Disney offers dining plans as a convenience to theme park guests. Participants must purchase a ticket, hotel stay, and dining package from Disney (not through an online reseller), have Annual Passes, or be members of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) to add a dining plan. They’re also only available to Disney-run resort guests--so not those staying at the Swan, the Dolphin, the hotels of the Disney Springs Resort Area, or Shades of Green. Except for DVC members, a three-night minimum stay is typically also required. Overall cost is determined by the number of nights you stay at a Disney resort.

You must purchase a Disney package vacation to be eligible for a dining plan, as a family of five from Waldron, Michigan, learned:

We read through the Unofficial Guide and noticed that it said not to book a package during slow season. We were overwhelmed with the decisions that we had to make, so we booked the resort first, then the tickets, and then we wanted the dining plan. Well, they wouldn’t add the dining plan on because we had already booked everything.

How the Plan Works

Each person staying in a given room (ages 3+) must all be on the dining plan and it must be for the entire length of stay. The price and allotments for the various plans are based on the number of nights in the room. It's more easily explained in an example:

The Testa family of 3 adults are 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:

A Table-Service meal is a sit-down restaurant with servers that wait on tables. A Quick-Service (or Counter Service) is fast food-style, often where you order at a counter and find seating yourself. A Snack can several small items such as a pretzel or bottled water. They are often marked as Dining Plan snacks on menus.

The exact allocation of the credits depends on which plan is chosen (see below). The usage of the credits does not change, however. Each guest does not need to use a certain number each day. In the above example, guests may choose to use 1 Table Service Credit, 1 Quick Service Credit, and 2 Snacks each of 5 days. They may also not eat for 4 days and use all of their credits on the 5th day. The pool of credits is attached to your account the day of check-in and the credits do not expire until midnight on the day of check out. How they are used in between there is the guests choice.

Children under 3 eat free from an adult's plate (or from their own if it's a buffet). Tax is included in the price, but a gratuity is not.

The Different Dining Plans


Standard Dining Plan

Disney's standard dining plan (often called simply "Dining Plan") provides, for each member of your group, for each night of your stay:

For the Standard Dining Plan a Table-Service Meal Credit includes 1 entree, 1 dessert, and 1 non-alcoholic beverage OR one full buffet. A Quick-Service Meal Credit includes 1 entree and one non-alcoholic beverage OR one complete combo meal.

Quick-Service Dining Plan

A less expensive version of the standard dining plan, this plan includes meals, snacks, and nonalcoholic drinks at most counter-service eateries in Walt Disney World, but no meals at sit-down restaurants. For each member of you party, per night it includes:

For the Quick-Service Dining Plan a Quick-Service Meal Credit includes 1 entree and one non-alcoholic beverage OR one complete combo meal.


Deluxe Dining Plan

The Deluxe Dining Plan (often called simply "Dining Plan") offers a lot of food. It provides, for each member of your group, for each night of your stay:

For the Deluxe Dining Plan a Table-Service Meal Credit includes 1 appetizer, 1 entree, 1 dessert, and 1 non-alcoholic beverage OR one full buffet. A Quick-Service Meal Credit includes 1 entree and one non-alcoholic beverage OR one complete combo meal.

Disney Dining Plan Components and Costs (per Person per Hotel Night)
Plan Refillable
Mug
Snacks Counter
Service
Meals
Full
Service
Meals
Appetizers
(with Full
Service Meals)
2017 Cost
(inc tax)
Quick-Service 1 2 2 0 0 Adult: $48.19
Child: $20.88
Standard 1 2 1 1 0 Adult: $69.35
Child: $24.95
Deluxe 1 2 3 of either type 1 Adult: $106.68
Child: $38.75

Should You Get The Dining Plan?

The dining plan has been one of the most requested of Disney's package add-ons since its introduction; families report that their favorite aspect is the peace of mind that comes from knowing their meals are paid for ahead of time, rather than having to keep track of a budget while they're in the parks. This comment from an Oakville, Ontario reader is typical:

We used the dining plan, and I'm not sure if it was more expensive than purchasing all the meals separately, but it certainly was convenient. Even if I found out it was more expensive, I would use it again because of the convenience.

