Disneyland Dining Plan a Ridiculous Ripoff?

Written by MiceChat Staff. Posted in Disneyland Resort, Features

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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.


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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  • DLandFansAZ

    Excellent information Jeff and Karen. We looked into using the voucher’s a few years ago and when I looked at the dollar for dollar return it was a simple just use a set amount of cash or purchase a gift card for what you want to use.

  • SFDave

    The one thing about ” Disney Parks” concept I wish they would change. Love WDW plan, hate Disneylands

  • BrerRabbit

    so just so were all clear, its a dining plan.
    not gift certificates.
    not a gift card.
    not a candy or a souvenir plan, a dining plan.
    so it doesn’t really make sense to try and use it in a store. stores and foods are two different lines of business and operate independently from each other. which explains why you cant use a foods program voucher inside of a store.
    im not saying the plan isn’t horrible; it is. they’re a pain in the butt to handle the paperwork for when cashing out and they don’t save money.
    but they’re a lot more consistent than made out to be by this article if you know the workings behind the scenes.

    • MatterhornMama

      “they’re a lot more consistent than made out to be by this article if you know the workings behind the scenes.”

      That may be the case, but how much research does the Guest need to do to know the workings behind the scenes??

      And no one is saying they should be used for merchandise. Of course there is a difference between merchandise and food. However, when you walk up to the counter of Market House and order a cup of coffee, how is that different from walking up the counter at the French Market and ordering a cup of coffee? They are the same price. $2.79 Why does one accept the vouchers and one does not?

      If you are paying dollar for dollar then you should be able to use them that way. What possible advantage do they have then?

      • BrerRabbit

        market house is considered stores, i’m assuming that’s also why they’re the only place on property that offers the refills. and i get that you should be able to use them for any food, it just depends on the location. the register for market house is on the stores system, odv and restaurants on the foods system. vouchers won’t be accepted by cash control if they’re dropped from a stores fund bag,

  • PoohNVA

    Thanks for the article. I travel to WDW every year, and always use the deluxe dining plan. I keep my receipts and I calculate a large amount of savings on dining.

    I went to DLR a few months ago and opted out of the dining plan, as it didn’t read as a very appealing option on their website.

    I am going back to DLR next summer with friends and debated the dining plan again. And, it still seemed strange.

    Thanks for this article. You confirmed what I thought could happen.

  • QPerth

    Does anyone know if this is similar to Disneyland PARIS “dining plan” with vouchers that you can add to the price of your on-property hotel room?

    Or if anyone here has used the DLParis plan and if it is worth it or not please?!???

    These kind of Tips are invaluable for planning, a HUGE thankyou for this article, and to any replies to my queries here!

  • Baloo

    wow that sounds like a really bad incentive. I really hope that people that have bought these plans right to the resort and tells them exactly how they feel about the plan. Things like these are what people should be complaining about not whether Avatar will be built or not

  • whamo

    Disney is so successful they’re taking Guests for granted. That’s a sure way to lose business in the long run.

  • MatterhornMama

    A huge thanks to Fishbulb for the lovely photos in this article! I couldn’t believe it when I saw that Earl of Sandwich is finally open! We only missed it by a couple of weeks! Oh well….next time, :-)

  • LymanHunt

    Seems to me someone at Disney is asleep at the wheel on this one. In what world would they ever get positive feedback with a plan created to help you lose money?
    There is an opportunity here for them to create positive experiences along with keeping guests eating on property and they have completely missed it.

  • jasmineray

    Thank you for this article, Jeff. I think the Disneyland so-called “Dining Plan” is incredibly stupid and a rip-off. Beware, future Disneyland guests! Stay away from this plan!

  • General You

    Not all venues inside the park accept vouchers either. I couldn’t use vouchers at Ghirardelli for example.

  • GiRiMama33

    This is informative because there is a lot to know about the Dining Plan. I hope people inform themselves of all the ins and outs prior to purchasing.

    I purchased the 3 day dining plan through Costco with a Disneyland trip in April. I wanted to try it out for myself. I knew exactly what I was getting, where it could be used and how it all worked. We purchased it for pre-payment convenience, and we were planning several Character Meals and TS. I had no issues with it whatsoever. My only issue is that I should have done a day less because it was too much food in the end. We never lost $ using the vouchers.

    Your review eludes that Disney promotes the Dining Plan as a savings. They do not. They promote it as a convenience. The comments about it being a rip off are not warranted. People just need to educate themselves….just like most things in life.