Disney has become our thing. We blame our friends, the family Paris, as well as the utter coolness of Walt Disney World. We love it…we want to be there as much as possible…we can’t get enough. Apparently, I have been vocal enough about this that I’ve become a “Disney Mom.”  Other parents planning trips have started asking me for tips, which just delights me, because a few short years ago I was barraging my friend with questions (and still do).

One of our favorite aspects of the modern Disney vacation is the dining plan. If you don’t know it, WDW is a first-rate place to eat, with dozens of places grand and quaint, featuring just about any kind of cuisine a family would want while on vacation. The Dining plan is available to guests staying on Disney property and allows you to eat at most any of the on-site restaurants without spending a fortune. For a daily per-person price, you’re entitled to a certain number of meals and snacks/drinks.

The dining plan breaks most WDW restaurants into two categories: Full Service and Quick Service. Full- service is either a buffet (and I could write about WDW buffets alone…they’re not Ryan’s. They’re wonderful!) or a sit-down meal. Quick Service, however, should not be equated with ‘fast food,’ as the quick service options are vast and often include a full meal you might order at a sit-down restaurant; the only difference is that you order at a counter, you don’t have to tip, and it’s slightly cheaper.

Here is a list of our family’s favorite quick service restaurants at WDW~

~MAGIC KINGDOM~

Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Inn and Cafe– Located in Frontierland near the Country Bear jamboree (but not very far from Pirates of the Caribbean), this restaurant has a rustic, Pirate-y feel. It features one of our favorite quick-service amenities: the toppings bar (grilled onions, cheese sauce, mushrooms, produce, condiments galore! It’s a Burton dream come true!), which can be used for their burgers, sandwiches, or my favorite item: the taco salad.

Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe: Located in Tomorrowland (near Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, and most of the stuff your kids will want to ride on over and over), this restaurant has three distinct dining choices that are basically categorized as BBQ, Rotisserie, & grill. There is also some “live” (animatronic) entertainment, and space for the kids to play.

Casey’s Corner: This is one of our Magic Kingdom staples. Go to Casey’s, pick up your hot dogs, cotton candy, Cracker Jacks, and nachos, and grab a bench near Cinderella’s castle to people-watch. On our last trip, we went to Casey’s late at night after the parades and fireworks. It’s become our traditional last meal at WDW. The nostalgia can’t be beat!

~HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS~

ABC Commissary – With a small but very diverse menu (great chicken curry, cheeseburgers, Asian salad), this place is a staple for us at Hollywood Studios. The ABC TV commercials and posters are also fun for the adults in your group (We dare you not to sing along with the Growing Pains theme!)

Pizza Planet – While I admit to never having eaten here, it’s sure to be a stop on our next trip (January 3, 2012, baby!), as our kids are now full-fledged Toy-Story-maniacs. The pizza menu is a little more diversified and the décor can’t be beat!

~ANIMAL KINGDOM~
Pizzafari
– It’s pizza…it’s decent enough. We haven’t explored much of the dining at Animal Kingdom, though Tusker House (a buffet) is one of my favorite places to eat in all of WDW!

~EPCOT~
I have not gone to all of the places at Epcot I would like to. Everyone knows that the real cuisine is on the World Showcase side of the park, but with the kids (and let’s face it, all the shiny, fun rides), we tend to spend most of our time on the Future World side of the park. ‘Tis ok, though, because one of our favorite, favorite, FAVORITE quick service places is there: Sunshine Seasons Food Court. Located inside The Land , also home to wonderful attractions like Soarin’, Living with the Land boat tour, and the Circle of Life movie, this “food court” boasts a great variety of meals – both robust and healthy. There is an Asian Wok Shop, a great deli/bakery (use your snacks to get wonderful pastries here), a soup and salad counter, and Rod’s favorite, a wood-fired grill, where he typically gets a huge pork chop and yummy mashed potatoes.

Dining Tips:
– We haven’t explored a lot of the hotel restaurants, but the ones we’ve used for quick-service are just fine. Also, we’ve only done a few quick-service breakfast meals, but none stick out as either special or disappointing. If we eat breakfast at the park, it’s usually for a character meal, and then we skip lunch and have an early dinner.

–  Off-hours are the best time to use quick-service because seating is often full during “peak” meal times.

– KIDS who have the dining plan can eat ADULT meals. This is not something Disney is going to tell you, but unless it’s changed since we were there in October 2010, all the meals are put on one tally. So if you the mom or dad place an order for your family, no one’s asking how many kids are on the dining plan, so you can realistically order adult meals for everyone. Now, we don’t suggest you use this to ‘rip off’ Disney (though this would be hard to do!), but sometimes the kids’ options just aren’t things our kids like, so we get them an adult meal. Or sometimes we get one adult meal (say, a pizza and fries somewhere) and all split it as a snack.

– Most places will allow you to get a LARGE drink instead of a regular sized one; you just have to ask.

– Dining Plan SNACKS can be used for a variety of things; if you’re not sure, ask. We almost always end up with too many, and our last few trips I’ve thrown out Mickey applesauce, carrots, or brownies several weeks after we’ve been home. In light of that, I recommend getting extra drinks…water, milk, juice, whatever. If you’re driving home, those will never go to waste. If you’re flying, eat up!

– Smile & relax. It’s Disney. They want you to have a great time and everything is kid-friendly!

Reference: DIS.

Pictured: Miranda at Cosmic Ray’s, June 2009; The girls waiting for their Casey’s hot dogs, December 2009; Disney gives us the crazy eyes! October 2010

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