Disney Dining Plan Impressions

Coming in to this trip, we’d decided to splurge a little and add the dining package to our stay. Having never purchased it before, we went back and forth on which of the options to choose, but ultimately decided to go with the quick service plan on this trip, not wanting to spend more than necessary on an unknown. We did a little research on the dining plan ahead of time and had selected a few places to eat and snacks to get based on recommendations from other blogs on how to get the best value out of it, but if we’d had more time to devote to it likely could have done even better. My wife’s favorite resource was the Disney Tourist Blog, while I also utilized the Disney Food Blog quite a bit.

Reading various reviews and blogs on whether or not the dining plan is worth it will show some pretty mixed results. To get the full monetary value out of it, you do really need to plan ahead and figure out what restaurants and snacks represent the best value. Even if you get it free as part of one of their annual promotions, it still appears that you have to work to ensure it’s worth it when you factor in the non-discounted cost of the room and park tickets, at least according to this blog. Jen did a pretty good job tracking the cost of all of our meals and snacks over the week we had the plan, and thanks to a little creativity in where we ate we managed to come out ahead, but that only tells part of the story, and certainly doesn’t mean I’d do it again. Why? Let’s take a look.

For those unfamiliar with the counter service dining plan, you get two counter service meals and one snack per day per person. We had three meal plans, as we hadn’t added Bayley’s boyfriend Joe since we didn’t know until the last minute that he’d be joining us. This meant that overall, we had 42 meal credits and 21 snack credits to use as we saw fit over our stay on property. We each also got the refillable “unlimited” soda mugs as part of the plan. We did get unlimited mugs one time before when we stayed at Pop Century in 2009, but that was before they introduced the RFID-enabled mugs they use now. I get why they did it since far too many people refused to play by the rules when we were on the honor system and would bring the same mugs back on subsequent stays (this is why we can’t have nice things), but it made the experience a bit annoying a couple of times. It seems that once the system feels your cup is full, it induces a two minute delay before it lets you get more soda. It was smart enough to know that I hadn’t completely filled when I was doing a half-and-half fill with Cherry Coke and Coke Zero, but those times when I was super thirsty and wanted to drink some and refill right away, I was denied and had to wait. A minor inconvenience, but an inconvenience all the same. If you need it, there’s a great read on how the RFID-enabled cups work up here. They work at other Disney resorts, too, and appear to work for several days after your stay ends, as ours showed they were active until May 30th, a full 7 days after we checked out. We also found that paper cups given as part of meals at some of the hotel counter service restaurants had RFID chips in them that only allowed 3 refills that evening, too.

Anyway, back to the food. I think I mentioned in my last post that in the 5-6 weeks leading up to the trip that my wife and I had been on a pretty strict diet. It’s one that the coach at my boxing gym had put together for me to get me back in to shape after I’d regained some weight last year due to injury. I was down 25lbs when we got there, and over the course of the week on the dining plan, felt like I gained half of it back (but didn’t, thanks in large part to the amount of walking we did).

Oh, and I’d like to add that if anyone’s looking for a solid boxing gym in Charlotte, NC, be sure to give Dyme Boxing a try. I’ve been going 4 years now and have lost and kept off a lot of weight, and enjoy the workouts 🙂

Back on topic; with the dining plan, meals at counter service restaurants include an entree, dessert and drink. At most places I probably could have eaten a little healthier, but I’m pretty picky with my food, and many of the healthier options just didn’t appeal to me. My biggest example of why I didn’t like the dining plan centers around the desserts. Sure, I could have skipped them, but then I’m wasting money. That, and they looked awesome. For the most part, they tasted pretty good, too. Some examples of desserts we had, including a shot of the inside of Darth Cupcake (that’s delicious peanut butter in the frosting):

WP_20150517_13_24_54_Pro WP_20150517_13_39_06_Pro WP_20150517_21_25_40_Pro WP_20150518_19_41_08_ProWP_20150521_13_30_32_Pro 1WP_20150522_21_31_03_Pro

