Could the Disney Dining Plan Save You Money?

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Back in July, I wrote an article for the blog about the history of the Disney Dining Plan, the 2013 changes for the plan, and a break down of the plan and how it often times does not save families money.

In the past I have stated that I believe the 2013 Disney Dining Plan is only truly economical for families that can stretch the plan’s savings and get the biggest bang for their buck. There are many ways to do this and those in the know can pull tricks out of their sleeves to ensure that they are not on the losing end of the deal.

I have decided to examine three different family prototypes using the Disney Dining Plan. I tried to keep the three families varied enough to spawn different results in savings. The first family, Family A, includes just two adults. Family B includes two adults and two children. Family C is a larger family. They have two adults, two children over the age of ten, and two children under ten years old. That means they are technically paying for four adults and two children on the plan. Keep in mind that my prototype families maximized the plan and chose higher priced options off menus. They also have eaten breakfast at their resort before heading to the parks to save money. Let us see how each family works out at a day on the Basic Dining Plan in the Magic Kingdom.

Family A – 2 Adults

Columbia Harbour House
Person 1:  Salmon, Apple Crisp, Water = $16.28
Person 2:  Fried Shrimp, Chocolate Cake, Water = $16.08
Total Including Tax:  $34.46

Crystal Palace Dinner
$39.40 per adult = $78.80 (including tax)
+ 18% gratuity = $92.98

Aloha Isle
2 Dole Whip Floats at $4.49 each = $8.98, plus tax = $9.56 (including tax)

  • Disney Dining Plan covered $122.82 worth of food.
  • Family A paid $14.18 in gratuity.
  • Family A paid $125.36 total (price of Disney Dining Plan and gratuity) to use the plan.
  • If Family A purchased the same food off of the Disney Dining Plan, they would have paid $137.00.
  • By using the Disney Dining Plan, Family A saved $11.64.

The small amount of savings for Family A scares me a little bit. As I said before, what they ate is a best case scenario. That tells me that if they chose Crystal Palace breakfast instead of dinner, they would have lost money. If they let their snack credits go to waste and ordered less expensive counter-service options, they would have lost money. Who knows how Family A would fare at Disney’s Hollywood Studios where table-service restaurants are generally less expensive? I would guess they would probably have a hard time finding value in a meal plan at that point.

Family B – 2 Adults, 2 Children

Columbia Harbour House
Adult 1:  Salmon, Apple Crisp, Water = $16.28
Adult 2:  Fried Shrimp, Chocolate Cake, Water = $16.08
Child 1:  Kids Meal = $5.49
Child 2:  Kids 
Meal = $5.49
Total Including Tax = $46.15

Crystal Palace Dinner
2 Adults at $39.40 each + 2 Children at $19.16 each = $117.12 (including tax)
+ 18% gratuity = $138.20

Aloha Isle
4 Dole Whip Floats at $4.49 each = $19.13 (including tax)

  • Disney Dining Plan covered $182.40 worth of food.
  • Family B paid $21.08 in gratuity.
  • Family B paid $166.58 total (Disney Dining Plan cost plus gratuity)
  • If Family B purchased the same food off the Disney Dining Plan, they would have paid $203.48.
  • By using the Disney Dining Plan, Family B saved $36.90.

Family B, much like Family A, did not save a huge amount of money by using the Disney Dining Plan. In their situation, they could have not used their snack credits for the day and still saved money.  Where Family B could potentially lose money is when dining at a table-service restaurant. I had them choose probably the best deal found in the Magic Kingdom. However, if they had eaten at Liberty Tree Tavern or The Plaza Restaurant, they might not have saved money at all on the Disney Dining Plan.

Family C – 2 Adults, 2 Children over 10, 2 Children under 10

Columbia Harbour House
Adult 1:  Salmon, Apple Crisp, Water = $16.28
Adult 2:  Fried Shrimp, Chocolate Cake, Water = $16.08
Adult Child 1: Salmon, Apple Crisp, Water = $16.28
Adult Child 2: Fried Shrimp, Chocolate Cake, Water = $16.08
Child 1: Kids Meal = $5.49
Child 2: Kids Meal = $5.49
Total Including Tax = $80.62

Crystal Palace Dinner
4 Adult Meals at $39.40 each + 2 Children at $19.16 each = $201.09
18% gratuity = $231.18

Aloha Isle
6 Dole Whip Floats at $4.49 each = $28.69 (including tax)

  • Disney Dining Plan covered $305.23 worth of food.
  • Family C paid $35.26 for gratuity.
  • Family C paid $291.94 total (cost of Disney Dining Plan and gratuity).
  • If Family C purchased the same amount of food while not using the Disney Dining Plan, they would have spent $340.49.
  • By using the Disney Dining Plan, Family C saved $48.55.

From what I can see, these results tell me that larger families have the biggest money saving potential. That makes sense. From these results, I can also assume that large families could potentially take the biggest hit from not maximizing the Disney Dining Plan to the best of their abilities.

Another option available to Passholders, Florida Residents, and Disney Vacation Club members, is Tables in Wonderland. For a small annual fee, a Tables in Wonderland card can be purchased which allows the card holder and their party of 10 or less to get 20% off of table-service restaurants on Disney World property. A big difference in Tables in Wonderland from the Disney Dining Plan is that a discount on alcohol is available. The vast majority of table-service restaurants on Disney property accept the card. I decided to run the math to see how my lovely prototype families would do with Tables in Wonderland instead of the Disney Dining Plan.

It turns out that Family C would still be better off with the Disney Dining Plan given that using the plan would save them $40 more than if they used Tables in Wonderland. Of course, Family C could potentially save more money with Tables in Wonderland if they did not order desserts at counter-service restaurants, shared a few counter-service meals between kids, or shared snacks. What I did discover is that Family A should skip the Disney Dining Plan and look into purchasing a Tables in Wonderland card since they could save at least $5 if they ate the exact same way using the 20% discount card. Multiply that savings by a week long trip and you can see it all add up. Plus, the Tables in Wonderland card gives a family more freedom to choose less expensive restaurants or save them self from over-indulging at every meal which often happens to people on the Disney Dining Plan.

Readers of the blog sent in an overwhelming amount of responses to my last article on the Disney Dining Plan. Many of you gave great tips of how you manage to make the Disney Dining Plan work for your family. A number of readers also surprised me with a statement I had not considered before… that some guests will continue to pay for the Disney Dining Plan for the convenience of it alone, even if they lose money by using it. While this is not something I personally would do, I can understand that for large families the Disney Dining Plan convenience is well worth the cost. I am curious, how many of you would in fact pay for the Disney Dining Plan even if the crunched numbers result in you losing money? How much would you be willing to pay for convenience?

Please share your thoughts on the Disney Dining Plan, if you travel to Disney World with a large or small traveling party, and if you plan to pay for the plan in 2013 and why.

Stacey Lantz

Born and raised in Southwest Michigan, Stacey believes she lives far too many miles away from Walt Disney World. In her spare time she enjoys singing/dancing, spending time with her nieces, and of course, talking about Walt Disney World to anyone that is willing to listen. She's been blogging about all things Disney since 2008. Follow her on Twitter @Stacey87.

107 thoughts on “Could the Disney Dining Plan Save You Money?

  • October 2, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    I am planning to get the dining plan for 4 adults and one child next April, mostly for the convenience but since we will be the DD 4 years old to two Princess dinners, Crystal Palace and Chef Mickeys, I think we will come out ahead.

  • October 2, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    One little factor you left out was the Refillable mug. 😉
    For the record, we usually buy one just so I can get a “coffee” in the morning.
    But still overall… the results are not surprising to me.

    In our early trips we didn’t do dining plan. For one trip, I did a post-vacation analysis of the Dining Plan. For 2 adults/2 kids over a week long trip. The QS Dining plan could have saved us maybe $100. (We only had 3 TS meals on that trip.)

    The second part of the equation is the amount of food. We rarely order a dessert with our QS meals. On a more recent trip with the QS plan, we were stuffed more often.

    • October 2, 2012 at 2:53 pm

      Ahh! Thank you! I knew I forgot something that I meant to touch on in my figures… that pesky refillable mug!

      Alright, here is my take on the refillable mug whether anyone wants to hear it or not. It costs Disney merely pennies to pump out some cheap plastic mugs and hand them to each guest who use the Disney Dining Plan. Some fountain pop/soda cannot possibly cost Disney that much money so that is why they like it. Overall, many guests hardly get to use their mug often simply because not many people want to walk a mile to a resort food court just to put some Sprite in a cup. Plus, the cost of the refillable mug keeps going up which makes the savings SEEM beneficial when you are on the Disney Dining Plan and get it for “free.” I did not include it into my totals since it is a bad excuse to even purchase the Disney Dining Plan. You cannot survive without food on your trip but you can survive without pop. It is not a necessary by any means.

  • October 2, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    We love the Dining Plan not so much to save money but for the absolute convenience of it as well as feeling that when you get to Disney that everything is taken care of…it adds to the magic…not saying that i wouldn’t be absolutely livid if a member of our party used a snack credit to buy a bottle of water!!

