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Is the Disney Dining Plan Worth it? Advantages & Disadvantages

Disneyworld castle dining
When planning a trip to Disney, there is much to take into consideration. It is no secret that a Disney vacation can take a huge chunk of change out of your bank account. And it is also no secret that a lot of planning can be necessary, to make sure that you are spending your money wisely on every detail of your magical vacation. One of the biggest questions that people have when planning their trip is, Is the Disney Dining Plan worth it? Well, the answer varies by family.

We have taken trips where we paid for the food out of pocket AND we have taken trips where we bought the dining plan, and I want to share what we learned about all the advantages and disadvantages to purchasing the Disney Dining Plan.

Note: I'm talking about the Disneyworld dining plan. Disneyland's plan works differently.. so that will have to be another post.
How does the Disney Dining Plan work? 

Disney dining plans are only available to guests of the Disney Resort Hotels, Annual Pass holders and Disney Vacation Club members. There are actually multiple dining plans options. In all cases, you prepay for meal "credits" and scan your magic band to use them. Unless you are purchasing items not on the meal plan, cash is never necessary:

1. Quickservice:  This is for the more casual diners.   This plan works best for people who want to focus on the rides and don't want to take time to sit down and eat long table service meals.  

What is included:
  • 2 quick service meals (a counter service entree and a drink) 
  • 2 snacks
  • Refillable drink mug for use at all Resort Hotels (not in the parks)
The drink options have recently changed and eligible drinks can now include speciality beverages (such as milkshakes) and alcoholic beverages (such as beer and wine)

2. Disney Dining Plan (Standard): This is for guests who want a little bit of everything.  A few quick meals in the park as well as one daily sit down meal. 
  • 1 quick service meal (a counter service entree and a drink)
  • 1 table service meal (a sit down meal (entree, dessert) or buffet meal and a drink) **
  • 2 snacks
  • Refillable drink mug 
Again, eligible drinks can now include speciality beverages (such as milkshakes) and alcoholic beverages (such as beer and wine)
2. Disney Deluxe Dining Plan: This is the plan I would choose if I were a foodie or wanted to have as many fine dining (Disney calls it "signature dining") and/or character meal experiences as I could.  This plan offers the most flexibility and gives you nearly unlimited dining options.
  • 3 meal credits (either quick service, table service or buffet) 
  • Includes appetizer with Table Service meal
  • 2 snacks
  • Refillable drink mug 
**Character meals: Want to dine while costumed characters visit your table?  This is one of the best parts of the dining plans if you want to be sure to meet your favorite character. These meals can be substituted for a table service meal.  (Certain meals, like Cinderella's Royal Table, or Signature Meals require 2 table service credits.)

You can find more details about dining plans on the Disneyworld site.
Character dining with mickey dining plan

What does it cost:
The actual per day rates (as of Spring 2018) are: 
Quick Service (10+): $52.50
Quick Service: (3-9): $21.74

Disney Dining: (10+):$75.49
Disney Dining (3-9): $25.75

Deluxe Dining (10+): $116.25
Deluxe Dining (3-9): $39.99 

ON AVERAGE, the costs of the credits break down like this: 
Quick Service Credit: $21
Table Service Credit: $45
Snack Credit: $5
This gives you a good baseline idea of if the price is worth it. If you would always choose the more inexpensive meals on the menu, or wouldn't eat 2-3 full meals while at the park, you may be better off paying cash.

For example, if you aren’t going to spend $42 on meals and $10 on snacks PER PERSON, it may no be worth it to you.  On our last trip we were a party of 7 (with 3 kids under 12).  We were NOT eating 14 meals and $140 worth of snacks per day.  We didn’t need a meal plan for every person.  (Technically you cannot share meals on a dining plan, if you are in a large group and want to split up for meals, it would be easy to do.)

Breakfasts and vegetarian items tend to be the least expensive meals, while character meals and single credit signature meals tend to be the best "bang for your buck." If you have to use 2 credits for a meal, you need to make sure you are getting at least twice the value, or else you would be better off paying out of pocket.
Epcot disney

What about Dining Promotions?
Often Disney has promotions such as free dining or plan upgrades. We always book our trips through an AUTHORIZED travel agent (Dream Wish Believe is our go-to Disneyworld agency) since they know exactly when promotions are coming out and can find the best rates. Sure you could book dining plans yourself, but since Disney agents are FREE to use, why would you want to?

Dining promotions obviously greatly reduce the costs per credit and can make the decision of "Is the Disney Dining Plan worth it?" much more obvious. But remember, often you lose other discounts such as reduced ticket prices and lower room rates. So when averaging in the cost of "free" dining, make sure to look at your other expenses. 

