keys to the kingdom : food for thought

Pssst: Be sure to check out all of our updated tips, here.

Hey all you wonderful people! Welcome back to our second official installment of our Keys to the Kingdom series here at The Handmade Home. If you have absolutely no idea what I’m rambling about, please feel free to click on over to read our official introduction, and how+when+where to stay.

Today’s topic: Food for thought. The lowdown on the dining plan, some of our best ideas for saving a little, and our fave spots to eat throughout the parks. Along with some useful allergy information, we hope we’ll be addressing a few questions you families out there on the verge of future planning, might be wanting to ask. So, without further ado, the most popular question:


The Dining Plan: What’s the big deal? + Is it worth it? 

Going on what we’ve previously established with staying on property, this is yet another perk, and available to those who choose to stay on site. 

It’s always the big question. I’ve helped many a family plan their Disney trip, and I must say, time after time, I’ve recommended it. You may have heard that once upon a time, it was MUCH better when it included free appetizers, tips, and a few other perks. BUT, at the end of the day it’s still absolutely glorious to be able to go on vacay and not worry about paying for a meal…because it’s already taken care of. Especially when meals can average around $15 a person for a burger, fries, and soft drink. {No. Thanks.}

As always, there are several different options when it comes to the Dining Plan (check them out for the most current options) but I would personally recommend doing the Magic Your Way Package Plus Dining. That would give you your park hopper passes for as many days as you will be there (more on park hoppers verses single day tickets later) plus one “quick service meal”, one sit down “table service” meal, and one snack per day per person. Believe me… in the end you will be glad you did it. It will save you money in the long run and it’s so nice to be able to grab a snack mid-afternoon just when you think you’re about to crash. Mickey Mouse Ice Cream Bar anyone?  

For our family, we save money by doing the Disney Dinning Plan. My sweet CPA hubby has run the numbers on this several times, because let’s be honest, it’s a lot of money, up front. We’ve found that if you will be enjoying a character meal or two (which if you have small children you should really consider) or you will be eating a sit down meal daily, this is the way to go.

The Disney dinning plan is not available for children under 3. Younger children are, however, allowed to share food with other members of your party. We always had more than enough food to share.

On our vacay this last September, we watched the WDW website for deals, and as many of you already know you can do, scored the dining plan for free. I think I’m remembering correctly, that this was the plus dining package…The same package Cristin referred to above. This little freebie of a gem probably saved us about 13-1400 dollars on our vacay.

As Jillina mentioned above, this is not available for Children under 3. So, we used the dining plan for the four of us, and then Malone was free to share off of our plates. But here’s the best part: When ordering, Jamin would mention that we had our two year old in tow, and needed an extra plate, etc. The Disney Staff, of course, goes above and beyond in everything, so they always gave us an extra meal for free. Basically, they upgraded us. We had more food than we knew what to do with…I just wish someone had warned me about the cupcakes that came with every single adult meal. Ah. Ma. Zing. I walked about ten miles a day, and in turn, still probably gained a couple of pounds from those cream filled delights.

Fave places to eat: and why? 

Cristin is by far, the expert on Disney Dining, and covered it all. Heck, she’s pretty much an expert on food all together, so I let her take this one. I put stars next to the places we {Jillina and I} also experienced, along with my own little two cents worth of recommendations in italics, but this girl knows her stuff. Take it away, Cristin!

Places I recommend : The best way I know to begin when it comes to restaurant recommendations for Disney, is to go by park.

I’ll preface this by saying there is an art to eating in Disney World. If you walk away from this with nothing else, walk away with this: First things first:


As in 180 days in advance. How do you know what you will be in the mood for on a certain day of your vacation? Well, you don’t really. But you can’t let that keep you from being as prepared as possible. These restaurants book up as far out in advance as possible. Trust me. And there are some really great places that you’re going to want to try.

So take my advice:

• Go ahead and make a calendar for your stay. Map it out with what parks you plan on visiting on what days (if you’re staying within Disney World, I would recommend adjusting which parks you visit on what day based upon the Magic Hours schedule for that day). But also keep in mind that if the restaurant you are wanting for a certain day is booked, you may have to be flexible and move some of your dates around so that you don’t miss out. And don’t be scared to spend a day at a park and then “hop” on over to another one for dinner followed by their fireworks show. That’s a win/win in my book. {Ashley’s two cents: This is where park hopper passes came in handy for us with three little ones: we could eat in Epcot with the princesses and then venture to The Magic Kingdom for the fireworks, etc. We found that we couldn’t plan too much ahead, because kids are, well, kids.}

Without further ado, lets’ start with Epcot. Why Epcot? Because my family prefers their food to the other parks thanks to the World Showcase. Their table service restaurants are really unmatched by the other parks, and they offer SUCH a variety.
Favorite Quick Service Places in Epcot

• Sunshine Season Food Fair – The Land Pavilion. This is a food court type set up which makes it easier to please your entire group.  Plus they offer a different type selection of fast foods such as specialty salads, sandwiches, breads, desserts, and soups.

