Disneyland Dining Plan a Ridiculous Ripoff?

Written by MiceChat Staff. Posted in Disneyland Resort, Features

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jeff

Published on October 31, 2012 at 5:01 am with 34 Comments

Jeff and Karen Bray are long time MiceChat readers. They wrote us with a review of the Disneyland Dining Plan, which we felt compelled to run as a warning to unsuspecting tourists. Don’t confuse Disney World’s popular Dining Plan with Disneyland’s inferior option. Read on and see if you agree, as Jeff and Karen do, that the Disneyland Dining Plan is a bit of a scam.

Our family spent several days at the Disneyland Resort in October and had a mostly amazing time, with one notable exception which everyone needs to be warned about. Now let me say right off the bat: we love Disneyland. It is often referred to as The Happiest Place on Earth, and rightly so. We visit as frequently as we can, even though we actually live closer to Florida’s Walt Disney World. We booked our vacation package through Costco Travel, which uses the Walt Disney Travel Company. After choosing our hotel and the number of park hopping days we wanted, we were given the option of choosing a Disneyland Dining Plan. Of all the numerous trips we have taken to the Disneyland Resort, we have never purchased the Disneyland Dining Plan. We knew of the popular Dining Plan at Walt Disney World, which some of our good friends rave about, so we decided to add the plan to our Disneyland stay.

No Downtown Disney

No Earl of Sandwich

Unfortunately, we were about to find out that the Disneyland Dining Plan is a shadow of what is offered at Disney World and could perhaps even be considered a scam. That may sound harsh, but please read on. At Disney World, each person receives a voucher for a counter service meal, a snack and a table service meal per day (they actually add the meal plan to your Key To The World card so you don’t really have to carry around vouchers). There is no dollar amount attached, so a person could conceivably order the most expensive items on the menu at every meal and actually save money over what they would have spent on their own. Once the program is explained to you, it’s fairly easy to use. Just show your room key to your server and they’ll let you know what your options are for the plan you purchased. At least, that’s the way it works at Disney World.

The Disneyland Dining Plan also gives each person meal vouchers (actual paper ones that you must keep track of). These vouchers, however, each have a specific dollar amount. For example, a counter service voucher is worth $15, a snack voucher is worth $5 and a table service meal voucher is worth $30. Each packet of vouchers also includes one “premium” table service voucher, worth $40. At the time we added the plan, we had no idea that it was dollar for dollar; thus offering no real savings. But it gets worse, much worse. Here’s the Good, the Bad and the Ugly truths about these Disneyland meal vouchers:

The Good of the Disneyland Dining Plan:

Purchasing the Disneyland Dining Plan as part of your vacation package might alleviate stress about paying for the meals later. Since most folks usually spend more than anticipated while on vacation, this becomes one less thing to worry about. The vouchers are good at any Disneyland, California Adventure or Disneyland hotel restaurant but are NOT valid in Downtown Disney. Unfortunately there is really nothing else good about these vouchers.

The Bad of the Disneyland Dining Plan:

Even though the vouchers are valid for food and drink, they only work at the restaurants and select outdoor vending areas. They cannot be used, for example, to buy a cup of coffee at The Market House or candy at The Candy Palace as they can at Disney World for snacks. These places are considered merchandise vendors, not food vendors. Why can’t these two shops just limit what you use the vouchers for, as you can at WDW? Any orders placed at the counter (a cup of coffee or a pound of fudge) should be considered food, not merchandise; whereas, if one purchases a mug or pre-packaged item, it would be considered merchandise. Granted, candy isn’t necessarily the most nutritious of snacks and could hardly be considered “food,” but the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor does accept the vouchers for the equally indulgent ice cream snack. A bit inconsistent, perhaps?

The Ugly of the Disneyland Dining Plan:

If you haven’t figured out by now, the Disneyland Dining Plan is not a good deal. Let’s move on to the downright ugly truth about these vouchers. The Walt Disney Travel Company does not tell you that you are paying dollar for dollar what these vouchers are worth, therefore, you are not really getting any kind of a “deal.” In fact, you are nearly guaranteed to pay MORE than a regular guest who is just paying out of pocket. Even though the vouchers have a dollar value and you have paid what they are worth, none of the vendors will give you change. So, if your bill amounts to $65, then you will want to use two $30 vouchers and pay the rest in cash. What did you save over what a regular guest would pay? NOTHING. But here’s the twisted part. If your meal is $25 and you need to use a $30 voucher, do you get the $5 Disney owes you back? NO! Disney keeps that. So you end up paying MORE than a regular guest.

