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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 youíre 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 itís a good deal for you. I donít automatically recommend the dining plan to everyone. In fact, there are great reasons to skip the plan. If youíre 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 youíll spend on food.
  • Gives you the opportunity to try a wider variety of restaurants.
  • No worrying about your budgetóif 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 donít use your credits, you wonít get a refund. If you get sick or miss a dining reservation, youíll have to make it up or youíre out money.
  • You may end up paying for items you wouldnít 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, youíve 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 isnít attractive to a lot of guests is very simple: Itís a lot easier to say ďnoĒ 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 donít spend it, itís gone.

Get Park Wise: If you have children ages 3 Ė 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 donít recommend the plan for guests who are ďcommandoĒ types. If youíre the type of person who rarely stops, taking an hour or two for a sit-down meal isnít going to appeal to you. Likewise, if you prefer complete flexibility, youíre better off trying for a walk-up reservation when you feel like it. That way, if you canít get into a restaurant, youíre not out any money. Youíll 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, youíll 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 youíre truly a ďlightĒ eater, the dining plan may be too much food. Realistically, itís not too much food for most people. After all, youíre only talking about two meals a day. What it is, is too much of the wrong kind of food! If youíre eating a buffet every day, youíre 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 timeótheyíre everywhere. Check out menus ahead of time and youíll see that there are lots of great options in each park and at Downtown Disney. Plan for those locations and youíll be happier in the long run.

Get Park Wise: Character meals are great and kids love them, but itís 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 arenít worth the calories or frankly, the energy you expend chewing them. Really, why would you even have dessert with your quick-service meal when youíre 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 theyíre 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. Iíve yet to have a bad one. But a lot of guests are simply too full at the end of their meal or they donít care for desserts. What about them? It would be great to be able to choose an appetizer instead, but unfortunately thatís not an option. So when you purchase the plan, think about how youíll use it and how youíll 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 youíre seated.
Dollars and Cents:

So, youíve 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 wonít 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 youíre like me and food is part of the fun, you might want to opt for the plan.


What Iíve found is that the break even point for my family (which includes two adults and three children in the 3 Ė 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, weíre 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 Iím on a budget I can cut out completely, but the fact that short of bringing in sandwiches, I canít 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 ďyesĒ 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. Iím the person who would ďcheap outĒ 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, youíll have to do the numbers yourself, but donít 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.

Like Everything Walt Disney world on Facebook.

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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. StevenW's Avatar
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    The concept of a break even point should be based on what you might actually spend and eat, not on the predicted Disney dining that you would do anyways with the plan. Thus,I think most people are already overspending and overeating.
  2. mratigan's Avatar
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    Thanks
  3. mkcoastie's Avatar
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    This was a great and very fair. I hear a lot of Poo-Pooing of the dining plan, but my family has done it on our last three trips and probably will in the future. I would simply never eat at a table service restaurant if not for the dining plan. I find it at least fairly easy to say "well, $51 a day is not bad for a wonderful restaurant meal a snack and a quick service meal in the parks." I can handle that $51 number. I know it’s per a person, but I’m getting a lot for that and hey divided by 2, I can see spending $25 or so for a good meal at my local Outback. This, however, is not something I can do when I'm paying "out of pocket" and end up spending 30$ on a burger and fries in the parks. Does Disney make money on this? Of course they do. Probably a decent amount, but for a once a year visitor like me, its well worth it. For me, Disney trips are about the whole experience, not just the attractions. Eating a great meal everyday helps complete that experience. When I pay for the dining plan ahead of time I'm able to eat as I please on my trip. This would not be the case if it was on the spot out of pocket as I would probably cut us off after my first $130 sit down bill.
    Updated 05-31-2012 at 05:19 AM by mkcoastie
  4. StevenW's Avatar
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    Prepaying for a dining plan may make the trip unaffordable if you're concerned about costs. What's worse is you don't consider cost saving measures since food is taken out of the equation. One thing not considered is the water and snacks that you still need to buy especially when you have kids. Kids don't eat a full meal. Lots of food goes to waste, and then they want a snack later. Table service restaurants are best for couples and families with teenage kids.

