Posted Tuesday, September 22, 2009 9:55 AM | Contributed by Jeff
Over the past two decades, Disney World has gone from fast food to fine dining, garnering attention from serious chefs and foodies alike. Its dozens of restaurants cover almost every cuisine, from regional American to South African. Its wine lists are full of prized (and often hard-to-find) bottles from across the globe.
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This spring, I went to Disney World with my wife for the first time in about 15 years. The quality of the food was the biggest surprise for me. Of course you pay for that quality. But for the two of us (no kids), having a really good, relaxing meal at the end of the day was worth the cost. I highly recommend trying the ostrich at the California Grill.
That's why I think the dining plan is a steal. And right now, it's an even better deal. If you stay in the value resorts, the counter service only dining plan is free, but for us to get the table service meal plan upgrade, for two of us, five nights, was only another hundred bucks. Total no-brainer.
I'm pretty sure Disney has me chefs than ride ops.
If only they would do the same out West. Sure we have Napa Rose, but they also just closed a sushi joint. The food out in the parks is pretty dismal.
When I was pricing my Disney trip, the cost differential when adding dining was about $850.00 for a nine day trip (2 adults 1 child). This was for the plan with one table service meal per day (no wine). While Disney dining is beyond compare (mmmmm Ohana's!) I just couldn't justify spending almost $100 per day for food.
Is there an actual price list for the dining plan? The reservation system doesn't really itemize what you are buying, you need to back into the individual prices.
I figure I can feed the three of us well for $70 per day going out for all three meals. While it's not Disney, I don't see the value that Jeff is talking about.
I'll just splurge for the $80 per meal and go to Ohana's and Garden Grill to get my Disney Dining experience, and try to be as frugal as I can for the remainder of the trip.
We are heading down to the mouse on Friday. We booked the previous free dining offer that was for the regular plan no matter what resort your at. So for $92 a night including tax we are getting the value room & dining for 4. Of course park tickets are on top of that.
TerraCoaster, the Regular dining plan it $40 per person per day and the counter service plan that Jeff mentioned is $30.
This is why free dining is such a good deal.
Disney provides great opportunities to eat. To me, I didn't go there to eat fine meals and I can go to a lot of great restaurants without having to pay the entrance fees/resort room rates. We kept to sit down meals that we knew would be pretty fast. We had friends who were there at the same time as us who were spending 4-5 hours/day at sit down meals. To me, that is a total waste but not to them.
Disney is great at getting people through quick service lines efficiently and the food was pretty good as well.
And right now, if you stay at any of the mid-level or higher resorts, which have low room rates right now, the table service dining plan is free.
For the two of us, five nights, six days, our park hopper tickets were $566. The room and dining plan were another $550. Adding in taxes and what not, I guesstimate that puts the dining plan under $200 for the two of us. Given that it's easy to walk away from some of the restaurants with a hundred-dollar tab, you do the math. Then throw in the other three days, plus the counter service meals and snacks.
Your point about the time it takes for meals is valid. For us though it is something that we look forward to and consider part of the Disney experience.
Well, you are not alone. Disney didn't build all of the fancy restaurants because the demand wasn't there. The friends who were there at the same time as us this summer told us that they had a tough time getting reservations at certain restaurants so they were clearly not the only ones eating there.
We had to do Le Cellier for lunch on our last day as that was the ONLY reservation available. I made my reservations with in seconds of them accepting them on the 90 day out from the start of our trip.
Because of the 90+10 rule the better places are often booked solid for the beginning of your trip.
My wife handled all of the arrangements for our trip. I gave her a list of the rides/attractions that I wanted to see and let her take care of getting everything set up. I thought she was joking when she said we needed to be on the phone at whatever the time was 90 days out. But we were calling with 3 cell phones and a landline that morning and got through pretty much right away. But there was one reservation that she couldn't get (don't remember the restaurant but it was just a garden variety place). I was amazed.
While we were there, we were waiting for our table again at a garden variety restaurant that wasn't anything special (and they did a great job sitting us at our tables within no more than 5 mins after our reservation time), some guy who did not have reservations asked what is the soonest time he could get a table and the host without hesitation said August 25th (we were there in late June). He about went through the roof.
