Should you get the Disney Dining Plan for your next vacation?
One of the most frequent questions that I get asked about a Disney Vacation is: “Should we do the Disney Dining Plan?” And like so many other questions that are Disney related, I have to say: “It depends”. In order to decide if the dining plan is right for you and your group there are several factors that come into play. Below is a summary of the dining plan, some scenarios that are IDEAL for using the Dining Plan and a cost breakdown of the 3 options.
What is the Disney Dining Plan?
The Disney Dining Plan is a way to prepay for meals on your vacation. Purchasing a Dining Plan will give you “credits” to use all over Disney property for either snacks, Quick Service meals or Table Service meals. Each person will also receive a refillable mug to use for the length of your stay at your resort. Whichever plan you choose, it must be purchased for your whole party for the length of your stay. All pricing is based on the number of nights you are staying at your resort; credits can be used as soon as you check in, and are good until midnight on the day you check out. Credits are not allocated per day, they are all in your account when you check in. You can check how many credits you have using the MyDisneyExperience app.(Detailed pricing at end of article)
The Character focused trip
The first example we will discuss today is the classic character focused trip. For many first timers the characters are a big part of the Disney “magic”. I always advise clients that a character meal is a good use of time and money (or a dining credit) because you will not have to use your park touring time to wait in lines to meet the characters. (Though I do have strong opinions about which are the best options for both food and character interactions!)
If you plan to do at least 2 character meals, as well as have a sit down meal each day of your trip - the Disney Dining plan is probably worth the money for you. This is especially true if you plan to have your sit down or character meals for dinner, as these are more expensive. I also recommend having a table service meal once a day to first timers, or people with little kids because it is a break from the crowds and the high temps in Orlando! If you are a numbers guy/gal - here are some examples of dinner pricing:
Akershus (princess meal) will cost $60/ adult and $30/child -
Chef Mickey’s dinner (Fab 5 characters) is $59/adult and $35/child
*So if you eat pretty much anything else that day you have already covered the cost of the dining plan - and this does not even include your well deserved glass of wine or cold beer!
Larger groups who are splitting checks
Many times my clients like to travel with friends and/or extended family. This is another occasion when I highly recommend the Disney Dining Plan. These trips have a lot of moving parts, and doing the math on splitting checks after a long day in the parks is not a formula for a fun experience. It helps to have the dining plan and know that everyone has pre-paid for their meals - this also gives the whole trip a more “all-inclusive” feeling and helps things move more smoothly.
Festival Focused or a Short trip
Short trips or trips centered on the Festivals at Epcot may be a great time to consider the Quick Service Plan. If you are just going for a long weekend you may want to really maximize your time in the parks, and some people want to use all that time to take in shows and experience the attractions - this might mean more Quick Service meals in the interest of time! Quick service meals will cost on average 12-13 for just the entree and drinks start at $3.99 and go up (more like $9 and up if you want to have a beer or a glass of wine!) So if each meal is about $19-20 with tax, you have 2 meals for $40 and you can use the snacks to create a 3rd meal.
*Tip: Even if you use your meal credit for breakfast at your resort, you can grab a drink to save for later back in the room- some of us have been known to have a glass of wine on the balcony while the kids are falling asleep!
When I attend the Festivals in Epcot I like to have the Quick Service dining plan because I can use those snack credits to snack around the world! These are a great use of snack credits as most items are $5-9. You can also use a Quick Service credit at the festival booths if you select 3 items at the same booth. This does not include alcohol, so in this case I order 2 food items and a bottle of water. This is often the same cost, if not more, than a typical Quick Service Meal, so a good use of the dining credit!
Foodies and Signature Dining
First of all, let me dispel the myth that all food at Disney World is hot dogs, burgers and fries; yes these foods are available, but there are so many better options out there! Disney World has come a long way since the 1980s version of WDW that you may remember. There are fabulous restaurants all over the resort. I LOVE dining at California Grill to watch the fireworks, or having a dining package at The Hollywood Brown Derby that includes preferred seating for Fantasmic - but these are pricey evenings! Both of those restaurants are “Signature Dining” experiences, and if you are on the meal plan these are 2 table service credits. Want to dine with Cinderella and her friends inside the caste? That’s also going to cost you 2 credits (or up $85 out of pocket/adult!). If you are planning to eat at these restaurants on multiple days of your trip you may want to consider the Deluxe Dining Plan, which includes 3 credits per night of stay, and includes apps and desserts with each meal.
In the end, the decision really comes down to cost and convenience - let me do the math for you to ensure that you get the most out of your budget!