Craving Dole Whip

Disney & museum obsessed, homeschooling mom of 3, parenting to focus on experiences, not possessions. Sharing Disney tips, educational adventures and 'been-there-done-that' reviews. Constantly craving Dole Whip.

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The Delicious Firefly Grill in Effingham, Illinois


I live in Texas.

Serendipity lead me to find the BEST restaurant in Illinois by complete happy (mouthwatering) accident.

And, within the last 10 months, I have eaten there three times!

Are you road tripping through Illinois?  Add this unbelievable restaurant to your must-visit, travel agenda.


In July of 2016, my husband and I made a quick and unexpected road trip from Chicago to Houston.  No pre-planning, color-coded itineraries, museum stops or kids…just me and my husband on the open road, in a hurry to get home to Texas.

We left Chicago around 4:00 p.m. and decided to drive until we were too tired to continue.  As we made our way along I-94 and then I-57 S, I saw a billboard advertising a farm-to-table restaurant.  I Goggled the name (Yea! for the internet and cell phones and the all-mighty Google) and my husband and I agreed we would stop there for dinner.  (We do not eat fast food and we were THRILLED to have a fresh dining option!)


Instantly, we knew we stumbled upon something special.  The rustic, natural wood, relaxing front porch, and open, outdoor seating welcomes guests, especially weary travelers looking for the perfect meal and an opportunity to unwind.



As soon as we pulled into the parking lot, I spotted the beautiful garden to the right of the main building.  In all of it’s summer glory, it was magnificent!  Farm-to-table…with the farm right there!







The menu…the fresh food…the garden…the ambiance…

We ordered several appetizers, two entrees and two desserts.  Yes, it was just the two of us…we like to indulge once in awhile.  No judging.  Of course, this was long before I started this blog.  I took pictures of the land and building, but unfortunately, the AMAZING food was completely devoured without being photographed.

My husband and I took our time enjoying everything the Firefly Grill offered.  We were in no hurry to get back on the road. Blissfully satisfied and in a complete food coma, we reserved a hotel room right in Effingham that evening.


Lucky for you, my son lives in Chicago and my family took a return road trip to Illinois in May of 2017.  Firefly Grill was placed at the top of the must-do, color-coded itinerary–TWO stops in fact–one on the way into Chicago and the other, on the way back home to Texas.

***When your all-time FAVORITE restaurant is 886 miles from your front door, you gotta make a BIG effort to eat as much and as often as humanly possible.  No judging.

And the good news:  This time, I took pictures of EVERYTHING.  You are welcome.


The Firefly Grill delivers a fresh, farm-to-table, sustainable and environmentally responsible menu that changes often and reflects seasonal availability.  The commitment to conscious dining is reflected not only in their food, but also in the abundant reclaimed barn woods, recycled steel, composting practices, thoughtful irrigation from the on-site pond and an unwavering dedication to using non-chemical gardening practices.





Using a simple philosophy, “Source the best ingredients possible and stay out of their way”, Chef Niall creates uncomplicated, distinctive, and original dishes in an expedition style kitchen.

The main dining room is modern casual, with dark chocolate wood floors, comfortable leather seating, cool cobalt blue glassware, single bulb pendant lighting and a full bar.


Billowing drapery and a warm, gentle color scheme creates a home-like and welcoming setting.


Large plate glass windows and doors showcase a relaxing and peaceful outdoor setting, tempting visitors to dine alfresco, if the weather permits.  My family and I ate on the charming patio during all of our visits.




Outdoor tables provide casual and comfortable seating, with several cushioned couches, woven chairs and cooling ceiling fans.  The porch offers a rustic and relaxing environment, where guests enjoy the tranquil views.


The side patio faces a large grassy knoll, highlighting one graceful, willow-like tree.


As the patio wraps around, tables and sofas sit above the banks of the peaceful Kristie Lake.






YES!  Enormous and beautiful orange and black fish swim around in the lake!

The environment and the ambiance are reason enough to visit this amazing restaurant.  It is a breathtaking oasis with a family-friendly, peaceful and relaxing vibe, full of environmentally responsible actions.


However, it is the simple, fresh, locally sourced and sensational food that impressed my family the most and stamped Firefly Grill with the honor of being my new favorite restaurant, even if it is 886 miles from my house.

Firefly Grill offers diners a diverse menu showcasing ingredients, vegetables and herbs grown onsite.  The restaurant combines great food with a peaceful location.  It is the perfect farm-to-table example of what fresh and responsible dining should be and could be in our country.


Because meals are prepared when ordered, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan and allergen-friendly requests are welcomed and easily created.  Every staff member we encountered was knowledgeable, helpful and attentive, producing a professional team and family community within the restaurant.

Below are several pictures of the yummy menu when we visited in May of 2017.  Remember friends, this is a farm-to-table restaurant with a focus on serving seasonal, available and responsibly sourced food, so this menu will change as often as needed and that is what makes this place so incredible!




The menu boasts all kinds of delectable options:  soups, salads, small plates, pizzas, sandwiches, entrees, sides, desserts, coffees, after dinner drinks, as well as beer and wine.

Honestly, we wanted to try it all!

So what did we eat?  No judging…remember?

During one visit, I ordered the Firefly Garden Salad, which was full of crispy mixed greens (from the onsite garden!), tiny sprigs of dill, roasted red and gold beets, a crunchy and tangy goat cheese croquette, all lightly tossed with white balsamic.  Bright, fresh, and delicious!


I ordered the Wedge Salad during our second visit.  It was a perfectly portioned plate of crisp iceberg lettuce, a sprinkle of Applewood smoked bacon, green chives, soft bleu cheese crumbles and a drizzle of creamy dressing.  Traditionally, this salad also comes with fresh red tomatoes, but I ordered without.


My daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed the fried morel mushrooms (which are only available for a limited time) served with chili lime aioli and a zesty dill ranch.  It was the BEST ranch dip I have EVER tasted.


As you can see, I practically licked the ranch bowl.  Maybe I did…maybe I didn’t…there is no proof…


My husband ordered the Fish-n-Chips–fresh and crispy pieces of Atlantic cod, bold Guinness Stout, malt vinegar, served with firefly tartar sauce and French fries.  He loved the fish and the tartar sauce was divine.  I finished off his fries by dousing them in malt vinegar and dredging through the tangy tartar.  (My mouth is watering as I type this sentence!)


Below is a picture of the Cave-Aged Gruyere Burger, served with red onion jam, boursin, delicious gruyere, a Portobello mushroom, and crunchy homemade onion rings.  Full of savory flavors, original and tempting!


The Portobello Veggie Burger was the perfect option for my vegetarian daughter–a large Portobello mushroom, green pesto, juicy tomato, topped with micro-greens and chevre boursin, all served on a grilled bun with French fries.


Firefly Fish Tacos were accompanied by a sweet chili slaw, pineapple pico de gallo, fresh sliced vegetables, all scooped into grilled flour tortillas and presented along side several appetizing sauces.  My daughter’s favorite component?  The fresh and tangy pineapple pico de gallo!


We ordered the Beer Cheese & Pretzels as an appetizer during both of our May visits.  Yes, it was marvelous!  Yes, it was delicious!  Yes, I wish I was eating it right now!  Warm, house-made beer cheese, house-made pretzel bites, grilled to crispy perfection (but still soft and chewy on the inside), sprinkled with flaky snowflakes of salt…pure heaven.


I love Brussels sprouts.  If I see them on a menu, I always place my order.  Below is a picture of the Brussels served at Firefly Grill:  fresh Brussel sprouts, tossed with bacon and shallots.  To be 100% transparent and honest, this dish was a little bland for my inappropriate and excessive love of sprouts, but I rarely expect perfection, so all is forgiven.  These were ordered as a side dish.


My husband devoured the Firefly Steak Burger which is prepared with bacon, caramelized onion and mornay, all topped with a local sunny side up egg and presented on a chewy pretzel bun.


I know what you are thinking–“There is NO WAY these people left any room to try the desserts…bummer!”

But, fear not my little friends!  When we indulge, we GO BIG OR GO HOME!  No quitters here.

So, on to desserts!

Try the Chocolate Valrhona Cake if it is available during your visit.  The yummy chocolatey dessert blends layers of valrhona cake and milk chocolate mousse into a splendid confection, presented with craters of caramel sauce and usually served with house-made espresso ice cream.  I switched it up and chose to order my cake with salted caramel ice cream instead.  (PS–How cute is this wooden plate?!? Not only did I love this dessert, but I LOVED the plate.  I did not EAT the plate…I just appreciate the pleasing aesthetic feeling that it brought to the party.)


I also recommend the amazing and seasonal firefly ice cream.  Nothing beats a fresh, in-house made, creamy frozen dessert.  There were 5 or 6 flavors to choose from and the salted caramel was my favorite.  I ordered it during both of our May visits.



Firefly Signature Shooters combine delightful and manageable portions of yummy desserts–a perfect way to quiet a sweet tooth after an enjoyable meal.

