Every year since 2009, Walt Disney World has offered a “Free Dining” package for specific dates in the fall and early winter. It is always a very popular promotion that my family has taken advantage of in the past and plan to do again in […]
Planning a vacation to Disney World is a strange thing. It often requires that someone (probably you, since you are the one reading this) needs to take on a part-time job of learning complicated details of things thing that are relatively simple in Real Life. […]
A big part of the Disney World vacation experience is dining. However, as you probably know, eating at Disney World is no simple matter. It requires planning (sometimes almost a ridiculous amount), there are a huge amount of choices, and none of it is cheap.
Here are 13 of the best tips & tricks to help you navigate your way through the world of Disney Dining.
1. Make reservations WAY in advance
The first time I tried to book ADRs (Advance Dining Reservations), it was a little over a month before our trip. I was very pleased with myself, thinking that I was planning very far ahead and that we would have plenty of available choices.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Sure, in the Real World, making dinner reservations at a restaurant over a month in advance would be almost ridiculously early. But Disney World is very different from the Real World in many ways.
You can (and ideally, should) make your ADRs 180 days in advance.
Yup, that means you’re scheduling your meals roughly half a year in advance. Crazy? Possibly, but this is Disney we’re talking about. That’s just the way it is.
Now don’t think all hope is lost if your vacation is in three months and you haven’t booked any restaurants. In fact, I’m in this situation right now. Our trip is in four months — yikes! — and I still haven’t taken the time to make our ADRs. I need to get on it!
If you’re in that situation too, just be prepared to be flexible … and keep trying! Just because there are no available slots today doesn’t mean that tomorrow, or the next day, or next week won’t be different. That’s how I booked I lot of our ADRs: after many days of persistence.
Oh, and by the way, those ADRs are not signed in blood or set in stone, so don’t panic too much that your family might change its mind sometime later. You can always cancel it tomorrow … or next week … or a few days before your trip. We have definitely done that ourselves.
2. Check out the website Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free WDW if you have dietary retrictions.
If anyone in your family is gluten-free or dairy-free, this site is a great resource. They have a podcast, Top Ten lists, recipes, and more.
3. Speak up about what you want (or need).
Speaking of special dietary needs, make sure you mention them twice — both when you make your ADR and then again when you arrive at the podium. We have never have to deal with food allergies ourselves, but I have heard that Disney is extremely accommodating. It’s even possible that the chef might come out to speak to you about your needs.
Along similar lines, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, even if it’s not on the menu. For example, if you don’t want the fries that come with your sandwich, let them know, and they’ll charge your accordingly.
4. Don’t forget about the Disney resort restaurants.
This was a sudden realization for me before out last trip. We were on the free Disney Dining Plan (more about that later) and I was trying to decide which restaurant we should choose. All of a sudden it hit me: We don’t have to eat at the parks! There are lots of restaurants at the resorts!
We booked lunch at Kona Cafe in the Polynesian resort, and and it was one of the smartest things I made on that trip. The food was fantastic, it was easy to go on the monorail line after spending the morning at the Magic Kingdom, and we got to see the Polynesian for the first time, which was beautiful.
‘Ohana Dinner at the Polynesian Resort
5. Eat a late breakfast.
There are a few good reasons for this. For one, the parks are the least crowded first thing in the morning, so it’s a shame to waste that prime time sitting in a restaurant. Second, this can save you some money, as breakfast prices are almost always cheaper. And third, if you time it right and eat at a leisurely pace, you can enjoy both breakfast and lunch menu options at Disney buffet restaurants.
6. Psst … the Crystal Palace open before the park does.
Speaking of breakfast, here’s a Disney dining secret we didn’t know until our last trip: The Crystal Palace, between Main Street and Adventureland (home to Winnie the Pooh and friends) opens for breakfast an hour before the Magic Kingdom’s normal operating hours.
This is awesome because not only because you get breakfast and meeting characters out of the way before the park even opens, but also … how cool would it be to get photos in the Magic Kingdom while it’s essentially empty?
