6 Perks of Staying on Disney Property

This week I was speaking with someone about my next trip to Disney and she wanted to know why Disney Vacation Club is so much better than the other accommodations located near Disney World. It’s a valid question when you consider that some non-Disney resorts are as close,  if not closer, to the parks than a few of the Disney properties. The truth is though, when you break it down to the pros and cons of staying at Disney versus an Orange Lake or Bonnet Creek, you’re probably going to end up favoring a Disney property due to these 6 major perks:

1. Transportation to Disney Property

We think that this one is huge if you’re flying into Orlando. It’s not something that we take advantage of (we’re FloridaWilderness Lodge Resort residents), but it can make a big difference to your travel plans. The magic begins as soon as you get off the plane. Got lots of luggage? Don’t worry about it! Skip baggage claim and head straight to Disney’s Magical Express shuttle bus. That’s right, Disney will grab your bags for you and deliver them to your room. You don’t have to worry about the cost/hassle of waving down a taxi or arranging for a rental car. The shuttle service is complimentary for Disney guests.

When your Disney vacation comes to a close, Disney can also take care of airline check-in for your return flight. It’s one of those small conveniences that allows you to become fully immersed in the vacation experience without stressing about responsibilities.

2. Transportation to the Theme Parks

The first time we ever stayed on Disney property (~1996?) we were blown away by the convenience of getting around using Disney’s transportation systems. Whether by bus, monorail, or boat, you can move quickly from one place to another with minimal effort.

Because we’re Florida residents, we usually drive rather than fly to Disney World. Many DVC owners end up driving, or they rent a car so that they can go out to buy groceries, or see other Orlando attractions, etc. If this is the case, you’re still welcome to use the Disney transportation options listed above. However, as a guest at a Disney property, there is no added cost for driving from the resort to the park if you choose to do so. However, if you stay off-site and drive to the park, there will be a $17/day parking fee. Ouch!

3. Extra Hours at the Park

Every day one of the Disney theme parks opens 1 hour early and remains open 2 hours after the usual closing for the exclusive use of guests staying on Disney property. This can be a great opportunity to beat the rush to popular attractions, or hop on rides that you might have missed during the day when the lines were longer. The way we see it, if you’re making the trip to Disney World, you probably want to make the most of it. Extended park hours will help you do that.

4. Dining Packages and Villa Kitchens

Salad at Disney WorldAh, that brings us to the famous Disney dining packages. Some vacationers love that this is an option for guests staying on Disney property. Others claim that it’s just not worth it. Frankly, we’ve never found them beneficial, but it’s all very personal. You can learn more about Disney dining packages here. Many DVC members don’t opt for the dining plans because the villas come with a kitchen that can be used to prepare meals on a family budget. Eating out can be expensive, and Disney dining plans don’t exactly offer a way around that, but one thing is for sure: the dining plans are definitely a huge convenience over planning and/or cooking meals multiple times each day.

5. Advance Booking of Disney FastPass+

A few weeks ago we did a comprehensive post on the FastPass+ system, and the major perk for guests staying on Disney property is that they can book their FP+ 60 days in advance of their visit. That’s double the typical 30-day booking window. While this might not be the kind of benefit that makes or breaks your accommodation plans, it’s just another way that Disney enables guests to get the most out of their visit.

6. More Magic

Our vacation and travel experiences have taught us to never underestimate the intangibles. There’s something wonderful about being greeted at the door with a friendly “Welcome home!” In our experience, the service and interaction with staff has always been outstanding at Disney resorts. That’s not to say that other resorts do a bad job –to the contrary, we’ve had some very positive experiences off-site– but the Disney team truly goes the extra mile.

Then there’s also all of the little touches that immerse you completely in the Disney magic.  The resorts are always themed down to the smallest details. The hidden Mickeys are lots of fun for all ages to search for and discover. You just won’t get the same kind of experience at off-site resorts. If all you want is a place to lay your head after a long day at the park, maybe this isn’t such a significant factor to you. However, kids definitely appreciate the feeling that they’re “at Disney World” for the whole trip. Whether you have kids or not, you’ll appreciate that you’re not just staying at another hotel, you’re staying at Disney. It’s a big difference that you need to experience for yourself at least once.

Optimize Time in the Park with FastPass+

Frequent visitors may already be aware, but Disney’s original FastPass concept was vanquished in January of 2014 when the new FastPass+ system went into effect. The FastPass+ is based on the same principle as the old system: reduce wait times for attractions through reservations. That’s  a concept everyone can agree on, and the best part is that FastPass+ is 100% FREE to any guest with a Magic Band or Magic Your Way Pass. As a DVC member, you’ll receive your Magic Band at check-in or have it mailed to you in advance, so all you need is the park ticket of your choice.