Disadvantage - Prepay for Food Potentially Uneaten
This has always been our biggest disadvantage when we buy the dining plan. We feel like we have to CONSTANTLY be eating in order to use up our dining credits.  Many people end up not using all of their credits, which basically means that they have spent money on food that they never ended up eating.  On the other hand, if you have teen boys that could eat their weight in meals daily, you may not have that problem.  You have to consider exactly how much food you are really talking about.  For us, a snack credit would be enough food for a quick lunch, especially if we were going to have a large buffet dinner or had a hot table service breakfast. 
buffet at disney
At the end of the day, we would have eaten LESS food overall if we weren't on the food plan.. we were eating because we had the credits and we wanted to use them.  So when adding up what we "saved" by the meal plan vs. paying cash for the food we ate,  it took into account meals we never would have purchased in the first place. If we had no dining plan we may have saved money by just eating less. 

Since my family is pretty frugal cheap, we ended up trying to use the last of the credits on overpriced snack foods in a nearby gift shop for the trip home just so our credits/money did not go to waste. We came home with about a dozen Mickey Rice Krispie cookies on our last trip, not the best use of the credits.

Advantage - Convenience
Having your food paid for in advance can be incredibly convenient. After wandering in the hot sun trying to make it to see all of your favorite characters and waiting in long ride lines, the last thing you will want to do is figure out where you can afford to eat, and what is available. With the plan you can have your restaurants reserved, and paid for, less gratuities, before you even go to the parks!  It is also nice to have a lot of options without considering their cost.  Telling your kids to "choose anything you want" makes for a much more pleasant dining experience.

Advantage - Easiness

Perhaps one of the perks of the Disney Dining Plan is the perk of easiness that comes with it. After you eat, you simply scan your magic band and then everyone is paid for. Of course, you know you paid for everything in your package. However, for some reason, just scanning a card and not having to worry about prices is nice!

Since character dining is covered on the Disney Dining Plan,  you don’t have to spend time waiting in character lines, you can pre-arrange your meeting with Mickey or favorite princess.  Our personal favorite meal was 1900 Park Fare since we loved Cinderella's stepsisters. They are nearly impossible to find anywhere else in the park.
disney dining and alcohol 2018Up in the Air - Alcohol & Beverages
Now that Alcoholic beverages are on the Disney Dining plan, this is another perk to consider if you are an adults who enjoys an adult beverage here and there with your meals. No more spending cash out of pocket when you use your credits.  Booze can be PRICEY in the parks, so this is a wild card when it comes to the dining plans.

Unfortunately if you are under the age of 21 or if you  have made a life decision to steer clear of alcoholic beverages, this will not benefit you, even though you are purchasing an 'adult' meal plan.

Of course, you don’t HAVE to get alcohol though, you can still grab a non-alcoholic beverage too.. and some of the deluxe drinks like milkshakes or smoothies are a nice addition to the plan. 
However, if you are a water drinker both with your meals and throughout the day,  this can be a huge cost savings and a perk of the dining plans that you do not need.  Non-bottled water is free throughout the park and bottled water and soda are considered snack credits.

Up in the Air - Signature Dining can eat through credits quickly
For some guests, the credits go quite quickly (especially if you are using multiple credits for signature meals that are reserved in advance.) With some itineraries there doesn’t seem to be enough meal credits to go around. (Often if you are eating large meals you are left with plenty of snack credits and end up making a meal of random snacks at the end of your trip.) 

This can be an advantage or disadvantage. To make the dining plan worthwhile, you definitely need to use them all but you also don't want to use them all up right away and end up having to pay for food on top of your dining plan.   Either way, it can be stressful to ensure you have enough to carry you over.
Belles royal table dining

Disadvantage - Flexibility 
Almost all table service as well as a few quick service meals (such as Be Our Guest) require reservations, typically made way in advance. Because of this you need to plan your entire itinerary around WHEN and WHERE you will be eating that day. 

We often found certain days we just weren't "in the mood" for the reservation we had made months in advance (who wants to eat a heavy steak dinner when it is 105 degrees at three in the afternoon?)  We also frequently overestimated how hungry we would actually be. Even quick service breakfasts could be really filling, so we didn't need or want to eat again by lunchtime. Some days I would have just preferred a Dole Whip and a cold soda instead of a 2 hour character meal, but I lost that flexibility since I was forced to either 'use it or lose it' with our dining plan credits.  
dole whip disney dining plan
The other place you lose flexibility is in your meal choices.  If you are going for the ultimate "value" you need to almost always choose the most expensive menu items to make the dining plan worthwhile.  Even if you may be craving the chicken tenders, you may feel the need to order steak since that is the only way to come out ahead.

The ability to choose anything off the menu is only a perk if you actually want to choose the higher priced items.  However, you can also consider this your 'chance' to eat something you wouldn't normally pay cash for.  It is a double edged sword. 
Disney dining plans : are they worth it. A look at the three current disney dining plans, what they cost and what you have to do to make them worthwhile

At the end of the day, the Disney Dining Plan may be what you need and it may not be what you need. You get to decide that. Most people find it to be convenient! What do you think?

Want to know a little more about the dining plan or any vacation planning tips? Contact the team at DWB Vacations.. they know EVERYTHING!

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1 comment :

  1. Thanks!!!! This is Great information. My daughter is planning a trip this year and this info is gonna be very helpful.��


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