Unfortunately, because it’s so awesome, it’s very difficult to get. I tried and tried and tried again, but we were never able to get reservations for that time. But maybe you will have better luck than I did!
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7. Make an educated decision about Chef Mickey’s.
If you didn’t already know, Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary resort is a somewhat controversial restaurant. Of course families often jump (like we did) at the idea of a character restaurant with “The Fab Five” (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, and Donald Duck). But there are some people who really hate it.
So what to do? Is Chef Mickey’s worth it or not?
Well, it depends on what you’re looking for. Personally, I’m glad we went, although I have no desire to go again until I have grandchildren someday. It’s the kind of place that has a lot less appeal if you’re not traveling with little kids.
Robert, my husband, had less love for Chef Mickey’s than I did. He said it was “basically a Shoney’s breakfast bar.” Which isn’t the worst thing in the world — except that the buffet at Shoney’s doesn’t cost $41 per adult.
Of course, Shoney’s doesn’t have Mickey and Friends either, which is kind of the point and the key to whether or not you should decide to eat there. You’re paying for The Fab Five, not the food, and not even really the atmosphere (although watching the monorail go by is pretty cool.) Since Robert never gets too excited about seeing Disney characters, it’s not surprising that he wasn’t particularly impressed.
So if you love the idea of seeing Mickey and Friends all in one place, and you don’t mind eating at a restaurant that is busy and noisy and has little kids crawling all over the place, then I say go for it. Your kids are pretty much guaranteed to love it, not just for the characters, but also because they will love drenching their Mickey Mouse waffles in chocolate sauce, sprinkles, chocolate chips, and whipped cream.
However, I would not go there for dinner. Based on everything I’ve heard, while the food is “just okay” at breakfast, it’s downright bad at dinner.
I would also recommend getting to Chef Mickey’s as early as your family can stand it. They open for breakfast at 7am, so if you can get an early reservation, not only will it be little less crazy-busy, but you won’t have to sacrifice the ideal early-morning time at the Magic Kingdom.
If Chef Mickey’s is sounding pretty cringey to you right now, but your family really wants to see Mickey Mouse, I suggest trying The Tusker House in Animal Kingdom or The Garden Grill at Epcot.
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8. Sharing food is the way to go.
I would highly recommend splitting counter service meals between two people. If you’re like Joey from Friends and don’t like the idea of sharing food, then at least get a kid’s plate. Not only will it save you money, but unless you eat like a horse, a full meal is way more food than you’ll need.
I would even recommend splitting most of the snacks. For one thing, many of the snacks are too big and/or too sweet to handle on your own.
Also, sharing allows you to try more items (for example, you can try both the Berry Cream Puff and School Bread in Norway). Also,
Funny story: Our family of five tried to all split a turkey leg in Frontierland once. It did not go well. Use some common sense when sharing food, please.
From what I have heard, Garden Grocer has a much better selection and better customer service, but is pricier.
If you have experience with either of these (or know of a third option), please feel free to share your wisdom with us in the comments.
10. Bring your own food into the parks.
Make sure you bring plenty of your own snacks with you into the parks each day. You don’t want to have to be at the mercy of having to buy park food every time someone in your family suddenly gets hungry.
Even though you can get free ice water at any counter service restaurant, you may wish to get one of these, especially if you’re picky about how your water tastes.
I use this park bag that is cute and small but still has room for food.
Great Snacks to Bring Into the Parks:
CLIF BAR – Energy Bar – Chocolate Chip – (2.4 Ounce Protein Bar, 12 Count)Jack Link’s Beef Jerky, Original Flavor, 16 OunceAmazon Brand – Happy Belly Nuts, Chocolate & Dried Fruit Trail Mix, 48 ozStretch Island Apricot Original Fruit Leather Snacks – Vegan | Gluten Free | Non-GMO | No Sugar Added – 0.5 Oz Strips (30 Count)
11. Visit Disney World when one of your kids is two years, eleven months old.
Kids under age 3 eat for free off a parents’ plate at Disney World buffets and family-style restaurants, which can save you a fair amount of money during your trip.