These sweet options include Caramel Cookie with dulce de leche and oreo filling, s’mores with spiced pound cake, cheesecake with strawberry preserves, butterscotch pudding with a chocolate crumble and a passion fruit mousse.

My daughter ordered the chocolate espresso, featuring espresso soaked devils food cake, a chocolate cremeux and topped with a dark chocolate crumble.



espresso soaked lady fingers assemble a perfectly indulgent dessert, hugged between
house-made toffee and fluffy whipped cream.




The Firefly Grill delivers.  It delivers on freshness, flavor, ambiance, service and originality.  In the open, American heartland, this restaurant brings sustainable, farm-to-table food to diners seeking seasonal, responsible and modern cuisine.


Executive Chef Niall Diarmid Campbell II and his wife, General Manager Kristie, met in Puerto Rico and through an interesting turn of events, the couple opened Firefly Grill in 2006, in Effingham, Illinois.  Together, they have created an outstanding restaurant with the “feel of coming home” in the heart of the Midwest.


The Firefly Grill is located at 1810 Avenue of Mid America, Effingham, Illinois, 62401.  The peaceful location creates a beautiful backdrop for weddings, private parties, dinners and events.

For more information, a list of food sources and farms, and current hours of operation, please visit their website at or call (217) 342-2002.




Want to learn all about my favorite museum in Houston, Texas?  Click here.

My fav museum in Oklahoma?  Glad you asked…click here!

I have a few favorites in Florida, too!  Check them out here and here.

Don’t worry…I have some favorites in Illinois…I will write those reviews ASAP.


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Best Disney Restaurants for Kids Ages 5 and Under

OH!  Disney Dining…you keep us coming back for more and more and more!



With 7 Disney trips under their belts, my kids have eaten at a ton of WDW restaurants, ranging from simple snacks to quick counter service to almost every character meal to fine dining at Victoria & Albert’s.  They have seen and eaten it all–and at all ages–from 8 months to 23 years old!

Disney does a great job of creating themed restaurants to serve all guests, kids and kids-at-heart.  Though almost all Walt Disney World restaurants offer a kid’s menu, some are obviously more geared towards the younger visitors.

My daughters and I chose the BEST kid restaurants based on kid-centered theming, characters, fun environments and kid-friendly (not just kid’s menu) food.


These are the BEST of the BEST table service restaurants for kids ages 5 and under.

For a list every character meal inside the Walt Disney World theme parks, click here.

Put these table service restaurants on your ‘Must-Do’ list!

Magic Kingdom:




The Crystal Palace–Read all details and a review here

Cinderella’s Royal Table

Be Our Guest Restaurant–Read all details and a review here and avoid the West Wing dining room if your child is afraid of the dark, simulated thunder and lightening.

Tony’s Town Square Restaurant





Akershus Royal Banquet Hall

Garden Grill Restaurant


Hollywood Studios:


Hollywood & Vine

50’s Prime Time Café–Read all of the details and a review here.


Animal Kingdom:

Tusker House Restaurant


Disney Springs:

Rainforest Café–Avoid if your child is frightened by simulated thunder and loud noises.

T-REX–Avoid if your child is frightened by loud noises and large dinosaurs that move.




CM1 - Copy


1900 Park Fare–Read all details and a review here

Chef Mickey’s–Read all details and a review here


Cape May Cafe

Whispering Canyon Café


Click here to learn all about the 2017 Disney Dining Plan.

Click here to learn how to plan a Walt Disney World vacation like a pro!

Click here to read about our favorite Disney buffet!





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A Review of 50’s Prime Time Café



Among the glamour of Hollywood films, exciting stunt shows, Star Wars rebels and Toy Story mania, there is a magical restaurant offering guests an opportunity to step back in time to a by-gone era of poodle skirts and Ford Thunderbirds.

50’s Prime Time Café is a retro-themed restaurant serving American comfort food to theme park guests inside Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios.  And.  We.  Love.  It.


The entire restaurant is perfectly and classically themed, including the large lobby, created to look exactly like a 1950’s living room.  Comfy, floral couches, vinyl chairs, old fashioned wallpaper, wood bookcases, sunburst clocks and vintage tchotchkes fill the retro-styled room.


The quaint decorations and considerable 1950’s knickknacks generate a familiar feeling of visiting an old family friend or spending time at Grandma’s house.  The waitstaff conveys the delightful, old-school time warp by donning checkered dresses, scarves, dish rags and simple aprons.


50’s Prime Time Café highlights old-fashion theming throughout the restaurant, including the many dining rooms built as if each table is placed in a splendid 1950’s kitchen.  Antique refrigerators, decoupage art, fruit-themed items and copper Jell-O molds line the walls.  Dining areas are separated by open bookshelves displaying kitschy decorations and rooms are reminiscent of a simpler time in American history.


In this Formica and vinyl heaven, diners can order hearty home-cooked comfort food while enjoying black and white popular vintage sitcoms on multiple retro television sets.


Lunch and dinner have the same home-style, classic menu featuring familiar and family favorite dishes.

Appetizers include crispy beer battered onion rings, chicken noodle soup, and a delicious Cousin Amy’s iceberg lettuce wedge salad with thick blue cheese dressing, bacon and chives.  I can’t help it–I order the wedge every time.


Hearty and tasty retro entrées include Dad’s Stuffed Pork Chop with gouda cheese, apples, herbs, roasted potatoes, carrots topped with a demi-glaze drizzle and Mom’s Old Fashion Pot Roast, slow cooked and served with garlic mashed potatoes, brown gravy and carrots.

My husband’s favorites are the chicken potpie and the traditional meat loaf.  My son (age 23) loved ‘A Sampling of Mom’s Favorite Recipes’ that included golden fried chicken, tender pot roast, traditional meatloaf and all the fixings.  He voted 50’s Prime Time Café the best meal we enjoyed during our January 2017 trip.


Try the vegetable lasagna, sustainable fish or the Caesar salad with chicken or salmon.

Kid’s meals include turkey meatloaf, baked chicken, meatless meatballs, mac-n-cheese, pot roast sandwich and fresh fruit.

Yummy old school desserts include warm apple crisp, a delicious pineapple upside down cake (My FAV!), ice cream sundaes and my kids (ages 23, 12 and 11) loved the PB & J milkshake!


Familiar drinks and beverages are served, but there are also flavored sodas, like Coca Cola with vanilla or cherry!  Don’t forget to order a root beer float!

Classic 1950’s cocktails are available–Mowie Wowie, Grandma’s Picnic Punch, Long Island Iced Tea and a chocolate martini, to name a few.  There is a full bar with wine, craft and draft beers.  The Tune-In Lounge is next door and serves the same menu in a 1950’s vintage bar setting.


The banter between the servers and the diners is just as entertaining as the delightful environment.  Just like momma always said, the waitstaff will yell, “Elbows off the table!” and “Eat all of your veggies!”  Our waiter sternly told my son, “No toys at the table!” when my son was checking his phone.  LOL.

If you eat everything on your plate, you might receive a “clean plate club” sticker.  My husband laughed at the sticker and in conversation, mentioned how he would love to give the sticker to his dad.  Our server overheard us and came around the corner with a roll of extra “clean plate club” stickers, which we gave to my father-in-law when we returned to Texas.



50’s Prime Time Café is our favorite restaurant inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  The remarkable theming is second-to-none and the service has always been outstanding.  Eating at this super fun restaurant is a chance to step back in time and experience a splendid, by-gone era, while enjoying some delicious and old-fashion home cooking.


Yes, lunch and dinner menus are identical.

Lunch is served 11:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

Dinner is served 3:45 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Operating hours for all Disney restaurants can change due to seasonal crowd levels and refurbishments.

Dress is casual.

A theme park ticket is required to dine at 50’s Prime Time Café.  The restaurant is inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios and remember, any restaurant inside a Disney theme park requires a ticket for entrance into that specific park.

To travel to 50’s Prime Time Café, take any Disney transportation to Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park.  Parking is also available in the Disney Hollywood Studios parking lot for a fee.  Walking from the park entrance, the restaurant is near Echo Lake on the left.

Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR) are highly recommended and can be made directly on the Disney website, through the My Disney Experience app on a smart phone or by calling 407-939-3463.

Current and full menus for every Walt Disney World restaurant can be found on the Disney website.  Click on “Things to do”, then click on “All Dining”.  Every restaurant is listed alphabetically.  Click on the name of the restaurant and then click on “View Menu” off to the right of the middle photograph.

50’s Prime Time Café accepts the Disney dining plan.

Both lunch and dinner are 1 table service credit on the dining plan.

Click here to find out if the Disney dining plan is right for your next vacation!

If you only learn one thing from my blog posts, I hope it is the fact that Disney changes every day.  That is exactly why Disney is so popular–there is ALWAYS something new for junkies like me to experience!  It is also why I always say everything is subject to change.

Overwhelmed with planning a Disney vacation?  Click here and learn everything you need to know!

To read about how I save money on every Disney vacation, click here.

Want to know which restaurant is our fav in Magic Kingdom?  Click here!

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A Review of Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen Restaurant



Step into Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen, where the Jungle Cruise crew serves up hilarious corny jokes, silly idioms and entertaining puns along side some creative and unique food.

