“IT’S Disney . . . there’s no such thing as calories!”
As I size up my fifth juicy steak of the week, I decide to take the smiling waiter on his word.
I am spending a week at Walt Disney World in Orlando to make the most of Disney’s Free Dining Plan.
The deal lets families book their resort hotel and park tickets in one go — then eat for FREE throughout their holiday of a lifetime. The only trouble is that as you save on dollars, you risk piling on pounds.
That’s if, like me, you can’t resist eating absolutely everything on the menu. Steak finished and top button of my jeans undone, I tackle a towering baked Alaska and key lime pie martini. This is America, after all.
But with a day at Typhoon Lagoon water park ahead, I know I am pushing my luck. I will look more like Pumba than Pocahontas as I float down the lazy river.
This is just one in a string of memorable meals on my dream trip to Florida.
Diets and recommended daily allowances were left at the airport, along with real life, as I entered the all-singing, all-dancing, all-eating wonder of Disney World.
And I definitely feel like I have taken a break from reality as I pull up outside the 5H Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.
Just one stop from the Magic Kingdom on a free monorail, or by water on a “friendship boat”, the attractive Victorian-styled hotel is Disney’s Orlando flagship.
I am met by 92-year-old greeter Richard — as big a celebrity here as Mickey and Minnie Mouse — and can’t help being impressed by thoroughly grown-up tone in the lobby, which has only subtle nods to remind you that you are still at Disney.
I am dragged away from the live band whose tunes add to the welcome to be shown to my room.
Spacious suites are fit for all the family, with two queen-size beds plus a sofa bed taking capacity up to six.
Mine overlooks the peaceful Seven Seas lagoon, with Cinderella’s famous castle looming in the distance.
But my attention is drawn to the huge white-chocolate Mickey figurine and chocolate-covered strawberries sitting on the bedside table.
I soon realise that food is the hallmark of the Floridian.
The onsite Victoria & Albert restaurant features seven and ten-course tasting menus that have seen it ranked second-best in the whole US.
But at almost £200 a head, that is slightly out of reach, even for this Dining Plan.
Every guest is given a personalised “MagicBand” which serves as room key, travel pass and food voucher.
At the end of each meal, you simply tap your band on a pad to settle up.
The bracelets can even be linked to your credit card to pay for room service or any extra food, drink or activities.
But with my plan entitling me to one self-service and one waiter-service meal each day of my trip, each with an alcoholic drink, plus two snacks, I never feel the need.
On my first night, we eat at the hotel’s superb Citricos restaurant, offering a mouth-watering menu of steaks, risottos and seafood. I opt for the filet mignon.
But the standout dish is the sauteed Brussels sprouts, proving even the chefs are magic in this place.
The surprisingly good food doesn’t stop at the hotel. Walt Disney World is so vast that hungry guests can graze at more than 100 locations.
Kids will love the brilliant character breakfasts with Donald, Goofy and the gang.
On my first morning I initially play it cool, before deciding my Instagram feed will never be complete without a selfie with Winnie the Pooh.
Then it is off to the Magic Kingdom for a few rides on Space Mountain before lunch at the amazing Be Our Guest restaurant.
Set in the stunning ballroom of the Beast’s castle from Beauty & The Beast, guests can try Lumiere’s hot hors d’oeuvres such as croque monsieur or coq au vin, then “Grey Stuff” off the secret menu for dessert.
But the highlight comes on day three when I visit Epcot’s wonderful food and wine festival, featuring dishes from all four corners of the world.
Stalls in the park’s permanent British pavilion serve fish and chips, meat pies and even haggis, neeps and tatties.
But we eat at Teppan Edo in the park’s miniature Japan.
Located in an amazing building inspired by Kyoto’s Imperial Palace, this authentic Hibachi-style grill is a must-visit.
The dining experience is part meal, part show.
Skilful chefs cook stir-fry dishes from scratch at your table, drawing Disney characters with the ingredients as they go.
Ours is the joker of the pack, grinning that he has “caught Nemo” as he lops the tail off a prawn, before looping it on to the top of his chef’s hat.
My final supper is at the Yak & Yeti restaurant, near the awesome Pandora: World Of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
The land’s Flight Of Passage simulator plunges riders into Avatar’s cinematic world on the back of a banshee and is the perfect end to a thrilling week.
I have saved an incredible £774.80 using the Free Disney Dining Plan.
Disney’s Memory Maker PhotoPass is included too, letting me download all the pictures taken of me by Disney photographers around the parks.
Plus, if I had booked my package with Attraction Tickets Direct, I would have got an extra £100 discount on the hotel.
And as I work my way through a huge plate of tuna nachos, I realise the savings don’t end there.
I won’t be hungry for at least a month.
GO: Walt Disney World FLORIDA
FOURTEEN nights at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa including 14-Day Ultimate park tickets with a free Memory Maker and free dining plan costs from £8,584 for two adults and two children (aged nine and under) sharing a garden view room.
From September 9 to December 20, 2018.
For more information, see attraction-tickets-direct.co.uk.