We expected cupcakes with dry cake and cheap frosting, but were pleasantly surprised by all of them. Moist delicious cake with some pretty good frosting. By day three, however, I was tired of anything cake-based and was doing my best to find other options, like the frozen lemonade at Yak and Yeti, which was perfect on a super humid day at Animal Kingdom. By the time day five hit I’d had my fill of park food, too. Maybe it would have been different if we’d had the next plan up, where we could have gotten one table service meal, but still, I wanted something that didn’t taste like mass produced food. Thankfully the counter service options aren’t limited to the parks. The plan works at a small handful of restaurants at Downtown Disney as well, so a few days in to our stay, the kids headed out for a date night (Joe took her to dinner at Sanaa, which we all love), and Jen and I took the water taxi over to Downtown Disney and ate at Wolfgang Puck Express on the dining plan. Honestly, this place was easily the best bang for your buck that we found with any of our counter service meals. For the two of us, the total that night was over $50 before tip (tips aren’t covered by the plan), and our entrees were much better quality food than what we’d eaten in the parks. I had the bacon-wrapped meatloaf on garlic mashed potatoes with creme brulee for dessert, and loved it. We all agreed that their vanilla bean cheesecake shown in the picture below was better than the creme brulee, though, and all got that on our two subsequent visits. Here are pics of my meals here. I had the meatloaf twice 🙂

WP_20150519_19_32_39_Pro WP_20150519_19_32_48_Pro WP_20150520_22_27_08_Pro

Due to our character meals falling on day one of the meal plan and having small meals at other places we didn’t want to use the meal plan, we were able to use our credits to cover Joe’s counter service meals several times. We also ended the last day with 4 snack credits, and let the kids go pick out whatever they wanted before we left Hollywood Studios on the last night. Your credits expire at midnight on the day you check out, and you don’t get a refund on any that go unused. For snacks, we generally tried to ensure we used those credits on things over $4.50 in cost. My favorite was easily the school bread found at the bakery in Epcot’s Norway pavilion, although we had some pretty good sweets at the bakery in Germany, too. I don’t have a list of all the places we got snacks at, but I do have a list of the counter service locations we ate:

Be Our Guest was an interesting one. After checking the Disney Dining site multiple times each day to see if any space had opened up, we finally managed to get a reservation on one of our last park days. It’s an interesting (albeit slow) experience in the way you order, with kiosks available for your group to customize your meals. Once you order you go find a place to sit, and they bring your food to you on real plates, locating you by the RFID chip in your Magic Band (or the magic rose they give you if you don’t have a Magic Band). The food itself was some of the better in-park counter service food we had too, although the roast beef in my sandwich was slightly overcooked for my tastes. Regardless, it’s a neat experience that shouldn’t be missed.

WP_20150522_14_56_34_Pro WP_20150522_15_02_51_Pro

Oh, one additional tip when eating at any counter service restaurant with a dining plan: if you want a large drink, just ask. They generally default to giving you a regular size one, but will give you a large at no additional cost if you ask for it in our experience.

We did get value out of the plan, having consumed $142 more in food and snacks than the dining plan cost, but I can honestly say I wouldn’t have eaten half the sweets I did if it didn’t come with the meal or purchased the unlimited soda mugs, and as such, we likely would have spent noticeably less on park food, although to be fair we might have made up for it elsewhere. For me, the only reasons I’d have for getting a dining plan would be convenience and lack of sticker shock. Even those counter service meals are pricy, and the cost of a single meal adds up quick for a family. Not having to fork over a bunch of actual money with each meal would probably keep stress levels down. It’s a lot easier to just swipe a Magic Band, and Disney knows it.

Final verdict: While I wouldn’t jump on the chance to get the dining plan again, I think I’d get outvoted. They both want to try the plan with one table service meal at some point. We’ll see…

Character Meal Fun at Disney

Jen’s birthday fell pretty early on in our trip to Disney, so we left the decision on where to hold her birthday dinner up to her. She’d decided she wanted to do a character meal, and after a bit of a hunt on the Disney Dining reservations site, decided on Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom for a Pooh-inspired dinner, since she’s always loved those characters. At the last minute, we also found an opening for breakfast that same day at Ohana’s Lilo and Stitch character breakfast (Bayley’s always been a huge Stitch fan), meaning we ended up bookending her birthday with two separate character meals. How’d they stack up? Let’s take a look…

Ohana’s Best Friends Breakfast featuring Lilo & Stitch

As mentioned, this was a last minute reservation made the day before, spurred by my wife noticing an opening for 9:45am that wasn’t available when we’d looked prior. Remember in my last post when I recommended constantly checking the reservations site? That’ll be a recurring theme in this post. If something you want isn’t open, keep checking :). Anyway, we arrived about 30min before our reservation, so we walked around the shops a little. I think we ended up checking in at Ohana’s main desk about 10 minutes before our scheduled reservation, and were seated pretty much on-time, even with the expected large crowd outside the restaurant.

