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Monday, April 30, 2018

How to Do Disney World With Larger Groups - A Few Tips for Planning a Group WDW Vacation

Guide4WDW.com

by: guide4wdw - Collin

How to Do Disney World With Larger Groups - A Few Tips


We've all been there, a friend wants to travel with us, a child's sports team makes it to an event at the Wide World of Sports complex, or even an extended family vacation starts to shape up and could be an excellent group to travel with. While, for many, this isn't necessarily the ideal travel situation, you may be surprised at how a few tips can make all the difference when planning Disney World Trips for larger groups. Of course, in my opinion, a group is a relative term. Personally, anything much more than our typical four person family vacation falls into the group category. As many of you may know, traveling with extended family and even our very best friends can be stressful (If you haven't tried it, trust me, I've been there. lol). 

Group travel is perhaps the most unique type of travel situation you can face when visiting the Walt Disney World Parks and resorts. Inevitably, especially in rather large groups of 10+ guests, you're not going to be able to accommodate every single need and want of the party. As unfortunate as that sounds, it's about like trying to sit down and watch all the Star Wars franchise in a row in one day. You probably could do it (and many of us will try) but at the same time very few will be completely and entirely successful. Sadly, for many it ends up being a vastly hectic experience but it does have to be. 



If you know what to expect, your trip can still go off without a hitch and the experience can be vastly influential on the guests in your group and can create lasting memories for everyone involved. Granted, this isn't likely going to be quite as productive of a trip as one with a smaller group. To an extent, you do have to manage your expectations. It will be vastly difficult to spend long hours in the parks, and to stay out as late as possible. Truth be told, the entire situation is a compromise but if you're like us, and likely if you're reading this, you'll take any and every opportunity you can to visit the magic of Walt Disney World. 
           

Consider All Your Resort Options

Resorts are perhaps the most difficult portion of the equation you'll have to consider with larger groups. You can book multiple resort rooms all at one resort or, depending on your group size, you could look at a villa at a vast majority of the deluxe resorts on property. Personally, I highly recommend option number two. It's what we do and while it is the best case scenario it will only work for parties up to around 9 guests. Some of the largest rooms on property will comfortably sleep that many guests while still providing luxury accommodations that could potentially save you quite a bit of money over purchasing multiple rooms if a large enough room exists for your party size. 

From my experience, if you're looking at any resort location on property (especially anything above a value tier), for a vast majority of the year it is more budget friendly or relatively equal in price to purchase a deluxe villa room when you're splitting the cost among multiple guests and staying all in one villa rather than purchasing separate resort rooms. 
For example, if you were looking to purchase a stay in Animal Kingdom Lodge's Kidani Village later on in June of this year, here's what you'd pay: 
  • For a resort room you'll pay $397 a night for a Savannah View Deluxe Studio room. Multiply that times two and you'll end up paying almost $800 to accommodate up to 8 guests. 
  • By comparison, a 2 bedroom villa is $819 for the same tier view (I only used Savannah view rooms in this example in order to provide real numbers. The other accommodations were unavailable for the dates researched *July 22nd-27th*). 
Additionally, there's one more thing you'll want to consider. If you book a villa style room, you also get access to a relatively "full" kitchen complete with an oven and a full size refrigerator. For many, that could be a huge cost savings over the course of a week if you are willing to cook breakfast or any number of meals during your trip for the whole group. 

While I've not used them personally, I've heard great reviews of companies like Garden Grocer who will deliver grocery style type food to resort rooms on Disney property and beyond. I'm not affiliated with them but have heard great things about their service and their prices don't seem too terribly high to become unreasonable for a majority of travelers. Some guests may even find their prices cheaper than their home state grocery stores/services. We're from central Kentucky, so Orlando area prices are fairly comparable to what we experience on a near daily basis. 



In the grand scheme of things, the benefits of staying in a villa and enjoying the perks of a deluxe resort, especially if the cost is being split among guests, is well worth the few extra dollars you may or may not have to spend to all stay in one resort room together. It wont solve the problem for extremely large groups that exceed the maximum occupancy of these resort room types, but could be a great option if you travel with friends .... or if you're the Brady Bunch...  (We all know you just sang the song). 


Plan Early

If you've made it this far into the article, chances are you're pretty serious about planning for a group, and/or you like to be over prepared for any situation you may ever face when booking. Both of those reasons I can really and truly appreciate. I'm a notorious over planner and as we booked our latest vacation for 4 guests just two days ago for an early June trip to the parks, I don't recommend trying that. However, it is doable and we were vastly successful booking last minute, it makes things far easier when you book as far in advance as possible. 


If you can, try to book for your group stay at least 6 to 8 months in advance. If you're traveling at peak times like Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving, or even some of the summer months, try to book at least your resort room even earlier. The largest rooms on property are limited in number when we're considering the realm of villas and the larger your group, the harder it will be to come up with the perfect accommodations you desire.    


