For me, it was all about the dining.
As a stay-at-home mother of three, I do my best to keep a tight budget, which means cooking dinner (and then cleaning up) five to seven nights a week.
We try to limit the frequency and price range of our dinners out. On outings, and even on some vacations, we often bring packed lunches or dinners, and look for other ways to cut costs — meal sharing, for instance. So even when the rest of the family is on vacation, I’m still on duty.
Not this time. Thank you, Disney, for giving me a true vacation.
The “Disney Dining Plan” is part of the “Magic Your Way” package available to guests of Walt Disney World Resorts. As long as you purchase at least one park ticket for each person in your family, you are able to add the dining plan for each night of your stay. The regular plan, which now costs $37.99 per day for those ages 10 and above and $9.99 per day for children 3 to 9, includes two meals (one table service meal and one quick-service meal) and a snack.
The plan changed a bit on Jan. 1, so we were able to enjoy the arrangement when it still included appetizers and all gratuities — no out-of-pocket expenses at any meals!
With Disney dining, there’s no need for meal sharing, water-only beverage orders or food packing (except for fruit snacks and Teddy Grahams). You can order whatever you want — from the cheapest menu item to the most-expensive.
Once we agreed to take this vacation, I immediately went to the list of participating restaurants to see which ones I wanted to eat at. That’s one advantage of being the meal planner. There are so many options: character dining, great views, good entertainment, a quiet corner, all-you-can-eat — you name it, they’ve got it. And all but the fanciest restaurants are extremely kid-friendly. After all, it’s Disney.
We found great places to use our counter service credits (especially at our resort’s food court) and snacks.
Let me tell you about our fabulous dinners.
We started at the Whispering Canyon Café inside Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. Here we found a rowdy and fun atmosphere with Western-style, stick-to-your-ribs food. The all-you-can-eat skillet features ribs, chicken, pulled pork, shrimp and beans. The kids loved the bottomless milkshakes and their mid-dinner hobby-horse race around the restaurant. Oh, and if you go here, be sure to ask for ketchup.
Our next dinner was The Crystal Palace character meal inside Magic Kingdom. In this beautiful Victorian building with windows everywhere, we enjoyed a bountiful buffet that included prime rib, peal-and-eat shrimp, turkey, fancy salads and pastas. My personal favorite dessert was the warm banana bread pudding. The kids loved the self-serve ice cream machine, and they happily posed as Winnie the Pooh characters stopped by for pictures and hugs.
For our third dinner, we splurged by using double credits on a dinner show — the “Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue” at Disney’s Fort Wilderness. The meal became part of the show as they alternated courses with slapstick comedy and song-and-dance numbers. In fact, our strawberry shortcake dessert came right off the stage as the tray-carrying waiters and waitresses danced in the final number.
We tried something new for the next night’s dinner. In the recently refurbished Tusker House at Animal Kingdom, we were treated to an African-themed buffet with carved meats, stews and African salads. The kids loved the mini corn dogs and jungle juice. It ended up being everyone’s favorite meal.
During our last trip to Disney, our favorite dinner was a New England-style clam bake at the Cape May Cafe. So we returned. I don’t know if the kids actually like clams or if they just like to see how many shells they can pile up on the table. With the dining plan, it doesn’t matter. Like every other Disney buffet, the kids’ station offers the regular standbys. For us adults, nothing beats the clam chowder.
When traveling with so many sweet, adorable princesses, it’s impossible to avoid a dinner with Disney’s princesses. So we made reservations for the Princess Storybook Dinner at Restaurant Akershus located in the Norway section of Epcot’s World Showcase. Made to look like a Norwegian castle, this was a perfect setting for visits and pictures with the princesses. The food was surprisingly tasty, too. Dinner is served family-style and features a “taste of Norway” assortment of cold appetizers followed by hot entrees. The children’s menu includes mac and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, pasta with meatballs and hot dogs. So there were our lovely princesses, sitting in a castle eating, uhm, hot dogs.
On Friday, it was time to take a break from buffets. We ate at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant located on Main Street Town Square at Magic Kingdom. This restaurant is a replica of Tony’s — the favorite dining spot of Lady and the Tramp. The Italian-style menu offers chicken, steak, seafood and, of course, spaghetti and meatballs. It was very relaxing to have the waiter take care of all our needs.
To keep with tradition, our last meal was at Chef Mickey’s. Hosted by the Mouse himself, this is Disney’s most-popular character meal, a continuous party with singing, clapping and twirling napkins. The restaurant doesn't have the best food, but it’s a lot of fun and the kids enjoy the make-your-own sundae bar. This was a great way to say goodbye to our Disney friends.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Jodie Roche is a Norwalk native and the wife of Reflector News Editor Matt Roche. The couple and their three daughters vacationed at Walt Disney World in December.