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Park Wise

Is The Disney Dining Plan Worth It?

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by , 05-30-2012 at 08:44 PM

If you’re reading here, you probably already have a good handle on how the Disney Dining Plan works, but what you might not know is whether or not it’s a good deal for you. I don’t automatically recommend the dining plan to everyone. In fact, there are great reasons to skip the plan. If you’re on the fence about the plan, here are a few points to consider:

Benefits of the Disney Dining Plan:

  • Allows you to predict most accurately how much you’ll spend on food.
  • Gives you the opportunity to try a wider variety of restaurants.
  • No worrying about your budget—if you want to order the most expensive thing on the menu, you can do so without worry.

Cons of the Disney Dining Plan:

  • Ties you to a schedule and inhibits flexibility.
  • If you don’t use your credits, you won’t get a refund. If you get sick or miss a dining reservation, you’ll have to make it up or you’re out money.
  • You may end up paying for items you wouldn’t normally buy, like quick-service desserts, which artificially inflates the value of the plan.

One thing I find that guests want is to make their vacation an all-inclusive experience. By purchasing the dining plan, you’ve paid for most of your food in advance. Yes, you could easily take the same amount and put it on a gift card and use that for food, but I think the reason why this isn’t attractive to a lot of guests is very simple: It’s a lot easier to say “no” to something on the menu when you have the money on a gift card, because that money is yours. On the dining plan, if you don’t spend it, it’s gone.

Get Park Wise: If you have children ages 3 – 9, the base (or plus) dining plan costs only $15.99 per day. You simply cannot feed a child that cheaply in the parks. For this reason, I highly recommend the dining plan if you have a child in this age group.

I don’t recommend the plan for guests who are “commando” types. If you’re the type of person who rarely stops, taking an hour or two for a sit-down meal isn’t going to appeal to you. Likewise, if you prefer complete flexibility, you’re better off trying for a walk-up reservation when you feel like it. That way, if you can’t get into a restaurant, you’re not out any money. You’ll just eat elsewhere.

Get Park Wise: The quick-service plan is one of those situations where The Mouse almost always wins. In order to come out ahead, you’ll have to order the most expensive item on the menu each time. Unless you get it for free or you love the convenience of having a dining plan, skip this one or upgrade to the base plan. You can upgrade the quick-service dining plan offered at Disney value resorts during certain times of the year for a minimal charge

Think about How You Eat:

If you’re truly a “light” eater, the dining plan may be too much food. Realistically, it’s not too much food for most people. After all, you’re only talking about two meals a day. What it is, is too much of the wrong kind of food! If you’re eating a buffet every day, you’re going to be slightly sick of the amount and choices after a few days. Try mixing up the types of restaurants you eat at or even trying out signature restaurants, which take two credits instead of one. As for quick-service meals, there are plenty of healthier choices, you just need to know where to find them. Resist the temptation to grab the easy burger or nuggets every time—they’re everywhere. Check out menus ahead of time and you’ll see that there are lots of great options in each park and at Downtown Disney. Plan for those locations and you’ll be happier in the long run.

Get Park Wise: Character meals are great and kids love them, but it’s your vacation too. Try not to schedule too many. Your kids are much more likely to remember meeting Donald at Tusker House one time than seeing him five days in a row at other restaurants.
The Dessert Dilemma or Why Does This Brick Smell Like Chocolate?

My dislike of Disney quick-service desserts is well-know: With a few exceptions, those hard little hockey pucks of sugar and vague chocolate and vanilla flavors aren’t worth the calories or frankly, the energy you expend chewing them. Really, why would you even have dessert with your quick-service meal when you’re in the middle of a theme park with some really fantastic snack choices? You can avoid these desserts when paying for meals out of pocket but given that they’re included on the plan, it almost feels obligatory to take them.

And this is really where the weakness in the plan lies: Paying for items you might not normally buy. I love that dessert comes with my table-service meal. I’ve yet to have a bad one. But a lot of guests are simply too full at the end of their meal or they don’t care for desserts. What about them? It would be great to be able to choose an appetizer instead, but unfortunately that’s not an option. So when you purchase the plan, think about how you’ll use it and how you’ll feel about potentially paying for something you might not want.