      

Get Some Help From a Friend 

Getting help from a friend going on the trip with you or just someone you trust that has been to Disney many times can make a huge difference. Not only can they help you weigh the options and take new things into consideration, but chances are they'll think of something along the way that you overlooked or could have potentially skipped altogether. I've been planning my vacations for years, but never once, no matter how large the party size, have I planned every detail on my own. Chances are I wont make any big mistakes that could change the course of a vacation, but having that second opinion or helping hand can really make all the difference in both little and big ways.  


If nothing else, it's someone who can help you relay information for very large groups or someone to pose those tough decisions to before making a final choice. If you don't have someone traveling with you I do highly recommend a travel agency because they have worked with groups and oftentimes know little details of the experience that many (even highly experienced guests) overlook because they can and do deal with these things on a daily basis. Personally, I recommend Destinations to Travel because they're who I have personal experience with and they help us out here on the site in return.   
   

Have Everyone Pick One "Must-Do"

This is one of those things I consider fundamental to every Disney vacation involving 2 or more guests. It sounds so simple but having the guests in your party pick one, two, or even three of their top "must-do" items they want to ride or experience during the trip can make all the difference. For parents, if you invoke this strategy a lot of times you can avoid the argument of what to do "next" and at the same time everyone gets to experience that one aspect of Disney they came to experience. It may not be everyones ideal attraction, dining location, etc. but at the same time everyone will have their one moment to pick and it works out quite well in a wide variety of situations, especially when booking fastpasses and dining reservations. 


For example, little Johnny may want to go swim at the pool and slide down the waterslide more than anything else, but Suzy's top pick for the stay is to ride Splash Mountain at least one time. As you plan your days out you grab Suzy a fastpass selection for Splash Mountain and set aside an hour or so for Johnny to swim and enjoy the resort pool. Of course, with my family, Collin (me) wants to ride the People Mover 17 times and the rest of the family tries to reason with him how unnecessary that is...    

Be Flexible With Meals

Similar to what was mentioned above about planning early, dining is something you really want to jump on and get set up as soon as possible. Typically, the bigger your group the more difficult it will be to find reservations that seat your entire party. Again, it's entirely doable to book later on, but it isn't the best case scenario. 

When I started going to Walt Disney World as a young kid traveling with family, we spent days planning the perfect meal layout and got on the phone 180 days out to reserve those perfect times. Was it necessary? Not entirely. But, it did do something for us that is worth noting. When we spent those afternoons on the phone (which can now be far more easily done online today) it built anticipation for our trip and started to create a simple memory long before our actual vacation even began. We were half a year away from visiting the magic as a group, but at the same time we shared a moment with family in those phone calls and afternoon booking strategies that meant the world to us and gave me a story to share with you even today. Booking can be a part of the fun and booking early can make a huge difference in the end result. Here's the final tip or perhaps the "Holy Grail" of an equivalent Indian Jones adventure and that is to not let this be stressful. Enjoy the planning experience and make the most of it and the end result will exceed your expectations. 

Consider a Fireworks Viewing Package 

Fireworks for many are the pinnacle highlight of a Disney trip. For me, there's nothing quite as enjoyable and iconic as standing there on Main Street USA staring up at the castle with a smile on your face and a certain level of unexplainable joy in your heart as the fireworks burst overhead. As you look around you catch a glimpse of the colorful bursts high in the air reflecting in the eyes of those around you and the light glimmering off the faces of those surrounding you. In that moment, even for a brief second, the difficulties of life slip away and you can simply enjoy the moment. 


Fireworks with groups is quite difficult. If you all want to stay together, and there's more than 5 or so in your party, finding space in front of the castle can be incredibly difficult unless you are willing to camp out over an hour in advance. On our most recent trip, we traveled with 7 guests in total. Even 45 minutes before the show began, we were forced to find a spot about half way down Mainstreet and it took us about 20 minutes to walk there from Liberty Square. Granted, it was a very busy day, but we ended up splitting up our group just to find a spot. For larger groups, it would be even more difficult and one of the main situations in which I would recommend a fireworks dessert party at Magic Kingdom. It will, in theory, guarantee you a spot for the fireworks where everyone can be in one area and while expensive, you do get a pretty good bonus out of the cost by means of unlimited desserts.   
      

Consider Splitting Up At Times  

Splitting up your group doesn't sound fun at first or even early on in your stay but as the week draws on, and tensions tend to rise among group members, sometimes it's the ideal fix to combat that mid week "blow up" moment where an argument breaks out in full force. Split up a fastpass selection or pick a different dining reservation than some other guests in your group and that little break from the rest may just recharge you and put everyone back into a great mood.
 
Your Thoughts
As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don't hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you're there, and we'll keep the conversation going in the future. We're not the largest Disney community, but we're one that's there and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are! 

Ready to Plan?

Need help planning your vacation? Let our friends over at Destinations to Travel (FREE - no obligation quote request form below) help you out at no additional cost to you! Their services are free and a great way for you to help out the site at no extra cost to you! Here's a closer look at why I recommend an Authorized Disney Travel Planner!