  • October 2, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    I have got the free Disney Dining Plan and paid to upgrade to the Deluxe. We are 2 adults, one child over 10 and one child under 10.
    We are eating at Kona Cafe, CRT, Chef Mickeys, 50’s PT, Ohanas, Spirit of Aloha, Teppen Edo, and Tusker House (maybe .. may change that one)we also have enough credits left for 13 other CS or TS meals (between us) we will have enough Snack Credits for 2 ice creams or drinks a day each (we will not use the snack credit for drinks, so will probably get seets to take away with us) and we also get the resort refillable drink that we will utilise for coffee/teas/milk in the am and then a cold drink each to take out with us and then a cold drink each on return to the resort and a hot choclate for each before bed. 🙂
    We paid £310 for 5 nights worth of DXDP I think we will make massive savings..(I did work it out at the time but can’t remember what it was)

    • October 2, 2012 at 2:48 pm

      Just a side note; you can’t use the refillable mugs for milk or juice at the resorts (just soda, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate)

  • October 2, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Nope, would NEVER pay any extra amount for the convenience alone of the DDP. If it’s JUST the convenience, I can always put my credit card on my room key or make a separate debit/gift card with the money for dining on that. There are plenty of ways to get the convenience of the DDP WITHOUT paying the extra cost (if there is one for your circumstances)

  • October 2, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    We are a family of 7. As I have priced out the DDP over the last few years, I have found consistently that it would save us in the long run considering what and where we eat (I have 2 teens, a 10 yr old boy that eats like a teen, and 2 younger children). My husband would get the DDP just for convenience, as he says he is on vacation and doesn’t want to worry about it. We find the refillable mugs handy, so that is a plus for us as well. This year we are doing free dining.

  • October 2, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    I would love a cost analysis of the Delux Dining plan. Often we use our 3 vouchers not to sit down for 3 meals but rather eat a nice breakfast (Ohana, 1900, etc) and have dinner at a Signiture Dine location (Cal Grill, Br Derby, etc). I am still curious (after 4 trips) of how much money (if any?) we save buying the DXDP and getting 2 meals and 2 snacks a day (for 2 kids under 10 and 2 adults). Any feedback is appreciated!

    • October 2, 2012 at 6:20 pm

      I’d love to do a cost analysis of the Deluxe Dining Plan! Maybe I’ll do that one next!

      • October 2, 2012 at 8:23 pm

        We have gone w that plan all of our past 4 trips. We love the Signature Dining restaurants but once you add tip and alcohol, it’s still a hefty additional bill each night (and we are only talking a glass of wine or two 😉 My husband is convinced that we save money….and we have run estimates….but I’m still not so sure. Please settle our debate once and for all! 🙂

        • October 3, 2012 at 11:36 am

          Often times, Signature restaurants are not the best deal since the entrees are not that much more expensive than an entree at some higher priced one table-service credit restaurant. In order for you to technically get as far ahead as possible when using two credits at one Signature restaurant, you will need to order an entree that is about double the cost of an entree at a standard one credit restaurant. That’s probably around $45 per entree. Where people really lose (on the Deluxe Dining Plan especially) is by using too many credits on Signature restaurants. I’ll crunch some numbers here soon to show everyone how to maximize the Deluxe plan.

  • October 2, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    We are two adults, and no kids. I can’t imagine we’ll ever NOT use the dining plan because of the convenience. I think we generally break even (or pretty close). We made out like bandits when we upgraded the free dining to deluxe dining BUT would NEVER have ordered that much otherwise, so will stick with the regular dining from now on. Anyway, the convenience of having most of our food paid for when we arrive is well worth it, for us.

  • October 2, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    We will be visiting WDW in December for the 3rd consecutive year (2 adults in 2010, 6 adults in 2011). We will also be using the Deluxe Dining Plan for the 3rd time. Each year we received the basic dining plan free and upgraded to the Deluxe. Honestly, I have not carefully scrutinized how much money (if any) we save. I do know that having the dining plan makes our time at WDW even more magical and enjoyable. The last two years we enjoyed Disney’s Spirit of Aloha, the Hoop-Dee-Doo (Catagory 1 seating), Narcoossee’s, Chef Mickey’s, ‘Ohana, The Hollywood Brown Derby(Fantasmic! Package), Le Cellier, Cinderella’s Royal Table, La Hacienda de San Angel, Candlelight Dining Package, Crystal Palace and others. This year we will return to some old favorites like the Hoop-Dee-Doo and try some new ones.
    Whether or not we save money, having the dining plan encourages us to enjoy a wonderful variety of restaurants and experiences that we may have otherwise missed. This will be our 11th lifetime visit. Having pre-paid for our meals the last two years has enhanced the entire experience. Looking forward to staying at The Art of Animation Resort this December!

  • October 2, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    The one thing you didn’t take into consideration is the cost you pay for the room. My upcoming trip, my discounted room rate, does not allow me to add the dining plan. To Add the dining plan to my reservation would cost me $2000 more plus the dining plan, so it was more cost effective, to pay for my meals.

  • October 2, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    This is an interesting discussion. The past two years we have received the dining plan for free when we booked our vacation. While, I would prefer a room discount (which was not available), in this scenario, it seems to me to be a good deal. We use all our credits and always eat one or two meals at a 2 credit restaurant (Hollywood Derby is one of my favorites).

  • October 2, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    I am still not following the perceived convenience of the dining plan. Is it as simple as prepaid equals convenient? For me personally it seems counter-intuitive, where I find the freedom/flexibility of not having the dining plan convenient. It seems more convenient to me to not have to adhere to set rules and worry about what qualifies under the plan.

  • October 2, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    We payed for the DDP as a convenience two years ago and that was a mistake. I was a DDP novice and we lost money. We are getting free dining this december and we’ re already ahead. Our family consists of 2 adults, 1 over 10, 2 kids and a toddler. Our free DDP saves us about $200 which is more then our nightly room cost at POR. And we plan to maximize with expensive choices, using QS credits to order only adult meals for the family to share and using only 4 credits per QS meal. Very excited!

  • October 2, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    As a family of 6 (last trip 2 adults, 2 10+ kids, 2 3-9 kids and next trip in december 2 adults, 3 10+kids, 1 3-9 kid) see the dining plan as saving money and convenient. We end up eating breakfast in room or doing buffet for some days, sometimes splitting counter serve lunches, and eating at the more expensive table service. So it takes some planning. The convenience is that you pay X price and it doesn’t matter what you eat. No worrying about kids always wanting most expensive thing on menu. No worrying about how much dessert costs as it is included at table service and counter service. Would we eat as many desserts to save money, probably. Would we worry about what we let kids (10+ order), yes. We are on vacation and I don’t want to worry about it. Pay it up front and not worry about it. Never felt it was too much food or not enough food, seems to always be about right. I am sure if it came down to it, we could force ourselves to save money by making different dining decisions without disney plan but it would make going to disneyworld less like escaping reality. (So far, luckily been able to get free dining for all our trips).

    • October 4, 2012 at 10:17 pm

      Well said! I’m pretty sure my husband and I either saved or came out about even on our honeymoon last month, but not having to worry about it makes a big difference. I don’t want to worry about how much indulging on the great food is going to cost when I’m looking at the menu. Instead it’s paid for and now I can enjoy myself and not cry when I see the check!

  • October 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Two things:

    1. Most advocates of the dining plan argue that you can come out ahead price-wise by regularly getting the most expensive thing on the menu. If you’re not eating what you would otherwise eat, though, are you really saving money as compared to what you would have done? To borrow a phrase from Seinfeld, I’m not force-feeding myself a steak (when I’m in the mood for a salad) to save a few bucks.

    2. I think the convenience of the dining plan is vastly overstated. It is not as if people on the dining plan are free to frolic in the parks while people paying OOP are stuck settling up their bill. The transaction concludes with the waiter taking your card, swiping it, and you signing something regardless. Moreover, if you decide you’re not in the mood for a sit-down meal when you’re paying OOP, you just cancel your reservation and move forward — when you’re on the dining plan, you have to either eat that meal, or figure out a way to eat a “make up” meal because you’ll otherwise lose even more money on the deal. How exactly is it more convenient to use the DDP?

    • October 2, 2012 at 4:05 pm

      EXACTLY! Before our first trip…I sat down and tried to figure out what we’d be likely to order. I added it all up and it wasn’t as much as the dining plan cost. And after the trip, out of curiosity, I added up our actual expenses. I think it was close to the price of the dining plan. We definitely would NOT have saved any money on it. Sure, we could have “saved” money if we were the type to order a lot of desserts or something. But that just isn’t us.

  • October 2, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    As many vacationers have gotten used to the All Inclusive experience at tropical resorts, it’s an easy sell. We did it twice in a row – the Deluxe Dining plan! We had fun and we figured out that we actually saved a bit of money both times, but we’re not doing it this time.
    I’m looking forward to the options that come with paying a la carte. If we’re not too hungry, maybe we’ll cancel the ADR and get Fish and Chips at World Showcase. Or maybe at Flying Fish, we’ll eat Testa-style and order all of the apps, instead of an app and an entree each.
    I’d still recommend that anyone try the dining plan if they haven’t done it before, especially if they’re an 180-day ADR and spreadsheet-type person like me. It was a nice experience to read a menu and literally not even glance over at the price column. If we weren’t on the plan, I don’t know if we would have both ordered the lobster at Narcoossee’s, but we were on the plan, and we’re glad we did! That being said, I’d recommend it only if you understand that it’s no longer a money saving scenario, but rather a dining extravaganza. If you save a bit of money, great – but it’s more about the food.

  • October 2, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    We traveled with a family with our exact configuration in May (two adults, one “Disney adult” and one “Disney child”). We opted to not get the DDP and the other family did. We stayed Deluxe and got a 30%+ room discount so there was no “free” dining.