How it Works

FastPass+ allows you to basically reserve a spot at 3 attractions for each member of your party. Children under 3 do not need FastPass+. Using My Disney Experience or the FastPass+ kiosks, you can choose from suggested reservation times, or you can pick your own from a list of what is available. Your reservation is a 1-hour window during which you can board the ride/attraction with a minimal wait time. No other FastPass+ reservations can fall within that window. So, if you’re scheduled for Space Mountain between 3pm and 4pm, you can’t get a FastPass+ for the Haunted Mansion from 3:30-4:30. Also keep in mind that with FastPass+ you should still expect a 5-10 minute wait, but this will vary. Sometimes you will walk right on.

Plan to Plan Ahead

With the old Fastpass system, visitors would get to the park, sprint on over to the FastPass-eligible attraction of their choice, grab the reservation ticket, and then enjoy the rest of the park until the designated ride time. The problem with this was that by mid-day the most popular Fastpass attractions would be all booked up. FastPass+ addresses this problem in a few different ways, but the main one to keep in mind is that it rewards those who plan ahead.

As a DVC member staying on-site at a Disney resort, you can log into your My Disney Experience account online (or using the mobile app) and make your FastPass+ selections up to 60 days in advance of your visit. Your park tickets must already be purchased and linked to your My Disney Experience Account in order for this to work.

If you’d like, you could skip the planning stage and just make your FastPass+ selections at a kiosk in the park when you arrive. Keep in mind that the reservation slots of your choice may not be available. The kiosks can also get crowded, particularly in the morning. To us, that all amounts to wasted time at the park. That’s why we recommend planning ahead in order to optimize your time in the park.

You’ll be able to make up to 3 FastPass+ selections for each day of you visit the park, but they must all be within the same park. Yes, unfortunately, this is a major impediment to park hoppers, but it doesn’t completely count you out (more on this later). You won’t be able to use the FastPass+ more than once on the same attraction, and not all attractions are eligible. There are even some restrictions on eligible attractions. Epcot and Hollywood Studios have “Tier 1″ and “Tier 2″ FastPass+ attractions. You still get a total of 3 FastPass+ selections, but you can only pick 1 “Tier 1″ attraction per day. Your 2 remaining selections must be chosen from the “Tier 2″ list of attractions. All of this would be a lot to process as you enter the park. That’s where the planning comes in.

What You Need to Plan

So, you know which parks you’re doing on which days of your vacation. You want to see as many attractions as possible and spend a minimal amount of time waiting in line. You’re armed with a Magic Band, logged into your My Disney Experience account, and ready to make some FastPass+ selections. First thing you need to know is which attractions are FastPass+ eligible, so here they are:

Magic Kingdom

It’s a small world
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Enchanted Tales with Belle
Haunted Mansion
Jungle CruiseHaunted Mansion FastPass+
Mad Tea Party
Main Street Electrical Parade
Meet Anna and Elsa at Princess Fairytale Hall
Meet Ariel at Her Grotto
Meet Cinderella and Rapunzel at Princess Fairytale Hall
Meet Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater
Meet Tinker Bell at Town Square Theater
Mickey’s PhilharMagic
Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor
Peter Pan’s Flight
Pirates of the Caribbean
Deven Dwarfs Mine Train
Space Mountain
Splash Mountain
The Barnstormer
The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Tomorrowland Speedway
Under the Sea Journey of The Little Mermaid
Wishes nighttime spectacular

Epcot

Tier 1

IllumiNations

Living with the Land

Soarin’

Test Track

Tier 2 

Captain EO

Epcot Character Spot

Journey Into Imagination

Maelstrom

Mission: SPACE

Spaceship Earth

The Seas with Nemo and Friends

Turtle Talk with Crush

FastPass+

 

Hollywood Studios

Tier 1

Beauty and the Best

Fantasmic!

The Great Movie Ride

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster

Toy Story Mania

Tier 2

Disney Jr. Live on Stage

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular

Lights, Motors, Action!

MuppetVision 3D

Star Tours

The American Idol Experience

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Voyage of the Little Mermaid

In Animal Kingdom

DinosaurFastPass
Expedition Everest
Festival of the Lion King
Finding Nemo – The Musical
It’s Tough to be a Bug!
Kali River Rapids
Kilimanjaro Safaris
Meet Favorite Disney Pals at Adventurers Outpost
Primeval Whirl

The next thing you’re going to want are park maps. It just wouldn’t make any sense to schedule Fantasmic, followed by the Extreme Stunt Show, and then head over to Tower of Terror. Unless you REALLY love walking. Realistically you’ll want to make sure that you’re traveling the least amount of distance between attractions. Do as many nearby attractions as you can before taking advantage of your FastPass+ window. To help you with that, you’ll want these nifty customizable Disney parks maps. If you’re not sure which attractions should take priority, check out these tips and touring strategies. Another great resource is the computer-optimized touring plan tool available from touringplans.com. Naturally, the worth of any touring strategy is determined by personal preference, so make sure you develop one of your own.