Last but certainly not least, if you're starting the planning process, a great place to start are with some of our top planning articles! Looking for dining? Check out Disney World Dining Tips For 2018. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2018 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2018 are a great place to begin! Looking to save money on tickets? Check out our friends over at The Official Ticket Center for great deals that even made it into our 2018 Discount Disney World Ticket selections and another great way to help us create more content through your contributions at no additional cost to you! You'll probably even save money along the way.



Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Disney World Free Dining is Back for 2018! - All the Details

Guide4WDW.com

by: guide4wdw - Collin

Disney World Free Dining is Back for 2018! - All the Details

Despite my personal thoughts that free dining could possibly end this year, it looks as if it's back for another year of free Disney dining for select stays. Before we go into a few free dining tips and things to consider, here's a closer look at the offer itself:

Chefs De France - Free Disney Dining 2018

Disney World Free Dining Dates:    




Booking Dates (when you can book your stay and receive the offer): 

4/24/18 to 7/7/18 

For stays: 

8/20/18 through 9/29/18 

11/24/18 through 11/27/18 
12/7/18 through 12/23/18

What to Consider Before Booking 

If you are looking to book this offer you will want to be aware of a few things along the way. First and foremost make sure it will be saving you money! Sometimes the requirement to book a resort room on property at a non-discounted rate in order to book the free dining promotion can be more expensive than booking otherwise on a different offer or percentage discount. Specifically for annual passholders, depending on your dates, you may be eligible for different discounts that could make your stay cheaper, even if you buy the dining plan out of pocket in addition to the resort you book. The kicker to all of this is the specific requirement of booking a "non-discounted" room. Oftentimes what you save on a discounted room more than makes up for the cost to add the dining plan of your choice out of pocket (but that is not always the case). 

Many guests still find booking the free dining plan offer a better plan for them on the basis of convenience, but if you book with a travel agency they can and will weigh the differences and choose the most cost effective option for you. As always, we recommend Destinations to Travel for your booking needs. It's who we use and recommend and they help us out along the way (free quote request form below). As always, you can book this offer through Disney on your own as well with no variation in cost. 

What is Free Dining?

If you've made it this far in the article but haven't yet heard about what free dining actually is, you've come to the right place and it could be the ideal offer for you. Free dining in and of itself is an add-on offering to a Disney vacation that is provided as a booking incentive for select dates each year. In the beginning, free dining was an incredible deal. The price was fair and the offer included not only the deluxe but also the moderate tier resorts giving guests the opportunity to receive standard tier free dining at almost any dining location in Walt Disney World on a meal credit basis. Each guest traditionally received one snack credit, one quick service meal, and one table service meal during each day of their stay.  

As the plan grew in popularity, the structure changed slightly and now includes two snack offerings, one quick service offering, and one table service offering. You also receive a free refillable drink mug to be used at the resort of your choice during your stay. If you are looking to book the recently debuted promotion but are interested in upgrading from the standard dining plan to a deluxe dining plan you can pay the difference to do so with this offer. Personally, I wouldn't upgrade to deluxe. It sounds like an awesome way to travel but the standard plan is typically more than enough food for guests of all ages. Unless you are looking to book a culinary adventure and that will be the focus of your stay, I would stick with standard and save yourself a bit of money. 

On the contrary, if you book a value or moderate resort and intend to book this offer, I recommend upgrading from a quick service dining plan (included in the offer for those resort tiers) to the standard plan in order to experience more of the table service offerings on property. The quick service plan only includes two quick service meals, two snacks, and a refillable mug. I really think it's worth the upgrade and you'll likely enjoy a more elaborate dining experience during your trip. The difference in cost is about $20 per person per day to upgrade to standard and around $40 per person to upgrade to deluxe.       

Epcot - Free Disney Dining 2018

Ticket Requirement       

In order to take advantage of this rate, you will be required to book a 5 night 6-day Magic Your Way Package with park hopper. The park hopper option has not always been a requirement but it will be this year. According to Disney's site, packages for other lengths of stay may be available. 

Included Resorts   

Here's a closer look at what resorts are included in the offer. As always, there is a limited amount of availability for the offer dates at each resort. 

In this case, the following resorts will be eligible for Quick Service Dining Plans:
Disney's All Star Resorts (Music and Sports) 
Disney's Art of Animation Resort - Family Suites Only 
Disney's Pop Century Resort 

Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort  
Disney's Coronado Springs Resort
The Cabins at Fort Wilderness Resort 

In regards to those that will receive Regular Dining Plans:
Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village and Jambo House Villas
Disney's Beach Club Villas 
Disney's Boardwalk Villas 
Disney's Old Key West Resort 
Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa 

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
Disney's Beach Club Resort 
Disney's BoardWalk Inn
Disney's Garden Floridian Resort and Spa
Disney's Yacht Club Resort

Note: Offer Excludes campsites, 3 bedroom villas, and Little Mermaid Standard Rooms at the Art of Animation Resort.  

