Though choosing the right resort and making the most of your time in the parks are important parts of vacation planning, food is what will really make your trip fantastic.
It can also be what bursts your budget if you’re not careful.
Seemingly a money-saving opportunity, the Disney Dining Plan is a selection of three packages that offer different amounts of credits for quick-service dining, table-service dining, and snacks, along with a resort refillable mug for your stay.
For a family of four (two adults and two children ages 3 to 9) staying five nights in 2018 with the mid-level Disney Dining Plan, you’re looking at a price tag of $1,012.40 (including tax) before your vacation even starts.
While that might seem like a large sum, it’s actually a slight value if you’re taking advantage of everything the plan offers. Based on what it covers, a typical day of dining out-of-pocket for a family of that size would cost something like this:
- About $45 for a quick-service lunch (two soft drinks, two adult entrees, and two kids’ meals, which include drinks)
- About $40 for snacks (two per person)
- About $130 for a table-service dinner at Sanaa (two soft drinks, two cocktails, two adult entrees, two adult desserts, two kids’ meals, two kids’ desserts), before tip
- About $77 for four resort refillable mugs, to be used throughout the remainder of the stay (these regularly retail for $18 each, plus tax)
That comes out to about $230 per day (with tax), or $1,147 total over five days. Assuming you would be buying all of this on your own anyways, you would end up saving around $100-$150 over the course of your trip with the dining plan, depending on where you dine and what you order. That savings falls to less than $50 with the Quick-Service Dining Plan, and can raise to hundreds on the Disney Deluxe Dining Plan. Again, it really all comes down to exactly what you order and where.
As you can see, the savings are not that dramatic, but Disney is certainly not ripping you off either.
What they are doing? Tricking you – maybe. Consider the following five factors to figure out if the Disney Dining Plan is actually worth it for your family.
It’s a common sight to see someone searching the gift shop before departing their resort so they can use up those remaining credits with overpriced snack foods sporting Mickey’s face on the box. While two snacks per person, per day may seem like the perfect amount, it’s actually easier than you might think to fall behind and end up bringing home pretzels and cookies to try to get your money’s worth.
If you’re going to be too full to enjoy extra food between meals, or might just end up splitting a popcorn during a parade viewing, it’s definitely possible you won’t need all of those snacks after all.
You should also note how much time you have on your last day. As the plan deems each night’s stay a full day of credits, you may only have a morning to use up those extra snacks if you didn’t spread them throughout your stay. If that’s the case, you could be looking at much more food on your hands than you thought.
If you love pairing vinos with your main course, you’re in luck! Disney is including alcoholic beverages on the dining plan starting in 2018, so guests over 21-years-old can get a glass of wine, beer, or a cocktail with their meal for no additional charge.
Is this a good thing? That all depends. If you like an adult beverage with dinner, it’s going to save you from spending extra (like in years past). However, if you abstain or are between the ages of 10 and 20, you will still be paying the markup (nearly 10% from last year) while not actually being able to take advantage of the perk.
You’ll also want to think about specialty drinks (like smoothies and milkshakes) and soft drinks.
Personally, I’m happy to stick to water so I can save a few dollars at each meal, but if I have the dining plan at my disposal, I’ll order the soda just because it’s included. If you don’t care for a flavorful beverage and wouldn’t normally order one, you might end up spending less without the dining plan.
The same can be said about resort refillable mugs. These are fantastic if they’re going to save you from tapping your magic band every time you want to fuel up with a Coca Cola product or coffee, but otherwise they’re more of a temptation for something you wouldn’t ordinarily purchase. Plus, if you’re spending all day at the parks, you won’t be able to fill up again until you return to your resort.
To me, the most baffling thing about the dining plan is that each person gets their own dessert with their table-service meal. As big as my sweet tooth is, I’m rarely in the mood to consume an entire dessert all by myself after filling up on bread and an entree right before. Plus, I usually prefer a park treat, like a Dole Whip, to the offerings at any given restaurant.
Rather than paying upwards of $10 per person, per table-service meal for dessert on the dining plan, you can save money (and keep yourself from getting sickly full) without the plan by splitting dessert with the table or just skipping it altogether and waiting until your appetite returns to enjoy a more reasonably-priced sweet later on.
Of course, if you’re devoted to following your dinner up with a dessert that’s all your own, this aspect of the plan is surely a good reason to get on board.
4. Where you’ll be eating
The spots where you sit down to dine can often determine whether you’re getting your dollar’s worth. Selecting the best one-credit table-service locations will ensure you’re using the plan to its fullest value. Because though you might pay the same for Italian food at Tutto Italia Ristorante in Epcot as you would at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant in Magic Kingdom, the quality at Tutto Italia is generally going to be worthier of your dining credits.
While most table-service restaurants take one credit, there are over a dozen that take two. These include signature restaurants like California Grill, dinner shows like the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, and select in-room dining and pizza delivery (yes, really). That’s one meal for the price of two, and though those two credits are usually put towards higher caliber meals and experiences, the monetary value is not always worth designating your credits for.
For example, you’ll expect to spend around $19-$34 per entree and $6-$8 per dessert at one-credit Kona Cafe, whereas a dinner at two-credit Le Cellier will run you $29-$54 for an entree and $9-$11 for dessert. As you can see, depending on what you order, the price jump isn’t always going to be enough to warrant using two of your meal credits for food that’s only slightly more expensive.
Therefore, if you are thinking about purchasing the dining plan, research is imperative. Be sure to check menu prices and reviews for each restaurant to ensure you’re getting a good value out of your plan.
5. Additional costs
One reason the dining plan may seem worthwhile is that you purchase the package upfront, and in turn, don’t have to worry about paying for food during your stay. This is not true. After shelling out that big lump sum before the trip, you will inevitably be opening your wallet (or putting your magic band forth) to spend outside of the plan you purchased.
Unless you just want to split up the spending over time, there’s no real convenience to buying the dining plan beforehand.
First off, gratuity is not included. If you dine at a table-service restaurant, you will still have to tip on top of that bill that is covered by dining credits. While your servers certainly deserve those tips, they do add up quickly.
Also, depending on the plan you purchase, you may only have two meal credits per day. Though bringing cereal and granola bars for breakfasts can help you skip those Mickey waffles in the morning, not everyone wants to forgo a full meal. If you think you’ll end up paying for another dining experience anyways, you might just be better off budgeting as you go.
Plus, the way this system is set up can be limiting, as you work all your eating into your allotted credits. For example, you can’t order appetizers for the table or substitute them for your entree, they are not included on the dining plan. If you want to skip sit-down meals for festival feasting (like at Food and Wine), you won’t be covered either, unless you decide that’s where you’ll designate many snack credits. If you decide you’d rather just have a slice of pizza for dinner rather than a planned meal at a table-service restaurant, you’re essentially forced into using your allotted credits even if you’re not necessarily enthused about it. And on that note, you also might feel obliged to order the most expensive menu items wherever you eat, not that that’s necessarily always a bad thing.
While most of these points typically deter me from investing in the dining plan, I recognize that what some see as negatives, others might see as positives. Do you find that the dining plan is worth it for you and your family?
Kate Joseph is a writer from Beverly, Massachusetts who earned her degree in journalism from Simmons College in 2015 and currently works as a copywriter in Boston. After her first trip to Walt Disney World at age three, she famously told her mother, "I don't like this world, I want to live in Disney World." So, she did! During college, she participated in the Disney College Program working as a committed cast member at Disney's Boardwalk Resort for one incredible semester. When she's not traveling to Disney destinations, she likes listening to podcasts, playing with her dog, and enjoying the outdoors.