Tips for Doing Disney with Toddlers (Part 2)

6 Nov

If I haven’t completely lost you thus far, here’s another batch of “going to Disney with toddler” tips!  Totally feels like “vacation,” huh?  It is… it’s just vacation that you have to spend hours planning, prepping and booking.

Yesterday, I wrote about the prep work that went into the trip, here’s some thoughts on the stuff that happens once you arrive.

Disney Dining PlanPlutoGoofy

This was our third trip using the Disney Dining Plan (DDP).  Every trip, I get all excited about the possibility of having an “all inclusive” Disney experience and convince myself that the dining plan is going to make my life easier.  Spoiler: it never does, and I hope I remember that with more conviction for our next trip.  I think we’d do better sans dining plan.

We usually purchase the “standard” dining plan. It includes a snack, a meal at a counter service restaurant and a meal at a table service restaurant per night of your vacation.  You have to be more than three years old to participate in the dining plan (ergo this trip included Lucas and not Ben), and you can’t only order the dining plan for a portion of your party (ergo we couldn’t have it for Tim and I without also paying for Lucas).

Let me talk about each of these meal options individually:

Snacks: These are the most innocuous and vague offerings on the DDP menu. You can redeem your snack credit for a bottle of water (Although if you did, you’d be a dummy. Water is free at all counter service restaurants), or you can redeem your snack credit for a giant ice cream sundae.  Basically, anything under $5 (and some things under $6) sold in the parks or resorts (both in stores, snack carts and restaurants) will likely qualify for the snack credit.

We were there for 6 nights and had 18 snack credits to use for our family.  If you aren’t staying in a DVC villa and planning to eat breakfast in your room (which we were), snack credits would be ideal for breakfast foods (bagel, muffin, smoothie, etc…).  It would help stretch the DDP to cover all three meals each day, and ensure that you aren’t using your snack credits for junk.

But, we were in a villa and didn’t need to use snack credits for bagels.  That essentially left MickeyPretzelus with treat options on which to spend our snack credits – ice cream, slushie drinks, soft pretzels, cookies, etc… All food that I wouldn’t normally be offering to my toddlers because toddler + sugary treat + Disney madness = burned out parents and tantruming toddler.

Here’s my recommendations to circumvent that and still get a good bang for your buck:

  • Mickey soft pretzels were a must for our family. Lucas would have gladly eaten one per day — and more or less did since he wasn’t eating much else.  They were big enough to share, helped fill up tummies with some degree of staying power and were probably a better choice than their super sugary counterparts.
  • Popcorn proved a good choice. It took a long time to finish a container which helped allay the frustration of stroller confinement.  Also, lower in sugar and the corresponding sugar fallout.
  • Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom both have a few locations were you can get awesome fruit offerings for your snack credit.  Specifically, Harambe Village in Animal Kingdom has beautiful looking fresh, prepped fruit; while Auntie Gravity’s Galactic Goodies offers smoothies in the Magic Kingdom.
  • Consider using your snack credits for souvenirs.  We had 9 snack credits left on our second to last day in the parks.  We spent five of them on treats to bring home from places like Main Street Bakery in Magic Kingdom and Karamell-Kuche in Epcot’s World Showcase (Germany).  This way, we’ve had small tastes of Disney to share with the boys as they reacclimate to life at home!

Counter Service Meals: Counter service meals can be used at any quick dining restaurant throughout the parks, Downtown Disney and your hotels.  Essentially, you order at a counter and (typically) are given your food on a tray to bring to your table. The dining plan gives you a drink, an entree and a dessert per counter service credit.  Some tips:

  • For the most part, you can’t get creative with substitutions.  If you want an appetizer instead of a dessert, most cast members won’t allow it.  There is, however, a bit of flexibility.  You can swap the sides that come with your entree (for example: french fries) for other choices if they are available on the menu.  This was a huge help to us with the kids.  I was able to swap Lucas’ sides from things he wouldn’t like (i.e. broccoli, carrots, coleslaw) or things we didn’t really want him having (i.e. french fries) to things that would be welcomed by both boys – typically yogurt or fruit.  I also requested that all his “dessert” items at counter service restaurants be fruit.  Figuring, he could share a bite or two of whatever Tim and I received as desserts.
  • Take advantage of counter service restaurants that don’t require you to balance a meal for four on a small tray.  Winding your way from the counter to your table while balancing a tray containing three entrees, three desserts and three drinks is an artform, and one not worth indulging in frequently. Several counter service restaurants deliver the food directly to your table. We experienced this at Be Our Guest (Magic Kingdom) and Wolfgang Puck Express (Downtown Disney).

Table Service Meals: Think of these like your traditional restaurant, food is ordered from and delivered by waiters, and tips are required above and beyond what you’ve already paid for the DDP.  Tips can be added to your bill and paid for using your Disney Magic Band — essentially adding the cost to your room bill back at the hotel.  Here’s a few toddler friendly tips:

  • If you have a little one (under age 3) not on the DDP, they will be allowed to eat from your plate at no cost.  WhisperingCanyonIf you are eating at a buffet, typically character dining experiences, they can have a plate of food at no cost.  If you want to order them a meal, it will be added to your bill and need to be paid for separately.  We never found a need to order a separate meal for Benjamin as there was more than enough food to share.
  • Pick restaurants that are fun for toddlers!  Whispering Canyon Cafe (ask for ketchup and you’ll get every bottle in the restaurant) was a fan favorite of our family. Character meals and other themed restaurants (Sci Fi Dine In, 50’s Primetime Cafe) can offer awesome distractions for tired toddlers who need to sit through a sometimes lengthy meal.
  • Check the menus ahead of time. Several restaurants pride themselves on serving healthy foods for kids, and the choices were not “Lucas-friendly.”  For example, he isn’t a huge fan of “Mickey Meatloaf,” “Tofu meatballs,” or “Seared Mahi Mahi Fingers.” Thankfully, Benjamin isn’t old enough to be picky and he ate Lucas’ meals most days.  Lucas, on the other hand, ate the aforementioned giant Mickey pretzel and PBJ that I had preordered via grocery delivery.
  • Again, no substitutions allowed — including asking for appetizers to be served in place of your entree.  This is where the DDP and I have some falling out.  I like to order apps as meals.  Not allowed at Disney, even if the appetizer costs less than all entrees on the menu.
  • Take your desserts to go!  There is just too much dessert (did you ever think I’d say that?) on the DDP.  Don’t hesitate to ask for yours to be packed up and bring it back to your room for an evening treat or even to bring home after the trip.  We even ordered fruit for dessert one night and ate it for breakfast the following morning!

In general, it’s the lack of flexibility and proliferation of treats that makes me crazy on the DDP.  I also don’t like needing to be constantly mindful of how many credits we have left, and where we would be getting the best “bang for our buck” in spending them.  We end up using credits on things we wouldn’t have spent money on in the first place, and while it is nice to not have to worry about how much money we are spending, I’m not confident it is the right fit for our family for future trips.

If you are worried about making the dining plan worth it — or checking to see if ordering a la carte would be a better deal for your family, there are online calculators that can help you figure it out.  We didn’t play with it too much but I’ve seen this one recommended.

…. phew.  Are you tipped out?  A few more thoughts yet to come, but that’s all for today.  More Disney word spew coming soon.



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