An Insider's guide to theme park dining plans
By Robert NilesStarting today, and over the next several Wednesdays, we'll be taking a look at some of the "extras" that theme parks offer to sell you, beyond your basic admission ticket.
Published: September 22, 2010 at 1:59 PM
First up: Dining plans. These can be great ways to pay in advance for your food during your theme park visit, potentially making your meals less expensive that they would have been had you paid as you'd gone through the park. But if you're not careful, you could find yourself paying for meals that you don't eat, and locked out of dining choices you'd wanted to try.
The Disney Dining Plan, offered at Walt Disney World and in a more limited form at Disneyland, differs from other parks' plans in that it's simply a pay-in-advance plan, with a fixed number of meals and snacked covered by the plan. It's also available only to people who book their vacations through Disney. Universal and SeaWorld, on the other hand, offer "all you eat"-style plans that may be bought be anyone, including day guests. These plans don't require an advance purchase, either, and can be bought on-site, inside the park.
Disney Dining Plan
If you're not planning to stay at of one Walt Disney World's on-site hotels during your next trip to Disney World, well, Disney hopes that its dining plan might help convince you to change your mind. It's available only to guests of Disney's hotels, who book a vacation package through Disney.
Epcot's Biergarten Restaurant
The benefit of the Disney Dining Plan is to make a Disney World vacation more of an all-inclusive experience, one minus the hassle of paying for individual meals and snacks. Priced as part of a package, Disney also suggests that selecting the dining package can save visitors over the cost of paying for their hotel room, theme park tickets and meals separately. Even better for guests, Disney often offers steep discounts on its vacation packages during off seasons (essentially, whenever children are in school in Florida), making the dining plan a free add-on.
Walt Disney World offers three variations on its dining plan:
You also can add a wine option onto your plan for an additional charge. All packages also include one refillable drink mug per person, which can be refilled at your hotel's quick-serve restaurants.
Do note that the Disney Dining Plan does not include tips at table service restaurants. (Please, don't stiff your server!)
If your intent with the Disney Dining Plan is to create an all-inclusive experience, don't forget that by staying at an on-site hotel, you won't be getting the free or pre-paid breakfast that you might at many off-site hotels. So if you want to avoid paying out-of-pocket for any meals during your Disney vacation, you'll need to go with the Deluxe Dining plan, the only option that covers three meals per day.
You should also know that certain restaurants sometimes will charge two meal credits, rather than just one, including The Hollywood Brown Derby and Le Cellier. And Bistro de Paris, the Epcot restaurant which won the 2010 Theme Park Insider Award for best theme park restaurant, doesn't accept Dining Plan credits at all. So even if you select the Deluxe Plan, you might still end up paying in the parks.
Visit the Disney Dining Plan website for more information, including the complete list of participating restaurants.
Finally, remember that just selecting a Disney Dining Plan doesn't guarantee you a seat at any restaurant. You'll still need to make priority seating reservations by calling 407-WDW-DINE or booking online up to 180 days before your visit.
At Disneyland, a basic Disney Dining Plan is available for visitors who book through the Walt Disney Travel Company, which offers not only the three on-site hotels at Disneyland, but also packages with stays at several "Good Neighbor" hotels.
One advance-purchase dining option that is available to anyone at the Disneyland Resort is the World of Color picnic. These $15 boxed dinners include reserved seating at the World of Color show at Disney California Adventure, which remains a tough ticket for anyone who doesn't arrive at the park at opening to obtain a free FastPass reservations.
Universal Meal Deal
Universal's dining plans don't require advance purchase, and are not restricted to guests of the resort's official, on-site hotels. It's also more of an all-you-can-eat package that does not include a specific number of meals, such as Disney's, but that allows you to visit participating restaurants as often as you'd like.
That said, only a handful of restaurants at the Universal Orlando Resort participate - three in each theme park.
At Universal Studios Florida:
At Islands of Adventure:
You can get one entree platter and one dessert each time you go through the line. The Universal Meal Deal currently costs $19.99 for adults and $9.99 for children (age 9 and under) for use in one park for a day, and $23.99 for adults and $11.99 for children if you'll be visiting both parks in the same day while using the meal deal. Prices do not include tax and children must order from the kids menu. (If you're visiting the parks on separate days, there's no need to buy the two-park deal. Just buy a one-park deal for each day.)
Also note that drinks are not included in the Universal Meal Deal, but you can buy a refillable beverage cup for use at the participating restaurants for $8.99. Full details (and advance purchase) are available at Universal Orlando's website.
Universal Studios Hollywood offers an All You Can Eat Pass for $19.95 a day ($9.95 for children under 48" tall). It also gets you one entree platter each time you go through a line, but no drink, and its available at five of the California theme park's counter-service restaurants
SeaWorld's All Day Dining Deal
SeaWorld's pass is similar to Universal's expect that it does include (certain) drinks and is accepted at most of the parks' tray-service restaurants.
The cost is $29.99 for adults and $14.99 for children (ages 3-9), plus tax. You'll get one entree (excludes baby back ribs), one side or dessert and one non-alcoholic drink (excludes Naked Juice) on each visit to a participating restaurant. Again, prices do not include tax.
The All Day Dining Deals also is available at Sea World's sister park, Busch Gardens Tampa.
We'd love to hear, in the comments, about your personal experience with theme park dining plans, including your opinion of them and advice for other theme park visitors.
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