The Disney Dining Plan: Is It Worth It? (2019 Edition) Part 1

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Ah, the Disney Dining Plan — right up there with emotional support animals, taking your kids out of school to visit Disney, and double strollers in terms of its divisive potential in Disney circles. There are few topics that inspire such fierce debate among the Disney faithful as the relative worth of the Disney Dining Plan. The truth, however, is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer, and even from a purely economic standpoint, whether or not the Disney Dining Plan is “worth it” is dependent upon a variety of factors, including:

  • The restaurants where you would be eating;
  • How you eat at those restaurants;
  • Whether you do character meals or other special dining experiences;
  • Whether you would have an alcoholic beverage, an appetizer, and/or dessert with your meal.

I’m going to try here to break down, as objectively as possible, the circumstances where the Disney Dining Plan can save you money, and some Do’s and Don’ts for maximizing value for those of you that decide to use it. After years of being of questionable value except in very specific circumstances, recent additions to the Disney Dining Plan have added value and are starting to swing the pendulum back in the other direction and can save money for more people than in years past. With that said, it remains an individualized question, and whether or not it can save you money isn’t the only consideration.

First things first, let’s go over what the Disney Dining Plan is and what it covers. Generally speaking, the Disney Dining Plan is available to guests staying at Disney resorts and allows you to pay in advance, and then certain food during your trip is covered by credits that are linked to your Disney account. Is is NOT an all-you-can-eat, all-inclusive dining option — you’ll have a set number of credits which cover specific things, and you’ll be paying out of pocket for other food and drink that you would like.  Here are the three variants of the Disney Dining Plan, and what they include:

Cost (adult/kid) Quick Service Table Service Appetizers Snacks Refillable Resort Mug
Quick Service $52.50/$23.78 2 0 0 2 1
Regular $75.49/$27.98 1 1 0 2 1
Deluxe $116.25/$43.49 * 3* up to 3** 2 1

*The Deluxe meal credits can be used for Table Service or Quick Service meals.

**When using a Deluxe credit for a Table Service meal, you may also get one appetizer with that meal.

Each meal includes a beverage, which can include alcoholic beverages or specialty non-alcoholic beverages like the Shanghai Lemonade at Yak & Yeti. You can find more details on what the Disney Dining Plan is and how to use it here.

Analysis

In the strictly empirical sense, whether or not the Disney Dining Plan is “worth it” is just a function of whether you would be spending more or less than the cost of the plan for the covered food you would be eating during your trip. To that end, an overview of costs are helpful:

Average (without alcohol) Average (with alcohol)
Snack $4.22 N/A
Quick Service $14.36 $15.98
Quick  Service (Kids) $6.98 N/A
Table Service $36.84 $40.08
Table Service (Kids) $16.26 N/A
Table Service, with app $48.23 $52.18
Table Service, with app (Kids) $18.02 N/A
Resort Refillable Mug Beverage $4.15 N/A

It is important to note that many of the nicer restaurants (i.e., the Signature Restaurants) and Dinner Shows require two Table Service dining credits. Room service at your resort is likewise 2 credits, even if you’re staying at a Value property.

The resort mug is a big wild card here, because you can’t opt out of it, and it could make up a lot or very little of the value you get out of the plan. Accordingly, I’m going to leave it out of the initial calculation. Doing the math, if you were to have average snacks, average Quick Service meals, and average Table Service meals, the value of the food you’re getting per day with each plan is as follows, not including the resort mug:

Plan Value (with alcohol) Loss/Savings Value (without alcohol) Loss/Savings
Quick Service $40.40 -$12.10 $37.16 -$15.34
Quick Service (Kids) N/A $22.40 -$1.38
Regular $64.50 -$10.99 $59.64 -$15.85
Regular (Kids) N/A $31.68 +$3.70
Deluxe $164.98 +48.73 $153.13 +$36.88
Deluxe (Kids) N/A $62.50 +19.01

If you’re the sort of person that drinks a lot of soft drinks and will use it, the resort mug can save you a lot of money compared to paying out of pocket for drinks at Disney prices. Consider how much you’ll use it, and add about $4 per drink per day to the value of the plan. With that said, they can’t be refilled in the parks and can only be refilled in limited locations (like your resort Quick Service location), so if you’re not going to be in those locations, you may find that using it is more trouble than it’s worth. As with most everything at Disney, your mileage may vary.

So, at a glance, it would appear that neither the Quick Service nor the Regular Disney Dining Plan are a good value, resulting in a daily net loss of around $15 per person, while the Deluxe Dining Plan is a complete boon, saving you more than $35 per person, per day. That, however, would be an oversimplification of what is unfortunately a fairly complicated calculation. Depending upon where you eat and how you eat, it is very possible for the dining plans to make sense for you. For example, if you were to eat twice a day at Wolfgang Puck’s Express and order the most expensive things on the menu, you could realize as much as $82/day in value on the Quick Service plan. While I’m not recommending that as an approach, there are plenty of situations where the Quick Service and Regular plans can make good financial sense.

