Home Disney World Should I get a Disney Dining Plan?

Should I get a Disney Dining Plan?

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Dining Plan, or no Dining plan: That is the question.  Today’s post will address the question of whether or not the Disney Dining Plan is “worth it.”

Guest post by Tara Fox

As a Disney Vacation Planner, I am often asked, “Is the dining plan really worth it?” To that I respond with, “Do you plan to eat while on vacation?” If you plan to eat, then yes, a dining plan is worth it. The key is to find the dining plan that will work best for you travel party.

FIRST, it is very important to understand how the dining plans work. Dining Plans are made up of credits. These credits are for snacks (beverages, cupcakes, ice-cream cones, popcorn, muffins, fruit, etc.) Quick-service locations (walk-up counter service type restaurants where you choose a beverage, entrée, and dessert) and Table-service locations (sit down restaurants or buffets, character meals, themed dining, Signature dining locations, and dinner shows where you have your choice of a non-specialty beverage, any entrée on the menu, and dessert, or full buffet offerings).

These credits are allotted per person for each night of your stay at a Disney resort. They are able to be used at any time throughout your visit from the time you check in until 11:59pm of the day you check-out of your Disney resort. This bank of credits is available to your travel party to use as you wish. Perhaps you check-in to your resort around 6pm and wish to grab a quick bite to eat and turn in early so that you can get up early in the morning and take the kingdom by storm. Then you could visit your resort’s Quick service location, all resorts offer Quick service and snacks. Moderate and Deluxe resorts offer snack, Quick-service, and Table- service options. That first day’s snack and Table service credits are in your “bank” to either double up on a different day with a character breakfast and a spectacular dinner in Epcot, or a Signature dining location or dinner show.

The first option is the Quick-Service Dining Plan. ($42.84 adult, $17.47/child) This plan allots each person 2 quick-service credits and 1 snack credit per person for each night of your stay. If you are the type of family who really does not like to hold to a particular schedule and do everything on the fly. This is a great option for you. It allows you flexibility to go anywhere you want and visit any park you wish without the constraints of dining reservations. You can still plan a character meal, or a special fine dining experience while on this dining plan if you wish, you would just pay for that experience out of pocket.

The second, and perhaps most popular option, is the Disney Dining Plan. ($61.84/adult, $20.96/child). This plan allots each person 1 Snack, 1 Quick-service, and 1 Table-service credit per person for each night of your stay. This plan fits the bill for most guests because it allows the flexibility of a quick-service opportunity at some point in your day, but also allows you to enjoy a myriad of dining opportunities in the parks and resorts that will fit your family’s tastes. There is truly something for everyone at Disney.

Many people believe that character dining is not included in any dining plan. That is simply not true. The fact is, all of the character dining is only one table service credit, with the exception of Cinderella’s Royal Table which is 2 Table-service credits. These reservations can, and should, be made 180 days before you check-in to your Disney resort. Many people find it overwhelming to think about where they are going to eat, and at what time, 6 months ahead of time. This is definitely not something to worry about. I can guarantee, in six months, you will want to eat. Since you will have a dining reservation at a particular time, you can just plan accordingly throughout the day. If you have a later dinner, yet your children are usually eating dinner by 5:00, give them a special treat of a Mickey Bar or a Dole Whip around 3:00 so that they won’t be so hungry waiting for that 7:15 Hollywood & Vine Dinner. It’s a win/win and a great use of your snack credit as well!

The final option is the Deluxe Dining Plan ($111.73/adult, $32.56/child). This option is not for everyone. It is a lot of food. And depending on how you utilize these 3 dining credits and 2 snack credits each day, you could also be spending a lot of time in restaurants and missing out on what the parks have to offer. If your family is a true 3 square meals a day crew, than this is for you. You can start each day with a tasty breakfast in your resort, enjoy park time, stop and have a restful lunch, and then have a fantastic dinner later on in the evening. This is also a great option for families or couples who are true foodies. You can enjoy a late breakfast or early lunch, and then plan a scrumptious dinner at a Signature Dining location like California Grill, LeCellier, Cinderella’s Royal Table, or Citricos every night.

