Does the Dining Plan “Ruin” Restaurants at Disney World?
For well over a decade, there were complaints that the Disney Dining Plan ruined restaurants. While planning our first time using the DDP back in 2007, I remember worrying as I read online forums as there were countless claims the Walt Disney World had gotten worse because of the Disney Dining Plan.
My fears were allayed after our very first night, with one of the most memorable meals we’ve ever had. We got dressed up, took the monorail over to the Contemporary, and enjoyed a fine feast at California Grill. That was our second trip back to Walt Disney World together as adults and was the night that got us forever hooked.
I don’t recall any other meal with that degree of vividness from that trip over 15 years ago. Frankly, I don’t remember most at all–but that dinner at California Grill is seared in my memory. But we dined at several Signature Restaurants and hidden gems, quickly becoming Walt Disney World food enthusiasts in the process. I will also admit that I subsequently found myself buying into the fear that the Disney Dining Plan would ruin restaurants at Walt Disney World. An odd concern, to be sure, given that it’s what turned us onto restaurants as an integral part of the Disney experience.
In retrospect, I can admit that my opinion of the Disney Dining Plan in those days ebbed and flowed with price increases and whether we were getting it for “free.” (Good if so, bad if not.) A few years later, we stopped doing Free Dining because we bought Disney Vacation Club. Between that and the rising price of the Disney Dining Plan, we made the switch to Tables in Wonderland and I became anti-DDP in the process. I have no problem admitting this now; recognizing our own biases and past mistakes is something everyone should do more, not less.
In my opinion, this is also likely an illustrative example. There are a lot of Walt Disney World fans who dislike the Dining Plan for various reasons. You will find no shortage of them in the comments to any post about the DDP–just search for the words “waste,” “scam,” or “not worth it.”
If you already dislike the Disney Dining Plan, you’re predisposed to believe that other changes at Walt Disney World restaurants you perceive as negative are caused by the DDP. Rushed service? Disney Dining Plan. Crowded restaurants? Dining Plan. Hard to book ADRs? DDP. The entree you love removed after 20 years on the menu? That dang DDP! And so on and so forth.
This is only natural, and we all engage in confirmation bias. If you ask me why there’s a mass exodus of guests from Animal Kingdom in the mid-afternoon, I’m going to explain to you that it’s when the average guest arrives in Dino-Rama, and they’re so disgusted that they run for the exit. Okay, bad example…since that one is definitely true! (See what I did there?)
With Walt Disney World finally announcing that the Disney Dining Plan is returning in 2024, we’re once again seeing an increasing number of fears and complaints that it’s going to “ruin” restaurants or the overall quality of cuisine. This post seeks to address those allegations, offering our take on the causes of past woes as well as improvements, the golden ages of WDW dining, and more.
Let’s start with the last few years, during which we have a case study in what the Walt Disney World restaurant experience looks like in the absence of the Disney Dining Plan. Would anyone argue that menus, service, attentiveness, inventiveness, quality, or anything else has improved over the course of the last three years?
There are definitely a few places that are definitely deserving of praise. Citricos is better and more ambitious than it was pre-closure. Steakhouse 71 is superior to the Wave. Space 220 is a great addition to EPCOT, as is Creations Cafe & Eatery. Even Toy Story Roundup Rodeo BBQ is better than expected.
The commonality, of course, is that all of these restaurants are reimagined or new. If anything, the now 2+ year old Space 220 represents the typical ‘trajectory’ of a new Walt Disney World restaurant–start strong and slowly fizzle out as the menu is diluted or changed for the worse.
This is such a common occurrence that we make a point of revisiting restaurants about one year after their opening to see if corners are being cut. In the past, many fans have attributed this to the Disney Dining Plan. Obviously, it’s not actually to blame.
Otherwise, which restaurants have improved at Walt Disney World since February 2020? There are undoubtedly some, but the ones that come to mind are all arguable or taste-dependent. Most of those are the result of new menus–the type of thing that happened with regularity during the DDP days and yielded similar results.
Nevertheless, I don’t think anyone who eats at Walt Disney World restaurants regularly would make the sincere argument that the culinary scene, as a whole, is better today than it was in February 2020. It’s such an implausible position that it’s not even debatable. (With that said, one of the highlights of the 50th was the restoration of fan-favorite menu items, some of which are still around!)
