What Each Disney Dining Plan Component Costs For 2014

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[Update: Our statistician Fred Hazelton suggested we post the computed costs of dining plan components from previous years, to show how prices have gone up. Prices from 2012 are now included in the Results section.]

Last week we did a presentation to Furman University math students on the math and science behind a Walt Disney World vacation. (You can see my presentation to the class here.)

One of the things we discussed was how you could use a system of linear equations to determine the value of each component in Disney’s dining plans. And then I realized that I hadn’t run the numbers for 2014. So here they are. (If you want to follow along in Excel, here’s the spreadsheet. You’ll need to load Excel’s Solver add-in.)

Disney has 3 versions of its dining plan:

  • The Standard Plan, with 1 quick-service meal, 1 table-service meal, and 1 snack per person per night of your stay, plus a refillable mug good for the length of your stay, for $60.64 per night
  • The Quick Service Plan, with 2 quick-service meals and 1 snack per person per night, plus a refillable mug, for $41.99 per night
  • The Deluxe Dining Plan, with 3 meals at any combination of quick-service and table-service locations, 2 snacks, and 1 refillable mug, for $109.53 per night

A first attempt at modeling the Standard and Quick Service plans as math equations might look like this:

Version 1

(Standard Plan) 1Q + 1T + 1S + 1M = $60.64

(Quick Service) 2Q + 0T + 1S + 1M = $41.99

 

In English, the first line says that the cost of one quick-service meal (Q) plus the cost of one table-service meal (T), plus the cost of one snack (S), plus the cost of one refillable mug (M) is $60.64. The second line is similar, and reflects the fact that there are zero table-service meals.

But we need to tweak those equations a little bit. You’ll notice that the equations refer to the per-night cost of the quick-service, table-service, and snack components, but the mug is one per stay. Thus, cost of the mug should be spread out over every night of your stay.

That requires us to make an assumption as to how many nights are in the average Disney World hotel stay. Let’s say it’s 4 nights. In that case, you’re really  using 1/4th of the mug’s cost each night, so the equations should look like this:

Version 2

(Standard Plan) 1Q + 1T + 1S + 0.25M = $60.64

(Quick Service) 2Q + 0T + 1S + 0.25M = $41.99

 

Now the equations more accurately reflect the amortized cost of the refillable mug, and every variable is expressed in per-night costs.

Next we’ve got to add an equation for the Deluxe Dining Plan. The tricky part here is that the Deluxe Plan’s 3 meals can be in any combination of quick-service and table-service restaurants, so we have to make an assumption about how many times we’re likely to eat at each per day.

Let’s make a starting assumption that if you’re buying the Deluxe Plan, you’re really interested in eating at Disney, and more specifically, at sit-down restaurants at least 2 times per day.  (This is a safe assumption, since there are other dining plans for people who want to visit sit-down restaurants 0 or 1 times per day. If you wanted fewer than 2 sit-down meals per day, you could just choose one of the other plans.)

One of the things I decided to do in Excel was let Solver try to figure out the right ratio of counter-service and table-service meals in the Deluxe Dining Plan. In my runs, Solver generated reasonable results with around 0.5 counter-service meals and 2.5 table-service meals per day. That’s one counter-service meal every other day. That seems like a lot of food, but keep in mind that if that’s not what people want, they’d choose other dining plans.

Here’s the updated version with the Deluxe Plan and its assumptions:

Version 3

(Standard Plan)   1Q +   1T + 1S + 0.25M = $60.64

(Quick Service)   2Q +   0T + 1S + 0.25M = $41.99

(Deluxe Plan)   0.5Q + 2.5T + 2S + 0.25M = $109.53

 

Next, it helps to give solver a set of constraints about the various costs. Examples of constraints include:

  • Snacks cost less than counter-service meals
  • Counter-service meals cost less than table service meals
  • Snacks cost more than $1 and less than $7
  • The value of the refillable mug is at least $3 but not more than $18 (because that’s what a length-of-stay mug costs at retail)
  • A counter-service meal costs at least $5 and less than $25

These kinds of constraint guides Solver towards a reasonable answer. You can see all of the constraints I used in the spreadsheet.

The next step is to run Solver a few times with different random starting values for Q, T, S, and M. Why? I’m not exactly sure, other than Solver picks a point in the search space to start looking for valid solutions, and random prices decreases the chances of Solver getting stuck.

