Walt Disney World is in the process of getting back to normal, but one major pre-pandemic component of a Disney vacation is still missing: the Disney Dining Plan. When it was last offered at the beginning of 2020, the Disney Dining Plan offered Guests the chance to add dining to their Walt Disney World vacation package for the chance to save up to 35% off the cost of dining during their stay. While the actual discount varied depending on which restaurants you visited and what you ordered, the plan was an enticing offer for many Guests planning vacations.
Last year, Disney did mention that the plan would return, but we have not received any updates since then. Since we do not know a time frame for when (or if…?) the plan will be back, I wanted to share some tips for how you can save on Disney dining experiences without the promise of the Disney Dining Plan.
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Opt for Less Expensive Table Service Restaurants
Chances are any Walt Disney World table service restaurant is going to be more expensive than your favorite eateries at home, but there are some truly great “values” in each of the parks where you can have an amazing meal for less than most alternatives.
In the Magic Kingdom, you’re going to want to try the Plaza Restaurant. The Plaza Restaurant offers lunch and dinner with entrees priced around $20 (or $18.50 for the turkey club, which is actually quite delicious). Most of the menu is made up of burgers and sandwiches, and appetizers are also reasonably priced with the $10 BLT salad, and Plaza Fries (which if you are as old as I am, you may remember as “Figaro Fries” that were formerly offered at Pinocchio Village Haus.) You can also order ice cream for dessert if you have room!
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At EPCOT, Nine Dragons in the China pavilion is the greatest value you can find for a table service restaurant. At least half of the lunch entrees are under $25, including my favorite, the Honey Sesame Chicken, as well as Canton Pepper Beef, and a few others. If you are looking for a vegetarian entree, the Vegetable and Tofu Stir Fry is only $18.
In Disney’s Hollywood Studios, visit Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater, where every entree is $25 or less and you have the unique experience of dining under the stars in a retro drive-in. The tables at Sci-Fi are designed like vintage cars, and you’ll be seated in front of a big screen showing trailers for sci-fi and horror classics as well as adorable old-school ads for the concession stand. The restaurant has great burgers and salads, as well as a couple of pasta dishes.
And, at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you’re going to want to visit Yak and Yeti. First of all, you can use your Landry’s Select card if you are a member so earn points or grab some additional savings. (If you are not a member, you pay $25 to join, but then immediately get a $25 reward, as well as a $25 birthday reward and other rewards as you use the card more. At Walt Disney World alone, the card can be used at Yak and Yeti, Rainforest Cafe, and T-Rex Cafe.) Yak and Yeti has a larger menu than most Disney restaurants so you will find plenty of entrees priced below $25 including Sweet and Sour Chicken ($22), Chicken Lo Mein ($21), and Chop Chop Shrimp Salad ($21).
Order More Water, Less Soda
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This tip is probably a given for anyone looking to visit Walt Disney World on a budget, and I’m a little biased because I don’t drink soda in the first place so it’s a very easy one for me to follow but…I do not think it’s worth it to pay for soda if you are trying to save money at Walt Disney World. Opt for water (unless you need the caffeine, I would never be one to restrict your coffee or tea!) then save your extra cash for when you want to try a specialty cocktail (or mocktail.)
Water is also incredibly important to stay hydrated, especially during hot and humid days in central Florida, and it is free (at table service and quick service restaurants.) Bottles of soda were the worst use of a snack credit on the Disney Dining Plan, and even without the plan, it makes more sense to skip them and opt for water so you have more room in your budget for uniquely Disney snacks or cocktails.
Consider These Alternatives for More Expensive Restaurants
With the Disney Dining Plan, you typically would want to eat at more expensive locations (assuming they were only one credit, not two) to help you get the greatest value out of the plan. Without the plan, you may want to try some inexpensive alternatives to popular go-to’s.
If you are considering Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom, and you don’t mind taking a break from the park, Steakhouse 71 at Disney’s Contemporary Resort is a great alternative. You will miss the atmosphere of dining in the Beast’s castle, so this tip is solely based on the food and best value for what you could spend. But all things considered, Be Our Guest is operating on a pre-fixe menu that costs $62 for adults and is really only a “deal” if you order the filet mignon or the scallops.
Just a short walk or monorail ride from the Magic Kingdom, Steakhouse 71 serves a filet mignon for dinner priced at $37 and sirloin for $29. The prices are even more reasonable on the lunch menu, with every entree coming in at under $30.
EPCOT has lots of less expensive alternatives right in the park for you to choose from. For instance, the pasta dishes at Tutto Italia are priced lower than Via Napoli right next door, and you can find more affordable French-inspired dining at Chefs de France than Monsieur Paul (when it reopens.) Be sure to browse all of the menus in the My Disney Experience app before you make your EPCOT reservations.
The Hollywood Brown Derby is one of the most popular restaurants at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but it is also a signature dining experience coming in with higher price points. Limited menu items are also available from the lounge, mostly small plates and cocktails, but you can still dine right outside at the lounge and enjoy favorites like the famous Cobb Salad for less than dining inside.
Tiffins is a favorite signature dining experience at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but did you know you can order the bread service and other small plates from Nomad Lounge? The atmosphere is similar to the restaurant, and the lounge menu is just as tasty as the restaurant side, with lower prices
Budget for Dining Expenses in Advance
One of the selling points of the Disney Dining Plan for many Guests was the ability to essentially pre-pay for meals at Walt Disney World as the cost of the plan was included in vacation packages. You can still pre-pay for your meals without a Dining Plan, it might just take a little more willpower.
I typically add funds to my Disney Gift Card account weekly when I have a Disney vacation in the works. Usually, I do $25/week, though it varies depending on how far away my trip is. Pick an amount that works for you, and budget for your trip this way, so when your vacation comes you can pull out your gift card (or use it to pay off the balance from scanning your MagicBand) and you’ll be able to enjoy “pre-paid” meals.
For an even greater value here, consider ways you can save or get cashback on a Disney gift card. For instance, if you have a Target RedCard, your 5% discount applies to gift card purchases. You could also use whichever other credit cards you have to get cashback at whichever store your gift card comes from, or pair a cashback credit card with a website/app like Rakuten that helps you score even more cashback on your purchases. If you shop with your Disney Visa credit card, you can also save your rewards to use at many Disney restaurants.
Check for Special Offers on Resort Stays
Lots of Walt Disney World Guests were fans of Disney’s “Free Dining” promotions that have been offered in the past. The problem with free dining was that it could not be combined with any kind of savings on your resort stay, so while there were exceptions, for most Guests budgeting out dining differently and booking their resort stay with a special offer would have been the better deal.
Without the temptation of booking with Free Dining, you can focus on finding the best special offers for your resort. Start with the Special Offers page of DisneyWorld.com or contact your Disney authorized travel agent to start your planning.
More Tips to Consider
- Split meals at quick-service restaurants. If the Dining Plan were an option, you would get entitlements for a full meal for each person, but really many meals can easily be shared between two adults. By this logic, the Dining Plan might have been of greater value, but for many Guests, it was too much food. If this sounds like you, consider sharing.
- Plan table service breakfasts or lunch, and quick service dinners. Dinner is typically more expensive, so eating at a quick-service restaurant or on the go for dinner could help you save.
I hope this helps give some peace of mind that there are still ways to save on dining at Walt Disney World, even for those so accustomed to booking trips with the Disney Dining Plan. Happy planning!