The Dining Plan is the biggest waste of money ever!
You’ll save so much money with the Dining Plan!
Which of these statements it true? The answer, as with most things Disney, is “It depends.”
So let’s break it down to figure out whether the Disney Dining Plan is right for YOU. (And remember, even though it was right for your best friend, that doesn’t mean it will be right, or wrong, for you.)
First let’s define some things:
What is the Disney Dining Plan?
The Disney Dining Plan is a way to pay a flat rate in advance for meals at Walt Disney World. There are several variations on the plan: for people who want just quick service meals, for people who want primarily table service meals, and for people who want something in the middle. TouringPlans has written lots of articles about the various Dining Plans over the years. The price information in the links below is out of date (sometimes far out of date), but if you take a glance at them, you’ll get a good idea about what to expect.
The Basics: A Cost Analysis of the Disney World Dining Plan, February 2016
Who Can Buy the Disney Dining Plan?
The Disney Dining Plan is available only to guests staying at Disney-owned resort hotels. These hotels are:
- Art of Animation
- All-Star Movies, Music, & Sports
- Animal Kingdom Lodge & Villas, Jambo & Kidani
- Beach Club & Villas
- BoardWalk & Villas
- Fort Wilderness Cabins & Campgrounds
- Caribbean Beach
- Contemporary & Bay Lake Tower Villas
- Copper Creek Villas & Cabins
- Coronado Springs
- Grand Floridian
- Old Key West
- Polynesian Village
- Pop Century
- Port Orleans French Quarter & Riverside
- Riviera Resort
- Saratoga Springs
- Wilderness Lodge & Boulder Ridge Villas
- Yacht Club
Are there other requirements?
The Disney Dining Plan may only be purchased in the form of a vacation package, which includes a Disney resort stay, theme park ticket (or annual pass), and the Dining Plan. A minimum three-night stay is typically also required. The Plan may be used by regular Disney World guests as well as by Disney Vacation Club members paying for their room with DVC points.
In order purchase the Dining Plan, all guests (ages 3 and up) staying in the same room must buy the same version of the Plan. Additionally, all guests must be on the plan for their entire length of stay. You cannot, for example, only buy the plan for five nights of a seven-night stay.
There is other fine print as well. Make sure you check out all the details before signing on.
How Does the Plan Work?
The Disney Dining Plan gives each guest an allotment of meal “credits,” based on the number of nights of their hotel stay. The credits may be used in any order from the time the guest checks in to their hotel until 11:59 p.m. on the day of checkout. Even if you might not have access to your room until late afternoon on your check-in day, you can use your Dining Plan credits early in the day, once you’ve registered.
There are several versions of the Disney Dining Plan: the standard plan, called the Standard Disney Dining Plan (often abbreviated DP); the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan (QSDP); the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan (DDP); and the newest variation, the Disney Dining Plan Plus (DDPP).
What’s the Difference?
The dining plans vary based on the number of table service meal credits, quick service meal credits (also known as counter service), and snack credits allotted to each guest on the plan.
STANDARD DINING PLAN
On the Standard Disney Dining Plan, for each NIGHT of their stay, each guest on the plan will receive one table service meal credit, one counter service meal credit, and two snack credits, and they will also receive one resort refillable drink mug.
It’s more easily explained in an example:
The Testa family of 3 adults is staying at Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort for 5 nights. They have chosen to purchase the Standard Dining Plan (outlined below). Because they are there for 5 nights, each person in the room gets:
- 5 Table Service Meal Credits
- 5 Quick Service Meal Credits
- 10 Snack Credits
- 1 Resort Refillable Drink Mug
QUICK SERVICE DINING PLAN
On the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan, for each night of their stay, each guest on the plan will receive two quick service meal credits, two snack credits, and one resort refillable mug.
For example, the Testa family of three adults is staying at All-Star Sports for 5 nights, and they have chosen the Quick Service Dining Plan. Because they are there for five nights, each person in the room gets:
- 10 Quick Service Meal Credits
- 10 Snack Credits
- 1 Resort Refillable Drink Mug
DELUXE DINING PLAN
On the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan, for each night of their stay, each guest on the plan will receive three meal credits usable for either table service or quick service meals (your choice), two snack credits, and one resort refillable mug.