FastPass+ Tips, Quirks, and Restrictions

You’re not actually limited to only 3 FastPass+ selections; that’s just the limit on how many your can book in advance. Once all 3 of your FastPass+ selection windows have closed, you can make additional FastPass+ selections by visiting a kiosk. At this point you will only be able to make one FastPass+ selection at a time. This also applies across different parks. So you could schedule 3 FastPass+ selections in Magic Kingdom and then head over to Hollywood Studios after lunch and visit a FastPass+ kiosk there to make a selection. It’s not very convenient, but that’s what is available.

Even though the reservation window is 1 hour, Disney gives a bit a leeway. You can usually get in line 5 minutes before your official reservation, or 15 minutes afterward. Personally, we’re rather cautious and prefer not to rely on this extra time. However, it’s nice to know that you may not be forced to forfeit your FastPass+ selection if you get stuck in a line a bit longer than expected.

Whether you love or hate the new system, FastPass+ seems here to stay. It has a lot of great benefits when used properly, and it can definitely help you do more with your time in parks. Do you have any tips or unique opinions about the FastPass+? Let us know in the comments sections below!

 

Disney Dining Plans Explained

Disney is famous for making things easy on DVC members. The Disney Dining Plans,  however, are unfortunately an exception. You can get great deals and great food with Disney Dining Plans, but finding the right plan for you can be a bit confusing. It takes some persistence and concentration, but we’re here to break it down and make things simpler.

What are Disney Dining Plans?

Basically, Disney Dining Plans are pre-purchased vouchers accepted at certain restaurants on Disney property. Each member of your family is granted a certain number of credits per night based upon the dining plan you purchased. Instead of paying a check at the conclusion of a meal, your Key to the World card is used to deduct credits from your account. There are several different kinds of credits: quick service credits, table-service/buffet credits, and snack credits. Each of these will be explained in the dining plan outlines below. Keep in mind that credits are awarded per night, so if you do a 7 day, 6 night vacation, you’ll only receive meal credits for 6 days/nights.

Deserts at Disney World

What are the terms?

  • Children (ages 3-9) MUST order from the children’s menu when available
  • Everyone on the reservation must be included on the Disney Dining Plans for entire duration of your stay
  • Disney Dining Plans must be purchased 48 hours in advance of your reservation and payment is due at the time of booking
  • Dining Plans do not include gratuity at most dining locations. Exceptions include Dining Shows and Fairytale Dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table
  • Meal credits cannot be transferred to anyone not included on your reservation
  • Meal entitlements (i.e. Quick Service Meal, Table-Service Meal, etc.) cannot be exchanged for a Snack or Beverage entitlement
  • Purchasing a Disney Dining Plan does not ensure a seat. Reservations are still HIGHLY recommended for some table-service, character dining, and signature restaurants
  • Disney Vacation Club members are not eligible for Premium or Platinum dining plans
  • Children under 3 years old do not qualify. Food can be shared or purchased independently for young children

Not All Dining Locations Are Created Equal

For the most part, each meal cost 1 credit (see the individual plans below for details on what is included in a meal). But, there are some exceptions. A meal at Disney Signature Restaurants will cost you 2 table-service credits per person. These restaurants include: Jiko – The Cooking PlaceFlying Fish CafeCalifornia GrillCitricosNarcoosee’sArtist PointYachtsman SteakhouseLe Cellier Steakhouse, and The Hollywood Brown Derby.

Dinner shows will also cost you 2 table-service credits per person. These restaurants include: Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical ReviewMickey’s Backyard BBQ, and Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show.

Lastly, Character Dining at Fairytale Dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table will also cost 2 credits per person.

Disney Quick Service Dining Plan

This plan only includes meals at Quick service restaurants where there are no waiters to seat you. It’s the Disney version of “fast-food.” You walk up to a counter, place an order, pay (or, in the case of a dining plan, provide your Key to the World card), and then seat yourself. Gratuity is not typical at Quick Service restaurants. The Quick Service dining plan includes 2 Quick Service meals per person per day plus a snack and refillable mug.

Cost: $41.99 per aDisney Dining Plans Breakfast Buffetdult (ages 10+), $16.03 per child

Choose 2:

Breakfast – 1 juice, 1 entrée,1 single-serving, non-alcoholic beverage

Lunch – 1 entrée, 1 dessert, 1 single-serving, non-alcoholic beverage

Dinner – 1 entrée, 1 dessert, 1 single-serving, non-alcoholic beverage

Here is a list of all Quick Service restaurants eligible for dining plans at Walt Disney World.

