Walt Disney World finally announced that the Disney Dining Plan is returning in 2024! Unsurprisingly, there are major changes after over 3 years of the being gone and one (or two) of those are the removal of the Deluxe and Plus tiers of the DDP. This post covers why these options went away, how this impacts character meals, Signature Restaurants, and more.
Let’s start with the actual announcement, which was revealed along with 2024 Walt Disney World vacation packages, which go on sale starting May 31, 2023. Disney Dining Plans will be coming back as an option for those staying at Disney-owned resort hotels who purchase a vacation package with us starting with stays beginning January 9, 2024.
Walt Disney World guests with arrival dates starting on that date in 2024 will be able to choose from two popular option, either the Disney Quick Service Dining Plan or the standard Disney Dining Plan. According to the company, both plans will be a great value for families with young children with access to many spectacular food and beverage offerings across Walt Disney World.
There are a lot of other details that have since been released, and we’ve updated our 2024 Disney Dining Plan Infopage with what each tier of the plans includes, along with our frozen-in-time review, recommendations, and more. (Not yet revealed is pricing for the 2024 Disney Dining Plans, and so much about whether the DDP is ‘worth it’ hinges on that.)
Walt Disney World’s official announcement doesn’t offer an explanation as to why the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan and Disney Dining Plan Plus are not returning in January 2024. It also does not indicate that they’re being officially retired or eliminated, so I guess technically this headline is wrong.
However, the official Disney Dining Plan pages had been frozen-in-time for over 3 years with a “temporarily unavailable” banner and included details about the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan and Disney Dining Plan Plus up until early May 2023. That page removed all references to them within minutes of the announcement that the two lower tiers were coming back.
Past precedent strongly suggests that when something goes from “temporarily unavailable” to vanished from the official website, it’s gone for good. So that’s our operating assumption at this point. It’s not conclusive that more tiers of the Disney Dining Plan won’t be added or restored at some point, but it’s a pretty strong signal there’s no current intention to bring those particular tiers back at any point.
So…why did Walt Disney World eliminate the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan and Disney Dining Plan Plus?
If we’re trying to deduce an answer from the official press release and other materials that Walt Disney World has released thus far, the answer is likely simplifying and streamlining the Disney Dining Plan. When describing the options and upsides, the company uses words like “convenience and peace of mind” as well as touting how the Disney Dining Plan makes things easier and saves time for guests so that “you can spend more time with your family soaking in the Disney magic… and less time on meal budgeting while you’re here.”
In fact, adding more flexibility and making vacations easier are the major throughlines of Walt Disney World’s two big announcements (the one at the beginning of this year that brought back free overnight self-parking at resorts, added on-ride photos to the Genie+ service, etc.) and this one that made “5 exciting updates coming in 2024 to improve the guest experience.” Both of these had subheadings about simplifying the guest experience.
The announcements also have indicated that Walt Disney World cares about and continues to listen to guest feedback, and is making changes accordingly. This sentiment is sincere. We’ve mentioned repeatedly–starting long before this year–that guest satisfaction had plummeted and Walt Disney World leadership was incredibly concerned about this, but its hands were tied (last year) to at least some extent. These announcements have been steps to remedy those complaints, and increase key metrics in guest satisfaction.
Obviously, that doesn’t mean “guest satisfaction” is the straightforward explanation for why the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan (DxDDP) and Disney Dining Plan Plus (DDP+) are not returning in 2024. It’s not like fans said, “we’d be hyped if two tiers of the Disney Dining Plan returned, but don’t you dare bring back the DDP+ and DxDDP. Those ones really piss us off!” Rather, the satisfaction-improvement comes from the Disney Dining Plan, generally, returning.
With that, it’s possible that Walt Disney World has additional survey data showing that 4 tiers of the Disney Dining Plan was confusing or overly complicated for guests. That the reduction truly is for the sake of simplicity. Personally, I’m skeptical of this. The only time guests would encounter these distinctions is months in advance during the planning process.
The booking flow for adding a Disney Dining Plan was fairly straightforward, and would only become complicated with optional research–voluntarily going down the rabbit hole of DDP maximization. Most people didn’t do that, and those who did typically did it for an odd sense of enjoyment.
Beyond that, Walt Disney World added the fourth tier–the Disney Dining Plan Plus–less than a few weeks before the parks closed. So survey data up until that point justified its addition, and survey data since (minus those three weeks when things were just a tad chaotic) has been nonexistent. The bottom line is that it’s difficult to explain this as being a guest-driven decision.
We can only speculate as to the real reasons why the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan and Disney Dining Plan Plus are not returning to Walt Disney World in 2024. The good (?) news is that we have no shortage of theories, and we’re about to subject you to them. (Sorry, the Brickerthoughts.gov Word doc on my computer is full.)