Similarly, while there is a lot of value to be realized in the Deluxe Dining Plan by comparing what you get with how much you pay, very few guests will actually use it to its fullest. To get the full value out of the Deluxe Dining Plan, you’re going to be having 3 Table Service Meals a day. It is, to be frank, a spectacular amount of food AND an incredible time suck. Unless you are going on a trip primarily devoted to dining (which, by the way, is an entirely legitimate approach to a Disney trip), you’re likely going to find that maximizing the value of the Deluxe Dining Plan comes at the expense of time spent touring the parks, and probably your own personal comfort as you waddle around in the wake of huge meal after huge meal.

A more realistic daily menu for most people would likely include one Quick Service meal and two Table Service meals, both of which include dessert (you’re on vacation, after all) and one of which is a relaxed affair with an appetizer. Including 3 drinks over the course of those meals and two snacks, the value comes in at $116.68 — very close to the $116.25 cost of the plan.

Thus leads to probably the most important point I’ll make here: don’t compare the cost of the Dining Plan to the cost of what you COULD get, compare the cost of the plan to what you WOULD get. If you’re the sort of person that would usually just grab a sandwich and go, you’re not really doing yourself any favors by force-feeding yourself a steak at every meal just to make sure you’re not leaving money on the table.

To really determine whether the Dining Plan will save you money, the most precise approach would be to review the menus at the restaurants where you plan to eat, add up the costs of the things you would order, and then compare that to the cost of the Dining Plan. That’s a lot of work, however, so we also have a handy calculator where you can input information about how you usually eat and it will run some numbers and offer some guidance as to which is the better course for you. With that said, the calculator is going to be based upon average values; you should give some consideration to the factors that drive value on the Disney Dining Plan to determine whether those numbers need to be adjusted up or down, as we’ll discuss in the next installment.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll look at some specific examples and weigh in on some factors that you will want to consider in your analysis of whether the dining plan makes sense for you.

James Rosemergy

When not planning for or traveling to Walt Disney World with his beautiful wife and impossibly adorable daughter, James practices law in St. Louis. He also really likes cheese -- and loathes kale. He can be found on twitter at @jrtoastyman.

21 thoughts on “The Disney Dining Plan: Is It Worth It? (2019 Edition) Part 1

  • July 29, 2019 at 12:31 pm
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    I’ve been considering the dining plan for my next trip- looks like a good value for character meals and buffets that are only one dining credit, particularly if the adults get at least one alcoholic beverage per day. Question- do you what the exclusions are on wine and mixed drinks? Will the DDP cover the $18 glass of wine and $20 specialty margarita on the menus?

    Reply
    • July 29, 2019 at 2:33 pm
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      It will, yes, so if that’s the sort of thing you’d be drinking, it’s going to a better value proposition for you than if you’d just be getting a Bud Light or something.

      Reply
  • July 29, 2019 at 12:39 pm
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    I agree for the most part, but I never get away for $40 a meal with alcohol at a table service meal, even as a TiW member. I’d say its much closer to $60 if you’re ordering a real mixed drink or glass of wine.

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    • July 29, 2019 at 2:40 pm
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      Yeah, these are averages and it’s possible to spend less, or spend much more, especially if you’re a wine drinker (as I am). We go into this a bit more with some examples of when it does and doesn’t make sense in the next part of the article.

      Reply
  • July 29, 2019 at 3:27 pm
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    I wouldn’t pay for it but am happy with it when I get it free 🙂 I live in the UK and we don’t get the room discounts that Americans get so free dining is a huge deal for us. If I couldn’t get it free I’d pay for meals out of pocket as I’m allergic to seafood and don’t like steak and alcohol so my meals wouldn’t be too expensive.

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  • July 29, 2019 at 6:23 pm
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    We tried the dining plan once. It was simply too much food after a few days. Florida is hot and humid and it did a number on our appetites. We found ourselves ordering things we didn’t really want and all those snack credits that we didn’t really need contributed to more waste. If the dining plan causes you to eat in a way that is out the ordinary for you, I just don’t see how this can save you money. Besides, I’m pretty sure the Walt Disney company has an entire army of number crunchers, statisticians and algorithms that will tip the scales in their favor 99% of the time. Great article!

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    • July 29, 2019 at 7:22 pm
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      Great point about it possibly causing you to eat in a way that’s out of the ordinary. After two trips doing this and overeating (sometimes without even realising it) just to get value out of the plan, it’s been out of pocket ever since. For people who eat fairly average to small portions in regular life, I feel that the quick service plan isn’t going to have you coming out ahead.

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    • July 30, 2019 at 10:57 am
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      Thank you, and I know exactly what you mean! I was on the dining plan once, and some in our group decided they didn’t want to go to the restaurant we’d picked for lunch, but availability was limited because it was last-minute, so we ended up having an enormous plate of pasta at 3 pm rather than waste the table service credit. Because if there’s one thing everyone loves at the hottest part of the day in Orlando in July, it’s an enormous plate of pasta.