A new option to the dining plans is the ability to swap 1 Quick-service credit for 3 snack credits. This is a great option for guests who prefer to graze rather than sit down and eat an actual meal. You must get all three snacks at one time and let the cast member know that you are using your Quick-service credit for your three snacks. Doing this, you could get 2 pretzels and a drink to share with someone, and only trade in 1 Quick-service credit and satisfying two bellies. Then later, you may want ice-cream and another beverage to share. This is maximizing your food intake throughout the day to keep you nourished and happy to stay up late and watch the late Electrical Parade in the Magic Kingdom!

When you compare the overall menu pricing for a meal at a Table-service location, the cost of a Quick-service, and a snack in each day, you will see that the dining plans definitely offer a savings. The dining plans do not include gratuity, so this is something you definitely need to be prepared to pay for out of pocket. You can tip with cash, scan your band and charge it to your account, or even take care of it with a Disney gift card. Also, Disney automatically charges 18% gratuity to all parties of 6 or more.

Including a dining plan in with your Disney vacation package also allows the ability to budget more efficiently. Purchasing the dining plan lessens the sticker shock and leaves you with fewer surprise expenses throughout your vacation. Worrying about your spending habits while on vacation certainly tarnishes the pixie dust and adds a level of stress that should not exist while visiting this magical place. Ask your Disney Vacation Planner which Dining Plan is perfect for you.

**Prices based on 2016 package pricing.

 




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41 COMMENTS

  1. I would say the bottom line on this topic, and really the bottom line on a trip to Disney World or Land is for travelers to DO YOUR HOMEWORK! You almost have to if you want to make a Disney vacation a fun and magical time. What you give, you get back in a sense. My wife and 2 daughters find the Quick Service plan perfect for us. We have the best time planning the whole vacation out as a family, including where to eat. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be spontaneous as we visit the parks because with Quick Service there are almost no restaurants that need reservations. And there are plenty of great restaurants that offer really good values in our eyes. I’m looking at you La Kringla, Flame Tree, and Be Our Guest! .

    • Homework is important! I’m active on Disney-related forums, so, I was lucky to have had the benefit of veteran advice prior to my first WDW trip with my family. I am sure I would have been very disappointed had I not known to start making ADRs 180+ days out, or to book FP+s at 60.

      For optimal experience, WDW, in my opinion, requires a great deal of planning. Compared to Disneyland, though, which is our “local,” we need do no more than show up, having booked the Bayou or maybe a World of Color dining package a few days before (Cafe Orleans, my very favorite place in all of Disneyland, can generally accommodate walk-ups, barring super peak crowds).

      When it comes to Walt Disney World, as the meme says, if you’re thinking you don’t need to do at least SOME planning, you’re going to have a bad time.

      NF

  2. When I mentioned cups, I met “refillable drink cups ” that you could buy, and get reasonable priced refills. Not referring to anything about popcorn. Disney needs to offer reasonable drinks. All other amusement parks have such a cup for purchase…..

    • You can buy a refillable mug at any of the Disney hotels and all of the refills are free and you can refill all you want. Disney World has had that for quite some time.

  3. I don’t understand why Disney does not offer a value drink cup. Every amusement park that I have been to has one. I know if you stay at a Disney resort, you get one but can only fill it at resort. Most places you buy cup and can fill it for $1 or very cheap. It costs pennies to buy the syrup for soda… Disney charges a fortune for drinks. Our family bought own drinks in because of this, and just got our free cup of ice to keep them cold…. Then filled our contiguo sports jug with water, and added drink mix from our bag… If Disney offered this, and food more reasonable people would buy more. Price gouging….

      • Hmm, must have missed out somehow — we were at Disneyland last weekend and have been AP holders for years.