From our perspective, the overall eating experience is just not as fun in ways that are difficult to articulate. There are a lot of little things that are still missing, from meal services to desserts to snack items. One big one, that is seemingly starting to improve, is the quality and depth of seasonal menus. EPCOT festivals, minus Food & Wine, are once again hitting their stride. (The jury is still out on the flagship event–its big new booth last year served french fries, so there’s pretty much nowhere to go but up in 2023!)
Obviously, a lot of this is the result of externalities. Physical distancing in kitchens and dining rooms initially forced Walt Disney World to simplify menus. Staffing shortages resulted in much of the same. Inflation and higher input costs caused Disney to get “clever” and find ways to modify dishes. The result was substituting suppliers and ingredients, and reducing portion sizes (for “guest waistlines,” naturally!).
All of that worked as an excuse the first couple of years after reopening, but falls flat today. The corner was turned long ago, and all of that could be entirely back to normal. In fairness, everything Disney does takes (way too much) time, so I suspect all of this will slowly continue to improve over the next two years.
With all of that said, you better believe that if the Disney Dining Plan were brought back in July 2020, a lot of fans would have attributed all of the above to it. The DDP had become a boogeyman, to blame for every negative–but nothing positive–that happened with the food scene at Walt Disney World. It surely would’ve been deemed at fault for the last few years, too.
Given that, I think we can probably all agree that the last three years have not been the pinnacle of Walt Disney World dining. So when was?
If I were asked about the ‘golden age’ of Walt Disney World dining, I’d initially be tempted to point to when we first started visiting as adults and became self-labeled foodies. The portions were larger and prices were lower, a handful of our then-favorite restaurants peaked (without a doubt, ‘Ohana and Le Cellier were better then), and there are now-extinct menu items that we still think about and wish would return from that era.
Frankly, I think most fans would share similar sentiment–that dining peaked their first few visits. And it doesn’t matter whether your first visit was 1973, 1988, 1996, 0r 2018. This doesn’t mean that food at Walt Disney World has been on a slow, downward trajectory for the last ~50 years.
More likely, it’s that nostalgia is a helluva drug! Collectively, so many of our return trips are about chasing that feeling and those special memories from earlier ones. The flavors were bolder, the scents stronger, the entertainment more emotional, and so on. Not in reality, but in our mind’s eye.
In other words, what we recollect is through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. Lots of bias mixed with some truth. I sincerely believe that ‘Ohana and Le Cellier are worse today than they were around 2010. However, when trying to separate sentiment, I have a hard time making the same claim about Flying Fish, Yachtsman Steakhouse, Cape May Cafe, and many others that we loved during our first few visits.
When I think more objectively about the ‘golden age’ of Walt Disney World dining, the answer I land on is December 2019 through March 2020. This is after Gran Destino Tower and Riviera Resorts opened along with the reimagining of Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs.
All of that added a lot of stellar dining to the culinary landscape of Walt Disney World, with those two towers becoming arguably among the top 5 resorts in all of Walt Disney World for dining. An impressive and unprecedented feat for a Moderate and Disney Vacation Club Resort, respectively.
Not only did that add Topolino’s Terrace and Toledo, two of the best fine dining establishments in all of Walt Disney World, but it also brought the best character breakfast, 2-3 top-tier lounges, a top 5 counter service restaurant (briefly), and the best bakery at any resort. And that’s just a partial list of the culinary enhancements, not including any of the (several) upgrades at both Coronado Springs and Caribbean Beach Resorts.
Of those, the most popular meal has been Breakfast à la Art with Mickey & Friends at Topolino’s Terrace. Our restaurant review points out how this is essentially a ‘new wave’ of character dining experiences at Walt Disney World that began with Bon Voyage Adventure at Trattoria al Forno (still temporarily suspended as of Summer 2023) and continued with Storybook Dining at Artist Point.
These are 3 of our top 5 character meals at Walt Disney World (or were, pre-closure), and all have a focus on quality cuisine over quantity. Since their debut, we’ve hoped that Disney would refresh certain other character meals and redo them with a similar approach.
This was also a time when the parks were adding more breakfasts or improving their offerings. Due to the popularity of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and opening of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, several restaurants in Galaxy’s Edge and Disney’s Hollywood Studios as a whole had started serving breakfast. Some of those options were very good!
