Disney Dining Plan v. Paying Out of Pocket

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Walt Disney World’s Disney Dining Plan has become a popular pre-paid “eat what you want” meal plan that some people swear by. It’s especially popular during “Free Dining” season, when it’s offered as part of a package discount (unquestionably the most eagerly anticipated discount of the year for Disney enthusiasts). The Disney Dining Plan is easy to use and if you eat a certain way, or plan well, you can save a lot of money. There’s no question about this, and we even have a number of resources on our site devoted to helping people maximize their savings on the Disney Dining Plan.

What isn’t so clear is whether using the Disney Dining Plan saves you money versus paying out of pocket if you don’t eat the certain way it is designed. If you’re party consists of light eaters, or you are spontaneous, or are able to use the Tables in Wonderland card, is the Disney Dining Plan right for you? A lot of guests visiting Walt Disney World just assume the Disney Dining Plan will always save them money, which isn’t always true. In fact, a lot of times it will cost more money than paying out of pocket, and that’s the case even when the Disney Dining Plan is offered for “free.”

Rather than approaching this in the abstract, we decided to do a little “case study,” taking all of our receipts from our most recent 4-day trip to Walt Disney World, adding up our totals, and comparing our out of pocket costs to what we would have spent if we used the Disney Dining Plan. We’ll then examine free dining to explain why that doesn’t always save you money.

Disney Dining Plan v. Paying Out of Pocket

Case Study

On our recent 4-day Walt Disney World trip, we visited a number of restaurants, both table service and counter service, and had a lot of snacks. Most of our plans for dining were made at the last minute shortly before the trip or on a whim the day of, which meant that we didn’t do the math in advance to determine whether the Disney Dining Plan would have been right for us. Had we booked the Disney Dining Plan in advance, our plans would have changed to better suit the Plan and “save” more money. That said, we ate exactly where and ordered exactly what we wanted while paying out of pocket on this trip.

We arrived mid-afternoon our first day and left mid-afternoon our last day. Here’s where we ate and how much we spent:

Day 1:
Flower & Garden Festival Kiosk – $13.11
Garden Grill – $73.62

Day 2:
Everything Pop Food Court – $7.01
San Angel Inn – $54.92
Flower & Garden Festival Kiosks – $6.92
Artist Point – $120.79

Day 3:
50s Prime Time Cafe – $63.20
Restaurantosaurus – $25.92
Auntie Gravity’s – $5.52

Day 4:
Landscape of Flavors – $10.80
Tusker House – $57.78
Animal Kingdom Snack – $4.25

What We Paid…
Subtotal: $443.84
Tables in Wonderland Proportional Cost: $25
Total: $468.84

What We Would’ve Paid on the Disney Dining Plan…
Disney Dining Plan Cost: $333.54
Out of Pocket Cost: $253.50
Total: $587.04
Unused Credits: 0 Table Service, 3 Counter Service, 0 Snack

Disney Dining Plan v. Paying Out of Pocket

Okay, time for a little explanation. How much we spent at each location speaks is the total we paid, including tip (~18%) and less Tables in Wonderland discount. All of these amounts added together form the basis of the subtotal, which is $443.84. Now, since we benefited from a Tables in Wonderland discount, and since that card costs $100 and we take about 4 Walt Disney World trips per year, I’ve attributed $25 of the card’s cost to this trip. That brings the total we spent on food for this trip to $468.84. Follow so far?

Tracking the amount spent gets a little trickier on the Disney Dining Plan. If we were on the Disney Dining Plan, we would have spent $333.54 on the plan alone, which would have given us each 3 credits for table service meals, counter service meals, and snacks (since our trip was 3 nights long).

As for the out of pocket portion there, the Disney Dining Plan does not cover tips, nor does it cover some other things we ordered, like alcohol and appetizers. We also paid for two table service meals out of pocket, since we only had enough credits for 3 table service meals, and we ate 5 table service meals. Here, I made sure to apply the Disney Dining Plan credits in the most efficient manner (so in this hypothetical, I applied a snack credit to a $4.25 cupcake rather than a $2.19 coffee, etc.).

Finally, the unused credits show what we didn’t use. We exceeded both our table service and snack credit allotments, but only had 3 counter service meals, so we would have had 3 credits remaining. Were we actually on the Disney Dining Plan, we would have used all of these credits, and not done one or two of the table service meals that we did. It’s also worth noting that for some meals we ordered appetizers and split desserts (or didn’t order dessert), which wouldn’t have been efficient on the Disney Dining Plan, but we ordered what we wanted since we didn’t have to consider the Plan.

Walt Disney World: Better Options Than The Disney Dining Plan?

Case Study Conclusion

I normally do this math (very roughly) before each trip based upon menus from places we’re dining to get an idea of whether we might want to use the Disney Dining Plan. The first thing I want to note here is how liberating it was to do things spontaneously and not do this degree of planning (of course, I ended up doing even more work after the fact for this blog post, but whatever) and just eat what and where we wanted to eat without thinking about credits or Disney Dining Plan efficiency.

To that end, I think it’s much more convenient to NOT use the Disney Dining Plan. I say this in our review of the Disney Dining Plan, and I know this flies in the face of why so many people use the Dining Plan, but I don’t possibly see how it’s more convenient to use the Dining Plan than to not use it. Unlike what some people say, you are not “just” paying the cost of the Plan and then forgetting about dining costs and “eating whatever you want.” You’re pre-paying a portion of the cost, then paying another (significant) cost at each meal in the form of tips. Oh, and you can only eat certain things and have to plan the types of meals that work with the Disney Dining Plan, otherwise you waste credits.

When paying out of pocket, you show up where you want, order what you want, and pay for what you ordered. Done. I’m not even going to address the “budgeting” argument, as without extensive pre-planning, you can’t completely budget dining costs with the Disney Dining Plan any more than you can when paying out of pocket. So that’s a wash. Our experience with both paying out of pocket and with using the Disney Dining Plan has been that paying out of pocket is unquestionably more convenient. Any convenience of the Disney Dining Plan is illusory.

More importantly, what about actual savings? Based on my numbers, we clearly saved more money by not using the Disney Dining Plan and instead paying out of pocket and using Tables in Wonderland (we would have saved more even without the Tables in Wonderland card). However, in fairness, those numbers are a bit misleading. As mentioned above, we didn’t eat in a manner that fit the “style” of the Disney Dining Plan, and we had a table service-heavy trip. Honestly, we could have changed our style pretty easily without negatively affecting our experience and that would have made the gap between out of pocket and the Disney Dining Plan a bit smaller. By that, I don’t mean trading Artist Point for a counter service meal (unless there’s an AMAZING counter service restaurant we’ve never heard of, that swap would have had a negative affect on our experience!), I mean not ordering appetizers and instead doing more desserts.

Something that would have negatively affected our experience, but would also have decreased BOTH totals would have been to eat 2 additional counter service meals and 2 fewer table service meals. Obviously, this would have decreased the Dining Plan total more than the out of pocket total since we had the unused counter service credits on the Dining Plan. In fact, my rough math shows that, had we done that, the totals would have been almost even.

My preference is eating whatever I want at any restaurant and dining at the two table service restaurants rather than adding 2 counter service restaurants to the plans, but the point remains. For the sake of fairness to the Disney Dining Plan, we’re showing that a change to our plans could have made a big difference in terms of costs. We don’t want to make it appear that paying out of pocket will always be considerably cheaper than using the Disney Dining Plan, because that’s simply not true. It was true on this one trip we took, but is definitely not always true, even for us. On other occasions, we’ve saved a lot of money by using the Disney Dining Plan! In fact, this article is sort of a “counter-point” to last year’s case study showing how we saved a lot of money on the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan. (Just to show we’re not biased one way or the other…)

This also shows that there is no single answer to the out of pocket versus Disney Dining Plan question in terms of savings. The results can substantially deviate based upon your personal dining reservations, plans, and eating habits. While my numbers illustrate this point, they offer little more than illustration, and are really little more than academic here. The real point is that both paying out of pocket and using the Disney Dining Plan can each be viable options worthy of consideration. In other words, don’t just rely on the numbers presented here–read past them and do your own math if saving money is something about which you really care.

When you do the math, don’t base your calculations on what the Disney Dining Plan provides. Base your numbers on what you’d actually like to eat on your vacation. If you don’t do much snacking at Walt Disney World, but would take home a bunch of bags of Disney candy with unused snack credits if you had to, don’t factor that candy into your calculations. It’s not something you really want, and just because you would use snack credits on the candy (instead of letting the credits go to waste), doesn’t mean those credits are “worth” $4.19 each. Spending more money to “save” more money isn’t really saving money at all–it’s wasting money.

Walt Disney World: Better Options Than The Disney Dining Plan?

What About “Free” Dining?

I mentioned Free Dining above, and the same principle that the Dining Plan–even when “free”–doesn’t always save you more money. This is something I’ve harped on in the past, and it’s worth sounding like an ornery nag for the sake of hammering home, because many people still don’t seem to understand this: FREE DINING IS NOT FREE.

Walt Disney World almost always has discounts. The place is like the Kohl’s of vacation destinations. No one is paying full price at either place, making full price/rack rates almost meaningless. Since the statement that Free Dining isn’t really free seems to confuse a lot of guests, let’s go through it point by point. Walt Disney World almost always offers discounts on vacations. If you book with one discount, you cannot book with another discount (at least guests from the US can’t). Free Dining is one discount that Disney offers. A room-only discount of 20%/25%/30%/35%/40% off is another discount Disney offers.

It thus becomes a question of opportunity cost. Do YOU save more money paying with free dining and a full priced room and tickets than you do with a room discount and paying out of pocket for food (and with potentially discounted tickets)?

If Free Dining were offered during our visit (it wasn’t), it would have been a far better offer because room-only discounts were meager. Then again, meager room-only discounts partly explain why free dining wasn’t offered. If discounts are meager they are meager across the board, and they are meager because Disney doesn’t need to use them to “persuade” more guests to visit (this is why summer break discounts are so rare). When Free Dining is offered, it’s usually offered in off-seasons when room-only discounts are also usually much more substantial.

It’s frequently true that Free Dining is the best discount. If you have a family of 4 staying in one room, no matter the resort, that’s usually the case. However, if you have a couple staying in a more expensive room, it’s often not the case. Sarah and I frequently staying at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, which often has a 30% room-only discount or Free Dining when we stay there.

