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Anita Does the Dining Plan, Part I
by Anita Answer, ALL EARS® Columnist
This article appeared in the August 1, 2006, Issue #358 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
My friend Flo and I recently got back from a week-long trip to the Orlando area. When it was announced that Disney Vacation Club members could purchase the Magic Your Way Dining Plan when staying on points, we knew we would have to try it! Since our trip was divided into three parts, beginning with four nights at the Old Key West Resort, we thought that would be a perfect length of time to give it a whirl.
The first thing we noticed was that it removed quite a bit of the spontaneity from our trip. We had to call for Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) two months in advance of our trip, when we had no idea what park we would even be in on those days. If we changed our minds when we got there, chances were good that we could not get other ADRs due to the popularity of the plan. Our normal plan for a trip might include one or two ADRs at restaurants that we wanted to try, and the rest would be left up to our whim of the day. The Dining Plan now makes that style of touring impossible. Even if we were not on the Dining Plan, it would be next to impossible to get reservations on the spur-of-the-moment because they're already booked months in advance.
So, with that in mind, the restaurants we chose for our table service dinners were Tony's Town Square in the Magic Kingdom, the Rose and Crown in the UK pavilion in Epcot, Raglan Road at Downtown Disney and the '50s Prime Time Cafe at Disney-MGM Studios. Since Animal Kingdom has no table service restaurants inside the park, we chose a place in each of the other parks plus a Downtown Disney restaurant for a good cross-section of locations. Once we decided where we wanted to eat, we had to plan our park touring so that we would end up at the right place at dinner time. For guests who don't have a car and must rely on Disney transportation, or who do not have "hopper" type tickets, this will take some creative planning!
We made our second observation at our very first table service meal at Tony's: The amount of food you are able to order on the plan is far more than we would ever normally eat. Luckily, the plan is fairly flexible and we were able to share our appetizers and desserts with three other friends who were not on the plan. We still could not finish it all. Our conclusion was that the plan is a good value, but we ate much more than we should have and still wasted a great deal of food. We both gained weight on this trip as well.
Most menu items are included, and we had no trouble with anything we ordered not being available on the plan. At the Rose and Crown, I was allowed to order a fruit and cheese plate for dessert when it is actually an appetizer item. At Tony's, we wanted to share an order of spaghetti and a steak entree. No problem -- the server had the kitchen divide the portions and plate them accordingly. We were even allowed to order both meatballs and sausage with our spaghetti. Add-ons, such as crab legs at Cape May Cafe or lobster tails at other places are not covered on the plan, and neither are alcohol or specialty beverages. However, you may use the Disney Dining Experience card (available to Florida residents and Annual Passholders for a yearly fee) for a 20% discount on those items.
The structure of the snack credit recently changed, and we were allowed a wider variety of items to choose from. It now includes most items under $4. At self-service places such as the Contemporary's snack bar, the items in the refrigerator case are clearly marked as plan snacks. By day four, we still had three snack credits left, so we had to make an effort to "spend" those. We were always so full from the huge meals, snacks were not usually necessary. Most of my snack credits went to bottled water.
Service: We saw no difference in the level of service between when we were on the plan and when we came back four days later and were not on the plan. Service at Tony's and the Rose and Crown was excellent; service at the 50's Prime Time was uneven at best, and Raglan Road was downright dismal. The servers at the latter two places were very nice, just not particularly attentive. Also, if you dine at Raglan Road, expect to sign two separate bills, as it is not Disney-owned or operated. I thought that was rather strange, but I guess they need two copies.
Menus: It seems like the menus have been trimmed down a little since the advent of the plan; also, menu selections at restaurants other than the "Signature" places seem to have become more pedestrian. There are fewer interesting selections and more "meat and potatoes" type items. 'Ohana at the Polynesian Resort, for example, has redone its menu and removed anything that made it worth going there for. Those wonderful fire-grilled shrimp are gone and the fresh pineapple with caramel sauce has been replaced with that fine traditional Hawaiian dessert, bread pudding (?). Meanwhile, over at Olivia's at the Old Key West Resort, they've removed the signature conch fritters from the menu. Dull, dull, dull!
Convenience: Having all your dining credits tied to your Key to the World card is very convenient. Each receipt will print out the number of credits you have left for that type of restaurant, so you can keep track. Also, you can check with your resort's Lobby Concierge desk for a printout of your usage. All restaurant Cast Members we encountered knew how to use the plan and we had no trouble anywhere.
The Downside: When it is necessary to make dining reservations months in advance just to make sure I'll actually have a place to use my Dining Plan credits, it takes quite a bit of the fun out of my trips. I'm more of a spontaneous kind of person, and that's the way I like to vacation. Even if I was not on the plan, I would still have to call for reservations well in advance or I might not get in anywhere. I really don't like this aspect of the plan at all! Then there's the weight gain and the wasted food. Doggie bags are available, but who wants to drag food all over the parks if you're not going straight back to your room?
Value: At $38 per night per adult, it's a great value if you like to eat large amounts of food, don't mind gaining weight, and if you like to eat at table service restaurants, which can take away a large chunk of your park touring time. If you like to eat light and on the fly, the plan is not for you. Also, if your children are 10 or older, they'll pay adult prices. If they're not big eaters, you'll end up paying a lot of money for the kids' menu mac and cheese.
Would I use the plan again? Yes. In fact I'll be using it again with my family soon. Look for "Anita Does the Dining Plan, Part 2: Dining Plan with the Family Man" in a couple of months.
Read Anita Answer's weekly column here: http://allears.net/aa/anita.htm
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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.