The Disney Dining Plan always centers around the same discussion. It’s either a great addition to your vacation package or a waste of time and energy as it creates too much need for planning. There are some interesting changes coming up in 2013; let’s take a moment to gaze into our crystal ball.

Is the plan still a good value?

The Wave… of American Flavors serves Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. It also features Southern Hemisphere wines and some of my favorites at Disney.


The Disney Dining Plan has been around in various forms at the Walt Disney World Resort for many, many years. In fact, it’s only gained in popularity and use over time.  This popularity has spawned different variations from the traditional plan – Quick Service, Deluxe, Platinum, and Premium.  However, the most notable change to the plan was back in 2008, when gratuity was no longer included with the plan.

No Gratuity?

In 2008, when the server’s gratuity was no longer included, the workers union made a nice deal with Disney.  Due to the anticipation of many guests (especially returning) being improperly informed about the change and not leaving tips, an agreement was reached.  (Despite strong communication of this change from many aspects of the Company, Travel Agents, etc.)  The servers received an auto-gratuity percentage on each Disney Dining Plan table’s check.  In 2008, the servers made 4% on each DDP table (often in addition to what the party left for them).  In 2009, it dropped to 3%; 2010, 2%; 2011, 1% and this year, nothing.  Can you imagine the amount Disney forked out due to this gratuity “insurance policy” for some of their highest paid hourly Cast Members?  Obviously the change was needed and the bigger picture outweighs itself in return.

But in 2012, all Disney Dining Plans included a Resort Refillable Mug!

Now let’s talk about the Disney Dining Plan from a business or more logical perspective.  All of the money spent for the Disney Dining Plan goes into one big pool.  It’s broken down by use for each physical location.

Let’s say that one family decides that since they bought the Disney Dining Plan, they want to get their money’s worth by deciding what to order based upon menu dollar amount, not by actual choice.  They order based upon money for their entrée, drink, and dessert as many times as they can.  They continue to do so with their snacks.  For the most part, this family maxes out the amount in the pool.

The Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant is located at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and serves Lunch and Dinner. The biggest draw to this location is the Drive-In atmosphere as you watch clips from films, cartoons, and Drive-In commercials.


Then there’s the average family.  They want to get the most out of their use of the Disney Dining Plan too, but they also want to eat what they would like.  Instead of ordering the most expensive items, they order based upon what menu items appeal to them the most.  This goes for their entrée, drink, dessert, and snacks.

The first family takes a lot more out of the pool than the second family does.  But overall, they should work to balance each other out.  If it doesn’t, Disney will easily lose from the Disney Dining Plan instead of returning a profit.

For many, the Disney Dining Plan helps to simplify things.  It allows you to plan your trip, make dining reservations, and enjoy little treats along the way.  Instead of focusing on a dollar amount for each dining experience, it allows many guests to focus more on what they should be looking at – the food!

1900 Park Fare is a buffet with character at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. Visit some of your favorite British characters for a Supercalifragilistic Breakfast or Cinderella, Prince Charming and the Tremaine Family for Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner.


The debate on the Disney Dining Plan has been waged for many years.  Many swear by it as the best way to dine when visiting Walt Disney World and others feel it is a waste of time, energy, and money.

I’ve always said – it depends on how you eat and plan to dine on your vacation. You don’t have to be like the first family to get the most out of the plan.  If you simply plan to dine at lots of character dining restaurants, you have paid for it and then some, easily.  If you book the Deluxe Dining Plan and plan to dine at a lot of Signature restaurants (which are two entitlements each) then it is easily worth it.  (Sadly, the Wine & Dine add-on is no longer for those who frequent Signature restaurants.)

The Hollywood Brown Derby is located at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Serving for Lunch and Dinner, this Signature Restaurant continues to offer an entrée created at the original Hollywood Brown Derby – the Cobb Salad.

Some critics of the plan cite the lack of restaurant dining availability on short notice or day-of bookings.  They also mention how difficult it is to get into certain popular dining restaurants in general.  But could it be that overall, it’s a part of the business that helps to generate revenue to assist the rest of the park in operating?  Or could it also be due to the popularity of the actual food at restaurants such as ‘Ohana or the atmosphere of Cinderella’s Royal Table that attracts guests to book reservations months ahead of time?

Many critics of the Disney Dining Plan say that popularity of the plan has caused restaurants to be forced to simplify their menus, reduce portion sizes, and mass produce desserts.  While this may very well be true in some cases, the reality is that some restaurants built years ago were not designed to keep up with the demand of the sheer volume of guests who dine at Walt Disney World each day, let alone with a Dining Plan.

A Simple Twist

The 2013 plan offers a new twist on the Disney Dining Plan – a prix-fixe menu.  The overall plan will be exactly the same as the 2012 plan; however, Table Service restaurants may offer a separate pre-fixe menu for dining plan guests.

It will cost one Table Service entitlement plus an additional charge for the prix-fixe menu items.  Not all restaurants will have these separate prix-fixe menus as certain items will still be available for just one Table Service entitlement.  The prix-fixe menu items will be clearly listed on each menu and will be an option for the guest to choose.

Another component of the change is menu add-ons for your entrée – simply an addition of an optional protein.  Many restaurants charge extra for such addition and this will be Disney’s way doing just that.