The biggest and most likely overarching explanation is that Walt Disney World still lacks the dining capacity–or fears that it lacks the capacity–to accommodate all four tiers of the DDP at this time. Although the supply and demand imbalance that persisted at table service restaurants is largely addressed and Walt Disney World is likely on the precipice of a slowdown, this will not impact everything equally all at once.
As a general matter, counter service restaurants do not have the same capacity constraints as their table service counterparts. This makes the two lower tiers of the Disney Dining Plan easier to bring back, one is only quick service (hence the name) and the other is a half-and-half mix of counter and table service dining. In other words, these tiers will put less strain on restaurant capacity than would the two higher tiers.
In particular, demand for character dining experiences has remained surprisingly strong and that’ll likely continue to be the case going forward. It’s entirely possible that there’s a degree of lagging pent-up demand for those meals, as so many of them were missing or modified long after the parks reopened.
These really started returning to normal last year, with that accelerating between October and now. This means that many Walt Disney World regulars likely postponed character dining experiences. Since kids grow up quickly, literally and figuratively, parents are now rushing to make up for lost time and do these dining experiences ASAP.
Character meals like Artist Point, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Topolino’s Terrace, and Chef Mickey’s have always been incredibly popular, and it’s no surprise to see that continue. We’re also seeing unprecedented demand for Akershus, Garden Grill, Tusker House, and several other restaurants that used to be much easier.
Previously, that was with the Disney Dining Plan boosting their popularity–all things being equal, we’d expect to see more people balk at paying the high out of pocket prices for character dining in the absence of the DDP. However, all things are not currently equal for the above-mentioned reasons, and demand is higher for character dining now than it was in early 2020 and prior.
That’s relevant here because the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan and Disney Dining Plan Plus were particularly popular with character dining enthusiasts. Even though the DDP+ had only been available for a couple of weeks pre-closure, it was quickly identified by planners as being best for those planning on booking a large number of character meals.
When we say “identified by planners” we’re really talking about ourselves. Our Disney Dining Plan Plus Review was laser-focused on character dining; we were already planning a series of character dining ‘itineraries’ for strategizing the best breakfasts and dinners before the closure.
It’s a similar story with the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan, which made the most sense if you did a character breakfast and a Signature Restaurant for dinner each day. That’s a sometimes odd combo, but is how many planners leveraged the DxDDP to get the most bang for their buck with it. Although not to the same degree, we’ve also noticed less ADR availability at popular Signature Restaurants this year than in years past. (It probably doesn’t help that many of those have not been consistently open or have had reduced hours.)
Character dining experiences and Signature Restaurants can still be booked with the standard Disney Dining Plan, so its reintroduction is going to boost demand even further at both. The obvious difference is that those credits are more limited; bringing back the DDP+ and DxDDP would have an outsized impact on character dining and Signature Restaurants.
Another potential explanation is that getting rid of the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan and Disney Dining Plan Plus was like closing a loophole for WDW dining power users. Our commentary to Genie+ Lightning Lane Advance Booking Coming to Walt Disney World focused extensively on perceptions of FastPass+ differing dramatically between casual first-time visitors and diehard Walt Disney World planners. It’s a very similar idea here.
In a nutshell, the DxDDP and DDP+ offered the most money-saving potential if you leveraged savvy strategy and hacked them. Part of the reason we know that DDP detractors are wrong when they say that “no one” saved money with the Disney Dining Plans is because we did.
Almost every character dining experience or Signature Restaurant review on this blog from March 2020 or earlier was “powered by” the DDP+ or DxDDP. We have two different illustrative posts (here and here) about how we saved a ton with the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan. And those are with receipts, as the kids say (although I don’t think they mean it in the literal sense).
The catch is that these hacks only worked if you dined in a very specific way, and it was an unnatural one unless you specifically set out to beat the system. First-time guests who did minimal (at most) research probably would not book Advance Dining Reservations to allow for them to dine in these ways–and they probably wouldn’t want to do so, anyway. The DDP+ and DxDDP were simply not conducive to the natural way most casual guests would dine.
Consequently, it’s likely that a chasm emerged. Power users absolutely loved the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan and Disney Dining Plan Plus because they saved a ton of money–more than was possible on the two lowest tiers. Everyone else likely wasted credits and money with them–more than on the two lower tiers.
It’s possible that guest satisfaction scores also reflected this. (Although perhaps not–people love to splurge on luxury and enjoy the perception of all-inclusive options. Most average guests who bought the DxDDP likely did not do so with the intention of saving money. High satisfaction despite losing money would not be the least bit surprising.)