Results

Solver came back with several solutions whose values of Q, T, S, and M got to within $0.01 of the exact price of the Standard and Quick-Service dining plans, and within $1.40 of the Deluxe Plan.  Using these values of each component in the plan, the total error for pricing every plan was between $0.01 and $1.50:

Each counter service meal is worth $14.75 to $18.07 [in 2012: $14.60]

Each table service meal is worth $33.50 to $36.72 [in 2012: $33.15]

Every snack is worth $4.24 to $4.50 [in 2012: $4.18]

The refillable mug is worth $8 to $12 [in 2012: $8]

How to Use These Numbers

You can use these numbers to determine whether a dining plan is right for you. Take a look at our Walt Disney World restaurant menus and ask yourself whether you’d spend between $14.75 and $18.07 for a quick-service meal, or $4.24 to $4.50 for a snack, or around $33 to $37 for a sit-down meal.

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Len Testa

Len Testa is the co-author of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and has contributed to the Disneyland and Las Vegas Unofficial Guides. Most of his time is spent trying to keep up with the team. Len's email address is len@touringplans.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @lentesta.

30 thoughts on “What Each Disney Dining Plan Component Costs For 2014

  • June 1, 2014 at 11:54 am
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    Thanks for this information. I think the dining plan makes sense if pretty much every table service meal is a buffet. Buffets are generally more expensive than the cost you list, and I think it’s buffets that cause Disney to set the prices where they do. The dining plan will rarely make sense for someone not eating at buffets.

    Reply
    • June 1, 2014 at 3:42 pm
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      I come up with the exact opposite conclusion that the buffets are the worst way to make a dining plan pay for itself. I am currently pricing out a trip this year for dining. The buffets I am looking at for dinner are about $40/adult; the breakfasts are in the $25-$35 range. That is only $75/day at the most expensive end. We will not eat a 3rd meal a day; our third “meal” will be snacks. I have already ruled out the QS and Standard DP as not a good value for me because I do not always want the most expensive item on the menu. With the QS, I cannot even find meals that would cost me the $14.75-$18 per meal. The Standard DP does not work because we like the 2 credit meals, so I would still be paying out of pocket for meals on some days on top of the DP.

      My son and I did the Deluxe DP last year for 3 nights, spreading the meals over 4 days eating a breakfast and dinner each day. We had 1 day where we ate snacks and 1 2-credit dinner, and another day where we had 1-credit breakfast & a 2-credit dinner. We ate snacks when we were hungry in between & had 1 snack credit remaining on our last day. With 1 adult and 1 child, we saved about $100, assuming we would have made the same dining choices paying out of pocket. I do not think we would have come out ahead if he were classified as an adult until he hits the teenage eating years. In the four days we were there, we only filled the mug about 3 times, so the mug is not worthwhile to me (& never has been, so my personal value for the mug is $0).

      Reply
  • June 1, 2014 at 12:06 pm
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    And THIS is why I never use the plan… trying to “get ahead of the break even point” I never understood. buying an item you really don’t want because it’s $8.00 more than the Item you really want… just so you can stick it to Mickey??? I won’t go into the restaurant quality aspect. Just notice each restaurant has a “shrimp pasta” for $34.95.. gotta make up for the DDP folks eating the most expensive item.

    Reply
  • June 1, 2014 at 2:16 pm
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    Do you have the data for the kids dining plan as well?
    We are going in October and are not sure if the DP is worth the money for us.

    Reply
    • June 2, 2014 at 3:07 pm
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      Sandra – you might qualify for free dining promo in October if you stay in a qualifying Disney resort. You have to decide if that is worth it for you cost wise to stay at a Disney Resort though

      Reply
  • June 1, 2014 at 2:30 pm
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    I have a hard time justifying the dining plan for an adult but we have 2 kids under age 9. They love character meals and so the dining plan saves us a ton when you consider what we would pay for them OOP.

    Reply
  • June 1, 2014 at 2:42 pm
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    This is awesome. Thanks for posting the PowerPoint as well, Len.

    Reply
  • June 1, 2014 at 3:31 pm
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    Enjoyed the PowerPoint presentation. I am glad you left time for questions. Here is mine:
    If a family of four chooses to use the Disney Dining Plan for three days and selects three Fast Pass Plus times each day while staying at a Moderate Resort for two nights using the Annual Pass discount but the two children have non-expiring Magic Your Way passes with only two days remaining, why does Stitch’s Great Escape still suck? Discuss.

    Reply
    • June 2, 2014 at 6:11 am
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      If we go back to Geometry, Roger, it’s obvious that the hypotenuse of Stitch’s diameter bisects the TTA at an acute angle. By Pythagoras’ Second Theorem, this means Stitch sucks.

      Pythagoras’ Third Theorem? “Trams are for suckers.”

