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Feeding Your Family At Disney World
When I was planning for our Disney World Trip this year, I worried about every detail of our trip. This had to be just right. I was spending a lot of money and I wanted our family to have a great time. One of the issues that drove me nuts was planning for food. It was difficult for me to nail down all the details.
We got the Disney Dining Plan. The Dining Plan gives you one table service meal, one quick service meal and a snack every day. For those of you keeping score at home, that's two meals a day. I thought to my self, "How sadistic is that? They're offering you a discount plan on meals, and you're still going to have to buy a third of your meals by yourself! Should I get the Deluxe Dining Plan?"
We also rented a Deluxe Villa with a kitchen in it. (We were staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge). But we took advantage of the Magical Express bus shuttle from the airport to the hotel. How were we going to buy groceries for the trip. Maybe we could find someone to deliver, but what if we wanted beer, wine or champagne?
We did some research and muddled through. Here are some of the things we did right, and some of the things we did wrong.
The Disney Dining Plan: Lately, Disney has been offering a free dining plan with the purchase of a vacation package. I was unaware that they were doing that until after I had already booked the trip through AAA. I got an e-mail from Disney World with the offer. I called my AAA travel agent. Here's the problem. I would have to give my reserved room up and book another room to which the free dining deal was attached. There was no comparable room to which the deal was attached, but my agent said she would keep checking to see if one becomes available. Finally, one became available and she booked it for me. I got the benefit of the free dining plan, but I lost my AAA discount. This resulted in a savings of $26.00. A discount is a discount, right?
So they tell me that with the Dining Plan you get a table service meal, a quick service meal and a snack every day. On top of that, if you go to a Signature Restaurant or something like Cinderella's Royal Table, that's two table service meals, and you have to make up the rest. Is that fair? What about the third meal?
Here's how it worked out for us. By the end of the week we bought one table service meal on our own. We had extra quick service meals at the beginning of the week that caught up to us at the end of the week. And despite a last minute rally to eat snacks, we left a bunch of snacks on our account when we left Disney World.
The fact is that you're doing so much at Disney World that you hate to stop and eat anything. You will find yourself skipping meals as you go through the park, or eating a snack in lieu of a meal.
In addition, you get so much food under the plan that it almost hurts to keep eating at that pace. For example, we ate at the Mara restaurant in our hotel for several of our quick service meals. When we got to the check-out counter, the lady behind the cash register reminded us that we were entitled to a free dessert. Of all the choices, I liked the cheesecake the best. My wife usually took the chocolate brownie. But after our meal, we were too full to eat our desserts. They ended up in the refrigerator back in our room. I would eat my cheesecake in the morning, and then I wouldn't be hungry for breakfast. One of our dinners was so big that we got a "to go" box, and ate the rest later. The dining service will take care of a lot of your meals.
They say that you save up to 40% on your food by using the Disney Dining Plan. With the exception of two Disney restaurants, the food itself was acceptable but not memorable. A lot of the meals we had were dictated by our wish to attend character meals. We had breakfast at Cinderella's Royal Table and breakfast at Ohana's. Outside of a couple little touches, breakfast is breakfast. I noticed that the breakfast sausage links at the Disney restaurants are pretty much uniform throughout the whole place. We went to Chef Mickey's for a character meal. They served your typical buffet food. However we were very pleased with the Norse food we were served at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in EPCOT for the Princess Story Book Dining. I also made reservations at Le Cellier Restaurant, also in EPCOT, so that my wife and I could have a nice grown up steak dinner. It was excellent. (My daughter had a tube steak). I guess my point is that if you have a car, and can go to other restaurants in the area, you aren't really missing much by skipping the Disney Restaurants. If you need to schedule in the character meals, the dining plan may save you some money.
Deluxe Dining Plan: They offer a Deluxe Dining Plan that allows you to use your credits for more Table Service meals. After having experienced Disney dining, I can't imagine us sitting down for a table service meal more than once a day. It takes a lot of time out of your schedule, it fills you up, and as I've said, the food isn't really all that exceptional. With our 4 year old with us, two or three table service meals a day would take a lot out of us. I'm happy that we didn't opt for it.
