Dining Plan 2012 Costs And Review

NOTE: This article concerns the 2012 Disney Dining Plan. For details about the 2013 Disney Dining Plan information, click here

With dates for Walt Disney World’s Free Dining Plan Promotion for late Summer 2012 and Fall 2012, now is a great time to read an overview and review of the Disney Dining Plan to determine if this promotion is worth it for you. To read about Free Dining as compared to other Walt Disney World discounts, visit our comprehensive 2012 Disney World Discounts page.

If you are considering booking the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion, it’s important to realize there is no such thing as a truly “Free” Dining Plan. If you’re getting the Dining Plan for “free” you are paying rack rate for your room and full price for a minimum number of tickets. Since there are almost always Room-Only or other discounts available, Free Dining is an alternate discount.  In other words, you give up a different discount to receive “free” dining. Sometimes there are no alternative discounts available, in which case it actually is (basically) “free.” For many people, Free Dining is absolutely the best discount that Disney offers. It varies based upon party size and resort tier, so do the math and compare the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion to other available discounts.

When planning your Walt Disney World trip, it is most important to read restaurant reviews. For reviews of some of our favorite Disney restaurants, visit our Disney Restaurant Reviews page.

Also make sure to consult our list of Disney Table Service restaurants that offer the best bang for your buck on the Dining Plan (list is based upon and includes median meal prices). Together, these are your best resources for planning where to eat at Walt Disney World, visiting the best restaurants, and saving the most money. Other resources for maximizing your savings on the Disney Dining Plan can be found at the very end of this post.

If you’re going to use the Disney Dining Plan, you definitely want to eat at the restaurants on the above linked-to lists that offer the best value on the plan. Restaurants like Coral Reef, Whispering Canyon Cafe, Le Cellier (Lunch only), The Wave, and Kona Cafe become great options. You’ll want to plan in advance if you want to hit these restaurants, as Disney meal plan veterans often snatch up most of the reservations months in advance.

We cannot reiterate this enough: dining is one of the most important elements of your Walt Disney World trip that you should plan. However, it’s not the only element you need to plan for your Disney trip. You also need to plan what time of year to visit to avoid crowds and see certain seasonal events, what type of Disney tickets to purchase, whether you should rent a car or rely on Disney transportation on your trip, at which hotel to stay, and what to pack, among other things! The amount of fun you have on a Disney World trip can vary widely depending on how much planning you do, and with a little planning, you can have a lot more fun. Dining is just one element of the trip you should think about planning. Click on the links throughout this paragraph for our planning trips for other aspects of your trip.

That said, to determine whether the Free Disney Dining Plan offer is for you, or if you’re considering purchasing the Dining Plan, here is our summary and review of the Disney Dining Plan.


The Disney Dining Plan can be confusing. This is both because there are multiple tiers of the Plan, and what’s offered on the Disney Dining Plan changes yearly (usually for the worse). For the purposes of the Disney Dining Plan, a “counter service meal” means an combo meal (typically an entree plus a side), a dessert, a non-alcoholic beverage, and tax. A “table service meal” means an entree, a dessert, a non-alcoholic beverage, and tax, but not tip. A “snack” includes items sold at snack carts around the park or in quick service restaurants. These items vary widely, but a good rule of thumb is that if it’s under $4.50, it’s probably a snack. An even easier rule of thumb is that if it has the “DDP” symbol next to it on the menu, it’s a snack. Two table service meal credits may be used for one Signature Meal or Room Service Meal. I’ve done the math, and these are rarely good deals.

The following prices and details of the Disney Dining Plan take affect for arrivals beginning January 1, 2012.

Quick Service Disney Dining Plan

This is the lowest tier of the Disney Dining Plan, and what’s typically included with “Free” Dining at the Value Resorts. Each day, the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan includes:

  • two counter-service meals per person
  • one snack*
  • a refillable drink mug

The daily price of the Quick Service Plan is $34.99 per adult and $11.99 per child ages 3-9.

*Beginning in 2012, the Quick Service Plan will offer only one snack per person per night.

Standard Disney Dining Plan

This is the middle tier of the Disney Dining Plan (Disney refers to this tier merely as the “Disney Dining Plan,” but to avoid confusion, we’ll call it the “Standard Disney Dining Plan”), and what’s typically included with “Free” Dining at the Moderate, Deluxe, and Deluxe Villa Resorts. For a fee, you can upgrade from the Free Quick Service Dining Plan to this plan. Each day, the Standard Disney Dining Plan includes:

  • one counter-service meal
  • one sit-down meal
  • one snack
  • a refillable drink mug

As of January 1, 2012, the daily price of the Standard Disney Dining Plan is $51.54 per adult and $15.02 per child per child for most times of the year; and $53.54 per adult and $16.02 per child during peak season. Children under 3 eat free from an adult’s plate.

Deluxe Disney Dining Plan

This is the upper echelon, the creme-de-la-creme of Disney Dining Plans, and it’s never offered for Free Dining, but you can pay the difference to upgrade to it. Each day, the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan includes:

  • three meals at your choice of counter service restaurants or table service restaurants
  • two snacks
  • one refillable drink mug (per stay)

The daily price of the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan is $85.52 per adult and $23.79 per child during regular season, and $89.52 per adult and 25.79 per child during peak season.

There are about a thousand nuances to the Dining Plans not worth covering here, so if you have further questions, I refer you to Disney’s Dining Plan website, which includes comprehensive PDF documents describing the various plans and their “rules.”


We have used the Disney Dining Plan a few times, most recently on our Honeymoon in June 2010. Overall, we think the Disney Dining Plan can be good, but isn’t something that we’d use every trip. It all depends upon your circumstances. Like many things in life, there are pros and cons of the Disney Dining Plan. In this review, we’ll try to weigh the pros and cons and present a balanced take. We’ll start with the cons.

First, if you’re paying out of pocket for the Disney Dining Plan, as we always have, there’s the temptation to order the most expensive item on the menu to maximize your “value” of the plan. There were a number of times when a cheaper menu item looked more appealing to me, but there was that lingering thought in the back of my mind that if I didn’t order something more expensive, the Dining Plan would actually cost us more for that particular day than if we were to just pay out of pocket.

This is a common concern about the Disney Dining Plan, and the frequent response I’ve heard from people is that they don’t care about saving money, they just get the Disney Dining Plan for convenience, and so they don’t have to worry about money while on vacation. Sarah and I are frugal, so we’re always worried about money, but my response to this would be that if you don’t want to worry about money, purchase a Disney Gift Card before the trip. While I don’t advocate making that psychological disconnect between actual and “fake” money, if you really need to make it, go that route.

I’ll further add, in response to those folks who purchase the Disney Dining Plan because they want a more stress-free vacation, that you won’t necessarily get that through the Disney Dining Plan. The Dining Plan has a myriad of little rules and exceptions. Sarah and I are both reasonably intelligent, and there were occasions when the rules of the Dining Plan seemed unnecessarily complicated to us. By contrast, it’s incredibly simple to go into a restaurant, order the items you like on the menu, and pay with cash or a credit card. Nothing complicated about that, and it’s exactly what we do at any restaurant we visit at home. How people find the Disney Dining Plan less complicated than that is beyond me.

