With 2017 pricing decreasing for Walt Disney World’s top tier Dining Plan, it’s a good idea to consider whether purchasing it or paying to upgrade if you take advantage of the Free Dining promo makes sense for your family’s vacation. While we originally tested this a few years ago, due to price changes, we thought it would be worth revisiting and updating this post. While our exact menu prices in the case study section are no longer entirely accurate, the idea remains the same.
Actually, the “idea” here favors the Deluxe Dining Plan offering even better savings for a 2017 Walt Disney World vacation. This is because menu prices have increased at a higher clip than Disney Dining Plan prices–again, the Deluxe Plan is actually decreasing in price for 2017! This means that, although the precise numbers now differ, the gap between using the Deluxe Plan and paying out of pocket is now greater than it was when we tested this.
Our point with this test was to demonstrate how the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan is the most expensive of the Disney World dining plans, but if you use it efficiently, you can maximize your value and save a lot of money at Walt Disney World restaurants. If meals are an important part of your trip, we think it makes sense to upgrade to the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan–even if you need to pay to do so during Free Dining season. What follows is that original case study, along with some new conclusions at the end of the post.
I had heard this a few times from Disney Dining Plan veterans, and the idea is great in theory, but I was still a bit skeptical that the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan would actually save money in practice. I mean, it’s just so much food. So when the opportunity presented itself for us to test the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan, we just had to do our own “research.” Oh, the sacrifices we make for our readers! 😉
For those who are unfamiliar with Walt Disney World’s Dining Plan structure, check out our Ultimate Guide to the Disney Dining Plan post. As you can see from that, the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan includes: three counter service restaurants or table service meal credits per night; two snacks per night; and, one refillable mug per trip. The snacks and refillable mugs are pretty self-explanatory, so I won’t waste time fixating on those.
The three meals aspect of the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan is a bit more interesting, and is where most of the savings comes into play. As the description above indicates, you can choose any mix of meals, table service or counter service, for these credits. If you eat at a table service restaurant, not only do the meals include desserts and entrees (like they do on the regular Disney Dining Plan), but they also include appetizers. Obviously, table service meals offer much better value than counter service meals, so it’s in your best interest to do all table service meals if you book the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan.
Unfortunately, unless you’re a competitive eater, three table service meals per day is probably too much. In fact, two table service meals per day might border on too much. Disney realizes this, which is why the price increase of the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan over the standard Disney Dining Plan is not as much as you’d expect when determining the value per-meal on the DDP.
Considering what you (potentially) receive on the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan over what you receive on the regular Disney Dining Plan, the price difference isn’t bad. In fact, it’s a really good deal by Walt Disney World standards. That is, assuming you can eat 2 table service meals every single day of your trip.
It’s one of those “eyes bigger than your stomach” scenarios, though. All that food sounds and looks great, but you’ll likely waste a lot of credits by the end of your trip, so the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan actually works out to be a poor value for a lot of people who purchase it. Unless you have a plan…
Realizing that three table service meals per day (the absolute best way to maximize your value on the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan) plus two snacks was an unrealistic goal for us, we decided to hedge our bets with the plan by doing two table service meals per day instead of three.
However, to keep the value high, we used two of these credits per day for signature restaurants, which meant that we were still using all three table service credits per day. I’ve written in the past that you get more value out of dining credits by doing two separate regular table service meals instead of one signature meal, but if your option is one signature meal or one regular table service meal and one counter service meal (or one table service meal and one wasted credit), you’re much better off doing the signature meal.
We thus planned on doing one early regular table service meal for lunch, and a signature table service meal for dinner. I’ve heard of others doing a breakfast character meal buffet and a signature dinner to spread the time between meals even more. However, we wanted to get a bit more bang for our buck, so we did lunch and dinner.
It also helped us that we were only doing this experiment for two nights (and we could spread out our meal and credit usage over the course of three days). I don’t think we could have kept up the table service lunch and signature table service dinner pace up everyday for a 7-night trip. Two sit-down meals per day may not seem like much, but it really is.
The next step was determining which restaurants would offer the most value for our money. After researching this at length last year to create our Best-Value Table Service Disney Dining Plan Restaurants post, I had a pretty good idea which non-signature restaurants we should consider. After eliminating a couple restaurants because we had already eaten at them recently (or for various other reasons), we settled on Tutto Italia and Le Cellier. I consulted some Walt Disney World menus and determined that Narcoossee’s and Yachtsman Steakhouse were the way to go for our dinners.
We booked reservations for Tutto Italia (lunch) and Narcoossee’s (dinner) the first day of our trip, Yachtsman Steakhouse (dinner) the second day of our trip, and Le Cellier (lunch) the last day of our trip.
