As many of you know there are a wide range of dining options at Walt Disney World ranging from fast food style to sit down table service to just picking up a small snack on the go.
My wife and I have used the Dining Plan on 4 different occasions now, sometimes even paying for it to be included and here I will outline what our Pros and Cons are and maybe some helpful tips for first timers.
ProsThe Disney Dining Plan was introduced originally as part of a package holiday and was included in the price. Now though, owing to how popular it has been, Disney has started offering the service as a paid 'add-on' to your holiday. We are BIG advocates of the Dining Plan and here's why;
There are around 140 restaurants at Walt Disney World to choose from, including at the Resorts, Disney Springs and the parks themselves. This gives a massive amount of choice of not only where to eat but what to eat also. There are many different cuisines to be tried from traditional American to Oriental style. The fact there is so much choice in close proximity means we are able to try foods that we would not usually try at home, or on vacation anywhere else.
Because there are so many food choices around the 'World' this also means visiting different restaurants. We see some restaurants as attractions themselves. Take 'Restaurantosaurus' at Animal Kingdom as an example. Whilst this is a Quick Service option (fast food style), the restaurant has great decor, from the broken down old RV seating area to the main seating area with big open stone fire place. This is a world away from the Seven Seas lagoon view table from Narcoosee's at the Grand Floridian.
The choice in restaurants is one of the main reasons we love returning to Florida for our vacation!
We LOVE staying onsite at Walt Disney World. Each Disney Resort offers at least a Quick Service option for dining. Visiting the different resorts to have breakfast or dinner is a great way for us to 'eye-up' other resorts for when we return, which we inevitably do!
On our very first trip we made a reservation at Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and after eating at the restaurant we made our way around the resort and decided we would stay here for our Disneymoon the year after. Whilst the Animal Kingdom Lodge is an extreme example due to the roaming wildlife on the resort grounds, eating at different resort hotels is a great way to see more of what Walt Disney World has to offer and is another big reason to keep coming back.
Whilst this category has both pros and cons we feel more or less hassle free when on the dining plan. For instance, we know once we have booked our reservations 180 days in advance that we definitely have a table at a certain time without the worry of turning up only to be told it's an hour wait!
On the Disney Dining Plan everything is paid for by Credits, not including gratuity. For a two week stay we would receive 14 credits for Table Service and 14 credits for Snacks per person. On the Deluxe Dining Plan you receive 3 Table Service credits and 2 Snack credits per person, per night, which for us is a huge amount.
We tend to plan out where we want to eat and budget our credits that way. Some dining experiences and dinner shows will take more than 1 credit to secure so we always look out for that when planning those in also.
Throughout the year, Disney may offer the Dining Plan free with your package; the level of Dining Plan depends on where you are staying but it can save you a lot of money. It may also convince you to stay somewhere you may not have considered before due to the level of plan on offer.
These offers are not continuous throughout the year so keep a close eye out for them.
So now the good stuff is out of the way, onto the negatives. Yes, unfortunately there are a few but if you can sacrifice certain things on this list then the Dining Plan will be for you!
Being Locked In:
I don't mean inside a restaurant! Being on the Dining Plan means you can book your reservations 180 days in advance. To us, that is never an issue but to some, that may be overkill. How will I know where and what I want to eat in 6 months time?! The truth is you don't. The thing that drives us the most in this situation is the 'Where I Want to Eat'.
Due to the in depth planning that we do for Disney World, more so than any other vacation destination, our dining reservations sometimes dictate where we will be on that day. For instance, if we have a 7:30 breakfast reservation at Chef Mickey's over at the Contemporary Resort, then we want to be spending our day at the Magic Kingdom, this then leads onto whether or not there are Extra Magic Hours or not and you can see by this time it can be quite onerous.
Having the freedom to come and go as you please is very popular for most people but beware it may also mean you miss out on places and times where you want to dine!
It's a hassle to deviate from:
So as I mentioned in the 'Hassle Free' part of the Pro's, it can also be quite troublesome when you decide you don't want to eat somewhere you have booked in advance.
The restaurants charge a $10 per person fee if your reservation is not cancelled at least 1 day in advance. This makes it difficult for any on the spot decisions regarding dining that you may have. For instance, it's Tuesday afternoon, you're at the Magic Kingdom by chance and happen to walk by one of the restaurants you have booked a table at for tomorrow. You don't like the look of the menu and decide you want to change. Disney could charge you $10 per person in your party for not doing it sooner which can be a big fee if there is a large party with you.
This is something to be careful of, if you are more of a 'come and go as you please' type of person then this will definitely be something to consider.
Too Much Food!:
Yes, I went there. Sometimes, not all the time, there is just too much food! There have been numerous occasions where myself and my wife have got a Quick Service meal and just the one meal would have been enough for the two of us. This is just us though. We have trouble finishing a small Soda so when they present you with a large, we usually barely make a mark.
On a previous occasion we were at Beaches and Cream for an Ice Cream Sundae. We had some credits left and asked if we could use them for a Sundae and we were told only with a meal. So we asked if we could order the meal but only have the ice cream, so not to bother cooking the rest, just give us the Ice Cream! This was not acceptable and we had to pay for the Ice Cream out of pocket which was something we weren't happy with.
This brings me onto my next con..
Because of the sheer size of the meals, there tends to be even more waste. Numerous times on the Dining Plan we've not been able to finish our meal. On the Dining Plan you will receive an Entree, Dessert and a Drink included with a credit. We've been know on occasions to only be able to finish our entree and leave our perfectly good chocolate cake or muffin. We've never been offered the choice to leave certain items so inevitably there is waste.
Waste isn't something I tend to think about day to day but when faced with so much in a single day, it does make you think that a choice of whether to leave certain items in the kitchen might be a better, more economical way of thinking.
And last but by no means least...
The Dining Plan is expensive if you're not in a 'free' period. The Quick Service Dining Plan, offering two counter service meals and a snack per day costs $44.13/night while the regular Dining Plan will set you back $63.70/night. If you were to go for the Deluxe Dining Plan then the cost jumps up to $115.08/night but you are receiving more for your money.
We have paid for the Dining Plan before. We weighed up how we would eat without the dining package and how we would if we purchased it. We felt we would be forcing ourselves to see other resorts and actually sit down together and take time out of the rushing around to talk and have a proper meal rather than eating on the go and not really having the time to sit down together and take everything in. This was a good sacrifice for us.
So that is it for my list. As a couple we love the Dining Plan but only because we are able to sacrifice certain things to take advantage of it. As I mentioned before, the more free you are with your planning the better it might be not to have it but that may also mean you miss out on certain experiences you wouldn't usually do.
What were your experiences of it and would you pay for it in the future?
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