The best “Add-on” for the 2013 Disney Dining Plan has to be the addition of Be Our Guest Restaurant located in Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland. Lunch will be one Quick-Service entitlement and Dinner will be one Table Service entitlement.

This will allow many restaurants to continue to expand their current menu offerings outside the realm of where they currently are.  Chefs will be able to continue to be more creative with their dishes without having to meet a certain criteria for the Disney Dining Plan from a financial standpoint. This may also offer an overall better selection for all guests, including those who are not using a Disney Dining Plan.

Le Cellier has fully transitioned to a Signature Restaurant for 2013 – both lunch and dinner meal periods will require two Disney Dining Plan Table Service entitlements.

Traditional menu change time for most table service restaurants at Walt Disney World is in September.  This means it might not be until sometime late into 2013 where we start to see these prix-fixe menu items appear.  However, Signature restaurants (ie. Citricos, Artist’s Point) have more flexibility for regular menu changes or specials so we will most likely see them there first.  What also happens in the fall each year for the past few years? – Lots of “free dining” promotions from Disney Travel.

The price of Disney Dining Plan for 2013 –

  • Adults ages 10+:  $55.59 per night
  • Kids ages 3 – 9:  $17.16 per night

So the debate of the Disney Dining Plan only continues.  This is what’s next.  It will be here shortly at a Disney restaurant near you.  How do you think this will effect your favorite Disney World restaurants?  What do you think the Chefs will do with this new power for their menu modification?  Do you feel the Disney Dining Plan is still a good deal and worth it for you?

Have questions about Disney dining?  Are you seeking restaurant recommendations?  Do you have Disney Dining Plan questions?  Please send emails to [email protected]!  You will get a response and they might be used in an upcoming article.

  • WDITrent

    Thanks for the update!

  • DLFan1995

    The dining plan is like a smaller scale version of timeshare plans. Those who make the effort to take full advantage are ale to get their money’s worth in the long run. But, for many, there is a significant chance that they are losing money (spending more for the initial cost without being able to actually use the plan to the point of making the investment worthwhile).

    With timeshares, people are spending a couple of thousand a year for maintenance, whether they use it or not. With the dining plan, there is little flexibility to go beyond the bounds of the plan without ending up spending more in the long run.

  • There was a certain amount of comfort in the Dining Plan when I used it. Order whatever you want. It was nice in a way. HOWEVER, I hated that in order to get my moneys worth, I had to stuff myself. Which just isn’t worth it for me. I don’t like that the menus around the resort have been significantly watered down. Whether that’s because of the Dining Plan or simply due to budget cutting, it isn’t a change for the better. However, I can certainly see why many folks DO like the Disney Dining Plan.

  • holierthanthoutx

    As DVC members and annual passholders, we go with the Tables In Wonderland membership for dining — the 20% discount on table service meals includes beverages and doesn’t require ordering three courses. We like the flexibility of Tables In Wonderland, where we’re not locked into eating every meal on property, nor are we given more food than we want to eat.

    My only real complaint about the Disney Dining Plan is the reduction in quality of food in almost every restaurant. It’s not just that the number of menu items has been reduced, it’s that the QUALITY of the food has gone down significantly over the past decade. I think the reasons for this are two-fold — the restaurants are having to produce far more food in kitchens designed for a lower volume, and the quality of the ingredients has been decreased in order to turn a profit on DDP meals.

  • SpectroMan

    Interesting article – especially the part about how the enlarged attendance at these restaurants is forcing them to reduce quantity of options as well as produce desserts on-site anymore. Whether that’s true or not, it definitely goes noticed.

    I love getting the DP for free on a package even though I’m paying rack rate on hotel, and will continue to do so on most trips.

    I booked 50’s Prime Time for Feb 2013 and my confirmation email says that they don’t participate – is that a website glitch or have some dropped out once again?

    • Kandace Sparkles

      Thanks for your comments. Originally a lot of the desserts were made from a local bakery, Lake Mary Cheesecake, etc. But a lot of locations have made strives to make more in-house where they can. Take Disney’s Animal Kingdom for instance — they’ve made all of their Quick Service desserts for the last few years now in their bakery.

      The ’50s Prime Time Cafe is STILL a participating restaurant for the Disney Dining Plan. I’m not sure why your email specifically notates that; however, the website lists the DDP brochure with all participating locations if you would like to verify any more.

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  • danyoung

    Interesting read. I had only one small problem with your logic. You hinted that family 1 will max out their DDP selections, and perhaps even cost Disney a bit of money, while family 2 will choose the food they want and thus lose some money. I’m thinking (and this is only speculation) that there’s so much profit built in to the high priced Disney meals that even if family 1 gets the most expensive items, Disney will still make money off of them. So the DDP is a win-win for Disney for all levels of diner.

    But I agree with others above that the Plan has reduced the quality of food and the quantity of menu items, while at the same time making it harder to score a dining reservation. Yeah, Disney’s making money hand over fist. But the guest experience overall is reduced. I don’t ever use the Plan, preferring the vastly superior Tables In Wonderland discount. I still am able to work the system to get great reservations, and I enjoy my Disney dining experiences. But I do miss the days when you walked into Epcot and waited for your turn at an interactive video screen, and made your dining selection for that day!