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One of the questions that we get asked a lot is about the Disney Dining Plan – is it really worth it? The truth is that whether or not the Disney Dining Plan is a good deal depends on your individual eating habits and the dining choices that you make. For some it is a great deal – for others it just doesn’t add up.
When we visited this time we did have the Disney Dining Plan, but decided that we would think very carefully before buying the Disney Dining Plan again. It just doesn’t suit our families individual needs.
We love dining at Disney restaurants and are fortunate enough to be able to do this a lot, but for us it is usually a better deal to pay out of pocket for each meal than to add the Disney Dining Plan.
Before we get into why the Disney Dining Plan just isn’t a good value for us let’s talk about what it actually is and how much it costs.
The Disney Dining Plan is available to Disney resort hotel guests as part of a package which includes a hotel room and a park ticket. Annual Passholders can also add it to a hotel stay.
All prices include tax, but do not include a gratuity. You will still need to pay a gratuity at a full service restaurant. The amount will be paid on the full amount of what your meal cost would have been if you had not been using the Disney Dining Plan. As always at Disney, a child is aged between 3 and 9. Children under 3 can eat free from their fellow diners plates.
The cost of the standard Disney Dining Plan is $69.35 per night per adult and $24.95 per night for children aged 3 to 9.
When you check in to your Disney hotel you will receive a certain number of credits for full service dining, quick service dining, snacks and a resort refillable mug. You will receive 1 Full Service Dining, 1 Quick Service Dining and 2 Snack Credits per person for each night of your stay.
A Full Service Meal includes an entree, a dessert and a non alcoholic beverage. It can also be used for a buffet with non alcoholic beverage. Gratuities are not included.
Most Disney restaurants only need 1 Full Service Dining Credit, but Signature Restaurants need 2 Dining Credits. Examples of Signature Restaurants are Le Cellier in Epcot and Jiko in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.
A Quick Service Meal is an entree and a drink for breakfast. For lunch and dinner it is an entree, dessert and non alcoholic beverage.
Snacks are available in all Disney parks and resorts. They are clearly identified on menus so that you know what will be included.
You can find complete details on the official Disney Dining Site
There are other dining plans available but here we are talking only about our experience of the standard Disney Dining Plan.
Here are the reasons why the Disney Dining Plan just didn’t save us money this time:
Special Dietary Considerations
In our family of 5 we have an interesting combination of dietary needs! My daughter is vegan. My youngest is a picky eater aged 10 – so we pay full price for his meals and he barely eats anything. My partner is the only one of us who eats meat.
Disney is one of the best places we have ever found to accommodate special dietary needs. Every restaurant and counter service location is very well equipped to discuss with you what the ingredients are in the food and what is suitable for vegans and anyone with special dietary needs.
But if you are looking at things from a cost point of view only, as I am here, then vegan and mostly vegetarian are of course usually the least expensive things on the menu.
To get a good value out of the Disney Dining Plan each adult (and remember that is anyone 10 and up) has to eat more than $67.33 worth of food each day. Let’s say that a snack averages out at around $4. A Quick Service Meal if you are really maxing out may be around $18. So you have around $45 to hit your target of $67.33 per day.
It is pretty difficult to max out on this on a vegan menu. You are allowed an entree, a dessert and a drink for your full service credit. Your entree would probably have to be at least $25 and up and this is rare for a vegan or even a vegetarian entree.
If you take Epcot’s Coral Reef restaurant as an example here. This is a restaurant which is great for maxing out your full service credit. My daughter chose Marinated Grilled Vegetables and Vegetarian Chick’n Breast with Black Rice, Pine Nuts, and Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette which costs $18.99. Dessert was not on the regular menu but the chef brought our 4 vegan cookies. Soda is $2.99. So although we don’t know how much the cookies would be charged at the total would not have been more than $30.
If we had just ordered from the menu at Coral Reef without being on the Dining Plan the cost would have been $18.99 because we rarely order dessert or soda. When we dine we usually just order an entree and drink water!
It Can Make You Order Much More Than You Want To Eat
No matter how hard you try I think it is always in your mind that you are trying to get good value every time you order a meal. Rather than ordering what I usually would I started looking at how to get the most monetary value out of a meal. This caused us all to order more food than we would usually eat.
We Don’t Usually Drink Soda Or Eat Dessert
Many people love the Resort Refillable Mug. To be honest we didn’t get much value from them. At home we never buy soda, and in restaurants it is rare that we do. So for us this part of the deal was really a negative as there was no monetary value and it was difficult to have to keep saying no to my youngest son!
Soda is included in both the Quick Service and Full Service Meal. The price of a soda is usually $2.99 so for our family of 5 if we all drank soda that adds up to a value of $30 a day. But none of us usually order soda. But for those that do unlimited soda is of course an appealing option.
Dessert is included in both lunch and dinner. It is rare that we would ever order dessert. But of course when you have pre paid for it in the Disney Dining Plan it is more than tempting to give in and order dessert.
A Child Is A Grown Up When They Are 10
My children are 18, 15 and 10. None of them really eat very much! My 10 year old would always order from the kids menu or split a plate with his brother. So paying $69.35 for my 10 year old son to eat every day is never going to add up.
You Need To Plan Ahead
The Disney Dining Plan does need planning. It is more and more difficult to get a walk in at a restaurant and you need to book far in advance for popular restaurants. I booked most restaurants 3 months in advance.
The first stage of your planning is in deciding which park you are going to visit each day. Far ahead. This may not suit some people and this time we found it really didn’t suit us. We like the freedom to decide each morning where we are going, but with the Disney Dining Plan this is difficult to do. If you don’t have a reservation you may lose out and not be able to find a restaurant you like with a table. Also with the new rules that you have to give a credit card guarantee and are charged $10 per person if you do not cancel with 24 hours notice. If we had wanted to chance our mind in the morning it would have cost us $50 to cancel.
For us, our park visits revolved around our dining way more than we would have planned without the Disney Dining Plan.
On the positive side to needing to plan I did spend a long time looking to see if there was a reservation at Be My Guest and amazingly I did manage to get one after many hours of trying. It was worth it!
Gratuities are Not Included
It is easy to forget when looking at the cost of the Disney Dining Plan that even if you max it out completely you still have to factor in gratuities. Disney Cast Members deserve to be rewarded for great service and therefore you need to add up to 20% of the cost of what the total for the meal would have been without the Dining Plan Credit for full service meals.
You Can Have Credits Left Over
We had no problem using the snack credits as we used a lot of them for breakfast and lunch. This meant that we were left with lots of Quick Service Dining Credits left. On our final morning as we were ready to drive to our Disney Cruise we were faced with having a lot of Quick Service Dining Credits and limited capacity to actually eat them! We spoke with a Cast Member and she said we could convert them to Snack Credits. This meant that we had 18 Snack Credits left over and about 15 minutes to choose!
This was bad planning on my part of course but it did mean that we wasted quite a lot of the Credits. Our situation was unusual as we were leaving early in the morning – usually we would have had until midnight before the Credits expired. But it does take planning throughout and for some people this really isn’t what they want to do.
Disney Dining Plan – Final Thoughts
The Disney Dining Plan does suit many people. There are ways to maximize your Credits so that it does save you money. Often it isn’t as simple as just looking at the cost of the Dining Plan and working out how much you would have spend on food anyway. The Dining Plan is part of a package so may offer a reduced hotel cost.
The Dining Plan also allows you to budget ahead. It is very convenient. Just use your Mickey Band and you are good to go.
I am not saying that Disney Dining Plan is not a great idea. Just that it doesn’t work for us!
What do you think of the Disney Dining Plan? Did it save you money?
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