This blog couldn’t come at a better time, as Disney announced a free dining promotion for the fall and Monday was a hectic day for a lot of agents across the country (take a look at my somewhat fictional blog about my day yesterday).

So today’s tip is to help you make the most of your Dining plan when you go to Disney.

First of all, let’s explain the three levels of the dining plan.

First is the quick-service dining plan and that consists of two fast-food (quick-service) meals and two snacks per person per night of your stay. So, if you are staying six nights, you get 12 fast-food and 12 snacks during your stay.

Second in the regular dining plan, which is the most popular. It includes one fast-food mean, one sit-down (table-service) meal and two snacks per person per night. The sit-down meals are the ones that include the popular character meals, which is why this dining plan is the one most guests choose.

The third is the deluxe dining plan. Simply put, that dining plan includes three meals per night, as well as two snacks. It’s a LOT of food. And quite honestly, the only way to make this dining plan cost-effective is to schedule three table-service meals per day, or at least do one or two signature meals (but then even that is probably not a good use of credits).

All of the dining plans include a resort refillable mug. But keep in mind that those mugs don’t work in the parks, only if you eat in your resort food court. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen walking around the theme parks with their resort mugs and nowhere to fill them.

Tip No. 1: Do your homework. If you purchased the dining plan (or got it for free), it’s obvious that you’re OK with planning your meals. So take some time before your trip (preferably 6-7 months before you travel if you have the regular dining plan) to look at the menus and figure out what restaurants your family will like. There’s nothing fun about picking a restaurant because it “sounds cool” only to get there and find out that the kids won’t eat anything on the menu (I’m looking at your, Skipper Canteen). So, know before you go. Both the Disney website and the MDE app have menus. Check them out and see if the restaurant is going to be good for everyone. And if you have regular dining plan, make your advanced dining reservations (ADRs).

Tip No. 2: Make ADRs! In following up with tip No. 1, the second tip is equally important. Once you do your homework, make your dining reservations. Disney restaurants (especially with the dining plan being so popular) fill up so fast. If you want popular spots like Be Our Guest, Chef Mickey’s, Tusker House, Ohana, etc. you will need to get them reserved 180 days out.

Tip No. 3: Save your table-service credits for dinner. I know it’s hard to resist the lure of doing a character breakfast. And in some instances (Ohana), there are certain restaurants where the characters only appear for breakfast. But if you want to make the most of your credits, schedule as many dinner table-service meals as you can. Breakfast is always cheaper than dinner, so in order to get the most out of your credit, opt for the more expensive time to eat. The same can be said for quick-service credits. It’s tempting to get a Mickey Waffle and a piece of bacon with the dining plan, but it’s not cost-effective. Instead, use a snack credit for a pastry and save that QS credit for a real meal.

Tip No. 4: Don’t waste snack credits. I have a feeling Disney loves their snack credit system. Reason being is that most people completely forget about snack credits and then end up on the final day getting a bunch of cookies. Don’t be that family. Instead, do your homework and find the best snack credits. Items like Dole Whips ($4 or more), Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich ($4) and seasonal/special cupcakes ($5) are all excellent snack credits. And if you’re lucky enough to be there during Food & Wine, you can use snack credits at the food kiosks (items upwards of $7) to get really good bang for your buck. So, seek out the good credits and avoid things like bottled water, bottled soda or a $2 cookie.

Tip No. 5: Stretch your quick-service credits. If you’re on the quick-service plan, I can guarantee that you will get tired of chicken nuggets and cheese burgers. Those are both staples of Disney quick-service restaurants. So, when you start to tire of the Angus 1/3 pound burger, use that as a chance to stretch your quick-service credits. And by that, I mean look for some meals that are big enough for a couple of people to share. There are several spots (Flame Tree BBQ, Cosmic Rays) that have meals that are big enough for an adult/child to share. And you can save some quick-service credits for later.

Tip No. 6: Waste not, want not. One of my pet peeves with the dining plan is how much food goes to waste. And look, I’m guilty of it too. Every quick-service meal on the dining plan comes with a dessert of some sorts. And yes, it’s fun to get a Darth Vader or Frozen cupcake with your chicken nuggets and fries. But by the fourth time you get that meal with the cupcake, you’re licking off the icing and throwing the rest in the trash. So, instead, look for an option that you can take with you for later. We love to get grapes as the dessert, because you can easily throw them in the backpack and two hours later when you’re in line for Mine Train, you can pull out the grapes and use them as a snack. Same goes with table-service restaurants. If you’re staying on property and you’ll be heading back to the room soon, don’t be afraid to ask for them to box up your leftovers for later (buffet items are obviously the exception).  We did that on our Honeymoon with a few of our desserts (cakes, cupcakes, etc.) and it made for a great late-night snack.

Tip No. 7: Keep track of your credits. If you’re not one to plan out all your meals and you will just kind of wing it, make sure you keep track of what you have left. The receipts will show your remaining credits on the bottom. Always take a look and make sure you have the right amount remaining. Nothing worse than thinking you had one table-service credit left only to find out you didn’t and you just got a $120 check.

So, those are my tips to make the most of your dining plan. There are others that visitors have picked up over the years. What are yours? Share them with us in the comments.

Thanks for reading and as always, let your conscience be your guide.