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Park Wise

How The Disney Dining Plan Works.

Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
by , 05-02-2012 at 12:04 PM


The Disney dining plan is one of the most popular options for Walt Disney World guests. Buying the dining plan lets you know ahead of time what you’ll spend on food and gives you an incentive to try a wider variety of restaurants, adding to your overall Disney resort experience. Used correctly, it can be both convenient and economical, but there are a few basics you need to know before you give it a try:

Types of Dining Plans:




There are three main types of plans: The quick-service plan, the base or plus dining plan, and the deluxe dining plan. Here’s what’s included with each plan:

1. The Quick-Service Plan: Priced at $34.99 for ages 10 and up and $11.99 for ages 3 – 9, the quick-service plan gives guests one snack and two quick-service credits per person per for each night of their stay. It also comes with a refillable mug for use at drink stations at your resort.

2. The Base or Plus Dining Plan. Priced at $51.54 ($53.54 during peak season) for ages 10 and up and $15.02 ($16.02 during peak season) for ages 3 – 9, the base plan gives guests one snack, one quick-service credit, and one table-service credit, plus a refillable mug.

3. The Deluxe Dining Plan. Price at $85.52 ($89.52 during peak season) for ages 10 and up and $23.79 ($25.79 during peak season) for ages 3 – 9, the deluxe dining plan gives you three table or quick-service credits, two snacks, and a refillable mug. You can use your meal credits in any combination you wish: Quick and table-service credits are equal under this plan.



Each quick-service and table-service meal comes with one non-alcoholic beverage, one entrée, and one dessert. On the deluxe plan, you’ll also get an appetizer with your meal. Disney dining plans do not include tips.

Get Park Wise Quick-service desserts are one of the weaknesses of the plan, appearing to add value to the plan while in reality offering you something you might not normally buy. Unless you’re eating at a better quick-service location like Wolfgang Puck Express, which has exemplary desserts, consider substituting your dessert for a bottle of water, yogurt, or a piece of fruit. Most cast members have no problem allowing you to do this.


How the Disney Dining Plan Works:

Disney dining plans are straight-forward and easy to use. Your credits are allocated per night, so if you’re staying for seven nights and you’re on the base plan, you’ll receive seven table-service credits per person for use during your stay. These credits are good from the time you check-in, which can be as early as you like that day (not to be confused with when you actually get your room, which is usually mid-afternoon) and are good until midnight the day of check-out.

Let’s say again you have seven table-service credits. You can use those credits in any order you wish, so if you want to eat at Akershus (one table-service credit) for breakfast and then California Grill (two table-service credits) for dinner on the first day of your stay, you can. You’ve just used three of your seven credits, leaving four left over for use any time during your stay.



Get Park Wise: You may want to pay out of pocket for less expensive meals or for certain members of your party. Just tell your server that not everyone is on the dining plan for this meal. You’ll just present your Key to the World Card for those on the plan and your credit card or cash for those who are not.
Your Credits are “Pooled” by Room:

All credits are “pooled” under one reservation, so when you get your Key to the World card, everyone on that reservation, whether it’s one person or twelve, will have their credits on the same card. This means that if Cousin Orville prefers to stay back in the room while the rest of the family goes to Ohana , his credit is left over for another day. He, or anyone in your party, can use that credit during your stay.

Disney is, however, very strict about how you use children’s table service credits: Your child must eat from the children’s menu. You can switch your meal for their meal, but they will not be able to order from the adult menu with a children’s table-service credit. This isn’t the case with snacks ; if your child wants a cupcake as big as her head, she can use her snack credit to buy it.



Quick-service meals are another story. As of this writing, Disney does not distinguish between children’s and adult’s quick-service credits, which means you can technically order from the adult menu and use a child’s credit, however please note that some cast members may stop you from doing this. I’ve checked several times with Disney to verify that this practice is legitimate, going up the chain of command as far as possible, and have been told that while Disney’s official policy is that children must order from the children’s quick-service menu, there is no difference in how these credits are “pooled” and that in most cases, ordering from the adult menu is allowed. I’ve occasionally heard of guests being stopped, but it never hurts to try—even a kid can only take so many chicken nuggets.