Disney Dining Plan

This plan includes 2 meals per person, per day: 1 Quick Service restaurant, and 1 at a full buffet or table-service restaurant. The plan also includes 1 snack per person per night and 1 refillable mug.

Table-Service restaurants feature a host or hostess that will seat your party at a designated table and a server who will take orders and provide service. Payment comes at the end of the meal, and gratuity (not included in your dining plan) is typical. Reservations are also highly recommended.

Cost: $60.64 per adult (ages 10+), $19.23 per child

1 Full Buffet or 1 Table-Service Meal – 1 appetizer (Guests ages 3-9 only), 1 entrée, 1 dessert (lunch and dinner only), 1 juice (breakfast only), 1 single-serving, non-alcoholic beverage

1 Quick-Service Meal – 1 entrée, 1 dessert (lunch and dinner only), 1 juice (breakfast only), 1 single-serving, non-alcoholic beverage

Here is a list of all Table-Service restaurants eligible for dining plans at Walt Disney World.

Disney Dining Plans Salad

Disney Deluxe Dining Plan

This plan includes 3 meals per person, per day and they can be Quick Service,
Table-Service, or Buffet. Each person is also entitled to 2 snacks per day and a refillable mug.

Cost: $109.53 per adult (ages 10+), $29.86 per child

Snacks

Snacks are available at Quick Service restaurants, food carts, and some merchandise stores. Options typically include Ice Cream, a single-serving of popcorn or other snacks, a piece of fruit, or a beverage. Look for the purple Disney Dining Plans square on menus to indicate a qualifying snack.

Keeping Track

Keeping track of your meal plan credits may vary in complexity based upon your dining plan and the number of people in your party, but Disney does a pretty good job of keeping you up to date. Everything is tracked electronically, and your receipt from each dining location will indicate your remaining balance and how much you’ve used so far.

Are Disney Dining Plans Worth It?Disney Dining Plans Pasta Dish

The value of Disney Dining Plans really depends on your party, preferences and eating habits. For some people, it’s worth the price just to have dining paid and taken care of. For those of you (like us) who are concerned with getting the absolute best deal possible on the meals you’ll pay for anyway, check out this Disney Dining Calculator. We believe that this tool is based on 2014 prices, but it should give you a good ballpark. If you want pinpoint accuracy, you’ll just have to compare the Disney Dining Plans to the Disney restaurant menus that you’re interested in.

Buying Disney Vacation Club: Retail or Resale?

Buying Disney Vacation Club: Retail or Resale?

What is the Retail vs. Resale Debate?

If you’re considering buying Disney Vacation Club membership you have two options: purchasing directly from Disney (retail) or purchasing from a current DVC member interested in selling his/her vacation club contract.

It’s no secret that you’ll pay more for your vacation points if you buy from Disney. However, buying on the resale market could mean missing out on a few Disney perks.

Here’s the good news: regardless of whether you choose retail or resale, either one will get you a great vacation at the happiest place on Earth!

Benefits of Buying Disney Vacation Club from Disney (Retail)

The process of becoming a DVC member is swift and easy when done through Disney. Your points are available quickly, enabling you to make reservations sooner than if you purchase on the resale market. You can also purchase the exact number of points that suits your needs, as long as you fulfill the minimum requirement, which is usually between 100 and 200 points.

The other significant benefit of buying Disney Vacation Club from Disney is that you can use your vacation points to make reservations with the Concierge Collection, the Disney Collection or the Adventurer Collection. The benefit to these is that you often can choose the length of your stay, but the resort options are extremely limited and subject to availability. The collections also represent a poor value for the cost of vacation club points, and are typically better purchased with cash.

Drawbacks of Buying Disney Vacation Club from Disney

It’s expensive! There’s just no getting around it, buying retail will cost you. Part of this is also that Disney will probably try to sell you the newer, more expensive properties. That’s great IF that’s what you’re looking for, but otherwise it might cause you to miss out on an opportunity at one of the other resorts they are not actively trying to sell. Also, there’s no negotiating with Disney; the stated price is the final price.

Benefits of Buying Disney Vacation Club on the Resale Market

The most notable advantage of buying on the resale market is the price. You will almost definitely save money through resales. Despite the addition of nominal closing costs, the savings can amount to tens of thousands of dollars. If you see a promising opportunity but it’s slightly above your budget, you can always try to negotiate a more fitting price.

Another significant benefit is that the resale market often has more options. You’re not limited by developer (Disney) inventory. You’re far more likely to find the resort of your choice at an affordable price from current owners.