A reader from Danvers, MA is even more emphatic:

Get the dining plan! I cannot stress it enough. Yes, it is a lot of food, but it's worth it. You don’t have to bring money with you or debate whether to get the chicken or steak because of the cost. Disney is confusing to begin with and I don't want to think constantly about the cost of food and how much I'm spending. This is a vacation isn’t it?

In our survey of families who have purchased the standard dining plan, a little more than half (57%) would buy the plan again.

That being said, we think many families, if not most, should avoid the standard and deluxe dining plans and simply pay cash for their meals.

That conclusion is based on the following four factors, which are described in detail below:

When The Dining Plan Makes Sense

Our blog readers are experts at figuring out when the dining plan makes economic sense. The most common scenarios they mention include:

Several blog readers suggested splitting Disney's huge sit-down meals in order to save credits for an upscale experience at a Disney Signature restaurant. An Adrian, Michigan reader saw this at Epcot's Le Cellier Steakhouse:

My wife observed a family of 2 adults and 2 children who were on the dining plan but who only used 1 adult meal and 2 kids' meals. The mother asked for an extra plate and ate off the two children's meals, which was more than enough food. Later they got 4 spoons to split the three desserts that dad and the 2 kids received via the meal plan.

Finally, if your group consists mostly of adults for whom a steak dinner and dessert is an integral part of the Disney experience, the economics (and slower pace) of the dining plan may work out better for you.

There's No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

Disney occasionally offers one of the dining plans for "free" for guests who book vacation packages when crowds are low, such as late summer and early fall. The catch is that you'll pay the full rack rate for your hotel room instead of getting a discount. Whether that tradeoff makes sense depends on which hotel you choose, how many people are in your room, and their ages.

For example, we recently priced a 5-night stay at Disney's Polynesian Resort in mid-August, including hotel and theme park tickets, first using a "free dining plan" discount offer and then using a common Disney "30% off" room-only discount. With the free dining plan, the package cost $2,970.70, while the room-only discount totaled $2,098 — a difference of $872, or $174 per night. If you thought you could feed your family for less than $174 per night, you were better off using the room-only discount than the "free dining" offer.

When Disney offers free dining, it usually provides the Quick Service plan for value resorts and the standard plan for stays at moderate and deluxe resorts. Families of at least 3 adults who stay at a value or moderate resort will most likely be the ones to find the "free" dining offer competitive with other discounts. Smaller groups, especially those staying at deluxe resorts, will probably not save enough on food to offset the cost of paying rack rate for their room.

Alternatives to the Dining Plan

One of the biggest selling points for Disney's dining plan is that you've paid for your meals before you leave home. It's possible to get the same results by purchasing a pre-paid debit card and loading it with the same amount of money you'd pay for the Disney plan. The big advantage to using your own debit card is that you get to keep any money left over at the end of your trip. American Express, Visa and MasterCard all have pre-paid cards that can be ordered and loaded from your phone or computer. (The American Express Prepaid Card, which has no activation or monthly fees, seems to be the best deal around.) We're very interested in hearing from families who try this option. Drop us a line if you do, and let us know how it worked.

If your peace of mind absolutely requires a Disney meal plan, consider the quick-service option. As with the standard dining plan, you'll get the most savings using the quick-service meals for lunch and dinner. Even if decide to splurge on a sit-down meal or two, you can use your saved quick-service meals for breakfasts without feeling like you've paid twice as much as everyone else for the same food.

Reader Comments

Readers who tried the Disney dining plan had varying experiences. A reader from Houston, Texas experienced both positives and negatives:

We chose the Deluxe Dining Plan and there was WAY too much food to eat. But let me be clear – the food at Disney was very tasty! We enjoyed eating our way through Disney!

A reader from Pittsburgh was surprised at the variety of healthy food options:

The food court had delicious, nutritious salads, hummus, olive tapenade and other choices for the health-conscious or vegetarians. They were very patient in explaining the dining plan rules and making substitutions. The food was of a much higher quality than I’d expected.

And a wife from Arlington, Virginia had both unexpected benefits and costs:

Our hidden dining plan secret: order the pizza, which is 1 table-service credit each, and it comes with a 2 liter soda! We did it one night and had soda for a week! But we still spent $40 or more at most sit-down dinners on drinks and tip.

 

Last updated on March 7, 2017

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