Next on our list of grievances with the Disney Dining Plan is that it often “forced” us to eat more than we wanted. While Sarah and I are both big eaters, at times, the Dining Plan was just too much. There were occasions when we otherwise would have eaten small counter service meals, but because we had the credits to use, we ate at Table Service restaurants. Not only did this result in over-consumption, but it also ate into valuable vacation time. If you have a short trip and want to experience as many attractions as possible, this is something to keep in mind.

Finally, while you can get value out of the Disney Dining Plan (Disney used to advertise savings of 20% or more, but I haven’t seen this on recent literature; in any case, I think savings of 25-30% aren’t out of the question if you do things right), like I said above, that savings requires a certain kind of consumption. You can save just as much, or more, by eating what you actually want.

You can save even more than that by eating what you want AND using the Tables in Wonderland card. Unfortunately, the Tables in Wonderland card is only available to Florida Residents and Annual Passholders, so you may want to look into an Annual Pass (only one person in your party would ned to get one) if it looks like the Tables in Wonderland card might work for you. In analyzing our receipts, I’ve found that we have saved significantly more by using Tables in Wonderland than we ever did by using the Disney Dining Plan. All of this is not to say there aren’t some benefits to the Disney Dining Plan, as there certainly are benefits.

Here are the pros of using the Disney Dining Plan. The first of which is that it does force you to enjoy all of the various wonderful foods at Walt Disney World. And there is a lot of wonderful food there! In the hustle and bustle of wanting to visit as many attractions as possible, sometimes the Dining Plan is a good “reminder” to slow down, stop, and enjoy the wonderful cuisine. Now, this is something we definitely should be self-disciplined-enough to do on our own, but I’ve found we are definitely better about it when using the Dining Plan.

Another benefit to the Disney Dining Plan is that it won’t scare you away from expensive menu items. If you love filets or New York strip steaks, which are frequently the two most expensive menu items at Walt Disney World, but would shy away from ordering them when you see the price, the Dining Plan might work well for you. Plus, if you like these items and would order them if the price field were blank, you’re probably not going to run into the problem of ordering the most expensive item because of the Dining Plan (like I discussed above in my first point), and you will most likely save a lot of money on the Disney Dining Plan.

The Disney Dining Plan is also great for those who can eat a lot and really enjoy Disney snacks. Snack credits are best used during Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival, when some of the best snacks can cost as much as $7! Check out our list of the top Epcot Food & Wine Festival snacks if you’re heading to Walt Disney World in the fall and are considering the Disney Dining Plan.

There are also great uses for the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan and the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan. The Quick Service Plan is best during Food & Wine Festival, when, as mentioned above, snack credits (only one per person per day starting in 2012) can be used for more expensive items at the various kiosks. This is a great use of these credits, and given that you’ll probably be sampling Food & Wine Festival food anyway, it’s good during these trips to not have as many Table Service meals. Wandering around Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival is a lot of fun, and there have actually been full days in Epcot when we haven’t even eaten a meal because we’ve so enjoyed trying the various snacks. Our tip for visiting Epcot on the Quick Service Plan is to use on Quick Service credit in the morning for breakfast at Sunshine Seasons, then use a stockpile of snack credits throughout the day at the kiosks. On a subsequent day when you visit one of the other parks, have three Quick Service meals since you’ll have used up your other snack credits, but will have an extra Quick Service credit. It’s just too bad you can’t use Disney Dining Plan credits for the popular Drinking Around the World activity in Epcot’s World Showcase!

The Deluxe Dining Plan can be utilized well any time of year, if you’re willing to follow the strategy of eating breakfast at a Table Service restaurant, lunch of a snack (there’s more “value” in eating lunch at a Table Service restaurant, but in reality, can you eat two large meals like this that close together? If so, adopt that strategy–I doubt we could do it!), and dinner at a Signature Table Service Restaurant. This really maximizes the value of this plan, but you are almost required to utilize the plan in this manner to make it worthwhile. It’s simply too difficult to eat three Table Service meals per day, so this strategy presents a less-challenging value maximization method. We recently tried doing an early table service lunch and a late signature restaurant dinner and we saved over 50% by using the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan!

Overall, whether the Disney Dining Plan is right for you is a highly personal decision based on all of these, and other, variables. I can’t (nor can anyone else) say whether the Disney Dining Plan is right for your particular circumstances, but hopefully the considerations I’ve discussed above can help you make the decision. If you do decide to purchase the Disney Dining Plan for your vacation, make sure you do your homework to determine where you should eat. I highly recommend The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World 2012, which is a comprehensive resource for eating at Disney and trip planning in general. Given the incredible expense of dining at Walt Disney World, this book is definitely a great resource to have with you on your Disney vacation! Also make sure to check out our Dining Reviews Index Page for reviews of some of our favorite Disney restaurants and tons of mouth-watering food photos from Walt Disney World and Disneyland restaurants!

Additional Disney Dining Plan Resources

For more details on each of the plans, visit the following pages:

If you plan on getting the Disney Dining Plan check out these other Walt Disney World food posts to maximize your Disney Dining Plan value:

I would love to hear what your thoughts are about the Disney Dining Plan, and how it works–or doesn’t work–for you, in the comments! We’re constantly re-evaluating my “Disney Practices,” so who knows, maybe you’ll change our minds!

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63 Responses to “Dining Plan 2012 Costs And Review”

  1. Kurt Miller says:

    I think the vacation/ride time thing is the biggest for us. Eating a table service meal takes up about 1.5 hours, if not more with our son, and that’s valuable ride time when you could do counter service in 45 minutes.

    As for stress free, that’s not nearly true as you pointed out. There’s a lot of stress involved with booking your table services so far in advance (even months ahead because they fill up so fast) and then forcing your day to revolve around that reservation. There have been many instances when it was very inconvenient to head to a table service at a certain time (i.e. “darn, we only have one ride left in Frontierland, now we have to come all the way back AFTER our table service”).

    I’d use it if it was free/heavily discounted, but probably wouldn’t pay full price for it.

    Hope this helps.

