Disney World’s 2014 standard Disney Dining Plan costs $58.66/night. Disney’s cheapest meal plan (besides “Free Dining” which is available for these dates) is the Quick Service Plan, which includes 2 counter service meals per day and a snack for $39.64/night. The Deluxe Disney Dining Plan costs $104.94/night for significantly more. We’ll get to what each version of the Disney Dining Plan includes and whether the Disney Dining Plan is worth the money below. First, some basics.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Disney Dining Plan is a prepaid meal plan offered at Walt Disney World so guests can budget their dining costs in advance and (potentially) save money. The various plans provide guests with a set number of credits that may be redeemed for snacks, counter service (Disney-speak for fast food) meals, table service meals, or signature dining (Disney-speak for fine dining) meals. These credits are stored on the guest’s MagicBand or Key to the World room key, with the receipt provided after redeeming the credits indicating how many credits remain.
The credits don’t have a set dollar value–for example, a table service credit may be redeemed at an inexpensive restaurant for a water, sandwich, and ice cream dessert that would normally cost $23 total, or it can be redeemed at a nicer restaurant for a smoothie, swordfish steak, and Copetta Sotto Bosco that would normally cost $51 total. (These are actual examples from Walt Disney World restaurants, demonstrating the big difference in value a credit may have depending upon at which restaurant and for which menu items it’s redeemed). A lot of information exists about the Disney Dining Plan, with most focusing on how to best utilize these credits so you get better value out of the credits. In fact, our most popular articles concerning the Disney Dining Plan are our Top 10 Restaurants for Maximizing Table Service Credit Value, Top 10 Restaurants for Maximizing Counter Service Credit Value, and Tips for Maximizing Snack Credit Value. Frequent users of the Disney Dining Plan become pretty adept at getting more bang for their buck on the Dining Plan, but some advance planning, first-time visitors to Walt Disney World can also make the most of the Dining Plan.
From time to time, the Disney Dining Plan is offered for free to Walt Disney World guests who purchase a vacation package (including hotel and park tickets). This is known as the “Free Dining” promotion, and is incredibly popular with Disney fans. This promotion is not always offered, but you can see whether there are currently any dates for free dining by clicking here. Remember that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. If “Free Dining” is available, you forfeit another discount that might be available (for example, a percentage off discount on the hotel room). Compare the “Free” Dining Plan to other discounts. With “Free Dining,” you pay rack rate for the hotel room and full price for a minimum number of tickets. For most people, Free Dining is the best discount offered by Walt Disney World. Whether Free Dining is best depends upon party size and resort tier (it’s less likely to be a good deal for smaller parties staying in Deluxe Resorts), so do the math and compare the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion to other available discounts–if there are other available discounts.
The first step, before even booking the Disney Dining Plan, is determining where you want to eat and securing Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) for those restaurants, if necessary. It should be easy to see which Disney Dining Plan best suits your needs, or if the Dining Plan is even necessary. If you only anticipate eating inexpensive meals or want to stay on a tight budget, the Dining Plan probably won’t make a lot of sense. But we’ll get to that…
That’s probably enough background about the Disney Dining Plan for now. If you still have questions (and you probably do), they’ll hopefully be answered below. For a simple system, it’s surprisingly complex, so don’t feel bad if it takes some reading before you fully understand how the Disney Dining Plan works and whether it is a good fit for your party. Let’s dig into what each tier of the Dining Plan includes…
For the purposes of the Disney Dining Plan, a “counter service meal” consists of a combo meal (entree plus side), dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage. A “table service meal” consists of an entree, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage. A “snack” includes items sold at snack carts around the park or in quick service restaurants with the DDP symbol (the purple thing to the left) next to it. What’s considered a snack varies widely, but a good rule of thumb is that if it’s under $5, it’s probably a snack. Tax is always included, but guests pay for tips out of pocket. Two table service meal credits may be used for one Signature Meal, Dinner Shows, Pizza Delivery or Room Service Meal. Children under 3 eat free from an adult’s plate.
The following prices and details of the Disney Dining Plan are valid for arrivals January 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014.
This is the lowest tier of the Disney Dining Plan. This is the tier of the Disney Dining Plan that is typically included with Free Dining at the Value Resorts.
For each person on the room reservation, the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan includes:
The per night price of the Quick Service Plan is $39.64 per adult and $15.75 per child ages 3-9.
This is the standard tier of the Disney Dining Plan (Disney refers to it as simply the “Disney Dining Plan.” To avoid confusion, we’ll call it the “Standard Disney Dining Plan”), and what’s typically included with “Free” Dining at the Moderate, Deluxe, and Deluxe Villa Resorts. For the price difference between the plans, you can upgrade from the Free Quick Service Dining Plan to this plan at the Value Resorts.
For each person on the room reservation, the Standard Disney Dining Plan includes:
The 2014 per night price of the Standard Disney Dining Plan is $58.66 per adult and $18.88 per child, with slight peak season surcharges anticipated.
Excepting the Premium Package ($194/night) or Platinum Dining ($254/night) that are not recommended for anyone, this is the upper echelon of Disney Dining Plans. By default, no resort tier receives this package for Free Dining, but you can pay the difference to upgrade to it.
For each person on the room reservation, the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan includes:
The per-night price of the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan is $104.94 per adult and $29.51 per child during regular season, and more during peak season. In 2014, the Deluxe Dining Plan eclipses $100 for the first time. This plan has had the most significant increases each of the last two years.
If you have further questions that aren’t answered by these pages, check out Disney’s Dining Plan website. There are comprehensive and unnecessarily complicated PDF documents describing the various plans and their rules. Most importantly, the site has a list of participating restaurants (nearly every restaurant participates).
We’ve used both the standard and Deluxe Disney Dining Plan on a number of occasions. We’ve also paid out of pocket for dining on a number of our trips. The Disney Dining Plan has an equal number of fans and critics. We fall somewhere in the middle, disagreeing with both extremes. We think the Dining Plan has its pros and its cons. Let’s take a look at some of them!
Savings – You can save a lot of money on the Disney Dining Plan–even more than Disney touts! If you are a big eater who likes steak and would like to order it at every meal, you can save money with the Disney Dining Plan fairly effortlessly. Of course, this also requires that everyone in your party is a big eater, and that all of you use all of your counter service and snack credits wisely (don’t use them at the last minute to take rice krispie treat snacks back home!). If you’re teens are human garbage disposals and the adults in your party are also big eaters, the Dining Plan can work great for savings. By contrast, a vegetarian almost certainly will not save money on the Disney Dining Plan, nor will someone who orders pasta, or wouldn’t normally order dessert or use a snack credit each day. The Disney Dining Plan is also great for those who really enjoy Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival, when some of the best snacks can cost as much as $7 and can be purchased using snack credits for great value! The Deluxe Dining Plan can be utilized well if you follow the strategy of eating breakfast (or an early lunch) at a Table Service restaurant and dinner at a Signature Table Service Restaurant, plus snacks whenever. This really maximizes the value of this plan! You could eat three table service meals to get a lot of value, but for mortals, it’s simply too difficult to eat three Table Service meals per day! We tried doing an early table service lunch and a late signature restaurant dinner and we saved over 50% by using the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan!. In other words, saving a good chunk of money on the Disney Dining Plan is possible, but it requires either a family of big-eating carnivores, or “normal” eaters who put serious effort (see below) into it.
Effort – If value is your main concern and you aren’t a steak-addict, it can take a lot of pre-planning to save money by using the Disney Dining Plan. Because the margin of savings can be so low, in many cases the Dining Plan causes guests to order the most expensive item on the menu to get “value” out of the plan. Same goes for choosing more expensive restaurants. There have times on the Dining Plan when a cheaper menu item sounded good, but there was that lingering thought in the back of my mind that if I didn’t order something more expensive, the Dining Plan would actually cost us more than paying out of pocket. This blog alone has at least 10 articles about the Disney Dining Plan, and we could probably have another couple dozen and still have people asking us questions. Saving money on the Disney Dining Plan requires a good amount of pre-planning or knowledge of how to work the system if you’re just a normal eater. It’s good to pre-plan where you want to eat at Walt Disney World regardless of whether you’re on the plan (not all restaurants are equal and you’ll need ADRs for some), so that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but using the Dining Plan increases the amount of pre-planning that’s necessary–if you care about saving money. We’ve found that we normally save more with the Tables in Wonderland card than the Dining Plan, and the former requires no pre-planning maximization effort.
Amount of Food – One common complaint is that the Disney Dining Plan often “forces” guests to eat more than they want. While Sarah and I are both big eaters, at times, the Dining Plan is just too much food. There have been occasions when we otherwise would have eaten small counter service meals, but because we had the credits to use, we have eaten at Table Service restaurants. Not only did this result in over-consumption, but it also burned valuable vacation time. If you have a short trip and want to experience as many attractions as possible, this is something to keep in mind. While you can get value out of the Disney Dining Plan, that savings requires sitting down for longer meals and eating a lot of food. If you don’t normally eat as much food as the Disney Dining Plan provides, you aren’t actually saving money–the savings are illusory. You’re over-consuming in the name of (false) savings.
Convenience – Many visitors argue that the Disney Dining Plan is about convenience. We contend that it is not convenient. In terms of convenience, look at it this way: you’re reading an in-depth article about using the Disney Dining Plan, and you’ll probably read other such articles. How many articles have you read titled “Paying for Meals with Cash Info & Tips”? Hopefully none. A convoluted credit system cannot possibly be more convenient than the universal standard of paying money for a billed amount. It just can’t.
Budgeting – This is probably the most contentious point. In addition to supposedly being convenient, a lot of its fans advocate the Disney Dining Plan because it helps them stay on a budget and avoid thinking about money on vacation. Again, this doesn’t pass the smell test. In most cases, when people try to stay on a vacation budget, it’s because there is a need for that budget. Overspending might cause financial strain. Viewed in that light, the Disney Dining Plan doesn’t help with a budget, it helps with predictability. Meals cost the same amount every night, regardless of what’s consumed. The thing is, if you’re on a tight budget and you’d normally spend $35 per person per night on food, but you spend $59 per person per night on food, isn’t that predictability doing you more harm than good? Rather, the Disney Dining Plan allows you to fall back on this predictability and ‘turn off’ your brain with regard to how much dining costs on vacation. If you don’t want to worry about money, purchase a Disney Gift Card (or pre-paid Visa) before the trip. While we don’t advocate making that psychological disconnect between actual and “fake” money, if you really don’t want to think about money, go that route. If you are too lazy to make a dining budget before your trip, chances are you’re too lazy to figure out where to dine to maximize your value, so our assumption is that you’ll end up saving more money with the gift card method.
Sticker Shock – Even if you’re not on a tight budget, menu prices at Walt Disney World can be a bit…shocking. The psychological disconnect we mentioned above isn’t always a bad thing, particularly if you want to splurge or have financial means, but can’t bring yourself to order certain items when directly paying menu prices. The Disney Dining Plan won’t scare you away from expensive menu items. If you love filet mignon, but would shy away from ordering it upon seeing the menu price, the Disney Dining Plan might be for you.
Overall, whether the Disney Dining Plan is right for you is a highly personal decision based on a lot of variables. I can’t say whether the Disney Dining Plan is right for your particular circumstances, but hopefully the considerations above can help with your decision. If you use the Disney Dining Plan for your vacation, make sure you do your homework and PLAN!
With regard to the Disney Dining Plan and restaurants in general, this article is just a jumping off point. First-time Walt Disney World visitors often underestimate the importance of planning (especially for restaurants, many of which are booked solid months in advance) and have a bad time because they didn’t plan enough. To further plan your dining at Walt Disney World, check out our Disney Dining Plan Resources page and our Disney Restaurant Reviews page. Those both have additional information and links to helpful articles, food photos, and more.
Dining is just one element of planning a Walt Disney World trip that can be overwhelming. We have a full Walt Disney World 2014 Trip Planning Guide that you should read, but we also recommend The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World 2014, which is a comprehensive resource for eating at Disney and trip planning in general. Blog posts like this are helpful, but I find that when you’re actually on vacation, it’s nice to have information organized and indexed all in one place. Given the incredible expense of dining at Walt Disney World, this book is definitely a great resource to have with you on your Disney vacation!
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What is your experience with the Disney Dining Plan? Thinking about using it? I would love to hear what your thoughts are about the Disney Dining Plan, and how it works–or doesn’t work–for you, in the comments! If you have any questions, ask them there, too.