The Strange Disney Free Dining "Loophole"

If you're concerned about just missing the offer dates window, you'll want to consider this somewhat strange aspect of the promotion. Offer eligibility is based on when you check in to your resort. If you arrive on a date that is available for the offer but your stay extends past the end of the offer window, you will still be eligible for free dining. However, if you arrive on a date that is not included in the offer dates, you will not be eligible for free dining even if your dates continue on into an eligible date or series of dates. 

The best way to understand this is to think strictly about your arrival date. Everything is based on when you arrive at your chosen resort. If your dates are already set and part of your stay is included but not your arrival date, there is a work around but it's not the best workaround. To utilize the 'loophole," book two stays on corresponding dates. It wont be ideal but you'll end up receiving free dining for at least a portion of your stay. The round about way booking strategy will come with a few challenges but could save you quite a bit of money if you are traveling with a large party or staying an extended amount of time. 

Disney World Free Dining 2018
     

Our Other Dining Plan Posts and More Information

This post only really scratches the surface of the realm of free dining tips available across our site and other sites. If you're looking for a few more in depth tips, don't forget to check out our other posts below: 

Your Thoughts
As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don't hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you're there, and we'll keep the conversation going in the future. We're not the largest Disney community, but we're one that's there and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are! 

Ready to Plan?

Need help planning your vacation? Let our friends over at Destinations to Travel (FREE - no obligation quote request form below) help you out at no additional cost to you! Their services are free and a great way for you to help out the site at no extra cost to you! Here's a closer look at why I recommend an Authorized Disney Travel Planner!

Last but certainly not least, if you're starting the planning process, a great place to start are with some of our top planning articles! Looking for dining? Check out Disney World Dining Tips For 2018. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2018 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2018 are a great place to begin! Looking to save money on tickets? Check out our friends over at The Official Ticket Center for great deals that even made it into our 2018 Discount Disney World Ticket selections and another great way to help us create more content through your contributions at no additional cost to you! You'll probably even save money along the way.



Monday, April 23, 2018

Our Ideal 4 Day "No Parks" Disney World Itinerary

Guide4WDW.com

by: guide4wdw - Collin

Our Ideal 4 Day "No Parks" Disney World Itinerary

Every once in a while, you get the chance to take a vacation that is a bit different than your typical Walt Disney World vacation. Quite a few years ago, we took the time to step away from the parks for a few days in order to intentionally and fully embrace all that Disney has to offer beyond the parks. Honestly, it ended up being one of the most memorable trips we've ever taken and it ended up that way for one main reason: There was zero stress! 

I know that sounds cheesy and a bit unconventional, because in all honesty it is. It seems counter productive to take a vacation if it's going to be stressful. However, when it comes right down to it there's a certain level of stress involved in the planning stages of a Disney World trip. To an extent, the feeling is inevitable, but at the same time vastly rewarding in a majority of circumstances. I love planning trips and wouldn't have a site to share with you all if I didn't truly enjoy the process and everything a Disney World vacation involves. For me, this isn't about making money, or trying get "noticed" but rather to meet new people and share new friendship with the people I meet along the way. I do it to help as many guests as I possibly can and no view count or other factor will change that. I mention that for one main reason. I do not work for Disney and as a result get to share a few recommendations that aren't based on selling tickets or accommodations or anything in that realm. Simply put, it's my opinion here and an effort not to sell anything but rather to share something that may change a portion of the way you experience the magic. 

Don't get me wrong, I highly suggest touring the parks if you haven't done it before but if you're looking for something a bit different to try during your trip, here's a closer look at what I recommend. If you still want to visit the parks in addition to these things, it would be an excellent way to to get a touch of both experiences along the way. Truth be told, even our non-parks focused trips we'll typically make it to the parks a few days of our stay and even plan to do just that on a summer trip we're looking into this year. 


So, if you're looking for something a bit less stressful or a touch more relaxing than the fast paced action of many Disney trips, I invite you to take a look at what we recommend for 4 days at Walt Disney World without stepping into the parks. It's a bit out of the the ordinary to think about but can be one of the more unique experiences you'll embark upon in the realm of Disney. The cool part about this itinerary is that you can literally mix and match or "plug and play" your days in to any specific date you so desire! There's no perfect order and there's no "best way" to do this, but rather something to mold and manipulate to your ideal situation. 

One thing to note before jumping into the details is that I recommend you stay on property to try this. It makes transportation a bit easier and our plan is heavily weighted towards resort touring so it may prove beneficial to have Disney transportation available to move from one resort to the next. It sounds a bit counter intuitive but if you can jump on a bus to a park of your choice, arrive at the bus stop of that park without entering the park, and take a bus to another resort, you can get just about anywhere on property free of charge. The main thing is to make sure you return to your resort before the buses stop running at the end of the night in order arrive back at your resort without having to hire a Minnie Van, Uber or something similar.     

Day 1  

If I'm planning a Disney Trip outside of the parks, one thing comes to mind automatically, FOOD! Disney World is one of the top dining destinations in the United States. There's more restaurants per square mile on property than just than just about any city in the country. 