NO BOOZE!

Being able to mix and match the vouchers, does allow you to cover the cost of most meals earlier in your trip, but it is a bit of a hassle to figure out how to best use them, since you don’t get change. You can’t exchange your vouchers for smaller denominations which would make it easier to get close to your final bill amount. You’d always be better off under using the voucher and paying the rest in cash, so you don’t over pay. However, doing so means that you will likely have extra vouchers left over at the end of your stay (we ended up with $80 in unused vouchers). I suppose that you use it or lose it either way. You either over pay during the meal by not getting your change back or you lose the money at the end of your stay because you didn’t use all your vouchers.

Finally, even though the vouchers have a cash value (which one would naturally think means you could use them as cash), they are not accepted for tax and tip in all locations and can’t be used as cash for alcohol. But wait…..didn’t I pay exactly what they were worth? So if I’ve already paid the money and have a voucher, why can’t I use that voucher towards a lovely glass of wine at the Trattoria? Or to make sure my superb waiter, Saucy, gets an outstanding tip after my fantastic meal at Napa Rose?

Sorry, no Napa Rose.

The long and short of this lesson is not to confuse Walt Disney World’s well known Dining Plan with the vastly inferior Disneyland Dining Plan. WDW offers at least some value and convenience, the Disneyland Dining Plan seemes to be a ripoff with no real value to the guest. In fact, we’d like to warn all visitors to the Disneyland Resort to resist the temptation to add this ridiculous plan to their vacation.

An otherwise wonderful vacation was truly marred by the Disneyland Resort’s greedy Dining Plan. Don’t repeat our mistake.

Have you had an experience with Disneyland’s Dining Plan? What are your thoughts?

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34 Comments

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  1. Buyer beware!

    A big thanks to Jeff and Karen for writing in with this really important information. As a local, I’ve never used Disneyland’s dining plan. I’ve always assumed it was just like it’s Florida cousin (a plan which I’ve used many times).

    Sounds like Disneyland either needs to cancel this plan or change it to work just like WDW’s. There is no excuse for Disneyland to offer a ripoff like this. Really quite shocking and not in keeping with their otherwise high standards.

  2. That’s crazy! I think that really harms the image of the Disney Travel Company.

    I think they shouldn’t worry about implementing such a system at Disneyland. It’s the greatest theme park on earth and would cheapen it and its restaurants. I love their recent gradual improvements of park food and the value price point they offer items at. They would have to offer cheaper-to-produce food at a marked up price to give discounts.

    At Disneyworld I found it distracting from my trip. I felt like a tool, price-checking all the dorky restaurants in order to feel good by getting the biggest bang for my buck. But trying to grab as much unhealthy Disney Park food as you can seemed like a depressing sport for some of the obese visitors waddling around in the parks. At Disneyland, packed with more attractions, I don’t have time to kill playing the meal-o-deal plan game. Value and fun/imaginative food is what keeps my food dollars in the park. On my last trip I was sad I didn’t have enough meals to try all the fun food at Carsland. This sadness was better than being upset I didn’t use up all my points or that I didn’t get my money’s worth on a meal plan with a structure that took away from my park experience.

  3. Far too many people are under the impression that the dining plans in either CA or at WDW are somehow provided by Disney to help people spend less money on their vacations.

    • True. I’m not really a fan of the dining plans. But, the WDW plan can be used to your advantage and is very popular as a result.

      But the Disneyland plan is actually designed to ensure that you way over pay every time and there is no hope of saving even a nickel. There seems to be no reason for it at all, other than for Disney to rob its guests.