Get Park Wise: You can always switch out your dessert for a bottle of water or fruit at a quick-service location. At table-service restaurants, you may order a fruit plate instead. Just make sure you inform your server when you’re seated.
Dollars and Cents:

So, you’ve decided that the plan makes sense from a convenience standpoint, but what about costs? First, know that you can eat more cheaply out of pocket, but you won’t get the same type of food. Plenty of guests eat easy to prepare meals in their room; in fact, some of them see it as a personal challenge to feed their families well inexpensively while visiting Disney World. But if you’re like me and food is part of the fun, you might want to opt for the plan.

What I’ve found is that the break even point for my family (which includes two adults and three children in the 3 – 9 year age group) on a seven night trip is the total of all the quick-service meals plus snacks and the first three table-service meals. After that, we’re basically eating for free. Despite this, one of the reasons I prefer the plan to paying out of pocket has nothing to do with eating at table-service meals, which if I’m on a budget I can cut out completely, but the fact that short of bringing in sandwiches, I can’t avoid quick-service meals. When I add up how much those meals will cost me, it makes more sense to pay slightly more and eat really well every day, rather than just eating.

Just keep in mind this one thing: This is exactly how we would eat. I like having a table-service meal every day; sometimes I even want two. I like relaxing and taking time away from the parks. I like not having to worry about the cost of quick-service meals, which would run my family around $55 even without the desserts. And I like being able to say “yes” when the kids want a snack that I might otherwise hesitate to buy due to the price.

Finally, and just as important, I like the fact that it's paid for ahead of time. I’m the person who would “cheap out” if I had a gift card. In fact, I've done it in the past. I always tell this story about the first time we ever ate a Disney table-service restaurant as a family of five. When the check came, my husband nearly had a heart attack. In fact, I almost joined him. But knowing that it was all on the dining plan made it a lot easier to take.

Ultimately, you’ll have to do the numbers yourself, but don’t automatically discount the dining plan. It can give you a lot of choices and make life easier. It can also keep you from ruining a perfectly nice park day by having to perform CPR on your frugal spouse.

Do you use the dining plan when you vacation at Walt Disney World?

Do you think it is worth the money? What is your favorite aspect of the dining plan?

Park Wise is written by Chris Wood.

You can find her at Everything Walt Disney World.

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If you have any specific questions you would like me to tackle, please leave me a comment!

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Updated 06-06-2012 at 04:51 PM by Park Wise



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  1. Park Wise's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tofubeast
    It used to be a way better deal only a few years ago when the regular dining plan included appetizers. Of course, food has gone up as evident by only a trip to your local grocery store, so I wasn't surprised to see the Plan rise as well. Honestly, I can see the desire in pre-paying for meals, but the plan often does not include tax/gratuity. So you still have out of pocket costs at the end of most table service meals. When free dining is offered at WDW, it is often still cheaper to not book a MYW package with tickets and just take advantage of a room only discount. As a Florida resident (and AP holder), it is a much better deal for me to buy the Tables in Wonderland card as it offers 20% off meals at most WDW table service restaurant which includes alcoholic libations as well. That way, I can pick and choose what I want off the menu. I have done ridiculous spreadsheets comparing DDP and TIW for past trips, and TIW always comes out ahead. It's even better if I make another visit during the year. Of course, not all can take advantage of TIW as it is only offered (for a fee) to Florida residents, AP holders, and DVC owners.
    Good points. I would love it if TIW worked for counter service meals--there's no way I wouldn't use it then.

    Thank you.
  2. Starfish's Avatar
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    We love the disney dining plan. We bring ziplock bags to carry along with us the desserts for snacks later. I felt as a mom of four that for once I wasnt working! Not working at keeping everyone happy and fed . I was able to just relax end enjoy. Didn't have to plan the food part. Haha. That's MY vacation!
  3. Park Wise's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Starfish
    We love the disney dining plan. We bring ziplock bags to carry along with us the desserts for snacks later. I felt as a mom of four that for once I wasnt working! Not working at keeping everyone happy and fed . I was able to just relax end enjoy. Didn't have to plan the food part. Haha. That's MY vacation!

    I'm so there with you on the not working thing. I love having food brought to me instead of having to get up 5 times every meal.

    Thanks for you comment!
  4. lucyPan's Avatar
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    My hubby and I did the dinning plan on a trip during the food and wine festival. It was the best thing ever. In a span of two days we literally ate around the world using all our snack options for each country's food booth. Worked well for us since we are big time foodies and got to eat at places we normally wouldn't have tried.
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