For years, the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan has been an unheralded way to save a lot of money at Walt Disney World restaurants. It’s unheralded because it can be totally impractical. For most people, it’s the equivalent of buying 30 pounds of discount mayonnaise from Costco. Everyone loves mayo, but when you buy more than you can use before it expires, your savings are illusory. (Last updated April 2, 2019.)
The same idea applies with the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan. There’s the possibility for great theoretical savings, but the practical reality is that most Walt Disney World guests cannot or will not eat that much. In fact, the high likelihood of many unused credits is a big part of why Disney prices the Deluxe Dining Plan how it does. On a per-credit basis, it’s cheaper than the other Dining Plans, but it’s extremely unlikely you’ll use all those credits, or at least that you’ll use them to their full potential if used over the course of a normal Walt Disney World vacation.
However, there are ways to get clever with the Deluxe Dining Plan. We would know, as we’ve run this same exercise almost every year, and will be doing it again at least a couple of times in 2019. For most people, the easiest route is coupling the Deluxe Dining Plan with one reservation of a split stay (which we covered recently in our How to Do a Split Stay at Walt Disney World post). This allows you to spread out your credits over an additional day, since you have your full check-in and check-out days to use them.
Perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves. If you’re unfamiliar with Walt Disney World’s Dining Plan structure, check out our Ultimate Guide to the Disney Dining Plan post. The Deluxe Disney Dining Plan includes three counter service restaurants or table service meal credits and two snacks per night, plus one refillable mug per trip.
Given the flexibility of those meal credits–you could use them at Electric Umbrella or California Grill–the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan is viewed as something of an all-inclusive Dining Plan (it’s not actually, but for most people, it’s effectively that) or the ultimate dining splurge. You even still get appetizers with the Deluxe Dining Plan!
For our experiment (we’ll call it that to make this sound scientific instead of just like us stuffing our faces nonstop), we opted for a single night of the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan. During that time, we did three table service meals all with alcohol, appetizers, and desserts.
We also used both of our snack credits at the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, and somehow managed to get a few uses out of our refillable mugs. (More importantly, we took them home with us, as we didn’t have this new-ish design.) Even if you’re not visiting during one of the Epcot festivals, there are so many expensive snacks at Walt Disney World now that it’s easy to get bang for your buck that way.
Rather than following our own advice in our Best-Value Table Service Disney Dining Plan Restaurants post, we opted for restaurants that were expensive, but also that we had yet to review. (And also that we were hesitant to pay for out of pocket as we anticipated they’d be poor values.)
As such, we booked reservations for Tony’s Town Square, Teppan Edo, and Coral Reef. Not exactly the heavy-hitters of the Walt Disney World dining scene, but restaurants at which we’ve been wanting to visit or revisit. I’m not going to fixate on our experiences at each restaurant since we’ll have full reviews of each coming later and whether our meals were “good” or “bad” is sort of irrelevant to this post. We could’ve done this same experiment at other 1-credit table service restaurants and had good meals if we wanted.
Instead, we’ll cut to the chase and share the objective results. We spent $232.50 to add on the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan (two adults, one night) to our stay at Pop Century.
That’s undeniably a lot of money. It’s way more money than we spend out of pocket on food during an average day at Walt Disney World. However, here’s what each meal would have cost if we had paid out of pocket:
Tony’s Town Square – $135.53
Teppan Edo – $138.45
Coral Reef – $137.12
Festival of the Arts Snacks – $40.25
This amounts to a total value of $451.35 (plus whatever value you want to give the refillable mugs–we barely used them), which far exceeded the amount we spent on the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan. It even exceeded Disney’s own advertised savings on the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan since we saved roughly 50%. Still, we spent more than we normally would have per day on food, so that mayo analogy still applies, right?
Well, maybe. The added wrinkle here is that we did these meals over the course two days. The scenario we tested is not practical for an average tourist, but presents an interesting way to ‘hack’ the Deluxe Dining Plan for those willing to work for it. In this test, we did a 1-night stay and spread out our 3 table service meals over the course of two days.
Since the Deluxe Dining Plan credits do not expire until midnight of the day you check-out, you effectively have two full days to use a day’s worth of credits. Likewise, you’d have 3 days to use a 2-day’s stay worth of credits, and so on. This is why we recommend doing a split stay, and purchasing the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan for only one of those stays.
Given that this was all we ate over the course of two days at Walt Disney World, I think it was a good value. With that said, it is disingenuous to tout this as a savings of $200+. Had we paid out of pocket, we would not have ordered alcohol at any of these meals (most of the drinks were bad and overpriced–they weren’t even worth the ~$3 we paid out of pocket for the tips on each one). We also would not have ordered expensive entrees at Tony’s, nor would we have purchased refillable mugs.
On this blog, we normally stress that the Disney Dining Plan is only “worth” whatever value you get out of it, taking into account what you’d eat normally when paying out of pocket, not in the contrived setting of trying to eek as much value out of the credits as possible by ordering the most expensive entrees, etc. I think that’s a fair point that also needs to be emphasized here.
Even with that in mind, we would have ordered expensive entrees at Teppan Edo, moderately-priced ones at the other two restaurants, and outrageously priced snacks at Festival of the Arts. Even discounting the actual value of what we received, we still came out way ahead, saving around $100. The difficulty here is in replicating our “experiment.”
Normally, the best practical way to leverage the Deluxe Dining Plan over the course of a trip is to do a character breakfast, eat snacks midday, and do a Signature Restaurant for dinner. Unless your stomach is a bottomless pit, three table service meals simply is not realistic, and that’s true from both a hunger and time perspective.
If you’re a normal person considering the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan, that’s the ‘best use’ scenario we’d recommend. Even that isn’t totally practical. Character breakfasts and Signature dining are pretty much polar opposites of one another, so unless you’re a party of adults who like to embrace a sense of whimsy and sophistication, or a family with well-behaved and mature kids, even that scenario is pushing the bounds of practicality.
As we do a lot of 1-2 night stays for the sake of hotel updates, it’s easy for us to buy the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan for one night. For those of you doing regular trips, this might seem like a useless tip, but keep in mind that it’s possible to book split stays. You don’t necessarily even have to change hotels for this to work (although we enjoy that aspect of split stays).
Now, we’re not condoning do 7 one-night stays at Pop Century and booking the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan every other night of your trip (to the contrary, I think you might run into problems with the hotel refusing to keep you in the same room because of the hassle you’ve created), but doing a one night stay at the front or back end of your trip and splurging on dining during those couple of days could be a savvy and realistic move.
Ultimately, maybe you’ll be able to leverage the Deluxe Dining Plan in a way similar to what we did here, and maybe this is totally unreasonable and utterly useless for you. Part of Walt Disney World planning comes down to reading different ideas, and distilling the information to determine whether it’s pertinent to you. For some people, this is definitely a terrible idea. For others, it’s great. Irrespective of how it rates for you, hopefully it was at least an interesting read. After all, we made the great sacrifice of eating at Tony’s Town Square (TONY’S!) for you. 😉
Have you done the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan? Were you able to get value out of it? Do you agree or disagree with our take on the value of the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!