    I worked out the numbers before I left with respect to the actual costs of each of the ADRs that we had already booked, using spending adult prices for our “Disney adult”. It appeared that we would have to spend another $800-900 in snacks and the other meals to even break even on the DDP. We stayed 10 days, but we also stayed CL. I figured that we would be hard pressed to save money, and decided to roll the dice. It was ABSOLUTELY the best decision for our family to pay OOP. My observations: the other family were slaves to the DDP. They ordered dessert at each meal whether or not they wanted or needed it. They made their “Disney adult” order adult meals so that they could maximize the value. On at least two occasions he would not eat the adult meal that they ordered, and then they had to pay OOP for a plate of chicken nuggets or some other such food. They ordered four extra QS meals for lunch on their last day to use up their last credits (and bought us lunch on one day as well). We used CL for breakfast every day except for the 2 character breakfasts that we booked, and this was included. We never came close to spending the additional $800 on meals. Our “Disney adult” only ordered ONE adult meal for the whole trip – she was permitted to order from the kids’ menu at every location, which made it SO much more economical. We of course paid adult price for her at buffets. We purchased refillable mugs but rarely used them – I won’t purchase them again. The only use was to pour in my Grand Marnier slushie in France for the walk back to the Beach Club – as a wise friend said, “take a container, or chug the remainder!” LOL

    When staying Deluxe, getting a room discount worked out to be more savings for us than free dining could offer. I hope this helps someone in making their decision.

  • October 2, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    People often say they do the dining plan for “convenience.” That is so strange to me. I think it’s way more convenient to just order whatever I want, whenever I want, from whatever restaurant I want. I don’t have to decide what is best “for the money” I’ve already spent. I get exactly what I pay for. I don’t have to think about how many credits I have. I don’t have to force myself to eat a dessert even if I’m not hungry, just because it’s already paid for.

    I’m just not seeing how the dining plan is more convenient than just getting whatever you want and then paying for it.

    • October 2, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      It’s heresy I suppose, but I agree completely. Disney has built a cottage industry of charging exorbitant prices for “convenience “.

    • October 3, 2012 at 4:25 pm

      When we say the dining plan is convenient, we mean that it is convenient to have everything pre-paid. We already know how much our vacation cost, and there are few surprises. That being said, we are a party of two adults and two children, so the dining plan is a good deal for us at this time. I’ve run the numbers, and we save so much money with children on the dining plan that it definitely is worth it. When our children are no longer considered to be children on the dining plan, we will no longer get it.

  • October 2, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Oh…and as far as refillable mugs…we always buy them. I don’t drink pop. But I use it every morning for tea. And often in the evening for hot chocolate. So to me, it definitely ends up paying for itself and then some. For my husband, even more so. We eat dinner at the food court a lot so he uses his for pop in the evening (in addition to ‘coffee’ in the morning and hot chocolate after dinner.)

  • October 2, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    Our recent trip in August was the first time using the Dining Plan for my wife and I. It was definitely a unique experience. Not having to worry about how much a particular meal costs was very nice. Having a dessert for every meal got a bit outrageous after a while since we were so full, plus adding a snack every day meant our mini-fridge got pretty full. I doubt we would ever actually pay for it though. The amount of food you get is simply more than we need and we tend to eat at mostly quick service locations and share a drink, if not a meal anyway. We do get the refillable mugs though. That’s a MUST for us! If we are going to come all the way from West Michigan we want our fair share of pop!

  • October 2, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Wow. Giving money away for the convenience of it? That doesn’t register in my mind.

    By doing so, I think one loses all right to complain about unrealistic price increases at Disney. Grab a prepaid Visa card and load it with what you would spend on the DP. You will likely have money remaining on it post-trip and you won’t continue to advance Disney’s fictitious belief that they can charge any price under the guise of “magic”.

    • October 2, 2012 at 6:14 pm

      I fully agree. As a previous Disney Dining Plan user, I absolutely loved the benefits of the plan and the convenience was just a perk, not the main reason I used it. Now that my personal focus is being money savvy while still experiencing new restaurants on each trip, I find myself trying to strike a balance with being economical while pleasing myself. What I do now is pick a few sit-down meals for each trip and beyond there I don’t plan my meals out. It’s amazing that my body is absolutely satisfied with smaller portions or just chips and guac at La Cave del Tequila for lunch. I can save myself money, enjoy the flexibility of being off of the Dining Plan, and not be tied down to numerous Advanced Dining Reservations.

  • October 2, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    My wife and I, along with our 3 daughters went in August for a week and had the DDP. We wavered when planning, but I convinced my wife to do it because on our first trip, she loved not worrying about the costs of dinner and going to the nice table service restaurants we had choosed. See, I know my wife. If we were paying OOP, half way through the week when we looked at how much we had spent, she would have cancelled our ADR’s because we had spent so much on pins! By paying in advance, you remove this worry and it lets you do what you want. For the week, we probably broke even for what we got. Without the DDP, we would have paid less, but we would not have done as much.

  • October 2, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    I wonder if your math is off on the last example for family C. Wouldn’t the cost for the dining plan for 4 people over 10 plus two people under 10 be $256.68? Add the gratuity of $35.26 and you get $291.94. Am I missing something? I ask because we are in a similar situation and I really would like to go with the dining plan so I don’t have to worry about my older kids wanting to order something expensive on the menu. But…not if I am essentially paying more for it.

    • October 2, 2012 at 4:49 pm

      Lisa, you are absolutely right! I checked it again and it looks like I left out one adult price in the total I have for what the family paid for to use the Disney Dining Plan. I’ll fix that right away. So sorry! I’m going to conclude that it was because I was typing on my MacBook calculator which I always have a hard time with. Ha! So, while Family C has a savings, it’s not as much as a savings as what I made it out to be with my miscalculation. I think if you’re able to purchase Tables in Wonderland it definitely might be worth while to look into that… especially if your family doesn’t truly eat the way the Disney Dining Plan forces you to.

  • October 2, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    So what most people fail to mention when I read these comparisons is what would the family REALLY spend, most likely they would eat differently if not on the plan. We are preparing for our second Disney trip. On the first trip we did the dining plan (paid for it but got a great room discount). I mainly did it so we could eat where we wanted to not worry about cost. It was already paid for. I loved using the plan, it was very convenient. I planned very carefully and we only had to pay OOP for one table service meal. However we did have 2 CS meals and lots of snacks left at the end of our 7 days. I did the math and we did indeed save money. HOWEVER, for this trip, having a better feel for Disney, I looked at it quite differently. One,we now have a 10 year old. Means she costs a lot more on the plan. And I assure you she does not eat any more now then she did a year ago. So I looked at all the places we want to eat and looked at what we would order if we paid out of pocket. I know at counter meals we were able to share two adult meals last time for all four of us. And we can share at table meals too. We never order desserts and on the dining plan I felt obligated not to waste the money so we ordered them and ended up with a stash in our room that got thrown out the last day. So for us when we only drink water and don’t get desserts and will share meals it is much cheaper to pay OOP. Another down side is to do the DDP you must be staying onsite. That in itself is expensive.

    • October 2, 2012 at 6:06 pm

      I’ve touched on this previously and I think it is very relevant for families to look at their eating habits. I like to think of it this way… If you had the ability to afford (with your own cash) dessert at a counter-service meal, would each person in your family eat that? Would your family truly eat a snack every single day, and not just eat ANY snack, but a more expensive snack?

      I think the Disney Dining Plan appeals to first time travelers to Disney World because of the all-inclusiveness factor. It’s got a very “carefree” feel to it. However, once people understand that they can just budget and load money onto a Disney gift card, they’ll see it’s the same level of convenience as using a Dining Plan.

  • October 2, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    We used the dining plan in 2009 and came out ahead quite a bit. Both of my boys were considered adults, so the plan wasn’t cheap, but we had dinners at Crystal Palace, Boma, Brown Derby, and Le Cellier (one credit at the time)and came out way ahead on those meals. We also tried to use the snack credits for more expensive items (not drinks), and sometimes we would get two breakfasts and share them among the four of us. The convenience only added to the positives.

    The down side is that it was a lot of food, and we don’t usually order appetizers or desserts, so we probably ate a lot of things we wouldn’t have normally ordered. For the buffets, though, I think it was worth it.

    We are going back in April and probably won’t get the plan (unless it’s free…). I will again keep track of our meal spending and see how it comes out. I have a feeling we will save because we will eat fewer sit-down meals, but I guess we’ll see how it goes!

    • October 2, 2012 at 5:50 pm

      You probably will save money because you’ll be more conscious of your spending. In my eyes, that is a good thing. It sounds like when you previously used the Dining Plan you made it worth your while and used your credits expertly. Good job!

  • October 2, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    I sort of understand when people talk about “convenience” of the Disney Dining Plan, but I also don’t really think that is the right word. “Cost certainty” is closer to describing what you get. However, when I have traveled with people on the dining plan it seems to force them into eating a counter service and table service meal each day and ordering the more expensive entrees, whether they want them or not. I know they don’t “have to” do that, but it’s in the nature of many people to want to get the most value for what they pay for (or are given with the “free” dining promotions). You also lose the flexibility to order appetizers or alcohol with meals, unless you want to pay extra (which sort of defeats the purpose of pre-paying for everything for the sake of convenience), and you feel compelled to order needless desserts with counter service meals. You also may choose to skip a character breakfast, so as not to “waste” a dining credit on a less expensive meal. None of this lack of flexibility makes me see the dining plan in a positive light, so unless it saves money I wouldn’t use it. The “convenience” argument doesn’t make sense to me.