With a 30% off discount at BoardWalk Inn, we save around $125 per night with a 30% off room-only discount during our annual Epcot Food & Wine Festival trip. This is more than the average daily amount that we spend on food, which is why we book the room-only discount at BoardWalk if both discounts are offered. If there were 2 more people staying in the room with us, that would tip the scale in favor of Free Dining. Likewise, a family of 4 staying at a non-Deluxe resort, such as Disney’s Coronado Springs, is probably going to find that they save much more with Free Dining than they do with a room-only discount. I know everyone hates math, but the point, once again, is that you have to do the math for your circumstances to know for sure. Better to suffer through a little math and save some money than just assume based on marketing buzzwords like “free,” be wrong, and end up paying more.

Walt Disney WorldEPCOTVia NapoliWhile not the best restaurant for value on the 2013 Disney Dining Plan, Via Napoli is a great place to eat in Epcot!

Our example illustrates why it’s important to do some advance planning when it comes to dining at Walt Disney World. You vets out there already know this, but if you’re a first-time visitor or are only really familiar with Disneyland, you may not realize this. Planning your dining is almost as important as booking your airfare. A lot of Walt Disney World restaurants book up months in advance, and the difference in experience between a good and a bad restaurant is like night and day. We highly recommend reading some of our restaurant reviews and checking out menus online before before making your Advance Dining Reservations. Not only will they give you an idea of what restaurants to book, but they’ll help you do the math and figure out whether the Disney Dining Plan or paying out of pocket is right for you!

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Your Thoughts…

Do you typically use the Disney Dining Plan or do you pay out of pocket? What works best for you? I would love to hear what your thoughts are about the Disney Dining Plan, and how it works–or doesn’t work–for you. Share your thoughts in the comments!

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132 Responses to “Disney Dining Plan v. Paying Out of Pocket”

  1. Michael says:

    I wholly agree with your skepticism about the Dining Plan, with one additional angle: its complexity for servers! On our last trip, my wife and I paid for our meals out of pocket, and though we only planned a few table-service meals, the relief on our servers’ faces was evident when they didn’t have to explain the Plan’s limitations, or what meals were available, or anything else like that. As you noted, we were able to order anything we wanted without worry, and that flexibility was definitely worth it.

    Your photos, as always, are superb!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      That is a great point, and something we REGULARLY notice when not using the Dining Plan. Not only are servers relieved, but I think we receive better service and more gratis “treats.”

      Just wait until you see some of the other photos from this trip! :)

      • Chris says:

        So they limit menus at Table Service to certain meals when using DDP? I thought you could get anything as long as it wasn’t alcoholic and worked with your plan, ie.. regular plan doesn’t include appetizer.

  2. Chris says:

    We’re staying at BLT at the end of April and we’re giving the DDP a try. I did the math beforehand and it seemed to work out in our favor. But the thing is, most people don’t do the math and the planning, that’s what is most important. I think the best thing we can do is use our snack credits at the F&G booths as some items are $6.99 and higher.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Whenever you have Food & Wine Festival booths (or in this case, Flower & Garden) for using snack credits, you are at a great advantage.

  3. Cara says:

    Best Line Ever! “The place is like the Kohl’s of vacation destinations.”

  4. I love this post. It makes a lot of sense. I think, however, for first time visitors, it may be easier to use the dining plan as they get to know the restaurants, values, etc. For a seasoned traveler, it makes so much more sense.

    Realistically, the ONLY reason why I would do the dining plan these days is for the option of paying for food in advance. A lot of people have a very strict budget to follow and the dining plan helps them not spend out of control while in Disney. They must realize however, that the dining plan may end up costing them more in the end.

    Thanks for sharing! (PS- New NetworkedBlogs follower!)

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Thanks. Despite your kind words, I’m going to take issue with both of your points… 😉

      1) How is it easier for first time visitors? In the real world, you pay money for food you order at a restaurant. Paying out of pocket at Walt Disney World is exactly what you do in the real world. I have overheard more servers explaining the DDP to confused guests than I can count. If anything, I think the DDP is easier for seasoned guests who understand its nuances.

      2) With all of the resources available these days on the internet, I don’t see how the DDP helps people budget. If someone tells me their party size and where they’d like to eat, I can give them a dining budget range in about 15 minutes just by glancing at the menus and their price ranges. Pick a number somewhere in that range, and order accordingly.

      My parents, and thousands of other Disney guests, budgeted for trips for decades before the internet and DDP came into popularity without issue. There’s no reason anyone NEEDS the DDP to budget. This might be controversial, but…it’s not that people can’t budget without the DDP, it’s that they are afraid to do so or are just flat out lazy.

      But thanks for the comment! Really! :)

      • Zach says:

        “Budget” is a word we hear and see in use less and less. Congress has forgotten what it means.

        One sees the “pay in advance” reasoning repeatedly when this topic arises. Here is how I pay in advance: Save money in the bank leading
        up to the trip, make a tad (small tad these days) in interest, put meals on my Amex and pay the balance when I get home. How hard is that?

      • maarch says:

        I can understand his point. Before when going to disney we would always tend toward the fast food option or cheaper food. We didn’t explore much. Then for one trip we decided to take it. It would cost us more than usual but I figured it could be ” easier ” to pay everything in advance. On one side… budget wise it is not the best. BUT it did force us to check out the restaurant in disney and discover so many amazing places that we might otherwise never have been to.

        Now, for my upcoming trip we are going back to budgetting ( after 2 trip on the DP ). And of course yesterday I did the math. We checked all the menu and guess what we would order. In the end we might have for around 900-1000$ worth of food in 8 days. BUT we are going to 3 signatures restaurants and also on some days we are getting a breakfast, lunch and diner. All of that for the same price as the DP ( around 55$ per days ).

        I also did the math to compare with the Deluxe Dining Plan that you were talking about. 82$ worth of food… that is a LOT of food everyday and we just could’nt see ourself eating so much.

        So all in all, budget wise it’s not so great. But for new visitor to Disney. I can see the advantage of paying upfront. Not having to worry once there and it “force” you to go discover table service that you might have skipped otherwise because you didn’t feel like paying once you are there.

  5. Amy W. says:

    We used the DDP on our first trip. This was in 2006, when we had 2 kids 9 and under ($10 a day) who were happy to eat off the kids menu. Appetizers, desserts and tip was also included. Even with all that, in hindsight we decided it was not a value for us. We are lighter eaters, and since we always hit rope drop we like a nice table service lunch (sitting down in air conditioning and being served seems like so much more of a break than standing in line, then going on an empty table search). So, all the ways you can maximize your DDP savings don’t work for us. Plus, by the next year we had a “Disney Adult” who still wanted to order off the kids menu. Because he was 10. And a kid.

    On the other hand, our neighbors LOVED the DDP because he is a major penny pincher. He would have never agreed to ANY table service meals, but she was able to tell him that it was all “included”. Made them both happy.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      We used it for the first time in 2007 on a Cast Member discount, and also loved it. We would have paid full price for it, in fact.

      Part of me wonders if Disney introduced it at a lower price point to get people “addicted” to the DDP with every intent of raising its price and cutting what it offered later, or if Disney realized people would pay much more for much less, and then decided to make the cut. I’m guessing the latter, but the former would be pretty clever.

  6. Julie says:

    We always use the dining plan. The kids get to do the character meals and we always come out at least $300 ahead, including our tips. We also love how easy it is for us.

    • Linda says:

      We have been going to Disney for many, many years with our own children. We now have the opportunity to join our daughter and her family and see it through our young, 4 and 2 grandchildren’s eyes. We have never, ever gone on the DDP and wanted to see if it’s worth the hype. We normally stay at the Value Resorts and in particular over the last few years, Pop Century. Not because we are cheap but to pay such expensive prices for a hotel room that you are barely in doesn’t seem smart. A nice clean, secure place is fine with us. Most of the time it seems their room discount only offers for value have been reduced to 15%. We booked a package, upgraded from the Free Quick Service Dining Plan to Disney Dining Plan for a fee of approx. $300 for my husband and I. My daughter was a bit higher because of my 4 year old granddaughter, herself and her hubby. My grandson is 2 and allowed to eat from an adult plate. 11/11-11/19 with a pin. I don’t see how it isn’t worth it. Being a Disney Veteran, we are going to more Character breakfast and dinners and great restaurants that we normally wouldn’t go to. Breakfast alone for an adult at a character breakfast costs around $30 with dinner as high as $60. We have grown tired of the quick service, not so good food. It forces you to sit down and enjoy your family time together and enjoy some good quality food while witnessing the smiles on our grandchildren’s faces. Agenda, Breakfast and Dinner at Ohana, Be Our Guest for Dinner, Fairytale Dining Cinderella’s Castle, A Buffet with Character Dinner, Play N Dine Breakfast, Chef Mickey, Mama Melrose, Princess Storybook Dining, Chip N Dale Harvest Feast Dinner…another point is we are thinking we may actually like having to go and sit to eat dinner, breakfast where you tend to put it off because you are taken in by your surroundings. More often than not at the end of the day, many times we have ended up grabbing a bit to eat at the hotel before bed because we just didn’t want to stop and try to get through the crowds for some not so good fast food!

  7. Michael says:

    Tom, excellent review of the DDP vs. paying out of pocket. I was one of the dining plan faithful before I did the math after a trip and found that I wasn’t eating enough to cover the costs of the plan and have since switched to paying out of pocket.

    I do have one thought that may be worth pointing out in case anyone ends up using the dining plan and has credits left over. I don’t know if Disney advertises it, but you can use credits from the categories above for the lower categories (ie. using a table service credit at a counter service restaurant or using a table or counter service credit for a snack. While that certainly isn’t the best use of the credits, if anyone finds themselves at the end of their trip with any credits left over, its worth using them up even if its just for snacks. The credits have been paid for, why not use them up?

    In the case of your example above, the unused counter service credits could have been used to offset some of the extra snacks, but given the small cost of the snacks, the end result would still be a significant savings by paying out of pocket.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      This is a great point, and definitely something worth doing in a pinch!

