Disney with Special Needs: Who Wants What? Tips for Making the Most of Your Dining Plan

By now if you’ve been venturing along with me you know that my family has a variety of circumstances and needs that come into play when it comes to planning and enjoying our trips to Disney. Sensory issues, age gaps, heart issues, and service dogs aside, there is one set of needs that probably make us more like a lot of other families heading to the World on vacation than our others, but still need to be taken into consideration every day of our trip. This, of course, is eating.

Everybody eats. It’s of those things about being human and staying alive. We have to eat to have that whole energy thing, and we haven’t quite yet hit Fahrenheit 451-style capsule-based nourishment, so that means that we have to actually consume food. Fortunately, that can be one of the best parts of a vacation. Unfortunately, it can also be daunting, especially when you are traveling with a group that varies widely in appetites, tastes, and food restrictions. Enter….my family.

Imagine for a second trying to figure out eating for a week with a family that has two people with incredibly tiny appetites that result in them eating only a few bites at a time but needing to eat throughout the day, including a child who does not eat ketchup or most meat, two people with very large appetites, and a vegan whose appetite shuts down in anxious situations and who has to eat frequently to manage a heart condition. Who needs Space Mountain? There’s your fun right there! In all seriousness, though, it can get a little crazy trying to figure out eating for all of us and not break apart every time that we need something to munch on.

We’ve tried hitting the parks paying out of pocket and we’ve done the dining plan. You know my verdict — we are Dining Plan devotees all the way. It just works for us. We love knowing that our food is paid for before we even step foot in Orlando. We love the convenience of not having to think about budgeting. We love not looking at the price on menus. We love not having to think about adding up costs or dealing with change or who has the money or anything. We like just being able to go to a restaurant, order, click our band, and move on with our lives. We have also built up a little compendium of tips and tricks to make the very most of our plan to make sure that everyone gets what they want to eat and when, and we can make the most of our budget. Love it.

So I’m going to let you in on them so that the next time you’re wandering through Disney and get that rumbly in your tumbly, you can feel confident using your plan to the best of its potential. Here we go…

Get to planning. Planning ahead is something that I will always promote. Spend some time before you go reading menus and checking through reviews to find the places that you might like to try. The official Disney site has every restaurant and even many of the little kiosks and snack spots listed with menus so you can identify the things that sound the best. Planning ahead like this means getting a jump on scheduling your meals and how you’re going to use your credits and can even give you an idea of how you want to tour so that you can find the best snacks during the day

Ask and ye shall receive. I have gotten so used to having to talk to people before I eat that getting to just order something directly from a menu feels like I’m getting away with something. That’s because Disney is amazing at making sure that everyone has something wonderful to eat, including people with strict food restrictions. If you have a restriction or an allergy, don’t hesitate to talk to the manager or chef about it. Yes, even at quick service spots or your resort dining hall. I got to have an amazing plate of waffles and fruit for breakfast rather than a banana and coffee because I asked

Make Mickey proud and share. Disney servings are HUGE. Sharing is a fantastic way to make the most of your plan. One way that we love to do this is with resort breakfast. There is a platter at Art of Animation, and I’m sure plenty of other resorts, that includes waffles, eggs, bacon, potatoes, and fruit. It’s a ton of food and when we add an extra side of bacon to it, it’s perfect for TuTu and the baby to eat together. That’s one credit for two meals. I’ve even seen them be able to give the leftovers to Bubba. They have also been known to share lunch platters

Divide it up. Similar to sharing, sometimes we also divide up meals. Many meals come with little side salads that are perfect for me when made without cheese. I’ve been known to munch my way through sides of broccoli, fries, chips, and fruit that comes with meals when I’m not prepared for a whole meal but need something to get me through

Don’t forget your drink. This is one of those ones that I see skipped so often it stuns me. Remember that your quick service meal comes with a drink — even if you use your resort refill mug. What?? I know. It’s crazy. When you are eating at your resort, you can use your refill mug to get whatever drink you want — but that does not count as your meal credit drink. That means you can march your way right on over to those grab-and-go cases and get a bottle of water, juice, milk, or soda to keep with you. Instant drink for later! Slip it into your refrigerator or bring it into the park. With the changes that are coming to the Dining Plan in the new year, drink credits can be used for alcoholic and specialty beverages, which means smoothies, milkshakes, and alcohol. Though we haven’t done it yet, obviously, we fully intend on taking advantage of this by ordering a smoothie to be the drink and having that be the baby’s breakfast because she loves them, then splitting the platter between TuTu and Bubba. Three people. One credit. Victory.

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Taryn was born and raised, and still lives in Richmond, Virginia. Neither she nor her husband ever had the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World when they were children, but when their daughter Avalon came along, they decided she was not going to follow in their footsteps. They brought Avalon for the first time when she was 3 and have been hooked ever since. Now along with Taryn’s mother and equally Disney-loving older brother, they go “home” at least once a year, and by the time she is staring longingly at Cinderella Castle from the ferry on their last night, Taryn is well on her way to planning the next trip. As a group consisting of two adults with Asperger’s, including one who is also vegan, a very accommodating husband, an only child, a senior, and a service dog, they are a pretty special family, but Taryn is excited to show that the World really is The Most Magical Place on Earth and that there is a place there for everyone. When she isn’t thinking about her next Disney adventure and trying to come up with a Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party costume that will beat her Oozma Kappa nerd look, she is a professional blogger and novelist, but Taryn also likes to indulge her Disney passion on her Etsy shop It’s Better in Vinyl.

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