This is the 4th post in my series on our recent trip (November 2015) to Disney World. This was a huge trip for our family, one that we consider ‘once in a lifetime' and that my wife planned out to give us the most magical and memorable experiences. I've already talked about our visits to the parks as well as our hotel, so I wanted to concentrate on Disney World Dining. It's definitely worth a post of its own.
We decided to dine at Disney with the standard meal plan. With that plan, you get one full service meal, one quick service meal, and one snack per day. You can divide how you use up your dining credits over the course of your trip. Our plan ended up technically being ‘free' because we upgraded to a deluxe hotel during our stay, and Disney offered the ‘free dining' option to entice visitors. And, it did as things were hopping!
Tips On Planning
If you plan on eating at Disney, you will want to be prepared in order to really enjoy your experience. Here are a few things we learned:
Know what you want
Disney has all sorts of options. They have fancier options, things that lean toward kid friendly, and everything in between. We wanted a few ‘character' meals where the characters will walk around and pose for pictures, and knowing this type of preference up front helped us focus our list.
Plan your days in full
We set out a rough plan of what park we wanted to go to on what day. In some cases, we planned the park around the dining options available, and in some cases it was the opposite. Either way, you have to have a plan. However…
You can start booking your dining reservations (I think) 180 days out from the start of your trip. A good idea is to have an idea of where you want to go. But, be prepared to be flexible here. You may see that a ‘must dine' place is not available on your preferred day, but is available on a different day, and if that happens, you might have to act quickly.
Don't lose hope
After you make all your plans, you may find that you've settled on some options but don't lose hope. There are apps you can download that will allow you to plug in where you want to go and when, and they'll send you an alert if something opens up. The problem is that there are probably others who are getting the same alert at the same time, so be prepared to act quickly.
Use resources and past experience
We had a great book we bought off Amazon, plus a plethora of web sites that we used to get our information. Everybody will find what's important to them (and hopefully this post helps some), but use the information that's out there to make sure that you're getting the best experience.
Our Favorite Disney World Dining Options
Now, onto some of the memorable dining experiences we had. In each case, I outlined the name of the restaurant, where it was, the type of dining credit that was used, and some thoughts that I hope help.
1900 Park Fare
Grand Floridian Resort – Table Credit. We dined here on our arrival night, and it was a character dinner with Cinderella and some other characters. It was a buffet and the food was good. We had an awesome waitress, who was friendly, great with our kids, and gave us some tips that helped us not only at this meal but in just about every other character meal we had afterward. One of our best Disney meals!
La Hacienda de San Angel
Epcot – Table Credit. We had a dinner reservation as we really enjoy Mexican food, and it's one of our favorite dine-out options at home. While there was nothing wrong with the meal, I think that we had higher expectations but it really wasn't much above some of the options we have at home. While we enjoyed it, there was nothing earth shattering and we'd probably skip it in the future.
Hollywood N Vine
Hollywood Studios – Table Credit. Another buffet meal that was character based. It was a good time but the kids were tired, and the characters took quite a bit of time before they made their way to our table. We actually had another reservation booked at this restaurant for later in the trip, but ended up cancelling it.
Be Our Guest (Breakfast)
Magic Kingdom – Quick Service – This was a really cool breakfast, as the experience of being in the Beast's castle is the most memorable part, so much that we actually had a lunch and dinner here as well (the lunch was quick service and the dinner table service). The food was good, and this was the only place where we were able to order in advance, which did make it nice in that the kids didn't have to wait long to get their food once we arrived.
Tusker House (Breakfast)
Animal Kingdom – Quick Service (pretty sure). This was another character meal and also a buffet, but had really good food. In fact, all of the Animal Kingdom dining options seemed a step above most other parks. We really enjoyed our location, the food, and the characters. It was very relaxing but fun at the same time.
Animal Kingdom Lodge – Table Service. Each deluxe resort has a full service restaurant, and this was a spur of the moment change that we made. I am not really one to try ‘new things', so the idea of eating traditional African food was a bit scary to me, but I went with it, and I am glad I did! The food was really good. Definitely get the add-on bread service as that's a basis for the entire meal. The wait staff was very friendly, the ambiance was great, and while the kids got a little bored by the end, they still enjoyed themselves and the food.
Cinderella's Royal Table
Magic Kingdom – Table Service (2 credits). This is the premier reservation, as you actually dine right inside Cinderlla's Castle. Pretty snazzy! Expectations are high, and that's actually why we dined there twice as our first experience was less than stellar. We were very rushed and had less than accommodating wait staff, largely because we were the last lunchtime reservation and they were focused on turning things over for the upcoming dinner meal. We spoke to the manager, and he apologized and offered for us to come back at no charge. That experience was wonderful. It was one of our best dining experiences!
In fact, when I e-mailed the manager later in the day to thank him, I said that the breakfast experience was exactly as our family had imagined that dining in ‘the castle' would be, and thanked him for making sure that we had that.
Wolfgang Puck Express
Disney Springs – Quick Service. This was a spur of the moment decision for us to head to Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) and we loved it. We all got pasta and really enjoyed the quick and easy experience. In an earlier post, I mentioned how the quick service restaurants at the resorts seem a bit lacking. See, they might not offer as much because they know that they have a ‘captive audience'. However, we quickly found that it's not really that much difference. In the 45 minutes we might have stood in line to get disappointing food at our hotel's quick serve, we were able to get ready and take a bus over. We ended up with much better food and a great family dinner.
Mickey Shaped Stuff
The great thing about Disney World is that Mickey is everywhere, including in the food options. It's all over the place. From waffles to pretzels to ice cream (my favorite), you'll get to take a ‘bite' out of Mickey just about anywhere you look!
There Was More
This barely scratches the surface of all of the different places we went and the food we ate. Still, I wanted to highlight a few options that stood out. It's been a little over a month between the time that we got back and when I wrote this. I'd say that food is probably the first memory that tends to fade on a trip like this. So, that these stand out means they are remarkable in some way.
I hope you found this helpful.
Readers, I'd love to hear your experiences with Disney World dining. Let me know if I can answer any questions. My wife or I would be happy to help!