Magic Kingdom and EPCOT likewise had improved their breakfast offerings, with more counter and table service restaurants opening early and doing new or expanded breakfast menus. For the longest time, one of our mantras was that Walt Disney World breakfast was a waste of time and money, as the food quality was usually middling. A number of memorable meals and crave-worthy dishes had caused us to more or less retire that saying by early 2020.
For me, these improvements during the Disney Dining Plan’s heyday speak volumes. There were a lot of culinary changes at Walt Disney World in the ~15 years of the DDP’s initial existence. Some good, some bad. The case can certainly be made that the Disney Dining Plan was a contributing factor for parts of that.
For example, I think that increasing menu prices was “easier” with the DDP, as those going up provided the illusion of value for the many guests who purchased (or were given) the Disney Dining Plan. There’s likely a degree to which menu prices increased during that time that’s attributable to the DDP, sure.
Other arguments are more specious. Claims that the DDP caused the company to dumb-down menus at Sanaa, Tiffins, Skipper Canteen, or other adventurous eateries are unsupported. In our view, that’s an instance of correlation not equaling causation. As noted above, menus often change within a year or two after restaurants open–that’s happened in the last 3 years, too.
That occurs because culinary teams are given creative latitude over the initial offerings…and then reality sets in over time about what guests really want. That’s not a DDP thing, it’s a Walt Disney World guests thing.
Same goes with general trends around pricing and portion sizes. As noted above, I do think some menu price increases can be blamed on the Disney Dining Plan, but certainly not all–or even most–of them. Simply look at pricing across the board at Walt Disney World in that same timeframe–it exploded everywhere and on everything.
Unless you’re gonna blame the DDP for skyrocketing ticket, resort, and souvenir prices (in which case, you really do hate the DDP!), it’s hard to fault it exclusively for food pricing. As with everything else, Walt Disney World increased restaurant and snack prices because it could–business was booming and attendance was increasing by millions of guests per year. It’s the boring explanation, but it’s the right one.
Speaking of overarching trends, that’s actually a big part of why I think the Walt Disney World culinary scene peaked in late 2019 or early 2020. Foodie culture had proliferated in popularity post-Great Recession, reaching its zenith during that exact same window. Much digital ink has been spilled about how Millennials “killed” chain restaurants, and it’s partially true–younger generations helped unique, upstart dining concepts thrive.
Cities throughout the United States became culinary hotspots, with thriving downtowns and destination dining. This was no longer the domain of Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, and a handful of other major metros. The Midwest, Southeast, and many other cities got in on the action. Even my very small hometown–a farming community–welcomed a couple of high-caliber restaurants (one of which repurposed an old mill with a concept that would’ve fit perfectly into Disney Springs).
Unsurprisingly, this spilled over from the real world into Walt Disney World. The number of unique and ambitious restaurants increased, with the resorts and Disney Springs being the most obvious examples. This happened even with in-park dining, though. The aforementioned Skipper Canteen and Tiffins, Takumi-Tei at EPCOT, and more. And that’s to say nothing of the restaurants that rolled out new and more interesting menus.
For the most part, we don’t give the Disney Dining Plan “credit” for any of this. It was a broader trend that would’ve consumed Walt Disney World one way or another. However, I also can’t help but compare the two coasts, and see how much more the Florida parks & resorts evolved during that same span than their California counterparts.
Normally, the narrative would be that Disneyland can experiment more with menus because its diverse, coastal audience is more receptive to that, whereas a lot of Walt Disney World’s core demo wants the familiar and comforting. Whether or not you believe that lazy explanation is true (I do not), I don’t think you can seriously contend that Disneyland’s dining quality improved more between 2015 and 2020 than Walt Disney World’s. It simply isn’t true.
Walt Disney World’s culinary lineup exploded during that time to a far greater degree than anything that happened at Disneyland. There are the aforementioned real world explanations for that. There’s also the fact that the Florida parks were chasing more convention and events business, which likely reinforced that goal.
I’d also argue that the Disney Dining Plan gave Walt Disney World the necessary “cover” to take creative culinary risks. The DDP provided a captive audience of sorts for restaurants to push the envelope and experiment with menus that were not a “sure thing” and may or may not resonate with guests.