  • October 2, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    The “convenience” for me is knowing that everything is paid for except for gratuities and souvenirs before I even leave the house. And, on the plan, we eat at restaurants and chose foods on the menus that I know we wouldn’t otherwise if we were “paying as we go.” On the plan, I don’t even look at the price – I feel free to order whatever I want. For my husband and I (kids all grown) the restaurant experience is a big part of the vacation. Now, when we used to travel with our three kids we didn’t hardly ever do a table service meal because the focus was more on the rides – we ate on the run! I think that the “value” of free dining goes beyond $$, and each family has to weigh in all factors. So I guess there’s really no right or wrong answer to “Is it worth it?”

  • October 2, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    My wife and I are going with our two children ages 9 and 10 on the “free dining” plan this November. We are staying at the All-Star Music as it was the cheapest and are getting the free Quick Service plan. This works out great for us as we don’t care where we stay as long as it is onsite and enjoy rides much more than sit-down meals. Any thoughts as to the value of this deal? Would we have been better off just buying food in the park? 5 nights hotel, 4 days base park tickets and dining for all four of us is $1648. We plan to just do granola bars in the morning and then salads, pizza, sandwiches, burgers, etc. in the park. It seemed convenient and cheap to me.

    • October 3, 2012 at 8:48 am

      I was pricing a possible trip for our family of 4 (3 over 10) with this exact same scenario as you. I think that free quick service at a value is absolutely the best deal from a cost perspective. When I priced it, it was barely more expensive than an offsite condo for the week. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better deal from a budget standpoint. With the money you save, you might have money left over for a couple of character meals out of pocket.

    • October 3, 2012 at 11:39 am

      With the Quick Service plan, you have less of a chance to lose value since you do not have to worry about table-service restaurants. Just make sure you do not use your quick-service meals for breakfast often because it is not the best way to make it a good value. If you were going to pay rack rate for your room at All-Star Music anyway, you might as well get something “free” out of it, right?

      • October 4, 2012 at 1:29 am

        Great thoughts. Thanks!

  • October 2, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    We do not do the dining plan even if it would save us money because we do not eat the way the dining plan dictates. (I guess we just don’t like being told what to do!) Plus we like the variety of quick service options and usually do table service for breakfast or lunch when our kids are more likely to really enjoy the experience.

  • October 2, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    Just wondering if the dining plan is worth it if you get “free dining” and pay regular price for the room.

    • October 3, 2012 at 11:30 am

      That depends on how many people are in your party and what level of resort you would like to stay. In general, people save money staying at a Value resort while a room discount is often better for Deluxe resorts. Plus, you need to think about how your family would eat if they were not on a Disney Dining Plan. If you cannot get a room discount and you are going to pay rack rate for your room anyway, you might as well accept Free Dining if it is offered to you for the time of year you wish to travel.

  • October 2, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    We’ve always done a meal-by-meal comparison with our family (I know one size does not fit all, so this is neither pro- nor con-DDP.), and we’ve always opted for the Dining Plan. I appreciate Stacy’s efforts to lay down a good template, an excellent place to begin before making that decision with your family.
    I would add one comment, not really a criticism: When her scenario came up with “only $11/day savings” that was significant, since we planned 5 to 7 day vacations. $50 is a tank of gas, a few more gifts, or just a bigger cushion of emergency cash to keep on hand.
    And since everyone has their own comfort level and quirks…I’ll add this one: What I most enjoyed was knowing I’d rarely–if ever–have to open my wallet for food and snacks once on vacation…that all the big stuff was paid for before I set foot on property. That’s just something that made this dad feel better and enjoy his family vacation even more.

    • October 3, 2012 at 5:47 am

      That’s how we felt too! Granted, we used the DDP several years ago, before the prices went up a bunch of times! But we thoroughly enjoyed our meals at VERY good restaurants… intense pre-planning got us into some of the best. We ate anything we wanted and just felt like rock stars! (Not our normal status! 🙂 ) For our family, on that particular vacation, it was wonderful to have everything taken care of ahead of time. This vacation, we are doing the ultra-budget trip!

    • October 3, 2012 at 11:26 am

      When I made a point to say it was only “$11.00 a day saved” it was because I wanted to point out that with just a small slip, that family of two could lose money. If that family slipped for 7 days straight, a $20 or $30 loss a day could be seriously significant. Had that family chosen The Plaza Restaurant instead of Crystal Palace, they would have lost quite a bit of money that day. If the Disney Dining Plan AT BEST saved that family $11 a day, imagine what they could easily lose by making some bad decisions.

      • October 4, 2012 at 8:22 am

        Thanks, Stacey, that’s why I made sure to say it was a comment and not a criticism. We both agree it’s best to literally plan every meal down to the penny to see if it’s worth the cost of the DDP. 🙂 As others have mentioned, we choose to eat more food at finer restaurants than we normally would on a WDW vacation, so for our family the DDP is always worth it. Thanks again for an excellent column!

  • October 2, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    The dining plan isn’t worth it. “Free” dining isn’t worth it compared to a room only discount. The lack of flexibility just makes it another drudgery you have to slog through. The fact that you don’t get three meals a day, the fact that they foist a dessert on you instead of being able to choose an appetizer or salad or something. It’s just a hoax to grab your cash without delivering value. Even if money is no object, ESPECIALLY if money is no object, the dining plan is a stupid pain in the backside. It requires too much planning, and too much commitment. Skip it. I guarantee its cheaper not to do the dining plan under almost every realistic circumstance.

    • October 2, 2012 at 10:58 pm

      We are staying at POR and the room is $200/night. Our free dining for 5 (3 adults, 2 kids) would cost about $200 but is free! We could have taken the $40 room only discount instead. So my choices were $200/night for room and lots of food OR $160/night and pay OOP for food. Do you think my family of 5 could eat at Disney for $40/day? Maybe if we only ate pbj from a cooler for every meal. It might be true that a couple staying in an expensive room will do better with the room only discount but there are many families in my situation. And the free dining is obviously the better choice.

      • October 2, 2012 at 11:12 pm

        I think that’s the point of the article and something that we (almost) all agree on, that we should do the math for our family. If I were traveling alone, then it’s possible I could eat 2 counter service meals a day (and have breakfast in the room) for under $40 a day. Or, if I want to stay at a Deluxe Resort, then maybe the discount is cheaper than taking the free dining offer, or perhaps I find a better deal renting DVC points. Maybe I’d be happier staying at a value resort for $100/night instead of a moderate and applying the savings to a couple nice meals. It’s about prioritizing what’s important and figuring out the cost.

        Anyone who makes a blanket statement that the dining plan always saves money or is always a bad deal is probably only basing that statement on their experiences with their personal travel preferences.

        Having said that, I remained perplexed how prepaying Disney for a dining plan vs. prepaying for a Visa gift card are really any different. If the plan doesn’t save you money, then I find it does not add to my enjoyment of a Disney trip (though I do enjoy saving money!).

        • October 3, 2012 at 7:19 am

          Your last paragraph is exactly my point – If it saves $ for you, great. But I really don’t understand why people are willing to pay MORE for the convenience when you could EASILY get the convenience for free.

        • October 3, 2012 at 11:17 am

          My article mentioned nothing of the “Free Dining” promotion since that is an entirely different animal all together. While you also have to crunch numbers for Free Dining, there are other factors that go into determining whether or not it is the best deal.

          I personally prefer knowing that I did not lose money with each Disney vacation I take. That is my happiness. If I can strike a balance between what I want and what I can afford, I am more than satisfied.

    • October 5, 2012 at 1:27 am

      As Jennifer notes below, this is really only true for expensive rooms or singles, and any couple or family staying in a moderate resort will almost always do better with free dining than with a room discount. For example, a day of DDP costs about $55/day/adult now, so the savings per day for an adult couple is about $110. Suppose a room discount of 30% is available; the room would have to be about $350/night to get savings equivalent to free dining. During the off-peak times free dining is typically offered, that mainly means only at the top deluxe resorts (GF/Poly/Contemporary/YC/BC), not even WL or AKL and definitely none of the moderates . Put a family of four or more in the room and free dining starts to look better at even the YC/BC resorts.

  • October 2, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    My family avoids debt, so we don’t have credit cards, etc. Because of this, I love having all of our food already paid for ahead of time so we are not worried about how much is ‘left’ in the food budget. Because when the money is gone, it’s gone… So with the dining plan, we can freely spend and enjoy our souvenir money and not worry about breaking the budget.

    We plan great table service meals, Crystal Palace, Akershush, Coral Reef, Chef Mickey, Tusker house, and we also choose wisely for QS and snacks, so we definitely get our money’s worth. I agree that a family who didn’t make reservations far in advance and went without a plan would be greatly ripped off. But our family definitely utilizes it properly and we love the dining plan!

    • October 3, 2012 at 5:50 am

      I commented above, also — but yes, you speak for our family, too. We ate at all those restaurants, plus O’Hana, Le Cellier, and other top notch places. We got every reservation we wanted! Amazing! We also used all of our leftover credits to buy food at our hotel food court area — apples, drinks, chips, etc — for our long car ride home! We looked like we’d been grocery shopping!

  • October 2, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    We went in August, 2 adults + 2 kid/adults (so 4 adults) and took advantage of the Free DP at a moderate resort. Having read EVERY article on this subject – I did all of the math and it cost me $300 for the free DP vs. using the room discount – however on our must do list was: Hoop-De-Do Review, character breakfast and F! dinner package at MM – this would have cost more than $300. We also did one signature meal (Yatchtsman Steakhouse) that I would not have paid for out of pocket, but it was a great meal/experience. I will agree it was a lot of food. My DD16 and I split a lot of the TS meals which extended the amount we had. I would defintely do it again – however I would stop being so concerned/obsessed about getting the best bang for my snack credits and use them up on water as needed.

