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Love or Hate Disney Dining Planning? How to Make It Work for You

Do you need help mastering the art of the Disney Dining reservation? I'm ready to help!

Make sure you get the free printable to help you plan and organize your, um, dining plan. (that's a lot of "plan")

The printable can help anyone, even those who are veteran Disney-goers.

But let's cover some basics for those of you who aren't experienced in the exercise of frustration, I mean the joys of Disney dining planning.

Reservations? On Vacation?

You don't HAVE to make dining reservations. You will not starve without them. You will be limited in your choices or waiting a long time if you don't make them.

BUT, dining reservations only apply to sit-down ("table service") restaurants with the exception of breakfast and lunch at Be Our Guest.

If you want to do character dining, you need a reservation.

There may be some exceptions, but you usually only do character dining because you want to see certain characters. That means make a reservation, it'll avoid disappointment. If dining is not a top priority, don't worry about it.

Back To Your Regularly Scheduled Post

So why would anyone need a dining planner?

I often have ideas I might forget if I don't write them down. I won't totally forget, but it doesn't help if I remember AFTER I've made our reservations. The worksheet is designed to help you "remember" any related information and prompt you with basic info while planning.

This is part one, the worksheet, it's more brainstorming than planning.

Part two is the actual planner.

The actual planner is designed to give you a quick reference list when you make your reservations. It's more than, that, though. I've included enough information you should be able to quickly review your plan to check for problems.

Problems could include booking too much in one day or booking reservations that are physically too far apart. This is so easy to do when you come back to "squeeze" a reservation in that won't fit somewhere else or that you just forgot.

The best solution is to start planning ahead so you don't get in a rush. But I know, the best-laid plans... This planner is a backup to taking your time.

How to Use the Disney Dining Planner

Here's how to fill in the planner (the way I designed it, I'll give you ideas for other ways to use it in a minute).

Fill in the restaurant name (couldn't figure that out without me telling you, could you? *sarcasm*). The location is simply meant to be the resort, park, or Disney Springs. This is to allow you to review your plan to make sure you're not running from one end of the World to the other.

Select B[reakfast] L[unch] or D[inner]. Make sure you book the meal you intend. You might think it's lunchtime when the restaurant is still calling it breakfast. Double check as you make your reservation.

This is part of the point of filling this in chronologically (by date and by time). This is another double check to make sure your plan is reasonable (no booking three lunches unless that's what you intended). If you're booking a dessert party or something else, there's a line to write it down.

Check if it's a buffet or character meal (and if you book the exact reservation as planned). The two blank lines are for any other notes.

If you're on the dining plan you may want to note what kind of credits will be used. You could include the discounts you could use (like Disney Visa, Annual Pass, DVC, or Tables in Wonderland). Really, this is any notes your plan needs.

Finally, make sure what you've marked (B L D, buffet, characters, location, etc.) matches what the reservation system shows BEFORE it's time to book.

You might not mind if you get breakfast instead of lunch or vice versa, but I would. I also only want certain meals from some restaurants. Characters don't participate in all meals at some restaurants (but do at others). Make sure you are (or are not) booking a character meal as you intend. Disney is always tweaking and outright changing things.

Check details the day before you need to book, if you can.

How to Misuse Customize the Dining Planner

If you aren't doing reservations but do need to do some planning (whether you just get sick of burgers and fries or need to accommodate a picky eater or any other reason), you can misuse this planner. Here are some suggestions.

There is plenty of free space on the planner for notes if you aren't saving it to record the reservations you actually make. If you just want to organize fast-food type ("quick service") restaurant ideas, unusual or specific snacks, or whatever, go for it.

For meals, record the restaurant name, location, and circle which meal (I still recommend making your list in chronological order). Make some notes, if needed, under the "actual" box. You'll get the same kind of planning quick check this way (I'm making a big deal about recording in chronological order because that's how you'll make sure you aren't planning breakfast at Animal Kingdom and an early lunch at Magic Kingdom---that is quite a commute!).

If you're on the Dining Plan and trying to maximize your quick service meals, you could make a page for a park/location and indicate the best use of credits under "actual." There are lots of blog posts out there about maximizing your Disney Dining Plan so just Google for more information.

Menus for restaurants are available from My Disney Experience (some with prices) but I like using for menus. You can also learn all about the food choices from the Disney Food Blog.