To start out your first day, I'd do one main thing to kick off the vacation. Head to Disney Springs for a quick meal over at Homecomin' Kitchen or your top pick for dining in the area and enjoy a day of shopping and dining! If shopping isn't your thing, make your way to the Aerophile (Formerly Characters in Flight) to take flight in a tethered hot air ballon for some of the most picturesque views of Disney property available to guests of all ages. If you're like me and don't do well with heights, you may want to sit this one out... 

For those of us who are "vertically challenged" for lack of a better word, a few steps away you'll find Sprinkles cupcakes, the Ganachery, and even the Boathouse were you can sit back and enjoy a quick snack or even a meal while the rest of your party enjoys the Springs from above. For the Boathouse in particular, avoid the wait times for the main restaurant and make your way out to the waterside dock bar area for access to the menu without having to wait for a table in the main restaurant itself. The view is spectacular out on the water and shaded for those warm summer nights with a cool breeze trickling in as the sun sets over the lake. 


Day 2

After your gradual start and likely active day on your feet, start day two off with a breakfast at one of the various resort hotels. As always, I highly recommend a few options. First would be Whispering Canyon and the breakfast canyon skillet. The food is unlimited and family style and really is one of the most entertaining breakfast you can have on property that still remains a hidden gem of Walt Disney World. Another great offering is Ohana over at the Polynesian resort, or even Chef Mickey at the Contemporary. Chef Mickey isn't quite as high ranking on my list because the food quality isn't quite as comparable to the others mentioned but the resort itself is a great place to start the day exploring the grounds and catching a few picturesque views of Magic Kingdom from the iconic Grand Concourse balcony.

After the meal, I highly recommend heading down to the boat dock. It's easy to find and if you head out the back of the resort and head all the way out towards the lake. The transport ferry boats are free to use and will take you to the Contemporary (if you're not there already), Fort Wilderness, Wilderness Lodge, and even Magic Kingdom. With one quick boat change you can also reach the Polynesian and Grand Floridian without ever entering the park. 

If you've not done it before, heading to each of these resorts can be an eye opening experience of all that Disney has to offer. Every resort holds little hidden gems and theming elements that separates them from all other resorts on property and even all other resorts you've ever traveled to. Each location has it's own unique themed gift shops and merchandise and you may even get the chance to stop for a snack. If you head to the Polynesian you can even grab an iconic Dole Whip without ever leaving the resort. 

As always, don't be afraid to visit resorts even if you're not staying in them. Disney gladly welcomes and encourages non-resort guest visitors. They know better than anyone that once you see these resorts you'll want to stay in them one day or return for another meal at one of their many restaurants in the future. 


If you're carful about how you plan your day, you can really spend an entire day strolling around, enjoying the views, and shopping your day away at these resorts. As day turns to night pick a resort with a view of the castle in the distance to experience one of the most unique views possible of Magic Kingdom's nighttime fireworks spectaculars. Particularly around the holidays, grab a spot on the beaches of the Polynesian or another resort and prepare for the multi-launch site fireworks experience you'll be talking about for years to come.    

Day 3 

Day 3 is to me the ideal way to spend a summer day outside of the parks. It can be moved to whatever day of your trip you would like but particularly on a hot day, very little beats spending some time at your themed resort pool. 

Start your day with a nice breakfast or sleep in just a bit then head out to the pool to soak in the sunshine and relax the day away. If simply hanging out isn't your thing, head to the lobby and search for the activity list for the day. Each resort will be a bit different but it's not out of the ordinary to find a list of free activities (or low cost activities) to partake in at your very own resort. Certain resorts offer free guided tours, others offer an open fire as the day turns to night, or even a movie out under the stars. The possibilities are endless and vary from day to day, but taking that day to really fully explore the little details of your resort is a great way to not only save a little money, but also tends to be a vastly memorable day with family or friends. 

It's certainly not the conventional way to explore Disney but sometimes taking a step back to enjoy the simpler aspects of the experience can lead to some of the most unique and memorable aspects of the vacation.

Day 4 

On your final day I recommend making the journey over to the Boardwalk resort area. In my opinion this is one of the most, if not the most, overlooked areas on property by a significant margin.

The Boardwalk area is one of the most picturesque places you'll ever visit. Sitting prominently on Crescent Lake in the Epcot resort area, the views are truly spectacular. From sun up to sun down, the colors and lights of the area glisten casually, yet prominently, off of the water enticing guests to enjoy a casual day of exploration and enjoyment from a simpler time and a simpler place. Grab a funnel cake, rent a surrey bike, or simply enjoy a stroll through the incredible art gallery and a day will slowly pass by unveiling detail after detail as you explore everything the resort has to offer. As a bit of hidden gem of the experience I recommend heading to the main floor of the resort to find a piece of Disney history hiding in plain site. 