Because so many visitors were using the Disney Dining Plan and their reservations and spending was already guaranteed, it provided the latitude for restaurants to test things that may fail. Experiments that would not have happened if exclusively reliant on out of pocket spending and competing for customers. In our view, it’s a bit ironic that the Disney Dining Plan gets the blame when some of those experiments failed (and that definitely has happened), but not the credit to try them in the first place.
As a whole, Walt Disney World dining grew so much during that time, whereas Disneyland mostly stagnated. Just contrast Disney Springs with Downtown Disney for the clearest example of that. (To be sure, Disneyland has great restaurants and specific dishes–but very little of that happened from 2015 through 2020.) Even if not solely responsible, the Disney Dining Plan provided the safety net for it to happen.
Another thing that exploded during the Disney Dining Plan’s initial run was blogs like this one and social media. Obviously, the DDP did not cause the rise of Facebook, Instagram, or even Disney Tourist Blog dot com. (With that said, if anyone wants to find a clever way to blame the rise of TikTok on Dino-Rama, I’m all ears!)
What I would say is that the Disney Dining Plan was a significant contributing factor for increased interest in restaurant reviews and food topics. Many Walt Disney World fans wanted to know how to use their credits, and were willing to take more gambles and try new things because they viewed the DDP currency like monopoly money. (They weren’t real dollars, so visitors would try things they wouldn’t without that disconnect.)
We fully expect to see another surge in snack and restaurant interest with the return of the Disney Dining Plan. More interest in food topics incentivizes Walt Disney World to make more changes so there’s a steady stream of menu updates and additions. This excites guests, gives them reasons to return, and so forth. All of this feeds into itself. And, unlike a decade ago, “new snacks” is not simply code for cupcakes. (For some reason, cupcakes are still the cliche, but that hasn’t been accurate for a while.)
Ultimately, this is a very long-winded way of explaining why we’re looking forward to the Disney Dining Plan returning in 2024 and why the fears of the DDP ruining restaurants are unfounded. Our hope is that the DDP once again provides cover for menu experimentation, and can be a catalyst for the fun little food things that are still missing to return. Although it has no shortage of detractors, the Disney Dining Plan has far more fans–and hopefully renewed interest in restaurants provides the spark that Walt Disney World needs to make more changes and updates.
To be sure, there have undoubtedly been unintended and negative consequences of the Disney Dining Plan. Its original introduction disrupted the culinary landscape in such a way that it necessarily caused changes or complete paradigm shifts. With the good of that, there was certainly also bad. Few changes at Walt Disney World are unequivocally positive or negative for everyone.
However, this notion that all that ails the Walt Disney World food scene can be blamed on the Disney Dining Plan is utter nonsense. At best, it’s a reductionist and overly simplistic way of blaming something some fans dislike on other things they dislike. At worst, it flatly ignores the actual trajectory of the culinary lineup at Walt Disney World, which was largely improving–not worsening–over the course of the last decade.
The Disney Dining Plan certainly isn’t perfect or even for everyone. As we often point out, the House of Mouse usually wins with it, and only a small portion of guests actually save money or come out ahead with the DDP. But critiquing the Disney Dining Plan doesn’t require hyperbole, and it’s certainly not the worst thing to ever happen to Walt Disney World. Everyone knows the real cause of our woes, and that’s Dino-Rama (which is the favorite land of Bob Chapek, probably).
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
What do you think of Walt Disney World bringing back the Disney Dining Plan in 2024? Think that we’re wrong, and the DDP actually did ruin restaurants? If so, in what specific regards–pricing, cuisine quality, service/attentiveness, menu homogenization, or something else? Are you positive none of those things can be attributed to broader factors and are not a matter of correlation? When do you consider the ‘golden age’ of Walt Disney World’s culinary scene? 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!
We came down to WDW on a big family trip in the fall of 2006. When making our plans, we were offered the DDP and I was skeptical. It seemed too good to be true, even though it cost what I considered at that time to be a king’s ransom. It included an appetizer, drink, meal, dessert and TIP! We opted for one sit down meal and one walk up per day plus 2 snacks (I think). Since that time, of course, the price has gone up and what is included has gone down (on trend for Disney). Does anyone remember the cost per person per day back then? Our son-in-law got the most expensive thing on the menu every night. We definitely got our money’s worth–at least in 2006. We’ve not gotten the dining plan since then, but what a fond memory!