Trying to find all the blue glow cube drinks or want to try every funnel cake cart? You could use it for that. If you're on a dining plan and you want to record what you ate and what it cost (because your Dining Plan receipts won't have a cost---can't go home and see if you got your money's worth!), you could record that.

In Action

I'm working on our dining reservations for our next trip so I printed out the countdown calendar, the dining worksheet, and several copies of the dining planner.

I ended up mis-using two copies of the dining planner and I want to tell you how, as I think it'll be useful for others.

I filled in the worksheet but I just wasn't sure how I wanted to organize our meals. I checked the parks calendar on My Disney Experience for the week before our trip (it isn't available for our trip, yet, I will check it again before I make dining reservations, though). With the Extra Magic Hours being part of my considerations, I decided I needed the dining planner, but I needed to cut it apart.

this is how my brain feels
So, I filled in each table service restaurant and then sliced them apart so I had strips with one restaurant on each. This allowed me to lay them out in various configurations.

Once I decided on a date (and meal, if that was necessary), I entered that information. That means I can fill in my full page version (which I'll use when making my actual reservations) by simply sorting the strips.

I also created a sample park schedule at the same time. I didn't need the complete 3-day planner because I'm not thinking about FastPass+, and parades, etc., yet. This was just a simple, which park, which day, with our dining indicated, as that's what matters now.
using a magnet board for moveable layout

Because dining reservations can be so hard to get, they are one of the things that drives your schedule at Disney.

Even if you don't have reservations, but other food-related considerations, they can make a difference.

On my husband's and my first trip to Disney together, I had just started Weight Watchers. We were on the first ever Dining Plan and that trip was booked last minute so we didn't get top choice reservations (we also didn't have kids so we weren't doing character dining).

I don't remember the reservations being a big deal. I do remember the quick-service being a huge deal. I didn't want to eat hamburgers and fries every day, I had lost five pounds and I did not want it back!

Disney was only just starting to diversify the options in Magic Kingdom and the Dining Plan was so new, it was hard to know what your options were (I was also much younger and less likely to just ask, now I know most other guests are confused, too!).

We spent a lot of time wandering Magic Kingdom looking for something healthier but not boring---I was confused about the dining plan the entire time we were at Epcot. If I knew what I know now (obviously not possible on my first trip since high school), I would have made a list of restaurants with better options for me. Then I could have consulted that instead of stopping to read every menu we passed.

Today, I still don't want to eat hamburgers and fries daily, but my kids are of the chicken nuggets and mac and cheese, set. I'm thinking I'll make a list of options that will make me and the kids happy. I'm not wasting time reading menus.

Since something like this, what I like and the kids will eat, is personal, there's not going to be a ready-made list out there. If you have dietary considerations, allergies, or picky-eaters, you'll need to figure out what works for you. The Dining Planner can work for that. Use it however you want.

Have You Seen This Guide?

I've been reading the Disney Food Blog for several years, now. However, I just purchased their Guide to WDW Dining, click here to view more details. If you're going to put serious thought into your on-property dining, I highly recommend getting it.

You can find the basic information for free on the Internet but you're going to spend hours and hours hunting it down. This is a much faster way to get that information and a great place to reference once you're actually planning.

If you're going to Disney somewhat often (every few years) you should try this guide out at least once. It's updated every year so you can get the most up to date information. There are also additional dining planning forms available with the guide. Those include some forms I won't be creating such as a dining budget calculator.

The DFB forms are very different from mine so I recommend you check them out. Planning styles are pretty personal so having choices is always a good thing.

Here's one last reason I'm recommending this guide. Although it's an ebook, you might learn something from the guide you won't find on an "official" Disney site. I did! Disney hasn't updated the dining information on My Disney Experience for some of the restaurants. I knew they had updated some, so I assumed they had updated all with similar change dates.

Not so.

In my case, this was one reservation my kids expected and would probably have a fit over. Thankfully I found out about it and thankfully I found out far enough in advance. I had to re-do my dining plan just because we were going to have breakfast instead of lunch.

For the most part, getting or not getting a reservation isn't a huge deal. For this one reservation, if we had thought we had it and then found out we didn't, it would have been a huge disappointment.

Avoid Dining Reservation Frustration

The dining planner and worksheet is combined with the other core printables so there's just one file. Use any of the "subscribe" forms on this blog to get your copy.

Use the planner to at least gather some information. No matter what kind of vacation you want to have, knowing how Disney dining "works" will allow you to have reasonable expectations, even if you can't have exactly what you want.

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