  • October 3, 2012 at 8:14 am

    Conveniece vs. cost? Are you kidding me? As an AP with Tables in Wonderland, the savings is so hugh, it’s almost not worth talking about. I eat where I want, I eat what I want, I drink what I want. Now that’s convenience. Plus if I want a sit down meal everyday, I can still throw in a restaurant breakfast a couple of mornings and still get a 20% discount.

    • October 3, 2012 at 8:18 am

      And that’s not even talking about the AP room discount which saves me enough to pay for my food anyway.

  • October 3, 2012 at 9:29 am

    We are 12 hours from Orlando by car, so we do not go more than once a year. This makes Annual Passes and Tables in Wonderland an impractical choice. But if we lived closer….

  • October 3, 2012 at 10:43 am

    There’s another factor with the DDP that I’ve not seen mentioned on this thread: Food allergies. My wife is gluten sensitive and must eat a special diet, which is more expensive at Disney (and elsewhere) to pay out of pocket, but costs the same on the DDP.

    Interestingly, this was a benefit more so with counter service than full service. At Tangerine Cafe in Epcot and Mara in Animal Kingdom, the person behind the counter brought food from Marrakesh and Boma respectively for her meals for a counter service credit and at Pizza Planet, the pizzas that cost nearly twice as much out of pocket as wheat pizzas each cost one CD credit.

    That’s the main way that we make up the savings and is an important factor in whether we decide to use the dining plan or not.

    • October 3, 2012 at 10:45 am

      Edit: Mara and Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge, not Animal Kingdom!

    • October 3, 2012 at 11:09 am

      A very good point, Brian. This is one situation where you have to actually know ahead of time how much your special diet meals will cost you when you do the math to figure out if the Disney Dining Plan works for you.

  • October 3, 2012 at 11:52 am

    We used to use the DlxDP, however we have found that the TIW card saves us more money.

    • October 3, 2012 at 2:16 pm

      When I do my prototype families using the Deluxe Dining Plan, I will be sure to include a Tables in Wonderland comparison as well since many people can get that discount. Thanks for the idea!

  • October 3, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    So, I did the math for our upcoming trip to Disney. Based on our eating habits and reservations we would spend in cash for food/snacks is almost exactly what we will pay for the DDP. I’m hoping for a free dining promo during our dates. That would give us a better discount than room-only for sure.

  • October 3, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Thanks Stacey-these are the articles that keep me coming back to this site. My 2 cents on this topic is pretty simple. My wife and son(who is classified as an adult)have been the last 3 years and we do the quick service plan – we are more interested in the attractions and rides than sitting down & eating – it simply wastes time, so I would agree that convenience versus a few dollars lost/gain is not the best of arguements on either side, but if you are going down as a couple to enjoy dining, I would say it is a good plan. The quick service meals are pretty good in my opinion and are clearly cheaper than the sit down option, plus you need to make reservations and end up eating at weird times, if you actually get the place you want. Obviously its different strokes for different folks, but our family’s priorities are not sit-down dining when you could be riding Space Mountain more than once. And now that fast-pass return times are being kept more strict, it also hampers reserved sit-downs as well. But I guess if you are eating a steak, salad, appetizer & desert, you won’t be wanting to ride the Rock’n Roller Coaster for at least a couple hours. It is just a simple fact for us, quick service allows much more time to experience “the magic” Thanks for the opportunity to post here.

    • October 3, 2012 at 2:14 pm

      Hi Joe! Thank you so much for the kind words. I am glad I have the opportunity to write about topics that others care about as much as I do.

      The quick-service plan is definitely wonderful for people that are “do-ers” on their vacation. I think it benefits people that do not come to Disney World often and wish to see as many attractions as possible. I realized I am more of the person that picks two or three “must-do” sit-down meals per trip and I pay out of pocket using my AP discount if possible. Sometimes I have a small snack for lunch because that is all that I want when I know I have a big dinner ahead of me at Biergarten. I can save money just listening to what my body is telling me that I need. Is it as fun as a sit-down meal every day? No, but I do enjoy not being tied down to a reservation that I might have to travel to get to.

  • October 3, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Another big plus to the DDP (especially when it’s free), is not having to look at the cost of what you actually want to order. My dad is super-thrifty, and even on vacation, he stresses over every penny he spends. Until the year my family went with Free Dining, I had never seen my dad actually order what he wanted instead of ordering based on how much it cost. That alone is worth the price of the DDP to me–that my dad can order and eat whatever he wants and not have to worry about how much it costs. Could he do that with a Disney Gift Card preloaded with his funds? Yes, but he wouldn’t; he would instead stress about trying to save money and have funds left over on the card. While my father wouldn’t actually purchase the dining plan if he stopped going when they offer Free Dining (because he knows that he can eat a lot cheaper than the cost of the dining plan if the dining plan isn’t free), I personally think that the cost of the dining plan when it’s not free dining is completely worth it so that my dad doesn’t spend his whole vacation worrying about saving money.

  • October 3, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    It becomes more of a value at the end of the year (after September) after the food prices have increased.

  • October 3, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    We took the DDP for an upcoming trip (10/12 – 10/19) hoping it would be free, but we ended up in a black out period in between two free dining offers. If I had known we would be paying for it, we probably would not have taken it for the following reasons:
    – 10 year old child being charged adult prices. If I had an adventurous eater, it might be worth it, but this one is still at the point where she would be happy to eat a grilled cheese for every meal. When I showed her the adult dinner options at Narcoosee’s, where we will be eating this trip, she cried.
    – My husband and I are much more likely to order appetizers and drinks than dessert, so the things we really enjoy are extra.
    – We would also split meals more often if not on the plan. Middle aged parents trying to watch their weight don’t need the gigantic portions.

    On the whole, it’s not that big of a concern. We are spending so much money on this trip, whether we save or spend a couple hundred extra dollars is kind of immaterial. I think it does offer some convenience, and we do enjoy the nicer sit-down dinners without having to think about what we order.

  • October 3, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    And I’m sure this has been mentioned, but for me it saves no money. My husband does not eat dessert, at all. It causes him intestinal issues. I eat an occasional dessert, but prefer it to be an hour or more after my meal, not with my meal. If you take the dessert out of the pay out of pocket equation, then there is no savings.

    So when I think of the dining plan I really think of it as the “free dessert” plan.

  • October 3, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    We first used the DDP on our first WDW trip in 2005. It was great and we saved a lot of money. However, Disney caught on and the DDP is a shadow of what it started out as. Since then we’ve purchased the plan a few times and even took advantage of a “free” dining offer. Each time I’ve crunched the numbers and we came out slightly ahead of paying out of pocket. However, that assumed that we made the same purchase and dining decision we made using the plan (as did your analysis in the post). As our children get older we find that our touring and dining habits change. Our oldest (age 11) is now an “adult”, for her an adult dining plan is a terrible value. On our most recent trip we opted for annual passes and Tables in Wonderland. We spent about the same amount on food as if we had purchased the dining plan, however, there were many things that would have been extra under the dining plan (appetizers, bar drinks, extra out of pocket meal because we used two credits for Hoop-De-Do), or not possible (sharing entrees, two appetizers as dinner, sharing deserts). So using the dining plan would have limited our options and/or cost us additional out of pocket. It depends on the individual guests’ circumstances. We’ll still evaluate whether it’s a good option for each trip, but for us it’s turning out to not be the value it once was.

  • October 3, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    For Christmas 2010, my family of six (Ages 45, 40, 21, 17, 10, and 3) did the wine option plan. I will not debate the price factor, the food intake on vs off plan factor, etc., because the comments bring these to light very well. However, there was one bit of necessary convenience the plan provided us that I have not seen here: eating separately was much simpler.

    My parents, seeing as how this was our first trip to Disney and our first grand vacation together as a whole family, went all out. We did character dining, signature dining, Fantasmic reserved seating, Christmas dinner in the castle, etc. (Sorry, this is inconsequential to the story, but I love reminiscing!) However, we very often ate separately, especially for lunch and snacks, and occasionally dinner (parent date night, mom spa day, older sibling dinner date, etc.). With six people running in different directions, and not always in the same park at the same time, the Dining Plan was practically necessary. Of course, this can be avoided by ensuring everyone eats together, but that is very hard to do with big families, big age gaps, or multi-generation travelers.

  • October 4, 2012 at 9:49 am

    Love these type of articles with real dollar amounts and analyses. I think the convenience factor for many people means that they don’t feel guilty while paying for the meals during their vacation. The DP doesn’t make sense for us (2 adults, 2 older teens) as we usualy share at least one meal (only buy two or three entrees) unless we are at a buffet, of course. Our sharing often includes counter service meals too. Also, we would never eat 4 desserts at each meal. Most times, we get no dessert with our meal, maybe one to share, then have a Mickey Bar, Dole Whip, popcorn etc as dessert sometime during the day. I always wonder when people compare, do they take into consideration these types of things? Also, we don’t always eat a TS meal each day. We were there this summer for 14 days. We would have been waddling around if we had eaten all that food. We sitll enjoyed a number of TS meals, including Sanaa, Biergarten, Rose and Crown, Tusker House, Prime Time, Sci-Fi to name a few. You are definitely right – each family must analyze what the would eat and compare. Keep us the great articles!