    • BigWaveDave says:

      1. Day One – Let the Nightmare begin.
      2. Arrived at resort (Coronado Springs) at 2:10 pm. Check-in line all but out-the-door.
      3. Room wasn’t ready. Didn’t get room assignment until 6:30pm.
      4. Made hotel restaurant reservation on-line. The ONLY seating time available was 5:45. On arrival at the restaurant, it was nearly empty (and it stayed that way until we left).
      5. Food was good but cost 2 – 2.1/2 times as much as it should have.
      6. The room (once we finally arrived):
      a. Grossly stained and sticky carpet (we had to keep our shoes on).
      b. Room smelled like cat pee.
      c. Shower wall had hair all over it.
      d. Beer bottle caps on the floor.
      e. Refrigerator was dirty
      7. Our bags didn’t arrive at our room until after 9pm (wasted an entire afternoon and evening….. waiting – at $500 a day).
      8. Standard television fare. Nothing for the kids after 7pm. This is Disney right? (They should have their own dedicated channels for kids). Unbelievable.
      9. No internet signal. Disney proudly advertises free internet. It may work in the lobby, but not anywhere on the hotel property (and certainly not in our room).
      10. Day(s) Two through five (more of the same).
      11. Room refrigerator failed. It was replaced with a very filthy one (had hair in it).
      12. Our waiter in the hotel restaurant rarely returned to our table. In fact, he played the maracas for three songs (accompanied by the guitar player), thus keeping us waiting for our bill (and our dessert). In fact most of the waiters in our hotel were terrible (our uncomplicated food orders were messed-up every evening. Again, reasonably decent food – just horrendously overpriced with poor service to boot (we expected price gouging, just not quite to THIS degree).
      13. Disney World is completely unprepared for poor weather. There is virtually nothing to do when it rains (first two days of vacation) except to get charged $15.00 for each Saran Wrap thick rain poncho). Also, vendors on Disney property (AMC) shouldn’t charge the same (or more) to see a Disney film ($85.00 for the four of us including snacks). We considered a Circ du Solei show (again on Disney Property) but they wanted $125.00 a ticket. Are you kidding me?????!!!!!!!!
      14. The evening before we left, we returned to our room only to find my bed was changed with stained and crusty linen (see attached photo). It felt like sand paper and was gross to look at.
      15. We paid $500.00 a day for THIS! Never, EVER again. In the entirely unlikely event that we ever return to Disney, I guarantee you we will NOT stay at a Disney property. A complete and utter rip-off! Stay OFF property and save BIG! Most local hotels have shuttles to Disney.
      16. If you do go, Do NOT purchase the Disney meal plan as it will NOT save you money. Most visitors leave without purchasing all the food available on their plans….pure profit for Disney (I was told this by a “cast member”). If you “max-out” (cost wise) every available item on the plan, you might save as little as 10%. It’s not worth it.

  2. Amber says:

    To me the dinning plan can be good if you are trying to budget and want to know all your cost upfront. Now so many of the restaurants have menus online I look before we go.I hardly EVER get a dessert so for me I would be wasting a lot of food and I also like most of the cheaper food choices too so for my family It didnt make sense.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      With sites like AllEars.net, where menus are readily available, you can easily budget and get a rough idea for cost up front without the DDP.

      • Tom,

        I never could understand the logic that seems to indicate that it’s difficult or impossible to budget for food when paying out-of-pocket (cash or plastic). Yes, unless you are anal like me and keep all my receipts you may not be able to get a fairly accurate picture, but with tools like AllEars.net you can get into the right ballpark.

        What we did was to use our room key to charge food back to the room. THen when we got our Room Folio we had a written capture of the food cost. Then the next trip we saved up that much money in cash and took it for our trip. Surprisingly, we spent less. But, I think that will always be our baseline budget for food. It builds in room for error and spur of the moment dining decisions and you don’t bust the budget or have to raid the souvenir budget

      • Janna says:

        Great idea about charging your food to the room! We are going with a really large family and are on the fence about the dining plan. I like the idea of being able to see a print out of what we are spending to save for the next year’s trip!

  3. Amanda Susan says:

    I am one of those people that tries to order the most expensive thing if I can to make it worth while. I’m undecided on the dining plan too. You still need to have cash on hand for the tip. On my next trip I’m doing the Candlelight Processional, dinner at Le Cellier and tea at the Garden View Lounge. The dining plan isn’t going to work for this.

    I have to agree about Tables in Wonderland. The card paid for itself easily.

  4. Chrissy says:

    We loved the Dining Plan when we used it on our honeymoon a few years ago but it was also the first time we’d been to Disney without family and right after the stress of planning a wedding, we definitely wanted to take a slower vacation. We took advantage of free dining on our last trip with extended family and we found it ate up too much of our actual vacation time. Plus, we made most of our ADRs in Epcot and it was inconvenient to coordinate times, etc. though admittedly, that was just poor planning on our part. We decided against the dining for our next trip as it is the first time we will take our child to WDW and trying to make a baby adhere to a dining schedule will not make any of us happy.

  5. Gordon says:

    The Dining Plan is a significant factor in us being able to holiday at WDW. Coming over from Scotland means our flights are a significant expense so because we travel in September/October every two years the Dining Plan is free so allows us a way to ensure we can budget accordingly. It also allows us to dine in restaurants we would normally skip, such as Le Cellier. The food aspect at WDW is a big draw for us but we can be as content with a great Counter at a place such as CHH or Yak n Yeti as we would be at a Signature although the meals we have enjoyed at Teppan Edo, Raglan Road and Le Cellier remain standouts from previous trips.

    From reading many blogs I know the DDP has an equal amount of lovers as it does haters but for us its something that allows WDW to be a regular reality than a rare dream.

    The fact that we can structure sit-down meals so far in advance also fits in with the obsessive advance planning of our trips and looking at food-porn is always good fun

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I know discounts operate differently for overseas guests, but if you get free dining, you don’t get a room discount, correct? If you got a room discount instead, you could effectively set aside the money you saved on your room for dining. I don’t love or hate the DDP, it works well for some and poorly for others, but it just irritates me when people use “free” dining (and it’s not free, make no mistake about that) as an excuse not to budget for their trips. By offering vacation packages, Disney has done a great job capitalizing on the lazy. Strong words, bu apt ones for people unwilling to do their due diligence.

      • Gordon says:

        The discounts available to us are more limited than to US residents. At present we could get 15% off any Resort as well as Free Dining at selected Resorts at specific times or we could get 48% off OKW and SSR as well as free dining.
        Also Disney UK price differently to Disney US. Disney UK have static room rates during specific seasons, so during Aug-Nov for example the room rates are always the same throughout the week, because they cater for guests staying for 2 weeks or longer generally.
        Disney US seem to vary their room rates eg, weekend rates cost more than midweek rates.

        On our last trip we totalled our meal receipts and the savings were significant and given that we stay on-site every time diving off-site to eat or existing solely on Earl of Sandwich is not an option,lol

      • Tom Bricker says:

        Wait….48% off OKW/SSR AND free dining!?!? I need to move to the UK!!!!

      • Ryan says:

        I have used the (free) dining plan on all my trips. I would probably not have been able to go as often or bring my family were it not for this offer. I don’t like the argument about paying the rack room rate. If someone is craving an expensive room then they are not really out to get a great deal. On the other hand, the discounted room rates for value resorts are not very substantial. Around $20 a night from what I can see. At best, it’s around and $80 savings per night at a Deluxe room. Clearly those people are really not trying to cut corners much anyway. Compare that to a savings of $140 a night for a group of four adults. The main difference is that a room discount is essentially a static, once per night discount versus a discount for each person in that room. Even if you add another $10 to upgrade dining plans it’s still a good deal for someone who is actually looking to have an affordable trip to WDW.