12. Check out the menus before your trip.
You can view the menus for each restaurant at the Disney World Dining Page. This is a nice way to help choose where to eat ahead of time and give you an order of what you might want to order when you get there.
13. You can search high and low, but you’ll never find a Pepsi.
Disney has a contract with Coca-Cola, and therefore does not sell any Pepsi products in the parks. Don’t worry there, you can click here to easily have all the Pepsi you want delivered to your room.
14. The parks all have a great spot just for Baby Dining.
Each park has a Baby Care Center that is air-conditioned, quiet and peaceful. You can sit in a rocking chair and nurse your baby, or feed them in a high chair. And if you’re short on baby food, wipes, or formula, you can buy it there. There are also toys and cartoons to keep your preschoolers amused while they wait.
15. Decide if the Disney Dining Plan is right for you.
Ah, the controversial Dining Plan … is it worth it? Is it a waste? When it it free? What exactly does it include?
For now, let’s just say that we had done the Dining Plan twice when it was free, enjoyed it very much, and plan to do it again this year. It may seem silly, but we love the fact that it’s “already paid for” and we can enjoy ourselves and not worry about it. And we indulge in a way that we wouldn’t dream of doing if we were actually looking at the prices.
However, I would not recommend getting the Disney Dining Plan unless you’re able to get it for free.
The Standard Dining Plan is $75.49 per adult and $25.75 per child per day. For our family (because our kids are considered “adults” now, that’s $377.45 a day for food, every day of the vacation.
Seriously? Would you have planned to spend that much money on food if you were paying for meals and snacks as you go? My guess would be no. But be sure to check out my guide to 2018 Disney Dining Prices & Tips so you can make the best decision for your family.
I hope you’ve enjoying these dining tips. I’m sure there are a ton more that I haven’t thought of, so feel free to share some of your own favorite tips below in the comments!
Eat Like Walt: The Wonderful World of Disney FoodThe Disney Princess CookbookThe Ultimate Disney World CookbookDeliciously DisneyWalt Disney World Dining Guide 2018Disney Dining Plan 2019: Tips & Tricks for Making the Most of the Dining Plans at Walt Disney WorldDelicious Disney Sweet TreatsThe Princess and the Frog: Tiana’s Cookbook: Recipes for Kids (Disney Princess: The Princess and the Frog)
Overwhelmed by all the Disney Character Meal Options?
Originally this post was going to be called “Ways to get your kids excited about your Disney trip,” which is sort of funny, if you think about it. As if most kids are sitting around lethargically complaining that they have to go to Disney World, […]
If you’re planning a trip to Disney World, you should really check out Etsy. They have some digital printable downloads that can make your vacation easier, less stressful — more fun! Here are four types of printables you don’t want to miss. They are cute, […]
The very first time we went to Disney World as a family, I debated whether we should spring for an autograph book. After all, if you think about it (although I usually try not to), it’s really just an employee in a suit who has worked really hard to perfect copying a signature. Do we really need that?
Well, “need” is a strong word, but the thing is, you really do want something tangible for when you meet and interact with the characters. Plus kids tend to love something that’s theirs to hold onto during the vacation and to keep track of how many characters they met so far, and who they have left to meet.
So yeah, it’s worth the money (or effort, if you want to make one), in my opinion.
I’d love to tell you that when my kids were little, we all sat around the kitchen lovingly crafting our own handmade Disney autograph books that I personally designed myself and that were unique and beautiful.
But nope. I’m just not that kind of mom (generally speaking).
We simply bought the albums when we were in the park. (Which, now that I’m thinking about it, was partly because I was torn over whether we “needed” them or not until we were actually there).