  • October 4, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    Do the Tables in Wonderland comparison prices include the actual initial cost of the card ($100 for DVC/$75 for AP I believe it is). Because I used this recently and still saved money even after I deducted the cost of the card but I didn’t feel like I still saved THAT much after the card cost is deducted so I was wondering.

    I am also wondering about the cost of beverages. Generally, everyone in my party will order a soft drink which would add another $2-3 per person for lunch. I noticed this one just shows water, which may be more common, I am not sure.

    I agree with the poster who commented on her dad who would normally be more worried about price. That is the value I see in the dining plan. It is not a monetary value so much as a stress saver. I feel like all year long my family is very aware of cost in EVERYTHING and when we get the dining plan it is pre-paid so you do not have to worry about having the food budget money with you when you get to the trip and also you can sit back and order anything you want. Yes, the desserts may be a little much sometimes but it is a luxury we generally do not choose to indulge in back home. Also, at quick service meals we often choose a dessert that we can eat as breakfast the next morning since many of us are happy with some sort of pasty and coffee (in our refillable mug) rather than a sit down meal. (I do wish they would let you choose an appetizer or salad instead of dessert though).

    Of course if it cost people $100 more each a day it wouldn’t have that same value, but since it is similar to what we will end up paying anyway, it seems like a good deal to me. Also when I did the math many of the character meals seem to make it worth it, which we do a lot of in the past few years based on the children in the family and what they are in to. I could see how if you didn’t want to eat a big meal and wanted quick service, the plan would NOT be for you.

    I have traveled with a large group of my friends and as a group of adults (or even when it is a few families mixed) it was nice to not have to worry about splitting the check and worrying about who ate what, as we generally would just divide the check by number of diners and some people may eat pricier meals than others. This is fine when you go out to dinner every once and a while, but spending a whole week like that can sometimes make those who eat less unhappy. (or the alternative is to itemize which is also “less convenient”)

    I am not saying everyone should go with the dining plan, I am just saying I have seen benefits to having it which made my vacation better.

    All depends on the travelers’ plans, scheduled meals, and priorities.

    • October 5, 2012 at 10:09 am

      Hi Janee! The Tables in Wonderland figures I did were does not include the purchase of the card itself. That varies between $75 and $100. For families that travel to Disney World more than just a week out of the year will see the savings much more than a sometimes traveler. Large families also see a savings more than a solo traveler.

      I used water as a drink example because it’s typically the smartest choice given that you can carry a bottle of water with you around the parks and refill it at a drinking fountain. The difference between the price of a bottle of water and a soft drink is $.09. Truly, the most economical option for guests (those off the Dining Plan) is to ask for a cup of water at every counter-service restaurant. They’ll hand you a large cup of water and you don’t have to pay a thing.

  • October 5, 2012 at 6:22 am

    Wow, more comments on this than anything else on the blog! We went to Disney twice in a year in 2010. The first trip, we drove, and had the dining plan, and a mini fridge in the room. We really never spent money on any food OOP that trip. We often looked for desserts or snacks that could be the next breakfast meal. At the end of our time at Disney, we spent a couple of hours shopping to use up our last credits, getting sandwiches and pizza, drinks and snacks for the 20 hour trip home, and still had leftovers when we got home. The next trip 8 months later, we flew, and we stayed in a value resort and didnt want to pay the gouging price for a minifridge. Definitely did not get the dining plan then, because we knew we’d throw all the food away! Also, my oldest had just “aged up”, but his appetite had not done so, so he would definitely have lost money on the plan.

  • October 5, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    First and foremost I want to thank you so much for the article, it really made me think about the choice I made to purchase the dining plan. I would like to know how you can buy the Tables in Wonderland, and if the cost of it plus the discount on food is better than the Dining Plan. I am a planer and I am planning with 8 months to go before the trip, so I assume I could still make changes if need be. I can not even make my Advance Dining Reservations until Dec. 13th.

    Below I copied and pasted the spreadsheet I did for exactly what our family would do for our trip next June. I will utilize the info from this site to may out our days and I will use advance dining reservations for all Sit Down Meals. I looked at the menus and prices provided by this website and the dining plan cost for 2012, as the menu prices are based on 2012. Basically what I found was that we would save $127.76 eating like we are not on the plan; knowing how my family eats, drinks and snacks. With the added benefit of the Refillable Mug (we would buy at least one soda each at the resort each day) we save $197.48. All things considered on a $5,000 vacation, $200 is not a lot, but it is something – and you get a feeling that you saved money by going this route.
    Now if you add in the desserts we would not normally purchase at Quick Service then the total benefit we are receiving goes up to $309.48. All in all, for my family and our eating habits it is worth it to do the plan.

    Two Adults and two children age 9 and 5
    7 nights Hotel with 6 Day Single Park Tickets

    Breakfast Location Items Ordering Price Lunch Location Items Ordering Price Dinner Location Items Ordering Price
    11-Jun Travel to Disney Adult 1 Home N/A $0.00 Airport N/A $0.00 Ohana Set Price $33.00
    Adult 2 Home N/A $0.00 Airport N/A $0.00 Ohana Set Price $33.00
    Child 1 Home N/A $0.00 Airport N/A $0.00 Ohana Set Price $16.00
    Child 2 Home N/A $0.00 Airport N/A $0.00 Ohana Set Price $16.00
    12-Jun Hollywood Studios Adult 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Fairfax Fare Chick & Spare Ribs $15.19 Mama Melrose’s Charred Strip $28.99
    Adult 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Fairfax Fare Lg Coke $2.99 Mama Melrose’s Lg Coke $2.99
    Adult 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Fairfax Fare $0.00 Mama Melrose’s Coc Cannoli Cake $5.99
    Adult 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Fairfax Fare Salad $7.99 Mama Melrose’s Chick Parm $17.99
    Adult 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Fairfax Fare Lg Coke $2.99 Mama Melrose’s Lg Coke $2.99
    Adult 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Fairfax Fare $0.00 Mama Melrose’s Gelato $4.49
    Child 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Fairfax Fare Turkey Sand $5.99 Mama Melrose’s Kid’s Meal $8.59
    Child 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Fairfax Fare Drink Incl $0.00 Mama Melrose’s Drink Inc $0.00
    Child 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Fairfax Fare $0.00 Mama Melrose’s Dessert Incl $0.00
    Child 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Fairfax Fare Turkey Sand $5.99 Mama Melrose’s Kid’s Meal $8.59
    Child 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Fairfax Fare Drink Incl $0.00 Mama Melrose’s Drink Inc $0.00
    Child 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Fairfax Fare $0.00 Mama Melrose’s Dessert Incl $0.00
    13-Jun Magic Kingdom Adult 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Pecos Bill Deluxe Burger $9.69 Whispering Canyon Set price $32.99
    Adult 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Pecos Bill Lg Coke $2.89 Whispering Canyon Lg Coke $2.99
    Adult 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Pecos Bill $0.00 Whispering Canyon Dessert Incl $0.00
    Adult 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Pecos Bill Deluxe Burger $9.69 Whispering Canyon Set price $32.99
    Adult 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Pecos Bill Lg Coke $2.89 Whispering Canyon Lg Coke $2.99
    Adult 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Pecos Bill $0.00 Whispering Canyon Dessert Incl $0.00
    Child 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Pecos Bill Hamburger $5.49 Whispering Canyon Kid’s Meal $8.99
    Child 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Pecos Bill Drink Incl $0.00 Whispering Canyon Drink Inc $0.00
    Child 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Pecos Bill $0.00 Whispering Canyon Dessert Incl $0.00
    Child 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Pecos Bill Hamburger $5.49 Whispering Canyon Kid’s Meal $8.99
    Child 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Pecos Bill Drink Incl $0.00 Whispering Canyon Drink Inc $0.00
    Child 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Pecos Bill $0.00 Whispering Canyon Dessert Incl $0.00
    14-Jun Resort Day Adult 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Yorkshire Fish Fish and Chips $8.19 Cape may Café Set Price $37.00
    Adult 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Yorkshire Fish Lg Coke $2.59 Cape may Café Drink Inc $0.00
    Adult 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Yorkshire Fish $0.00 Cape may Café Dessert Incl $0.00
    Adult 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Yorkshire Fish Fish and Chips $8.19 Cape may Café Set Price $37.00
    Adult 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Yorkshire Fish Lg Coke $2.59 Cape may Café Drink Inc $0.00
    Adult 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Yorkshire Fish $0.00 Cape may Café Dessert Incl $0.00
    Child 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Yorkshire Fish Fish and Chips $8.19 Cape may Café Set Price $16.00
    Child 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Yorkshire Fish Lg Coke $2.59 Cape may Café Drink Inc $0.00
    Child 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Yorkshire Fish $0.00 Cape may Café Dessert Incl $0.00
    Child 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Yorkshire Fish Fish and Chips $8.19 Cape may Café Set Price $16.00
    Child 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Yorkshire Fish Lg Coke $2.59 Cape may Café Drink Inc $0.00
    Child 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Yorkshire Fish $0.00 Cape may Café Dessert Incl $0.00
    15-Jun Magic Kingdom Adult 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Tommorrow Land Lobster Roll $9.99 Liberty Tree Tavern Set Price $32.00
    Adult 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Tommorrow Land Lg Coke $2.99 Liberty Tree Tavern Drink Inc $0.00
    Adult 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Tommorrow Land $0.00 Liberty Tree Tavern Dessert Incl $0.00
    Adult 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Tommorrow Land Beef & BC Salad $8.39 Liberty Tree Tavern Set Price $32.00
    Adult 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Tommorrow Land Lg Coke $2.99 Liberty Tree Tavern Drink Inc $0.00
    Adult 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Tommorrow Land $0.00 Liberty Tree Tavern Dessert Incl $0.00
    Child 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Tommorrow Land Kid’s Meal $5.49 Liberty Tree Tavern Set Price $15.00
    Child 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Tommorrow Land Drink Incl $0.00 Liberty Tree Tavern Drink Inc $0.00
    Child 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Tommorrow Land $0.00 Liberty Tree Tavern Dessert Incl $0.00
    Child 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Tommorrow Land Kid’s Meal $5.49 Liberty Tree Tavern Set Price $15.00
    Child 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Tommorrow Land Drink Incl $0.00 Liberty Tree Tavern Drink Inc $0.00
    Child 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Tommorrow Land $0.00 Liberty Tree Tavern Dessert Incl $0.00
    16-Jun Resort Day Adult 1 Chef Mickey’s Set Price $35.00 Beach Club Market Sushi $8.99 Flame Tree BBQ Ribs & Chick $11.99
    Adult 1 Chef Mickey’s Drink Incl $0.00 Beach Club Market Lg Coke $2.99 Flame Tree BBQ Lg Coke $2.59
    Adult 1 Chef Mickey’s $0.00 Beach Club Market $0.00 Flame Tree BBQ Key Lime Mousse $3.79
    Adult 2 Chef Mickey’s Set Price $35.00 Beach Club Market Flatbread Pizza $7.79 Flame Tree BBQ Smoked Chick Salad $8.99
    Adult 2 Chef Mickey’s Drink Incl $0.00 Beach Club Market Lg Coke $2.99 Flame Tree BBQ Lg Coke $2.59
    Adult 2 Chef Mickey’s $0.00 Beach Club Market $0.00 Flame Tree BBQ Key Lime Mousse $3.79
    Child 1 Chef Mickey’s Set Price $19.00 Beach Club Market Pita Pizza $5.49 Flame Tree BBQ Kid’s Meal $5.99
    Child 1 Chef Mickey’s Drink Incl $0.00 Beach Club Market Drink Incl $0.00 Flame Tree BBQ Drink Inc $0.00
    Child 1 Chef Mickey’s $0.00 Beach Club Market $0.00 Flame Tree BBQ Dessert Incl $0.00
    Child 2 Chef Mickey’s Set Price $19.00 Beach Club Market Pita Pizza $5.49 Flame Tree BBQ Kid’s Meal $5.99
    Child 2 Chef Mickey’s Drink Incl $0.00 Beach Club Market Drink Incl $0.00 Flame Tree BBQ Drink Inc $0.00
    Child 2 Chef Mickey’s $0.00 Beach Club Market $0.00 Flame Tree BBQ Dessert Incl $0.00
    17-Jun EPCOT Adult 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Sunshine Seasons Pork Chop $12.49 Garden Grille Set Price $35.00
    Adult 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Sunshine Seasons Lg Coke $2.79 Garden Grille Drink Inc $0.00
    Adult 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Sunshine Seasons $0.00 Garden Grille Dessert Incl $0.00
    Adult 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Sunshine Seasons Ruben Panini $8.99 Garden Grille Set Price $35.00
    Adult 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Sunshine Seasons Lg Coke $2.79 Garden Grille Drink Inc $0.00
    Adult 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Sunshine Seasons $0.00 Garden Grille Dessert Incl $0.00
    Child 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Sunshine Seasons Kid’s Meal $5.49 Garden Grille Set Price $17.00
    Child 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Sunshine Seasons Drink Incl $0.00 Garden Grille Drink Inc $0.00
    Child 1 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Sunshine Seasons $0.00 Garden Grille Dessert Incl $0.00
    Child 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Sunshine Seasons Kid’s Meal $5.49 Garden Grille Set Price $17.00
    Child 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Sunshine Seasons Drink Incl $0.00 Garden Grille Drink Inc $0.00
    Child 2 Villa’s Kitchen N/A $0.00 Sunshine Seasons $0.00 Garden Grille Dessert Incl $0.00
    18-Jun Depart Disney