      • It was tested during the summer, before school returned. AP were allowed to purchase special cup and special popcorn holder and get discounted refills

      • Ah-h-h, now that you mention it, I –did– see people going around with “AP” popcorn buckets strapped to strollers. Thanks!

  4. We just got back at the end of August and were lucky enough (at least I think we were) to get in on the One Quick Service meal free promotion. That saved us $400 alone. Having the dining plan made our vacation a WHOLE lot more enjoyable because I wasn’t worrying before every meal about how much we could spend, or limit every one to just an entree. It is a lot of food but I was pleased with everything that we ate. Even the food court at the Movies resort. I think we ate there at least 4 times. I say if you are gonna go, go big. This was probably a once in a lifetime trip for us and I didn’t want to worry about anything. And I didn’t.

  5. A little-known facet of the Disney Dining Plan is that snack credits can be used for Starbucks…! We felt kind of dumb to not have realized that on a recent trip.

  6. The decision whether to purchase the Disney Dinning Plan or not is kind of a big one and really isn’t as simple as “you have to eat don’t you?” People really need to do the math for themselves: determine what and how much your family generally eats and then look up menus on Disney’s website to calculate the costs for each meal. People who do this generally have a pretty good idea as to what each member of their family will order. Typically The Dinning Plan is only a good idea if you will eat (at a minimum) the same dollar amount as the cost of the Plan. If you like the idea of prepaid meals and not having to worry about budgeting or messing with money when you’re on vacation, you can always buy Disney Gift cards and dedicate them to use on food only. For vegetarians, the Dinning Plan is generally not a financially good idea or for light eaters. Our family of 3 purchased the Dinning Plan our first time to Disney World and we definitely won’t purchase it again. My 3 year old and I are both vegetarians and always seemed to order the cheapest meal on the menu (because it’s what we wanted) and it was simply way too much food for our entire family. We often got snacks and ended up throwing them out because we really didn’t want them, it felt terribly wasteful. After all our meals and calculating how much we would have paid if we were paying out of pocket for it versus prepaying with the Dinning plan, we ended up being slightly ahead- like less than $20 but the only reason for this was because we scheduled 3 character meals and Boma. One of the real drawbacks of the Dinning Plan for us was having to stick to the schedule we had to create with ADR’s. We often felt like we had to stop what we were doing to go eat because we had made a reservation and had already paid for it. I think it’s terribly irresponsible, from a Disney planner in particular, to simply state that everyone needs a Disney Dinning Plan and you just need to figure out which one is best for you.

    • We have never found it to be a good value for what we would eat. We have used it, gladly, during the free dining promotions. We stay value and the free dining was a better deal for us than the room discount. But if it’s not free dining, we will pay out of pocke

    • I agree with Karla especially when using the Quick Service dining plan. Some of the meals are quite large and can be shared by two people especially if you have light eaters in your family. If you skip dessert and do not drink soft drinks, you can save even more without using the dining plan.

      Starting in 2017, the quick service meals will no longer include a dessert, and you will receive two snacks instead. So depending on your eating habits, it definitely pays to calculate if the dining plan will work for your family.

    • I agree with Karla here it isn’t as a simple “do you want to eat.” Do your homework and do the math. It wouldn’t have been a good value for us the last two times we went, and we do at least one table service and quick service meal a day. We went this summer and have both a 10 year old and 6 year. Our 10 year old would have been charge adult on the meal plan. Instead there were multiple times at our table service dining experience that the waiter or the hostess told her you are 9 today and charged us a child price for her, and our 6 year old was listed at one meal as an infant (which meant free) due to the fact she hardly ate a bite one meal. Additionally, the quantity of food is large, so there were often times that my two kids and I would split a meal. When we went to WDW when they were 6 and 3, I figured we would save approximately $200 by not doing the meal plan, and this was doing the math for table service, quick service, and snack. I kept all of our receipts, and found we actually saved $600. So do your homework, and figure out what is best for you!!