As a few of you may remember, Main Street USA used to be home to the iconic Penny Arcade. Unfortunately, after the closure of that space in 1995, the nostalgic games that once filled that iconic space slowly disappeared. A select few reappeared years later in the Main Street Station in non-operable form, but one was relocated and still functions today. Any guesses at where it might be today? You guessed it, the Boardwalk resort. 

Just a few steps from the main lobby near the restrooms on the main floor you'll typically find one or sometimes two machines prominently placed in the hallway. Most guests will walk right by and entirely ignore the history in front of them, but a select few will peer into the view finder and and gently turn the crank to watch the flipbook style production come to life before their very eyes.


Little details like this adorn the property and taking the time to explore it may uncover more than you ever expected. If you want something else to do in the area, grab an ice cream at Ample Hills creamery, Beaches and Cream across the water at the Beach Club, or make the short walk to the Dolphin resort for a dip of ice-cream or incredible soft serve at the Fountain restaurant. 

If you've made it that far over to the Swan and Dolphin, walk just a touch further and you'll stumble into the Fantasia Gardens miniature golf course. If you book your stay in a package you may even get to play free of charge with the vouchers provide when your magic bands are delivered!  

To wrap up the night, head back to the main crescent lake area to catch a unique view of Epcot's Illuminations nighttime spectacular from a unique viewing angle. It's the perfect way to end a night outside of the parks. 
                                   
Your Thoughts
As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don't hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you're there, and we'll keep the conversation going in the future. We're not the largest Disney community, but we're one that's there and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are! 

Ready to Plan?

Need help planning your vacation? Let our friends over at Destinations to Travel (FREE - no obligation quote request form below) help you out at no additional cost to you! Their services are free and a great way for you to help out the site at no extra cost to you! Here's a closer look at why I recommend an Authorized Disney Travel Planner!

Last but certainly not least, if you're starting the planning process, a great place to start are with some of our top planning articles! Looking for dining? Check out Disney World Dining Tips For 2018. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2018 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2018 are a great place to begin! Looking to save money on tickets? Check out our friends over at The Official Ticket Center for great deals that even made it into our 2018 Discount Disney World Ticket selections and another great way to help us create more content through your contributions at no additional cost to you! You'll probably even save money along the way.




Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Our Picks For the Best Disney World Dining Plan Restaurants in 2018

Guide4WDW.com

by: guide4wdw - Collin

Our Picks For the Best Disney World Dining Plan Restaurants in 2018


Today, we're taking a closer look at the Dining Plan at Walt Disney World and what we see as some of the best value for your dining credit offerings in the realm of Walt Disney World dining opportunities. As with anything Disney, every individual guest is going to have their own particular preferences and that's one of the main reasons I recommend trying any restaurant on property and attempting to do so with an open mind at least once before passing judgement on the particular location. 


Honestly, we're typically those Disney guests that tend to repeat our favorite dining locations time and time again, but at the same time we strive to try at least one entirely new dining offering each and every time we visit Walt Disney World. With that being said, we are inevitably bias towards a few of our favorites and truth be told we enjoy Disney buffets more than the average guest, but it tends to be what works for us. Of course, we do try various table service offerings in a more classic since and a few even made our list today, but don't be surprised if you see a buffet or family style offering pop up along the way. Truth be told, that's really the only foreword we should really add to this post before we dive right in. 

Is The Disney Dining Plan Even Your Best Dining Option

It is worth mentioning that over the years we have largely avoided the dining plan. If you really think about it, most guests are buying the dining plan for one of two reasons (of course there are a few exceptions): 1. convenience or 2. perceived savings. 

The first option is perhaps the most beneficial facet the Disney dining plan expertly brings to the table and quite possibly should be the selling point for of the plan altogether. I will say, more than anything else, the Disney Dining plan is outstandingly convenient. You don't have to worry about hidden meal costs, or setting aside a budget for that part of your vacation once you arrive at the parks, or even be too concerned about knowing what your dining will cost. Disney sets up the payment for you and essentially you have a set number of what your vacation is going to cost before you ever leave home. It's incredibly convenient, but also features on major caveat in my opinion. 

Unless you plan on a focus of your vacation being dining, a vast majority of guests will not and likely can not physically eat and enjoy all that is provided on the regular dining plan. It's a ton of food, and if you know that and want that going in, by all means enjoy the dining plan. We've done it before ourselves and sometimes that turns out to be a perfect trip, but don't fall into the perceived savings mindset that we mentioned as our second reason. 

A shocking amount of guests have told me over the years that they thought the dining plan was going to save them money. Honestly, for a vast majority of guests that isn't going to be the case and that is likely one of the biggest reasons Disney does not market it in that way. If you really break it down and order all high priced menu items, use every single snack credit you are provided, and really go all out on the dining plan, the numbers typically come out to within a few pennies of what you would have spent out of pocket if bought the exact same thing. That's the kicker to the whole thing. Most guests are not going to buy as many meals and snacks when they're paying for it directly out of pocket compared to the meal plan. 

