Walt Disney World recently released the Disney Dining Plan Plus (DDP+), and we immediately booked the meal plan along with reservations for some of the most popular and expensive character meals at Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Our goal was simple: see how this new tier works…and leverage it for maximum monetary savings.
If you’ve read our past posts How We Saved 50% on the Deluxe Dining Plan or Big Savings on Deluxe Disney Dining Plan?!, you know this is something of a sport and/or hobby for us. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to leverage the various tiers of the Disney Dining Plan, and probably have way too much fun doing this stuff. (I am very aware of the fact that this is a pretty lame “hobby,” but I never claimed to be cool.)
Even though we’ve “only” done two posts about hacking the DxDDP, we usually do this stuff a couple of times per year. In addition to saving money for sport, it’s important that we’re as unbiased as possible in our Disney Dining Plan Review & Info. The Dining Plan is divisive among Walt Disney World fans, with most loving or hating it. We’re squarely in between, with an “it depends” attitude. That’s true once again in the case of the Disney Dining Plan Plus, but the good news is that there are pretty easy ways to hack it…
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s reiterate the details of the Disney Dining Plan Plus for those who didn’t see our previous Disney Dining Plan Plus Info post. The DDP+ is the upgraded tier of the Disney Dining Plan, slotting in between the standard Disney Dining Plan and the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan. It bridges the gap between the two both in terms of price and appetites.
The Disney Dining Plan Plus offers two meals at your choice of table service or counter service restaurants and two snacks per night of your hotel reservation, plus a refillable mug per stay (all per person on your reservation. The per night price of the Disney Dining Plan Plus is $94.61 per adult and $35 per child.
Our main motivation for testing the Disney Dining Plan Plus early on was to see whether it worked as advertised, or if there were any unique wrinkles or unannounced details. Suffice to say, there were no hiccups or surprises–it worked exactly as any other Disney Dining Plan would, with exactly the credits and announced info. Everything was totally smooth, with all credits displaying right away in My Disney Experience.
When we’ve previously “hacked” the Deluxe Dining Plan, we’ve done so by adding it to one reservation of a split stay (which we covered in our How to Do a Split Stay at Walt Disney World post). For most readers, we recommended the same approach. 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.
That’s certainly a viable option for the Disney Dining Plan Plus, too. Two table service meals per day over the course of an entire trip–plus two snacks–can be physically exhausting, and eat away at a lot of your vacation time. And while the DDP+ touts flexibility in using your credits at table or counter service restaurants, you absolutely should not use them at the latter.
You’re going to have a tough time breaking even if you do that more than once or twice over the course of a trip. If you suspect that two sit-down meals per day might be too much for your family, we’d strongly recommend the split stay approach, with the Disney Dining Plan Plus for one segment of the trip and a lower tier of the DDP or paying out of pocket for the other segment.
Of course, you could just book the Disney Dining Plan Plus for the duration and not worry about saving money. A lot of Walt Disney World guests do exactly that, using the DDP for perceived convenience and budgeting purposes. However, we don’t recommend that. Moreover, the whole point of this post is maximizing value, so that would defeat the purpose of this post and be irresponsible advice for us to give.
We could’ve easily done these two character meals in a single day. Both have the same lunch and dinner menus, meaning that there’s effectively no difference in dining at 11 am or 8 pm in terms of cost or experience.
In fact, going that route and doing the first and last seatings at each would’ve been advantageous from a character dining perspective. As we noted in our new Minnie’s Springtime Dine Review, we did the very last seating of the night there, and had a great time as a result.
An early lunch is the exact same idea, except the restaurant starts empty and slowly fills during your meal instead of slowly emptying. It’s a really good approach for a more peaceful atmosphere and, more importantly, receiving more time, attention, and better interactions with the characters.
That route also offers the advantage of doing two of the more expensive meals rather than a character breakfast and dinner. That’s a fairly normal approach when using the higher tiers of Disney Dining Plan, and it’s not necessarily a bad idea.
However, it is worth noting a couple of things. First, breakfast is universally cheaper–by $10 to $20 at most character dining restaurants that do all three meals. Second, breakfast is almost never as good. There are a handful of exceptions to this (like Chef Mickey’s), but it’s a good rule of thumb. If you can snack for breakfast and do an early lunch, you’ll be rewarded with both more value and a better array of dishes.
Although the specifics would vary based upon the parks you’re visiting, here’s a “sample day” that would work wonderfully with this approach. (You could even combine it with a Park Hopper strategy for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance!)
Start with an early morning breakfast in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, ordering the Green Milk Bread Pudding and/or Saka Farm Egg Bite. Or, wait a bit for Epic Eats to open and start the day out with the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast: Funnel Cake with Ice Cream. These are all strong uses of snack credits on the Disney Dining Plan, and should get you through until lunch.
