Need Tips on how to eat with NO Dining plan

I would love some advice on how to eat and even where with NO Dining plan. Mostly what I am finding on the dining posts are those that are using the dining plan. We are not planning on getting the dining plan and going Early August and staying at Wilderness Lodge.

Would like to do one Princess meal. Do you mostly do QS for lunch and do TS for dinner? Since we are not doing Dining plan, would love to hear from those that have done this without the dining plan ? trying to do this economically.

Last year, my daughter and I mostly did TS for lunch when it was hot and crowded. We mostly split appetizers, entrees and desserts. Snacked in the evenings. Much cheaper than dining plan for us.

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We have done both, and I actually think we wasted money doing the dining plan. I know that is not always the case, but we did not really look into it or take advantage of it. This time we are eating at several signature dining places and even dinner/show packages, and we are still saving money by not doing the dining plan.

This link is a “Disney Dining Plan Calculator.” Even though we aren’t getting the dining plan this time, we have used it to see how much we anticipate spending on food and have found it very helpful. Click on the “Using No Plan” tab, and it will drop down to show you a breakdown of how much you are spending based on the restaurants you choose. If you click on one of the “Using Dining Plan” dropdowns, it even gives you an average estimated expense by the restaurant.

This may not be the help you wanted, but it definitely gives you an idea of how much food costs. We mix it up between when we do TS and QS. It completely depends on the day, activities, and restaurants.

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Yes, thank you so much. It has been 7 years since we have been and everything has changed a ton. I am just overwhelmed at where to eat as you have to make reservations and don’t know where to go. We did the Dining plan 7 years ago and didn’t care for it, we saw way too many character meals and I didn’t care for the food and I think the kids had to eat off the kids meal, which i didn’t like.

Was hoping Not doing the dining plan, that we could even share an entree between kids. Anyway you could list where you might be eating? I really like that you are mixing it up with the QS and TS. Would have loved to see how you have yours planned.

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If you wish to do a table service it is probably best to do lunch as it tends to be cheaper than dinner.

Pick your pincess meal by who you want to see.

A cheap buffet non character is trails end at fort wilderness. Which is right by the boats.

I usually do just quick service meals. It remains best to eat either early or later. Recently i saw a post about some quick seevice meals being able to preorder and prepay and just send a i am here report for your food to be prepared.

We have gone with the dining plan many times (when it was free) and have gone many times without it. We do change where we are eating when we don’t have the dining plan!! The better, cheaper table service restaurants are:

Magic Kingdom: The Plaza (great club sandwich and homemade chips)
Epcot: Via Napoli (we get a family size pizza and share it); Rose and Crown (pub grub with a great view of Illuminations if you time it right); we love The Coral Reef for the aquarium and always go there (the trout is amazing!)
Hollywood Studios: the best place for cheaper, good restaurants–> we love 50s Prime Time Café (smaller eaters could easily split the fried chicken platter & their milkshakes are the best!); Sci Fi DIne In Theater has a great atmosphere of the indoor drive in and their burgers and Oreo milkshakes are the best
Animal Kingdom: we love the counter service at Yak & Yeti so much that we usually just eat there (great honey chicken)
Disney Springs: Wolfgang Puck Express and Earl of Sandwich are not table service, but fast casual (you order at a counter and sit down and they bring the food to you)- amazing pizza, pastas and salads at Wolfgang Puck and turkey sandwiches at Earls

When we figured out what we had spent on the dining plan (I kept all of my receipts and added them up), it was less than what we would have spent if we had bought the dining plan. For that reason, we never buy it. But we will take it free anytime! I like the thought of having everything paid for ahead of time, so when we don’t have the dining plan I figure out how much we will spend at each place (menus on the Walt Disney World site), and then do one of four things. 1). I will make little individual cash envelopes for each table service restaurant (with the tip) and more for snacks and counter service meals. I always slightly overestimate so that we have extra left over just in case. But I know my family well and can predict what they will order. OR 2). Instead of carrying that cash around, I will use my magic band to charge everything to the room and every few days I pay off the balance with the cash that I would have brought to the restaurant. OR 3). I buy a Disney gift card (or multiple cards) and use those to pay for our meals. OR 4). I figure out the total cost of food and tips and put that amount on my credit card before I leave home. It saves from having a shocking bill when we get back.

For us, using the cash envelopes or the cash to pay off our room balance every few days worked the best. The advantage of paying off the room balance is not having to carry huge wads of cash around.

It’s kind of freeing not having the dining plan, as you can order what you want and not worry if it’s on the plan. If you have kids 9-12, a lot of times they don’t like what’s on the adult menu and want to go the with the kids mac & cheese or pizza. If you’ve paid for the dining plan, you have to pay the adult price for kids over 9, which is a huge waste of money as the kids meals are much cheaper. I would never pay for the dining plan if we had kids in that age group unless they were adventurous or big eaters.

Oh- another tip we found was that we liked trying the food courts at different hotels. The Contempo Café in The Contemporary is small, but while you’re eating you can watch the monorails whizz by. And the food is not bad either. Art of Animation and Pop Century have huge food courts, with AoA having some different stuff that you won’t find anywhere else. Pop has nightly TV dinners that are actually very good. Fort Wilderness campground has the Trails End Buffet, which was already mentioned, but that same restaurant offers take out. You can get amazing fried chicken dinners with a variety of sides. Or you can takeout a one trip buffet dinner. The containers are big and you could easily fit enough food for 2 people in them. There are a few picnic tables and a playground to eat at, and you can wander over to see the horses and ponies at the stable. They also have the nightly Chip N Dale campfire singalong. You can meet the chipmunks, roast marshmallows (I think its $2-$5 for sticks and marshmallows), sing to fun songs and then watch an outdoor movie. They have a small popcorn wagon and I think they have hot dogs there too.

Have a wonderful trip!! We love WDW and can’t wait to go back!!! :o

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I think the best advice I’ve gotten for eating without the dining plan is to think outside the box. You don’t have to follow any rules! You will need to eat a few times a day, so think about what style and frequency of meal will make you feel the best.

Go ahead and make ADRs, even if you don’t think you’ll eat massive amounts. You can just have dessert at Be Our Guest. You can just have a Cobb Salad at Hollywood Brown Derby. If you want to try a place, you don’t have to eat a whole meal there.

If you discover that you don’t like the structure of ADRs after your first couple of days, you can cancel the ones for future days. But if you like the scheduled breaks in AC, then keep them, and only eat what you’re hungry for at that moment.

Buffets and family-style places are great if you have growing teenagers, but plan those carefully and sparingly. You won’t be hungry for the rest of the day, and you’ll pay the full price if you’re hungry or not. Food comas can make everyone feel yucky when it’s super hot.

Make a list of interesting places that don’t need ADRs in and near each park. Counter Service places, snack carts and lounges of nice restaurants are all good options. Personally, I’d rather eat sushi and potstickers for dinner at Trader Sam’s instead of all-you-can eat at 'Ohana. A bacon and cheese croissant from Les Halles in Epcot France is great fir breakfast.


Are not all food items on the dining plan?

You shouldn’t really need to change much by not having the dining plan. You can still make your adr’s that you’d like, and order what you’d like. You just don’t have to pay as much attention to losing money as you would with the dining plan. The dining plan only locks in an average price per full meal. Whether you lose money or save money depends on what you order on the plan, and if you wind up not using credits, or throwing away food, you lose money. If the dining plan is free, you have to pay full price for your lodging, and also have to pay for tickets that you might not use, so, even if the dp is free, you have to consider if you’re losing money paying full price for the room and tix, instead of getting a better room discount, and getting the tix you’d want. I’d think that for the most part, schedule your princess meal, and whatever else you’d like. Order what you want. You might see that you’re saving money by paying out of pocket. Shouldn’t be a big deal.

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So ours is a little all over the place, but some of these are just a must every time we go.
Day 1 (HS/EP)- L:Sci Fi Dine-In (TS)- decently priced, D: Via Napoli (TS)- can split pizzas
Day 2 (MK)- B: Crystal Palace (TS), L/D: QS late afternoon
Day 3 (HS)- L: Mama Melrose Fantastic Package at 1:00 (TS), QS dinner
Day 4 (AK)- B: Tusker House ROL Pkg 8am (TS), L: light QS meal, D: Rainforest at AK (TS)- we get appetizers and split
Day 5: L: Beaches and Cream (TS)- super reasonable prices, D: QS

We play the QS by ear depending on what we are feeling, but these are out favorites:
MK QS: Columbia Harbor House, Pecos Bill
EP QS: La Cantina de San Angel (Mexico), Yorkshire County Fish Shop (United Kingdom)
HS QS: Fairfax Fare, PizzeRizzo (used to be Pizza Planet)
AK QS: Flame Tree BBQ, Yak and Yeti Local Shops

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I love this. Thank you so much. I like the cash envelope or paying it off every few days.