Personally, I don't want to tell anyone what's "best" regarding the Disney dining plan or avoiding the Disney dining plan, largely because that is a question that I can't answer. We've had excellent trips doing things both ways. Chances are you'll save money by avoiding the plan, but at the same time it's quite difficult to put a price on the convenience factor. Overall, I'd say do your research and figure out what is going to be the better option for your situation. Every single guest is going to travel just a little bit differently and it's something I'd recommend considering for sure, but also recognize that it's not a make or break decision in the overall Disney World vacation experience.    

With all the little details out of the way, here's a few of the locations that we see as top Disney World Dining Plan Restaurants for your dining plan credits! 

Table Service Disney Dining Plan Offerings

Table service is typically the place where you can really make the most of your dining plan offerings. Table service is typically a high priced meal on property and most of the time you can order anything on the menu when you're utilizing the Disney dining plan credits. For many, this is where the plan shines. Many guests, including myself, will either order something they never would have paid for directly out of pocket if they visited the restaurant previously or they will choose to try something entirely new just because it's already paid for.  Of course, you are paying for it in a round about way, but it's not quite the same shock when you receive the bill for the meal. 

If you notice below, there's on main caveat to our list and that is that you will not find any 2 credit signature restaurants on our list. While those are outstanding meals, the fact that the offerings essentially replace another table service meal has and always will be hard for me to rationalize. In my mind, if I'm going to potentially give up an additional table service meal for a two credit signature offering, that one meal is going to have to be near equivalent in price to make it worth it. For me it's hard to give up two $40 meals and accompanying meal experiences for a single offering elsewhere. For some guests, that may work out great for you, but it's not something I would personally recommend. 
          

The Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace is and likely always will be a top pick for my family. For us, it is the perfect array of options. There's something on the buffet that all of us like and just about every guest will find something they really enjoy from the lineup of options on the buffet. If you don't like what you pick, go grab something else and keep repeating the process as you go until you find something you really enjoy. 

For me, the ideal meal at Disney's Crystal Palace is breakfast. If you schedule it late enough in the day, you might catch a few bites of the lunch buffet offerings, and if you schedule it at just the right time you can accomplish a ton of attractions from the time Magic Kingdom opens to the time you arrive at your meal just as the crowds start to build. (As we shared in our How to Ride 6 or More Attractions in 90 Minutes or Less: With Only 1 Fastpass+!

If you wait just a touch later in the day, Crystal Palace offers a great buffet lunch that is great for families with kids. It's not the most luxurious of offerings and isn't entirely designed to be, but the array of food from salmon to chicken offer each and every guest something to enjoy. Just be aware, if you are paying out of pocket, dinner here is far more expensive than lunch and is a very comparable menu.    



The Garden Grill Breakfast 

With this one I'm even surprising myself. For years I did not like Garden Grill. The menu didn't appeal to me and to be quite honest it wasn't something I would ever look forward to on a vacation when we did decide to book it on rare occasions.

A few short years ago that completely changed. I'm still not a huge proponent of their other meal offerings, but I can honestly say Garden Grill is the best Epcot area breakfast I've personally experienced. To me, it's the ideal offering and the ideal location to eat for an Epcot morning. You can schedule a mid-morning breakfast, tour the main attractions near the front of the park early on in the day before your meal, and prepare for the world showcase after your breakfast. As the afternoon turns into night you can set up a table service dinner or enjoy the various festival kitchens and limited time offerings of the showcase depending on when you travel the rest of the day.

Setting that thought aside, the food at Garden Grill is quite simple and while I wont go into it in too great of detail, you can read our full review over on our The Garden Grill - One of the Best Breakfasts on Disney Property post. I know that title alone sounds like an over exaggeration but we really enjoyed this offering and it truly is an outstanding way to jump start your day with a nice breakfast and quality cast members. 



Teppan Edo

As touched on above, Teppan Edo is the perfect late lunch or dinner offering at Epcot (or to accompany a table service breakfast earlier in the day if you're hungry enough to do a table service dinner too!). The offering is fairly pricey out of pocket but on the dining plan you walk in and order whatever you want and it all (in theory) costs the same amount. Teppan Edo is great because it's not only a great meal and a filling meal but it's sort of a dinner and a show. Many guests are hesitant to take kids here but they are fairly accommodating to children and most young guests really enjoy the hibachi style experience even if they don't necessarily love their meal.

A few words of warning on this one. If you are your kids do not like to be around strangers, this may not be your best option. Every once in a while groups will get paired with other families to fill the spots surrounding the hibachi grill. It's not just a Disney thing but a commonly accepted practice for this type of a meal. Disney seems a touch more hesitant to group parties but it's something to be aware of. Additionally, if your kids are sacred of fire or do not like loud-ish noises, I cannot recommend this meal. Other than those two things, I highly recommend this offering. The food is excellent the display is entertaining and the cast is top notch as well. 
        

Tusker House  

Tusker House makes my list for two main reasons. One, it is likely the ideal and perhaps only true family centered Disney branded offering in Animal Kingdom for table service. There are other meals in the park, but none that really offer the ideal situation for families that this restaurant provides. The character interaction is great, the food is a good variation of creative African inspired offerings and slightly more typical and recognizable buffet items than other options in the park.

