Planning With My Non-Disney Family: Dining

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If you’ve been reading the blog you may recall I’m planning a trip with my entire family.  I’ve been writing about the planning process along the way in hopes my experiences would help readers who are also planning family trips.  So far I have covered getting the planning started and picking our resort as well as buying park tickets. Today I’ll be talking about Disney dining with the Helmstetters.

To begin with, we opted out of Disney’s Dining Plan.  I advised the family against doing the plan since I didn’t think we would get the most bang for our buck.  You see, we’ll have three little kids with us who certainly wouldn’t eat their money’s worth (the girls eat like birds).  We also don’t have a table service meal planned for each day of our trip for the above mentioned reasons.  With this being a short trip I also thought taking the time for a sit down meal each day would be a waste.  And lastly since I am an annual passholder I am able to purchase the Tables in Wonderland card which will allow for a discount at most table service restaurants on property when we do opt to be waited on.  Every family is different so Disney’s Dining Plan may work out well for you, but it just doesn’t make sense for us.

Something that does make sense for us, though, is character dining.  Since we have several people in the group who have never been to WDW I thought character meals would be a great idea.  There are several character dining choices throughout Disney World so there is an opportunity for every kid (big and small) to meet their favorite furry friend.  I hope my nieces and nephew love the unique experience of having breakfast with Mickey and friends!  I think the adults will love to watch the excitement on their faces, and we might even hop into a few pictures ourselves.

With our interest in character dining in mind, we have Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR) for The Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom as well as The Tusker House at Animal Kingdom.  ADRs will be essential for our trip since we are traveling during the President’s Day break.  Without them there’s no way we’d be able to get into the Crystal Palace or Tusker House to visit with characters and enjoy a good meal.  We booked breakfast for both of our meals for a few reasons.  First of all, they are the least expensive meals of the day and with eight of us trimming the budget where we can is very helpful.  Also, the kids will be up early anyway so we might as well take advantage of their hours and meet the characters before they get overwhelmed and tired.  We made our reservations before park opening both days so that we can check out Main Street USA and the Tree of Life without huge crowds around us.  Most importantly we’ll be able to get a family picture in from of the castle without 40 people in the background.

Since we’ll only be dining at table service establishments twice, I’ve also made a mental list of great counter service restaurants suitable for my family.  We’ve established we’ll spend most of our time at the Magic Kingdom so Peco’s Bill will be a great spot if someone would like a burger.  I know my nieces and nephew love hot dogs so Casey’s is also on the short list.  Cosmic Ray’s will also be a likely place for a dinner break while touring.  We also have a day planned at Disney’s Animal Kingdom so Flame Tree Barbecue will be the place to go to enjoy yummy ribs and a great view.  We are staying at the Polynesian so I’m sure we’ll be visiting Captain Cooke’s regularly.  Maybe I’ll be able to teach the kids about the greatness of the Dole Whip!  If the family wanted to explore a nearby resort, the Gaspirilla Grill at the Grand Floridian was a pleasant surprise to me when I visited in October.

As you can see, my family certainly won’t go hungry on this trip!  To ensure your family is satisfied with their dining experience you’ll want to do a bit of preparation.  Every family has their own wants and needs so browse the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and to check out restaurant options suitable to your group.  We even provide links to menus courtesy of AllEars.Net. Plan ahead by making some Advanced Dining Reservations, but also allow for flexibility by leaving some day’s dining plans open ended.  You’ll want to be mindful of your entire group when making your dining arrangements.  I wouldn’t normally make early breakfast ADRs with characters, but the kids’ needs come before mine on this trip.   Most of all have a blast!  I’m excited to share the memories of Pooh Bear hugging my nieces with their parents and grandparents.  Those moments will be worth all of the planning and preparations.

Kristen Helmstetter

Kristen Helmstetter is an Unofficial Guide researcher who will share her 20-something perspective of all things Walt Disney World with blog readers. Kristen’s email address is You can also follow her on Twitter: @khelmstetter.