Get Park Wise: Since dinner is usually the most expensive meal of the day, consider using your dining credits for that meal.
Adding the Plan:

You can add the dining plan to any Disney resort reservation, but to do so you’ll need to create a package, which requires that you add at least a one-day park admission for each person in your group. Annual pass holders and guests who book under military room discounts may add the package without adding tickets. All guests who book under the free dining promotion will need to add two-day tickets to their reservation in order to take advantage of free dining.



The dining plan is simple to use and it’s a great way to manage expenses, but it’s not for everyone. While an exploration about whether or not the plan works for you is best left to another post, I would caution anyone reading this to check out current menus online to see if paying out of pocket is a better option for you, taking into consideration your park touring style and the way you eat. Food is one of the few expenses that you can control in a Disney park, so it’s worth checking out all your options before you make the decision to buy the plan or skip it.

What do you think about the Disney Dining Plan? Have you used it? If, so what was the experience like?


Park Wise is written by Chris Wood.




You can find her at Everything Walt Disney World.

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Updated 05-02-2012 at 06:48 PM by Park Wise

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Comments

  1. Dustysage's Avatar
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    This is a fabulous column Chris! Welcome to MiceChat.
  2. ImagiNERDing's Avatar
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    Great article!

    I have had good and bad experiences with the dining plan. For me, the best part is not having to worry about the cost of the food.
  3. JeffHeimbuch's Avatar
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    Great first column, Chris! Welcome to the family!
  4. jcruise86's Avatar
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    Thank you very much for the excellent and clear presentation, Chris!
    I'd like to do the deluxe plan and stay at the Beach or Yacht Club or the Boardwalk--and spend two hours per day at a gym.

    I love planning Disney trips, but we are not dessert people and our preferred theme park beverage is water (& tips not included? Weak.) , so we're going to have food from Green Grocer delivered to our hotel. Then we'll use Disney Dollars earned from our Disney Visa Premier card for some sit-down meals. (That card is paying 5Xs the miles for Disney purchases for the first 3 months, so I just bought Disneyland APs and a Disney Cruise and got almost $250 disney dollars.)

    Can't wait for Walt Disney World, despite that some attractions could use a facelift. Hey, there's a working Peoplemover!

    Attention CA meal deal hunters: Universal Hollywood has an unlimited counter service meal plan for $21.95 per day for adults and $9.95 for kids 48" and under through May 24. They were very cool and let my tall 51" first grader have the kids plan. The best meal was the large piece of chicken from the Jurassic Park cafe. The inclusion of deserts with each of our four meals may have led to my daughter's tummy ache that night, even though I just let her have a couple of bites of Jello and a small piece from the delicious giant, raisin oatmeal cookie. She was apparently weak from a diet of too many veggies!
    Updated 05-03-2012 at 06:14 AM by jcruise86
  5. BC_DisneyGeek's Avatar
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    Good article. I've used the dining plan twice when it was offered for free, and loved it, but I don't know if I'd pay for it. It allowed me to try a lot more food than I would have otherwise, but I'm sure I could spend less overall without using it, and still enjoy a few nice meals.

    If you spend a few days outside of Disney World, you may find it challenging to use all your credits, especially if you go deluxe.

    I like the base plan. If I eat offsite a few times, I can still use it in full by doing a couple of two-credit meals and eating three meals on some days. It balances the bigger sit-down meals with the smaller counter service offerings.

    The Deluxe plan provides best value if you eat only table service meals, but that's a lot of food for one day.