    TOTALS $108.00 $227.52 $618.28

    Meal Totals $953.80
    Snacks $98.00 7 X 4 = 28 x $3.50
    Tax at 6.5% $68.37 $1,051.80 0.065
    GRAND TOTAL $1,120.17 Does not include Gratuity
    Dining Plan Cost $992.41 (($51.54 x 2 + $15.02 x 2) x 7) x 1.065
    Savings $127.76

    Throw in Free Mug $69.72 2.49 x (4 x 7) 1 Free per person per day
    Savings w/ Mug $197.48

    W/ Lunch Dessert $112.00 $4.00 x 7 x 4 $4.00 average dessert for each person at each counter service
    Added Benefit $309.48

  • October 6, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    As I previously posted, we upgraded from the free Quick Service Dining Plan to the Deluxe Dining Plan in 2010 & 2011. Though I never crunched the numbers, I was quite pleased with the experience. But this discussion has made me curious, so I decided to run the numbers and see how much we might save. I was quite surprised.
    We are staying at the Art of Animation Resort, standard Little Mermaid room for 7 nights in December, with 8 day Park-Hopper tickets and upgraded from free QS Dining to Deluxe Dining.
    After deducting room and ticket costs, we are paying $104.00 per day for 2 adults.
    Dining is a big part of our vacation experience, due in part to the fact that we live in a small town and do no eat out often (and I enjoy cooking too). So we like to try lots of different dining experiences. And, yes, we love Character meals! Here’s my list for this year:
    Le Chefs de France (dinner)
    1900 Park Fare (breakfast)
    50’s Prime Time Cafe (lunch)
    Crystal Palace (breakfast and lunch)
    ‘Ohana (dinner)
    Chef Mickey’s (breakfast)
    La Hacienda de San Angel
    Rainforest Cafe’ Animal Kingdom (breakfast)
    Hoop-Dee-Doo (8:30 PM, category 1)
    Bongo’s (lunch)
    Raglan Road Pub
    Akershaus Royal Banquet Hall (breakfast)
    Le Cellier Candlelight Processional package (lunch)
    Via Napoli (dinner)
    Whispering Canyon Cafe’ (breakfast)
    I made menu choices based on what we will most likely order. For Character meals I choose the cheapest adult price. For the out-of-pocket total, I added taxes and gratuities (18-20%), where applicable. For the dining plan total, I added gratuities to the cost of the plan.

    Total out-of-pocket cost: $1772.46
    Total dining pan cost: $987.00
    Savings: $785.46
    This includes 6 breakfasts (4 character), 6 lunches (Candlight Dining Package) and 7 dinners (1 dinner show & 1 signature restaurant).
    This does not include our 2 snack credits per person per day or the refillable mugs.

    So for us, this is a good deal. Better than I expected. I think even if we substitute a couple of Quick Service meals, we will not lose money. It might not be so good if we were not getting part of it free.
    Of course, vacations are as unique as individuals. What works for some will not work for others. We always do the headliners and have many classics that we will ride or see every visit. But since our children are grown there are some attractions we can skip and not really miss. This allows us time to enjoy the table service restaurants (and they do take time) and all the attractions we want.

    Thanks for such an interesting and thought-provoking topic.

  • October 6, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    NO, I would not normally order a dessert at a counter service. That being said, I would not normally eat at a buffet that cost $41 a person. The dining plan allows me to eat at those places and order the dessert without the guilt/sticker shock of the prices. I enjoy getting dessert. I LOVE character meals as do my children. When I go to the circus, I am the frugal mom that will not buy my kids the $15 slushy that lights up. I just won’t spend money that way. I know when it comes down to it, if I am not on the DDP, I will not order the dessert or go to those expensive character meals. Even if I “prepay” for the meals by putting money on a card to be used for meals, I will talk myself out of it so we can have the money later. The DDP allows me to enjoy my vacation without stress. I can eat what I like. We went to Magic Kingdom for one day this summer. It was my birthday and I prepaid for lunch at Cinderella’s Royal Table for myself and my daughter (she is 2 and therefore free). My husband and 2 boys had to fend for themselves because I was too tight (ON MY BIRTHDAY) to pay for all 5 of us to eat there. That is not how I want to think on my relaxing, staying on property, Disney trip that I have been planning for over a year.

  • October 7, 2012 at 9:02 am

    Thank you so much for this post. You gave me a lot to think about. My family spent a week in New Orleans this summer. The restaurants and food there is amazing, but with a family of five it is just so expensive. So instead of spending the money, we opted for fast food. And I regret that we missed out on one of the best parts of NOLA. I had been on the fence about the dining plan, but I am going to add it now. I know that I would have backed out on so many great experiences because once there I would choose to save the money. So thanks again.

  • October 7, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    I love the dining plan, it helps us budget. But I totally love the dining options to, we don’t eat out much at home, so for us its definately a treat!!! Thanks for all the great info

  • October 8, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    I’m pretty sure that our four day trip for two adults and one child is a scenario where we would be unwise to get the dining plan, but I’ve still been crunching numbers to see. We will do 1-2 character meals and 2-4 other table service meals. So far it is really close, but the fact that we are vegetarian/vegan means our food usually costs less and I am not confident we will all be happy with the plan – I think we need to stay flexible. My current idea is to be your guinea pig with the prepaid card and save all my receipts to see for sure if we were wise to skip it. Will let you know in January.

    • March 6, 2013 at 9:57 pm

      What was the verdict?