  7. The answer to this is the same as always. It Depends. It depends (among other things) on the size of the traveling party and the other available discount. An example, my December trip is half the cost with the room discount over free dining. And adding the dining plan would cost more than I anticipate spending on food. Now this is a solo trip and I’m a frequent traveler to WDW so I’m not the normal guest. But this is a perfect example of why the plan doesn’t work for everyone.

    • This is such a great point! So many people think that free dining really is “free”, where is really depends on how many people are traveling in your party and what category of resort you’re staying at. For our family of 3 staying at a moderate resort, using the room only discount and paying separately for food yields a greater discount than paying full price for a room and receiving the dinning plan for “free”. People just really need to do the numbers, remember- MATH IS YOUR FRIEND! And, where some like the “freedom to choose whatever food item they like” on the Dinning Plan (something you can do just as easily NOT on the Dinning Plan), I’d rather have the freedom to choose what time of year I go to Disney World and the resort I wish to stay at.

  8. We went to WDW in 2015 and used the dining plan, and we loved! However, 2017 there is a huge reduction in the available quick service restaurants, so we will most likely not purchase this plan again sadly.

    • What locations are being eliminated? With all the new offerings at Disney Springs I was surprised to hear that the number of locations has decreased as right now there appears to be more than ever for our trip next week. Curious to hear what is changing in 2017 as this is new information to me.

  9. Do you know if the problems with the ddp have been straightened out as far as it not showing up on magic bands and people having to pay out of pocket? I love the ddp but the first time I have to blow $400 of my vacation budget on a prepaid meal will make buying it in the future not very likely.

    • Did this happen this past week? We left our room and realized we forgot something and could not get back in. Luckily, we had connecting rooms and were able to get in the other one. Went to the desk and they said the system was down but didn’t imply it was everywhere. Got to the park and found out that they couldn’t use the Magic Band for Dining Plan charges. My daughter ordered a LeFou’s Brew while the rest of use were riding a ride. They told her it was on Gaston and gave it to her. But, we overheard people talking about it. I assumed they would credit your account the amount you had to pay out of pocket. Did they not??

      • I heard several families say their ddp didn’t work and they had to pay for expensive meals out of pocket. When they went to the desk they could not reverse the cc changes they made.
        I buy the ddp so I don’t have to budget alot. An unexpected meal of $300 could sure do some damage to that budget.

  10. We just visited in July. Food was not up to par in a lot of Disney restaurants than in past visits. We stayed at an outside resort that had a full kitchen, and made breakfast before leaving. Then we packed either lunch and or snacks. We did eat a few character meals but did not feel need to eat at all Disney restaurants. Mostly ate snacks. We had trouble finding healthy options. At epcot in blvd with Sorin there was a nice grab and go, with some better options. And at animal kingdom the bbq place had some nice choices.
    Magic Kingdom has mostly reservation restaurants, but as far as quick service/cafeteria style, not impressed. Disney needs to redo their food options and lower prices….. Food is very pricey and not very healthy. Rather bring in something I know is healthy, and definately more reasonable price wise! Good luck finding both. Even if staying at a Disney resort, dinning plan would not be an option. Way too expensive and bad food choices.

  11. After our first trip, we will always get the Disney Dining plan. I no longer want to have to worry about reservations and having to wait a long time in line to get food for our hungry family. Plus, the added benefit is that everything is paid for up front and I don’t have to worry about pinching pennies (or dollars in today’s terms). It is a virtual “grab and go” idea for taking the anxiety out of our dining each meal. Our rides, amusements, and shows are all planned around our dining reservations so that we don’t miss a single event through excessive waiting. Based upon the menu pricing, we truly believe that we come out way ahead with the dining plan, especially since anything on the menu is available

    • Are you me? I could not have put this better myself. This is exactly how we plan as a family and we LOVE having the DDP. This Nov, we’re actually going all out and going Deluxe! I can’t wait.