The food itself is pretty standard breakfast fare. Your servers bring plates of scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, Mickey and Stitch waffles, breads, and a few other things. They’ll bring out more of any of the items, too. Like I said, pretty standard, and nothing special from a taste perspective. Like the other character meals, it’s not about the food, it’s about the characters. Mickey, Pluto, Lilo and Stitch make their way around the restaurant on a well choreographed schedule as you eat, and we had no problem getting time with any of them, even with a packed restaurant and a break for them to lead a parade of kids around the restaurant. One by one, each of the four characters stopped by for some pictures at various points during our meal:

DSC00336 DSC00342 DSC00343 DSC00345 DSC00348 DSC00349 DSC00351 DSC00352

Definitely a fun time, and a good start to Jen’s birthday!

Crystal Palace – Winnie the Pooh and Friends

This dinner was initially scheduled for 9:50pm, pretty late by anyone’s standards. When we first started looking a couple of weeks prior to the trip, that was the only time available for a party of 4. We kept checking the site, and were able to move up a few times, eventually ending up with a reservation for 7:45pm. After spending the afternoon at the Magic Kingdom, we headed over to Crystal Palace around 7:30 and were seated pretty much on time.

This restaurant is buffet service, and actually had some pretty good food. The mac and cheese in the kid’s section was pretty good, as were the mashed potatoes and the beef available on the carving station. Going against the diet Jen and I had been on in the weeks leading up to this trip, we both made two (or three in my case) trips up for more food. As we ate, the same well choreographed character visits we’d seen at Ohana were taking place here. Bayley had her selfie-stick with her, so she had fun taking selfies of her and Joe with each of the characters, and we made sure that each knew it was Jen’s birthday so she got a little extra attention. The outstanding service and fun table-side visits from Winnie the Pooh and friends made for a fun birthday, but it wasn’t over just yet.

A few days earlier, Bayley and I had decided to tack on a birthday cake to this dinner, so we’d gone through the process to order one. We did this before Jen and I got down to St Pete to pick up Bayley, so I had Bayley make the call to the folks at WDW Magic Kingdom Cakes (per this site). I was surprised that they didn’t have a way to order online, but even more surprised to find that when Bayley called, she didn’t actually get to talk to anyone. She just left her information and they emailed the info and order form to her. When they did, she forwarded it to me, and after exchanging a bunch of texts with her to figure out what we wanted, I placed the order by filling out the PDF form they’d sent and emailed it to the cake service. For anyone considering ordering one when on property, here’s what they sent me:

The cakes come in 6″, 8″ and 10″ sizes, and while the small would have been more than enough for the 4 of us, it had next to nothing in the way of customization options. No custom text (meaning we couldn’t add her name), and no option to add a character image. We really wanted to do both, as well as mixing it up flavor-wise, so I stepped up to the 8″ chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream icing and dark chocolate mousse filling, with an Olaf image on top. I’d have preferred to get a Pooh character image, but according to the order form, none of them are available for this, which seemed a bit odd. Regardless, I ordered the cake to be included with dinner at Crystal Palace. Not long after we finished visiting the buffet, our waiter brought the cake out, complete with a birthday card for her signed by all 4 Pooh characters. Nice touch! My main disappointment with the cake experience is *how* it was delivered. This isn’t anything against the server, he delivered it and sang happy birthday with us, but even at a regular restaurant in the real world, you usually see multiple employees coming out to deliver the cake and sing. Not here, it was just our server. I completely understand that it’d be logistically impossible to get the 4 characters to all come over for cake delivery, but one of them being there might have been nice, or at least a few more servers. For the money the cakes cost, I think I just expected a little more out of Disney. Oh well, it’s a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things, and the cake itself was excellent! I included both a pic of the whole cake and one showing what the delicious inside looked like. My only other issue is one they warn you of pretty clearly when ordering, they will not store leftovers or send them back to your room for you if you’re staying on property. I knew this going in, and is the reason I took a bus ride back to the room to put the leftover cake in the fridge after dinner. I certainly wasn’t going to waste over half of this cake. As far as my overall satisfaction with the cake service, I’m not sure I’d do it again, especially at a buffet-style restaurant where there are plenty of other desserts, but still enjoyed being able to surprise her with it. How often do you get to spend your birthday at Disney, right?