Casually called Skipper Canteen, the entertaining outpost restaurant is located deep inside the jungles of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Adventureland.



An outdoor pavilion welcomes diners with an island vacation flair, showcasing comfortable wicker chairs, green shutters and a beautiful glass ceiling with cooling fans.




Three uniquely themed rooms with quirky, British outpost decorations create a quiet escape from the theme park crowds.  The Crew’s Mess Hall is the largest dining area.  There is also a Jungle Room and the S.E.A. room–the secret meeting place for the Society of Explorers and Adventurers.

Take a minute and check out each room–there are some silly and interesting finds!


Walls are decorated with artifacts, sculptures, maps, photographs, masks and baskets collected from many high adventure explorations of the world’s tropical jungles.

Muted, but colorful, the walls and moldings are painted to look like worn wood and fresco-style plaster, with plenty of shutters and exotic travel details.

Tables are comfortably spaced and can accommodate large parties or small intimate couples.  Seating is mostly cushioned chairs, but there are a few tables with one-sided, fabric-lined, booth seating.



The restaurant servers are rusty, I mean, trusty skippers ‘taking a break’ from narrating tongue-in-cheek tours aboard Disney’s light-hearted Jungle Cruise expeditions.  Clever jokes and silly puns create a fun and entertaining interaction between diners and servers.

A creative, wandering menu, fusing exotic flavors of South American, Asian, Latin, and African spices and cuisines, represents the rivers visited on a Jungle Cruise journey:  The Amazon, African Congo, Nile and Mekong River.


Skipper Canteen servers both lunch and dinner and the menus for these two meals are identical.

Appetizers include Baladi Salad, an Egyptian creation made with Romaine lettuce, red peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, and parsley served with coriander mint vinaigrette and Ambasha bread croutons.

Though the portion was too small, I enjoyed the Falls Family Falafel made with chickpeas, garlic, onion, lemon juice and herbs served with white bean dip and a tomato and cucumber salad.  Try the Orinoco Ida’s Cachapas, which is corn pancakes, mojo-braised pork, black bean salad served with an avocado cream.

Entrees include Char Siu Pork served with Chinese broccoli and jasmine rice, noodle bowl with chicken, lamb chops and a sustainable fish option.

My daughter liked Skips Beefy Baked Pasta, an Egyptian dish with spiced braised beef, pasta, cheese and Béchamel sauce served with seasonable vegetables.

We also recommend the Curried Vegetable Crew Stew, served with coconut rice and seasonal vegetables.

Kid’s meals include sustainable fish, grilled flank steak, mac-n-cheese, chicken and fresh fruit.

Desserts are the artistic showstoppers at this Magic Kingdom restaurant.  The coconut bar with pineapple basil compote, vanilla ice cream, vanilla chiffon cake with coconut lime, white chocolate ganache was delicious and probably the reason we will return.


The Kungaloosh is an African inspired chocolate cake with caramelized bananas, cashew caramel ice cream, topped with coffee dush.  Our favorite part was the cashew ice cream.


Traditional sodas and teas are served as well as coffee, espresso, cappuccino and lattes.

Skipper Canteen also serves a few select beer and wines.

The bold menu also offers fun non-alcoholic beverages, like exotic Coca Cola Guarana Kuat from Brazil and Fanta Melon Frosty from Thailand.

Yes, lunch and dinner menus are identical.

Lunch is served 11:30 a.m. to 2:55 p.m.

Dinner is served 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Operating hours for all Disney restaurants can change due to seasonal crowd levels and refurbishments.

Family-friendly, tongue-in-cheek narration mixed with clever jokes from the skippers makes this a fun and light-hearted restaurant.

The food plays second fiddle to the fun interactions with the servers.

Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen was very clean and the service was top-notch.  Though the food was original and bold, there wasn’t anything we desire to eat again, except the coconut bar dessert.  The food was underwhelming.

The ambiance is relaxing and since this is not a character meal, it is a peaceful escape from the chaos and crowds outside.

Skipper Canteen is a must for die-hard Jungle Cruise fans.

Dress is casual.

A theme park ticket is required to dine at Skipper Canteen.  The restaurant is inside the Magic Kingdom and remember, any restaurant inside a Disney theme park requires a ticket for entrance into that specific park.

To travel to Skipper Canteen, take any Disney transportation to Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park.  Enter the park and take a left before the castle and head towards Adventureland.  The restaurant will be on your right.

Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR) are highly recommended and can be made directly on the Disney website, through the My Disney Experience app on a smart phone or by calling 407-939-3463.

Current and full menus for every Walt Disney World restaurant can be found on the Disney website.  Click on “Things to do”, then click on “All Dining”.  Every restaurant is listed alphabetically.  Click on the name of the restaurant and then click on “View Menu” off to the right of the middle photograph.

Skipper Canteen accepts the Disney dining plan.

Both lunch and dinner are 1 table service credit on the dining plan.

Click here to find out if the Disney dining plan is right for your next vacation!

If you only learn one thing from my blog posts, I hope it is the fact that Disney changes every day.  That is exactly why Disney is so popular–there is ALWAYS something new for junkies like me to experience!  It is also why I always say everything is subject to change.

Overwhelmed by the planning process of a Disney vacation?  Don’t worry!  I am here to help!  Click here to learn how to plan a WDW vacation like a total pro!

Click here for a list of all character meals at Walt Disney World.



2017 Disney Dining Plan–Everything You Need To Know



To Dining Plan Or Not To Dining Plan…that is the question.

It is the most common inquiry I receive and honestly, one of the more challenging to answer.

Whether the dining plan will save you money completely depends on your family, the ages of your children, where you plant to eat and what you eat. Everyone eats differently, especially on vacation and every family is different.

So many factors.  So many options.  So many questions.  So many different answers.

I will try to simplify. (Ha!  That rhymes!)

If you are just beginning the planning process, click here to see a list of questions to answer BEFORE you plan a Walt Disney World vacation.

Click here to learn how to plan a Disney vacation like a pro.


The 2017 Disney Meal Plan

The Basics:

  • Guests must purchase a Magic Your Way Package through Disney in order to be eligible to purchase any meal plan.
  • Guests must stay at a Walt Disney Resort.  The dining plan is not available for the Swan and Dolphin Hotels, Shades of Green and the hotels of the Disney Springs Resort area.
  • Typically, a minimum 3 night resort stay is required.
  • Annual pass holders and DVD members can purchase the Disney dining plan.
  • Each person on your resort reservation must be on the dining plan.
  • Each person on your resort reservation must be on the same level of dining plan, too.
  • Plans are set based on the number of nights on your resort reservation.  i.e. If you book 5 nights, you get 5 days worth of the dining plan.  You can not get less days and you can not pay for more.  I will explain in greater detail below.
  • The dining plan expires at midnight on the check out day.
  • Disney defines children as ages 3-9.
  • Children ages 3-9 on the Disney dining plan are expected to order from the children’s menu when one is available.
  • The dining plan is not available for children under the age of 3.  Children under 3 can eat off of an adult’s plate or a meal can be purchased separately.
  • Any guest age 10 or older is a Disney adult.  (I don’t make the rules.)
  • Tax is included.
  • Tips and gratuities are NOT included.
  • 18% gratuity is automatically added to parties of 6 or more guests.
  • The refillable mugs can be filled an unlimited amount of times (during your stay) at Disney resort quick service restaurants only.  Not the theme parks.  Drinks include sodas, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, etc.
  • If you order something that the dining plan does not cover, you will be charged separately for that item.
  • Desserts and appetizers at breakfast are not included.
  • Alcohol is not included.
  • Meals are considered quick service (QS) or table service (TS) or signature dining (SD).
  • Pricing for the dining plan can increase at anytime.
  • The dining plan is always changing.

Have you read my post about changes at Disney?  Click here my friend.


Restaurant Credit Descriptions:

Snacks are a plethora of all kinds of things and are marked with a purple and white 4 point segmented square on all Disney menus offering snacks.  If you don’t see the symbol, there are no snacks on that menu.  1 snack credit can be used for a frozen ice cream novelty, 1 scoop of popcorn, 1 piece of whole fruit, 20 oz. soda or water, Dole Whip!, soups, chips, puffed rice treats and so much more.


This is the snack credit symbol

Quick service restaurants are just like they sound, quick.  Ordering is made at a counter or register and the food is casual, quick and easy.  Guests choose their own tables.



Quick service breakfast


Table service restaurants are more formal than quick service.  Guests are escorted to their tables and menus are provided for ordering (if not a buffet).  A server will wait on the table.  Most buffets and most character meals are considered table service.

For a list of every character meal at Walt Disney World, click here!



Chef Mickey’s buffet is 1 table service credit.


Signature dining restaurants are more formal and elegant than table service restaurants.  There is a “resort casual” dress code for signature dining.  Signature dining uses 2 table service dining credits.  Cinderella’s Royal Table is considered signature dining and uses 2 table service credits.


Cinderella’s Royal Table is considered signature dining and uses 2 table service credits.