My daughter and I stayed offsite last year and obviously had no dining plan. We booked a few ADR’s for the trip at 50’s Prime Time as well as TH and Ohana. We loved them! Our other meals we either ate at QS, snacks that were filling or just had lunches that we had made in our room and then brought in with us to the parks. For meals & food that we bought in the park, I had a gift card that I had money on to pay for that ahead of time, so there really wasn’t any out of pocket expense. This summer we have a trip planned and I opted not to get the dining plan, she’s 16 and quite frankly will likely get kids meals over adult meals so it would be a waste of money. I’m already putting money on gift cards to use for meals this trip as well or will charge to the room and pay off with the gift card as @hauntedmansiongirl mentioned. If they announce tomorrow that the dining plan will be free, I may look at adding it since it’ll not cost me anything to have it, but only if I can keep my current hotel reservation (we’ll be at POFQ which rarely has rooms available for that).

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So my husband and I are going without a dining plan. At the recommendation of friends who went last year, we opted out to have more flexibility. We are planning to split quick service lunches and enjoy more of the unique Disney snacks (which people seem to get more excited about) and then do table service at least once a day - usually dinner - as a way to enjoy some of Disney’s best culinary options and as a way to relax a bit each day. This is our current plan for June. We are foodies; so opted for signture options for most of our TS choices:

EP Lunch: QS Sunshine Seasons
MK Snack: various world showcase yummies
EP Dinner: TS Spice Road Table (for illuminations view)
MK Lunch: light lunch at QS Columbia Harbor House
MK Snack: BOG reservation for their soup and a cupcake…dole whip
MK Dinner: TS Citrico’s at Grand Floridian
DHS Lunch: TS Hollywood Brown Derby for the fantasmic dining package
DHS Dinner: QS Rosie’s All American Cafe
AK Lunch: QS Harambe Market
AK Dinner: TS Tiffin’s for the ROL dining package
Last Morning: Kona Cafe breakfast

We actually went through our budget today. I used the menus to estimate, on the high end, what we would spend per person. Then, when we were a little over our food budget target we went back and decided where we would eat to the fullest (appetizers, desserts, cocktails, etc) and where we would reign it in a little. I like having our target amounts for each meal because it gives me a little checkpoint. For example, if we are a little under our estimate for a meal, we can be a little more extravagant later in the trip. If we are a little over, we reign it in a bit in the snack department or decide to forgo the cocktails for an evening,

Anyway, totally using this approach at the suggestion of my friends who went last year. Hoping it will work for us too!

I have a stupid question. I really like the paying off the room balance every few days. So I would assume I would have my credit card tied to it and they really will let me pay cash to pay it off? Will they let you use one of those Disney gift card too pay it off as well?

I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this yet, but we ship ourselves a box of food from Amazon for breakfast and snacks. Even with the new “package delivery fee” it saves us a TON of money on dining.

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I knew you could send a box, but I am not familar with the new package delivery fee. Can you explain?

Yes, you can pay off the room balance every few days in cash- no problem there! I have never used a Disney gift card to pay off a room balance, so I don’t know if you can. I use them straight at the restaurant, so it never hits my room charges.

There is now a $5 fee for every package that you have delivered to the resort. You pick them up at the front desk. We are Canadian, so we send a ton of packages to the resorts. It saves us a ton on shipping costs for things that we can’t get here in Canada.

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You can use a Disney GC at the front desk to pay your room charges, no problem!

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Think even bigger outside the box. Order groceries locally (Publix/Instacart or Garden Grocer) so you can have breakfast in your room. (Cereal, pastries, etc.) When you buy groceries, you can also get perishables (unlike with Amazon), so you can get milk, juice, fruit, etc.

And rather than limit yourself to Disney restaurants, use Yelp to find restaurants that deliver to Disney World. We ordered some amazing pizza from Giordanos one night, and also had a list of other restaurants that delivered: Bahama Breeze, Chilis, Chevys. Eat in your room, especially if you are taking an afternoon break.

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