    I don't eat so much, thus I think it is best to space certain expensive meals a few days apart to make them more special.
  5. jcruise86's Avatar
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    Thanks, Chris! I'm so glad you're writing thoughtful and interesting articles for Miceage!

    I used to love sit-down restaurants at Disney parks. Ten years ago and earlier, they seemed like a much better value than Disney's fast food. Then they raised their prices. Still you got me to consider the food plan option after I had written it off. I love planning Disney trips and joining the food plan could provide me with at least a couple of hours of delightful procrastination.

    Speaking of food value, it might be interesting out here in California when the
    Earl of Sandiwich (so popular at the village in WDW) soon opens in Downtown Disney
    just a few hundred yards from Disneyland's Main Street.
    If they prepare the food well
    and charge reasonable prices, then maybe . . . stay tuned!
  6. BC_DisneyGeek's Avatar
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    Another good article.

    Another con is the effect many people perceive the dining plan as having had on the overall food experience at WDW. Namely - higher prices to make the Dining Plan look like a better deal than it should be, and watered-down menu options.

    I really do wish they'd allow the choice between appetizer and dessert. For a couple dining, sharing one of each would be perfect. Heck, if appetizers cost more to make, I'd even consider trading both desserts for one appetizer.

    I don't think unused or wasted credits will be an issue for most people. Had to skip a meal? Eat three the next day. The plan only provides for two a day, so adding a breakfast is an easy way to use that "missed" credit. Unused snack credits? Load up on pre-packaged snack goods before you leave. You can also use a dining credit for a quick service meal if you want to. Not the best use of the credit, but if it means it doesn't go to waste, why not?

    The need to book reservations way in advance, and the accompanying need to schedule out your trip is sometimes a bit of a hassle, but also fun. I do worry that the addition of Fastpass Plus will make pre-planning a WDW vacation even more of a chore. I don't mind some pre-scheduling, but at some point it's going to feel more like a chore than having fun.
  7. SamBuddy's Avatar
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    It doesn't look like Disney provides prices of food items on their websites. Any tips on doing the math yourself to predict your food costs before arriving?
  8. ImagiNERDing's Avatar
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    Whether or not to choose the dining plan is such a personal issue. When my oldest jumped up in price range, it was almost too much to stomach at first.

    Now, free dining, even though other prices are not discounted, would be a big boon for my family.

    Thanks for the great article! Especially presenting the arguments in a sensible way.
  9. Park Wise's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mratigan
    Thanks
    Thank you for reading!
  10. Park Wise's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StevenW
    Prepaying for a dining plan may make the trip unaffordable if you're concerned about costs. What's worse is you don't consider cost saving measures since food is taken out of the equation. One thing not considered is the water and snacks that you still need to buy especially when you have kids. Kids don't eat a full meal. Lots of food goes to waste, and then they want a snack later. Table service restaurants are best for couples and families with teenage kids.

    I don't eat so much, thus I think it is best to space certain expensive meals a few days apart to make them more special.
    Good point Steven, things like water and juice, which I tend to keep on hand for my kids, will break the bank.

    Thank you for reading. I appreciate it.
  11. Park Wise's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mkcoastie
    This was a great and very fair. I hear a lot of Poo-Pooing of the dining plan, but my family has done it on our last three trips and probably will in the future. I would simply never eat at a table service restaurant if not for the dining plan. I find it at least fairly easy to say "well, $51 a day is not bad for a wonderful restaurant meal a snack and a quick service meal in the parks." I can handle that $51 number. I know itís per a person, but Iím getting a lot for that and hey divided by 2, I can see spending $25 or so for a good meal at my local Outback. This, however, is not something I can do when I'm paying "out of pocket" and end up spending 30$ on a burger and fries in the parks. Does Disney make money on this? Of course they do. Probably a decent amount, but for a once a year visitor like me, its well worth it. For me, Disney trips are about the whole experience, not just the attractions. Eating a great meal everyday helps complete that experience. When I pay for the dining plan ahead of time I'm able to eat as I please on my trip. This would not be the case if it was on the spot out of pocket as I would probably cut us off after my first $130 sit down bill.
    You just described me to a T. What I've found is that it's hard to convey to someone just how expensive these meals can get. When I don't use the dining plan, I start finding excuses for cancelling ADRs and being extra cheap. Could I save by not using the plan? On some trips, yes. But I wouldn't eat as well without out it.