Snacks: OK, so we have one snack a day per person. That ends up being a lot of snacks. When we went to Disney World, it was unbelievably hot outside. The first day we were there, we all used our snack credit to get a Coca Cola. One for me, one for my wife, and one for my 4 year old daughter. The drinks you get with your snack credit are huge. So there we were, each of us with a huge soft drink. It was wasted on our four year old. We drank our drinks as we walked to the next ride. However, we couldn't get into the ride until we had finished our drinks. So we gulped a lot of it down and threw the rest in the garbage can. With the soft drinks we had with our meals, the drinks we had as "snacks" in the park, and the drinks we had at the hotel, we were fairly bloated and wired by the end of the day. We learned from there on out to get one drink and share it between the three of us. That was enough to cool us down. So we had a couple extra snacks per day to use on other things. By the end of the trip we had several accumulated snacks, which we were scrambling to use up.
Kitchen in the Room: I was worried about not having enough food under the plan. Even with great abundance of food under the Dining Plan, we were still very happy to have the kitchen in our hotel room. It helped us to fill in the gaps of the dining plan, and it made certain things very convenient for us.
Where to Get the Groceries: We took advantage of the Disney Magical Express, a free shuttle from the airport to our hotel. It was very convenient, but we didn't have a rental car to get to the grocery store. There was a store in our hotel with some basic grocery items, but as you would expect, the prices were through the roof. It was nice to have the store there, just in case we ran out of something. But it didn't make sense to buy all of our groceries there. I guess you could get a taxi to take you to the store. We decided to get groceries delivered.
There are several services available in the area that will deliver groceries. We went with wegoshop.com. There were several advantages to this service. With some services, you order food from a set list of items, and they ship it to your hotel. Not so with We Go Shop. They actually go to the local grocery stores for you and buy what you ask for. This gives you the freedom to ask for your favorite brands, or items that may not be on the other services' list. You can be as specific as you want to be; or you can give your shopper the discretion to use her best judgment in selecting a certain item. For example, we asked for a bottle of red wine and a bottle of white wine and gave a dollar range. Our shopper selected two tasty bottles of wine for us. That's another advantage. If you want alcoholic beverages, We Go Shop can get them for you. Other services won't. We told them when we would be arriving, and we called them when we got to our hotel room. Within minutes, our shopper was there, delivering our groceries. The service really wasn't expensive. You pay a fee based on your total grocery bill, and you tip your shopper. If you're going to use the service check out their web site. You will have to call them months in advance to be sure they can schedule you in.
Groceries I'm Glad We Bought:
Soft Drinks: We got a couple of twelve packs of Coke Zero. It was nice to have them in the refrigerator, rather than having to go to the store or restaurant to get them. It turned out that 24 cans were too much for 6 nights there, and we could have gotten away with only 12.
Beer: Our shopper from We Go Shop was familiar with some excellent brands of beer. We gave her a list of beer we liked and she selected a couple of them for us. As state above we also got a couple of nice bottles of wine. These were nice to have after the little one went off to sleep-to mellow out and take the edge off of the day's "magic".
Snacky Food: We bought pretzels and chips, pudding, popcorn, popsicles, peanut butter and jelly, and things of that nature. They were nice to have and to bring with in little bags.
Sandwiches: We had some sliced turkey, bread and mayo. Perfect for a quick lunch.
Diapers: It was nice that we didn't have to waste space in our luggage on pull-ups. We specified the brand and size of pull-ups to our shopper, and she brought them to our room.
Little Breakfast things: We ate a lot of English Muffins and fruit. We ate instant oatmeal and cereal. We had juice and chocolate milk for our daughter.
Things I wish I had Bought:
Coffee: I really wish I had bought some premium coffee. We're coffee drinkers. The coffee the hotel gives you is really not very tasty. They serve the same brand in the restaurants and throughout the parks. I wish I had asked for some nice coffee (and filters).
Cheese: One night my wife and I made up a cheese plate with various kinds of cheese. As I was not familiar with the company, I specified three types of cheese, and they brought them. We fixed a plate with fruit and cheese, and opened one of our bottles of wine. It was a really nice break. However, now I wish I had simply given the shopper discretion to select several types of cheese, just to see what she came up with.
Laundry detergent? I didn't order any, but I thought about it. We had a washer and dryer in our villa. They only give you a little "starter box" of detergent. Then you have to buy your own. I knew we had a washer/dryer in our room, but I didn't know how much detergent we would get. I only brought enough clothes for a half of our week. I planned to wash them and wear them again for the rest of the week. That saved room in my suitcase. My wife and daughter didn't do that. They packed clothes for the whole week. So everything worked out fine. I had enough detergent for my one load of laundry, and they wore fresh clothes every day. If they had had clothes to wash, we would have needed more detergent.