I don’t think DDP has anything to with reduced experience or quality. The money is collected and booked upfront the same as on-site. It isn’t DDP, it really is Disney Vacation Planner that allows people to book their big annual, bi-annual or once in a lifetime vacation on no-credit check installment payments. Like I said before, the food is becoming homogeneous across the parks…add or swap out an ingredient here or there (thanks Sysco food services) and it is now a “unique dining experience” Seasonal vegetables at Coral Reef are the same at Brown Derby and Yacht Club…French onion soup is not only the same at BOG as Chefs de France but also served in the same exact distinct crockery. And the “limited Boeuf Bourguignon” served at BOG was the leftovers from Chefs de France. Cost cutting to pay for Iger and the Board’s use of the yacht and private jets (Nike encouraging to up their HRC score to get more Blackrock money for executive bonuses) is more of the villain for the dining experience than DDP. Fans should stop blaming the customers and refocus on the fat cats.
Ok but how do you really feel about Dino-Rama? It’s pretty hard to tell 😉
I remember the original DDP. Per person, per day was an appy, entree, dessert, soda, tea, 2 snacks per day plus tax and gratuities. Service went down because the staff was getting 18% no matter how the service was. People complained and that stopped. Price went up and you had to pay the tax and gratuities. Then the menus went from 3-4 page books in many restaurants to 1 piece if paper. People don’t realize if you take DDP Package that your room rate goes up. We have found out that is cheaper to pay for our own meals. If you have a large family and enjoy having it “Paid for” then go for it, look at the ages of your kids, IF you have a 10 yr old who only wants the kids menu,, then rethink the dining plan. If you have teenagers who can eat you out of house and home an love buffets, this might be a good deal. But best thing is to sit down and figure out if its a deal or not for your family, DO you want to do a TS everyday, do you need all that food.
Oh I forgot we got a qs meal with this plan too…
The original Disney Dining Plan as I remember it, was one snack, one counter service meal, and one table service meal per person, per day. Gratuities and taxes were included! As were beverages. Also, each person received a full appetizer for their table service meal, plus a dessert. There were no one credit/two credit stipulations for certain restaurants/experiences, and the out of pocket cost was a good deal. This is my personal definition of a Disney Dining Golden Age!
We as a family stopped using the DDP when we simply couldn’t eat all of the food. More accurately, I couldn’t finish my food plus my family’s food. This was a minor issue for my family. We also “switched” over to Tables In Wonderland, and were able to eat(or be served) just enough food for all of us.
Our major issue with the Dining Plan was that within less than two years of it’s debut, we found that simply trying to eat somewhere, anywhere, became frustratingly difficult. Now, since everyone seemed to have the DDP, it seemed to create an availability bottleneck. Have the DDP? Now you need an ADR, or you’ll be S…O…L! Before this happened, we pretty much could spontaneously decide where to eat, and had minor wait times to do so for the most part, with only the barest handful of restaurants being real world type wait time busy.
Is this actual reality, or an altered perception of reality as I remember it? 🙂
The biggest problem is, if you use all your credits, you will eat SO much food! Non-stop food coma, all day. We ate one meal at Liberty Tree Tavern this last trip that fueled us all day, plus required a nap in the Carousel of Progress. Unless you’re a huge eater, you’re much better off paying as you go.
Just finished revisiting the comments in the column about Disney s falling star. I realized when I finished Tom’s article about the DDP I was looking forward to our upcoming Hurricane season. wind swept. humid, muggy rain drenching trip but anytime I read about WDW and thier politics or wokism or read the comments where Disney fans politely call each other racists and Nazis or even worse, Republicans, I lose all desire to go.
We’ve visited twice this year, February and May and are going again in December. We’ve found nothing to indicate tension or problems in any way, other than the usual breakdowns, closures, waits and crowds. In other words, it’s pretty much Disney as Disney. I wouldn’t worry. Go and enjoy.
Thanks Jack, We will and we will but the point I was trying to make, apparently unsuccessfully, is that reading the political stuff kills the desire to go. Reading the non political Disney stuff, even though it can be negative, still stokes my desire to go. That said, what I wrote was not about me. My real point is that as long as Disney is in the news dragging out the Florida fiasco, they are suffering. Yes, you and I will go, but if it lowers MY enthusiasm what is it doing to the casual or non disney fanatic?
I started Disney blogging by looking at Foodie & DDP on another website…..
