Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Disney Dining Plan or Ala Carte: Deciding Which is Best for You.

One of the reasons I decided to do a blog about food (besides the fact I love it so much) is when it comes to Disney-what, where & when you're gonna eat seems to drive people crazy. One of the biggest issues seems to be whether or not to purchase one of the Disney Dining plans, to just get a Tables in Wonderland card (if you're eligible) or to just pack a jar of peanut butter and some bread and wing it. Questions are posted on message boards daily asking "Is it worth it to buy the Dining Plan?". The simplest answer to this is-that depends on you & your traveling party. This is where either you-or your travel agent has to sit down and run the numbers. But before you do that, you have to take an honest look at a few things. Some questions to ask yourself when deciding what you want to do about food while on vacation at Disney:

1) What are your eating habits at home? 
The first question can be expanded to include: Are you adventurous eaters normally? Do you go out to and try new restaurants often? Are you a family who prefers quick service food? Are you very light eaters? All these questions can help you decide if a dining plan is best or perhaps just paying out of pocket would work better for you. For example, if you are normally a light eater, a Deluxe dining plan might not be the best value for your dollar. How you eat at home should give you insight as to what will be best for you on vacation.

2) Do your eating habits differ when you're on vacation?
The exception to #1 would be if you're the type of folks who like to live it up on vacation. For some, dining is a major part of their vacation experience. We are like this. What we're going to eat on vacation is as important to us as where we're going on vacation lol. So if you don't do dishes on vacation and get excited over trying new restaurants-then either the Base or Deluxe dining plans would be ideal for you.

3) How much time are you willing to devote to dining while on vacation?
 This is big. For some, the thought of leaving the parks to eat is not an appealing one. For others, it provides a nice break in touring. Another thing to consider, is how much time different dining experiences will take and are your children up to it? How long are they able to sit in restaurants? If you have a natural wiggle worm, who is only still when they are asleep, then booking 3 course sit down meals at Disney's Signature restaurants might only serve to make for a frustrating experience. On the other hand, some kids need the break in the day to cool off and recharge those batteries and a nice Character meal might be the perfect way to relax and shake off the crabbiness. Actually this could be true for any member of the family-John gets cranky if we push him too hard without feeding him regularly lol. So how long you can reasonably expect your kids (big or little) to sit for a meal, how long they can be pushed before they need to eat, and how much time you are ok with spending away from the parks? All can point you in the direction of what would work best for you.

4) What is your food budget?
This might be the most important thing to consider and it's a double edged sword. On one hand paying for a dining plan can get pricey, especially if your children are 10 and up and being charged as an adult. I have long said that Disney really needs a Tween pricing option for kids 10-17. They of course also need a lot better menu options for them as well. But I am getting off off the subject and about to go to RantLand-one of the Lands that got shot down in development. Where was I? Oh yes paying for the dining plan. While paying for the dining plan can get expensive, it also can be a great way to control your food costs-and your snacking costs as well. There is something really nice about not having to reach into your pocket every time you want a soda or an Mickey Ice cream. It's nice to walk into a restaurant and not look at prices and just order what you really want. The dining plans give you that flexibility AND they let you prepay/pre-budget for that as well. And with 3 different plans-there are a of options to suit many different types of diners.

*I do want to take the time to mention the Tables in Wonderland card here. The Tables in Wonderland card or TiW-is a discount card for annual passholders & Florida residents. It gets you 20% off your entire dining check (there are some rules and such-but I will get into that in a later post). For some people this is perfect-but again, you have to run the numbers but it can also provide great flexibility when dining.

5) Do you prefer/need to prepare your own meals?
The are a lot of different reasons some people would rather make their own food and if you are staying at a resort that has cooking facilities, then this version of ala carte might be the best option for you. A stop to a local grocery store or using a service like Garden Grocer or WeGoShop to have groceries delivered can accommodate you. But I have to realistic here and say, that it's one thing to make sandwiches and have cereal & fresh fruit in your resort fridge, it's another thing to reasonably expect to prepare a meal at Disney. Unless you're a DVC owner with a purple Owners Locker-you're going to find that  it's a bit of a pain in the tush. You have to plan for not just the food item themselves, but spices, cooking oils, condiments, etc. and to me-it's just not worth it lol. You might feel different.

6) Are you staying at a resort level that allows you to prepare your own meals? (ie: Villas)
If you want to cook your own food, and I mean cook-not throw together a few cold cut sandwiches for the parks, you need to able to stay in a resort with the proper facilities to cook in. Disney villas are the only resorts that give you this option. They are equipped with Full sized stove top & oven, refrigerator, sink, cooking utensils, appliances like coffee makers & toasters-and FIRE EXTINGUISHERS. It is against the law AND Disney rules to use cooking appliances in your resort room-unless it's one of the villas. With the exception of a fridge-toaster, crock pots, hot plates, griddles and so on can get you fined & thrown off of Disney property, not to mention pose a health hazard to you & your fellow resort guests. And trying to cook a grilled cheese with you resort iron is also frowned upon by Disney and your fellow guests so it is important to only try cooking at Disney is resorts equipped for cooking at Disney.

Take a few minutes to kick around these questions and see if they start to point you toward some solid answers about which way to attack the food questions you have about Disney. It doesn't make sense to run every scenario if they won't work for you in the first place. Light eaters should not bother with the Deluxe plan, folks that don't eat fast food at home should avoid the quick service plan, and park commandos should not purchase any plan that has a sit-down table service dining option and so on. You have to ask yourself these questions about what kind of diners you are and once you have a better idea-THEN run the numbers lol.

Hope this helped. Feel free to contact me with any questions at Lisa@SnapshotGetaways.com!

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