Things that were a Bad Idea:
Don't make out your list when you're hungry. I started thinking about bacon and eggs. We didn't want to cook a meal when we were in Disney World, and I should have known it. But bacon and eggs sounded good at the time when I was filling out the list, so I added it in. We didn't eat them.
Cooking can take time away from your schedule. When you get back to your room after a long day, you are too tired to do anything but collapse. We had a frozen pizza that we never even popped into the oven. Some people enjoy cooking. For them, I imagine getting a lot of groceries and cooking meals in the room would be fun. Not so for us. A lot of food was wasted because I thought we might like to fix a meal or two.
Souvenir Mugs: Our hotel resort sold souvenir mugs for about $12 apiece. During your stay, you can refill the mugs at the hotel free. You can get soft drinks, coffee or tea. With our dining plan and our groceries, we really had enough coffee and soft drinks to keep us happy. To me, the souvenir mugs were an unnecessary expense. My wife, however, liked the variety of drinks she could get with the mug. She likes fountain drinks more than canned drinks. She also liked having the souvenir travel mug to take home. We ended up buying them. Didn't really need them, but eh... what's $24 more bucks?
Conclusion: Food is something that should be carefully planned on any trip. Meals can be a large portion of your budget. But dining and indulging are also a part of your vacation. You have plenty of options when it comes to food in Disney World, but you can also over-think it all. Hopefully, you will be able to learn from my experiences when you plan your trip.By Michael Drayton - Attorney at law, husband, father and gardener.
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Exhaustively researched and packed with insider advice that will save you both time and moneyTried and tested touring plans that save as much as four hours of standing in line in a single dayTips, advice, and opinions from hundreds of Walt Disney World guests in their own wordsAlmost 250 hotels rated and ranked for quality and value, including the top non-Disney hotels for familiesA complete Dining Guide with ratings and reviews of all Walt Disney World restaurants, plus extensive alternatives for dining deals outside the World
Q&A with Author Bob Sehlinger
|Author Bob Sehlinger|
I prefer to have a car. The Disney Transportation System is very efficient, but with the exception of commuting to the Magic Kingdom, driving your own car is usually faster. Plus, having your own car makes it easier to dine outside WDW where restaurants are less expensive. We've documented that the bucks you save eating outside the World will more than pay for the rental car. Also, having a car allows you to visit other area theme parks like Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and SeaWorld.
Where can you find crowd estimates for the days of your visit?
The website for The Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World is touringplans.com. For a small subscription fee you can access our Crowd Calendar that is updated daily, and projects crowd levels for all four Disney parks for every day of the year. The calendar also specifies which park will be least crowded for a particular day. We used to publish the Crowd Calendar in the guidebook until it became apparent that to be accurate it required updating every day.
What's the best Disney park to visit on a really crowded day?
While there are a couple of exceptions relating to unusual circumstances, Epcot is the go-to park for holidays and other periods of extremely heavy attendance? Epcot is large, spread out, and open with plenty of elbowroom. Additionally, most Epcot attractions are engineered to accommodate more guests per day than attractions in the other parks.
If you have to take your Disney vacation in the summer, is one time less crowded than another?
Because most families take a couple weeks to get into their summer routine after school lets out, and another week or two to prepare for returning to school, late May, early June, and the last two weeks of August are the least crowded. The school year in Florida starts a week or more earlier than in most of the rest of the country. Consequently, comparatively few locals visit the theme parks on weekdays.
Do hotels outside Walt Disney World provide free transportation service to the parks?
Many do, but the shuttles don't run as often as those serving Disney hotels. What's more, non-Disney shuttles usually do not have the ability to increase carrying capacity during the busiest hours in the morning and at park closing. Though some shuttles serve only one hotel, others provide service to several hotels making for a long and potentially crowded commute.
What is Downtown Disney?
Located on the north side of WDW, Downtown Disney is a shopping, recreational, dining, and entertainment complex arrayed around Lake Buena Vista. Divided into three contiguous areas: Disney Marketplace, Hyperion Wharf (formerly the Pleasure Island nightclub complex), and the West Side. While the Marketplace is Disney World’s shopping Shangri-La, the West side offers a 24-screen AMC movie theater and is home to Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba. Also on the West Side is DisneyQuest, a sophisticated electronic games arcade frequently referred to as “a theme park in a box.” Hyperion Wharf is a venue in the making that may become Hyperbole Wharf, Wishful Wharf, or any of a dozen other things as Disney laboriously ponders its options.
What is the best Disney World restaurant for a quiet romantic meal?