Dinner shows are just like they sound, dinner and a show.  Think Disney’s Spirit of Aloha or Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue.  Dinner shows require 2 table service dining credits.



The Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort requires 2 table service credits from the dining plans.


The Three Options:

Disney offers 3 different dining plans:  Quick service, Dining, and Deluxe Dining.

Quick Service:

  • $48.19 per night per adult (ages 10+)
  • $20.88 per night per child (ages 3-9)
  • Includes 2 quick service credits per night per person (1 quick service meal is considered 1 entrée and 1 drink)
  • Includes 2 snack credits per night per person
  • Includes 1 refillable mug per person

The Dining Plan:

  • $69.35 per night per adult
  • $24.95 per night per child
  • Includes 1 quick service credit per night per person (1 quick service meal is considered 1 entrée and 1 drink)
  • Includes 1 table service credit per night per person (1 table service meal is considered 1 entrée, 1 dessert (lunch and dinner) and 1 drink or 1 buffet and 1 drink.)
  • Includes 2 snack credits per night per person
  • Includes 1 refillable mug per person
  • 1 table service credit can be used for most character meals. (Cinderella’s Royal Table is considered Signature Dining and is 2 table service credits.)
  • 2 table service credits can be used to dine at Signature Dining Restaurants (meal includes 1 entrée, 1 dessert and 1 drink)
  • 2 table service credits can be used for dinner shows (category 2 or 3 seating)
  • 2 table service credits can be used for private in-room dining (meal includes 1 entrée, 1 dessert and 1 drink)
  • 2 table service credits can be used for pizza delivery (meal includes 1 pizza entrée, 2 desserts and 2 drinks)

Deluxe Dining:

  • $106.68 per night per adult
  • $38.75 per night per adult
  • Includes 3 meals (QS or TS) per night–3 quick service or 3 table service credits per night per person used in any combination. (1 quick service meal is considered 1 entrée and 1 drink).  (1 deluxe dining table service meal is considered 1 appetizer (lunch and dinner), 1 entrée, 1 dessert (lunch and dinner), and 1 drink or a 1 buffet and 1 drink.)
  • Includes 2 snack credits per night per person
  • Includes 1 refillable mug per person
  • 1 table service credit can be used for most character meals. (Cinderella’s Royal Table is considered Signature Dining and is 2 table service credits.)
  • 2 table service credits can be used to dine at Signature Dining Restaurants (meal includes 1 appetizer, 1 entrée, 1 dessert and 1 drink)
  • 2 table service credits can be used for dinner shows (category 2 or 3 seating)
  • 2 table service credits can be used for private in-room dining (meal includes 1 appetizer, 1 entrée, 1 dessert and 1 drink)
  • 2 table service credits can be used for pizza delivery (meal includes 1 pizza entrée, 2 desserts and 2 drinks)



1900 Park Fare breakfast buffet is 1 table service credit.


Confused yet?

I am going to create several scenarios to help clarify.

Scenario #1

2 adults and 2 children (ages 4 and 7) book 5 nights at a Disney resort and choose the quick service plan.  Total cost:  $690.70.

The cost for each adult on the quick service plan for 5 nights is $240.95.

For 2 adults, the total is $481.90.

The cost for each child on the quick service plan for 5 nights is $104.40.

For 2 children, the total is $208.80.

Total cost for the quick service meal plan for this family of 4 is $690.70.

Each person is given 2 quick service credits and 2 snack credits for each night of the reservation.  That is 10 quick service credits and 10 snack credits per person for the entire vacation.

There are 2 adults.  So, they have a total of 20 adult quick service credits and 20 snack credits.  There are 2 children.  So, they have a total of 20 quick service (kids meals if offered) credits and 20 snack credits.

In total, this family has 40 quick service meal credits and 40 snack credits.  The math is getting ridiculous, right?  Are you following me?

Adult #1–10 QS credits, 10 snacks

Adult #2–10 QS credits, 10 snacks

Child #1–10 QS credits, 10 snacks

Child #2–10 QS credits, 10 snacks

These credits all expire on midnight of the check-out day.

Between the check-in day and midnight of the check-out day, this family can use these 40 quick service credits and 40 snack credits any way they please and in any combination.  The credits are all lumped into one total.

These credits are not linked to a certain person, either.  If adult #1 only wants to eat snacks the entire vacation, then he/she can eat all 40 snacks and all of those snacks can be Dole Whips…hypothetically, of course.

If this family wants to eat 20 quick service meals in one day, they can.  All of these 40 QS credits and 40 snack credits can be used in any combination on any day of their vacation.

Guest can use these quick service credits for quick service breakfast, lunch or dinner.  When all 40 quick service meals and all 40 snacks run out, any food purchases must be paid out of pocket.  If this family decides to eat at any table service restaurant, the bill would not be covered by their meal plan.


Scenario #2

Same family, 2 adults and 2 children (ages 4 and 7) book 5 nights at a Disney resort and choose the Dining Plan.  Total cost: $943.00

The cost for each adult on the dining plan for 5 nights is $346.75.

For 2 adults, the total is $693.50.

The cost for each child on the dining plan for 5 nights is $124.75.

For 2 children, the total is $249.50.

Total cost for the dining plan for this family of 4 is $943.00.

Each person is given 1 quick service credit, 1 table service credit and 2 snack credits for each night of the vacation.  That is 5 quick service credits, 5 table service credits and 10 snacks per person for the entire vacation.

Adult #1–5 QS credits, 5 TS credits, 10 snacks

Adult #2–5 QS credits, 5 TS credits, 10 snacks

Child #1–5 QS credits, 5 TS credit, 10 snacks

Child #2–5 QS credits, 5 TS credits, 10 snacks

The family in total has 20 quick service credits, 20 table service credits and 40 snacks to use in any combination over the duration of their resort stay.  This family could eat at 3 different table service restaurants in one day, if they choose.  Or, they could use 2 table service credits each to eat at a signature dining restaurant, like Cinderella’s Royal Table.  If the family of 4 all dined at Cinderella’s Royal Table, 8 of their 20 table service credits would be used.

If this family of 4 all ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at 3 table service restaurants in one day and then had breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table, their 20 table service credits would be gone.

To get the most benefit, this family should use their snack credits for breakfast items, quick service for lunch and each table service credit for a character meal or buffet.


Scenario #3

Same family, 2 adults and 2 children (ages 4 and 7) book 5 nights at a Disney resort and choose Deluxe Dining.  Total cost: $1,757.50.

The cost for each adult on the deluxe dining plan for 5 nights is $533.40.

For 2 adults, the total is $1,066.80.

The cost for each child on the deluxe dining plan for 5 nights is $193.75.

For 2 children, the total is $387.50.

Total cost for the deluxe dining plan for this family of 4 is $1,757.50.

Each person is given 3 meal credits (can be quick service or table service, in any combination) each night of the vacation.  That is 15 meal credits and 10 snacks per person for the entire vacation.

Adult #1–15 meals, 10 snacks

Adult #2–15 meals, 10 snacks

Child #1–15 meals, 10 snacks

Child #2–15 meals, 10 snacks

This family has a total of 60 meals that can be either quick service or table service, plus 40 snacks.  The 60 meals belong to the family as a whole.  Anyone can use the credits in any combination.

If this family of 4 all ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at 3 table service restaurants in one day and then had breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table, they would still have 40 meal credits left to use.  To get the most benefit, this family should eat all meals at table service restaurants and avoid quick service all together.

That’s a lot of math.  Yes, I used a calculator.

The Benefits:

All 3 meal plans are essentially pre-paid dining and are accepted at over 100 locations on Disney property.

It is a nice feeling to have dining costs already covered.

Guests using meal plans can save money if they choose wisely.

The Struggles:

The dining plans require pre-paying and must be paid in full when the final resort reservation payment is due.

Guests must actively keep track of how many dining credits have been used and how many are left. (Credits are printed on each dining receipt).

Children ages 10 and up are considered adults and are charged the adult dining plan fees.

At the time of this post, if you want the dining plan, Disney requires you to pay for the plan for every night of your resort stay.  There is no option for anything less and your entire traveling party (in your resort room) must be on the dining plan.

The dining plan is only available for Disney resort guests.

Thoughts And Things To Consider:

The quick service plan is pretty straight forward.  To avoid running out of credits, guests can use 2 snack credits to cover breakfast by getting a muffin for 1 credit and a piece of fruit for 1 credit and filling the refillable mug with coffee.  Or guests can use the 2 daily snacks to cover a light lunch by using the credits for a cup of soup and chips.  Quick service meals should be used for the largest meals of the day to get the most bang for your buck.

Table service, character meals and buffets can cost anywhere from $35 to $59.99 per adult.  The dining plan is $69.35 per day per adult and covers 1 quick service, 1 table service and 2 snacks.

**An adult not on the dining plan eats 1 character meal that costs $59.99, a quick service meal for $17.99 and gets 2 snacks for $12 for a total cost of $89.98

**An adult on the dining plan would pre-pay only $69.35 for the exact same meals and snacks.

We used the dining plan and saved a ton of money when my kids were younger than 10.  We used every table service credit to eat at buffets and character meals and we saved quite a bit of money.  Plus, knowing that our meals were essentially pre-paid helped quite a bit with “sticker shock”.


Honestly, whether the dining plans will save you money completely depends on your family and your eating habits.

If you answer “yes” to these questions, chances are very high that the dining plan will save you money.

  • Do you plan to eat at only table service, buffets and character meals?
  • Do you eat a dessert at every lunch and dinner?
  • Does your entire family drink sodas or tea?
  • Do you want to dine at signature dining restaurants or dinner shows?
  • Do you have children under the age of 10?

How About My Family?

Like I said before, we were dining plan worshippers for many of our Walt Disney World vacations.  But for the last two trips, we chose not to use the dining plan.

Here are my reasons:

Now that my daughters are 11 and 12, all 5 of my family members are considered adults in Disney’s eyes and adults cost more $$$.

I drink tea, but the rest of my family only drinks water.  (Well, my husband and son drink beer, but the dining plans don’t cover alcohol.)

We usually split 1 or 2 desserts at dinner time only and prefer to eat a very light breakfast and lunch.

My daughters have outgrown most character meals.




1 quick service credit breakfast at Be Our Guest


If you are still uncertain, there are many Disney dining plan calculators available online to help determine if the dining plan will save you money.

Message me if you still have questions!

Happy eating, my friends!


1 table service credit



1 snack credit


1 table service credit


1 snack credit


Be Our Guest is quick service for breakfast and lunch, but uses 1 table service credit for dinner.


Akershus restaurant is 1 table service credit.


Boma–Flavors of Africa breakfast buffet is 1 table service credit.

Click here to read about our favorite buffet at Disney!

Click here to read about our favorite character meal at Disney!

Click here if you love animals!



How To Plan A Walt Disney World Vacation Like A Pro


Planning a Walt Disney World vacation is a BIG DEAL, especially if you are going for the first time!  So many resorts AND restaurants AND rides AND experiences AND princesses AND character meals–soooooo many options can make the beginning of the journey daunting and overwhelming.

Not to mention, most families save for a long time in order to afford a Disney vacation and if you spend the big bucks, you want a magical experience. Sometimes, looking online just makes things worse–who in the world makes dining reservations 180 days out and what do all of those acronyms (TTC, ADR, BOG, MK) represent?!?

It is so alarming and confusing!  I get it.

No worries…I’m here to help.

Let’s think of all of this like registering for college classes or buying a new car.  Technically, you CAN just show up on the first day of college and hopefully you MIGHT get 1 or 2 classes, but it certainly will not be what you need, every class will be at the wrong time and the classes won’t even apply towards your degree plan, making it a total waste of your time and money.

You CAN just show up at a car dealership and buy whatever car is available. It might not have enough seats for your family and it might lack the bells and whistles you desire.

Likewise, you CAN just arrive at Disney and buy a ticket and walk in to a theme park. Disney will not send you away.  (Unless it’s Christmas Day and the park reaches maximum capacity.)  LOL  (Funny, but not really…)

BUT, if you spend a little time planning your college classes each semester and you register in advance, it greatly increases the chance of you getting the classes that you need at the times you want–saving you money and time and making you smarter!

Same with the car–a little research and effort goes a long way.

So, instead of dreading the planning process of a Walt Disney World vacation, consider it a time to learn.  Yes!  Planning a Disney trip makes you smarter!

It is BEST to plan and get the experience you want–And pay for!

This is a vacation, after all.

No regrets.

A no regrets vacation.

I wrote 2 posts that will help you get started.

  1.  Click here to read the most important thing you need to know about Walt Disney World.
  2. Click here to learn the top 10 things you need to ask yourself before planning a Walt Disney World vacation.


Once you read BOTH blog posts, you can continue reading this one.  No, really…you have to go read those two things.  It will only take a few minutes.

Really.  I mean it.


Go read them.

No, I am not going to tell you what it says.

You have to read it for yourself.

Did you read BOTH?



Ok…I am continuing under the assumption that you are an honest person and follow directions.

Now that you know the most important thing about Walt Disney World AND you have answered all of those questions, the simple, easy and fun stuff is up next!  You don’t need me anymore!

I am just teasing.  I promise to walk you step-by-step through the process and show you exactly how I plan my Disney trips.  (Mostly because I am pretty sure only 1/10 of my readers took the time to read those 2 links.  LOL)

Keep in mind that every Disney trip looks different.  Every family has different priorities and even my own Disney vacations evolve as my children change and mature.

So, this is how I plan my Disney trips.  Take notes, my friends.


I always start the planning of a new Disney trip by buying a spiral notebook (or stealing one from my homeschooling stash.)  It helps me keep track of notes, park days, dining reservations, Fast Pass+, packing lists, outfit planning and so much more!



Then, I purchase the Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World for the year that we plan to travel.  Yes, the book changes and yes, everyone needs the book for the specific year of the vacation.  Disney changes every day…and the writers do an amazing job of updating the book each year.

Click here to purchase the 2017 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.

Click here to purchase the 2018 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.


Sometimes, the new book for my travel year is not yet available.


The new editions are typically released around August of the previous year.  I pre-order as needed.  For example, for my upcoming 2018 trip, I pre-ordered the 2018 version on February 17, 2017 (as soon as I knew we would be traveling in 2018).  It should arrive sometime in August 2017, from Amazon.

To pre-order the 2018 version, click here.

While I am waiting for the new edition, I start thinking about the big questions.

***This is where reading those posts I mentioned above MIGHT come in handy: when to travel, who is going, what’s the budget, how are we getting there, and how long are we staying, etc.

The book can help answer those questions, too.

Here is my thought process:

When can we travel to Florida?  Do we have the time to drive from Texas or do we need to fly?  Who is going?

I should probably start a savings account.  LOL

We are a homeschooling family, but my daughters take several classes that require attendance.  Depending on the semester, schedule and rigors of the classes, our planning might be constrained or quite free.  It just depends.

When the children were younger, we planned vacations around my husband’s work schedule.  Right now, my husband can’t always sneak away from his commitments.

I also have an adult son that graduated from college and moved to a different state.  When he was in elementary school and junior high, we never hesitated to pull him from public school for family vacations.  Once he entered high school and college, he chose not to travel for lengthy times.  But, now he can go if life allows!  Yipppeeeee!



Me and my 3 babies.  Photo Pass Pic.  Epcot.  January.   2017

So, “who is going” is a necessary and logistical question for my people and the answer is always evolving, just like my family.

Our vacation dates are most likely determined by who is traveling with me, school schedules and work schedules.

I don’t want this to frighten you, but here is what I currently deal with:

For our 2017 trip, my husband, 2 daughters and I took several days and drove to Tampa, FL.  We stayed in Tampa and enjoyed experiences there for 4 days and then my son flew from Chicago to Tampa.  Once he arrived, we all drove to Orlando together and checked in at the Caribbean Beach Resort.  (Room sleeps 5).  We enjoyed Disney together for 5 days and then my husband flew back to Texas.  My 3 kids and I enjoyed Epcot and then the next morning, my son flew back to Illinois.  The girls and I checked out of Caribbean Beach Resort and checked in to Animal Kingdom Lodge for 2 nights (Room sleeps 4).  Then, the girls and I took 2 days and drove back to Texas. (YIKES!)



Do you understand why I use a spiral notebook?

Hopefully, your planning won’t be as complicated.  It was super fun, though!!!  LOL

If your planning is equally nutty, make it work people.  Time with your family is the most important thing and it deserves all of your effort.

So, let’s pretend my new Unofficial Guide book has arrived and I have a general idea of when I want to travel and who is going with me!  YIPPPEEE!


The authors of the Unofficial Guide have an awesome website called Touring Plans.  A discount code for an one-year membership is offered with the purchase of the book.  Once I have the book in my hand, I renew my online membership at Touring Plans.  The yearly membership is $14.95.  With the discount, it is $9.72.  It gives me all-access to the website and the app, it does not renew automatically and they do not spam to death.  It is delightful and a very important part of my planning process.

Planning Note:  While reading the Unofficial Guide, take notes on anything new, interesting, and noteworthy in the handy little spiral.  There are restaurant reviews, tips and secrets, and plans on how to tour the parks and cut down wait times.  It is an invaluable piece of the planning process.

So, let me do a quick recap.

Spiral notebook.  Loose, fluid or constrained travel dates.  List of travelers.  Unofficial Guide for vacation year.  Membership on Touring Plans website.  Add Touring Plans app to my phone.

Now the FUN really begins.

How do I nail down travel dates?

Traveling to Disney and how we actually get to Florida will be determined by my timeline.  We will fly if we need to get there quickly, but we honestly prefer to drive and sightsee along the way.  I do my best to make the latter option a reality.


As for the actual theme park dates, I use the Touring Plans website.  With my membership, I have access to the magical crowd calendar.  I.  Love.  The.  Crowd.  Calendar.