      • Tom Bricker says:

        I think you’re being a bit presumptuous about people who enjoy nice amenities. My wife and I love Deluxe resorts, yet we are also frugal and look to get a lot of value for our money. There are plenty of frugal “well off” people (in fact, I’d argue that typically, well off people are more frugal than others–they don’t get to be well off by blowing money recklessly) who think the same way.

        Moreover, your “at best” discount at Deluxes is WAY off. Deluxe resorts frequently offer 40-42% off room only rates. By taking advantage of these discounts, we’ve saved over $160 per night on a room before. Given that there are only 2 of us, this is a much better deal than free dining.

        So, as I said in the article, the point still stands that free dining isn’t always the best discount for *everyone*, and it’s best to do the math. Sure, if you have 4 people in a Value, it’s best to take free dining over the 20% or so room only discount, but your circumstances aren’t the same as everyone else.

  6. John B says:

    One of the reasons I love to read your blog is because your views so match my own (only you are more eloquent). I’m not a fan of the DDP at all because it doesn’t work for me. I am a AP and TiW holder, so the room-only AP or general public discount plus the TiW discount is ALWAYS a better deal for me. Also, I don’t like being boxed into the DDP regulations (for example, I rarely have dessert with lunch but almost always have a 3 course dinner).

    That being said, I’ve done the math a couple different ways. If a family of 3-4 were deciding between room only discount vs. “free” dining, the dining option is better. If it’s a party of only 2, you more or less break even comparing the “savings” of room only discount vs. cost of “free” dining that you get.

    I love TS restaurants and think they’re a good break from the park, so I have no problems amending my schedule around food (which I do every day in life anyway, haha). I also enjoy signatures, and as you pointed out DDP is a poor value there.

    I really dislike how the DDP is affecting all eateries though. It seems like Disney is trying their best to get all food categories (app, entree, dessert) around the same cost to avoid people getting too good a deal on the DDP. For example, pretty much every place I go the desserts are all around $8. I can forsee the apps doing the same. Will they start to cut back on steak/seafood and put more veggies/pasta dishes to mitigate costs. We’ll see.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Agree with everything you’re saying, especially the last paragraph. I will modify your general rule concerning free dining as it also depends on the resort. Parties of 4 are almost always better off with free dining no matter what resort tier. Parties of 3 are always better off w/ free DDP if staying at moderates or values, and sometimes better off w/ free DDP at Deluxes. Parties of 2 are almost always better off with a room-only discount at Deluxes or Moderates, and usually better off with free dining at Values.

      This aren’t hard and fast rules because the room-only discount percentages do vary.

      Nice to hear someone else has the same crazy views as me. Although that may not be such a good thing for you! 😉

  7. Jeff says:

    I agree that the other discounts typically work out better. In the past we have cashed in on large discounts at either AKL or OKW, and the savings for these dwarfed dining plan savings.

    Sadly, my wife is insisting on staying in the Beach Club Villas this November, for which there was no discount available. Studying the past, it would appear that there will not be any discounts coming for that resort either. Because of this, I jumped on the “free” dining as it appears as if that may be the only deal we may get. Before today, I was perfectly happy to pay out of pocket for dining for our upcoming trip.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Ouch, that’s a tough one! I can’t recall the last time I heard of discounts on BCV. There are just so few of them! Regular BC, on the other hand, does get discounts. Is there an AAA discount available?

      If she likes BCV a lot, maybe it’s time to consider DVC! :)

  8. Cherie says:

    I’m doing standard plan under the free dining promo-it was a better deal for me and my kids than doing the room discount. Last year we did QSDP for 5 of our 8 night stay and we liked it-The kids knew how many snacks they could have and could choose for themselves. I do like the gift card idea and would have gone that way if I had found a better room deal. Oh well, it does give us the opportunities to eat at a lot of different table service places that I wouldn’t ahve gone to if paying out of pocket. I really don’t see the problem with ADR’s I plan what parks by what is recommended and then find a restaurant at that park (or in a resort close by) Last time we did this, I ended up changing plans while I was there and had no problem finding a different place to go to.

    • Deb says:

      My family and I have decided against the Dining Plan, and opting for the AP room rate instead. We take longer trips (2 weeks). Last time we went, which was two years ago, I saved all of our food receipts…and I mean ALL, including every little one from the kiosks for a bottle of water, a Mickey bar, etc. I added up all the receipts, and it was much less than the cost of the Dining Plan for us. We aren’t big eaters…just a yogurt for breakfast, etc. We are very happy with the counter service options. Sometimes, we just kind of snack it all day, and don’t really have any big meal. Sometimes we’ll split larger entrees of things. We have just come to like this kind of flexibility, and also the flexibility of not being tied down to a time/place commitment, either. So for us, we choose to not do the Dining Plan.

  9. Laura B. says:

    I ran the numbers for our trip last Feb (party of 4 adults). The ‘free’ dining plan was only $50/pp more than the room only discount. So for $50 more, each person got the quick service dining plan for 6 days. That equaled out to 12 counter service meals and 12 snacks for $50 total! There’s no way TiW could beat that. That being said, we were totally fine with not eating table service. We wanted to stay in the parks all day and think the best thing about Disney food is the snacks! With the QSDP going to only 1 snack in 2012, this HIGHLY depreciates the value for me.

    I do agree with it being too much food (who wants dried out carrot cake for dessert at lunch when there are Dole Whips to be eaten!), but again, for only the $50 extra over the room discount, we decided it was worth it to get the dining plan and then splurge on extras (La Cava del Tequila margaritas for sure!)

  10. Kalie says:

    I am wondering if they raise the price for the DDP, would they also raise the menu prices? Do you know where you can find an updated menu with prices? It’s hard to determine if it’s an actual savings without knowing the menu prices.

  11. Katie says:

    We don’t use the dining plan for several reasons. First, we prefer to eat somewhere between all counter service meals and a table service meal every day. Second, we tend to stay club level, so we never pay for breakfast and we often satisfy the afternoon munchies in the lounge rather than paying for snacks in the park. Finally, even when we eat table service, we don’t eat dessert (and if we do happen to want dessert, there are nice things in the club lounge). We usually book a few table service ADRs and play the rest by ear, counter service style.

  12. We run the numbers after every WDW trip, and the standard DDP does save us money vs. TIW. Mind you, we don’t tour “Bricker-style” :) and enjoy the hour or so break from the parks that the table-service meal provides each day. We do end up eating more than we normally would though – the counter-service deserts often go to waste, and snack credits pile up and result in a suitcase full of fudge on the trip home! As you said, the important thing is to do the math – price out what you’d spend vs. the DDP cost, and see what works for you personally.

  13. Grover says:

    Thanks very much for writing this up, it was very helpful.

    Why do you guys think that travel agents push the free dining so hard? Is there some kind of incentive to do so? I had no idea what I was doing the first time we went to WDW a few years ago, and the travel agent convinced us to move the date of our vacation around just so we could take advantage of the free dining because she described it as this incredible discount. But once it was all over, I wasn’t convinced it was worth it at all. Certainly not a rip-off or anything, but just not that a significant savings over just paying for the meals and but it definitely made an already complicated trip even more complicated and inconvenient (as you’ve pointed out here). This year, our travel agent (different agent, different company) tried the same thing, even though that would raise our total price by something close to $700, which I this time politely refused.

    For us it’s not worth the extra hassle to save < $100 of figuring out what and when we can eat on a trip that costs $3000.

  14. Mike says:

    Just recently found your blog and really enjoy it.

    I have a question about the deluxe dining plan strategy you describe (“eating breakfast at a Table Service restaurant, lunch at a Counter Service restaurant, and dinner at a Signature Table Service Restaurant”). Wouldn’t this approach use up 4 meal credits per day (one for breakfast, one for lunch, and two for the signature dinner)?

    I was thinking of doing something similar for a trip without the kids. Use the snack credits for breakfast, TS or QS lunch, and signature dinner. If I wanted a more food-centric vacation, I would probably do TS lunch. Of course, this would likely be way too much food since the deluxe plan includes appetizer with TS meals.

    Anyway, it’s just something I was thinking of for a less park-focused trip to WDW. I think it would be fun to do one trip where the meals were the focus, with the ultimate goal being to try a different signature restaurant for dinner each night. I have not fully looked at the numbers, but I think this could be done economically using the plan ($160 to $180 total per day for the deluxe plan for two adults). Though, if I had an AP, the TiW card would probably be the better way to go.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Nice catch! That should have been “have a couple snacks as a light lunch.” Sure, you can get better value out of the DDP by doing TS lunch and Signature dinner, but that’s two big meals pretty close to one another!

  15. Jenelle Christensen says:

    We got the free dining plan last year and loved it. We know we could get a better rate and save a bit without it but it worked so well for our family. When we have gone to disney previously every snack the kids wanted became a stress. “I guess you can get that $4 frozen lemonade but you have to share with your three sisters” With the dining plan the kids had so much fun finding ways to enjoy their credits without feeling bad about the cost. We also didn’t stress about cost of meals and ate what we wanted. We happen to be a group of foodies so often that was the most expensive item at a restaurant. Also taking time for a long sit down meal at 1:30 seemed like a great use of our time. It was a break from the heat and we had lots of energy to go seeing more rides after.

  16. Keith C (TheFugitiveGuy) says:

    I love the free dining plan for my family of four, but only for certain trips. Last year we took a long Labor Day weekend trip, while staying at Pop Century. Yes, we missed out on getting the AP discount, but 40% off a night for a Value resort during a low season really doesn’t save that much. We upgraded to the standard plan so we could include some sitdown meals, and had a fantastic time trying out different places (cost of $24 per day for the upgrade). So the way I look at it, the free dining plan cost us $32 in lost room discounts plus $24 upgrade = $56 per day, to be able to eat at places like Le Cellier and Tutto Italia. Definitely worth it for us!
    I have to agree with the above comment, one of the things I liked best about the dining plan was being frivolous with snacks in the park. Buying a Mickey ice cream is a great pick-me-up in the middle of a warm day, but it’s not something I would regularly consider when paying cash. But with the DP, it was easy and fun :)

  17. Amanda says:

    Another consideration that comes into play, when deciding whether or not dining plan is cost efficient or not is adult/child ratio. If you have a lot of children and minimal adults then it is probably better to get a dining plan. Snacks are snacks, regardless of age, and with a child being only $11.99, most buffets a child is $18.99 or more. Even if you take them to casual dining restaurant, they are going to spend $7.50 before tax for 1 meal. Add in the snack and they are paid for, regardless of what they have chosen to eat. This makes their counter service free. One of our favorites is Le Cellier and a lunch there, the children are charged extra for steak, and since all of our children jump at the sound of steak, they are $12 a piece at this restaurant alone. That being said, taking children to signature restaurants and using credits doesnt work bc their meals are still about $7.50. If you have a lot of adults and little to no children, you are probably better off paying out of pocket. I think that this marketing scheme, like most of disney’s business decisions allows for some people to come out of Disney saving a few bucks, with some good research, while others who didn’t spend time trying to figure the place out compensate for those dollars lost, so that the Disney nuts really can get the most bang for their buck. Either way, I agree that DDP is convienent and since I love Disney food, I love the feeling that I can go in and order whatever I want and not worry about the prices….but then again I have 5 children. 😉

  18. KG says:

    I have never understood why people go crazy over “free” dining and overlook some of the other discounts available. We’ve priced the free dining offer for our family of four, and it’s always in the neighborhood of $1500+ for our standard 5-day vacation at a value. Add in another couple hundred for tax + tips, and it’s really no bargain. This year we got the Kids Stay & Play Free discount for a six-day visit for under $1000, which is perfect for our touring style. We’re not big eaters and have never been crazy about Disney food to begin with (I know we’re in the minority), so feel like we could definitely come in under $500 for food out of pocket with snacks from home (which we prefer) and breakfast/lunches in the room. We’ll eat at a couple of Landry’s and Downtown Disney restaurants (with discounts) so the kids get some of the fun stuff, and will still be way ahead.

    And the time thing mentioned by another commenter above is huge to us. One year we scheduled several character meals for our sons and felt like we were squeezing our park time out for sub-par food and hundreds of lookalike pics with Mickey. You don’t realize how much time a buffet or another TS meal can take out of your day, not to mention how stressed we felt having to be in a certain place at a certain time. With the free dining dates, it’s critical to make ADRs months ahead of time, which we feel is really restrictive. We’ve found we prefer to go under another discount at a time when “free” dining is not available and just walk up & check availability.

  19. Jennifer says:

    I love the DDP and free dining works better for our family than resort discounts. we stay at the value resorts, and RARELY do they ever offer 40% off there. Typically it’s 20-25% off, which when the rate is only $89/nt, isn’t that much of a savings. Free dining for 2 adutls/2 kids for 7 days is $811.72 savings. 25% off a room rate will barely save you $150.

    This year our dates didn’t work for Free Dining, but we did take advantage of the Kids Play Free promo. 5 day passes for 2 kids is about $500…..still a better deal than the 25% we could have gotten off rack rate.

    Dining plan works for us because, like you, we are very frugal. And if our meals were not “included” already, 1) we would NEVER do a table service meal, 2) we would always skip dessert and 3) do a lot more of meal sharing. Doesn’t matter that I had budgeted $1000 for meals for the trip, it would be so hard to go against our normal cost saving measures to pay $45 for a steak at Le Cellier, or to indulge in a $10 ice cream sundae, for 4 people! The Dining plan allows us to have a better vacation, because I’ve scrimped and saved for the past year to get there, I don’t want to scrimp on my meals.