      However, it’s not something I would plan on doing. I shudder as it is when people say how great the Disney Dining Plan is because they can use all of their snack credits to bring home Mickey Mouse Rice Krispie Treats…

  8. I agreed with many, many of your points. Especially about free dining not always being the cheapest option. I am a travel agent, who specializes in Disney vacations. And I routinely price out the different discounts for clients. I just had to make two points (both as someone who books these and someone who takes them). When you are traveling with small children, who want to do character meals the dining plan can work in your favor (especially the deluxe dining plan). Second, the cost of the Tables in Wonderland card cost was included but you also had to pay for the annual pass. The cost of the pass is often much more than a base ticket (and although I know you can use discounts with the card for many of my clients there is no intention of returning within a year and the 5% difference in room discounts is not enough to invest in an annual pass) and then buying the TIW card on top of that is significant. I have done the math but I am not sure the total investment in both of these would end up saving one-timers any money. Finally, because you have the ability to travel so frequently your eating habits are vastly different than people who go once and have a checklist, Chef Mickey’s, Cinderella’s Royal Table etc… I think that for many people the plan can save or at least not cost them anything. Dana

    • Jamie says:

      I do think that the biggest caveat to this decision is, “It depends”. We are a family of 5 and have done DDP twice and will probably do it for our trip this November. First time, just DH, DD (4 at the time) and me. Having the base DDP means that we choose to go to character meals for all of the TS credits. Doing this meant that our daughter could spend more quality time with the characters and we would have had to make ADRs anyway – no chance of walk-up service. Second trip included our boys who were 2 1/2 at the time. So, again, many characcter meals and, since they were under 3, got to eat for free which, at buffets, meant they could pretty much eat whatever they wanted. My conclusion is, if you’re a family with young kids and want to do character meals/buffets, want to plan out your meal times in advance, then the DDP is probably a good deal. I don’t look at it as a “free” deal at all – it really is pre-paid. And, of course, there are times when we have to take a dessert that we don’t want to eat. But this is not a big deterrent. Our upcoming trip is during F&W and I definitely feel like we’ll get our money’s worth with the snack credits this time (party of 5 for 5 nights = 25 “snacks” – watch out food kiosks!). Perhaps, as our kids get older and don’t need to go to all character meals, it may not make financial sense to do DDP. I appreciate the blog posting – certainly everyone’s circumstances for going to WDW are different so there’s no one right answer. But it’s good to keep in mind that Disney is very good at being profitable!

  9. Kris says:

    I am not a fan at of the Dining Plans at all. What if you’d like to eat off property or don’t want dessert with every meal. My family NEVER orders dessert at CS locations. We always grab popcorn or ice cream or another snack in between meal times. My girlfriend and I are much more prone to order an appetizer than a dessert and we also enjoy a drink or two with dinner. With Tables in Wonderland we are at an advantage to guest’s that can’t take advantage of it. Even with TIW it bothers me how much the restaurant’s menu’s are alike (filet, a fish, pork, etc.) compared to when they had individual flare and drink menu’s. Not to mention the price driven up to make the Dining Plan appear to be a good value.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      “Not to mention the price driven up to make the Dining Plan appear to be a good value.”

      This REALLY bothers me. If the DDP didn’t exist, there’s no way half these restaurants could charge what they charge.

  10. Ashley says:

    My husband and I leave for WDW in 27 days for our honeymoon and have done so much math my head feels like it is going to explode! At first we were going to go with the QS dining plan but after figuring that to be about $800+ for our stay we decided to plug some numbers. We picked out restaurants we would want to eat at, both quick service and counter, and then had fun just looking at menus and finding what we think we would eat. We did crunched numbers and found that after factoring in where we would and realistically how much we would eat we wound up saving $200. We decided to set aside a set amount of money each day for food and to try and stay with in that for that day. A lot of the time the dining plan is just to much food and it definitely sucks up the freedom of eating where you want without feeling the guilt of having to use all your credits.

    Great post as usual!!

    • Ashley says:

      Also just as point of reference for everyone. We averaged every quick service meal to be $10.99 and snacks to be $6.99 and a drink at $2.19. For all of that for 14 days WITH buying the refillable mugs each time we change hotels (which is four times) if we were to buy the quick service plan we would only be saving $1.56.

      • Tom Bricker says:

        Are you saying that if you take a single trip with multiple hotel stays, you actually buy new refillable mugs at each hotel?

        …I don’t know what Disney’s “official” rules on this are, but there’s no way I’d buy new mugs with a hotel change on the same trip.

      • Ashley says:

        Well “techinically” if you were to follow the rules they way I have read it you are supposed to buy a new refillable mug for each property you stay at. I know they have been putting in the RFID machines on the self serve soda fountains and those are supposed to be good just for your stay at that particular resort. I know they were testing it at a few resorts but I can’t remember off hand which ones. As long as they don’t have those we only plan on buying one mug for our trip.

        Anybody else have any insight on this?

      • Tom Bricker says:

        I know this was tested at one of the All Star Resorts a year or so ago, but I’ve never seen it in person.

        Personally, I wouldn’t care what Disney’s technical rules are in this situation. It’s ludicrous to expect guests to buy new mugs for different hotels that are part of the same stay. So long as Disney has no enforcement mechanism for making guests abide by this rule, it is something that I’d personally ignore. Not only does it not make sense in practice (two consecutive 1-night stays at different hotels = 2 mugs, but one 14-night stay at the same hotel = 1 mug), but it’s wasteful. Don’t substitute my ethics for your own, though…

        Then again, I don’t really have an issue with guests bringing back current mugs from trip to trip. If it were as big of an issue to Disney as it is to some sanctimonious folks in the fan community, Disney would take proactive measures, such as RFID readers or…unique mug designs…or even a singular design that changes more than once every other year.

  11. My parents and I used the DDP in 2006 and absolutely loved it. We used in again in 2011 – with my husband and son in tow this time – and decided never again. Not only did we have counter service meals remaining when we went home, but we decided it was just too much for us. We wouldn’t normally do a table service meal every day. We wouldn’t normally get dessert with every meal. We enjoy an adult beverage with dinner. We felt we were either paying out of pocket for things we wanted (wine) or pre-paying for things we may have not wanted (dessert).

    I’ve done lots of research, and for the way we typically travel, the DDP doesn’t make sense for us. The only reason I am even remotely hesitating on ruling it out completely for our trip in October, is due to the use of snack credits at the Food & Wine festival. I can’t decide if that would be worth it or not. My gut reaction is no, it still doesn’t make it worth it. But I’m still hesitating…

    • Tom Bricker says:

      We haven’t done it for our last two F&WF trips, but ONLY because we were going for WDW’s 40th Anniversary and Epcot’s 30th anniversary, so we wanted flexibility in doing things with friends at the last minute, etc.

      We will take a hard look at the DDP for this F&WF trip, because the cost of grazing the kiosks can add up FAST. I suspect we’ll do the lowest tier of the DDP. I really wish it still offered 2 snack credits per night!

  12. Chronic Gin Deficiency says:

    Dining Plan delenda est.

    When you do the math, don’t base your calculations on what the Disney Dining Plan provides. Base your numbers on what you’d actually like to eat on your vacation.

    Rationality has no place in Disney fandom, Mr. Bricker. Your naive faith in its practitioners disappoints me.

    I’m always flabbergasted at “dinning” reports on That Other Site, where the writers go to amazing lengths to have meals, and order courses, that they end up not eating. ‘Cos it’s like, free, ‘n stuff.

    I’m an episodic gavone to an extent that would make Adam Richman look like a piker, but no way could I sock away the daily intake those people order. Holy Mother Church has Her hooks deeply enough in me that I find it ethically repugnant as well. Really? You ordered a damned life raft full of ooey-gloppy-toffee-travesty, and took one bite, ’cause it was free? Fifty years in purgatory, coming right up.

    I know enough servers to confirm they do pretty much loathe the dining plan. Hell, as a guest, whenever I’m seated near a multi-generational party of eight or ten on the dining plan, I’m looking for a fire alarm to pull.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I’m willing to give most guests a pass on this. People reading Disney blogs, forums, etc., are in the minority. Most guests do very little planning, and go off of what Disney, AAA, or their travel agent tells them. If the DDP is pushed on them as this great thing that you can’t do without, that’s not totally on them…

      Now, in a perfect world, they’d perform their due diligence and make an informed decision. To be fair, I can’t say I’ve always done my due diligence before traveling to a new location. I’ve ALWAYS found that the experience is better when I do, though.

      • Chronic Gin Deficiency says:

        I’d actually put all the burden on Disney for the static attendant to the dining plan. Guests shouldn’t really need to give something like a meal plan more than a cursory glance. It’s not like they’re going to Nepal, or something.

        When it first came out, it truly was point-and-shoot, and the servers liked it (mainly because it built in a pretty good tip). The choices, exceptions, and conditions have gone way overboard. My aversion is that the problems with dining plan parties scale geometrically with party size. I always see it a breakfast, when family tension seems to be highest anyway. I’m going to start mainlining bloody marys at 9:00AM if I have to keep seeing some overwrought tiger-mother berating some poor SOB of a server over getting charged for snowy’s orange juice.

        Disney seems to have totally lost the thread on “diminishing returns.” I mean, the few extra spondulicks they squeeze out of guests by offering 3600 choices for everything have got to be offset by needing more cast members to handle those transactions.

  13. Megan Dyan says:

    (totally not trying to be nit-picky, but just helping you out, as I’m sure this will be a heavily referenced post…)

    first paragraph, last sentence in red… switch they’re to their.


  14. Bryan says:

    I have done the DDP plan in the past, and when it started out it was pretty hard to beat (when it included tip). But on your advice, this time I’m running the numbers on where we will be eating, and estimate what we will be eating and it’s not worth it. Skipping it and using the extra money for a few adult beverages for when I am watching the fireworks from rooftop lounge at Bay Lake . 😀

    Also LOL@ your Khol’s = Disney comment.

  15. Julie says:

    THANKS for this! I would love to link this from my blog! The way our family eats, DDP doesn’t make sense. We are trying to watch portion size and well we don’t pay for what the plan gives OOP. I know everyone is different, but I was so happy to see some analysis! Julie

  16. Jonathan says:

    I love this article. I plan on saving it and sending countless people here. I can’t count how many times I’ve stated most of this to other people trying to explain why I don’t use the DDP. You can make it worth your while, but you almost have to “work” to make it worth the money. If you plan high-priced table services in the evenings and maximize your counter meals – DDP can “save” you money.

    Over the last couple years we’ve taken many trips alone and with extended family. Every time we ate whatever and whenever we wanted – never once saying “I’ll get the hamburger instead of the steak because it’s cheaper” and we always paid far less than what we would have with DDP.

    Additionally, if you watch for deals with credit cards and other places, you can find ways to pay for your food. Two years ago we signed up for a Disney credit card before our trip and got a $200 Disney gift card. The plan was to use that for our food purchases on the trip. We’ve never had to use the credit card or make an annual payment on it – so $200 free to put towards food.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I highly recommend spamming everyone you know with a link to this article. Even people who don’t go to WDW! 😉

      The credit card tip is a good one in general, but (as I say in our reviews of the Disney Visa cards) you’re better off going for a better-performing cashback card. The rewards on the Disney Visa are paltry as compared to many other cards.

  17. Lisa says:

    I still crack up thinking about our first trip to Disney. We stayed off property and therefore never even researched DDP. When we got there & started having servers ask about it my husband thought it was some kind of “link card” for Disney!
    Now that we make multiple trips a year & have used DDP, I agree Tom that DDP would be much easier for seasoned travelers than first timers.
    You have to also consider that if you book the most expensive restaurants & order the highest priced menu items to make the most of your DDP that you will also be paying much more in tips!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Absolutely right about the tips. On the flip side, I wouldn’t let paying a bit more in tips dissuade you from ordering what you want (I know you aren’t saying it should, but just throwing it out there anyway).

  18. Kevin says:

    Hey! I minored in math in college. So some of us like it. :)

    We’ve been during “free” dining and have enjoyed the savings. (Family of 3, staying at a value resort so dining was by far the best choice.) The downside for us is the quantity of food. We’re not light eaters when on vacation, but the DDP offers more than we would typically eat in a day and the value optimizer in me has a hard time not eating what I’ve already paid for!

  19. Aly says:

    It’s so funny because my fiance and I actually DID price everything out — using the dining plan vs. Tables in Wonderland. It wasn’t even close; the dining plan was a lot more expensive, but that’s partly because we wanted to eat at a lot of table-service restaurants. I’ve even done the calculations a few times, just to make sure, because it seems like it would be nice to just be on the dining plan and not really worry about what you’re ordering. But, when you include tax, tip, and alcohol, it really adds up. It really sucks the DDP only includes dessert and not an either/or of app/dessert. That would make it slightly more appealing.

    Also: “The place is like the Kohl’s of vacation destinations.” When I found that out about Kohl’s a while ago, I was seriously sad. You feel like you’re getting such a good deal!! Such a bummer…

  20. Brian says:

    I agree with ya Tom that the DP can be illusory. Sadly, I fell for it on my first trip last year when I took a 9-night trip with DDDP during “Free Dining”. If my math was correct, I could have saved about $100 (ended up going over budget because of alcohol with meals). It could have been more, but I wasn’t “smart” with my orders. I ate what I wanted instead of simply ordering steak or the most expensive menu item each time just to increase the “value” of the plan. That bit was nice (as well as simply trying many of WDW’s fantastic restaurants), but there were a few annoying points to this plan:

    1. There are trade-offs to ADRs. Yes, you can get ADRs at Sci-Fi, but when you’re at HS and have to get out of waiting in a ride line to make an ADR and eat when you weren’t really, at that moment, hungry can really affect the meal/experience. I did all that just to “save” a few bucks?!? NOT WORTH IT! Do this multiple times during a trip and it really ruins things.

    2. While I ordered what I wanted, there was ALWAYS this nagging feeling of having to at least consider ordering the most expensive things on the menu. This constantly left me reconsidering and thinking “what if” when I should be enjoying the meal I actually ordered. This wouldn’t happen if I simply did not use the DP and paid everything out of pocket.

    3. With 2 or 3 table service meals every day, eventually you just get sick of eating (NEVER thought I would say that). I never missed a meal, but I noticed later in the trip that my plates were being taken away with plenty still on it. I was eating solely because I HAD to and not because I WANTED to. Where is the value in that?

    In conclusion, if you are spontaneous like me, the dining plan can really put a damper on things. It was nice trying so many different places and foods, but at what “cost”? I am going to try and take a trip in September and will be dining out of pocket. I will let destiny decided things and try a “walk-up” and face rejection and try somewhere else vs scheduling my trip around meals months in advance just to say a few bucks.

  21. Cindiy says:

    We went Dec 2009 My adult daughter and I. We used the free dining plan and upgraded to table service. We ate in restaurants we never would have without it. when the end of the trip came wiht leftover quickservice credits we bought apples and healthy stuff to take home with us but we had plenty of food, were able to order the more expensive things on the menu, that we would never have ordered if we were paying out of pocket. We had 2 character breakfast, it’s not just the kids you know, we did the candle light procession at the rose and crown, mama melrose, coral reef, 1900 park fare, Akershus Royal Banquet Hall with photo. it was such fun and we did save money. But yeah if they’ve changed it’s definitely worth doing the math.

  22. Crystal says:

    I love your blog – I am also a Photographer and shoot Nikon! (D600/D700)

    I have never stayed on resort so never have had a chance to use the DDP – so I kind of felt like I was missing out.

    Our family owns Wyndham time share points – we purchased dirt cheap as a re-sale. The Wyndham is actually on Disney property and has shuttles every 30-60 min depending on time of day to all four parks and we always get a big 2 BR condo with a full kitchen.

    The more I read on the plan the better I feel. I occasionally get an appetizer, and rarely desert. My mom (who I normally travel with) is a fan of salads and I like pasta – which are hardly the most expensive. We also both like to drink…beer/wine are normally our dessert. Since we have a timeshare – we eat breakfast and pack snacks/water. I don’t think the plan would work well for us anyway. This blog makes me feel a bit better about not staying “on-site”.
    This year we are getting an annual pass – since we are going in early December for a week to see the Christmas decorations, I am gong alone in May 2014 for the garden show and again in October for a week with my mom and sister. With our eating/drinking habits – we are getting Tables in Wonderland, getting 20% off most table service and alcohol works well for us. With just the two of us we pay for it during our December trip (I am an engineer – I did the math based on where we would go and what we like to eat). With a breakeven of $465 (I normally tip about 18-20% anyway and the tax is applied after the discount) we will easily spend the $29 per person per day.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Right from the first sentence you earned some major street cred here.

      If you have Annual Passes and are going on 2-3 trips, the Tables in Wonderland card is a no brainer. Keep in mind that it’s also valid at a number of CS restaurants (most in DAK and hotels).

  23. Patricia says:

    I have always been a sparse eater on vacation. Partly because I’m kind of picky, but mostly because I have a really hard time paying more than $12 for a chicken dinner, or $15 for pasta. It just isn’t that special to me. On my last trip 2 years ago I ate counter service every day for lunch and at least half of the time for dinner too. I ate breakfast in my room, and snacks were often a bottle of water and a piece of fruit. I’m not going to Disney World to eat, I’m there for the rides, attractions, atmosphere. If I want good food I’ll go to a nice restaurant for that. Not that Disney food isn’t wonderful, because it is. I just don’t need to spend so much money on food while I’m there. And that leaves more money for souvenirs!

  24. Wendy says:


    First off…fabulous pictures! I am jealous of your skills and ability to tell a story through your art.

    My family has used the Dining Plan many times under the guise that it was saving us money. Then…my 9 year-old turned 10 and I knew that we were not going to get any value from paying the adult price for her.

    So we used your recommendation of purchasing a Disney gift card to pay for our meals. I calculated the cost of the dining plan (we always go deluxe), added 20% for gratuities…and then purchased a gift card in the amount.

    I used this gift card solely for meals, gratuities and snacks.

    As it turns out…we saved a ton of money and without the restrictions of you have to have dessert after your giant meal or you are not getting your money’s worth. There is also the fact that my kids tend to have well developed palates and they would rather have the mussels appetizer from the adult’s menu as their main course as opposed to another pizza from the kids menu.

    Dining this way allowed us total flexibility in our ordering choices and still gave us the benefit of “pre-paid” meals.

    I would also like to note that we used the same gift cards t pay for our entire meal – including items that are not included in the dining plan such as wine or cocktails. We still came out ahead and had money left over to buy a couple of extra souvenirs.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Glad that this worked for you! Would you say this was as easy (or easier) than using the Disney Dining Plan?

      • Wendy says:

        Absolutely easier! We ordered what we wanted and only what we wanted (no feeling the sub-conscience pressure to order a dessert) and the kids were not restricted to the Kids’ Menu.

        We ate where we wanted and never had to worry about how to use those unused snack credits at the end of our trip!

    • Margaret says:

      I love this idea! On our last trip, my husband got bronchitis and ended up skipping a few meals. On the last day we were scrambling to use up our credits. On another trip, we ended up eating at 2 table service resturants that we were not interested in because the were the only places with open spots.

      Also my family of 5 is used to sharing. We never order 5 value meals at a fast food place.

      I think I will be checking into gift cards today!

  25. Sara Swain Roberts says:

    Great review Tom. The only thing that I would offer is a difference in opinion on your assertion that not being so stuck with planning and ADR’s is convenience. When my family goes to Disney, we have two kids. Every trip is thought out and well planned (including planning that there is a small amount of wiggle room in our trip). We make ADR’s at the 180 day mark and we have a plan, because that it actually MUCH more convenient. A lot of families with small kids are in the same boat. It is better to know that you have a spot reserved close to when your child normally eats and can be done before they need a nap or bedtime. As for the Dining Plan, we have used it for all our trips and it has worked out well. The first time I used it, we ended up saving about $300 (again, with A LOT of planning). During our last trip in 2012 (with some masterful planning) we saved over $2,000. We upgraded from DDP to Deluxe when we got free dining at Caribbean Beach, ate two meals a day (mostly table service) and ate at a lot of Signature Dining. My youngest ate off our plates for free. Even though my daughter is now considered an adult by Disney standards at the ripe old age of 10, she is often known to eat crab legs, sushi and steak regularly. My husband goes for the steak no matter what (complete score on the dining plan) and I always ordered what I wanted. Our trip was in October and we stayed for 12 days and took full advantage of the Food and Wine snack credits. I am certain at this point in time that we will NEVER save that kind of money again, because there is no way that every single money saver will be enacted at the same time for my family like it was this trip. I think that we might forgo the Dining Plan next trip due to a large multigenerational family trip and a possible stay off site, so I am really interested in crunching those numbers to see what the difference is going to be.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Great to hear your perspective. It’s definitely possible to save a lot of money on the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan if you plan well. No doubt about that.