The Crowd Calendar gives a crowd level rating to each park for each day for an entire year.  If my travel dates allow the freedom to choose, I search for a week that has levels less than 5.  Less than 5 is always my goal.  It does not always work out that way, but it is always preferred.  Of course, we have totally enjoyed crowd level 10 days, too!  Just have to be a little more flexible when the crowds are that high.


I like to create a page of dates in my notebook, typically spanning 3 or 4 weeks.  I jot down all of the projected crowd levels, days of the weeks, etc.  Then, I look and find the “sweet spot”–a cluster of days that are crowd level rated 5 or less.  Those dates become our travel dates.  **If there is a high crowd day (8+) stuck in the middle of my sweet spot, then that day becomes our rest day!


Planning Note:  There are many crowd calendars available online.  Just Google “Disney World crowd calendar”.  Make sure you are looking at Disney World, not Disneyland.  I have found that most of the calendars are similar, but I rely on the experts at Touring Plans.  The crowd levels are projected, of course.  No one can see the future.  (If you can, please contact me immediately!  Thank you!)

How do I choose which theme parks to visit?

At this point, we have the 4 main parks memorized and I know which ones we need several days to enjoy and which ones we can skip or tour in a half of a day.

We love, love, love the Magic Kingdom.


We always spend most of our vacation enjoying the Magic Kingdom theme park.  As my children got older, we added more days to our tours of Epcot (2-3 days).  Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are both 1 day parks for us and we have even skipped Animal Kingdom several times.  It honestly depends on the ages of your children, your interests and your timeline.

The four Walt Disney World parks are the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios.

Each park has it’s own personality and different rides, shows, restaurants and experiences to appeal to the masses.

Planning Note:  Choose which parks you want to visit based on the ages and interests of your traveling party.  Hollywood Studios has the most thrill rides.  Magic Kingdom is the best park for toddlers.  Epcot is perfect for an adult only trip and Animal Kingdom is a must-see for animal lovers.

But, each Disney park has something for everyone!


How do I choose a resort?

My family and I have stayed on Disney property and off property and if our budget allows, we 100% prefer a deluxe Disney on-property resort.  Sometimes, we can make that happen and sometimes…well…life.

There are several perks offered to Disney resort guests, like extra magic hours (extra time in the parks), free transportation, Fast Pass+ booking at 60 days, complimentary parking at the parks, dining plan options, etc.  Plus, when we vacation at Disney, we want full Disney immersion.  We are junkies, remember?

While reading the Unofficial Guide, I research resorts to see what fits the needs of my family and whittle down the list of places that can accommodate my people.

Planning Note:  Some Disney resort rooms only accommodate 4 people, some rooms sleep 5 and of course, there are suites and villas that hold more.  I recommend you read the entire accommodations section in the Unofficial Guide.  It describes in length each Disney resort and several off-property resorts.

This is where budget comes into play BIG TIME.

Disney divides their resorts into 3 main categories:  deluxe, moderate and value.  I can post in more detail about that later.  My current budget will determine which level of resorts I research and my travel party size determines the room.  Budget.  Budget.  Budget.  Blah.

I consider the location of the resort, which will directly affect transportation to and from parks (Is the resort on the monorail system?  Are ferry boats available?  Only buses?)

Resort food and dining options are also important to me.

I compare resorts in the Unofficial Guide book and on the actual Disney website and then I pick the winner.

Click here to read a review of my favorite Disney resort.

So, assuming I know my travelers, the travel dates and now the resort, I book my vacation on the Disney website.  Booking online is pretty straight forward, unless the dates I want have not yet opened.  For example, I am writing this post on March 20, 2017.  The Disney website has the option to book vacations until December 31, 2017.  Sometimes dates during the upcoming year open in June, sometimes it is August.

Planning Note:  Do not fret!  Just call 407-939-1936 and book over the phone if your dates are not listed online yet.

Disney only requires a $200 deposit to hold a reservation.  Payments can be made at anytime and the remaining balance is usually required within 60 days of the check-in date.  That time frame can vary, so be mindful of your specific date and don’t forget to make payments!

When I book the resort online, I also make decisions on theme park tickets, water parks, park hopper, dining plan and memory maker.

If time allows, my family needs to take a rest day in the middle of our Disney vacations.  We usually don’t go to a theme park on the day we check in and sometimes, we don’t go to a park on our check out day, either.  If we are staying at the resort for 7 nights, we don’t necessarily need park tickets for 7 days.  I choose tickets based on how many days we will be going to the parks, not how many days we are at the resort.


My people need a rest day.

Planning Note:  The number of nights that you stay at a Disney resort do NOT have to match the number of days of theme park tickets.  You can stay at a resort and never buy tickets, if you like.

For a list of 10 FREE things to do on your rest day, click here.

For a list of 10 (not free) things to do on your rest day, click here.

My daughters have shown no interest in the waterparks, so I skip that section.

Historically, I also skipped the Park Hopper section, too.  We ALWAYS just spent an entire day inside one park at a time.  But, we used Park Hopper for the first time during our 2017 vacation and we LOVED it!  My kids are older now–ages 24, 13 and 11–so going to more than one park a day is easier than it would have been when they were toddlers. I can write a more in depth post about Park Hopper at a later date.

Memory Maker is a must for us.  Memory Maker is $149 in advance, $169 if you decide to add it later.  It allows for unlimited downloads of every Photo Pass picture taken of you and your family during your vacation. Our 2017 vacation generated 718 Photo Pass pictures.  I don’t know about your family, but we NEVER get a full family pic because I am the only one taking pictures!

Get Memory Maker.

Family pictures are so important.

Plus, the ride photos are hilarious!

















Seriously, how awesome are these pictures?  All Photo Pass pics–I downloaded each one to our computer and I can print them, put them on a coffee mug or make a super cool wrap for my car!  Whatever I want.  (As long as I don’t sell and make money.) Whenever I want.  Forever.

Next, I decide if we need the dining plan.  And if we do, which dining plan will work best for my travel people.  Click here to learn everything about the 2017 Disney dining plan.

For now, I will just say that we used the dining plan and saved a ton of money when my kids were younger than 10.  We used every table service credit to eat at buffets and character meals and we saved quite a bit of money.  Plus, knowing that our meals were essentially pre-paid helped quite a bit with “sticker shock”.

Planning Note:  10 is the magical age that children become adults in Disney’s eyes.  Ticket prices and dining plan prices are higher for adults, ages 10 and up.

Planning Note:  At the time of this post, if you want the dining plan, Disney requires you to pay for the plan for every night of your resort stay.  There is no option for anything less and your entire traveling party (in your resort room) must be on the dining plan.  The dining plan is only available for Disney resort guests.

I make all of these decisions and choose accordingly online.  By the time I am done “checking out” online, I have chosen my travel dates, travel party, resort, number of days for theme park tickets, park hopper (yes or no), waterpark option (yes or no), memory maker (yes or no), and dining plan (yes or no).  I pay the $200 deposit.

If we plan to fly to Orlando, I start researching flights once everything at Disney is booked.  If we are driving, we start planning our route and possible interesting stops along the way.


How do I plan dining?

I try VERY, VERY, VERY hard to plan our Walt Disney World vacations more than 180 day out.  That is always my goal.  But, you know…life.

If I book our vacation and it is less than 180 days to our check-in date, I immediately book dining reservations the instant I complete the online booking of our trip.

Either way, I book dining as soon as I am possibly allowed.  With a Disney resort reservation, guests can book advanced dining reservations (ADR) 180 days before check-in date, plus 10 days.  This confuses people and I will write a post dedicated to dining asap.  But, let me quickly explain.

If my check-in date is June 6th, let’s assume 180 days before that is January 6th.  I am not going to pull out a calendar and do that math, so let’s just all agree it is 180 days.

On January 6th, I can made advanced dining reservations for any available dining June 6th-June 16th.  Essentially, it allows guests to make reservations for their entire vacation (as long as it is 10 days long or less), instead of having to book 1 dining reservation today, book 1 tomorrow, 1 the next day, etc.

Does that make sense?  The 180 days, plus 10 days is only available for Disney resort guest.  Guest staying off property get the 180 days and will need to book 1 reservation a day (unless you are less than 180 days out).

I hope I didn’t make it more confusing.

For this little post (LOL–it’s getting sooooo long!), I am going to pretend I have more than 180 days until my check-in date.

While I am waiting for my 180 day mark, I read about new restaurants, character meals and look at menus in my Unofficial Guide and online.  The Disney website shows the most recent menus for each restaurant and I add the My Disney Experience App to my phone.

Planning Note:  Add the My Disney Experience app to your phone and get familiar with the lay out long before you arrive at Disney.  Use this app to keep track of dining reservations and Fast Passes while in the theme parks.

I ask my kids and husband what restaurants they want to visit, if I need to book any character meals, and I create a very loose plan in my magical spiral notebook.

Planning Note:  Book the most important restaurant first, even if it’s on the 3rd day of your vacation.  Then, go back and book dining for the 1st and 2nd day.


Planning Note:  For a list of all character meals at Walt Disney World, click here.

Once my 180 mark comes, I book all of my dining online or on the My Disney Experience (MDE) app.  I typically get the dining reservations we want because I am a little flexible with days AND I book at 180 days out.