Depending on your start date, DDP may or may not have offered ‘good value’. There was a time when some of the plans could get you very good value if you happened to prefer pricey menu items and/or multi-meal & snack days every day of your vacation (because that’s how Disney priced it). More recently (and prior to Covid), extracting financial value from the DDP certainly became more difficult, however, many families still found value in the comfort they received from having a prepaid / all-inclusive resort vacation. What has also changed are ‘tastes’ – and that seems to include fewer calories per day being included, and seemingly causing higher relative prices.
DDP is a marketing tool used to fill both hotel rooms & restaurants. The family that says, “Hey, let’s see if the DDP gets us savings…..” is now planning a trip to Disney. Like any business, folks need to show up to make the business successful. DDP gets a few more families to Disney. Disney wins.
Fully-staffed & busy restaurants tend to serve the best food they are going to be able to serve. Full restaurants create the certainty necessary to stay fully-staffed and committed to the requisite supply-chain necessary to serve the best food a restaurant is going to be able to serve. IMHO – DDP makes getting some reservations more difficult, but DDP likely improves overall service & food quality. Smaller menus are simply more efficient and have little to do with Disney’s ability to serve an extraordinary amount of good food at price-points consistent with city and/or resort vacations.
I am all for the Disney Dining Plan I can not afford to go to Disney without it Every time we went we got the dining plan the food was good and there were plenty of options
The only problem we found with the dining plan as offered was keeping track of how many of what we had / hadn’t used. When we vacation my wife and I just go. We don’t like a lot of pre-planning or scheduling. We were enthusiastic users of the long-defunct “Grand Plan” and Tables in Wonderland. Now we just get the AP or DVC discounts if offered, get a meal, and that’s it. IMO, while forcing people to plan more and more of their time in Didney brbefots Disney, it does little to add to the fun and relaxation that a vacation is supposed to provide.
This is a very tough subject to debate because I don’t think there is any direct or even circumstantial evidence that Disney management intentionally kept meal quality low because of Disney Dining. I get the theoretical argument. If a customer buys DDP then that effectively means that a customer is spending $X per meal so therefore, all of the qualifying meals need to cost less than $X in order to make a profit. That creates an incentive, whether directly addressed by management or indirectly through other means, to reduce food costs vis a vis food quality.
IMO, it wouldn’t particularly surprise me that Disney might do this. It’s not as if Disney and certain executives haven’t been criticized for apparent penny pinching in the past. But it would be very short term thinking because the DDP is only valuable if people actually want to eat at Disney and feel it provides some value.
My personal beef with DDP is that it always seemed to cause lines to be longer as people weren’t familiar enough with their meal plans to understand what they could and couldn’t order before arriving at the cast member at the register. That may be ameliorated now by ordering via APP. My second complaint is that I personally witnessed many guests order more than they otherwise would have because it was included with the DDP…particularly desserts. This isn’t healthy.
Overall, most of these changes don’t affect me as I’m a local now so whatever. But I feel like (as opposed to having a logical reason) that Disney has forgotten the reasons why people come and spend all this money. And while they’re making money hand over fist because of pent up demand, I think the bill will eventually come due. And once customers leave its not easy to come back. Because what drives a lot of Disney repeat business is the nostalgia of the prior experience. You ruin that and you can’t get that back for years.
“My personal beef with DDP is that it always seemed to cause lines to be longer as people weren’t familiar enough with their meal plans to understand what they could and couldn’t order before arriving at the cast member at the register. That may be ameliorated now by ordering via APP. My second complaint is that I personally witnessed many guests order more than they otherwise would have because it was included with the DDP…particularly desserts. This isn’t healthy.”
Both of these things are definitely true. Heck, I experienced the same thing earlier this year during ESPN Wide World of Sports event season, having to wait in line multiple times behind groups with paper vouchers (what I “needed” to order wasn’t available via Mobile Order, for some reason).
While I hate to see the second snack cut from the DDP in 2024, I think it also makes sense from the perspective of what most average guests actually need/want.
As for the first couple of paragraphs, you’re correct. One additional point not mentioned in this already too-long article is that high-level management wanted Walt Disney World to be a “dining destination.” That should be evident in the development of Disney Springs and recent resorts, among other things. That also undercuts the (potential) incentive to cut corners and reduce quality.