      As for planning v. lack of planning, I realize that a lot of people LOVE to plan their trips. I used to be in that boat. I’m just way too busy for that now, so it’s a relief to just basically show up and wing it.

      • Chronic Gin Deficiency says:

        “Wing it?” Good Lord, man, Touring Plans is probably already collecting pennies for your next effigy. Keep this up, and November 5th will become “Tom Bricker Night.”

      • Sara Swain Roberts says:

        I’ve done it enough now that I could go without a lot of planning like it was in the beginning with two kids in tow. All of the planning made everything go so seamless that they were fun and relaxing for the first couple of trips. The last one, it only took me a couple of hours to create a plan and made all of the ADRs in about an hour for 12 days. Glad that I was not working when I planned our first trip, that one took me about 6 months! Trust me, I would take a Disney vacation any way that it would come planning or not!

  26. Mandy says:

    My Mom and I are going in 3 weeks and don’t do the Dining Plan. We always get fussed at by the Disney man at our AAA’s Disney Day for not however, we don’t feel like we eat the money’s amount per day. We are going to keep track this year but, I think we come out ahead by paying ‘out of pockey’. We aren’t seafood people so I can see if you eat that that maybe you would come out ahead.

  27. Shannon says:

    What a well-written and balanced article. Allow me to contribute my two cents.

    hubby and I last went in 09/09, during which Free Dining was available, but not to us. I think b/c we stayed in Shades of Green? Can’t remember why now. We spent a FORTUNE on food, to the point where it became an issue between us.

    I’m going this October and praying for Free Dining, lol. We don’t go all the time. I simply don’t have the time or inclination to sit down, go thru all the menus, decide what I may want to eat 6 months from now, add it all up and compare it to free dining. Even if it’s just regular dining, I would rather pay ahead of time, know that my food bill is taken care of and not stress about it while there. I’ll know I have a certain of money for extra snacks, should I need it but won’t be worrying about every penny while I’m there.

    I totally see your point and understand it. It’s just there are folks out there who would rather pay for their food in advance (whether they realize that’s what they’re doing is another thing). After my last trip, I’m doing the dining plan, one way or another. Maybe after this trip, I’ll be singing a different tune, but I don’t know. The logistics of going to all the trouble to really compare prices just is not worth it to me, personally!

  28. Michelle says:

    Great Article!! WE have done with and without the DDP. When we did use it we did LOTS of character meals with our then 4 and 8 year olds. With our ADRs we saved tons of time because we didn’t have to wait in long lines to meet with the characters. We were in Disney for 10 day so most of our credits got used. Our left over snack credits got used for gifts to bring home or save for a little Disney after our return. We did have 1 CS credit left over for all 4 of us. We got a meal to go for on the plane and gave our bottles of water to some other guests to have.
    Having said that, on our other trips we haven’t used the plan and were happy with less food. We found that it was just to much food for us and we ate things we wouldn’t normally eat. I honestly thought I be happy if I never saw another buffet again.

    Thanks for doing the math, I’ll be sure to share it!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Character meals with kids seem to be a deciding factor for a lot of people, so I’m not surprised that it worked out in your favor on that trip!

  29. Bob Rowan says:

    Interesting analysis. I’ll have to go back and price out what I would have paid during my recent Disney World trips had I used the Dining Plan. During one, I traveled with a friend who booked a room during free dining for his family, so I’ll have to see what it would have cost me had I done the same.

    I’m glad you take on the “convenience” myth. I have yet to hear anyone explain why paying for food in advance is more convenient than paying for it with the rest of the vacation bill. I get the feeling some people would rather pay in installments rather than trust themselves to save enough money to pay for things at the end of their stay, but I wouldn’t call that “convenient”.

    I’ll also underscore something you mention regarding the “convenience” of ordering what you want off the menus. I often order appetizers and it’s not unusual for me to order an alcoholic drink during a meal. The dining plan (at least none of the plans I would consider and certainly none that are ever offered “free”) doesn’t cover those. I find that distinctly unpatriotic, or at least not very convenient.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      “I get the feeling some people would rather pay in installments rather than trust themselves to save enough money to pay for things at the end of their stay, but I wouldn’t call that ‘convenient’.”

      That’s exactly what it is, and this is something that has become endemic of our society. I have a lot of thoughts on this subject, but I will spare you all from those! :)

  30. Laura B says:

    I have a situation where free dining paid off, but I found that out by doing the math. We had 4 adults at Pop ( yes I know that is most people’s nightmare, but it was a commando touring trip so all we did was sleep and shower). We could have taken the room only discount and gotten tickets from Undercover Tourist or we could take the package from Disney with free dining. The free dining package came out to be $200 more than the room discount package. We were staying for 7 days so that was 14 CS meals and 14 snacks (oh the days of 2 snacks/day) for $50 per person. There is no way this doesn’t come out ahead. Even if we hadn’t ended up using all the CS credits, we paid for the ‘free’ dining after a few meals. We didn’t have any table service meals, but I wouldn’t have felt guilty having a few table service meals since we had already broken even on the dining plan.

    I know it doesn’t work for everyone. And like I said, not everyone can have 4 adults in a Value, but it worked for us. So all I can say is do the math!!

  31. Ric says:

    The only time I considered DDP was last November when I was going to stay at a Value, upgrade to the DeluxeDDP and have a lot of meals at Signature restaurants because it was my birthday weekend. (Something I’m pretty sure I read about on your blog.)
    Was unsure about going through with it since I couldn’t get an answer to if the Magic Your Way tickets I would have to buy could later be used towards an Annual Pass renewal.
    Fully decided against after some international friends visited in August and only wanted to dine at Signature dining. Considering they were buying me dinner, the least I could do was get myself a Tables in Wonderland card, let them use it, and then I’d have the card for the rest of the year.
    TiW is the way for me to go now. Going to reevaluate now that it’s more expensive.
    [Btw, I really enjoy your blog.]

  32. Betsy says:

    I’m a middle school math teacher and I LOVE this post. I’m always trying to come up with realistic word problems and scenarios that one may actually encounter in life. The kids at me like I have two heads when I tell them I actually do math like this on my cell phone in the middle of Target when shopping for things like toilet paper and paper towels. Anyway, I digress.

    Great job with your case study – I’m going to be doing my own in June. My husband and I are traveling with family who have two small children, so we’ll be doing a character meal, and an expensive summer surcharged ‘Ohana meal. The only other two sit down meals we have planned over a 5 night stay are Prime Time Cafe and Beaches and Cream. I still don’t think the DDP is a good deal for us (we also have TIW) so I’m going to put the cost of what my husband and I would pay for the dining plan on a Disney gift card, and see if he and I end up spending it all. If we don’t, then we will just have that much leftover for our next trip. If we go over the gift card amount, then I guess I will have to reconsider things for the next trip.

    I am with you on the liberation front in that I know that if I were on the dining plan, I would constantly be worried that we were losing money if we didn’t do every little thing according to plan. That does not sound relaxing to me.

    Great post…gave me some ideas for some extra credit work for one of my classes!!

  33. M and M Boys says:

    I find now that the DDP is more of a convenience than bargain- but still a cost savings. It was a much better “deal” several years ago when the price included gratuities and before Disney gradually raised the cost of the plan. It works for the four of us since we plan our summer touring schedule around meals. We make a point of resting/cooling off at lunch stopping for counter service (some are much better than others and include dessert). We try to choose a table service with “extras” – excellent atmosphere (Sanaa/Coral Reef) and/or built in entertainment (Marrakesh/PrimeTime/character meals). We rarely order anything not on plan and order more expensive entrees without worrying about the cost. We rarely have the urge to snack during the day because of all the food, yet always scramble to use our snack credits before we travel home (we usually bring home 12-14 rice krispy treats/huge cookies). So, DDP works for my family.

  34. TGS says:

    I’ve done the math and for the last two years, DDP is not worth the money. I find lots of people use it because they love having the meals paid for ahead of time – no big credit card bill after vacation. I tell them to take the total cost of the dining plan for their party plus add $7 per person per night (average tip per day per person) and at the time they would be paying off the dining plan, put that total amount on a Disney gift card. Then use the Disney gift card to pay for their meals. Since they will be ordering what they want and not what they have to eat (desserts all the time), they will probably find they actually end their vacation with money left over on the gift card. This obviously only works if they eat where they would have eaten if they were still on the DDP … they certainly can’t eat at Artist Point, Yachtsman, Brown Derby, etc. every day. By purchasing the gift card with the money you would have spent on DDP, at least you won’t have what most want to avoid, the cost of all their meals at the end of the vacation on their credit card. JMO

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Yep, this is a great alternative for people wanting to prepay. Not something we personally do (I don’t money tied up in gift cards), but it’s a great idea for those who need it.

  35. Laura B says:

    I always enjoy reading DDP posts – each time, it causes me to look at my numbers again to see if I’m getting the best deal (3 adults, one child, one infant in a value room, booking character meals every day on a 6 night trip – consistantly, I win with free DDP and save $300-400).

    Now, while it may be semantics, as someone who spends a lot of time communicating with non-native English speakers (which requires paying very careful attention to how I say things), I have to address this:

    Free dining IS free. You book rooms/tickets at the standard listed price, and DDP is added on at no additional charge. To say that it isn’t free insinuates that the cost is simply slipped in somewhere else, and then hidden, when the truth is that at no time are you paying for the DDP. You are simply choosing that discount over another, which may be a room discount. If free dining isn’t free, then discounted rooms aren’t really discounted – when in reality, you’re simply paying for different things.
    You do a great job explaining times you and Sarah saved money using each of the various discounts. Why not capitalize on that without blanket statements?

    Back to happy thoughts…
    Love the site, love the photos, PLEASE keep up the great work!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Yeah, in your circumstances, I can’t imagine free dining not coming out on top. The combination of your number of guests plus character meals makes it difficult to beat.

      I used the statement that free dining isn’t actually free because the practical and economic reality is that it is true. That you have to preface your comment with, “it may be semantics” confirms as much to me.

      I’m fairly certain that everyone reading this blog post knew exactly what I meant with that statement. The alternative was a drawn out discussion of opportunity cost, which I’m betting not everyone would have understood.

      I also use a fair number of colloquialisms in writing. If I write, “it was raining cats and dogs outside last night,” I’d wager most people know what I mean.

      • Laura B says:

        You sound like a lawyer… 😉

        All very true points – especially the “opportunity cost” comment. We have an economist in the family, and I have to listen to those discussions more times than I like.

        I think it’s simply on of those phrases that rubs me the wrong way, and I choose to explain differently. I’m sure there are people who understand your way much better than they would mine. It takes all kinds, right?

  36. Megan Dyan says:

    This doesn’t have anything to do with dining specifically, and would probably be a more appropriate comment on one of your 101 Disney Tips or Disney on a Budget posts, but it is what it is…

    another way we save a few dollars (hey! every dollar counts!) is to purchase Disney gift cards from Kroger family stores (here it’s dillons, other places it’s kroger, ralphs, bakers, gerbes, etc etc) while they’re running their 4x fuel points event. For every dollar you spend on a gift card, you get 4 fuel points, and every 100 points = .10 off a gallon of gas. So $250 on Disney gift cards = $1 off a gallon of gas. My husband and I will fill both our tanks together under one transaction, and that’s a $35 savings…for money you’d spend at disney anyway!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      That is an AWESOME tip. Now this kind of gift card use I can get behind! I will have to remember this for personal use! Thanks.

      • Sara says:

        We did the same thing one our last vacation. We booked through Disney also and paid for the entire vacation with gift cards. All said and done we got $295 in free gas. Gift cards were worth it!

      • Tom Bricker says:

        Jeez, am I the only one not doing this?! I can’t believe the deal-hound in me had never heard of this!

      • Suzanne says:

        You’ve given me a great idea! We can purchase grocery store cards as a fundraiser for my daughter’s choral trip. So we will earn $ towards her trip & earn gas points! Thanks!

  37. Dave says:

    Seems like the Disney plan has become less worthwhile over the years.

    My wife and I went to Disney for our honeymoon, with the DDP and found it excellent, we were able to get everything we wanted, and it was a great experience.

    We’re going back next month many years later, and I actually just cancelled our DDP because I discovered how limited it’s become since we went last. My wife and I will share a desert, and not every meal…so lots of wasted money there. Also, we typically don’t drink anything but water with our meals…enough empty calories as it is!

    We went through our plan (we schedule everything pretty much) and looked at menus, picked what we’d want to order and it ended up being $100 – 200 less than the DDP, and a lot more flexibility (i.e. apps)

    Definitely do the math. It’s absolutely possible to save the 20 – 30% that Disney advertises, but who wants to have a steak every single meal? Some people probably…but not me or the missus!

  38. Blair says:

    Thanks for this post! We’ve been waiting for the free dining to book a September trip, but are wondering if it will be offered after all. We have 4 children ages 10 and under so I think we would come out ahead in our case, but it’s still good to know some other things to consider.

  39. TC says:

    Less then a week behind, and all my points have already been made. hahaha

    We have 2 small children, and took advantage of the “free” DDP for the first time 2 years ago. We are planning a trip this October and hoping that the Dining Deal is offered again. As the point has been made repeatedly, this is a great deal if you plan on taking advantage of numerous character meals. Without the deal… my husband will have us eating hot dogs and McDonalds all week long!!! LOL

    Tom, thanks for all the great tips and FABULOUS pictures. I’ve been enjoying your blog immensely. :o)

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Hot dogs and McDonald’s…now that sounds like my kind of vacation! 😉

      • TC says:

        hahaha I think you’d miss those yummy cupcakes!! (which I’m still drooling over the pictures of.. and may have to seek out on our next trip…FDP permitting, of course) hahaha

  40. James R. says:

    The point about DDP’s “convenience” being a complete farce is spot on. The one time we did DDP, it was the opposite of convenient. First and foremost, it’s not as if being on DDP has any impact upon the actual business of settling up your tab at the end of a meal. Using DDP or paying OOP, you’re still handing a server a card of some sort, waiting for it to come back, and then signing it before you’re on your way. It isn’t as if the DDP folks are having a blast in the parks while the OOP people are stuck wasting time dealing with a bill. Zero difference in the experience.

    In every other respect, though, doing it OOP is MUCH more convenient. No need to worry about whether the item you want is covered by DDP. No need to eat more or less TS meals than you would otherwise eat to shoehorn yourself into the strictures of the DDP. No need to go forward with a huge TS meal in EPCOT you booked 180 days out when you’re enjoying yourself at Magic Kingdom and would prefer to just grab a quick burger at Pecos Bills. To me, flexibility provides convenience, and there’s nothing remotely convenient about having artificial limitations placed upon the way you eat on vacation.

    I suppose DDP does provide an advantage in terms of budgeting, but even that is overstated, I think, because it doesn’t include tips, alcohol, anything you’d like to eat that doesn’t fall within the DDP, etc. The one time we did DDP, I still ended up spending a significant amount of money on things not covered by the plan.

    Never again!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      The 180 reservation window is ridiculous no matter whether you’re paying out of pocket or using the Disney Dining Plan. The calendar isn’t even available that far in advance!

  41. Saige says:

    I saved over $200 not using the dinning plan, it was my first time not having it so I wasn’t sure if this was normal or not. My family did not order anything different. I’m not sure if we will ever us the dinning plan again, I was quite disappointed by this since it is so nice to have everything paid for before the vacation even starts.

  42. sarah says:

    I think if you have younger kids who want to do character meals the DDP is worth it. I did the math before I bought the plan and broke it down just to make sure and it will be a better deal for my family. I think each family should do the math before they make that decision on the dining plan. We are only staying on site for 2 nights before going off site and my hubbys company foots the bill!!!

  43. Beth says:

    When I go in Septemeber DDP is icluded with my holiday? I’m from the U.K. and the plan seems straight forward to me? Is there restrictions on the menu? I know it’s its an appetiser and a dessert and a non-colic beverage and we need to pay a tip? I thought it was just as easy as that?

  44. Liz says:

    I’m so confused on what to do. We are going mid-june and are still deciding whether to do the dining plan or not (we have till the 31st to add it) It’s 4 of us my husband, myself, and our two daughters both of which are under 2 so they don’t cost us. Is it worth it for us to do the dining plan plus? All together it would be $225 (4 day dining) because they don’t count and we are going for 6 days 5 nights but have park tickets for 4 days since we wont use them on our arrival or departure day. This is our first time going with children as well. we went in 2010 before our first was born without a dining plan but we also didn’t stay on disney property so we ate wherever whenever. Please help!

  45. Liz says:

    also I have reservations for a character breakfast and I’m looking to make maybe 2 more dinner reservations while we’re there.

  46. John says:

    I’m going alone for the first week of the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, September 29 – October 5. As a Florida Resident (haven’t been to WDW in more than 20 years. I know crazy), I purchased a Weekday Select Pass to utilize the parks M-F. Of course, I’ve already used Disney’s website to make reservations for restaurants throughout the week. I’ve decided NOT to use the DDP but am wondering whether to purchase the Tables in Wonderland card (although FRs get it for $125, I have a pass so can get it for $100). I’m also wondering whether to cancel some of the restaurants in Epcot because I can “graze and drink” around WS during the festival instead, maybe that Friday?

    Here are my reservations:
    Sun, Sep. 29, Check-in (POFQ)
    Dinner: Ragland Road, Downtown Disney
    Mon, Sep. 30: Animal Kingdom
    Lunch: Counter-service somewhere
    Dinner: LeCellier, Epcot
    Tue, Oct 1: Hollywood Studios
    Lunch: Mama Melrose’s (Fantasmic Package)
    Dinner: Bongos Cuban Cafe, DTD (late evening after Fantasmic)
    Wed, Oct 2: Magic Kingdom
    Lunch: Kona Cafe, Polynesian
    Dinner: Liberty Tree Tavern (before MSEP, Fireworks, etc.)
    Thur, Oct. 3: MK (Morning), Epcot (Afternoon)
    Lunch: Rose and Crown Pub
    Dinner: La Hacienda
    Fri, Oct. 4: Epcot
    Lunch: Biergarten (thinking of cancelling this and just grazing around WS and all the booths)
    Dinner: Via Napoli
    Sat, Oct 5: Check out

    Any advice is appreciated.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      You don’t indicate your party size here, but even if you’re a party of 1, you will come out ahead with the Tables in Wonderland card given your number of reservations.

      I would recommend cancelling a couple of the Epcot reservations to enjoy some of Food & Wine Festival. Just know that Food & Wine Festival can be EXPENSIVE! (Personally, I’d cancel Le Cellier.)

      • John says:

        Thanks, Tom. Just little ol’ me. I’m single so I decided, the heck with it, I’m going. I haven’t been in a LONG time. That’s good to know about TIW. What does it cover in the F&W festival, if any? Yes, I’ve read your review of Le Cellier. I could go to Shula’s but I have one in my home town so I thought I would try Le Cellier instead. I understand your review is basically good but not great. I figured make as many reservations as possible now, because they’re hard to get getting closer to the trip (BTW, the Disney website now makes it so easy). As the F&W Festival gets closer, there will be more info and I’ll probably have a better idea of Epcot reservations to cancel. I know I need to cancel no later than 24 hours prior or I incur a charge.

        On a side note, being single, I decided I’m going to skip MNSCHP. Besides, seeing the MSEP will be nostalgic for me.(I’m planning on being in MK on a night when the party isn’t held.)

  47. Caitlin says:

    My boyfriend and I are headed to WDW in September. His first visit, my fourth (but first as an adult). We originally booked at a value resort (and no DDP) before free dining was announced, then decided we wanted to switch to a moderate (still knowing nothing of free dining, though I guess it had been announced at that point). We called, had the best cast member assistance EVER, and ended up with an upgraded room at Port Orleans Riverside and a standard dining plan for $400 less than our original reservation. Our helpful CM told us she did it with a little help from Tinkerbell, but after reading so much about how you have to forfeit extra discounts in order to get free dining, I really am curious about how she got us such a good price. I guess I shouldn’t look a magical horse in the mouth, huh?

    • Tom Bricker says:

      The room-only discounts right now for Moderates aren’t *that* great, and even though it’s just the two of you, you’re almost certainly still better off with Free Dining.

      Still, it doesn’t make sense that you would’ve saved money by going from a Value to a Moderate, unless she booked you an international discount offer or something of that sort.

  48. Mike says:

    Must definitely do your research and what meets your needs. At WDW right now for third year in a row and this is the first year without a DDP. Honestly, we have never been to the sit-down places and always do quick-service. Three kids (10, 9, 7) who aren’t big eaters and for our family, food is just fuel, doesn’t have to be fancy or elaborate. We like to get as much attraction time in as we can every day. Just our style. Since my 10-year-old is now a Disney adult, the meal plans went up a great deal in price. We are paying out-of-pocket this year and that way our 10-year-old can still eat off kid’s menus. Not doing DDP also allows us to eat offsite on occasion (we have our own transportation). We haven’t really tried to eat cheaper, we order and eat what we want, when we want (again, all quick-service). This is our 5th day out of 8 and I’m on track to save around $500 vs. going with the quick-service DDP. I should also mention we ALWAYS eat an on-the-go breakfast (yogurt, banana, pop-tart, grapes) that we buy at Walmart. Probably should have avoided DDP first and second year as well.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Great points. In your circumstances, I can’t fathom a situation where the Disney Dining Plan would save you money, and that includes if it were offered to you “free.” Oh well, live and learn! Hope you have a great trip!

  49. Babs says:

    Excellent article, and VERY helpful. My son (age 34) and I went in October, for Epcot’s 30th anniversary. (Yes, two adults…..we’re just big kids!). We stayed at French Quarter, and totally enjoyed our free DDP! We went back a few weeks ago, and decided not to get DDP, after much thought. For us, it’s better to pay as we go, as we are light eaters. However, I am SO glad we had the opportunity to use the DDP last year. We experienced some wonderful restaurants that we would not have ordinarily gone to. It’s a good thing we did a lot of walking at WDW, because we would have gained a LOT of weight with all the great food! The only confusion I have with the comparisons is – We usually stay at French Quarter, and they don’t always have the same room discounts (I guess, because it’s smaller and they don’t “need” to offer a discount?). This trip, we upgraded to annual passes (wish we had done that on the last trip!). I debated about buying the Tables in Wonderland, but am so glad I did! It’s a great offer. We used it at restaurants, as well as the food court at our resort. We also used Disney gift cards, for meals, which I bought at Target. If you have a Target debit or credit card, you get 5% off. If you use their pharmacy, for every 5 prescriptions you fill, you “earn” a 5% off shopping day. Buy your Disney gift cards on your 5% off day, with your Target debit card, and get 10% off, total! Pay for your meals with your discounted Disney cards, and use your TIW card…..
    We love your tips, and your beautiful photos!

  50. Daniell says:

    We have used the dining plan in the past and I was not a fan. I always felt like I “had” to eat. However we are visiting in September and took the free dining plan. The hotel room discount was not that great. Also we are bringing our 3 year old for the first time and I have booked Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, Garden Grill, Ohana breakfast, crystal palace and 50’s Prime Time for table meals. I believe he will enjoy all of the characters and it is worth it for this trip. I will always calculate it from trip to trip. I love all of your tips and advice!

  51. Gina says:

    Hi there! I just found your site and I love it. I am booking a 5 day trip for my family of 5 around Labor Day weekend. It has been my family’s dream to stay at the Polynesian because we basically just go back & forth from MK to Epcot and just love that mononrail. Here’s my dilemma: I was all set to justify paying Poly prices using the “end of summer” deal which gives us %20 off. I was buying my tix from Undercover Tourist. Then just the other day I get a pin code for free dining coinciding with our stay. I did the dreaded “MATH” and paying full price for Poly but getting free dining would cost us $451 more. I do have big eaters (kids 14,13 & 8) and we would definitely spend $90 per day on food. So I guess my question is – it’s a good deal, right?

    I suppose I just hate the fact that I would be paying the full hotel rate but I guess in the end it all goes into Mickey’s pocket anyway!

    Oh and just a quick comment about those whose menu choices are the same whether they are doing DDP or OOP. It’s nice that when you want a steak you order a steak but when you have 3 kids saying MOM CAN I ORDER THE STEAK? it gets very expensive – no matter where you are!

  52. Jess says:

    You know, I’m pretty much planning our big WDW trip based on your blog. This is where I’ll be deviating though. We have booked for 2014 and got free dining alongside a 25% room discount (though I haven’t looked at standard room prices for a deluxe studio at OKW so this could be a lie.) There is also a $200 gift card offered. So DDP it is! We wouldn’t have booked it and paid for it ourselves, but then we wouldn’t ordinarily have table service dinners every single night of a 2 week holiday either. As mentioned in another reply on the site, being a diabetic I would probably end up in a coma if I ate the 2 desserts a day that are included in the plan. So buying it would make NO sense whatsoever. But I’ll take it, at “free” and not kick myself over the room discount as I got one of those too. :)

    I will still be using the blog to plan where I’ll be using the DDP though.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      You are from the UK, you don’t count! 😉 Us Americans can’t get deals anything near that good. Believe me, if I could get that offer, I would jump on it in a second! :)

      • Jess says:

        Hehe, Yes, I figured it would be because of British-ness. I assume because we brits are guaranteed to be staying at least two weeks, owing to the massive travelling time? So it’s worth luring us poor, unsuspecting lot over. :)

        You guys *can* get DVC point rental though.. which I don’t think we can? Plus, travel is likely to be phenomenally cheaper. It’s all swings and roundabouts 😀

        I am now looking through menus on allears and your blog planning meals which feels slightly bizarre, for a trip so far in the future. Have you ever eaten at Olivia’s in OKW? I’m seeing very mixed reviews for it all over the web.

  53. Lainey says:

    I have to agree that many people get caught up in the hype and mindset that its easier and cheaper to use the dining plan. Ill admit, this was definitely my mindset. We probably wouldn’t have tried some of the restaurants we tried on our first trip had we not used the dining plan. There was a certain sense of comfort knowing that the meals were covered and I just needed to bring money for tips.

    I think people get sticker shock when they look at the prices, I know that I did on our first trip. Instead of looking at prices and taking into account what your families eating habits are, people compare the price of the DDP to the most expensive things on the menu. We used all of our credits on our trip but found that the money spent on my 3 year olds dining plan was a waste. He is an extremely picky and light eater. The only plus side was that we were able to split most of his meals between him and his 1 year old sister. We ended up missing a couple meals we had ADR’s for because our kids were tired and cranky. We ended up using some of our credits on resort pizza delivery (eww).

    My husband and I are going back in September and we are using the Deluxe dining plan, but we are also going during food and wine festival (a great use for our snack credits) and also taking your advice and doing a breakfast and a signature dinner each night. When we return in May for our family trip we plan on staying DVC and cooking a couple meals in our room. We will have a 12 year old, 4 year old, 2 year old and 4 month old with us and we don’t want to deal with making ADR’s around nap times and tantrums.

  54. Todd M says:

    I keep hearing about the “discounts” or specials being offered and taking advantage of the right one….where are these discounts and how/when are you eligible? I am planning a trip for next August and dont want to miss out?!?!

  55. Sara Pepin says:

    So is the main consensus here that the only way the dinning plan is really worth it is if you are doing character meals? I will be going with my four year old and we will want to do the character meals as much as possible. Just trying to get the most bang for my buck.

  56. Jennifer says:

    The first time I took my eldest daughter we used the DP and loved it as we didn’t at all care about dining in the restaurants and it was more than enough. I’m planning a trip this year for myself and my 3 yr old and question if it’s worth getting the dining plan for the 2 night, 3 days we’ll be there. Is the food truly that expensive (not in restaurants that is) that I’d spend $700 between the 2 of us in 2 days?

  57. Christina says:

    I have read so many reviews on DDP and still so confused. My husband and I will be going to DW in October for MNSSHP for 8nights/9days with a 2yr old and 4yr old. We will be staying in the AoA resort but will only be buying 4 day tickets because we are also going to SeaWorld Spooktacular and LEGOLAND Brick-or-Treat. What it be better for us to pay out-of-pocket for food. We are also spending a day at Downtown Disney and of course the night at MNSSHP.

  58. Angela says:

    We are going to DW in April for 7 days. I know bad timing but its for school, we have two boys ages 6 &4. We are staying at our time share Mystic Dunes, and will have a full kitchen. After reading all of the comments, it seems that paying out of pocket will be better, since we love to eat at restaurants as a family (but may want to do at least one character meal), and just do a bit of grocery shopping for the hotel. Eat breakfast at the hotel and some dinners. If we can bring our own snacks, this would be awesome, such as bananas, goldfish crackers etc. Do you know if bringing in outside food is acceptable?

  59. Ashley says:

    Hi Tom,

    I am thoroughly enjoying browsing through your blog! I am visiting Disney this September with my boyfriend. I have been to WDW many times with my family, but haven’t been for about 6 years. He has never been. We’re in our 20’s with no kids and want to experience it once, before we settle down and have kids!

    We are struggling to come to terms with whether or not we should do DDP or just bring our own food. I went on a school trip about 6 years ago and we were given DDP for every meal. It became too much for me – I felt like I was eating fast food all the time. I’m not big on the quick-service type stuff that feels like fast food, and neither of us are huge breakfast eaters (we would be fine bringing cereal or granola bars). I DO want to be able to go and order whatever we want at a table service restaurant, though it seems like you can’t really do that.. I also like knowing we could get a snack or drink throughout the day (assuming we get the standard plan). We’re watching our budget but not super intensely and honestly I think we could go either way. Part of me likes the idea of not having to pay OOP except for tips with the DDP, but part of me also doesn’t know that either one of us will want that much food.. Thoughts!?

    • Tom Bricker says:

      If the Dining Plan was too much food for you last time you went, it’ll be too much food now. Just close your eyes and sign when the bill comes at the end of the meal. It’ll seem like a lot (and it is) but you’ll still likely spend less this way than if you did the Disney Dining Plan.

  60. Karen says:

    I’m sooooo confused! My family of four is going the first week of July. No discounts or free anything that I’m aware of. The kids are 12 & 5. We typically eat three meals daily. I believe we will do at least one table-service meal every day. We are more likely to have dessert rather than an appetizer. (sweet teeth, here! ) My hubby may or may not have a beer, but that’s about it. We wouldn’t necessarily order the most expensive item just because it’s the most expensive, but we do like steak.

    I think we would like to do a couple of character meals, but I don’t understand why that is such a big factor in the DDP decision.

    Do we sound like the kind of group that would benefit from the DDP, and would you pretty please explain the character meal to me?