Following whatever your morning plans are at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, do the first ADR of the day at Minnie’s Seasonal Dine. After lunch (and perhaps your Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance boarding group?) take the Skyliner gondolas over to Epcot and do dinner at Akershus. The 8+ hours in between will be ample time for the food to digest, and you’ll actually be hungry again for dinner.
There are numerous ways to modify this just in the Crescent Lake area. You could instead do Cape May Cafe, Garden Grill, or Bon Voyage Adventure Breakfast. Same goes for Magic Kingdom and the monorail resorts–it’s pretty easy to cobble together your own character dining itinerary for significant savings. I only mention this one because it was our original plan for the day, before we switched things up a bit.
We also cleaned up with snacks. We ended up opting against doing the colossal Funnel Cake with Cookies ‘n Cream (and the one with Strawberry) & Ice Cream at the Epic Eats snack stand in Disney’s Hollywood Studios out of concern that it’d be too much food right before doing Minnie’s Seasonal Dine.
That would’ve offered tremendous bang for buck, but would’ve put us at a disadvantage in terms of stuffing ourselves at the character buffet. When I show up at a buffet, I like to be hungry. To quote sage buffet philosopher Joey Tribbiani, “here’s where I win all my money back!” Since that’s only a “value” to the extent that you make the most of the food spread, we opted to do snacks later at Disney Springs.
There, we started at Wolfgang Puck Express. This is one of the best value counter service restaurants on the Disney Dining Plan (and we love Wolfgang Puck Express), so it should be no surprise that we chose it.
While the snack credit value for desserts is not quite top tier, the quality is. These are table service caliber desserts, with presentation to match. Far better than what you’ll find at most bakeries or quick-service restaurants at Walt Disney World.
For our other snack credits, we headed over to nearby AristoCrepes. This snack stand can be difficult to find, but it’s tucked away right across from Rainforest Cafe at the edge of the bridge.
There, we ordered two of the Bubble Waffles topped with ice cream. Note that this is not listed as a snack credit on the menu, but we were told that it is one. (And there were four Cast Members all there who overheard our transaction, including a manager, so I assume that’s actually true and not just a “luck of the draw” thing.) The Bubble Waffles are an exceptional use of snack credits and tasty, too.
It’d be hyperbole to claim that how you use snack credits is make or break on the Disney Dining Plans, but it’s more important than you might think. It can definitely tip the scales in or out of your favor–so try to use snack credits at Epcot festival kiosks, on pricier items at bakeries, or nicer desserts. (See our Best Uses of Disney Dining Plan Snack Credits List for more suggestions.)
What you really want to avoid is stockpiling snack credits and having to use them on the last day of your trip on a bunch of prepackaged items to take home. (See our Worst Uses of Disney Dining Plan Credits at Walt Disney World List for more advice.) Avoiding poor uses of snack credits is especially important if you aren’t getting alcoholic drinks.
That was the case for us–our Achilles heel with the Disney Dining Plan Plus was definitely drinks. For the most part, we no longer drink alcohol or soda (or really any sugary drink–which also rules out the novelty nonalcoholic drinks), which meant that we both ordered water with each meal.
The frugal consumer in me died a little each time we ordered $0 water instead of a $15 cocktail. Based on what we would have liked to order on this front, we missed on $58 worth of value in a single day.
We also redeemed but did not use our refillable mugs. We’ll take them home and add them to our collection of travel coffee mugs.
However, given that we already have dozens of travel coffee mugs (including ones identical to these), we didn’t actually “need” these mugs. As such, we’ll ascribe them $0 in value for the sake of our math.
Even still, we managed to save $86 using the Disney Dining Plan Plus for one day, which is a tremendous amount of money. Granted, we could’ve cleaned up if we ordered alcohol or actually used our refillable mugs. Conversely, we would’ve lost some value doing cheaper character breakfasts or other table service meals.
On balance, I think we did fairly well–with these results being easily replicable by other Walt Disney World guests planning character dining-heavy trips, or even table service meals at expensive one-credit restaurants. It’s a bummer that it doesn’t include an appetizer like the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan, but this ends up being irrelevant if you’re mostly using the DDP+ at character meals (which is most obvious use case, and how we anticipate most guests utilizing this tier of the DDP).
The key thing with the Disney Dining Plan Plus is that it’s a good option even without attempting to hack it via split stays. It’ll be too much food for some parties, but definitely not others. By contrast, only a small minority of guests will be able to use the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan for the duration of a vacation to its maximum potential. That’s a great plan for those like us who will leverage it, but is simply overkill for a laid back trip with normal meals. As is true of literally every single tier of the Disney Dining Plan, this also won’t work for everyone. However, you can count us as fans of the Disney Dining Plan Plus.
Do you agree or disagree with our advice? 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!