    By the way, are you in the Coast Guard? My dad was for 30 years and I noticed the word "coastie."
  12. Park Wise's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jcruise86
    Thanks, Chris! I'm so glad you're writing thoughtful and interesting articles for Miceage!

    I used to love sit-down restaurants at Disney parks. Ten years ago and earlier, they seemed like a much better value than Disney's fast food. Then they raised their prices. Still you got me to consider the food plan option after I had written it off. I love planning Disney trips and joining the food plan could provide me with at least a couple of hours of delightful procrastination.

    Speaking of food value, it might be interesting out here in California when the
    Earl of Sandiwich (so popular at the village in WDW) soon opens in Downtown Disney
    just a few hundred yards from Disneyland's Main Street.
    If they prepare the food well
    and charge reasonable prices, then maybe . . . stay tuned!
    Thanks so much! I use the dining plan a lot and I have messed it up (by missing ADRs and one time my oldest was sick for 2 days) but overall, it works for me. I usually start by NOT recommending it and then moving on from there. I think if you can get past some of the problems with it, it can be a great option.

    Thank you for reading.
  13. Dustysage's Avatar
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    Great article Chris!

    I want to like the Disney Dining Plan, but it doesn't work for me for a couple of reasons.

    1st - I feel like I need to eat too much to make it worth the price. In my normal life, I'd never eat a steak or other heavy meal every night. But if you order the simple little dish on the Dining Plan, it's like leaving money on the table. I hate the way I felt after my 6 day trip on the Dining Plan. I gained a lot of weight and felt overstuffed.

    2nd- I hate that the Dining Plan has taken the joy out of discovering the parks. When I was younger, you could walk up to a restaurant and be seated in a relatively short amount of time. Today, you have to book your reservation months in advance, locking you into a certain time and park before you've even set foot in WDW. That's not the best way to experience the parks, and yet, that's what Disney is forcing guests to do. Even if you aren't on the Dining Plan, you still need to book your reservations in advance because that's what all the DDP folks are doing. It's a bad situation made worse when Disney offers the Dining Plan for free.

    They have recently started charging for missed reservations, so you really do have to stick to a schedule these days.

    I've done dining plan, and I think for some folks it really works (if you love to eat high on the hog and never miss a meal, then Dining plan works). But if you're like me and want the freedom to decide what park to go to on the spur of the moment and not be tied down to reservations or eating a huge meal every night, then Dining plan just doesn't work.

    Love your articles Chris!

    Dusty
  14. StevenW's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=Park Wise]Good point Steven, things like water and juice, which I tend to keep on hand for my kids, will break the bank.

    Thank you for reading. I appreciate it.[/QUOTE] It's too bad that you decided to make light of my reply and not take my arguments seriously.

    For most tourists, prepaid expenses like multi day ticket passes and dining passes are a crapshoot in knowing if you will ever realize the full potential of their inherent value. Then there are expenses that you will incur despite the plans like fickle eaters or a change in plans. Essentially, being locked in will break your bank starting with the plans themselves. Your forced to consider nickel and dimeing just to fully take advantage of the dining plans, which most people don't need.
    Updated 05-31-2012 at 01:37 PM by StevenW
  15. SpectroMan's Avatar
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    Thanks for the great article. I couldn't agree with you more on the ridiculousness of the included desserts with EVERY meal. For a company that does so much to try to be healthier, this is just an aberration. I've asked so many times if I could have an appetizer instead of a dessert and it's always no. I never tried for the bottled water or fruit plate - will have to remember that.

    It's like Dusty says - if you don't take everything it offers, you're leaving money on the table and then you feel cheated. It has it's place, and I've done vacations with and without, and I still see the benefits to each side. But yeah - the whole dessert thing is a joke. They're terrible desserts, too (at counter service at least) - made offsite and full of preservatives to get them to Lake Buena Vista in time. Yech!
  16. Park Wise's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dustysage
    Great article Chris!

    I want to like the Disney Dining Plan, but it doesn't work for me for a couple of reasons.