      Reply
  • July 30, 2019 at 1:34 pm
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    For those that find themselves with extra quick serve credits and need to use them….one thing that is great is that a QUICK serve meal is worth 3 snack credits, if you like to bring home some of the candy’s or snacks like nuts etc , Mickey Rice Krispie treats etc .. they make a nice remembrance of the fun you had when eating them at home … if they make it that far. We have found this to be a great value as some snacks in 3’s cost more than a quick serve does. For the adults who have a cocktail with their quick serve when applicable, the meal plan is also an advantage as some of them cost about 15.00 all by themselves..

    Reply
  • July 30, 2019 at 1:49 pm
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    It seems to me that if one isn’t on the DP, then one can simply eat whatever one wants, wherever one wants, whenever one wants, and simply pay for it by sticking out one’s wrist that has the magic band on it and entering a 4-digit PIN.

    Nothing more convenient than that. 😉

    Reply
    • July 30, 2019 at 8:19 pm
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      Agreed… I marvel at the folks that suggest they get it for the “freedom” and “convenience” it affords them.

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    • July 31, 2019 at 12:30 pm
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      Yeah, the convenience aspect of it really has to do with budgeting before you ever leave your house. When you’re in the parks, being on the dining plan is no more convenient than paying out of pocket, you’re going to be handing them a card or scanning your band regardless, so I’ve never really understood that argument, either. One could argue that it’s actually less convenient to be on the DDP, in fact, because you can’t just order what you want, you have to order in a way that matches the plan. For example, my family likes to go to Brown Derby and split a few apps rather than ordering entrees, but that’s not really an option on the DDP.

      Reply
  • July 31, 2019 at 6:47 am
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    The math when you are averaging in an alcoholic drink is confusing me. I just looked at the Disney standard bar menu and even a beer is almost $10. How does the average cost of a table service meal only increase less than $4?

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    • July 31, 2019 at 12:26 pm
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      I had the same reaction when I was first looking at it. It’s because it assumes that if you’re not doing an alcoholic drink, you’re going to be buying a non-alcoholic beverage, and some of those — especially the specialty drinks — can be pretty pricey as well. In other words, it’s not the spread between the an alcoholic drink and nothing, it’s the spread between an alcoholic drink and a similarly expensive non-alcoholic drink.

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  • July 31, 2019 at 10:46 am
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    I have done 3 major trips to Disney with my family in the last 6 years. We did the dining plan on the 2nd trip to try it out. I would not recommend it unless 1. You have children that are 9 and under and 2. You intend of doing a Character meal, buffet, or family style meal every single day. If you are not, the math just does not make sense. In addition, I feel like you need to plan out every single meal on your trip to optimize the points. Plus, all those snack credits! We opted out for the 3rd trip because we wanted to eat at some menu restaurants and I had members of my party that wanted to eat when they felt like it, not stick to my well laid out schedule (Ha!). It worked out so much better for our family to not have the plan. We a did not get nearly as many snacks without the dining plan and because we weren’t so focused on using the credits, we actually ate at more sit down places on a whim. For our next trip, we are going with no dining plan again as we are going to limit our character meals to only our favorites. Also, we like having breakfast in our room to cut down on some costs and precious morning time.

    Reply
  • July 31, 2019 at 11:36 pm
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    I have found that it is much easier to decide if the dining plans are worth it if you place a value on the cup and snacks before you start figuring out meals. Yes, it is a big wild card, but that is the point. The way I value my mug and the drinks I use it for plus the value I give my snacks, I set them at $7 a piece, seeing what is available while I am there. So my mug and my snack came to a total value of $160. That is a lot. It pays for more than a whole day on the deluxe plan, and 2 on the regular plan, and 3 on the Counter service plan. The truth is that as long as it works out in a similar way I will be getting the dining plan every time I visit Disney World, because this forced me to look at the things that are available, and there are a lot of things I want to try out, and now I know I can do it for so much less.

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  • December 12, 2019 at 9:41 pm
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    I’m not a alcohol drinker; maybe one margarita in a week trip. I have been adding and subtracting and I think I am not getting the DDP. In order to optimize my credits I would have to get an alcoholic beverage at lunch and dinner; that’s crazy. If they only gave me the option of getting an appetizer rather than the alcoholic drink… maybe I would do. This will be the first time I don’t get the DDP and to be franc I feel kind of lost. Don’t know what to do.

    Reply
  • December 13, 2019 at 1:51 pm
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    Honestly, the best way to navigate it is to try to embrace the added freedom it gives you. You can still order the same stuff whether you’re on the dining plan or not, but you also have the flexibility to mix it up if you’d rather split a couple of appetizers rather than getting entrees, or you’d otherwise like to stray from the way that the DDP compels you to eat.

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  • February 11, 2020 at 1:45 pm
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    The main thing for me is that DDP does not include gratuity. You’re paying gratuity on whatever you order in any case and so the DDP is not ALL the food costs even if you stick to it strictly and never buy extra booze or whatever else.

    Reply

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