  4. Is it legal for Disney to pocket the change on these vouchers?

    • Sounds illegal to me, and what an embarassing rip off on Disney’s behalf–shame on them:(

    • California law states that you must be given change in cash when a gift CARD balance is less than $10 (I tried this in DL once, mainly out of curiosity, and after a long wait they said that was only if under $5, and I didn’t want to press the matter, like I said, just curious). Starbucks was finally penalized for violating the law repeatedly, however. That said, there are exceptions (can’t be a freebie, must be for a single merchant (ie no VISA cards)), and these vouchers may well fall into that category. This dining plan [sic] is really nothing more than giving the Disney company an interest free loan, and I am quite certain that the company won’t do that for any of us.

  5. wow what a Rip Off!

  6. Thank you, Jeff & Karen!

    I didn’t know the Disneyland dining program existed, and now I’ll probably never give it another thought.

  7. It was so great to have you guys out here; you have such a wonderful family! However, I had no idea that you didn’t guy those vouchers at a discount (as would usually be the case, as an incentive for buying in advance)…it’s almost unbelievable that Disney would offer such a terrible deal for the very people they want to encourage to come back. If all they are is gift certificates (which apparently is all they are), then they should be usable for food, beverage, alcohol, gifts, etc., and it should just keep a running total of exactly what is used on the card! Instead, you are limited and lose dollars you already gave them when you don’t use the full value of each certificate. Shame on Disney for that kind of customer service!

  8. What a great story to share with us, thank you! I looked at this plan before our last trip (in August) and I couldn’t see the value over just using cash. I too have used the WDW program several times and this one appeared to be nothing like it. It is the beginning of the death of spontaneity at Disneyland if they introduce a WDW style program (imho). At the Disneyland resort you can still walk up to a restaurant and get a seat within the hour if you want to. I love that!

  9. One question…do they date stamp the vouchers or can you use them on a future visit to the Disneyland Resort? That would at least provide some opportunity to get value out of them.

    • The vouchers were only good through the end of January 2013. We live over 2,000 miles away and so we couldn’t use the $80.00 in food vouchers. Thanks everyone for your support of our article. A HUGE thanks to Dusty and crew for running our story.

  10. “One question…do they date stamp the vouchers or can you use them on a future visit to the Disneyland Resort? That would at least provide some opportunity to get value out of them.”

    I’m not sure. But I believe that in California, gift cards that are purchased with cash cannot expire (although they may have to be purchased from a California location, i.e., a Macy’s gift card purchased out of state may not have that protection). It would be interesting to hear from a lawyer familiar with CA consumer law about this.

    • Which is probably why they’re issued on paper and not cards.

  11. Wow, that’s really bad. I’ve come to the conclusion that pre-paying for food is the surest way to get mediocre food and service.

  12. Wow! This is really too bad. Buying a Disney gift card sounds like a much better plan if you’d like to set aside money and “prepay” for your dining or souvenir expenses.

    We will no longer be buying the Dining Plan at Disney World either. I felt it used to be a good vale for our family, but now that the price has increased significantly and gratuity is no longer included, it just doesn’t work for us anymore. On our last trip in August, we ended up saving a little, although since we typically wouldn’t buy desserts twice a day we would’ve been better off paying as we went.

  13. Thanks for warning people about this Disney rip off. It is outrageous! They are just scamming the out of town guest. They are just wallets to Disney, not people or families with a budget.

  14. We are using the meal voucher plan at WDW because (and yes, behavioral economists would have a field day with me) I am DIRT cheap when it comes to meals on vacations….probably to the detriment of my enjoyment. I order the least expensive thing. I fret over a dollar difference in the price of a pastry. I CRINGE when my kids want to order the hamburger that is $.75 more than the nugget. I skip desert (even though we ALL know that is the BEST part of the meal)…My hope is that with the meal plan I will be MUCH more relaxed – simply going with the flow.

    But the DL meal plan sounds horrible. It has all of the downsides of prepaid plan and none of the upsides.

  15. Interestingly, candy is considered “food” if you want to store it at the news stand or any other package check-in. I bought fudge and pre-packaged popcorn at Candy Palace thinking I could store it with my other “merchandise” at the news stand, but was told by a cast member they could not accept food, and that I should go rent a $7 locker in which to store my merchandise/food/whatever (which I would have bought at a later time had I known the no food/merchandise rule).