We got the dining plan for free in 2005, and have gotten it almost every trip since. It used to be listed at about $40 per adult per night for the table service plan, and character buffets ($25-$35 each) counted as a table service. With some of the snacks costing up to $3-$4 bucks, and the included counter service meals going for $12-$15, it isn't hard to get your money's worth.
One lunch at planet hollywood for 4 was $180, and we had enough left-overs that we didn't get dinner. Being our first time on the dining plan, we used our counter service meals very conservatively. I think we stayed 6 or 7 nights that trip, and on check-out had 7 counter service meals and 9 snacks left over.
They have cut back on the amount you get on the table service plan now, which is probably a good thing. Outside of the buffets, I don't think we had been able to eat all the food included at any of the restaurants we've done.
As for how long dining can take. My first trip to disney in 2001 we just did counter service, and kept running so we could spend an hour in line to get Minnie's autograph. I came home exhausted from that trip. We found a well planed table service meal gave us an hour to relax, we enjoyed our day more, and weren't quite as exhausted at the end.
Oh, and Minnie, Mickey, Donald, and Goofy came to us, signed our autograph books, and posed for pictures, all in less time than we waited in line for one autograph and picture before.
Mmmmm... Califorina Grill! Delicious AND Romantic!
Our last two trips out to WDW we got the free dining service and found it to be the deal maker for the second of those two trips because of how much we enjoyed the dining the first time. To really get the most out of your table dining you really have to do a lot of research and call early to get your reservations. The last trip out we had everything planned by park and/or location.
That brings up the one disadvantage of the table service dining: reservations ruling your day. You get locked into certain parks and/or activities based on where your reservations are for that day/evening.
@Dave: We did La Cellier on our last visit on a recommendation from a Disney website. We were not disappointed. It turned out to be one of our favorite table service meals. Our favorite is still 50s Prime Time Cafe, though.
I don't agree with that. I don't think you need to do a lot of research. We didn't plan out much of anything on our eight-day trip last year. We had an idea about what kinds of food we wanted, and made decisions in the morning on what would meet that desire. With ethnic foods, obviously you just look around Epcot. One day we wanted to eat in the Grand Floridian, and did that. One day at Downtown Disney.
Only once did we get "locked" into a reservation, when we booked the Japanese place (the real one, not the hibachi) a day in advance. That was not an inconvenience. We started the day at Magic Kingdom, got on the monorail, and got there early for two extra laps on Soarin' that night.
Kick The Sky said:
@Dave: We did La Cellier ...
The Mexican French Canadian restaurant ;)
I don't think you need to do a lot of research.
I semi disagree with that. Lets be honest.. Most of us know a lot about Disney either through being a Disney Dork, or an enthusiast of parks. So naturally we dont need to research, but a first timer to Disney who wants the most bang for their buck, I think it benefits them to research restaurants, rides, shows, etc. Otherwise they find themselves leaving there with more "I wish I did's", than "I'm glad I did's".
Now im not talking searching the internet from A to Z to figure out what there is to do, but to get the most bang for your buck (especially as a newbie) its probably good to do some level of research.. Not a lot (which is why I semi disagreed), but some.Last edited by ridemcoaster, Wednesday, September 23, 2009 8:17 AM
I totally agree Ken.
As to getting into restaurants without reservations during free dining....that ain't going to happen any more.
March was our first Disney trip in 18 years. I did a ton of planning and research. We were in full commando mode. We came, we saw, we conquered. This trip however is much less planned. We know what park we are going to on each day and what restaurants we have reservations at. From there everything else is kind of up in the air.
I am not a Disney dork. I have not spent a great deal of time there, nor have I made annual trips. You don't need to research. They give you a brochure that says where you can eat (read: pretty much everywhere), and you pick where to go. If you're a first-timer, then you'll likely find out you can't get a reservation for Le Cellier, and the French and Japanese (non-hibachi) places at Epcot might be booked a few days out.
You know me, I'm annoyed by the subculture and third-party service market that wants to help everyone get the most of their visit to Disney World. Disney World itself does a damn good job of making that happen without any help.
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