• La Cantina de San Angel – this quick service spot is located in the World Showcase in Mexico.  Obviously, they serve up Mexican cuisine such as nachos, burritos, etc.

Favorite Table Service Places in Epcot

• Coral Reef Restaurant – Located beside the Nemo and Friends ride.  The inside of this restaurant is basically a huge fish tank.  Every table in the place has a view of the extra large tank making it easy to entertain your little ones while enjoying their yummy food.

• Le Cellier Steakhouse – located in the World Showcase in Canada.  This place is one of my top two favorite places to eat while in Disney World. They have wonderful steaks and the yummiest Cheddar Cheese Soup! Mmmmm…..

• Tutto Italia Ristorante – located in the World Showcase in Italy.  You guessed it- they have delicious Italian food. Pastas, breads, the whole nine.

• San Angel Inn – located in the World Showcase in Mexico.  I’ve put this spot on my favorites list not because of their food, but because of the ambiance.  The food is not your typical Americanized Mexican Food.  It’s way more authentic, so if you’re into that, then awesome. HOWEVER, the set up in this restaurant is so unique and fun, you truly feel like you are in a marketplace in Mexico. Not to mention the kid friendly ride inside the restaurant making it perfect for keeping the kids entertained while waiting on a table, food, or check.

• Teppan Edo – located in the World Showcase in Japan. This is like a Hibachi Grill where the food is prepared on a giant flat grill in front of you.

Best Character Mealin Epcotper the Mills fam: Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall. Get the mushroom stuffed Ravioli, and you can thank me (Ashley) later. Emerson was able to see Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Belle and her very favorite, Ariel. I teared up on the trip, over her excitement. Even the boys were fans. Worth every single moment, in our book. Couldn’t recommend it more.

Favorite Snack Places in Epcot

• Fountain View Ice Cream – located in Future World. They serve Edy’s ice cream sundaes. Enough Said : )

Favorite Quick Service Places in the Magic Kingdom

• Casey’s Corner – this is located at the end corner of Main Street.  It’s a straight up hot dog joint… so if that’s not your thing then skip it.  But if it is, these dogs and fries are pretty tasty.

*Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe – located in Tomorrow Land, this is set up more like a food court with several options such as burgers, salads, soups, chicken, etc. Plus, there is a pretty neat looking robot that entertains the kids in the seating area.

 *Tortuga Tavern – located near the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.  This quick service serves decent Mexican food if you’re looking to venture from burgers and fries

Favorite Table Service Places in the Magic Kingdom

• * Tony’s Town Square – located off Main Street.  This little Italian restaurant serves up some yummy pastas and is decorated like the Italian restaurant from Lady and the Tramp.

Cinderella’s Royal Table – located inside the castle.  I chose this as a favorite for two reasons.  First off, it’s a restaurant INSIDE Cinderella’s castle!  How cool is that?  Secondly, I come from a family of ALL girls including four little girls who literally jumped for joy when meeting the princesses that meet and greet you at this character table service spot.  Look for Cinderella herself, the Fairy Godmother, Snow White, Ariel, Aurora, Jasmine, etc.  Great photo ops available and the characters are always “in character” which makes it extra magical : ) {Be prepared to give up two meal creds for this one, or to pay out of pocket. But some things may be worth exchanging.}

Favorite Snacks in the Magic Kingdom

• * Main Street Bakery – located on Main Street.  Seriously folks, this is the place to go. Their cinnamon roles are HUGE and melt-in-your-mouth yummy.  I’m drooling just thinking about them! Their cakes, cupcakes, muffins, and large cookies aren’t too bad either : ) This is such a nice change up from ice cream bars, and yes it counts as one snack!

Aloha Isle – located in Adventureland.  If you like Dole Whips, you are going to LOVE their Pineapple flavored yogurt and juice.  Sound weird?  Trust me.  If it’s hot outside and you need a pick-me-up, this is the place for you.