If you want something prettier and more interesting than what we did, but for whatever reason don’t want to make your own, there are some really great personalized Disney autograph books on Etsy. Yes, it costs more money than what you would pay for an autograph book at the Disney Parks, but children love having something with their name on it (as do adults), and there are so many options that it’s easy to find one that best fits what you want.
Here are my six favorite handmade autograph books on Etsy:
Gold Castle Glitter Book
This album is so pretty — and what little girl wouldn’t love a Disney autograph with their name in gold glitter on the cover?
The book cover is made from sturdy chipboard and is bound with a twin loop wire binding. The finished book measures 7 by 6 inches, which includes the binding.
The book in available in these three different options. And the seller, Jessica at Fairytale Trading Post, has fantastic customer service. She includes not only a personalized note with each book, but also a Sharpie marker!
Minnie Mouse Album with Three Charms
If you know a Minnie Mouse fan (like we have at our house), then this book is sure to be a hit. It’s in the shape of Minnie ears and comes with three charms, including one that can be personalized with any initial you like.
It comes with ten pages, but you can pay a little extra to have additional pages put it if you like.
The Etsy seller, Cinderella rags, also makes similar autograph albums with charms in the shapes of Cinderella, Goofy, and Woody from Toy Story.
Mickey Autograph Tote Bags
This cinch tote is for people who like to be both practical and a little different. Instead of having to worry about holding onto a book, worrying about not losing it, taking it in and out of your bag … why not just have your bag be the autograph album?
The tote bag can be personalized with both your child’s name and the year and comes in six different design choices.
The Etsy seller, GraphX Vinyl and More, also makes several Disney tees, including matching ones for couples.
Colorful Disney Journal
This is the perfect book for the young Disney traveler who will grow up to be a blogger someday. I would have loved this book when I was a kid. Instead of just being a collection of pages to collect autographs in, it’s larger than your typical autograph album and also has the option to also include lined pages with journal prompts and coloring pages with Disney characters.
The Etsy seller, Stop Drop and Journal, also makes autograph journals specifically for Christmas Disney trips, plus ones featuring Lightning McQueen and Mater, which my son would have loved. (Well … except for the fact that he doesn’t like to write and wasn’t very interested in seeing the characters. But he would have loved the Lightning McQueen and Mater part.)
Spiral-Bound Disney Adventure Book
Doncha hate it when you’re trying to write in a notebook and the front cover keeps bouncing back against your hand? That’s why I like this book — it’s spiral-bound, so you won’t have that problem! Also, the back cover is made of chipboard to give it a firm writing service. Double bonus!
I like this particular design because I like Minnie Mouse and the color pink, but Etsy seller Flamingo Road Journals makes these in a ton of different cover designs, including one specifically for Disney honeymoons and another for Animal Kingdom.
Disney Autograph Book with Photo Sleeves
I realized I’ve been choosing a lot of “girl” albums, so to even things out, here’s one that would work for boys (or girls). What I like about this Mickey autograph book is that is comes with photo sleeves. We used this type of book on one of our trips, and it’s nice to see easily see when you met the character alongside their autograph.
This is another book with one of those great spiral bindings, and you can customize it different ways to get the type and amount of pages that you want.
The Etsy seller, Sippin Sweet Tea, has over 200 different Disney autograph albums, including ones specifically for Disney cruises. In addition, she has over 100 different Disney shirts.
So, as you can see, there are lots of great choices for getting a beautiful, well-made, personalized autograph album for your kids’ trip to Disney World.
This group of the best toy garages for toddlers make playing with cars extra fun, particularly for little boys, who in my experience are always fascinated with them. When my son Benjamin was very little, he loved toy cars and trucks more than anything else. […]
Book lovers — such as myself — are a bit of a weird breed.
When we’re out in public and see a stranger reading, we try to get a glimpse of the title of the book (or often, in my case, just flat-out ask.) Our idea of a wild and exciting evening out is wandering through a bookstore. We go into a tailspin if the movie adaption of the book is a disgrace. (Anyone remember Simon Birch, the supposed movie version of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany? No? Well, probably just as well. And I would never, ever, even consider seeing the live-action versions of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas or The Cat in the Hat.)