In the end, we all agree that we liked the dinner at Crystal Palace better, especially from the food aspect. Both were fun though, and just goes to show that you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy a character meal at Disney!

DSC00532 DSC00534 DSC00535 DSC00536 DSC00538 DSC00539 DSC00540 DSC00543 DSC00544 DSC00545 DSC00546 DSC00548 DSC00549 WP_20150516_20_34_23_Pro DSC00551 DSC00554 DSC00556

 

 

Dining at Disney

This year we decided to do Thanksgiving in the Orlando area. With Bayley only having the 4 day weekend, a longer trip was out of the question, and hanging out in Florida for a few days seemed like fun. As part of that, we had to decide where to eat for Thanksgiving, and after some discussion, decided to dine at one of the Disney resorts. We’d been going back and forth on exactly where that would be, but in the end decided (pretty much at the last minute) that we’d have a couple of meals at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. We were spending a little more than we wanted to, but with no plans to visit any of the parks, figured we’d enjoy the meals.

Dinner #1 came Wednesday night, a few hours after we got to Orlando, at the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show. My mom and step dad were here for this one too, as they’d been in St Pete for a few days visiting Bayley at Eckerd, and drove up to Orlando with her and stayed with us overnight (they flew home Thursday). My wife had been constantly searching the Disney Dining site in the days leading up to the trip, and saw a table open up for ths show, so we grabbed it. Turns out that table was in the very back of the theater (upper floor 2 section), so we were a ways away from the stage. No biggie, we could see just fine. The food was good, at least the ribs and chicken I had. My wife enjoyed the pulled pork, too. The dessert, a warm pineapple bread pudding with caramel sauce, was delicious too. We got a little bonus food, too, as one of the guys at the table next to us knew the executive chef, who brought him over a large plate of steak and shrimp from ‘Ohana, and they shared it with us, too. Delicious, and a nice little bonus on the night. Huge thank you to him and his friends for that!

On the not so good side is just about everything else. The service was not up to Disney standards, as our server was really struggling to keep up. Other sections around us were already on to the main course by the time we got our drinks. At one point another server had to step in and help get things caught up in our section with main courses. Our dessert didn’t arrive until after all of the other servers had completed their service for the main part of the show. All in all just not the service experience people typically expect out of Disney. The show itself was a bit cheesy, too. We all really liked the fire dancing portion, but the rest of the show really seemed geared towards little kids, a fact that was very evident early on when they performed their own version of the Hawaii Five-O theme song (not really “traditional” ;)). All of the young kids seemed to be enjoying it, and really the only way I could recommend the show is to those who have young kids. For those who do go, one tip: Go to the late show (8:15pm). It gets out right as the fireworks at Disney are starting, and you can easily see them from just outside of the stage area. My pic of it below is pretty bad, but only because I took it with a phone camera in low light 🙂

BayleyDinnerFireworksStage

Dinner #2 was the following evening on Thanksgiving. This one was also at the Polynesian, this time at ‘Ohana. This had been our target restaurant for Thanksgiving from the start, and it took quite a bit of checking on the Disney Dining site to find an opening for Thursday. We’d eaten here once before, a long time ago, and were looking forward to the food, and it did not disappoint. The steak was delicious, as was the pork. Now I’m not sure what was up, maybe it was just us, but our service here was basically a mirror of the night before. Sections around us getting great service, while once again our server was struggling to keep up. I’ve worked in food service and understand that there are off nights, but two nights in a row at a place that prides itself on service seemed very out of character. Regardless, it certainly wasn’t anything to ruin the night, we left full and happy :).

Other restaurants we’ve hit during this trip (which doesn’t end until tomorrow morning):

Mia Pizza, near the condo we rented. Good pizza, which I finished off for breakfast this morning. We got a couple of larges since there were 5 of us, along with some garlic bread, which was also yummy.

A N.Y. Pizza House, which we ate at for lunch on Friday while we were in Cocoa Beach. I had two slices, one regular crust and one Sicilian slice, both with pepperoni. The slices were delicious, and huge. Had I known how big they were I’d have skipped some of the cheese fries we had as an appetizer (also delicious). My wife and daughter both had pasta, (baked ziti and fettuccine Alfredo) and neither really liked them all that much. They did agree that my pizza was delicious, tho :).

That about covers it for the food. Other meals were either at chains or here at the condo, and all we have left tonight is Hard Rock before a show, so I’ll skip the rest of it as I’m not big on reviewing chains.

%d bloggers like this: