Disney Dining Plan Tips for 2018 – Is It Worth It?
Today we’re talking about the Disney dining plan. One of the very first questions potential Disney parks guests tend to ask is, “Should I add the Dining Plan?” Sadly, it’s not a one size fits all answer and for a variety of reasons. If you do choose to buy the dining plan, for a family of four (adults) booking a four night stay at Disney resort hotel it is going to cost you around $1200 to add the dining plan. In my opinion, that begs the question, “Is it worth it?” and, “How can you make the most of the plan if you choose to purchase the Disney Dining Plan?” Those are the two main questions we hope to answer for you today.
(D-Luxe Burger at Disney Springs)
To start off, there are three dining plan tiers at this point in time:
1. The Quick Service Dining Plan [Price Per Night: $52.50 for Adults – $21.74 for Kids (ages 3-9)]
-The Quick service plan includes 2 quick service meals per night, 2 snacks per person per night, and one resort refillable drink mug (to be used only at the resorts).
2. The Disney Dining Plan [Price Per Night: $75.49 for Adults – $25.75 for Kids (ages 3-9)]
-The Disney Dining Plan is what most guests choose to go with if they choose to purchase the add-on and is the plan we’ll be offering tips for today. This option includes 1 quick service meal, 1 table service meal, and two snacks per person per night of your stay. You also receive the refillable mug.
3. The Disney Deluxe Dining Plan [Price Per Night: $116.25 for Adults – $39.99 for Kids (ages 3-9)]
-The last plan is perhaps the least utilized simply because of the sheer amount of food the plan includes. Honestly, unless you’re going to Disney solely with the intent to eat all the time, I do not recommend this option. It includes 3 meals per person per night (quick service or table service), 2 snacks, and the refillable drink mug once again.
Each plan has it’s strengths and price differences but inevitably which plan is best for your situation is something that has to be considered on a case by case basis. Personally, we have always opted for the standard Disney Dining Plan option (#2). As prices climb and more filling and diverse offerings arise in the realm of quick-service, option #1 is getting more and more intriguing with the Quick Service Dining Plan. At the same time, we rarely use the dining plan and I’ll explain why at the bottom of this article.
While keeping that in mind, we’re going to move into some of our top tips for utilizing the dining plan to the best of your ability.
Don’t “bankroll” Your Snacks
I know this tip sounds somewhat ridiculous, but far too many guests hoard their snack and meal credits and then end up having to rush to a gift shop or resort dining location at the last minute to utilize all their leftover snack credits the night before they check out. For those of you who may not know, you’re given your “daily allotment” of meals and snacks in one big lump sum on the first day of your trip. It doesn’t matter if you use 5 counter service credits on the first day and none the next day, or 2 table service credits in one day and then none the next. It’s a running total for your length of stay. Inevitably, many guests think to save their snack credits for another day of their trip. Trust me, I’ve learned this one the hard way and the best way to overcome it is that if you see something you want to eat, just use the snack credit and eat what looks good in the moment. If you try to carefully plan it out, you’ll be thinking back on this article as you scourer the gift shop for travel stable snack credit purchases.
(Garden Grill Breakfast)
Building on the last tip, if you do get stuck with extra snack credits or meal credits at the end of your stay, get creative about what you choose to buy. One of our go-to tips for getting rid of those snack credits is to stock up on shelf stable items. For example, the little metal mint containers almost every gift shop sells are considered a snack credit. They don’t go out of date, they travel incredibly well, and they’re not liquids that the TSA will take when you get to the airport. A few other great options are Disney themed PEZ dispensers, wrapped Mickey-Shaped Rice Krispy treats, and the Chip and Dale trail mix bags. In a normal situation there are far better snack offerings that these and this the only time I would recommend using snack credits for these type of items, but if you’re in a pinch it’s far better that trying to eat 6 cupcakes the night before you leave (or is it???).
Pick Better Meal and Snack Items
From a guest experience perspective this seems relatively obvious but for first time guest you may have no concept of the diversity in Disney dining offerings. Particularly at the quick service tier, try and avoid options like Starlight Cafe or the Electric Umbrella in favor of a more creative dining options like Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn in Frontierland or Katsura Grill in the Japan Pavilion at Epcot. The variety of food and the quality of food available at this point at Walt Disney World vastly exceeds the old days of simple amusement park cheeseburgers and chicken nuggets.
Snacks follow a similar frame of thought. Avoid the ice cream carts unless you’re looking for that classic Mickey Bar and instead make your way to the Main Street Confectionary for a fresh baked treat. Over at Epcot, the same is true. Pass up the simple frozen and packaged foods you can get anywhere around the country and use your snack credit for an incredible French pastry at Les Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie in the France pavilion. The possibilities are endless but knowing you have options is a huge key to making the most of your dining plan selections.