    Feeling dense here. o.O

  61. Mrs Mac says:

    I’m actually disappointed that we’re going to WDW during Free Dining. We have a 10 year old who would much prefer to order of the kids menu. I also think having desserts twice a day is ridiculous, and my kids don’t need that much food. On the other hand the room discount at the end of September gives us a less savings than what I would have budgeted for two meals and a morning tea in the parks. Financially it is better for us to go with Free Dining but I suspect a lot of food will be wasted

  62. Memi says:

    Hi! I found this review to be very helpful to me. I was debating on DDP vs OOP & I do think for me the better vale would be out of pocket because I am going at the end of May 2014 & we are all either light eaters or VERY picky eaters. with that being said, I do like to get the most out of my $$. Per your comment (See Below)
    “With all of the resources available these days on the internet, I don’t see how the DDP helps people budget. If someone tells me their party size and where they’d like to eat, I can give them a dining budget range in about 15 minutes just by glancing at the menus and their price ranges. Pick a number somewhere in that range, and order accordingly.”
    Could you if you had time give me some suggestions when you have time. there will be 2 teenage girls & 2 woman. My budget I’m looking at is about $35. Per person for a dinner & I would prefer to spend no more than $10.00 per person. We are all water drinkers for the most part. (BTW loved the “what to bring” blog also). Great tips… I would prefer in the park because we are staying off site, but if you think that it is better off site then I am appreciative on any advice you can give.

  63. RickGregory says:

    I’m just finishing 4 days, first timer at Disney World. I did the Dining plan but would advise against it. Probably the best thing about it was the plastic refillable mug for unlimited ???? I just used for coffee and hot water/tea and maybe hot chocolate. I don’t drink soda. The sit down meals were all pretty good, BUT the snacks and Counter Service food is basically inedible. All you have to do is see the people willingly eating it and see the results. If you eat healthy and exercise, just a nibble of any of the food I ate (even a salad, pre laden with bobby , fat/salt/sugar dressing) will tell you this stuff is not good for you. DON’T EAT THE COUNTER SERVICE FOOD. Bring your own snacks. And DEFINITELY make reservations in advance for the sit down restaurants.

  64. jfp says:

    First thing we do when on vacation and staying in a hotel is make a trip to the local grocery store. We pick up on all the essentials, drinks, snacks, fruit, etc. We eat well and only eat out one meal a day. Knowing we’re saving tons of money without making any real sacrifices only improves our experience. When I heard what Disney charged for their plan I was shocked – either their plan is seriously overpriced or the food in the park is. Having a meal plan would only tempt us eat far more than we usually would.

  65. josie says:

    hi we leave in 2 weeks and we’ve been many other times with our daughter who is now 6. we usually pay out of pocket and skip the DDP (we did DDP on our first trip back in 09 she was still free)
    this year i’m bringing my niece and nephew 13 & 9 YO. I had the deluxe and downgraded to the regular one which is 2 counter services. my husband thinks we don’t even need a DDP. I think we should. I’m confused now. Usually the 2 of us share a meal -i think the portions are pretty big. my nephew and daughter can probably share an adult meal since they don’t eat that much and the 13 YO can end up getting the kids meal. what do you think works best? WE are staying at art of animation we’re going for 5 days and 4 nights. we’re going to my families house the first night to and will have dinner there. i’m thinking of asking my cousin to take us to Walmart and get snacks even if we did the DDP. please let me know thanks.

  66. Rebecca Taylor says:

    I did the DDP mostly because I do NOT want to budget, or save, or look at menu prices. I feel a sense of peace knowing ALL my food is already paid for. Even if I leave a whole half a steak on my plate, I don’t care. :) I have peace of mind knowing this is one less thing I have to budget for. I don’t drink so no worries about high alcohol bills. I don’t order apps so no extra money there. Getting all the ADR’s I wanted and not having to worry about the bill = priceless. :)

  67. Samantha says:

    My family just finished a 6 day trip to WDW (June 2014.) The previous year we used the dining plan and had several quick service meals left. This year we decided to opt out of the dining plan and eat where and what we wanted. We ended up saving $400.00. We are a family of 4 ( 2 adults, 2 children.) We ate more sit down restaurants than would have been covered on the dining plan.

  68. Katie Valenti says:

    Hi Tom!

    I love your website, and I have been using all of your insights to plan our trip for a while now! We have opted to do the dining plan, we are 7 adults traveling without children and I’m hopeful that even if it’s not less money it will be likely in the ballpark.

    The only thing I’m having a hard time finding while I’ve been planning my trip is, almost all restaurants on the Disney dining plan specify that some items on their menu are not included in the plan. But I haven’t been able to track down WHICH items in each restaurant are not in the plan. I feel like this makes a big difference in the restaurants I’m booking, but I’ve been kind of fumbling in the dark with this one!

    If you could point me in the right direction, it would be much appreciated! Not sure if it make a difference but we’ll be there September 14- 20th.


  69. Anna says:

    We did the dining plan in February with two teenage boys. I was careful to be sure most of our table service meals were buffets! We also did two character meals- we definitely got our money’s worth! We did the math and it absolutely saved us $ considering how much our whip thin 16 yo can eat!
    I’m going with a girlfriend for the food and wine festival and won’t be doing the dining plan- if you don’t like soda and dessert for every meal it’s not worth it at all.

  70. Susanna says:

    On our trip to WDW in late October 2013, we toyed with the idea of using the Dining Plan. We eventually opted instead to just use cold hard cash, and we’re so glad we did! Almost every time we paid for our food, the cashier would have this look of happy relief on their face. They were so thankful that they didn’t have to apologetically explain what constitutes a snack credit and so on. To me, it just seems easier to use cash. I don’t want to be hungry, waiting in line trying to do the quick math of what I’m allowed to get/not get based on my Dining Plan. Nope, I’ll use cash, and spread some joy to the cashiers. =)

  71. Miguel says:

    Hi Tom,
    I have a question after reading your DDP results. We are planning a trip to Disney for 6 Days and will be going to all 4 Parks each day (except 1 day which will be spent at our hotel and Downtown Disney) We have considered using the DDP for the first time although we are not sure if it will be economical for a family of 4 (2 Adults & 2 Kids). We have already made several reservations for many of the restaurants at each park and reservations for our “off-day” at OHanas-Dinner & 1900 Park Fare-Breakfast. You mentioned that you could do a calculation of what would be spent? Can you estimate what it would cost per day for 3 table service meals per park? Thank You in advance!

  72. David says:

    Hi all, first thanks for taking the time to write this. I did find something interesting you should also add into your calculations. I am taking advantage of a “winter special” deal they are now advertising for 30% off to stay in a Disney property. I opted for the park passes, hotel, and “Disney Dining Plan” all together (FYI this wasn’t the Play, Stay promotion which they were also offering). I was actually considering taking off the Dining plan but then I realized something interesting: I deducted the cost of my hotel and park tickets, and calculated that the cost of my Dining Plan should have been $1281.89. When I removed the Dining Plan from the deal, I realized that the cost of the Dining Plan was actually only $983.57! At that rate, the Dining Plan would save us around $300.
    Even though the deal was advertised as a “30% off of the room offer”, it also discounted my Dining Cost.
    I thought this was interesting to mention for those who are buying a package of some sort. Under normal circumstances, I too would opt for paying out of pocket for the flexibility. But in this situation the Plan came out cheaper.
    Best to all

  73. Les says:

    I want to thank you for your blog. My wife and I are finally able to afford the trip to WDW. We are debating between the dining plan and going with cash. Your blog really helped. I feel the price differences are outrageous. Anyways, thanks again.

  74. Tarryn says:

    We are going to try this same comparison on our trip next week. We are eating what we want, where we want, and paying out if pocket with TIW. Will tell you how our math works out, although after just a few minutes of math I’m pretty sure I know how it will go… Thanks for all your help!

  75. John D. says:

    We have used the DDP many times as we are DVC members and visit at least once or twice a year. We find it convinient and saves money. However there is one thing that should be changed. The last 4 times we have visited we have had to juggle people and times around because of the really silly rules with DVC. You can get the DDP for your visit but it has to “Per Person, Per Day, for the length of the Stay.” We have had groups of betwee 10 and 19 people in our groups and they all don’t arrive on the same day or stay as long as every one else. If I book a room for 8 for sunday thru friday, and two dont arrive untill Tuesday, and another two leave on Thursday it costs for 3 days that will not be used and people do not want to spend money on things they dont use. I’m sure a system can be developed that will allow persons in this situation to only pay for what they will be there for. LOL Rant Over..

  76. Steph says:

    I was just looking at the dining plans, and for my family of 5 the Disney Dining package works out to 1543, that’s 305 per person, or around 44 per day. Now, are there limitations on the menu items you can order? Because looking at some of the dinner menus, if you order the steak at Sanaa, well I would say it’s totally worth it! that’s a 40 dinner there alone. So what am I missing here? Where are the “limitations” listed?

  77. Ian says:

    we will being visiting in Late Feb 15,Statying at Park 7 days but 2 travel days Family of 5 Kids 12,10,8,
    Meal plan has youngest at $23/day but the rest are $63/Day,
    That is our conundrum, Do u have to eat at certain places certain days or can you eat anywhere,
    Dont really want to have to plan to beat a system,
    Want to go and have fun, Pay as you eat seems more beneficial to us considering the older ones age.
    Suggestions would be appreciated

  78. Katie says:

    IT’s amazing to me how many different kinds of trips people take, and how many different kinds of groups there are! It seems like the Dining Plan isn’t a good idea for small groups, or couples/ adults, but for my family of 7 (5 kids, 12 and under) it has been a lifesaver! We get to eat at restaurants that we would never even consider if we were paying out of pocket, we get to do character breakfasts (we did Crystal Palace and Cinderella’s Table last time). I know that you are really just pre-paying for the plan, but the absolute freedom of being able to tell hungry kids, “sure, we can have a snack now,” because it’s “included” in the plan, instead of carrying a ton of granola bars, almost does not have a price. I am a complete cheapskate when it comes to eating out at home, and the Dining Plan allows our family to let go, and just enjoy the trip. And we never have hungry kids!!

  79. Randy says:

    My family has used the DDP the last 3 years and found it both convenient and cheaper the not. Now, maybe that is because we have small children who want to do character dining and these buffets are almost equal in price to the daily cost of the plan. so booking a buffet everyday (or almost everyday) the kids get autographs & then the snack/quick service is virtually free.

    Everyone is different, but if you would be doing a character dining anyway, the DDP is a better value.


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