    • Jenny says:

      When do they offer the deals for a free meal plan or discounts on the room? Only during the off-season to entice people to come, or also at the end of Aug. near Labor Day, too?

  20. Callie says:

    I have 4 adults and 3 kids going to Disney for 7 days. I estimated about 80 to 100 per day for food fir lunch and dinner… Then I looked at booking a moderate resort in Jan w/0 the meal plan and then with the meal plan…. It was 100 more with the “free” dining plan…. But still think it will save me at least 500 total! I hope I made the right decision!!

  21. Renee says:

    As annual pass holders (not Florida residents) we have opted for the Tables in Wonderland. We especially appreciate that the discount applies to our adult beverages as well. Of course, only at bars attached to full service restaurants… But that is always a good excuse for the “Monorail Pub Crawl”.

  22. Julia says:

    Tom – I’m with you on this one. I’ve done my research, tried them and for what we spend it’s just as easy to make our reservations ahead (if we want to eat somewhere special) or just eat as we go. Honestly, I’m one who’s happy eating a kids meal at the counter service stands. Sometimes for $4.99 to $7.95 (depending on where I am) I can get my food, drink and some grapes.. lol We always go during food and wine, so my meal is there. The Meal Plan USED to be good when it first started, we’d always end up with extra items before we left, but when they started changing it and taking things away it wasn’t worth it anymore for us. We are DVC and we bring our breakfast w/us too. I will be enjoying the Flying Fish on Saturday night (this coming one). Non meal plan.
    Tom – meet you at Food & Wine! =0)

  23. Gene says:

    Hi there,

    I am looking to go to Disney World in Late January or 1st week of February. I live in Canada and a few of the places I looked at are offering free DDP. My kids are 2 and 3(will be turning 4 at the end of January). I am trying to determine if the DDP would be worth it or not? Also how are the resorts? Value vs Moderate? Any hotels people would recommend for a family on a budget but wanting something decent?


  24. Wonderful web site. A lot of helpful information here. I?m sending it to a few buddies ans also sharing in delicious. And of course, thank you on your effort!

  25. Lori says:

    We just returned from a week at Disney World and didn’t use the Dining Plan for the first time in a long time. While I like having everything paid for in advance and not having to worry about how much we’re spending at each meal, it no longer makes sense for us. I’m not sure if anyone else mentioned this in the comments, but depending on the age of your children, the dining plan may or may not work for you. Our daughter is 10, which counts as an adult. There is no way she will eat $50 worth of food in a day, so it just doesn’t work for our family.

    We did purchase the Tables in Wonderland card (also available to DVC members starting in 2012). We almost saved enough on meals to break even on the purchase. But, I’m going back in February for the Princess 1/2 Marathon, so we’ll break even after that trip.

    At some of our table service meals, our daughter and I shared meals, so we saved in that way too. At Liberty Tree Tavern for lunch, I told the server we were sharing, and they brought out 2 separate plates with way more food than one serving would’ve been, yet only charged us for one meal. I was also very impressed that all of the table service restaurants allowed her to order from the kids menu even though she’s technically considered an adult. Even with the Candlelight Processional dinner package, we were able to pay the kid’s price for her, which is a substantial savings.

    I also noticed on this trip that cashiers and servers didn’t automatically assume we were on the dining plan. It seems there has maybe been a shift away from the dining plan, maybe because they keep raising the prices and taking away benefits. I think many guests are figuring out that it may not be the best value. For our entire trip, we spent less than $100 more for food and merchandise than we would’ve spent just for the dining plan, and I know we bought way more than $100 in merchandise.

    Thanks again for your great website and photos. I look forward to reading it every day!

  26. Chris says:

    One thing you may want to add is that if you leave early or don’t use all of your qs or ts credits they can convert them into snack credits.
    All three of my kids were very sick toward the end of a two week visit, and we had to leave with 3 ts and 3 qs credits left. One nice lady in the Pop Century saw me loading up for the snack credits we had left and told me about converting the meals after I told her about the kids. We left with 3 or 4 cases of cokes and snacks to last for months.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      The thing is, if you have to convert your QS or TS credits to snack credits and use them to get things to take home, you’re receiving poor value. I could buy the snacks at WDW for considerably less at home. I only pay WDW premium prices while at WDW because of its location. Sort of like paying $10 for a beer at the football stadium. If you were going to drink 4 beers at a game, it’d be a good deal to buy a voucher to “buy 3, get 1 free.” However, if you were going to drink 2, it wouldn’t be a good deal to buy that same voucher and take the other two beers home, because you can purchase those same beers for $1 each at the grocery store. (Assuming such a voucher/policy even existed, which obviously they do not.)

      • Chris says:

        It would just be for emergency reasons like having to go home early. This way you don’t completely waste your credits.

      • Tom Bricker says:

        Ahh, okay! That is definitely great to know–even for someone who inadvertently has snack credits at the end of their trip. Something is better than nothing!

  27. Karen says:

    We’ve been getting the meal plan for years, first at the resorts and then it was added to the time-share resorts, which we have. It was convenient and it WAS a good deal. After reviewing the current prices and guide-lines, I don’t feel the same way. For example, LeCellier used to use one meal option, now it’s 2. Now a refillable cup is included, but it’s not convenient to use it if you’re leaving for the day…..if you want a drink upon arriving back at the resort, you have to go to your room to get it…..some people carry it around with them for this reason. I’m taking my grandchildren next week and I’m not getting the dining plan.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I agree about the refillable mug. It’s an extra I’d rather not have. As for Le Cellier, it is still only 1 credit at lunch!

  28. jermy says:

    why is there no mention of the platinum plan for 2012

  29. Kay says:

    I have been to Disneyland(1) and Walt Disney World(several times over the years from 1975 with my parents thru 2011 with my daughter & her family) and never used the dining plan. We have stayed in hotels and camped. We have made dining reservations several times, at Epcot for Akershus story book Princess for lunch, Polynesian resort for the Aloha dinner show, Rainforest. Other than that we have always ate quick meals inside the parks and ate outside the park (unrelated to disney)for a good dinner or grilled back at the camper if we camped. This works great, always had a good time, and my husband always thought we saved money. But then again we don’t ever seem to count everything we bring from home thats in the camper. You know those nice big steaks I brought from home out of the freezer, etc. LOL! Just out of pocket when we get there. This past summer we stayed at Pop Century (first time) and was offered the free dining plan(quick service) I upgraded to the next level because I already had made 2 dinner reservations (for my grandson)that were costing me out of pocket as much as the upgrade. So this allowed us all 1 dinner reservation everynight. I highly recommend reservations ahead, then change them after you get there to suit your vacation, even if you don’t get the dining plan. For the most part we made one reservation a day. We had two reservations for the day we went to Animal Kingdom. I would never want anyomore than two and animal Kingdom was a good place to have two. We had the Donald Safari Character breakfast when we first arrived and then afterwards we had a reservation for Rainforest. We would have eaten at the Rainforest with or without the reservations. So that makes three places we would have ate at regardless of having or not having the dining plan. When making reservations I think its a good idea to mix it up a little with breakfast lunch and dinner, in case one works better for you than the other. We mixed it up a little bit by having reservations for a couple of character breakfast (grandson loved it)instead of dinner.You may want to keep in mind though while your making reservations that unless its a Character breakfast it is cheaper to buy breakfast out of pocket than lunch or dinner. Your going to get the most out of your dining plan to make reservations for dinner. We did find the dining plan with 2 meals a day (one quick meal and one table service) to be plenty enough food for us and all the reservations we would have wanted to make. We were worried about having to get to reservations with my grandson but found it was OK as long as you planned well and actually easier to have them. We went over July 4, 2011 and we really welcomed the rest and having a nice cool place to go and sit down together to eat. Afterwards my daughter even commented she didn’t know what we would have done without the reservations. It is a good idea to make the reservation each day at the park you plan on being in or near a place you are going. We planned so we didn’t have to leave one park and go to another to eat. Or for instance my husband and son inlaw went on a fishing excursion that left from the Contemporary one morning and my daughter, her son and I met them for a character breakfast buffet there later. Then my daughter and her family went to Magic Kingdom while my husband and I took our vehicle back to Pop Century, and met them back later. As far as the snacks go we used this for some breakfast items at Pop Century they allowed us to have. We loved the free refills at the Hotel in our disney cup. We ate at Pop century several times and the free refills came in handy.Since it was summer we never tired of our refills. The one thing we did get tired of was the desert offered with your quick meal, even though we read ahead to ask for something different we didn’t find it as available upon request as others had apparently had. Sometimes the desert was throwed away even though we would save it for later. On our last night my daughter had one adult meal left on her dining plan. She ordered a meal (even though it was adult portion) for her two yr old son to eat. It was better than letting it go to waste and saved her a few dollars on the child menu. After it was all said and done we personally enjoyed getting the dining plan! Even with the price of the upgrade we thought it saved us a little. But if we had to add it to our vacation not free. I don’t think we would break even.

    • Kay says:

      I was going to correct and add this information to the above. Disney didn’t actually offer the dining plan to me when I made my room reservations only. They sent my daughter the dining plan offer in the mail. I had already made reservations for our rooms and listed her name on the reservations with us. Which I think is required. So we were allowed to use the dining plan also. If her name had not been on the reservations with us we could not have used the dining offer along with her and her family. If I understand correctly I believe if we had already paid for a vacation package we couldn’t have added the dining plan either. We started out just reserving rooms with no tickets or discounts. We were kind of stuck with what ever was offered for July 4, 2011 is what we paid for. This was the only time all of the family could go. So we were thrilled to get the dining plan and to us it was free. We had nothing to loose but to use it.

  30. Irma MyersDonihoo says:

    Here’s my question…when we went to Disneyland, we got Concierge service added to our room which gave us access to a room where there was food available 24/7…therefor, we had b’fast there, gathered up snacks and drinks for the day and at night was able to have dessert and wine relaxation time. How do these costs compare? We are planning a trip for mid-October this year and would like to do Concierge service again, but might change it out for a dining plan. Please advise. Thanks!

  31. Mark says:

    As many on here have stated, the best thing to do is look at all of the promotions available and select which on saves your family the most for the type of traveler you are. For my family, the “free” dining plan has always worked out to a better deal. We always stay at Pop Century so the 15-25% discount for rooms is not nearly as lucrative as free food for a day for a family of four. The only promotion that has come close in total value for us was the kids play/stay free but it ended up being a wash so we booked during the free dining plan period instead.

    Overall, I like the Quick service plan better than the regular dining plan. Only once were we given the regular dining plan for free. I hated being tied down to reservations we made 6 months prior when we booked a dinner at Epcot on say a Tuesday only to find out when we arrive that Tuesday is the day that Hollywood Studios is open early for Disney Resort guests or that is the day friends decide to visit us and they want to go to the Magic Kingdom. The thing I love about Disney is once I am there, I want to be a kid with my kids so that means as few plans/reservations/etc as possible. I just want to get up and go to whatever park we decide on and that is easiest with the QS plan. However, if you are more into the sit-down dining experience, than our approach to eating would not suit you and thus if you are given a free QS plan, it may make sense for you to upgrade for a 10 or 15 bucks a day to the regular dining plan.

    I too am very anal about receipts and always want to be sure I have received the best deal possible. After each trip, I have added the value of the “free” food we consumed while on vacation to see what it would have cost me out of pocket and I always come out ahead over other discounts. When considering the food we have left over at the end of the trip that we “cash out” as snacks to bring home with us, we are in bonus territory. And we eat what we want and not the most expensive item on the menu to get the most bang for our buck. Thus, the expenses that I am tabulating would be very close to what we would have spent without the meal plan.

    There are four of us and we are grazers as many have mentioned before. We will normally use snacks to get yogurt or a banana for breakfast at the resort. We then will use two QS meals to share around lunch time, some snacks mid-day, 2-3 QS for dinners. We don’t stress about where we are at on the meal plan as we only eat when we are hungry and we buy enough to feed us. We have always had a few meals and snacks left over. That being said, with the QS now only having one snack per day, we may have to “budget” our meals better on future trips.

    One final note, we have one child that is classified as a junior and one that is young enough to be a child. They give us credit for 8 QS meals without denoting how many are child or adults. We tend to use them almost all for adult meals as there are more options and the portions tend to be larger. Thus, two QS adult meals will feed all four of us since we eat small portions throughout the day. Otherwise, if both kids got their own meal and my wife and I split and adult meal, we would burn through 3 QS meals. I have never understood why Disney does not track them separately but I am glad they do not.

  32. Mark says:

    As many on here have stated, the best thing to do is look at all of the promotions available and select which on saves your family the most for the type of traveler you are. For my family, the “free” dining plan has always worked out to a better deal. We always stay at Pop Century so the 15-25% discount for rooms is not nearly as lucrative as free food for a day for a family of four. The only promotion that has come close in total value for us was the kids play/stay free but it ended up being a wash so we booked during the free dining plan period instead.

    Overall, I like the Quick service plan better than the regular dining plan. Only once were we given the regular dining plan for free. I hated being tied down to reservations we made 6 months prior when we booked a dinner at Epcot on say a Tuesday only to find out when we arrive that Tuesday is the day that Hollywood Studios is open early for Disney Resort guests or that is the day friends decide to visit us and they want to go to the Magic Kingdom. The thing I love about Disney is once I am there, I want to be a kid with my kids so that means as few plans/reservations/etc as possible. I just want to get up and go to whatever park we decide on and that is easiest with the QS plan. However, if you are more into the sit-down dining experience, than our approach to eating would not suit you and thus if you are given a free QS plan, it may make sense for you to upgrade for a 10 or 15 bucks a day to the regular dining plan.

    I too am very anal about receipts and always want to be sure I have received the best deal possible. After each trip, I have added the value of the “free” food we consumed while on vacation to see what it would have cost me out of pocket and I always come out ahead over other discounts. When considering the food we have left over at the end of the trip that we “cash out” as snacks to bring home with us, we are in bonus territory. And we eat what we want and not the most expensive item on the menu to get the most bang for our buck. Thus, the expenses that I am tabulating would be very close to what we would have spent without the meal plan.
    There are four of us and we are grazers as many have mentioned before. We will normally use snacks to get yogurt or a banana for breakfast at the resort. We then will use two QS meals to share around lunch time, some snacks mid-day, 2-3 QS for dinners. We don’t stress about where we are at on the meal plan as we only eat when we are hungry and we buy enough to feed us. We have always had a few meals and snacks left over. That being said, with the QS now only having one snack per day, we may have to “budget” our meals better.

    One final note, we have one child that is classified as a junior and one that is young enough to be a child. They give us credit for 8 QS meals without denoting how many are child or adults. We tend to use them almost all for adult meals as there are more options and the portions tend to be larger. Thus, two QS adult meals will feed all four of us since we eat small portions throughout the day. Otherwise, if both kids got their own meal and my wife and I split and adult meal, we would burn through 3 QS meals. I have never understood why Disney does not track them separately but I am glad they do not.

  33. David says:

    Has anyone written a post about the slow decay of the DDP packages as well as price increases? I mean, it’d be interesting and telling to see a timeline of what was included originally and what has been taken away year by year. A little graphic of each year’s plan. Once upon a time, we stayed at All-Star Movies and got free sit-down dining, two free drinks at breakfast (OJ to drink & a soda or water to carry to the parks), free appetizers at dinner, and tips were included. Over the years, they’ve raised the prices and cut out tips, cut out appetizers, cut out sit-down dining. Sad to see.

  34. Jeff Lynch says:

    Tom — I have to tell you, and I hope someone at Disney reads this and pays attention, that this post by you is the reason I will be buying a Disney Meal Plan the next trip I take to WDW.

    I have never understood how these plans worked because they are so confusing to me.

    But YOU really spelled it out in a way I can understand. Those last few paragraphs where you showed how to use a Table Service meal for breakfast, then a snack, then a Signature Table Service dinner suddenly made all of this make sense to me — when I’d spent years really intimidated by this plan thing because it just never made sense to me.


    I’m going to do the Deluxe Dining Plan as you described and will report back in the future how it worked out for me.

    For any Disney people reading this — you really need to make your official site as easy to understand as what Tom has written. Perhaps you should hire Tom to make your site as easy to read and as enjoyable as the site he created here!

  35. sue p says:


    I just happened onto your site. I am so confused…Hope you can guide me in right direction…There will be 4 (maybe 6) adults and 1 ten year old going to cruise for 3 days then stay at Disney onsite (or vise versa)…no rental car…MY dream is to stay at the Animal Kingdom for the 2 nights on land…It is a once in lifetime trip but on a shoestring budget…Will it work? I hope to get in on the last week of the free dining plan Sept 12…There is a restaurant with lots of aquariums that I was told was awesome (have not researched the name… Thank you for any advice possible. Does the free dining rreally mean free? or can I get along better if there is a discount room? Merci Sue

    • Mark says:

      Sue, in order to receive the free dining, you have to stay at the resort at least 5 mights. If you go to disneyworld.com and click on the special offers link under “Tickets and Packages”, you will find the free dining program to look at all of the stipulations.

  36. Cory O says:

    My situation seems to be a little different. We used the meal plan 2 years ago and loved it and planned on doing it again this year. Unfortunately, the week we’re tied down to go this year only has the 30% off value resorts discount and I have heard that the free dining plans will not be available that week (columbus day weekend). So, we’re trying to decide whether or not to buy into the dining plan out of pocket or pay as we go. Any suggestions?

  37. Jones family says:

    We just came back from a 5 night/6 day stay with a magic your way package. We got the Disney dining plus plan. This plan is NOT worth the money unless you want to eat at least 3 sugary desserts per day. Most of the food was sub par. I planned for months and read all of the food blog websites and made notes, etc… I was disappointed in all of the meals except for Akershus princess dining and Tuskers lunch. Truth be told if you plan on going to mostly character meals then you’ll be okay. It is worth not having to stand in any lines to meet Mickey or Cinderella, etc…Save your money, pay for 2 really good character meals, do breakfast in your room and eat light at the parks! Even Japan at Epcot was a wash! $75 for lunch for 2 adults and 2 children! Way overpriced. But overall our stay was great sans the food,

  38. Tom says:

    Found this site recently and am enjoying your analysis on the food options.

    I’m heading to Disney in OCT 2012 — the first time in ages, and now we have a 2 year old to share it with — and we think we’ll be staying at WL.

    I was thinking of booking this week, but then you were predicting that free dining soon to be announced for Fall 2012. That post got yanked, but the link is still up there at the start of this post. What gives?

    – Tom

  39. David Anderson says:

    We made our vacation reservations for November 10-18, 2012 and I
    heard you were offering the free dining plan, with the notice coming out July 12, for the fall of 2012. Even though we made our reservations, can we get the free dining plan with our reservations?

  40. Jenni says:

    Just a tip to anyone getting the Dining Plan who lives in the UK – We booked our 2013 Honeymoon – 15 nights at POFQ with free DDP for £2,387.75 ($3,686.81) and now the Dining Plan offer is no longer available, the price has shot up to £3,399.45 ($5,248.66).

    The Free Dining offer will no doubt be back later this year – so if you can wait to book your trip, book it when the offer is back (it came around in Autumn last year when I started looking at prices).

    We couldn’t believe how lucky we were to get this trip for so cheap – no Disney travel agent was able to find it at this price, so if you can get it – go for it!

  41. Rocky says:

    We just finished off another great Disney vacation but we decided to try the Tables in Wonderland card (TIW) in lieu of DDP. We were travelling with another family so we were able to split the cost $100 total for the card. The card offers a 20% discount but like DDP an 18% gratuity is added to parties of 6 or more people.

    In the end we found this method cheaper and less stressful than using the DDP. Nobody in our family would ever choose to eat dessert at a quick service location so we just didn’t order any desserts. Another benefit of using TIW is that we were able to use the discounts on appetizers and entrees while the DDP only offer entre and dessert. We were also able to order off the kids menu for my 10 year old which would be possible with DDP but you would still be paying for the adult meal. By the end of the trip we had 5 table service meals which is exactly what we wanted as there are times that we prefer to forgo the meal because of our plans in the parks.

    When we crunched the numbers we saved about 40% over trying to use the DDP. Those savings came by not actually eating a sit down meal every night, using TIW card, ordering what we wanted and not what was already paid for by using DDP and finally treating our 10 year old like a kid and not an adult.

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