If you’re curious (or in a hurry):
I personally pack at least four books any time I take a trip: the book that I’m currently reading, one fiction and one non-fiction book for when I finish the current book (because I don’t know which type I’ll be in the mood for) and one extra back-up just in case I don’t like either of those.
And then, of course, there are always a few extra books on my phone’s Kindle app. Just in case.
Whether you’re shopping for the bibliophile in your life, or you are one yourself, you’ll love these clever and unique gift ideas that I found on Amazon and Etsy. You can also scroll down to the bottom to see some tips on how to make a gift basket with a book theme.
Personal Library Lending Kit
If you love books, you’re probably always lending out your favorites to people who you know will enjoy them. This can eventually turn into a headache when you forget who has what or wonder why you can’t seem to find your favorite self-help book when you suddenly need to refer to it.
Enter this library lending kit to the rescue! It has 20 self-adhesive pockets and checkout cards, plus a date stamp and inkpad, and a pencil.
This would be a particularly great gift for school teachers and college professors, who probably loan out lots of books for their students and colleagues. Oh, and don’t worry — you can purchase refill packs!
If you belong to a book club, this would be a lovely Christmas gift to give to everybody in the group. (If you want to make it an extra-fun gift, consider pairing it with one of these mugs for book lovers.) It could also make a great gift, or part of a gift basket, to thank your local library workers.
These 25 tea bags each have quotes by famous writers such as Louise May Alcott, Mark Twain, and C.S. Lewis. (“You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.”)
Read ’em and steep!
Kindle Book Cover Case
I confess that I have never actually read a Jane Austen novel, but I do love the movie adaptations, especially Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility.
This lovely Kindle Paperwhite case perfectly imitates the look and feel of a classic hard back book and keeps your device safe.
Amazon reviewer Michelle H. says that she originally bought this cover as a novelty, but then later realizes some advantages to having a book-like cover: “It offers privacy when sitting near someone and I find that the cover keeps the light off of my husband as he is sleeping next to me. I also like that it does not initially look like an e-reader.”
✅ You might also enjoy: 12 Great Gifts for Kids Who Love to Read
Custom Stamped Spoon
Cozy up with a good book and a cup of tea — and stir it with this stamped novelty spoon! One Amazon reviewer said that she combined this spoon with some sugar tongs, sugar cubes, organic tea, and a good book and put it in a very pretty Victorian box to make a great gift.
Book Lovers’ Quilt
Of course one of the requirements for curling up with a good book is having a warm, snuggly blanket to wrap yourself up in. This beautiful quilt is printed with hardbound books in rich colors and is lightweight enough that it’s perfect for travel as well as home. It’s cleverly designed so that the minky layer provides warmth, but the cotton stays cool during the summer.
It’s machine washable in the gentle cycle and measures 44 by 52 inches.
Library Book Scented Candle
It’s no secret that many book lovers have a fondness for the smell of books. Well, here’s a candle that lets us fill our homes with that scent! This soy candle in a jar has the scent of “aged paper and dusty shelves” with vanilla undertones. Perfect for burning while you’re reading in bed late into the night.
Disney Gifts for Teachers
There’s nothing like literary-themed jewelry to let the world know where you stand when it comes to books! This charm bracelet features 7 silvertone book and reading themed charms, with the word “bookish” spelled with letter beads that are replicas of old-fashioned typewriter keys. It fastens with a lobster claw and chain, making the length adjustable from 7 to 9 inches.
What a cute little patch! It can be ironed (or fastened with safety pins) onto a tote bag, jumper, or denim jacket. You can give the patch itself as a gift (it comes with iron-on instructions), or use it to create your own unique clothing or accessory before giving it to your favorite book lover.