Despite what many people believe, some resale companies can provide financing options for buying Disney Vacation Club. This can help make the purchase even more affordable if you prefer payment plans.

One of our favorite things about buying on the resale market is the personalized attention you can get from a broker. Serving your interest is to their benefit, so you don’t have to worry about any hard sells or getting taken advantage of.

Drawbacks of Buying Disney Vacation Club on the Resale Market

As mentioned above, purchasing DVC membership on the resale market means that you won’t be able to use your vacation points on Concierge Collection, the Disney Collection or the Adventurer Collection. For most DVC members this isn’t a drawback at all because they wouldn’t spend their vacation points in that way, but it’s all a matter of perspective.

Buying Disney Vacation Club on the resale market also takes longer than buying retail. From inquiry to closing, the initial purchase typically takes about 60 days, and then you have approximately another 3 weeks of Disney processing before you can use your vacation points. If you’re planning ahead, this shouldn’t be a big issue, but if you’re in a rush to book a vacation this could be a deal breaker.

Questions of honesty and trust are often associated with the resale market, and some of these concerns are well-founded while others are all stigma. There are unreputable resale companies out there, and buying through ebay or from someone on a forum or discussion board comes with inherent risks. We don’t have experience with every resale company out there, but we’ve experienced nothing but quality service from Fidelity Resales, so that’s our recommendation.

Buying Disney Vacation Club is All About You!

We said it before and we’ll say it again: regardless of whether you choose retail or resale, either one will get you a great vacation at the happiest place on Earth! Which one you choose depends on your personal needs and what you hope to get out of a DVC membership.

Questions, concerns, opinions? What are your experiences with purchasing DVC membership? Let us know in the comments section below!

Epcot Food and Wine Festival 2014 Guide

Foodies rejoice! It’s almost time for the 19th Annual Epcot Food and Wine Festival at Walt Disney World in Florida, and this year’s event is bound to me more extravagant than ever. From September 19 – November 10, Epcot guests are invited to taste their way around the world with spectacular culinary options from across the globe, plus a vast selection of wines and live entertainment. Check out this special sneak preview video from The Disney Information Station.

Did you see those scallops?! Yummmmm! So, maybe that piqued your appetite. Here’s what you need to know:

How the Epcot Food and Wine Festival Works

If you’re a newbie to the Food and Wine Festival, the first thing that you need to know is that a a park ticket to Epcot World Showcase is required. That will cost about $100 per adult after taxes (a military discount may be applied). Once you’re in, each country has an established booth which serves delectable “local” dishes in small portions. Prices will vary, generally hovering just below $10 with some only costing a few bucks. Cash will be a hassle as you move from booth to booth, so we recommend paying with a credit card, gift card, or Disney Magicband if you’ve got one. Some dishes may also be applied to your Disney Dining Plan, so that might also save a few bucks.

Epcot Food and Wine Booths

  • Africa
  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Brewer’s Collection
  • Canada
  • China
  • Craft Beers
  • Desserts & Champagne
  • Farm Fresh – NEW!
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hawaii
  • Intermissions Cafe
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Morocco
  • New Zealand
  • Patagonia – NEW!
  • Poland
  • Puerto Rico
  • Scotland
  • South Korea
  • Singapore
  • Terra

If you’re wondering what will be served at each booth head over to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival information page, where they’ve got the menus available for you to drool over.

Maximize Your Epcot Food and Wine Festival Experience

As with most events of this nature, the best thing to do is get there early and arrive with a gameplan. The lines will be shorter and the weather cooler earlier in the day. Also, the other guests are more likely to be feeling optimistic and sober. You better believe that after a full day of eating and drinking at least a few guests will get a bit rowdy. Seafood Dish at Epcot Food and Wine Festival

Call us crazy, but we prefer to enter the park with a planned route in mind. We examine the menus, establish a point of attack based upon ease of access and potential deliciousness, then plan to move through the park in the most efficient route possible. We even discuss contingency plans in case a booth is shut down or the lines are just too long. Yeah, maybe our approach is a bit excessive, but being prepared never hurt, so here’s the map from last year’s food and wine festival in case your half as crazy as us.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival Special Events

There is a lot more to do at the Food and Wine Festival than just eating and drinking. Take a cooking class with a world-class chef, watch culinary demonstrations, attend a food and wine pairing seminar, or even a mixology course. You might even run into a few celebrities and cooking show television stars. There are a TON of special events but some of them are not offered every day of the festival, and many of them are quite popular, so if you’re intent on a particular experience, be sure to make a reservation in advance by calling (407) 939-3378. Note that a few of these are free, but most of them do include separate costs and can get quite pricey. These events are included with the price of admission:

  • Back to Basics
  • The Chocolate Experience: From Bean to the Bar, hosted by Ghirardelli® Chocolate Company
  • Marketplace Discovery Passport
  • Book signings
  • Bottle signings
  • Meet ‘n’ greets
  • “Seasons of the Vine” film

Also free with admission to the park is the Beat Concert Series, which includes the following artists:

Jo Dee Messina (September 19 to September 21)

The Pointer Sisters (September 22 to September 23)

The Commodores (September 24 to September 25)

Christopher Cross (September 26 to September 27)

Hanson (September 28 to September 29)

Air Supply (September 30 to October 2)

STARSHIP Starring Mickey Thomas (October 3 to October 5)

Sugar Ray (October 6 to October 8)

Fuel (October 9 to October 10)

Sister Hazel (October 11 to October 12)

Richard Marx (October 13 to October 14)

Billy Ocean (October 15 to October 16)

Night Ranger (October 17 to October 19)

Smash Mouth (October 20 to October 22)

Jim Brickman (October 23 to October 24)

Los Lonely Boys (October 25 to October 26)

Wilson Phillips (October 27 to October 28)

Dennis DeYoung (original member of STYX)(October 29 to October 31)

38 Special (November 1 to November 2)

Boyz II Men (November 3 to November 5)

David Cook (November 6 to November 7)

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (November 8 to November 10)

Conclusion

The Epcot Food and Wine Festival is truly one of Disney World’s premier annual events, and we recommend that any serious Disney-lover try it at least once. It does cost a pretty penny, but the experience, the food (oh, the food!), and drinks are all worth the price. Have you been to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival? Share your experience, favorite dish, and plans for this year in the comment section below!

Disney Restaurants You Must Try

Whether you’re a sophisticated foodie or a just a hungry vacationer that appreciates stupendous flavor, these Disney restaurant suggestions are sure to pique your appetite.

Before diving into our evaluations, here’s what you won’t find in this article:

  • Quick-service restaurants or food carts around the parks
  • Victoria and Albert’s – this luxury dining experience is definitely one of the most illustrious Disney restaurants, but we excluded it due to the exorbitant prices and the fact that children younger than 10 are not permitted
  • Every single restaurant on Disney property – we’re all about the best, or at least, what we consider the best. If you don’t agree with our picks, we’d love to read your opinion in the comments section toward the bottom of the page

Le Cellier Steakhouse

Located in the Canada Pavilion of Epcot, Le Cellier resembles exactly what it sounds like: the wine cellar of an elegant chateau. Rich wooden furniture, stone archways, and candle chandeliers add nicely to the refined décor.

Le Cellier is open for both lunch and dinner, but reservations are highly recommended for either as this is one of the most popular Disney restaurants.

Must-Try Appetizer: “Le Cellier” Seafood Salad ($17)

Must-Try Entrée: Dry-Aged Boneless Rib-Eye ($49)

Must-Try Dessert: Maple Crème Brûlée ($8)

Even though there are vegetarian options (House-made wild Mushroom Ravioli), this restaurant really specializes in steaks and seafood. If you’re not much a meat-eater, Le Cellier Steakhouse probably isn’t the best choice for you. Like most Disney restaurants, there is a children’s menu which includes pasta, chicken, salmon, and sirloin.

Click here for the full menu.

Visitors have said:

“One of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Everything about this restaurant was amazing. The atmosphere was rustic and elegant. Every minute detail was thought through, from the subtle Canadian theme to how the menus lit up in case you have difficulty seeing in low lighting. Our server was excellent and extremely helpful with the menu. She took time to explain how every dish was prepared and gave her recommendations. We ordered two appetizers to share between the five of us- the cheese soup and classic poutine. The cheese soup was to die for! It was devoured within a minute of being placed on the table…. The steak was perfectly cooked and the risotto was the best I have ever had. The lamb and aged rib-eye were also excellent choices. Dessert was an amazing maple creme brule. Some of us also ordered the smokehouse chocolate bar, which was basically a fancy smore that actually smelled like a campfire. Everyone was so full but could not stop eating! We ate every last bite of the meal. The bill was very high ($350) but we paid with the Disney dining plan. It was easily worth the double credits. This is a meal that none of us will ever forget.” – posted on TripAdvisor

Jiko – The Cooking Place

Jiko features some of the most unique culinary offerings available at Disney. This is a great place to go if you want to experience spices and flavors that you won’t taste anywhere else. Jiko combines African, Indian, and Mediterranean cuisine into a delectable medley of gastronomic options.