For example, the Testa family of three adults is staying at the Polynesian Village for 5 nights, and they have chosen the Deluxe Dining Plan. Because they are there for five nights, each person in the room gets:
- 15 meals credits of any type
- 10 Snack Credits
- 1 Resort Refillable Drink Mug
AND THE NEW DISNEY DINING PLAN PLUS
The new Disney Dining Plan Plus option is essentially a happy medium in between the Disney Dining Plan and the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan.
On the Dining Plan Plus, for each night of their stay, each guest on the plan will receive two meal credits that may be used in any combination of table service and quick service meals (your choice), two snack credits, and one resort refillable mug.
For example, the Testa family of three adults is staying at Saratoga Springs for 5 nights, and they have chosen the Dining Plan Plus. Because they are there for five nights, each person in the room gets:
- 10 meals credits of any type
- 10 Snack Credits
- 1 Resort Refillable Drink Mug
What do “table service,” “quick service,” and “snack” mean?
Table service restaurants are those at Walt Disney World where a server takes your order at a table and brings your food to you while you are already seated. While the procedures are somewhat different, most buffet restaurants at WDW are also considered table service venues. Most table service restaurants require one table service credit for payment. However, there are several restaurants at WDW that cost two table service credits per meal. These include the dinner shows like Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue, special dining experiences like Cinderella’s Royal Table, and the gourmet or “signature” dining restaurants such as Citricos and Hollywood Brown Derby.
A table service credit entitles you to one entree, one dessert, and one beverage OR one full buffet. For the beverage entitlement, guests under age 21 may choose one non-alcoholic beverage (including “specialty beverages” like milkshakes, smoothies, or hot chocolate). For guests 21 and older, the beverage may be a non-alcoholic, alcoholic, or specialty drink. If you’re on the Deluxe Dining Plan, your table service meals include the above, plus an appetizer.
Quick service locations are those where you order your food while standing at a counter (or online via the mobile order function of the My Disney Experience app) and carry your own food to a table.
A quick service credit entitles you to one entree and one beverage OR one complete combo meal. Guests under age 21 may choose one non-alcoholic beverage (including “specialty beverages” like milkshakes, smoothies, or hot chocolate). For guests 21 and older, the beverage may be a non-alcoholic, alcoholic, or specialty drink.
Snacks credits may be used for most single-serve packaged foods or small dishes costing less than $6.00. Typically examples of a snack would be a bag of chips, a Mickey bar ice cream, or a bottled beverage. There are numerous exceptions to what counts as a snack. Look for a small purple-and-white checkerboard symbol to indicate which menu items are eligible for Dining Plan snack status.
Not every restaurant at WDW participates in the Dining Plan, but most do. There are participating restaurants at all Walt Disney World locations including the resort hotels listed above, the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, Typhoon Lagoon, and Blizzard Beach.
What does the Dining Plan Cost?
In 2020, the Dining Plan pricing (per day) is:
- Quick Service Dining Plan
- Adult $55.00
- Child $26.00
- Standard Dining Plan
- Adult $78.01
- Child $30.51
- Dining Plan Plus
- Adult $94.61
- Child $35.01
- Deluxe Dining Plan
- Adult $119.00
- Child $47.50
Can You Give Me an Example of How I Might Use My Disney Dining Plan Credits During My Vacation?
Let’s assume that you are an adult with the Standard Disney Dining Plan, staying on site for five nights, arriving Monday morning and departing Saturday afternoon. During your trip, you are allotted 5 table service credits, 5 quick service credits, 10 snack credits, and a refillable mug. Your meals and snacks can be used any time you like during your trip. For example, you could use:
- One table service credit, one quick service credit, and one snack credit each on Monday through Friday. Then dine on six snack credits on Saturday and use four snack credits on packaged treats to bring home.
- Use three table service meal credits on Monday. Use four snack credits and one table service credit on Tuesday. Use two quick service credits and two snack credits on Wednesday. Use three quick service credits on Thursday. Use one table service credit and three snack credits on Friday. Use one snack credit on Saturday.
- Use two table service credits on Monday. Use two table service credits on Tuesday. Use one table service credit and two quick service credits on Wednesday. Use three quick service credits on Thursday. Use five snack credits each on Friday and Saturday.
You get the idea–you can be as flexible as you want with the order and timing of your credit use during your trip.
Now that we’ve defined our terms, let’s figure out whether the Dining Plan might be for you.
To decide whether the Disney Dining Plan makes financial sense for you, ask yourself:
- Do I like to splurge on vacation, eating more than I usually do at home?
- Are any members of my party particularly fussy eaters?
- Do any members of my party have limitations to the types of food they’ll consume due to vegetarianism, medical considerations, religious considerations, or the like?
- Do I want to take time out from park touring and rides to have sit-down meals?
- Do I want to have dessert every day? With more than one meal per day?
- Do I want to partake in character dining experiences?
- Am I interested in gourmet dining experiences?
- Am I interested in dinner shows which combine entertainment with a meal?
- Do the members of my party have big appetites? Are they willing/able to share an entree, dessert, or other item?
- Am I willing to prepare some meals myself? For example, am I OK with having cold cereal or a granola bar in my room for breakfast?
- Am I willing to drink tap water rather than bottled water or other beverages?
- Am I traveling during a time of year when high outdoor temperatures mean that I won’t want to each large meals?
- Will character dining be a big part of our vacation?
Based on your responses, construct a sample plan for your party and price it out using our menu links.
For example, if you’re a family of four (two parents, a 12 year old, and an 8 year old), a sample one-day menu on your Magic Kingdom day could look like:
[Note: For the some of the sample meals below, I am pricing the meals such that the 12-year-old is eating kids’ meals. The portion sizes at WDW are large, many older children (and some adults) choose to eat from the kids’ menu rather than the adult menu. This saves money and reduces waste. If your family would behave differently, your sample meals should reflect that.]
Breakfast at Crystal Palace:
3 x $42.00 (for the adults and the older child) plus 1 x $27.00 for the child
= $153 for breakfast
Lunch at Columbia Harbor House:
1 Lighthouse Sandwich $10.69 and 1 Dasani Water $3.50 (parent one)
1 Harbor Salad $8.99 and 1 fountain soda $3.99 (parent two)
1 kids chicken nugget meal package (includes beverage) $7.49 (12yo)
1 kids Uncrustables meal package (includes beverage) $6.49 (8yo)
= $41.15 for lunch
2 boxes of popcorn ($5.25 each) and 2 bottles of Dasani water ($3.50 each) to share among the family
= $17.50 for snacks
Dinner back at their hotel, Wilderness Lodge, Whispering Canyon Cafe
2 glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon (parents) $11 each
1 Land and Sea Skillet (parent one) $34.00
1 Cedar Plank Salmon (parent two) $26.00
1 Chicken and Cheese Quesadilla meal, includes beverage (child one) $8.00
1 Grilled Chicken meal, includes beverage (child two) $10.00
Total for the Day = $311.65
Compare this to the daily price of each of the Dining Plans for this hypothetical family:
Quick service plan would be: $191.00
Standard plan would be $264.54
Dining plan plus would be $318.84
Deluxe plan would be $404.50
There’s a lot to think about regarding these choices relative to the prices of the Dining Plans. For example,
- The price for this sample day of eating is similar to the price of the dining plan plus, $311 vs $318. HOWEVER, you would not be able to acquire these exact food choices solely by using the standard plan. The standard plan only covers two meals. So if you want to eat like this you’d either have to get the DDPP for $318 and add the $41 for lunch (totaling $359). You’d either have to supplement your original dining plan outlay, or bump up to the Deluxe plan and overpay by almost $100.
- The sample menu above is a ton of food. Given the start with the Crystal Palace buffet, it’s unlikely that you’d need lunch at all; the snacks might suffice for mid-day sustenance. If this is the case, your cash price would be about $270 for your daily food. This is close to the standard plan price, but again, the plan wouldn’t cover this particular combination of meals.
- If you opt not to get the alcohol and not get the snacks, you get in the ballpark of the standard plan price, but again the that version of the plan wouldn’t over this exact food.
- If the 12 year old wants more food than kids’ menu items, the sample plan number would be higher, but likely still not as high at the deluxe plan price.
- How would the math change if both parents ate more-expensive or less-expensive entrees.
- How would you feel if you couldn’t get reservations at the restaurants you wanted?
- Is two big sit-down meals in a day too much? Not enough?