Along the way we had snacks as our appetites allowed. We originally planned on doing this during Epcot Food & Wine Festival to really maximize our value since snacks there can sometimes cost $7+, but after giving it some thought, we realized that we wanted to focus our stomachs on the snacks and other Food & Wine Festival-exclusive offerings, so we decided to nix that plan, in favor of this plan.
Unsurprisingly, we saved a lot of money. We paid $342.08 to add-on the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan (total for two people, two nights) to our Disney Vacation Club stay at the Beach Club Villas.
Reminder: the 2017 add-on price would be different, but since the cost of both the standard and Deluxe Disney Dining Plans have increased at similar rates, the cost difference between the two should be about the same.
Here’s what each meal would have cost if we had paid out of pocket:
Tutto Italia – $115.02
Narcoossee’s (2 credits) – $201.20
Yachtsman Steakhouse (2 credits) – $201.47
Le Cellier – $113.30
In addition to that, we each received refillable mugs ($30.86 value) and we used 7 of our 8 snack credits ($30.24). We would have used all 8 credits, but the Disney’s Magical Express bus’ early arrival prevented us from using the last one. This amounts to a total value received of $692.09 for time we were on the trip, which far exceeded the amount we spent on the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan, and even exceeded Disney’s own advertised savings on the Disney Dining Plan since we saved over 50%.
UPDATE: Perusing menus should demonstrate that these prices are on the low end of what you’re going to pay currently, particularly at Le Cellier, which has spiked the most since we tried this. (It was also a 1-credit restaurant for lunch at that time.) It’s pretty easy to see that these menu prices have gone up much more than the DxDDP price.
I think the numbers pretty well speak for themselves. I was incredibly pleased with the Deluxe Dining Plan, and if you’ve read my review of the 2017 Disney Dining Plan, you know I’m not the biggest fan of the plan, in general. So this is high praise coming from me.
That said, before you go booking this because you’ll save 50%, there are a few things worth noting. First, we never would have eaten this much food if we weren’t on the Deluxe Dining Plan. Assuming that we dined at the same restaurants, we probably would have spent $85 at Tutto Italia, $175 at Narcoossee’s, $201.47 at Yachtsman Steakhouse, and $75 at Le Cellier.
We would have spent another $20 or so on snacks, and we wouldn’t have purchased the refillable mugs. Total, we still would have spent around $556.47. We also use the Tables in Wonderland card, so our total out of pocket would have been $445.18, which is still well above what we paid for the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan.
Plus, as noted, we received more food than we would have if we paid out of pocket–while we wouldn’t have ordered it if paying out of pocket, I’m certainly not complaining about it and we definitely ate it all and enjoyed it, so it must be accounted-for in an accurate value calculation. In other words, no matter how you do the math, the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan was still a great deal for us.
Doing only two nights of the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan was perfect for us as it didn’t require us to keep up the pace of such lavish and large meals over an extended duration. Had we done it for 7-nights, I think my verdict would likely be, “great deal, but way too much food.”
As mentioned above, this ‘too much’ food is exactly what Disney is counting on by pricing the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan so low (relatively speaking). The expectation that people won’t or can’t maximize their value on this plan is built into the price, and for those on longer vacations, I think that assumption is very accurate.
If you’re contemplating doing the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan during a long trip, either mentally and physically prepare yourself for huge feasts, or mentally prepare yourself to waste some credits (if you do end up opting for some counter service meals, make sure to consult our list of the best-value counter service restaurants to get good bang for your buck). Given the potential savings, you can use some credits “inefficiently” and still save a lot of money.
Now that the prices are shifting, we will likely test this strategy again during our 2017 Walt Disney World vacation, as prices are creeping up at table service restaurants and the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan has gone down in price. Since this will likely be a 5 day trip, we are going to take a different approach. Rather than lunch and dinner, we will opt for character breakfasts, followed by using snack credits for lunch, and early dinner at Signature Restaurants.
This is still a lot of food, but spacing the two table service meals out seems like a sound strategy. Plus, character meals can be an excellent use of table service credits. Even though most aren’t quite as good as ordering the most expensive meals at a standard 1-credit table service meal, we think we can adopt this strategy for a more enjoyable trip. It’ll cut into our savings a bit, but we should still save a lot.
Free Dining also coincides with the absolute best time to use the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan: during Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival. Then, you can get even more bang for your buck by using the snack credits on expensive food booth samples. However, that will be a lot of food…and any time of year is a good time to use the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan. Just make sure you pack your appetite and make Advance Dining Reservations to some of Walt Disney World’s more expensive restaurants!
Have you ever done the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan during a Walt Disney World trip? Did you pay to upgrade to the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan from the standard plan when taking advantage of Free Dining? What do you think of our little experiment? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your questions or thoughts in the comments below!