Anyway, not quite the same as FastPass+ but a similar idea. (The most meaningful difference is that the DDP power users likely had a negligible impact on everyone else; dining is not a zero-sum game like queueing.)
Despite all of this, I have to admit that it caught me by surprise that the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan is not returning in 2024. Nothing discussed above is a bombshell revelation. Walt Disney World knew that hardcore planners were hacking the DxDDP. They knew that casual guests were wasting credits. They knew whatever guest satisfaction scores were, too, and how those broke down among demographics.
The Deluxe Disney Dining Plan had been around for over a decade. It was an entirely known quantity and everything discussed above was already priced in. The introduction of the Disney Dining Plan Plus in early 2020 indicates that Walt Disney World wanted more of that, not less. There was a reason for that, too. I don’t know whether it was trying to entice upsells from the standard DDP to something higher when the DxDDP was too big of a leap (that’s my guess) or something else.
The point is that the Disney Dining Plan Plus didn’t happen by accident or mistake. That those two tiers of plans only worked well in a narrow set of circumstances and resulted in overspending in all others was a feature, not a bug.
Similarly, I’m surprised that at least one of the two more expensive tiers of the Disney Dining Plan is not returning in 2024 because of how it could help push the standard Disney Dining Plan. One of the first rules of upselling is to create an expensive product tier that most consumers will not purchase. Not because companies actually expect consumers to buy it, but because it makes the other options more attractive by comparison.
If you have three products that are difficult for the average consumer to distinguish–and the prices are ~$60, $75, and $120–a lot of people are going to naturally gravitate towards the middle tier. It doesn’t cost that much more than the lowest tier…but is a lot cheaper than the highest tier. There’s thus a perception of value, and it also feels like playing it safe. After all, you don’t want to cheap out too much on the budget option–especially during a rite-of-passage vacation!
The old model was savvy on Walt Disney World’s part for this reason. It’s safe to assume that very few people purchased the Deluxe Dining Plan, but it still likely served its purpose in nudging people to buy the standard Disney Dining Plan rather than the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan. That thereby helped achieve higher per guest spending, which might as well be the Sixth Key. With the DxDDP gone, it stands to reason that the reverse will be true–a higher percentage of guests will opt for the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan in 2024.
This is another angle that makes the decision curious. Most of the above concerns about Signature Restaurants and character dining capacity could be addressed with pricing. Keep all 4 tiers (or at least 3 of the 4) but raise the prices on the highest ones. That’s the easiest way to accomplish everything discussed here.
Unless…Walt Disney World does not want to push the standard Disney Dining Plan in 2024? Again, the dining capacity situation is still a bit tenuous, out of pocket spending on table service restaurants has been strong, and Advance Dining Reservation demand has been surprisingly resilient. Given all of that, what if what Walt Disney World really wants is to encourage budget-minded guests to buy the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan, as that will increase their spending from its current levels.
Unprecedented as it might be, that’s one possibility. These are still odd times. The good news is that all of this idle theorizing and speculation can actually be tested. When 2024 prices are released, if the cost of the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan doesn’t increase by much and the price of the standard Disney Dining Plan shoots up, that’ll be a pretty good indication.
I don’t want to get too far out into left field, but another possibility is that the price of the QSDDP stays flat or decreases slightly. (That’ll all but confirm it.) That would be pulling a page out of the 1-day ticket pricing playbook, and isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem at first blush given the removal of a snack credit and other cuts made to counter service restaurants. But I don’t want to get carried away here.
Ultimately, those are possible explanations as to why Walt Disney World is not bringing back the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan and Disney Dining Plan Plus in 2024. Eliminate is a strong word, but it’s the right one to use given that they have been totally removed from DisneyWorld.com instead of being labelled as “temporarily unavailable.”
Nevertheless, for the reasons discussed above, we do not think that the Disney Dining Plan will only consist of two tiers forever. In the near term, there are a lot of variables at play, from concerns about capacity to the desire to maintain per guest spending stats. Those things are not static, and what those numbers look like today could be very different in 2024 or 2025. While we wouldn’t necessarily predict last-minute additions to the DDP tiers for 2024, that wouldn’t be a surprise–nor would more returning during the year or for 2025. The Disney Dining Plan Plus was released two months into 2020, so there’s certainly precedent.
What do you think of Walt Disney World bringing back the Disney Dining Plan in 2024? Disappointed that it has taken so long, or isn’t happening in time for your trip this year? Disappointed that the Disney Dining Plan Plus and Deluxe Disney Dining Plan are remaining unavailable? Will the Disney Dining Plan’s reinstatement make you more likely to book a trip? Other thoughts or comments in response to this news? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!