Our experience and that of our readers indicate that quiet romantic meals are few and far between at WDW. Children are the rule rather than the exception at WDW's better restaurants, and readers attest to the presence of kids at all hours of the evening. Often, the later the hour, the crankier the children. Pressed to offer a suggestion, however, I would recommend Citricos at the Grand Floridian Hotel and Spa. The food is excellent and the subdued atmosphere tends to attract fewer families than other Disney dining venues.
What's available for adults in the way of nightlife at Walt Disney World?
With the former nightspots at Pleasure Island shuttered, what remains is an Irish Pub and the House Of Blues, both offering live music at Downtown Disney. Overt at Disney's Boardwalk there’s a dueling piano bar and a dance club. At the Swan Resort, there's Kimonos, a Japanese sushi and tempura restaurant that hosts karaoke after 9 p.m. Rounding out the roster at the Coronado Springs Resort is Rix Lounge, a Vegas-ultra lounge clone that seems to come to life only when there’s a big convention at the hotel.
What's the best time of year to go to Walt Disney World?
If your children are pre-school age go in the off-season, preferably in November before Thanksgiving or in early to mid-December before Christmas. The crowds are comparatively light, the weather is usually warm and sunny, and the theme parks sparkle in their Christmas regalia. If you have school age kids your best bets for avoiding huge crowds are early June as soon as school is out or late August just before classes resume.
How old should a child be to go Walt Disney World?
Just about any age can be rewarding as long as you're practical and realistic. Children three years and younger will respond to the color and festivity and you’ll bring home some really sweet pictures of the kids on Dumbo, but they won't remember a lot about their experience. And our research has documented that kids up to age 7 or 8 cite swimming in the hotel pool as their favorite thing on a Walt Disney World vacation. If your objective is to spend most of your time in the theme parks wait until your children at least a mature seven or eight.
What are some considerations concerning selecting a hotel?
Selecting a hotel can be tricky with over 220 hotels in the area to choose from. Perks like extra hours in the theme parks, free parking, and use of the Disney transportation system come with staying in a Disney hotel, but comfortable, clean hotels outside the World can be had for a fraction of the price. Kayak.com, a travel search engine will tell you which Internet travel seller has the best price for any hotel you are interested in. After finding the best Internet rate, call the hotel itself (not the national reservation number) to ask about specials. About 25% of the time the hotel will beat the best Internet rate available. Inquire about the age of the hotel and when the guestrooms were last refurbished. Also consider a vacation home rental. These offer exceptional room and amenities at a fraction of what comparable quality in a hotel room would cost. Finally, because Walt Disney World is so large, be aware that some hotels and vacation homes outside of the World are actually closer to the theme parks than several on-site Disney resorts.
How can you save money on food and dining?
Disney World restaurants are typically expensive so economizing on meals is much easier if you stay and eat outside Walt Disney World. Free coupon books abound outside of Walt Disney World and can save a considerable sum. Whether you lodge in or out of the World it's a good idea, not to mention a time saver, to buy a cheap cooler and breakfast staples so that you can have breakfast in your hotel room.
What type of admission is best?
Depends. Disney theme park admissions start with a Base Ticket or “Starter Pass.” Features such as visiting more than one park in a day (park hopping), a no expiration option, and the inclusion of minor theme parks and attractions admission can be added to the Base Ticket on an a' la carte basis at additional cost. The objective is to purchase exactly what you need, no more, no less. The Website TouringPlans.com has a nifty free program that will tell you, after answering a few basic questions about your itinerary, what the best admission option is for you.
What's the best way to avoid the long lines?
For starters, try to visit during a slower time of year. Secondly, arrive before the park opens, admission in hand. Third, have a plan. The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World offers scientifically derived, field-tested touring plans for each of the theme parks that can save you 4 1/2 hours of standing in line on a day of average to high attendance! The research behind the touring plans has been the subject of features in the New York Times, the Dallas Morning News, and in numerous academic journals.
What are your five most important tips for having a successful Disney vacation?
1. Prepare physically. You’ll walk as much as 8-12 miles in a day. Start your family on a walking regimen months in advance to build endurance.
2. Don't overload your agenda. Less is more at Walt Disney World. Better to devour Disney World a bite at a time with plenty of rest and relaxation in between.
3. Resign yourself to not being able to see everything in one visit.
4. Have a plan but don't over plan. It’s about having fun, not sticking rigidly to an itinerary. Allow for spontaneity.
5. Anticipate surprises both good and bad. Stay loose, roll with the punches, and maintain a good sense of humor.
Author: Len Testa
Company: Wiley (2011-09-06)
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