Must-Try Appetizer: Crispy Duck “Bobotie” Roll ($12)

Must-Try Entrée: Spicy Botswana-style “Seswaa” Beef Short Rib ($46)

Must-Try Dessert: Ghanaian Chocolate and Kenyan Coffee Pot de Crème ($11)

Click here for the full menu.

Like the Animal Kingdom Lodge where Jiko is located, the atmosphere is generally pleasant and laid-back. Two wood-burning ovens and the golden savannah sunset wall give the restaurant an alluring ambiance, but we wouldn’t call it particularly unique.

Visitors have said:

“This is probably one of the best fine dining restaurants located within Disneyworld. Everything from the decor to the ambience to the service was outstanding. The extensive wine selection is 100% South African. The bottle we had was excellent. The food is delectable. I had the monkfish which was cooked to perfection. My wife’s short-ribs was mouth-watering and super tender. The cuisine is a blend of African, Asian fusion and they worked very well together. Prices are a little steep but well worth every penny.” – posted on TripAdvisor

California Grill

California Grill is our all-around favorite Disney restaurant. The food isn’t quite as extravagant as Victoria and Albert’s, but it definitely qualifies as fine dining. Disney cites the price at $30-$59.99 per adult meal, but that figure would be tough to meet if you’re interested in appetizers, drinks, and/or dessert. That being said, the prices are not unreasonable for the quality. It will all depend on your appetite but expect to pay $120-$150 for two adults.

California Grill has an impressive wine list that includes over 300 options, and there is also a hardy selection of craft beers and cocktails. The dinner menu is constantly in flux, taking advantage of seasonal specialties and innovative market-inspired cuisine. Below are some of our top picks:

Must-Try Appetizer: Sonomo Goat Cheese Ravioli ($15)

Must-Try Sushi: Spicy Kazan Roll ($26)

Must-Try Salad: Crispy Rock Shrimp Salad ($18)

Must-Try Entrée: Lamb Porterhouse ($49)

Must-Try Dessert: Warm Homemade Fritters ($12)

Click here for the full menu.

On the 15th floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort where California Grill is located, you’ll have a remarkable vantage from which you can view the lagoon, Cinderella Castle, and the Magic Kingdom Fireworks Spectacular. If you’re dining before or after the fireworks show your reservation entitles you to view the fireworks from the lounge or outside observation deck. We recommend eating around sunset, enjoying the gorgeous twilight view, and then returning for the fireworks.

This is a very popular Disney restaurant, so you will definitely want to make a reservation (up to 180 days in advance) for seating in the main dining area. If you’re comfortable eating at the bar, those seats are available on a first-come-first-served basis and reservations are not accepted.

Visitors have said:

“My husband and I booked this restaurant a few months in advance as we were celebrating our Honeymoon in Disney. Upon arrival at the Hotel, the California Grill checkin is on the 2nd floor and you are escorted up to the restaurant via elevator. From the moment we arrived they walked us to our table whilst explaining where the observations decks were for each park along with a brief description of the kitchen. The service was second to none and we didn’t feel at all rushed. The food was simply amazing, I highly recommend the bison! We were on the dining plan and it is certainly worth 2 credits. For anyone considering this restaurant, you won’t be disappointed!!”– posted on TripAdvisor

Be Our Guest Restaurant

Confession: We haven’t actually visited this restaurant yet, since it was recently added to Magic Kingdom as part of Fantasyland. However, it definitely makes our personal must-try list. The restaurant is located inside Beast’s Castle and the dining room resembles the ballroom scene straight from Beauty and the Beast. Archways, chandeliers, mosaics, and all of the elegance fit for a princess make this a must-see. Critics have given the cuisine rave reviews, so below are our first picks of what we hope to try.

Appetizer: Mussels Provençal ($12.99)

Entrée: Thyme-scented Pork Rack Chop ($23.99)

Desserts: The “Grey Stuff” (Chocolate Shell, Cookie Crème topped with Lumiere’s special “Grey Stuff”) ($4.19)

Click here for the full menu.

Be Our Guest offers quick-service dining for lunch, but we’re aiming for the full sit-down dinner experience in the evening. The prices are relatively moderate, ranging from about $15-$30 per adult.
If you’ve dined at Be Our Guest, be sure to let us know in the comments section below. We would love to hear more about this spectacular new restaurant.

Visitors have said:

“The best dining experience in Disney World. Lets begin with the decor, it is the Beast’s castle. A cast member calls your party’s name and lhuge castle doors are opened for you to enter,it is a very large restaurant with a few rooms that all have magic touches. The food was superb, my family ate the steak, scallops and shrimp, chicken and pork chops, all were delicious. The staff was wonderful and after dinner the Beast makes an appearance and you go to special area to take pictures. With the special touches in each room you feel like you are in the movie.” – posted on TripAdvisor

Flying Fish Café

All of these restaurants are “must-try,” but if you’re a seafood lover like we are, Flying Fish Café should be your first stop. Located at Disney’s BoardWalk, this lively themed restaurant features an open kitchen, beautiful murals, and stylish modern décor.