      Reply
  • June 1, 2014 at 3:58 pm
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    I want to be Fred Hazelton when I grow up. 🙂

    Reply
  • June 1, 2014 at 7:25 pm
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    We just came back from an 8 day trip w/ adult and 2 kids, 3 & 5. We did do 4 of character meals and had 4 other ADRs scheduled besides that, and a general don’t use a snack credit for a snack under $3, we ate what we wanted and didn’t try to beat the system by ordering the most expensive thing on the menu or eating at the most expensive places. I didn’t even keep track at the time of how much we would have spent at the time. I did remember what we ordered and I reconstructed it we saved about $250. I will admit that I did order a dessert that I couldn’t finish once ( it wasn’t very good either) and I did take my dessert home once and ate it the next day for snack. I probably wouldn’t have order it if it didn’t come with the plan but I’m glad I did. I eat everything but my husband eats no fish and not a lot of meat. He prefers salad, cous cous, pastas, etc, so I doubt he ever ordered the most expensive thing on the menu (or even 2nd or 3rd most).
    My parents were also on the plan, and I don’t know if they did as well as they never totally got the concept of the snack credit. I’m glad they had it though because my dad is the type to worry about how much he’s spending and the fact that the receipt always said 0 made him happy. He ordered steak and mom my ordered seafood and they felt spoiled because they didn’t care what it cost.
    For us it did work and I really liked it.

    Reply
    • June 2, 2014 at 6:08 am
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      Thanks Ali! Good to hear the plan was useful for you and your folks. What’d your parents think of the food quality?

      Reply
  • June 1, 2014 at 9:11 pm
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    How does sales tax figure in to the equation? The last time we used the dining plan I don’t remember paying sales tax.

    Reply
    • June 2, 2014 at 6:06 am
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      Ah, yes. All of the prices include tax, including the cost of the components in the Results section. Good point.

      Reply
  • June 2, 2014 at 8:59 am
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    Excellent information and nice to see the component cost breakdown and how it’s changed in the last couple of years. We first did the dining plan in 2007 when tax, tip, and appetizer were all included. It was an excellent value and we were definitely better then the break even point. We had a group gathering for Christmas last year, and booked the standard DP. In this case, with 17 people, it ended up being a great “value” because of the convenience of it. Sometimes, no amount of true cost savings compares to the ease of sitting down to eat at the busiest time of the year — and every person is able to get what they want without worrying about price.

    I agree that with the markups making the value less and less, does it really make sense to book the dining plan and expect to save money? No. However — the potential for an increased “happiness” factor for all involved, and to truly try some sit down places you normally wouldn’t be able to are two big deciding factors in the dining plan. My family has done the dining plan 5 times (4 standard, 1 quick) and I can say without a doubt that I would never have tried 5 of the restaurants if we hadn’t had the DP. Ultimately, each family is unique and will do what’s best for them, but at least having accurate information helps in the planning to help each family choose the best option for them.

    Reply
    • June 2, 2014 at 2:09 pm
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      We took a group of 11 extended family members to Disney last fall. We were originally going to purchase the dining plan for everyone for “convenience” but were unable to do so because our room reservations were at a deeply discounted convention rate. The convention travel agent didn’t know how, or was unable, to add the meal plan (not the free meal plan, we couldn’t even pay for the regular meal plan and do a package it was strictly room only or loose the discount). So instead of buying everyone the dining plan we gave them gift cards in the amount of the dining plan and they ate as they pleased. While I was initially disappointed, this turned out to be a good solution for our group and they all had money left over at the end of the trip for souvenirs 🙂

      Reply
      • June 2, 2014 at 2:14 pm
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        Hey Anne, can I quote you on this? And where are you from?

      • June 2, 2014 at 2:23 pm
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        sure, Sun Prairie, WI

  • June 2, 2014 at 9:42 am
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    If you are travelling from outside US, from a country where the exchange rate is not fixed, the dining plan is a great way of keeping the food budget under control, and paid month before the trip.

    I also enjoy the fact that as my 3yo has her own food payed for, I don’t have to order just pasta to share with her because it’s her favorite… 🙂 She can have the mac and cheese, eat what she can and I can have my seafood or fish, without worrying about the bill.

    Reply
    • June 2, 2014 at 3:02 pm
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      The exchange rate might be in your favor of you wait. And you can exchange money a month out.

      The ddp is worse than cash unless you OTHERWISE WOULD HAVE eaten exactly what you ordered on the ddp.

      But it certainly is nice to know that you’re already paid for.