    • Buying the dining plan doesn’t eliminate the need to worry about reservations or wait in long lines to get food. It adds the convenience of prepaying for meals, but doesn’t change the logistics of dining at Disney in any way.

      • Sorry, I did not mean to imply that the two were linked. I just simply meant to show that we included the act of making reservations as part of our DDP only to show that we make a complete dining experience–reservations + DPP. So when we visit, we have reservations and a paid dining tab, which totally eliminates our worries about eating.

      • This is true, but I think what OP meant was that, once all the arrangements have been made, one can sit back and relax, as it were.

  12. Is this an article about best dining options or a sales pitch? I understand for you the travel agent selling a dining plan is best. But you left out a great option: not buying a prepaid and restrictive plan!! For many of us the Disney dining plan is more expensive than paying directly what we would actually eat. Not to mention stressful and annoying when trying to get best use from credits.

    • If you plan your visit out carefully, then you will know where the snack or quick service options are at each park and when you need to visit one after an event. We use an Excel spreadsheet to map out each day accordingly to maximize our meals, snacks and rides, etc. So at a given time, we know where we are going to be and what the credit is that we are using, whether it is a snack, quick service, or meal credit. It’s not really that involved and I have found the spreadsheet is a life-saver to removing the anxiety.

    • Sure, but for others of us, DDP is a wonderful convenience. I love being able to choose whatever I’m in the mood for. It isn’t always about pinching pennies.

      • No, it isn’t always about pinching pennies!!! Food in July was terrible, very small portions than in past visits…. I would rather spend $$$ on a $$$ very expensive meal outside of Disney. Disney used to be about families, now it is about how much profit they can make and give guests as little as possible for their hard earned dollar. I guess if you really don’t care that you are eating substandard food, and paying a lot of money for it, have at it! I would rather splurge elsewhere and get a fancy meal elsewhere….

      • Fair point. If the value for money doesn’t seem to be there, buying the dining plan would be foolish. We do think the food very good, though: We never miss Le Cellier or the Hollywood Brown Derby, and last trip, we were able to enjoy Tiffins, which was amazing.

      • I am glad you had a better experience. Only three in our party. Maybe it was summer crowds that food is not as good. Ate at Cinderella castle, and Be Our guest for our character dinning. Food was just ok. It cost $164 for our Cinderella breakfast, and have had better outside of Disney. Portions were so small, ate a snack right after left breakfast, still hungry! Have been going to Disney for 43 yrs, since young, and have noticed a decline in both food and services. Seems if it is all about money these days,and not their guests… I always loved Disney, but there is other places to see in the world besides Disney. Here we come New Orleans next year!!!
        I know for some ddp works. Not for our family. I like to pay for what I eat and not be on a schedule. We like to do things at our own pace. I have visited enough over the years and just observe Disney being greedy, and money hungry! I won’t miss not visiting next yr. We did better bringing some of our own food in park and just eating a snack or two. Splurged on a few restaurants outside Disney. Got more for our money, and better quality meal….

      • I’m with you on Cinderella’s Castle, Kerry — so expensive. The way I figure it, you’re paying for the princesses, not the food (which is kind of an afterthought). We went once to have the experience; I don’t think we’ll go back.

        I do feel BOG is worth it. I like that breakfast and lunch are QS — fair value there. And dinner, for one dining credit, is to me pretty great, if only for the atmosphere, of which we never tire. We’ve eaten in all the rooms and enjoy them all. Also, the steak and pomme frites is yummy!

  13. We chose to visit Disney during a slow season when the dining plan was offered for free. It was the best decision we made. We ate like kings the entire trip and only had to tip for our meals and service. I would recommend the dining plan to anyone. Especially if you can travel when it is offered for free.

    • Agreed, Renee! We were lucky enough to get in on this year’s promotion as well and, after last year (we went on a different promotion, which didn’t include the dining package), are looking forward to the sense of luxury and freedom.

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