Disney Dining Plan – Is It Worth It?
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 family’s 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.
Disney Dining Plan Suspended
Disney has announced that when the parks reopen they will not be offering the Disney Dining Plan. It simply wouldn’t fit in with the fact that they have to reduce capacity in the restaurants.
At the moment, although Disney has not confirmed this, it would seem that this suspension will be temporary. The Disney Dining Plan is a huge part of the Disney World experience, not to mention the theme park’s profitability. I would anticipate that as soon as restaurants can be back at capacity the dining plan will be back.
If you have already booked a Disney World vacation which included a dining plan you will receive a refund on that part of the cost.
If you booked a vacation which included a Free Disney Dining Plan that part of the package will automatically be cancelled.
What is the Disney Dining Plan?
The Disney Dining Plan is available to Disney resort hotel guests as part of a package that 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 gratuity 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.
Regular Disney World Dining Plan
The cost of the standard Disney Dining Plan is $78.01 per night per adult and $30.51 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
Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan
If you do not want to experience a sit-down restaurant meal, the Quick Service Dining Plan is an option.
This gives you 2 Quick Service Meals, 2 Snacks, and a Resort Refillable Mug.
The cost is $55 for adults and $26 for children. I have never seen why this option makes economic sense.
Disney Dining Plan Plus
This includes 2 Meals. These can be either Quick Service or Table Service. You also get 2 Snacks and a Resort Refillable Mug.
The cost is $94.60 for adults and $35 for children.
If you think you will use this to have 2 Table Service Meals a day this is a better value over the Standard Dining Plan. You are paying just $16.59 extra per day, but you would pay a lot more than that as an upgrade from a Quick Service to a Table-Service meal.
Deluxe Dining Plan
This includes 3 Meals. These can be either Quick Service or Table Service. You also get 2 Snacks and a Resort Refillable Mug.
Here you are paying an additional $24.50 to upgrade and include another Table Service Meal. Is it a good value? It really depends upon how much food you really need. It is a whole lot of food to have a Table Service Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.
Aside from the risk to your waistline, it also takes time to eat a Table Service Meal. You will be cutting down the time you have to experience the attractions in the parks.
However, one way which may make it a good value is if you were using it to dine at Signature Restaurants which require 2 Credits. However, these restaurants are usually the most difficult to get an Advance Dining Reservation for, so you may not be able to completely max out your dining savings experience.
Why We Wouldn’t Buy the Disney Dining Plan Again
It really does save money for some people, but just not for us.
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 – 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 $78.01 worth of food each day.
Let’s say that a snack averages out at around $5. A Quick Service Meal if you are really maxing out may be around $20. So you have around $48 to hit your target of $78.01 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 $27 or $28 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 that is great for maxing out your full-service credit.
My daughter chose Grilled Vegetable Skewer with Impossible Kefta which costs $24. Dessert was not on the regular menu but the chef brought our 4 vegan cookies. Soda is $3.99. 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 $24 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 kid’s menu or split a plate with his brother. So paying $78.01 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 for 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 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 change 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 spent on food anyway. The Dining Plan is part of a package so it 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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My friend and I went to Disney World last year and we had a blast!!! She arranged the whole trip and made all the necessary reservations. She suggested the medium dinning plan and I said no. I wanted to go to Disney World and experience the whole thing. I didn't want to be spending time deciding how to use a couple of meals and a couple of snacks. We ate at a lot of restaurants and had a blast. The food was delicious, scrumptious, yummy and more!!! We ate at Le Cellier twice and without the dinning plan, it would have cost us a fortune. Our 10 day trip was my best visit ever to Disney World. I enjoy eating out and having an opportunity to eat food cooked by executive chefs is not something I do every day. Our dinning plan was worth it and I would definitely do it again. I say it is the only way to go.
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Saturday 1st of March 2014
Our family travels with our stomachs, dining is an experience that nourishes the body and soul. The best part of going to a new town across the sate, country or the world is finding out what they like to eat. For us, a Disney World trip without the experiences that the full service restaurants offer wouldn't be worth the cost of admission. Our preference is a Standard dining but we are considering our next trip for next January, a very low volume time that Disney offers dining deals, and we may end up with Deluxe dining (3 Full Service Dining credits and 2 Snack credits per day).
The food at a full service Disney restaurant is fantastic, the ambiance is outstanding and the service really can't be beat. The prices may be higher at Disney than at Applebees but sitting right next to the aquarium at Coral Reef or watching Irish dancers at Raglan Road are worth any "lost value" incurred. That vegan roast vegetable entree you described would cost $25 in an apples-to-apples equivalently nice restaurant at home in our area.
Unless you are going to do a character meal, you don't need to make reservations ahead of time to get a table with Disney's dining plan. We have gone at high volume times and have rarely been turned away from the regular full service (I'm sure Deluxe locations would be different). Sure we had to wait for an open table but being flexible - breaking up a large party (11 with 4 kids who were "adults") or just being really nice back to the cast members - got us seated. The only time we had a problem was during Star Wars weekends at Hollywood Studios, but that park has the least amount of full service dining options.
Every family is different and if cost is your primary concern, the Value dining plan (1 Quick Service Dining credit and 2 Snack credits) might be a better option. If your family are not big eaters, ordering 1 counter meal and splitting it between 2 people is a good way to stretch your "value" while still giving you enough food for the whole trip.
Saturday 1st of March 2014
Exactly Olivia and thank you for your comment. We enjoy Disney dining very much and are fortunate enough to be able to do this a great deal. But we have worked out that from a purely financial point of view that it doesn't add up for us to add the Disney dining plan. But we will still eat in Disney restaurants all the time.