Wine connoisseurs rejoice! Flying Fish has an extravagant wine list to complement any of its artisanal cheeses or delectable entrees.

Must-Try Appetizer: Yellowfin Tuna Tartare and Crispy Tempura Tuna-Vegetable Sushi Roll ($18)
Must-Try Salad: Mozzarella di Bufala alla Caprese ($15)

Must-Try Entrée: Brioche-crusted Cool Water Rainbow Trout and Pan-roasted Bay Scallops ($34)

Must-Try Dessert: Pine Nut and Almond-crusted Ice Box Blood Orange-Mascarpone Cheesecake ($8)

Note that Flying Fish also has non-seafood options that include an Angus New York Strip Steak, and Ancho-Chicken, and these are great too! – posted on TripAdvisor

Additional Great Disney Restaurants

  • ‘Ohana – Disney’s Polynesian Resort
  • Monsieur Paul – France pavilion at Epcot
  • Chef Mickey’s – Disney’s Contemporary Resort
  • Citrico’s – Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort
  • The Hollywood Brown Derby – Hollywood Studios

Think we’re missing something? Mention it in the comments section below!

Disney Vacation Club Buyers Guide 2015

What is Disney Vacation Club (DVC)?
Disney Vacation Club is a vacation ownership club in which members purchase a real estate interest in a Disney resort. Instead of owning a specific property, Disney Vacation Club members receive an annual allotment of Vacation Points that can be used to book accommodations at Disney Vacation Club resorts.

When joining the Disney Vacation Club, new members must choose a home resort. The home resort determines the cost per point, maintenance fees, reservation window, and other benefits, but members are not required to vacation at their home resort. Vacation points can be spent at any Disney Vacation Club (DVC) property provided there is availability.

Is DVC right for me?
Great question. We can’t answer it for you, but here a few important things to keep in mind:

  • In order to make the most of your DVC membership, you should plan on visiting a Disney resort every two or three years. To get more bang for your buck, you may want to visit more often, but the ability to bank and borrow vacation points will help compensate for those off years.
  • If convenience is a priority, DVC may be a good choice. Proximity to the Disney parks is one of the most frequently cited benefits of membership. Whether you’re visiting Disneyland in California or Walt Disney World in Florida, the main attractions are only a short walk, bus ride, monorail ride, or ferry ride away. Plus, vacation club properties feature everything from recreational activities to dining.
  • When it comes to luxury vacations, Disney is at the top of the list. DVC members don’t just pay for the Disney brand name, they receive the Disney experience. That extra touch of Disney magic makes a world of difference to a lot of vacationers.
  • DVC properties are great for families that value personal space or groups travelling together. Many units include multiple bedrooms and a living room.
  • Though not included in DVC membership, there are exclusive meal plans that are often a great value to families. Alternately, most DVC units include a full kitchen, so there’s always the option to prepare your own meals.
  • Due to limited availability and reservation windows, DVC membership is not always a good fit for spontaneous vacationers if you plan on staying for more than a night or two. Expect to book your stay 7-12 months in advance.

How much does Disney Vacation Club cost?
The cost of vacation points fluctuates constantly, and also depends on which home resort you choose. If purchasing directly from Disney, new members can expect to pay an initial purchase price ranging from $20,000-$40,000. This does not include closing costs or the annual dues.
DVC membership can also be purchased at a substantial discount on the resale market, though it may require a bit more time and research than buying direct. DVC search engine is a great place to start looking and discover the properties that are available. When it comes to making a purchase, we suggest Fidelity Resales. They are very professional and pleasant to work with and typically have many listings.

Which is the best home resort?
Saratoga Springs is often considered the most frugal choice because it typically maintains lower-than-average annual fees, but this really depends upon what you’re looking for and how you plan to spend vacation points. Click here for an in-depth look at the various DVC resorts. Personally, we prefer Animal Kingdom Lodge Villas because of its many unique features.

How many vacation points will my trip cost?
Vacation point charts are available on each of our resort pages, or you can check them all out below. Click the chart to expand the image.

Aulani Resort Point Chart 2015

Animal Kingdom point chart

Image courtesy of Disney Vacation Club. Subject to Change.

Image courtesy of Disney Vacation Club. Subject to change.

Boardwalk point chart

Grand Californian point chart

Grand Floridian point chart

Hilton Head point chart

Old Key West point chart

Saratoga Springs point chart

Vero Beach point chart

Wilderness Lodge point chart