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):

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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 🙂

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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.

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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…

Hotel Review – Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter

Our daughter finished her freshman year at Eckerd College a couple of weeks ago, and since we were headed down there to move her out of her dorm anyway, we decided to tack a week at Disney on to the trip. Originally we’d booked a 7-night stay at Disney’s All-Star Movies resort, but a week or so before driving down we found that we could move over to the Port Orleans French Quarter for a little bit more money, and jumped on it. That’s one thing about Disney’s online reservation system (restaurants included), always keep checking the site leading up to your trip, you never know what you might find or what might open up.

Upon arrival, we saw what many of the reviews I’d read about this place were talking about, in that it’s smaller than the average Disney hotel. I’ve gotta say, that was one of our favorite things about the place. We felt All-Star was way too big the last time we stayed there, as we had quite a hike to get from the room to the main building every day, and that was never an issue at French Quarter. We had a ground floor river view room in building 6 (specifically room 6145), which is out on one edge of the property, but the walk to the main building was only a couple of minutes each way. The place really had a small resort feel, which we absolutely loved. A few shots from around the property:

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The room itself was pretty standard, and being one of their moderate hotels, had two queen beds as opposed to the doubles that the All-Star rooms come with. Definitely a welcome upgrade. The room was tastefully decorated, no complaints there. There was something in the room I was allergic to, however, and I never did figure out what it was. Usually I have issues with down pillows, which I don’t know if we had here, but Bayley had a pillow with her that wasn’t, which I used all week and still had issues, so I don’t think it was the pillows. Oh well, some Claratin took care of it. Really, the only room-related complaint we had is that we didn’t get either of the requests my wife asked for. She’d asked for a high floor (the buildings here are 3 floors high) and a corner room, and we got neither. No biggie though, we had no issues related to room location. We also had a 4th guest, as Bayley’s boyfriend was with us for the week, and were able to fit a twin air mattress in the room with little issue. Additionally, the privacy curtain between the sinks and the room were really nice, as was the double sink setup so two people could be getting ready at once. Some pics of the room itself:

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Note that the fridge was actually fairly roomy. I ordered an 8″ cake from Disney Dining for my wife’s birthday, and the full-sized cake box fit in the fridge without issue, along with quite a few bottles of water and some other random stuff. The safe, on the other hand, was tiny. Small little wall safe that used keys. All this technology in the parks and hotel, and we can’t use a magic band to access our safe?

Some additional benefits of this property:

  • They have a water taxi that will take you to Port Orleans Riverside, or Downtown Disney. We used this a few times, and while most trips were fine, our last attempt to take it over to Downtown Disney exposed a big issue. Riverside is a much bigger resort than French Quarter, and water taxis to Downtown Disney originate there. This means that during peak times, the boat arriving to pick you up can be pretty full. On our last day, we got to the boat ramp right as one was leaving, and waited 20 minutes for the next one out in the hot sun at the end of a line of about 15 people (the previous taxi didn’t have enough room to accommodate everyone in line). When it arrived, it only had room for 13. With 4 in our party, and being at the end of the line, that meant we were out of luck, and were pretty rudely told by the captain we had to wait another minutes for the next one. We were already overheated, having to wait in the sun, so we headed to the bus stop and grabbed a bus over there. On a busy Saturday when the hotel is 100% full (like it was that Saturday on Memorial Day weekend), they really should have the boats running more often, and maybe even have one or two dedicated to French Quarter as demand dictates. Additionally, more shade, and/or misters while waiting in line. Outside of that one time, we never had an issue with the water taxis, taking them to Downtown Disney twice, and over to Riverside once. Definitely a better way to get there versus fighting traffic at Downtown Disney. Some water taxi shots:

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  • In typical Disney fashion, there are plenty of things for the kids to do. We used the pool a couple of times, and in both cases, saw dance parties and hula hoop competitions going on. Additionally, they show Disney movies each night in the little park between buildings 5 & 6 at 9pm, and host a marshmallow-roasting campfire on property each evening too.
  • For a fee, up to 4 people can take a ride around the property in a horse and buggy. Looked pretty cool, but we never did it.
  • Bus service was good. We never waited long for a bus, and never missed one due to overcrowding. The Magic Kingdom bus from French Quarter doesn’t stop anywhere else, but the others do. The Hollywood Studios bus, for example, makes 4 stops at Riverside after picking up at French Quarter (that should tell you how big Riverside is). On our first Saturday there, I took the bus from the Magic Kingdom to the hotel a little after 9pm and back to the Magic Kingdom after resting in the room for about 10 minutes, and the round trip time was roughly 50-55 minutes. We took the bus to various parks about half the time we were there and never had any complaints.
  • The crew over at luggage storage was great. That cake I mentioned earlier that we’d stored in our room fridge? Yea, it was big. We’d only eaten about half by the time we left, so we kept it at luggage storage the day we checked out, as they had a fridge they could hold it in. We didn’t want to waste it, but not having anywhere to store it while we were at parks that final day didn’t leave us much choice.

I think that about covers it. The bottom line is that all three of us agree that this is our new favorite hotel on property, as there was a lot to like. Enjoy a few more pictures from the French Quarter!

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