Non-Disney people think that is nuts.  But, let’s all remember my college registration and car buying analogies.

Planning Note:  If you do not have park hopper, you can only go inside one theme park a day.  You can come and go from that one park 100 times in that one day, but you can not enter another park.  That means, all of your dining reservations need to be inside that one park or at a resort for that day.  Dining at a restaurant inside a theme park requires guests to have a theme park ticket.



So, if I can’t get a reservation for a restaurant on a day we are in a specific park, I will alter my little notebook plans to accommodate the dining reservation.  Priorities, my friends.

For a list of the best breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner at Magic Kingdom, click here.

Booking dining 180 days out (as crazy as it sounds) gives guests the best chance to get the desired restaurants at the right times.  I HIGHLY recommend making ADR for every table service restaurant and for the quick service meals offered at Be Our Guest.

For a full review of Be Our Guest, click here.


If I can’t get a reservation for a must-see restaurant, I check my MDE app several times every day.  People cancel dining reservations all of the time and I want to snag it!

Once dining is all booked, the plans for each day are pretty much set in stone.

Next, I decide on dinner shows, tours, or additional experiences and book those.

One of our family Disney rules is to try at least 1 new restaurant and 1 new experience during each vacation.


The Spirt of Aloha is a fabulous dinner show at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.  Reservations are required.


3 of my people during the Aqua Seas Tour at Epcot


Bibbidi  Bobbidi Boutique and Pirates League though the years.

At this point, the resort, dining and extra experiences are all booked.

Planning Note:  Don’t forget to continue to make payments on your vacation through your My Disney Experience account!

Around the 180 day mark, or about 6 months before check-in, my family starts to “train” for Disney.  I am so serious and people laugh about this one, but Disney requires a TON of walking and we don’t want to stop the Disney fun because of a lack of conditioning!  So, we start walking as a family–further, longer and more often than normal–and we use that uninterrupted time to discuss Disney things, of course!

Now it is time for matching T-shirt planning!!!!

OMG!  (Jumping up and down!)

My Favorite part of a Disney vacation!

Ok…maybe not my favorite…but I really, really like it.

I plan our theme park outfits based on parks, rides, characters or dining each day.

My youngest daughter LOVES the People Mover.  Obviously, we will wear our People Mover shirts to Magic Kingdom, where the People Mover lives.  Matching Star Wars shirts are for Hollywood Studios because of Launch Bay…Frozen T-shirts for Epcot when my daughters met Elsa and Anna.  It’s all planned.  I know you are shocked.


Baymax beanie on the day she met Baymax–another great Photo Pass pic!



My bedroom floor–planning outfits for Disney 2016



Matching t-shirts with your mommy?  Creepy!  Matching t-shirts with your awesome mommy at Disney?  Super cool!





I start ordering shirts and outfits as soon as I have the resort and dining booked.  Custom shirts can take several weeks, especially around the holidays.

Click here for a list of the best places to find super cool matching family Disney shirts.

I also start gathering tiny trinkets for what I call ‘The Disney Fairy’.


Quick explanation:

When my girls were very young, I started placing Disney themed items near the sinks at our resort each night as a surprise for the next morning.  (little things from the dollar store)

It helped cut down on the “I wants” as we toured the parks.  It became a tradition and I still love surprising them!


As my daughters have gotten older, the trinkets have evolved, of course.  If I get the chance to sneak away and shop while at Disney, I might even pick up something I saw them eyeing earlier.  It’s kind of like the Santa thing…they never ask about the Disney Fairy…they believe so they receive.




How do I book Fast Pass+?

Guests staying at a Disney resort can book Fast Pass+ starting at 60 days out from the check-in date.  Fast Passes are free–3 per person per day and after the 3rd one is used, an additional Fast Pass can be added, and so on until the park closes or until there are no more Fast Passes.  I can write a post dedicated to Fast Passes later.

Leading up to my 60 day window, I discuss rides with my family.  Are there any new rides?  What are the must-do rides for each person?  If there are any concerns (height requirements, drops, scary scenes, darkness, etc.), I look up the rides on YouTube and read the attractions section in the Unofficial Guide.

Guest staying off property can book Fast Passes at 30 days out.

At my 60 days window, I book my Fast Passes for each day we are in the theme parks.  Fast Passes can be booked online or on the MDE app.  My family and I are firm believers in arriving at the theme parks at rope drop, which is just a fancy way of saying, “when the parks open.”  Because we get there early, we ride important rides first and use our Fast Passes later in the day when the traditional lines are typically longer.

Planning Note:  Be mindful when booking Fast Pass times.  Make sure the ride times do not conflict with dining reservations or parades that you want to attend.

Planning Note:  Book Fast Passes for lunchtime and mid-day, when the parks are at their peak crowd levels.  Get to the theme parks early, ride important attractions first and then use your Fast Passes later.

Planning Note:  Fast Passes can also be used to meet characters.



Reserve a Fast Pass for Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios



Once the Fast Passes are in place, planning is complete!  WOW!  I never thought I would get to this part of this post.  YIIIPPPEEEE!  Finally!



These Disney fireworks represent my celebration (and probably yours, too!)


Magic Bands will arrive about 3 weeks before departure.  Historically, they arrive in an unmarked box, so be on the lookout.


I start packing about 3 weeks before we plan to leave.  I create a huge packing list in my handy dandy notebook and I make enormous piles on the floor of my bedroom.

Click here to see a not-so-obvious Disney packing list.


I tag the outfit piles with the date and theme park or restaurant.  I pack the piles with the sticky notes on top so I can organize once we arrive at our Disney resort.  Some *might* call that crazy (like my husband) but I like to call it GENIUS.



Outfits tagged with the date, theme park or restaurant.  Genius.

3 weeks before check in is a great time for last minute things, like autograph books (which my daughters outgrew, unfortunately).

Planning Note:  Online resort check-in is available through the My Disney Experience account, too!


I also buy my beloved rain ponchos.

Click here to read why you MUST pack rain ponchos for your Disney vacation!

And garbage bags.  For real.

Click here to read why garbage bags will save your life at Disney!

A few weeks out is also when I plan travel activities–plane, train or automobile.


And finalize the budget for souvenirs and snacks.


Mickey Ice Cream bars are super yummy!



Buying an oyster with a pearl



I have to budget a lot of $$$ for Dole Whips.




Sugar rush anyone?




Lots of snack options in Epcot!

Decisions about strollers need to be made before a Disney vacation, too. This does not apply to my family any longer, but over the years, we took 1 stroller, 2 separate strollers and we have also rented a double stroller from Disney.  Lots of options.  Lots to consider.




The double stroller we rented from Disney


Disney’s double stroller

WOW–my brain is FRIED!  How about yours?!?

I hope this helped a little and didn’t make things worse.  Once I recover, I will write some more.

Let me know if you have any questions.  I am always happy to help!

And I can talk Disney all day.


A quick reference guide summary of this marathon-long post can be found here.





A Review of Disney’s Be Our Guest Restaurant

The most sought-after dining reservation at Disney’s Magic Kingdom is hidden from the chaos of the crowds and nestled within the boulders and crevasses of a mammoth mountain.

It’s location, deeply tucked inside the whimsy of Fantasyland, is veiled to remain secretive and secluded from the meddling townspeople. The only clue to it’s existence is a castle, high above the bustle of the pathways and far enough in the distance to be unreachable.



Be Our Guest from the Fantasyland pathway

Protected by gatekeepers and check points, guard-like statues and a large, commanding stone wall with a black iron gate, guests with reservations are the only people invited inside.

And, millions of Walt Disney World visitors seek a table at this coveted location in hopes of entering the magnificent and enchanted restaurant.


Welcome to Be Our Guest.



If attendants make it through the first guard station, parties are directed to walk down the cobblestone bridge.  The arched structure connects the private mountain entrance to Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland and traverses a flowing channel of crystal-clear water that divides it from the crowds.



To the left is a magnificent waterfall, cascading over rocks and pebbles.


To the right is an evergreen forest, masking the location in intrigue and seclusion.




Several horned, stoic but friendly statues line the edges of the massive bridge, upholding tall lampposts and keeping a watchful eye on those who wish to pass.



The cobblestone bridge







Once guests arrive at the securing iron gates, the second guardsman will tell visitors to halt on the bridge or take a seat on boulder benches until their party is invited inside.




The cavernous pass with rocky boulder benches

The doors to the Beast’s enchanted castle remain closed until an escort appears with the names of those allowed to feast.






If dining during breakfast or lunch, parties will be directed through the castle’s foyer to an armor clad, statue-lined hallway that leads to ordering stations on the right.  If the meal has been pre-ordered online, a stop might be made at the pay station on the left.



The arch on the right leads to the ordering stations and the arch on the left leads to the Grand Ballroom.



Dinner banquet guests are chaperoned through the magnificent and breathtaking Grand Ballroom.  A massive 12 foot tall chandelier brimming with 84 candles and 100 jewels, flanked by two other equally beautiful light fixtures is the room’s crowning centerpiece.


