The Disney Dining Plan Is It Worth It? (2019 Edition) Part 2

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In part 1, we discussed what the Disney Dining Plan is and did a simple analysis about whether or not average prices for meals would save you money. If you haven’t read part 1, you can find it here. Now we’re going into more detail about specifics to keep in mind when running the numbers to determine whether the Disney Dining Plan is a value for you.

Value Considerations

The Lobster Roll at Columbia Harbor House is one of the pricier Quick Service entrees and a good value on the Dining Plan

While it’s ultimately going to vary for each person, there are a few other shortcuts to keep in mind in determining whether or not the Disney Dining Plan is likely to save you money so you know whether it’s worth your effort to run the numbers:

  • The Dining Plan favors carnivores: the priciest things on the menu tend to be steaks and seafood.  Conversely, if you’re vegan or vegetarian, or if you gravitate towards sandwiches and entree salads, you’re less likely to come out ahead.

 

  • Character dining, particularly for dinner, consistently provides more value that the average location on the Dining Plan. For example, Akershus Royal Banquet Hall costs $62.84 per adult paying out of pocket, far in excess of the average cost of a meal.

 

  • Because of the gaudy drink prices at Disney — a glass of wine can be as much as $19 — the relatively recent addition of an alcoholic beverage adds significant value if you’ll take advantage of them. As the price of the Disney Dining Plan includes them whether you drink or not, non-drinkers (including for people aged 10-20 who can’t even order them) will have to find value elsewhere.

 

  • Speaking of children, kids 10 and up are considered adults for Dining Plan purposes, so you’ll be paying adult prices for them for the Dining Plan (just as you’ll pay adult price for them at buffets). With that said, many children at the lower end of that age range will still want to eat off of the children’s menu and can eat for far less than the price of the Dining Plan.

 

  • Signature Dining and dinner shows like Spirit of Aloha are tricky from a value proposition. They require 2 credits, so you have to get twice as much value out of them to make them a good use of your credits. To be frank, they rarely are. For example, dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table costs $73 and is among the most expensive meals you can eat at Disney, but since you have to spend 2 credits, you’re only getting $36.50 worth of value per credit. That’s not a terrible value compared to some other places, but it still pales compared to the other character meals that only require one credit.

The following Table Service restaurants deliver exceptionally good value on the Disney Dining Plan:

Restaurant Cost
Akershus Royal Banquet Hall $62.84
Chef Mickey’s $55
Artist Point $55
1900 Park Fare $52.19
Tusker House $52
Dr. Falls Signature Steak at Skipper Canteen

You’ll notice that the top 5 most expensive restaurants (on average) that you can visit with a single Table Service credit are Character Meals. This trend continues with other character meals; they provide reliably good value on the dining plan.

For non-signature a la carte restaurants, it is more a function of what you order. The highest priced items tend to be steaks and seafood.  For example, at Skipper Canteen, the most expensive item is Dr. Falls Signature Grilled Steak at $36, followed by two fish dishes at $31 and $33. Conversely, the Curried Vegetable Crew Stew and “A Lot at Steak” Salad are comparatively poor values at $18 and $19. Most Table Service restaurants similarly offer dishes on both ends of the price spectrum.

The following Quick Service restaurants have items that are well in excess of the average cost of a Quick Service Entree.

Restaurant High Value Items
Be Our Guest (Lunch) Coq Au Vin ($18.99); Tuna Nicoise Salad ($17.99)
Flame Tree Barbecue Ribs, Chicken & Pulled Pork Sampler ($18.99); St. Louis Rib Dinner ($18.29)
Wolfgang Puck Express Oven Roasted Salmon ($20); Rigatoni Bolognese ($18); Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf ($18)
Katsura Grill Shrimp & Chicken Teriyaki Combo ($18.95); Chicken Cutlet Curry Combo ($17.95)
ABC Commissary BBQ Rib Platter ($18.29)

As noted above, all of these pricier dishes are meat focused — even the Nicoise Salad has tuna as a primary component. Also worth noting, as is the case with most restaurants, some of these places also have entrees that are significantly less than average. Thus, the point is, what you eat is at least as important as where you eat. With that said, the following Quick Service restaurants have average values that are among the lowest on property and aren’t great values on the Dining Plan:

Restaurant Average Entree Value
Boardwalk Bakery (Breakfast) $6.97
Earl of Sandwich $7-8
Pizza Ponte $8.10
Roaring Fork $8.15
Kringla Bakeri og Kafe $9.12

Sample Menus

To illustrate the point, I’m including a few sample menus to highlight how the way that you eat and the composition of your travel party can impact the value that the Dining Plan brings. Let’s start with what I would view as a very standard issue day at Magic Kingdom, eating middle of the road items that are neither the most expensive nor the least expensive things on the menu. Also, I used one snack credit to grab a cinnamon roll at Gaston’s for breakfast, and the other one for a Mickey Bar, because Mickey bar. Because of the limited availability of alcoholic beverages at Magic Kingdom, I only accounted for one glass of wine at the Table Service meal at the Plaza for the adults on the regular plan.

Adult – Regular Child — Regular Adult — Quick Service Child — Quick Service
Lunch Pecos Bill’s — Tacos 3 Ways ($10.99) with soda ($3.99) Pecos Bill’s — Cheeseburger Meal ($7.69) Pecos Bills — Tacos 3 Ways ($10.99) with soda ($3.99) Pecos Bill’s — Cheeseburger Meal ($7.69)
Dinner

Plaza — Home-Style Meatloaf ($22) with Signature Chocolate Cake ($9.50) and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc ($10)

 

Plaza — Grilled Chicken Strips Meal ($11) Friar’s Nook — Brat & Tots ($10.29) with soda ($3.99) Friar’s Nook — Uncrustable Meal ($6.49)
Snacks

Ice Cream Cart — Mickey Bar ($5.75)

Gastons — Cinnamon Roll ($5.29)

Ice Cream Cart — Mickey Bar ($5.75)

Gastons — Cinnamon Roll ($5.29)

Ice Cream Cart — Mickey Bar ($5.75)

Gastons — Cinnamon Roll ($5.29)

Ice Cream Cart — Mickey Bar ($5.75)

Gastons — Cinnamon Roll ($5.29)

Total Cost (including 6.5% tax) $71.91 $31.66 $42.92 $26.86
Cost of Plan $75.49 $27.98 $52.50 $23.78
Savings/Loss $3.58 $3.68 $9.58  $3.08

An approach of this sort for family of 4, with two children between 3-9, would see a net gain of only $.20/day on the Regular Dining Plan — savings, but really, really thin savings — and a net loss of $13/day on the Quick Service Dining Plan.  Note, however, that if those kids were 12 and 14 for example, and paying adult prices, the math is even more bleak.  They’d be looking at a daily loss of approximately $26.32 on the Regular Plan (assuming the children are drinking soda or something similar since they can’t have the wine) and $38.32 on the Quick Service Plan.

OK, now let’s take the same approach over to Animal Kingdom for a food itinerary that is more geared to maximize value under the Dining Plan, including character dining and higher-priced items. I’m again using a Cinnamon Roll for breakfast because it’s one of the more expensive items that qualifies as a snack at Animal Kingdom, and they are still getting a Mickey Bar, because Mickey Bar:

Adult – Regular Child — Regular Adult — Quick Service Child — Quick Service
Lunch Tusker House ($52) with Magical Star Cocktail ($13.75) Tucker House ($31) with Lemonade ($4.99) Restaurantosaurus — Bacon Cheeseburger Combo ($15.99) with Margarita ($11.50) Restaurantosaurus — Cheeseburger Meal ($9.99)
Dinner Flame Tree — Ribs, Chicken & Pulled Pork Sampler ($18.99) with Mandarin Orange Vodka Lemonade ($9.75) Flame Tree — Turkey Sandwich Meal ($7.19) Flame Tree — Ribs, Chicken & Pulled Pork Sampler ($18.99) with Mandarin Orange Vodka Lemonade ($9.75) Flame Tree — Turkey Sandwich Meal ($7.19)
Snacks

Ice Cream Cart — Mickey Bar ($5.75)

Kusafari Coffee Shop & Bakery — Colossal Cinnamon Roll ($7.49)

Ice Cream Cart — Mickey Bar ($5.75)

Kusafari Coffee Shop & Bakery — Colossal Cinnamon Roll ($7.49)

Ice Cream Cart — Mickey Bar ($5.75)

Kusafari Coffee Shop & Bakery — Colossal Cinnamon Roll ($7.49)

Ice Cream Cart — Mickey Bar ($5.75)

Kusafari Coffee Shop & Bakery — Colossal Cinnamon Roll ($7.49)

Total Cost (including 6.5% tax) $114.73 $60.09 $73.99 $32.40
Cost of Plan $75.49 $27.98 $52.50 $23.78
Savings $39.24 $32.11 $21.49  $8.62

To state the obvious, there are some pretty dramatic savings to be realized here — a family of 4 with two small children would save $60.22 on the Quick Service Plan and and whopping $142.70/day on the Regular Plan, largely because of the significant value gained from the Character Dining at Tusker House and not paying for pricey drinks.  Even with older kids that pay adult prices but can’t drink adult beverages, you’d be saving $139.50 on the Regular Plan and $73.96 on the Quick Service Plan on days like this.

The question becomes, then, do your days look more like the Animal Kingdom day, or more like the Magic Kingdom day above? For most groups, it’s going to be a blend, and the good news for those on the Dining Plan that even without doing Character Dining every day, you can save enough on the days that you do to offset other days of more “normal” eating and come out ahead in the net. The takeaway, however, is that anyone that tells you that the Dining Plan is always a good deal or is never a good deal doesn’t know what they are talking about — you really have to take into consideration the sorts of meals you’ll be having.

In part 3, we’ll discuss some of the intangibles of the Disney Dining Plan that may make it a good option for you, as well as a discussion about “Free” Dining.

What are your dining habits like? Are you able to maximize value on the Disney Dining Plan, or is it a struggle to make the most of the offerings? 

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.

16 thoughts on “The Disney Dining Plan Is It Worth It? (2019 Edition) Part 2

  • July 30, 2019 at 1:57 pm
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    Great job so far breaking this down in a way that both math nerds and avg folks can easily grasp and analyze.

    Reply
  • July 30, 2019 at 5:48 pm
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    Can an adult order an alcoholic drink for themselves using a credit from their “adult” teenager’s dining plan?

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    • July 30, 2019 at 6:23 pm
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      I would think that they have to ID on alcoholic beverages….so probably not. A 20 year old on the dining plan is clearly an adult, but would not be allowed to order alcohol. I don’t see why they would let a teenager order alcohol, even if the alcohol was given to someone of legal drinking age. Too much liability, I would think.

      Reply
      • July 30, 2019 at 6:28 pm
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        The Disney website states that alcohol can be ordered by guests age 21 and older.

    • July 30, 2019 at 8:29 pm
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      In a word, no, unfortunately. Would be a great way to game it otherwise, but they won’t allow it.

      Reply
  • July 30, 2019 at 6:23 pm
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    I believe some of the character meal prices are actually a little higher than reported. For example, Artist Point is $58.58 after the last price increase.

    Reply
  • July 30, 2019 at 8:59 pm
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    If you choose higher priced meals in order to maximize the dining plan, you’ll potentially be paying larger tips out of pocket than if you ordered more to your usual preferences.

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  • July 31, 2019 at 2:49 am
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    Eagerly awaiting Part III.

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  • July 31, 2019 at 12:05 pm
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    Great articles! The portion we cannot put a price on is ‘peace of mind.’ I am someone who lives my life on a budget and looks at every single penny we spend 357 days a year. For the 8 days we’re at Disney each year I can throw caution to the wind and we eat what we want, when we want and I don’t think about prices.

    I may not be saving money if I broke it down as you’ve done so well, but not pulling out my CC/cash each time we want to eat or enjoy a snack is worth the price of paying for the DP in advance for me.

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    • July 31, 2019 at 3:32 pm
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      So you’re likely paying more for “cost certainty” and to be restricted as to what/where/when you eat, including possibly having to eat more or less than you ordinarily would otherwise? While that doesn’t make much sense to me, I guess we each have our criteria.

      Reply
  • July 31, 2019 at 4:27 pm
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    We have a light eater 11 yr old. We plan on using 2 credits for ourselves and ordering her an appetizer or sides, and paying out of pocket for them. Saving her sit down credits for our larger meals.

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    • July 31, 2019 at 5:36 pm
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      Great tip!

      Reply
  • August 2, 2019 at 3:35 pm
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    This is a great series! I’d love to see this same logic applied to the reverse, ie, how to get the best value meals when NOT on the dining plan. Seems like the author is quite the expert on the subject!

    Reply
  • August 4, 2019 at 4:29 pm
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    I love this! We took our kids for the first time when they were 5 & 8. We decided on the quick service plan and bought Disney gift cards throughout the year prior to pay for our one, special character meal out of pocket. Table service meals would have been way too much food for our family, especially in the Florida heat.

    Some meals, we definitely came out ahead and some, we knew we didn’t (and there were definitely more snacks than we needed) but I think it evened out in the end. I like to plan everything and mapping out where we ate is just a given when using touring plans! Knowing that we didn’t have to worry about the details and looking at menus ahead of time was a life saver.

    We went to Universal the year after and didn’t do the dining plan and the idea of “spending more money” each time you sit down somewhere to eat was a joy drainer. The peace of mind I gained in knowing the food was already budgeted and paid for made the Disney plan worth it. Eating smart was even better.

    Reply
  • February 17, 2020 at 4:52 pm
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    Since I have to pay adult price for my 13 year old, can I drink his alcoholic beverage? Do you know if they’ll allow you to order one on the 13 year old plan?

    Reply

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