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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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