(Garden Grill Breakfast)
Order What’s Expensive
One of the true highlights of actually using the dining plan is that in many cases you can order just about anything you want on the menu. Some places you have more options that others, but there’s really no price cap on what you can order. If you want to order something you’d otherwise shy away from due to price, the dining plan gives you that freedom because, in essence, it costs you nothing more!
Try Something New
Along the same lines as the above tip, the dining plan gives you a certain freedom to try something you otherwise would have never tried. Inevitably, this is only a perception in your mind because you already paid for your meal in a different way, but there is a different thought process when you look at a menu when you’re on the dining plan. It’s relatively difficult to explain but if you’re looking at the menu you may see an item like a New York Strip Steak. Maybe you’re not typically a fan of that type of meat for the cost, or quality, or any number of reasons, and you may prefer a filet instead. Well, if the menu has a 10 ounce New York Strip Steak or an 8 Ounce Filet at a similar price you might just order the New York Strip even though you typically wouldn’t. At times, the whole dining plan ordering process messes with your mind and makes you think about ordering in an entirely different way. In my opinion, it’s a good change of pace and creates a new level of freedom when dining in the parks.
Consider the Costs of Gratuity
When many guests book a dining plan they tend to assume that gratuity is included in the plan. Unfortunately that is not true. Instead, gratuity is paid by the guest at each chosen dining location for table service meals. You can add a source of payment to your Magic Band to use to pay the gratuity, but it is not included in your package price.
Typically the cost of gratuity isn’t something you necessarily budget for, but at Disney you almost have to in order to have a reasonable estimation of what your vacation will cost in total. Gratuity can be higher at Disney dining locations due to the overall face price of the meal (especially if you order the most expensive items). At a minimum, expect to pay around $30-$40 per table service meal in gratuity at Disney’s recommended 18%. Some meals may be higher and some may be lower but at $30+ dollars per meal, it’s something you should certainly consider when budgeting out your trip.
Is it Worth It?
Truthfully, this is one of those questions I’ve been asked more times that I can count. I love answering this question because most people don’t entirely realize what the dining plan costs until they see it laid out in their package and, more importantly, many assume they’re saving money. In nearly every situation, you are not going to save money by buying the dining plan. Each plan, when you do the math, is within cents of what you would pay out of pocket to buy the same items that are included in the dining plan. I’ve done the math more times that I care to admit but it is shockingly close to what you would be spending out of pocket, even if you order the most expensive items on every menu.
On the other hand, if you go at purchasing it from the perspective of convenience, it is worth every penny for most guests. It is the most convenient and least stressful way to pay for dining in the Disney parks. That’s what it was designed to do and it does so near flawlessly. For a typical guest, that isn’t overly concerned about saving money during their trip, I do recommend buying the dining plan. For the guest looking to save money on your Disney trip, avoid the dining plan.
Chances are (at least when we travel to the parks) you wont eat everything that would have been included on the dining plan. In that situation you are automatically saving money. Multiply that small savings each day times each member of your group and your length of stay and you may be surprised at how much you can save.
Personally, I no longer use the dining plan unless it is part of a promotional offer. The reasoning behind it is simple. First, it tends to allocate more food that you need to or even want to eat. It’s great for the first few days but if you’re maxing out your choices on the dining plans you tend to be miserable by the end of a week long vacation. Second, and more importantly, it doesn’t really fit the way we dine at Walt Disney World. We split meals, park hop all the time, and have been known to do two table service meals in a day and then the next day just eat snacks throughout the day at Flower and Garden Festival or something of the sort. The logistics of keeping up with it just isn’t worth it for us. Long story made short, we simply eat sporadically and a “plan” just isn’t the best option for us.
That’s the key to the dining plan in general. You have to figure out if it is going to work for your given situation and your individual needs. Do you have a kid that is a picky eater? The dining plan is great for that because of the options it provides. Do you travel solely for the culinary experience? This might be perfect for you! Do you travel with a massive group that is going to be near impossible to keep track of doing credits within? The dining plan may not be the best option of you!
Hopefully, if nothing else, this article helped you think through the dining plan as a whole. If you’re still lost, feel free to drop a comment on this post on your favorite social media platform or feel free to email me directly! Additionally, consider giving our friends over at Destinations to Travel a shout (using our quote request form below). They know these plans like the back of their hand and they help us out in return in various ways. It also helps you support the site at no cost to you! Their services are completely free to utilize and are who we recommend because it is who we have personally used!
As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you’re there, and we’ll keep the conversation going in the future. We’re not the largest Disney community, but we’re one that’s there and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are!
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A few short years ago, I was sitting in a college apartment trying to figure out what was "next" and came up with this idea to share my accumulated knowledge of the Disney Parks and Resorts with others. The end goal was to help others make the most of their Disney experience and it's been quite the journey!