In a previous post I talked about the Disney Dining Plan. Maybe you've decided that it's the right plan for you. Now what? If you've never had the plan before, how do you know you are not just breaking even, but you are coming out ahead?
Depending on which Disney Dining Plan you selected, what you are going to need to spend in order to break even, or come out ahead is going to vary. It's usually not too hard though. We've got a few tips for that you make it pretty easy to maximize your Dining Plan credits.
Order expensive or order out of pocket.
When you've got the dining plan, no meal is off limits. So don't worry about the cost. Of course, if you want the Cesar Salad with Grilled Chicken for $15 while dining at the 50's Prime Time Cafe in Hollywood studios, go ahead. Just don't overlook Dad's Stuffed Pork Chop with Gouda Cheese, apples and herbs with roasted potatoes, carrots and a demi-glace drizzle for $25, because if you have the dining plan, price shouldn't be the first thing your eye wanders too on the menu. Get what you want.
If that salad still looks tasty, but maybe for later, use a snack credit on a smaller one, or wait and buy it somewhere as a late evening snack out of pocket. A lot of places have that salad.
Choose your snacks wisely.
The snack selection at Disney World varies widely. A snack credit can be a big bag of Chip and Dale's trail mix with a zip top (one of my fav's to take home!), a fancy cupcake in one of many different character designs (my boys love the Darth Vader one), or even 2 jumbo cookies with a big scoop of ice cream in the middle (Mr Disney Magic's favorite.) You could also use your snack credit on a banana, a package of grapes, a fountain drink, a bottle of water or a huge fancy coffee at the Starbucks. There are loads of other things to use snack credits on, but you can see, depending on what you want, the value is going to vary widely. A banana is not going to cost near as much as a caramel apple or huge Starbucks frappachino, just like a bottle of water isn't going to have the same value as a bowl of soup, or an appetizer from a food booth at Epcot.
Just like before, if you want it, get it, but if you are wanting to take some special Disney treats home for later, or you figure you are there, so you're just going to grab that bottle of water, you might want to pay out of pocket for the things that are inexpensive, like that banana. If a snack is more than $5, it's a good snack credit use. If it's under that, you will make out better just paying cash, and using your credit on something more expensive, or bringing home some treats.
A word on using snack credits: A reader brought up in a previous comment that they didn't realize that they specifically had to say they wanted to use a snack credit and had a shock their last night when on their list of charges were a number snacks, they thought were included in their dining plan. It was taken care of in the end, but save yourself the worry and time, and if you want to use a snack credit, tell the Cast Member you want to use a snack credit on that item.
If you eat 3 meals a day but only have a plan for 2:
If you want to have 3 meals a day but are only paying for 2, and you aren't really a fan of a in room breakfast like fruit or a granola bar, there's a few tips to stretch your meal credits. The snack credit can really save the day in this case. First, you could use a snack credit for breakfast to get a pastry or a bagel, or you could use it for lunch on a bowl of soup, a salad, or some other appetizer if you want to use a meal credit for breakfast. You could also consider splitting a meal.
Some of the portions are so generous that I am hard pressed to finish them, and at times, so was Mr. Disney Magic. For example, at Cosmic Ray's I ordered the half chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans. In the summer heat, that was a little too much for me, but would have been perfect for me to split with someone. We could have even ordered an extra side if we thought it wouldn't have been enough on it's own. Lastly, while it would be an out of pocket expense, you can also order from the kids menu, even if you are an adult. The Power Pack Lunch available at Quick Service places is really popular with adults to order, because it has a Danimals yogurt, apples, carrot sticks, goldfish crackers, an apple cinnamon snack bar and your choice of a milk, juice or water for $5.99. That's honestly quite a bit of food, but the best part is it's also pretty portable! Grab it and go get in an attraction line!
Order family style.
This sort of falls under the sharing category, but depending on where you go, using one of my favorites, Wolfgang Puck Express, as example, a family of 4 could eat using only 2 Quick Service dining credits by ordering 2 pizzas to share. The same thing could be if you ordered the half chicken and two veggies meal at Cosmic Ray's. Of course, you'll either need to buy two more drinks, or break out your bottled water of juice, but that's a perfect idea to stretch your credits out a little and use them later for an extra meal, or maybe on a 2 credit table service.
One of the best things about the Disney Dining Plan is the flexibility you have to order what you want, when you want. Sure, you could do that anywhere really, but with the Dining Plan, it doesn't matter if what you want is $6, or $26. With the dining plan, you are covered and it all basically costs the same! No worries if someone wants something pricey!
If You Like to Eat a Lot or Want to Meet Characters
Those with large appetites or interested in having a meal with a character would benefit from booking table service for buffets, or character dining. Some restaurants even include VIP seating for nighttime shows. Check to make sure that you are booking one that only requires one credit though. If it requires two credits, it might make more sense to pay out of pocket.
Keeping Track of Your Credits
Remaining meal and snack entitlements will always appear at the bottom of your receipt, so hang on to those, or at least your most recent one so that you make sure to use all of your credits before your trip is over. The night before your departure, or the day of, stop by the gift shop to use those last few snack credits so nothing gets wasted.
Are you a Disney Dining Plan fan? What's your favorite thing to use a credit on?