Favorite Quick Service Places in Hollywood Studios

Backlot Express – Backlot.  Set up like an outdoor food court which provides a lot of different options to please the fam.

* Pizza Planet – Backlot.  This Toy Story themed place is super cute with pretty tasty pizza and salads. {True to the movie, get ready to spend a while there with an all out arcade, that we basically had to pry our children away from-just be prepared}

Starring Rolls Café – Sunset Boulevard. Again, like an outdoor food court with several places to choose from.

Favorite Table Service Places in Hollywood Studios

• *50’s Prime Time Café – Hollywood Boulevard. If you have older kids they will appreciate this 50’s style restaurant with black and white TV’s at each table and the waiters in full character.  The food is more home-style such as pot roast and chicken pot pie.

Sci-Fi Dine In Theater – Backlot. I’m putting this one on the list for ambiance specifically.  Each party sits in a “vehicle” in a large room set up like a drive in theater.  They show cute clips from movies and cartoons making this one a pleaser for the kiddos.  The menu to me is not the best, so you have to decide if ambiance is enough to get you in the door here.

Favorite Snacks in Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Scoops – Hollywood Boulevard. Yummy sundaes!

Favorite Quick Service Places in Animal Kingdom

Pizzafari – Discovery Island.  We always enjoy their Italian Sandwiches and Cesar Salads at this Pizzeria.  Oh yeah, and the pizza isn’t bad either : )

• * Flame Tree BBQ – Discovery Island.  This one made the list due to my dad’s obsession with barbecue!

Favorite Table Service Places in Animal Kingdom

Rainforest Café – located at the entrance.  This is just like the Rainforest Cafe you have heard of/seen before.

Places to eat at NOT located inside a park

• California Grill– located at the top of the Contemporary Hotel. You can get there by hopping on the monorail from Magic Kingdom or Epcot. I had to mention this one because this is by far my FAVORITE PLACE TO EAT IN ALL OF DISNEY WORLD!! The food is delicious, and a reservation is an absolute must. The highlight of this place is the outdoor balcony, which overlooks the Magic Kingdom. Plan your reservation just right so that you are there during or right before/after the nightly fireworks show for the Magic Kingdom.  If it’s a nice night out, it’s hard to beat watching the show from the top of the Contemporary!

Ashley’s {debbie downer} two cents: Loved California Grill, and the food was amazing. I’m just not sure that’s what we were there for, with three young kids in tow. They didn’t really enjoy it, and we all know how that goes…just be prepared to give up two food creds {grilled cheeses @ 35 x3 ?!?!?!?!!} and entertain your kids, because it’s not very fun for them. But the steak + sushi, I must say, almost made it all worth it. If you can pawn off those sweet babes with grandma and grandpa, go for it! ;}

Chef Mickey’s One of our favorite character meals located in the Contemporary, as well. A great buffet kind of breakfast, where you get to meet Mickey and friends…our kids LOVED it. 

Please also note that Downtown Disney has some great stops as well, that are not covered in the dining plan. Jamin and I splurged one rainy afternoon, and took the kids shopping there for their souvies. We ate at T-Rex, per Cristin’s recommendation. It’s like the Dinosaur version of Rainforest Cafe, where Dinosaurs come to life via animatronics. A great stop while on your vacay, and great for a down kind of afternoon.

A note on food allergies

Our daughter has life threatening food allergies, and if you have someone in your group who also has food allergies I totally understand the fear of trusting and relying on others to feed that child every day. I did a lot of research on food allergies and Disney before our trip. I agree with most people, Disney really is the most allergy-friendly place to visit.

When you make your dinning reservations you’ll be asked if anyone has any food allergies. Your information is put into the system and a special ticket is given to your server when you arrive at each table service meal, notifying them of the allergy. The standard procedure is then for the chef who will be making your food to come to your table and discuss the allergy. I was very impressed with the personal attention and the accommodations made to make sure our daughter had a safe meal. Each chef went out of the way to find food that our daughter could have at each restaurant, even if that meant they suggested and made something that wasn’t on the menu.

We went to Chef Mickey’s for breakfast one day. The chef walked with me through the line showing me which items were safe. There were SO many more options than I expected them to have. However, wanting to make sure that our daughter didn’t miss anything he also insisted, yes insisted, on making her a special dairy and soy free mickey mouse pancake. Which she loved. We found this same experience time and time again.