Disney can be accused of short-term thinking in many regards; I really don’t think dining is one of them.
Tom— it is the “erroneous redevelopment of Downtown Disney to Disney Springs”. Downtown Disney has been the Disney ‘lite’ since the 90’s in Orlando. It will always be Downtown Disney to us locals. We used to go to the car shows in Kissimmee then eat at Downtown Disney in the 90s and early 2000s. Iger doesn’t “get Disney”.
I’m one of those complaining that dining has been worse with the DDP. When restaurants are at full staffing (this way we cannot attribute menu options and capacity to be blamed on staffing) I don’t see how anyone can deny that the DDP made getting ADR’s harder. It defies logic to say that it doesn’t. It’s simple logic…with the DDP you have more people going to TS restaurants that without the DDP many would never have frequented these restaurants. Maybe not all of the DDP people….but I would say a significant number. Also….you can’t deny the “dumbing down” of the menu. Years ago they used to ask up front if you were using the DDP. If you stated that you weren’t you got an entirely different menu. Then they went to marking items on the menu that were excluded from the DDP. Then they just went to shorter menu. Was this solely due to the DDP, maybe not completely, but to say it had nothing to do with the DDP is just silly.
My husband and I were on hand for the very first DDP at WDW! Our travel agent told us that it was introduced to increase the crowds at that time of year. Apparently it was a very slow time of year. She also told us that No One would take their kids out of the first week of school just for the DDP. Boy, was she wrong. There were throngs of families skipping school that week! We were surprised at how many there were. We expected a few families with kids, but this was totally unexpected.
I guess the lure of free food for the family was too great to pass up for some.
We did note that the offerings were plenty with very good food quality and portions.
We quit using the DDP because we didn’t see the value in it anymore, for us. We just didn’t want to set up reservations months ahead because we don’t dine at exact times each day. We found that we usually cancelled set up reservations because we just weren’t hungry or didn’t want chinese that day. We also ate less off the DDP, saved money, and were much happier.
We did notice that the quality of the DDP lessened and the food wasn’t as good before while we were still using it. It was gradual over the years, and yes, I think it affected the quality of the food in general. As another poster has said, there were set guidelines for the DDP at restaurants.
IMO the quality of the dining decreased each year with the DDP, and I am glad we quit using it when we did.
I’ve always enjoyed the DDP, especially when it included appetizer, entree and dessert. So much food for the money. There were usually two of us on plan. Sometimes we’d take two cast member friends with us. We’d share our two dinners. There was always enough.
Then everything went south as things were removed. Another issue was, as we got older, we wanted less food but were reluctant to pay the higher price for the DDP. So bye-bye food plan. Now, it’s out of pocket, which, as I’m sure you know, saves money.
Our most memorable meals were at LeCellier, Les Chefs de France and a few others. So many good meals. Sometimes I was so full, I could hardly walk out of the restaurant. On another note, we also miss the afternoon tea at the GF. Things are different now.
Just realized, The Cheerleader and the Track Star sounds like a 1970 Disney ttitle.
PS Meant to mention how much I loved the photo of the cheerleader and the young track star celebrating thier independence at the top of the article. Please more photos from the turn of the century.
WOW! Such in depth analysis of the DDP. I never knew it was so controversial. Even more amazing is I read the whole thing. My hat is off to you sir, the more you dished out the more I lapped it up. OMG now I’m making food references
One of the reasons we love WDW is all the different restaurants in unique settings. Never used the DDP but had it set up for our trip that was cancelled when Disney closed for covid. Can’t believe I was so shallow and stupid to think all this time that the DDP was just a clever sales gimmick that helped pay for meals. What does that say about me? Be kind in your replies.
Oh, it absolutely was a clever sales gimmick! It was also a way to maintain a captive audience (back when WDW actually cared about that–before getting rid of Disney’s Magical Express), a way to guarantee a certain amount of guest spending, and a highly-lucrative special offer.
The Disney Dining Plan was a lot of things, and definitely controversial among fans as a result of both what it was and wasn’t. Beyond the claims that it ‘ruined’ restaurants, there also is/was the assumption among its detractors that nobody but them understood its downsides. That if people liked the DDP, it had to be because they simply didn’t understand why it was bad.