If you're traveling with a picky eater, this is a must do table service meal for you on the dining plan if you plan on spending a full day in Animal Kingdom. If they're really picky, try and grab a breakfast reservation and you'll be pleasantly surprised by the experience. Breakfast is the most popular dining offering here and it is quite difficult to secure a reservation as a result, but if you book it early in your reservation scheduling window, you shouldn't have too hard of a time nailing down a time.   
      

Quick Service Disney Dining Plan Offerings

To the surprise of many first time guests, Disney quick service (counter service) is really starting to change and has been for the last 5 years or so. When New Fantasyland opened, and quite possibly even before that, a shocking move towards more unique quick service offerings started to arrive in the parks and over at the resorts. A movement started to take place where meals started to move away from burgers and fries and towards more filling and creative offerings. Perhaps the best example of this is Magic Kingdom. Currently at Magic Kingdom I can only think of one restaurant off hand that offers a burger as it's main offering and that is over at Starlight Cafe (which is facing a variation of changes right now). If you posed that same circumstance 5 or even 10 years ago you'd likely face a much different realization. Personally, I love it and it has worked out excellently for Disney in the realm of social media. 

Today, it seems like every time you turn around a new fad or trending Disney meal item is sweeping the internet. It's a great time to be a quick service fan and while there's a ton of great offerings across property here are a few of our top picks.  

Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory

Floatworks is without a doubt my favorite quick service location on all of Disney property. Sure, unless you're staying at Port Orleans, you'll have to go out of your way to go visit it, but it is absolutely worth it. If you're on the dining plan you can pick almost anything on the menu as your meal credit. The menu is vast and features a New Orleans inspired flair that is distinct but not necessarily off putting to those of us who have not been raised in New Orleans. 

If you're going to go try it, stay for dessert and try the beignets. It's the highlight of any trip to Port Orleans and perhaps the greatest "not-so-hidden" hidden gem of Disney dining.   


The Artist's Palette

As another somewhat out of the ordinary offering to make our list, I highly recommend the Artist's Palette at the Saratoga Springs Resort. Again, this will involve venturing out to a resort location you may or may not be staying at but it's something I highly recommend trying.

I always recommend heading to the resorts to new and returning guests. It's a great way to explore something entirely free of cost (minus the food costs), it expands your knowledge of where you may want to stay on a future trip, and opens up an entirely new world of hidden Disney elements to uncover and learn about along the way. It sounds so incredibly strange in writing but head to a resort and spend a few hours exploring the grounds and you may be shocked at how much you enjoy just being there. It's tough to pull the time out a vacation to do just that, but I will guarantee you wont regret it. 

Exploring resorts is one of the most relaxing elements of any Disney trip for me, and has a way of opening up your mind and allowing you to let the worries of the world fade away as your kids play on a playground, play ping pong by the pool, or even ride a boat over to a neighboring resort. It's beauty is in the simplicity and frees the mind in a way that is quite difficult to explain. When you feel it, you just know that you're experiencing something special and everything else fades away. 

The Artist's Palette itself is not too dissimilar to a typical deluxe resort dining location but it's lack of crowds and slightly more interesting menu sets it apart in my book. With the soft music playing in the background, the pool within sight and a buffalo chicken panini headlining the menu (ok, maybe not headlining the menu for everyone but it's headlining the menu in my book lol) there's very little not to like about this offering and it's a great value for your dining credit.          

La Cantina de San Angel

If I'm on the dining plan and not eating at one or both of the aforementioned dining locations above at Epcot, I'll likely be stopping for a quick lunch here. With a waterfront location, a casual elegance when the interior seating is open to guests (just around the corner from the main outdoor dining area), this is simple quick service option at it's finest. The meal offerings are nachos, tacos, empanadas and other typical Mexican food, but everything is largely sharable and a great way to get a taste of the Mexico pavilion before continuing on your way around the showcase. In the past, we've found that this location is a great way to start an afternoon of eating "around the world." Share a nacho here with a friend or two and continue on your way around the showcase trying a a few bites of something in each country.
        
                            
Your Thoughts
As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don't hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you're there, and we'll keep the conversation going in the future. We're not the largest Disney community, but we're one that's there and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are! 

Ready to Plan?

Need help planning your vacation? Let our friends over at Destinations to Travel (FREE - no obligation quote request form below) help you out at no additional cost to you! Their services are free and a great way for you to help out the site at no extra cost to you! Here's a closer look at why I recommend an Authorized Disney Travel Planner!

Last but certainly not least, if you're starting the planning process, a great place to start are with some of our top planning articles! Looking for dining? Check out Disney World Dining Tips For 2018. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2018 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2018 are a great place to begin! Looking to save money on tickets? Check out our friends over at The Official Ticket Center for great deals that even made it into our 2018 Discount Disney World Ticket selections and another great way to help us create more content through your contributions at no additional cost to you! You'll probably even save money along the way.



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