I did feel that Quick service meals were a bit more difficult, just due to the lines of people also wanting to get their meals, and my own feeling of holding others up. When at Quick Service meals, you will be handed a book full of ingredients in each dish or a cast member will look up items for you and answer any questions. It does take some time to find food if you have multiple food allergies, like my daughter.

Believe me, I totally understand the fear of life threatening food allergies and yes, it made me pause and think, is going to Disney even really worth the risk? We packed our epi pens, and a small arsenal of allergy friendly snacks, and were diligent about asking questions and reading labels. I hope you find Disney to be as accommodating as we did!

That about wraps up our dining plan/restaurant/recommendations for our food for thought segment. Where are some of your favorite places to eat at Disney? What, in your opinion, were some of the best Character meals? Any other advice you want to include, or questions you have? Spill it below!

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Responses to keys to the kingdom : food for thought

  1. Lesley T says:

    We visit Disney twice a year and have five children, AND do this on a small budget. Because of the tickets we purchase, we are not elligible for the Dining plan. Breakfast: eat before going into the park (sometimes on the way!) Lunch: we pack our lunch in a large soft-sided cooler, a bring a box of capri suns. The cost of the locker to store the cooler is worth it for the savings. The lockers are generously sized, you can google for exact dimensions. In the Magic Kingdom, we go to the top of the train station (just above the lockers) to eat. There are tables and chairs up there, and you get a nice view of the parade if you time it properly. Dinner: eat a meal in the park at the restaurant of choice. By this time of day, we are ready to relax and have a lesiurely meal.

  2. Mila says:

    Love this. Can’t wait to take our own triparoo!

  3. Tamie says:

    Great tips! The dining plan is a great way to go if you have kids, it definitely pays for itself with kids. Once they get o the “adult” price range though, not so much, unless you’ve got a rockstar eater on your hands. FYI LeCellier is now a two dining credit meal. It is a great place though. We do it for lunch and pay out of pocket. Disney has no issues with you sharing meals, so consider that option too. We use our counter service dining credits to get two big breakfast platters and share amongst the 4 of us.

  4. HannahJo says:

    Just a quick hint – We have done the dining plan ONE time and it does seem like such a great deal, but honestly… WEHAVENEVEREATENSOMUCHINOURLIVES!
    It was kind of a chore every time our dad would announce “time for a snack”…sigh…. okay. …

    We found it to be really tedious and slowed us down a lot. Keeping in mind that we were not little kids – we had my mother, father, and two teenagers. We decided not to go that route again because we couldn’t make it worth it and eat all of the food.

  5. HannahJo says:

    and Prime Time cafe truly is the best place ever – snag reservations fast! The waiters are in character the whole time and it is like dinner AND a show! (we once had a waiter that looked and acted JUST like Jerry Lewis. WHAT?! Hysterical! Worth every penny).

  6. Heather says:

    I have multiple food allergies so taking that food leap of faith was really hard for me. Anyone with allergies in the family knows the old “Oh, no, There isn’t any of THAT in the meal” followed by misery. However, Disney far surpassed my expectations. I was able to eat and eat well during my entire trip. Being pulled aside to talk to the chef at EVERY meal got old (flashing arrow above my head saying ALLERGY LADY), but they always gave 100% to make sure I was safe and satisfied. I did have ONE service lady at the All Star Music Resort cafeteria give me bad information, but when I contacted Disney about it, they were really nice and promised that they would find the lady to assure it didn’t happen again.

  7. Amanda says:

    We just made last minute plans to go to Disney World at the beginning of June, and I am a nervouse wreck about all of this “make reservations” talk…and, since our daughter has a milk, soy and shellfish allergy, it sounds like we need to go the restaurant route…any suggestions?

  8. Delaney says:

    Until I worked at Disney (circa 2006) I always felt as if Disney was mostly burgers, pizza and french fries. It defiantly has it’s share of those, but Disney also has healthy options as well, and reasonably priced. Located within each park there is a snack stand area selling fruit, veggies, baked potatoes and even corn-on-the-cob (selections may be park specific). If you’re in the Magic Kingdom look for this area in Liberty Square (across from the Riverboat). In Epcot this is in the World Showcase between China and Germany. In Hollywood Studios this is down Sunset Blvd, across from the Fantasmic entrance and before Rockin’ Rollercoaster. In the Animal Kingdom it is in Africa before the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safari. Because when you’re running through the park, a pear or a baked potato can sometimes sit better than a Pizza!