For many of you, the Disney Dining Plan has always been and will always be a part of your Disney vacation experience. However, it may not be quite the “good deal” some guests believe it to be. Personally, I’ve used the dining plan many times, and to be quite honest we really enjoy using it when we travel. It is worth noting though that while it is incredibly convenient (and convenience is worth a lot in many circumstances), it may not be saving you any money in the long run and you may very well be paying more for your Disney dining.
First and foremost, I just want to say that we are in no way criticizing the dining plan. It’s an outstanding service that really simplifies the Disney dining experience for so many first time and returning guests while offering an upfront price and a flawless booking experience. With that being said, if you are trying to save as much money as you can (as many of us are), it may not be the best option in your individual scenario. To really illustrate the point, let’s take a quick look at a typical day in the Magic Kingdom.
When we travel as a family, we’ll typically make a reservation for Crystal Palace at some point throughout our day in the park. It’s really become a tradition over the years and is a great way to get a break from the heat, enjoy some great food, and the iconic Main Street theming. Of course, this is certainly not a budget friendly dining location. Lunch and dinner rates are typically $42 for adults and breakfast comes in quite a bit cheaper at $30. Of course, these rates can fluctuate due to Holidays and special events where Disney sees it fit to raise prices.
Later on in the day we tend to either grab a snack of some sort. An ice cream cookie sandwich at the parlor on Main Street or even something as simple as a dole whip over in Frontierland are excellent snack options both on and off of the dining plan. No matter how you use your snack credit for the day, you’re likely going to make a selection that costs less that $6. After a few somewhat recent changes, just about anything that is single serve is a portion of the dining plan options.
Towards the end of the night, we tend to use our counter service offering. Counter service does tend to vary in cost fairly substantially by location, but a good example in this situation is Columbia Harbour House. The location features a vast variety of seafood and non seafood offerings, but everything on the menu comes in at or around $14 for an entree. It’s plenty of food for most adults, but what really starts to add up are the drink and dessert costs which are automatically included in the dining plan. Drinks will run you $3.29 and desserts (which many guests may or may not order without the plan) will add another $4 or so to your dining experience. All in all, using the prices from Disney’s website, you’re looking at roughly a meal that costs $21.29 for one adult. It’s a nice meal, but when you break it down, it really doesn’t have to be that expensive. If you simply drink the free water (non-bottled) given out at the counter, and avoid the dessert, your price drops to simply $14. For most guests, that’s a much more manageable priced meal for one adult.
With all meals and snacks considered (using Disney’s listed pricing), here’s the breakdown:
- Table Service Meal (typically one table service dining credit): $42
- Counter Service Meal (as ordered if you were on the dining plan using one counter service credit): $21.29
- Snack (one snack credit on dining plan): $6
Total: $69.29 for one guest for one day
Here’s the kicker on the whole system, the Disney Dining Plan will cost you $69.35 per day for each adult. Essentially, if you ordered everything as listed you would break even on your dining plan purchase. Meal strategies for each guest do tend to vary drastically, but as a general rule of thumb, you may end up paying even slightly more for your dining plan and it’s convenience factor that if you simply paid out of pocket for the same selections (out of the 100’s if not 1000’s of snack and meal combinations there may be exceptions but this is generally true). There are certainly merits to both options, but to be completely honest, if you’re looking to save money, the dining plan typically isn’t the way to go. Most guests wont order the amount of food on their own that is included in the dining plan automatically and you also don’t have to limit yourself to strictly dining plan accepting locations. Plus, if you plan on eating at the Yachtsman or other high end dining options, you won’t have to use two table service credits on your plan to experience the meal (a great experience but one you may not want to lose another meal for).
As mentioned, I have absolutely nothing against the dining plan and have used it many times, but it’s not always the best option for every budget. Sometimes you’re better off using a good travel agency to help you book your must-do dining experiences (we recommend Destinations to Travel: Free quote request form down below) rather that simply purchasing the dining plan and trying to find a meal for each and every day. They may be able to help you find new ways to save money and will likely help you decide whether or not it is the best option for your unique situation. When you narrow it down to a few of your favorites, you’ll be surprised at how much money you may be able to save and have an equally enjoyable vacation experience.
As alway, this is simply my opinion. Every guest figures out what works for them in their given scenario. However, this is a great way to configure your budget in a new way to potentially save some money along the way.