      Reply
  • June 2, 2014 at 3:46 pm
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    Have you compared using the uk offers for 2015?

    For 2015 we have a free breakfast quick service credit which disney advertise to be worth £11.99 per adult.

    I’ve looked at QSDP and DDP to compare Uk and US costs to buy the plan and both give a rather poor exchange rate around $1.44 to £1 Apply that to the free breakfast and it makes that credit worth around $17.37 – now I’ve looked at the counter service menus and you’d be hard pushed to spend anywhere near that amount on breakfast.

    I have since read that using it for breakfast won’t be enforced and so it is just a one quick service meal credit and so the value fits right into your result above.

    Reply
    • June 4, 2014 at 3:42 am
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      Hey Oliver-

      I haven’t compared the regular meal plans for the UK. Let me know what prices you’re being advertised, though, and an exchange rate, and I’ll plug in the numbers.

      Those breakfast numbers don’t sound encouraging. And I’m not sure I’d want to try to eat $17 in quick-service breakfast before going to a park.

      Reply
      • June 4, 2014 at 3:57 pm
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        Hi Len

        2015 advertised uk prices through Disney are

        QSDP adult £28.99 kids £11.99
        DDP adult £41.99 kids £13.99
        DxDP adult £73.99 kids £20.99

        As far as I know you can’t buy the breakfast offer, but you get it free when staying at the values. Disney claim it is worth £11.99 per adult, £4.99 for kids. Likewise QSDP is free with moderates and full DDP free at the deluxes almost year round.

        I based the exchange rate it appears disney are using on the QSDP and DDP prices uk vs US, but that is probably comparing uk 2015 price to US 2014. Still a sensible tourist rate would be $1.62 to £1 at the moment so they are valuing the breakfast offer somewhere between $17-20.

        £41.99 vs $60.64 for the full plan (albeit different years) gave me the $1.44 to £1 rate

        The text of the advert says breakfast offer but then says a counter service credit, so at that ‘value’ it must be any counter service meal. If it works for any other time of day we’ll be happy, if not, nothing is lost. We have only figured on it being ‘worth’ about $200 to us on what we’d probably eat at breakfast over two weeks.

  • June 2, 2014 at 9:02 pm
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    Last Disney trip we got free dining. We didn’t really like the constraints of sit-down dining every day and since we do eat 3 meals a day, the plan never covered all of our food but it definitely saved us money on that trip.
    This trip in July we don’t have the free dining offer so I’ve crunched the numbers several different ways. I have a very small appetite and almost never eat full meals but I snack often. If we eat mostly counter service, I can get the kid’s meal or share with my daughter and we aren’t obligated to ADRs and spending time at sit down meals. Even if we include a few buffets for which I pay full price no matter how little I eat, we still come out ahead by paying as we go.
    Bottom line, I would never get the dining plan unless its free!

    Reply
    • June 4, 2014 at 3:41 am
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      Thanks Joanna! Good planning. At which hotel did you stay?

      Reply
      • June 4, 2014 at 6:59 pm
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        Port Orleans Riverside is our go-to. Quieter than the values and not a whole lot more expensive.

      • June 5, 2014 at 2:54 pm
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        Port Orleans Riverside is our go-to resort. Very quiet and the food court is sometimes busy but very tasty!

  • June 3, 2014 at 9:50 pm
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    Is there a way to calculate in gratuity? Isn’t it true they charge you an automatic gratuity that is NOT included; and therefore would have to still have money to pay out of pocket for this? What is the percentage?

    Reply
    • June 4, 2014 at 3:40 am
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      They don’t add an automatic gratuity as part of the dining plan*, so yes, you’d still have to pay something on top of the plan’s cost at each table service restaurant. That’s typically 15-20%, average around 18%, of what the bill would have been without the dining plan.

      *If your party is 6 or more people, Disney adds an 18% gratuity to every bill, regardless of whether you’re on the dining plan.

      Reply
  • June 15, 2014 at 9:29 am
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    We always do the Quick Service and the pay for Dinner at whatever restaurant we choose. I have an 8 & 14 year old,and we use Counter Service credits as a “snack” for all three of us, including a drink. Example, 1 Adult CS credit gets you the Shawarma platter at Tangerine cafe which is a great “snack” for all three of us, with a drink 1/2 way around World Showcase. Same thing for the Tacos or Nachos off of the kids menu at La Hacienda de San Angel. By employing an approach like this, we could have toured Epcot and had snacks all day without using up the 3 a day we are allotted, and still have 3 adult and 1 child QS meal credits left to sit down and eat at any other counter service.

    Reply

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