  • October 15, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Do you think we, two adults one child, should get the standard DP (1 cs, 1 ts, 1 sn) if we’re staying club level at beach club? I ran the numbers, and it looks like we’d have to spend $128 per day to make it worth the cost. Our typical day on past trips: breakfast a the hotel in the club lounge, and in the past 2 counter service lunches were plenty for the 3 of us, usually we eat 4 out of the 6 nights at either a 1 or 2 table service meal, but rarely get 2 desserts, sometimes one, and sometimes i just want a appetizer for dinner instead of a meal. We typically don’t buy snacks – we bring a piece of fruit or plain bagel from breakfast as a snack. We buy a lot of bottled water (but don’t want to use snack credits for that). Normally we do mornings in a park and afternoons by the pool, and dinners out. Im thinking we dont need the dining plan. (in the past we’ve had tons of leftover snack credits and a handful of CS meals, and I just don’t think it makes sense to buy 15 rice crispy treats on the last day to use them up.) Thoughts on this? Much appreciated..

  • November 28, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Appreciate the post. Family of 5 – kids are 10,8 & 3. Did DDP last trip in Feb. for the first time. Only reason we did was it was free. We enjoyed not having to think about food cost, but we did make choices that we would not normally have made otherwise (most notably we ate a LOT more dessert) and often paid out of pocket for appetizers and an occasional beer or glass of wine.
    Planning trip for next November – priced out DDP and what we would normally order at restaurants we will likely book. Savings on DDP came out to approximately $300 ($1700 vs. $1400 for 7 nights), but again would have us alter our food choices – if I’m on DDP I’ll likely eat more dessert and less appetizers. If I’m paying out of pocket it would be the opposite. In some cases my wife and I might split meal, etc.
    So, I have decided I am not doing DDP next trip and I’m going to try to “pre-pay” buy saving money on an Amex prepaid reloadable card. I’m planning on putting $500 on now, then automatically transferring $100 each month between now and next Nov. 1.

    • January 3, 2013 at 1:18 pm

      This is so helpful. we have 5 kids from 2-12 and taking or first trip this April, we are so conflicted about which dining plan, maybe we should preload a card 🙂

  • December 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    This will be our visit family WDW vacation (9 park days). We have six children, 13, 10, 7, 5, 3, & 8 mos. I’m not sure if the DDP is for us. With our family size, we are also paying a tip on the ‘cost’ of what the meal is. We are currently booked for the Old Key West villas (paying cash not DVC). I was thinking of lunch at the parks and dinner at the villa.

  • December 29, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    My family is going going in July and we are doing Disney for 4 days, Universal for 2 days, and Sea World for 1 day. We are a family of 5 3 adults and 2 children eleven years old.
    My questions are:
    1)Should we stay at a Disney Resort? I know we would get extra hours, but would also cost us extra for room and transportation to Universal and Sea World.
    2)Should we get the dinning plan? I know that Universal and Disney both offer them. I am just not sure if I should only get one of them, both of them, or neither…

    This will be our first trip and I am a little bit overwhelmed!

    • December 30, 2012 at 9:00 am

      1. Staying on property is your choice. I prefer on property because I like being in the Disney bubble. Will you have a car? It might be less expensive to rent a car then paying for cabs the 3 times you go off property. Really, it is a personal preference about staying on property, although it is usually more expensive. Do you want more than one room? There are few choices on property for families of 5 that are very economical.
      2. You need to look up the rules for the dining plans. Disney’s is only available to guests on property. I don’t know about Universal. Then you need to decide where you would like to eat. It is always a good deal for us because I love character meals and they really add up.

  • December 30, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    My family (2 adults, 1 child – 11…so 3 adults price-wise) has been to WDW 11 times since we bought into the DVC club in 2005. Back then, we very enthusiastically bought the Dining Plan, as we saved a ton of money. I think the table service at the time included the appetizer and gratuity, if I’m not mistaken. However, we’ve watched the value of the Dining Plan shrink over the years, and we will not get the Dining Plan on our upcoming vacation. We have determined that we can save money buy simply bringing in snacks like we normally do in our backpack, skipping desserts, which we wouldn’t eat anyway if it wasn’t prepaid, and having breakfast in the room, which we do anyway. Even if we have a couple of character meals, a couple of other table meals, and quick serve meals, we’ll come out ahead. Thanks for this very interesting and informative breakdown and conversation!

    • January 3, 2013 at 1:27 pm

      We are going for the first time and with 2 adults and our children being 12,11,7,6,and 2 we are so nervous to make the wrong choices!

      • January 3, 2013 at 1:34 pm


        Our first visit with kids too! There are so many choices!
        Our kids are 13, 10, 7, 5, 3, & 8mos. We decided against the DDP. With our nine day park vacation, I ran the numbers based off what I thought our family would eat in the parks (using the menus available) and came out $500 better by not choosing the DDP. Full disclosure, we don’t drink soda or eat too many desserts. We are planning on eating some of the dinners back at the resort (OKW-2 bed villa) to save even more.

  • January 6, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Just back from 4 days, two adults and one child. I made a spreadsheet, but I’m not sure exactly how to tally it all up! We would have spent almost identical amounts, but our behavior would have had to alter pretty radically from what we did. If anyone wants to see it:

    Hitting the end of our trip, we woud have been 3TS and 2QS credits down. We would also have been 4 snacks over.

    Eating as we did, the food we ate that would actually have been included was worth $400. We would have paid $513.

    Then we would have gone 3 TS credits over because we had a spur of the moment, highly enjoyable poolside “private dining” experience on our check-out day. It only cost about $40, but would have been 2 TS credits each! Ridiculous. We would have had to skip most of our lovely pool time and go use up our 3 leftover TS or 2 leftover QS credits at lunch.

    We did the Dessert Party ($75) and we also spent about $65 on food items that wouldn’t have been included.

    So I think the big message for us was that we might have spent the same amount of money but we would have entirely lost our flexibility. The Desert Party was our favorite thing, which we would have had to pay for out of pocket. And I can’t even tell you how often we saw families huddled around receipts or cashiers trying to work out what they had left and what they should do about it and blah blah blah. It looked like a whole lot of energy spent on food! Going forward, we will continue to preload a gift card as we did this time. It came out the same but we had a lot more fun.

    • January 30, 2013 at 12:28 pm

      Such a great idea, preloaded card. It gives you the benefits of having the meals “already paid for” when you get there but you don’t have to work around your meal reservations schedule. We did the Disney Dining plan in 2009 and 2011. We are going back in March. We have opted not to do it. It always felt that we were rushed to our reservations and we had to use so much time getting to the restaurants. Not worth it to us anymore. Plus, we did eat more than we would have otherwise. Dessert at every meal is just way too much. Even if you are on vacation. And even when we did make our reservations, we still had to wait anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour from our reservation time. That being said, Disney is the best place for our family vacations. We wouldn’t go elsewhere!!!

  • February 6, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    We are going to WDW in a couple of months with one child, age 4. We are debating if the dining plan is for us. We are staying at the new Art & Animation resort and usually eat small a breakfast, which we plan on doing in the room. When we travel to WDW we usually have a larger lunch and a smaller dinner. Our 4 year old does not eat a lot so that just makes me wonder if I should continue to just pay for the meals?

  • March 5, 2013 at 1:43 am

    This is what we are planning to do as well- Disney, Universal & Sea World and I’m trying to figure out the easiest way to do it. I am hoping to go later this month. 2 adults, 2 kids. I’m not sure how to best do it- on property or off, etc.


    • March 13, 2013 at 10:28 pm

      My 18 year old daughter and I are heading for Orlando after she graduates in late May. We’ll do 4-5 days in the Disney parks and a couple at Universal. We’re driving, so that influences some things, but after thinking about it for a bit I decided we do benefit from the Extra Magic Hours and all the transportation options we use staying on property with Park Hopper Passes. Might lose out on the benefits of free parking at Universal versus were staying there, but better to pay a couple of days of Universal parking than 4-5 days of Disney parking. That’s one angle. The other is the Disney Dining Plan. I’ve used and it loved it after you embraced it and got past the frustrations at times. So I was on the fence… But since the DDP tracks to your RESORT Nights, not your PARK days, that means we’d be paying for a couple of extra days that we wouldn’t be in Disney Parks to use it, making it much more difficult to get the value. So I’m going to opt out this go round. However, someone please let me know about how to get the pre-loaded card to use for meals… Any benefit other than pre-paying your meals versus using the credit card where I’d get miles but having the post-Disney hangover bills to pay?

  • April 11, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    This is the first time I’m taking my 3 kids (and my mother in law is coming) and my husband and I decided to get the dining plan just to get the cost out of the way…I never want to get a bill for $100 for lunch or $200 for dinner while I may not be saving money in the long run I don’t have to have that kind of money every day twice a day for a week it will already be paid for.

  • April 21, 2013 at 8:12 am

    I’m one of the people that will continue to pay for the deluxe dining plan without worrying too much about if I’m saving money. I like it because I pay for all the food I’m going to want months before I go. There’s no temptation to get a cheap entrée I don’t really want, because everything costs the same. I love that it makes our vacation a bit more all-inclusive, and I’m not concerned about spending every credit because the money is already gone, I can just focus on enjoying my vacation 🙂

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  • May 22, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    I love the deluxe dining plan. Disney is the only place that my daughters and I can eat food, lots of it, and desserts that are gluten free and I don’t worry about cross contamination. The chefs at Disney honestly seem to understand the issues that are present with preparing foods for people with food intolerances such as my family that have been diagnosed with celiac disease. The food is fantastic and I have no problems spending the money to give us that one luxury year after year. Part of the experience of Disney is eating at their restaurants. Vacationers don’t know what they are missing out on.

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