Personally, I welcome back these debates with open arms. They are far more low-stakes than everything else (see yesterday’s post) about which we’ve been arguing, and it’s really fascinating to see the range of perceptions. I also just love travel hacking, and finding ways to outsmart “the man.” 😉
Is there a part of Disney that isn’t controversial? Spend enough time around Disney forums and everything is debated.
The DDP was clever in that it got you to stay on property and gets you to commit to eating Disney food (as opposed to families trying to get creative with food choices to save money). And for most families, the DDP probably does save money. And I’ll say this…Disney is so complicated now that the DDP probably also makes life seem less complicated when you’re booking travel. You just pay for your meals up front and don’t worry about it.
Those who were discerning either used DDP to save money because they knew exactly how to work it or eschewed DDP because they have various other discounts and tend to eat less.
My 2 cents: The DDP does hurt dining overall in the long term. It is not a switch that suddenly ruins restaurants overnight.
But it’s very presence is constraining, which limits where Disney dining might otherwise go. It pushes every restaurant into having to fit into a set of boxes. As proof, the handful of restaurants that don’t fit into such a box, like Victoria’s and Alberts, don’t take the dining plan.
It pushes menus into having to follow a formula, with a certain number of appetizers, entrees and desserts, priced by pre-defined metrics. Every restaurant having to introduce alcohol, just so it could be included with the meal. A 1-credit TS restaurant is discouraged from experimenting with a $60 menu item — that has to be reserved for a signature restaurant. And when the dining plan is prolific, nobody is going to order the $20 entree at the signature restaurant as it would be a waste.
So it’s not that the dining plan makes the food worse. It just limits the creativity of restaurant and menu design.
One of my favorite newish meals at WDW is the family style meal at Sebastian’s Bistro. If the dining plan had been around at the time, Disney would not launch a TS family style meal at $29 per person — Who would use a TS credit for such relatively cheap meal?
Meanwhile, watch for Steakhouse 751 to become even more popular for dinner for people on the dining plan to get a $65 meal (alcoholic drink, dessert and steak).
And as DDP users feel an incentive to always order the steak, etc, it puts pressure on the restaurant to design their menus in certain ways.
Personally, what I’d like to see, is Disney simply allow people to pre-purchase dining credit before their trip. Like buying a Disney gift card at 5-10% off. Encourages people to lock in their dining spending on property, gives the guest the “prepayment” and “discount” that many like in the DDP. But doesn’t affect how the restaurants have to operate.
Respectfully, pointing to V&A’s as proof of anything related to the DDP is like using Starcruiser as an example to illustrate points about vacation packages. Both are such obvious outliers that they have next-to-no bearing on their conventional counterparts.
The other points are definitely more debatable. Personally, I don’t think the DDP is the reason why alcohol has been pushed–the same thing has happened at Disneyland. I also don’t think it’s the reason fancy restaurants don’t have $20 dishes–again, ditto Disneyland. We also haven’t seen any of those trends undone in the last ~3 years, even as menus have changed, so all of that strikes me as implausible as being “caused” by the DDP.
The family style meal at Sebastian’s Bistro is the best argument ‘against’ the DDP’s impact on inventiveness, but only if that restaurant suffers in 2024 as a result. Personally, I don’t think it will–it’s such an attractive option for everyone else, and it’s not like the a la carte menu there was doing big business during the DDP era. But I guess we’ll see.
My point isn’t anything that gets turned on and off over a few years. More long term constraint. Why aren’t the so few restaurants that lay between the signature price point and the V&A price point?
Sebastian’s may remain attractive for non-DDP, but it likely never would have launched that menu in the first place if the DDP had been around.
And on the other side, Steakhouse 751 may have gone in a slightly different direction if the DDP was around.
Simply suggesting that the DDP is one factor (and not the only factor) that can constrain trying new things.
As a DVC member, I used to buy DDP but since it was removed because of Covid-I find that I don’t spend as much for food nor the need to eat too much. I won’t be buying DDP anymore, but for others it may work. I never find that restaurants were ruined by it. It good for some and not so good for others depending how much you really eat.
I think the “Devil is in the details “. So would need more info before deciding if we would purchase in 2024. That being said we did use it when it was available- minus our first trip when we didn’t even realize reservations were a thing- was a learning experience. Sometimes it felt worth it when you had a filet while someone else may use for a hotdog lol. Other times it felt like u needed to have the most expensive thing and a dessert to boot.