like a welcome repast and more like one more line to wait in, one more crowd to fight, and one more battle to get your children to behave. If you follow the tips below, it doesn’t have to be that way!

1. Opt into the Disney Dining Plan if you qualify. Will the dining plan be the cheapest way for your family to dine in Disney World? Perhaps so, perhaps not. It really depends on what type of meals your family enjoys. But that’s not the point: even if it costs you a few extra dollars when compared to dining out-of-pocket, we believe it’s worth it. Why? Because every time you order a burger at a counter service restaurant or the kids beg for a $5 tub of popcorn, you won’t feel ‘nickel and dimed’. You’ll be able to say ‘yes’ more often than ‘no’, and you won’t have to worry so much about each drink that comes with each meal and the price of that side dish of mac and cheese your kid had to have but never touched. You will have to pay attention to your number of counter service and table service credits, but Disney makes that easy for you by including a running tally on every food receipt.

2. If your kids are character crazy, reserve Character Meals. That’s right, I said ‘reserve’. Disney calls it an ‘AR’ (Advanced Reservation), and even if you’re visiting in the off-season, you’ll need one. Different restaurant venues will showcase different characters, so find the one (or more) that fits your family and plan to spend an hour or so with the characters while eating and relaxing in the air conditioned indoors instead of sweating in lines in the parks. Our favorite is the Pooh and Friends meal at Magic Kingdom’s Crystal Palace. (Bonus tip: reserve a table at a park-venue restaurant before park opening; you’ll be allowed to enter early for great photo ops by near-empty park attractions.)

Pit Stops' Grandpa becomes part of the act at Hoop-Dee-Doo!

3. Schedule your day around lunches for before 11:30 am or after 2 pm. It really does make a huge difference: not only will eating during off-peak hours save you time and hassle at the service windows and ensure you get a table, but it will free you up to tour the park while everyone else is eating. (Bonus tip: this works at ski resorts, too!)

4. Save buffets for the end of the day. Unless you were blessed with super-bionic angel children, your kids (and you!) are worn out by the end of a Disney day. Instead of asking them to sit still and wait for their table service meals, consider scheduling buffets for this last meal of the day. Everyone gets fed faster, has more choices, and can move around. Our hands-down favorite was Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Boma (easy to access via Disney transportation after a day at Animal Kingdom).

5. Enjoy dinner and a show. This tip goes double if you’re on the dining plan, since you’re able to use your points even for bundled dinner events such as the Fantasmic or Candlelight Dinner packages. Doing so allows you to relax and enjoy your meal without worrying about getting a good seat for the show: Disney reserves a spot for you. And some meals include a show of their own: our top pick was Fort Wilderness’ Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my kids laugh so hard!

About the author

Pit Stops for Kids AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly at a number of travel publications, and contributes to OutdoorsNW magazine as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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