    Going during Food & Wine Festival, and using your snack credits for that is an excellent use of a dining plan.
  6. calsig31's Avatar
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    The dining plan was great when we used it last month. Because of the refillable cup it gives you, we only had to buy bottled water once or twice in the park. When we ate at our hotel, we had either juice or sodas in the refillable cup, but because each meal also comes with a drink, we got bottled water as our drink selection and then took those bottles with us into the park.
  7. longears's Avatar
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    I've been twice to Disney World and used the Deluxe Dining Plan twice and both time have had more credit that I could use.
    The last time I kept track what it would have cost for the meals and even with six meals left on the plan I would I spent less buy the plan than it would have cost for the food I enjoyed during my stay. For the most part I only had a lunch and dinner. Of course without the plan I wouldn't have gone to all the resturants I ended up going to. For a seven day trip the total food bill without alcohol, was over $1,200 for two adults. We never went out of our way to pick the most expensive meal, just what looked good or was something we wanted to try.
    I do agree that most of the quick service desserts are unnecessary and for the most part not very good.
    I also found it odd that the drink size at quick service meals varied from location to location, sometime I'd get a large drink and other times they gave the medium.
    It is also important to note that you can use your snack credits to buy a lot of the package candy which is a good way to spend unused credits before you leave. They are easy to take home and make decent gifts for family and friends.
    Over all I am a big fan of the dining plan and feel that if you use it correctly it is a great way to try new foods and restuarants.
  8. Athlonacon's Avatar
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    I loved this article and found it very interesting... but there's still a lot of stuff I'm confused about. Why does the California Grill cost a person two credits? Do you get to eat at any sit-down restaurant if you have a table service credit, I mean a steakhouse is the same as a burger joint in this case? Are the given prices ($85.52 for deluxe) for one day or does it include the entire stay? Do you still have to pay for the tip? If you want to order a cocktail is it discounted on the dinner plan or do you have to pay full price?

    Excellent article (and very original!) but I just found it bringing up more questions than it truly answered. Does anyone know the answers to these questions? I am backwards-and-forwards comfortable at Disneyland, but Walt Disney World is about as foreign to me as the dark side of the moon.
  9. Park Wise's Avatar
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    Athlonacon, thanks for your comments. I am going to address some of these in another post, but I'll answer you now here.

    Disney's signature restaurants and some character meals and shows cost 2 credits because of the type of food and/or the show or setting. I would say it's worth it, especially at a place like California Grill, which has higher end but still "accessible" food (that is, there's something for everyone, even kids) in a great location on top of the Contemporary Resort with a view of the Magic Kingdom.

    You can use your table-service credits at just about any location on property. Exceptions include some of the Downtown Disney restaurants (although this varies from year to year so double check before your trip) and Victoria and Albert's.

    It's true, that some credits are "worth" more than others. I usually recommend paying out of pocket for a less expensive place like 50s Prime Time or the Plaza, where an entree costs just a bit more than quick-service meal.

    You'll pay for one play only on your reservation and then it will stay that way the entire stay. You could, in theory, do a split stay with deluxe for one part of your trip and the base for the other, but then you run into ticket issues.

    Tips are not included on the plan. :-(

    Thank you again for reading and commenting,

    Chris
  10. Park Wise's Avatar
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    Everyone, thank you so much for your comments. It's always nice to see input and to get different opinions. I'm going to write a post in the future that addresses whether or not the plan will work for you and I'm going to take some of these ideas (if you don't mind). I like the plan, but it definitely doesn't work for everyone.
  11. Park Wise's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BC_DisneyGeek
    Good article. I've used the dining plan twice when it was offered for free, and loved it, but I don't know if I'd pay for it. It allowed me to try a lot more food than I would have otherwise, but I'm sure I could spend less overall without using it, and still enjoy a few nice meals.

    If you spend a few days outside of Disney World, you may find it challenging to use all your credits, especially if you go deluxe.

    I like the base plan. If I eat offsite a few times, I can still use it in full by doing a couple of two-credit meals and eating three meals on some days. It balances the bigger sit-down meals with the smaller counter service offerings.

    The Deluxe plan provides best value if you eat only table service meals, but that's a lot of food for one day.

    Going during Food & Wine Festival, and using your snack credits for that is an excellent use of a dining plan.
    I definitely agree with this. I like the base plan for the vast majority of people. I always balk a little bit when someone wants to do deluxe. It can be great for an adult trip, but I find kids have a tough time stopping to eat that often--they want to get to the parks!
  12. StevenW's Avatar
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    Using 2 credits at California Grill doesn't sound right. 2 credits should be applied to the cost of the entree instead of just because of the location. Thus, they should offer 2 credit entrees if it really is worth that much.