The ornately carved ceiling displays an enormous and gorgeous mural of soft pastels, clouds and playful cherubs.  Elegant cobalt blue fabrics drape across arch insets above the marble columns.


The Grand Ballroom is pure elegance, filled with opulent round and rectangular tables, set with delightfully padded, comfortable chairs.  At the back of the room, arched, floor-to-ceiling windows overlook a snow dusted garden, while tiny white flurries trickle from the evening sky and gracefully blanket the ground.



The Grand Ballroom is one of three dining rooms available inside the Be Our Guest (BOG) Restaurant.  During breakfast and lunch, guests are typically allowed to choose a dining room, but dinner seating is chosen by The Master.



Some guests are given an ornate candlestick to carry to the table.

The secretive and alluring West Wing is to the left of the Grand Ballroom. Dark and mysterious, with tattered cloths draped from the rafters, ornately carved wooden chairs, and royal printed wallpaper, this room protects and displays the beautiful red rose.

Occasionally, a flash of lightening from a clamorous thunderstorm will illuminate a hidden and concealed secret in the ragged artwork.

The very dark and remarkably dim lighting creates a feeling of imminent and mysterious events, but it does not create good pictures with my phone.  LOL

BOG1 - Copy


Momma Note:  The West Wing is my favorite dining room inside Be Our Guest, but it scares my 11 year old.  If your child is sensitive to simulated thunder and lightening or if dark rooms are an issue, you might consider avoiding the West Wing.



A table with Lumiere in the West Wing


The Rose Gallery is the third available dining room inside Be Our Guest and it is much smaller than the Grand Ballroom. With soothing and relaxing lighting, it is the most peaceful option and my husband’s favorite space.


Inside the Rose Gallery

A warm hue bathes the cream colored wallpaper and large tapestries adorn open spaces between dark wood molding.  Tufted benches and simple cushioned chairs sit alongside rectangular wooden tables.  Small, brass chandeliers dangle from the interesting ceiling and create a calming ambiance and beautiful setting.


Detailed and interesting tapestry

The show-stopping centerpiece is a spectacular rotating statue of Belle and the Beast dancing underneath a crimson rose.


This enormous statue rotates.

The menu at Be Our Guest is a delightful fusion of American and French cuisine, a mix of casual, familiar dishes with a French twist and traditional French meals with an American influence.

Be Our Guest serves all three meals, with breakfast and lunch as quick service and dinner offered as table service.

Breakfast is served from 8:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

Breakfast is considered a quick service meal, but requires advanced dining reservations (ADR). At the time of this post, it is the only quick-serving Disney restaurant that accepts reservations.

The Feast A La Gaston is a plate of scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes, apple smoked bacon, sausage, fresh fruit and a selection of pastries.

Assorted cured meats and cheeses are available, as well as vegetable quiche, steel cut oatmeal and a bacon and egg sandwich.

We recommend the unique Croque Madame, an open-faced ham sandwich topped with a fried egg, Gruyere and Béchamel served with fresh fruit and a selection of pastries.

My daughters love the croissant doughnut, which is fried and topped with banana caramel sauce, pastry cream and chocolate ganache.  It is also served with fruit and pastries.

I usually order the vegetarian option of warm, steal cut oatmeal with golden raisins, brown sugar and assorted pastries.  Delicious and filling!


For a healthier option, choose the freshly scrambled egg whites, roasted tomatoes and chicken apple sausage.

Kid’s meals include crepes stuffed with yogurt and fresh berries, French toast, scrambled eggs and cereal.

The Master’s Cupcakes is available for $4.99 during breakfast and is a decadent chocolate sponge cake topped with Lumiere’s delicious special grey stuff.



Lunch is served from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

It is considered a quick service meal, but requires advanced dining reservations (ADR).

We love the French onion soup, which is a vegetarian option.  A delicious and creamy potato leek soup is also vegetarian.

My husband’s favorite dish is the flavorful braised port (Coq Au Vin Style) and my girls enjoy the grilled carved ham and Gruyere cheese sandwich with pommes frites.

Quinoa salad with green beans, potatoes, olives, bell pepper, tomatoes and golden beets is another favorite.


For lunch, kid’s meals like meatloaf, carved turkey sandwiches, grilled shrimp, whole grain macaroni, and grilled cheese with turkey noodle soup are all available.

The desserts at Be Our Guest are fantastic and vary slightly during lunch and dinner.  Try the Master’s Cupcake, strawberry cream cheese cupcake, chocolate cream puff and the Éclair a l’Orange.



Dinner is served from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 pm.

Dinner at Be Our Guest is considered table service and requires advanced dining reservations.  It is our favorite meal inside Magic Kingdom.

Bread served with salted butter is brought to all dinner tables.  Assorted meat and sausages, soups, garden salads, salad trio and Marseilles-style mussels are listed as appetizers.



Scarlet napkins are shaped into red roses.


Again, we love the French onion and potato leek soups.

Try the grilled strip steak with garlic butter and pommes frites, the roasted lamb chop or the sautéed shrimp with scallops in a creamy lobster sauce.

My son greatly enjoyed the pork chop and my daughter liked the layered ratatouille, which includes oven baked zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions, sliced and layered on quinoa and served with a bell pepper sauce.

A seasonal sustainable catch of the day is also available.

Kid’s meals include garden salads, fruit cup, chicken brochette, grilled steak and beast casserole.

Sparkling, white, red and dessert French wines and Belgian ales are on the menu, too.

Awe-inspiring carts, brimming with yummy desserts, are brought around the dining rooms at the end of the meal.


Try the lemon meringue cupcakes, triple chocolate cupcake and The Grey Stuff, of course!



Try the Grey Stuff, it really is delicious!



After dinner, guests are invited to meet The Beast in the library for a Photo Pass opportunity.  (The Master does not speak, but he will pose for pictures.)



Guests can pose for a Photo Pass picture and the photographers are happy to take a pic with your camera, too.



The service at Be Our Guest is fantastic.  Each server has been personable, friendly, helpful, timely and attentive.  We always enjoy our dining experience.

Quick Family Review For Be Our Guest:

Be Our Guest is our family’s must-do Magic Kingdom restaurant.  Since it’s opening in 2012, we make sure to dine there at least once during our Disney vacations–sometimes as many as 4 times!   We love everything about it!

Final Family Be Our Guest Suggestion:

Make advanced reservations as soon as possible for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Dinner is our favorite, but we love breakfast and lunch, too!  The restaurant is a relaxing escape from the chaos of the theme park crowds and is a great opportunity to rest and recharge in a beautiful setting with delicious and delightful food.

Dress is casual for all meals. (theme park attire)

Getting reservations at Be Our Guest can be very challenging.  It is imperative that you book dining at Be Our Guest as soon as you can, preferably at the 180 day opening.


If you don’t get the reservations that you need, be tenacious, continue to check daily for cancellations, especially 48-24 hours before your desired time because guests tend to cancel existing reservations at the last minute.

There are 550 seats–one of them must be for you!

Guests are always welcome to walk up and ask for available openings, but do not bet on something happening.  The best way to ensure a seat at Be Our Guest is to book an ADR at 180 days and continue to check your MDE app each day for cancellations.  To make reservations via telephone, please call 407-939-5277.


When dining at Be Our Guest for breakfast or lunch, I highly recommend pre-ordering your meal from the My Disney Experience (MDE) app, which is available 30 days in advance.

Our pre-ordered food (breakfast and lunch) always arrives crazy fast.



The commanding Beast will pose for pictures AFTER guests finish dinner.  Guests must exit the restaurant after the photo session.

A theme park ticket is required because Be Our Guest is inside the gates of Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

Breakfast and lunch both count as 1 quick service meal on the Disney Dining Plan.

Dinner counts a 1 table service credit on the Disney Dining Plan.

Find out if the Disney meal plan is right for you–Click here.



A colorful and beautiful mosaic inside the restaurant

Extra Hint:  The selection of pastries that is served with most breakfast items adds a lot of food to already large dishes.  Consider splitting a meal between people in your party to save a little money.  Everyone at the table is not required to order a separate meal at quick service restaurants.  The only time each person at the table is charged for dining is at a buffet restaurant or a prix fixe meal.



For transportation to Be Our Guest, just travel to the Magic Kingdom.  Disney resorts provide complimentary transportation via the monorail, ferry boats or buses.  Ask your concierge or front desk for the quickest way to travel to the Magic Kingdom Theme Park. If you are a Disney resort guest, you can park your personal vehicle for free at the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC) and ride the monorail over to the Magic Kingdom Theme Park.  Parking is $20 for non-resort guests.

Restaurant menus at Walt Disney World are seasonal and change often, so for current menu listings, check the Disney website or the My Disney Experience app.  All menus are listed for every Disney restaurant, as well as hours of operation and prices.

If you only learn one thing from my blog posts, I hope it is the fact that Disney changes every day.  That is exactly why Disney is so popular–there is ALWAYS something new for junkies like me to experience!  It is also why I always say everything is subject to change.

For a list of all character meals offered at Walt Disney World, click here.

To read a review of our favorite buffet at Walt Disney World, click here.