Friday, August 5, 2011

How to get the most ouf of Free Dining: a Bakers Dozen of Tips

So you, or your wonderful travel agent, snagged one of the Free Dining packages-so now what? Of course you need to make those ADRs (advance dining reservations) but what else? Here's a few quick tips on how to get the most out of your dining plan.

1) Not thrilled with the plan you got, or want to try the fancy-schmancy Deluxe plan-then upgrade. You can pay the difference between the price of the plan you are getting free and the plan you want to upgrade to.

2) Maximize those credits. Especially the kid credits. Let's take dinner in the same park: one at Crystal Palace and one at Tony's. Each one will cost you one sit down dining credit. But the Crystal Palace kids dinner is $17.99 and the Tony's kids meal is around $8.59. It makes more sense to save that kids credit and pay out of pocket for the Tony's meal. It can sometimes make sense for adults too. If you are planning a light lunch in the parks, it makes more sense to pay our of pocket and save your dining credit for a dinner later.

3) Learn to use snack as meals. There are lots of snack options that make nice midday light meals. Cups of soup, salads, giant cinnamon buns (I didn't say healthy-I said light), sandwiches and fresh fruit, all make great tie-me-overs until your next meal. Keep an eye out for the snack credit symbol-you might be surprised what counts as a snack.

4) IF you are going during my High Holy Time (aka the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival)-don't forget to save the snack credits for the Festival. Yup-that's right, they can be used at the kiosks. Now you can't but alcohol, but almost every food item from the stands qualifies.

5) You can share meals. So if you're only looking for a light lunch or breakfast-you can share a meal and save a credit.

6) Can't eat another counter service dessert (they're not the best)-ask for the fruit option or a bottled water instead.

7) If ice cream is the only dessert option (often the case in the water parks) ask them if you can come back for it when you're done with your meal. This is a god-send in 90 degree weather with a pokey eater (aka anyone under the age of 14). Then when everyone is done with their lunch, you can go get a nice non-melty ice cream dessert.

8)If you want to try the Deluxe plan, but are intimidated because the guy you run next to on the treadmill at the gym said "It's too much food!!", consider attacking it in a different way. Instead of eating (3) 3 course meals a day, have an early or late breakfast at one of the character buffets (or any other restaurant you like) and an early or late dinner at one of the Signature restaurants. This way you can do the Irish/English breakfast thing-a huge brekkie that ties you over for a good part of a days touring, and then have a wonderful meal in one of Disney's fine dining restaurants. Bonus-it also saves you time.

9) Be adventurous. Push yourself to try a new restaurant. Sure, revisit your favorites-but try to fit in at least one or two places you have never eaten before. Hey-you might have a new favorite place!

10) Don't save your snack credits just to save them. Everyone makes this mistake-even us. We sometimes horde them too much. If you want an ice cream or the kids want a box of popcorn-get it.

11) Don't freak out over the spilled box of popcorn. If you don't know what I'm talking about-you will. If you do know what I'm talking about, just let it go. Trust me-you'll only feel like a heel 10 minutes later. And that's all I'm gonna say on it.

12) You probably don't realize you have extra credits. A lot of people don't factor in the day they leave and the fact that you will probably be on the Magical Express early for your flight. This leaves you with that days whole allotment of credits-don't let them go to waste. Factor them into your vacation and make sure to use them.

13) And finally, you've done all you can and you somehow managed to come to the end of your vacation with a meal or a few snack credits left. You can do a nice thing and use your credit to pay for a meal for the person next in line behind you-spread the magic a bit. And the credit will only expire at midnight anyway. And those snacks you can use to grab a few Mickey rice crispy heads, or a box of Minnie cookies or if you fancy a bit o' shortbread-a single serve package of Walkers to bring home with you and extend the vacation magic a little longer. And take my word for it-when your kids (or you) are feeling those post-vacation blues, and you pull out a Goofy's Candy Co. lollipop, or that Rice Crispy Mickey-you will be a superstar.

Happy Dining Everyone!

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