I love the colors of these pencils: shimmery, midnight-blue foil on pretty pastel shades. Each pencil in this set has a different color and quote, such as “I Heart Books,” “Certified Book Addict,” and “Book Nerd.”
A nice plus is that the pencils are hex-shaped, so they won’t roll all over your desk.
These prints are a fun and unique way to pay tribute to your favorite classic novel! They are displayed as an old-fashioned library card and include the correct Dewey Decimal System classification number, the title and author’s name, and the first and last lines of this beloved book.
They are available in two sizes: 5×7 inches (printed on a 5.5×8.5 inch sheet) and 8×10 inches (printed on an 8.5×11 inch sheet). The mat and frame are not included and the print will have the copyright watermark removed.
The print in the image above is of The Secret Garden because it’s one of my very favorite children’s chapter books, but there are prints available in many other book titles as well. The Etsy seller, Folio Creations, can legally only use material in the public domain, which generally means books that were published before 1923. That still leaves a lot of great titles, though, including Anne of Green Gables, A Christmas Carol, Wuthering Heights, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, The Wind in the Willows, and another one of my very favorites, Little Women.
My oldest daughter and I both share this strange desire to buy all the blank books, calendars, and planners in sight every time we walk into an office supply store. This gift set would make us both deliriously happy. It combines the beautiful pastel pencils listed above with this planner and a yellow journal with a ruled interior.
If you’re looking specifically for Christmas gifts for book lovers, book-themed ornaments are always nice. This ornament from Etsy is made of lightweight wood, can be personalized along its banner, and comes in a nice gift box.
Other Christmas gift ideas for book lovers include books about the holiday season OR holiday movies that are based on books.
✅ You might also like: 12 Christmas Ornaments for Book Lovers
Tips on Putting Together a Book Lover Gift Basket
Gift baskets are a creative way to make a personalized gift and are especially nice for a departing college students, teachers or someone who is sick and/or in the hospital.
I’m certainly no expert on creating a perfect-looking gift basket (working with cellophane gives me the heebie-jeebies), but I did some research and found some tips that will help.
1. Be creative with your container.
Don’t limit yourself to just baskets, and don’t feel like you have to spend a lot of money on your container. Dollar stores sell containers in all shapes and colors.
2. Begin by covering the bottom of your container in tissue paper.
This props up the gifts and makes the overall effect more attractive. If your basket is particularly large, you can line the bottom with newspaper and then cover it with tissue paper.
3. Put your largest and/or sturdiest gift in the center.
This becomes your framework. Once you have it set up, put the next largest gifts around it, then tuck the smaller gifts in-between them, especially in the front so that they’re not hidden.
4. Add some snacks.
You need something to eat while you read, right? Some good choices might be cheese and crackers, a non-messy fruit like grapes or bananas, nuts, and tea bags.
5. Consider including a book signed by the author.
A signed book can be a real treasure, especially if it includes a personalized note. Local indie bookstores and ebay are a good place to find these. If your gift basket recipient like sweet, clean, and slightly humorous contemporary romances, drop me an email and I can send you a personalized copy of one of my books for a good price.
(Scroll down to see the titles or click here.)
6. Add a personalized tag.
A tag gives it a “finished” look and makes it clear what the theme of the gift basket is. You can make your own (either by hand or computer), or use the Internet to help you.
Or here’s one of the many customized tags you can get from etsy:
7. Skip the cellophane (if you want).
Sure, you might need to wrap the basket if it’s for, say, a school auction. Or maybe you’re just a better wrapper than I am and like the finished look of a basket being bound up with ribbon at the top.
But don’t fret if you’re like me and feel like no matter what you do, you end up cutting the wrong amount of wrapping and you have trouble getting the ribbon to curl and the end result looks somewhat crooked. A gift basket — especially when it’s adorned with a cute tag — can look beautiful without being wrapped.
I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at all these cool gifts for book lovers and that you’ve found the perfect one to give to a friend or relative. Maybe you even found an extra one to get for yourself! 🙂