    1st - I feel like I need to eat too much to make it worth the price. In my normal life, I'd never eat a steak or other heavy meal every night. But if you order the simple little dish on the Dining Plan, it's like leaving money on the table. I hate the way I felt after my 6 day trip on the Dining Plan. I gained a lot of weight and felt overstuffed.

    2nd- I hate that the Dining Plan has taken the joy out of discovering the parks. When I was younger, you could walk up to a restaurant and be seated in a relatively short amount of time. Today, you have to book your reservation months in advance, locking you into a certain time and park before you've even set foot in WDW. That's not the best way to experience the parks, and yet, that's what Disney is forcing guests to do. Even if you aren't on the Dining Plan, you still need to book your reservations in advance because that's what all the DDP folks are doing. It's a bad situation made worse when Disney offers the Dining Plan for free.

    They have recently started charging for missed reservations, so you really do have to stick to a schedule these days.

    I've done dining plan, and I think for some folks it really works (if you love to eat high on the hog and never miss a meal, then Dining plan works). But if you're like me and want the freedom to decide what park to go to on the spur of the moment and not be tied down to reservations or eating a huge meal every night, then Dining plan just doesn't work.

    Love your articles Chris!

    Dusty
    All valid points, well put.

    And thank you. I really love writing here. You guys get great comments--it makes it fun.
  17. Park Wise's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BC_DisneyGeek
    Another good article.

    Another con is the effect many people perceive the dining plan as having had on the overall food experience at WDW. Namely - higher prices to make the Dining Plan look like a better deal than it should be, and watered-down menu options.

    I really do wish they'd allow the choice between appetizer and dessert. For a couple dining, sharing one of each would be perfect. Heck, if appetizers cost more to make, I'd even consider trading both desserts for one appetizer.

    I don't think unused or wasted credits will be an issue for most people. Had to skip a meal? Eat three the next day. The plan only provides for two a day, so adding a breakfast is an easy way to use that "missed" credit. Unused snack credits? Load up on pre-packaged snack goods before you leave. You can also use a dining credit for a quick service meal if you want to. Not the best use of the credit, but if it means it doesn't go to waste, why not?

    The need to book reservations way in advance, and the accompanying need to schedule out your trip is sometimes a bit of a hassle, but also fun. I do worry that the addition of Fastpass Plus will make pre-planning a WDW vacation even more of a chore. I don't mind some pre-scheduling, but at some point it's going to feel more like a chore than having fun.
    t

    The appetizer or dessert choice would be great. I feel the same way. I've thought about it and the only thing I can think is that they know people come to a restaurant hungry, so they are much more likely to order an appetizer. Further, it's probably more work to make an appetizer than a dessert, which most times is prepared ahead of time. So desserts work better for the kitchen and better for the budget. Don't get me wrong, I love dessert. But I probably don't want to eat one every single day (okay, I do, but you know what i mean .
  18. Park Wise's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StevenW
    It's too bad that you decided to make light of my reply and not take my arguments seriously.

    For most tourists, prepaid expenses like multi day ticket passes and dining passes are a crapshoot in knowing if you will ever realize the full potential of their inherent value. Then there are expenses that you will incur despite the plans like fickle eaters or a change in plans. Essentially, being locked in will break your bank starting with the plans themselves. Your forced to consider nickel and dimeing just to fully take advantage of the dining plans, which most people don't need.
    No, actually I did take it seriously, sorry you didn't feel that I did.
  19. Park Wise's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SpectroMan
    Thanks for the great article. I couldn't agree with you more on the ridiculousness of the included desserts with EVERY meal. For a company that does so much to try to be healthier, this is just an aberration. I've asked so many times if I could have an appetizer instead of a dessert and it's always no. I never tried for the bottled water or fruit plate - will have to remember that.

    It's like Dusty says - if you don't take everything it offers, you're leaving money on the table and then you feel cheated. It has it's place, and I've done vacations with and without, and I still see the benefits to each side. But yeah - the whole dessert thing is a joke. They're terrible desserts, too (at counter service at least) - made offsite and full of preservatives to get them to Lake Buena Vista in time. Yech!
    Thanks! I knew those desserts were bad when my kids wouldn't touch them.
  20. tofubeast's Avatar
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    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.
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