    I don't have much use for such a plan. Disney food is above average, but still average. They also suggest binge eating with the amount of food offered. The fact that most of their restaurants require advance reservations discourages participation. Their cheaper plan is especially a rip-off, which makes Universal's new plan much more reasonable in comparison.
  13. tofubeast's Avatar
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    Nice article!! One thing to mention, DVC owners can also add the plan to their reservation as well.

    If doing a future article about whether it works for you, I would suggest comparing with the Tables in Wonderland discount card (for AP, FL Residents and DVC owners.) I always make a spreadsheet and do the price comparison before each WDW trip, and so far, the TiW card has offered the best deal for us.
  14. Park Wise's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StevenW
    Using 2 credits at California Grill doesn't sound right. 2 credits should be applied to the cost of the entree instead of just because of the location. Thus, they should offer 2 credit entrees if it really is worth that much.

    I don't have much use for such a plan. Disney food is above average, but still average. They also suggest binge eating with the amount of food offered. The fact that most of their restaurants require advance reservations discourages participation. Their cheaper plan is especially a rip-off, which makes Universal's new plan much more reasonable in comparison.
    StevenW, it's not just location. Signature restaurants often use local, organic food and are more higher end. I wouldn't call most of them gourmet, but for the most part, they are a big step up from a buffet or someplace like Sci Fi. I think that's mainly where the difference lies, although you can't really apply that to Cinderella's Royal Table--there, you are definitely paying for the location and not the food.
  15. Park Wise's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tofubeast
    Nice article!! One thing to mention, DVC owners can also add the plan to their reservation as well.

    If doing a future article about whether it works for you, I would suggest comparing with the Tables in Wonderland discount card (for AP, FL Residents and DVC owners.) I always make a spreadsheet and do the price comparison before each WDW trip, and so far, the TiW card has offered the best deal for us.

    Thank you. Also, good point about TIW. I have not bought one yet but I need to give it a try. Will definitely look at the differences.

    Also, Tofubeast is pretty much the best name ever. :-)
  16. TikiRoomLiz's Avatar
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    I did try the dining plan for the first time last year and really enjoyed the convenience, and you are right in that it encouraged us to try different places while there. I made all my sit down reservations way in advance so each day we were someplace different - and that made our trip even that much more carefree since it seemed practically everything was taken care of.

    My only complaint is that I was never told by anybody that we could get a refillable mug. Is this something new for this year, because last year we did not have that.
  17. tofubeast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Park Wise
    Thank you. Also, good point about TIW. I have not bought one yet but I need to give it a try. Will definitely look at the differences.

    Also, Tofubeast is pretty much the best name ever. :-)
    Thanks!

    The TIW card is awesome because it essentially covers your tips at TS restaurants. While you have to pay for it (75/100 depending if AP or FL resi/DVC), if you are going to use it over the course of several days (and especially if 2 trips in 365 days) it really pays for itself. The DP does not include gratuity, so that adds up when over the course of several sit down meals. Also, you are locked into entree/dessert (unless doing Deluxe), and using TIW you can pick what you want to eat and even get a discount on drinks of the adult variety. I did a recent spreadsheet for an upcoming trip assuming what we might order and what have you. TIW ended up saving us a bit more money, but when I think I might go again to WDW in less than a year, it really has its advantages.
  18. tofubeast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TikiRoomLiz
    My only complaint is that I was never told by anybody that we could get a refillable mug. Is this something new for this year, because last year we did not have that.
    I believe that the refillable resort mug was only recently added to the DP. Then again, prices have gone up significantly in the last couple years for the DP, so it was nice they threw in something.
  19. longears's Avatar
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    I got the mug back in 2008 when I went for the first time. I'm not sure if it was part of the dining plan or for booking the trip through Disney travel as part of a package. I know went got different perks in 2008 than in 2011 (for example we got a free photo as part of the package in 2008, but not in 2011).
  20. Park Wise's Avatar
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    The refillable mug was just added to the base and deluxe plan in 2012. I'm interested to see who much 2013 prices will go up. I think last year's base plan went up around 3% for adults, so I don't expect much more than that, if any.