Common Food Discounts/Savings Tips
Also bear in mind that the prices for some of the meal above might have a little wiggle room, and other possible savings might come into play.
- Annual pass holders and Disney Vacation Club members receive discounts at some restaurants.
- Annual pass holders and Florida residents may purchase the Tables in Wonderland discount card.
- Bringing your own food into the theme parks rather than purchasing on site can be a big savings. (Easy for breakfast and snacks.)
- Eat dinners outside Disney property. Many local restaurants offer their own coupons.
- D23 fan club members may be allowed discounts at some restaurants.
- Disney portions are large, and can often be shared between several family members.
Non-food Economic Considerations
One other HUGE aspect of the Dining Plan math is that the Plans are only offered as part of a package that includes a room and park tickets. The hotel rates associated with the packages tend to be on the high side. You can often get hotel deals through third-party agencies like Priceline with savings that would far outweigh any financial benefit of buying the plan.
James Rosemergy does an excellent job of covering this topic. Common reasons some folks opt for the dining plan even when the math doesn’t make perfect sense is:
- They think it’s easier to budget for a flat fee than for lots of individual meals.
- They don’t want have to think about whether an individual item is expensive when they’re sitting in a restaurant.
I understand that, a bit. To me, the biggest non-economic reason to NOT get the dining plan, is that it dictates the types of food I eat, rather than me deciding in the moment.
I mostly don’t want dessert at lunch, but the dining plan includes it. If it’s offered and I’ve paid for it, I’d probably eat it, even if that wasn’t advisable from a health perspective. (Yes, I understand this is vacation, and I do splurge, but there are limits.) If I were on the dining plan, I’d probably be focused on eating a lot of meat, which is more expensive than the plant-based meals I’ve been favoring lately, simply to “get my money’s worth.” Think about how your psychological reactions might be in situations like this.
What do TouringPlans users think about the dining plan?
TouringPlans users are a varied lot, so opinions do vary. A few comments from our TP Forums include:
“I signed up to a dining plan for a theme park visit in the UK. I did it out of convenience. But in order to make it value for money I had to be both greedy and wasteful.”
“Remember character meals are expensive. And if you are doing them anyway, it could be worth it. Especially travelling at peak times when the prices go up! We loaded those type of meals over 2 holiday weekends.”
“All my calculations have been with actual costs of food at Disney. And also based on what we actually eat. In order to make the Dining Plan “worth it”, we would have to force ourselves to eat more than we would otherwise, which means it isn’t really saving anything…just padding our waistlines.”
“The Dining Plan wasn’t worth it in my case. It was more money for us, but we’re also eating one night at Shula’s which doesn’t accept the Dining Plan. But the Deluxe Dining Plan for 9 nights was about $700 more than paying out of pocket.”
“I really think this is so specific to the group traveling. For example, our daughter is 13, but eats light; always off the kids menu. So it’s significantly cheaper for us to pay out of pocket, versus paying the adult price for her on the dining plan. Also, I tend to snack all day versus sitting down for meals, so it’s more convenient for me to not have to think about credits. Look at the rates, and think about how your group will eat. It is a good idea for some, just not for us.”
“I even priced it out numerous times with eating MOSTLY signature restaurants for just two people, and OOP is still considerably less money spent.”
“As a general rule, [on the dining plan] dinner gives the best value, followed by lunch and then breakfast. Dining packages (like the Fantasmic or Rivers of Light dining packages) are almost always good value.”
As you can see there are innumerable variables that can tip the odds for or against the purchase of a particular package or particular discount plan. An hour or two of research and calculation could save you many hundreds of dollars. However, if you don’t have the patience for that, a few rules of thumb generally apply:
- The bigger your appetite, the more likely the Disney Dining Plan is to make sense for you.
- The more guests ages 10 and up in your party, the less likely adding the Disney Dining Plan to your vacation will make sense. Older kids might not eat enough to justify the cost of the required adult plan.
- Some dining discounts might not be available during peak holiday seasons (Easter, July 4, Christmas).
- If you’re a vegetarian, the list cost of meals will likely not justify the cost of the plan.
- On the dining plan, you’re better off from a financial perspective if you eat your meals at the most expensive one-credit restaurants. These are often character meals. If character meals are not your thing, you might want to think twice.
What are your thoughts on the Dining Plan? Got any tips to share? Let us know in the comments.