This was more or less expected. When announcing the upcoming release of Walt Disney World vacation packages, the company stated that starting June 8, “you’ll be able to begin making your travel plans for next year as Walt Disney World Resort will open bookings for theme park tickets, Disney Resort hotel stays and packages for visits in 2023.”
No specific mention of the Disney Dining Plan, leading to the obvious and logical conclusion that it wouldn’t be bookable as part of 2023 Walt Disney World vacations. Nevertheless, we held out a sliver of hope that the DDP would be included as part of packages, as other elements of those–such as Memory Maker and ground transportation–also weren’t discussed, yet are bookable. That hope has been extinguished with the actual release of packages today: the Disney Dining Plan cannot be added on.
This might raise red flags for some of you, but it’s probably more a matter of uncertainty about when it’s feasible to bring back the Disney Dining Plan in light of the current circumstances.
As we explain in our When Will the Disney Dining Plan Return?post, we do not expect that offering to be gone forever—and certainly not through the end of October 2023 (which is currently all that’s bookable due to the 499 day rule). That post breaks down what needs to happen for the DDP to come back, why Walt Disney World wants it back ASAP, and when that’ll probably occur.
Even with this (lack of) development for 2023 Walt Disney World vacation packages, our guess is still that the Disney Dining Plan will be back this year. We’ll run through some of the reasons why here…
When it comes to questions about the Disney Dining Plan’s return, the company’s go-to response has been a rather generic “the Disney Dining Plan remains unavailable at this time” for booking this year or in 2023. This is essentially meaningless–even if that line were uttered today, it wouldn’t preclude the return of the Disney Dining Plan from being announced tomorrow.
Disney is incredibly adept at equivocation, and employs it constantly to issue ambiguous statements. Disney’s go-to weasel words are “at this time” and “currently” when stating what they plan on doing (or not doing). When you see or hear those words used by Disney, it’s safe to ignore whatever’s being said as the surrounding language renders it meaningless.
The key reason for this is that everything after the moment that a statement is released is no longer “at this time.” With the announcement made, the particular moment in time that words were written has passed. Plans are ever-evolving and everything Disney does is subject to change.
The point is that if plans couldn’t change shortly after announcements, we’d still have Maelstrom, Universe of Energy, Tower of Terror (California), and other things. (Ditto the construction of a couple DVC resorts.) At one point, Disney denied having plans to change or close all of those attractions “at this time.” One quick Walt Disney quote about forward-motion or progress later, and their fates were sealed.
We probably will not be treated to a Walt Disney quote when it’s time to bring back the Disney Dining Plan (although “I like chili” ~Walt Disney on a construction wall would be mildly amusing). However, past statements won’t be an impediment to its return.
In short, Walt Disney World will bring back the Disney Dining Plan whenever it’s feasible and advantageous to do so. Nothing stated here changes that. It would be an entirely different story if the announcement said “the Disney Dining Plan is being permanently retired” but no such definitive proclamation has been made. As of right now, the various Disney Dining Plans are still just “temporarily unavailable.”
As for why we remain confident that the Disney Dining Plan will be back at some point…sometime…the reason is simple: it’s is incredibly lucrative and advantageous for Walt Disney World. Historically, the Disney Dining Plan is a revenue engine that increases per guest spending, while also being perceived as a perk by guests. It was truly a win-win for company and consumer. As such, it’s a matter of when the Disney Dining Plan will return, not if it will.
With revenue currently through the roof as consumers splurge on more expensive vacations, that’s not quite as true as it has been in the past. However, there will be a time when earnings calls no longer include boasting that per guest spending is up 40% as compared to pre-closure. At that time, things like the Disney Dining Plan will be incredibly useful in offsetting what would otherwise be a pullback in spending as guests become more cost-conscious or frugal.
With that said, the Disney Dining Plan not being available for 2023 Walt Disney World vacation packages certainly is not good–or even neutral–news. To the contrary, this is a disappointing development (or lack of development), just not a dire or definitive one.
Walt Disney World not offering the Disney Dining Plan even for arrivals in January 2023 and beyond suggests that there is still not internal confidence that it’ll be feasible to bring the Disney Dining Plan back by early next year.
If the trajectory of staffing shortages, pent-up demand, and capacity issues were looking good and on course for a full resolution by 2023, the company would’ve pushed to offer the Disney Dining Plan with next year’s packages from the get-go. While guests can obviously add the DDP later, it’s far easier to offer it from the outset.
Moreover, it’s more financially advantageous for the company. Locking consumers into spending several months to a year in advance is a lot better than giving them the option down the road. Although Disney has been touting the 40% increase in per guest spending, a slowdown is undoubtedly on the horizon. Retailers are reporting this already as consumers move from spending on goods to services (e.g. travel), but the latter sectors will likely experience the same in a few months.
If you’re Walt Disney World, you take the sure thing and commit consumers to locking in next year’s vacation budgets before household savings have been further depleted and people make tough choices and become more discerning with their spending. If it were viable, selling the Disney Dining Plan for 2023 arrivals would’ve been the easy and obvious decision–even in the face of the currently elevated per guest spending metrics.
In short, Walt Disney World not offering the Disney Dining Plan for January 2023 and beyond vacation packages strongly suggests that even the company still doesn’t know whether it’ll be possible to bring it back by then. It could also just be a matter of indecisiveness or the company not yet having finalized an overhaul to the DDP. (Hopefully neither are the case, because that would be a seriously squandered opportunity, if so.)
Nevertheless, to borrow a line from Ernest Hemingway, change happens “gradually, then suddenly.” His famous quote about personal finances also applies to corporate ones, as well as supply and demand, economic outlooks, and really just all facets of life.
The Disney Dining Plan’s return progress has epitomized a gradual change up until this point. However, things could change suddenly. In particular, the resolution of staffing shortages resulting in across-the-board increases to restaurant capacity could collide with a slowdown in consumer spending and pent-up demand running its course. When (not if) that happens, the Disney Dining Plan’s expeditious return (at least to the extent Disney does anything “expeditiously”) won’t be too far behind.
With that said, don’t misconstrue the meaning of that “gradually, then suddenly” quote. One conclusion that it’s safe to draw from the 2023 Walt Disney World vacation package news is that the Disney Dining Plan probably is not happening in the next few months. If it were, that would already be known internally and there would be no reason to not go ahead and start selling it for 2023.
We know many of you have been hopeful that a surprise announcement would occur ahead of your summer vacations. As we’ve been warning for the last couple of months in our Disney Dining Plan updates, the summer is looking increasingly unlikely. We don’t want to rehash everything that’s been previously covered, but here the main reason, as intimated above, is staffing shortages.
Staffing remains the key impediment to this across all Walt Disney World restaurants, and that goes for both operational and closed locations. The company brought back the College Program and undertook a hiring blitz last year, and that has helped.
Nevertheless, staffing shortages persist for several key positions. This month, Walt Disney World kicked off another hiring spree of job fairs, dubbed the Summer Hiring Celebration. Every Wednesday in June 2022, there’s a hiring event at the Casting Center, with highlighted roles including Culinary & Quick Service Foods. There’s also the Magical Hiring Celebration, which takes place June 9-11 at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort. The company is offering start bonuses of up to $1,500 for select roles.
While that might sound like an optimistic update, Walt Disney World has been attempting to address staffing shortages for over a year. The result is many locations unable to operate at full capacity, and must leave many tables unfilled. This reinforces the reality that just because most restaurants are reopened doesn’t mean they’re firing on all cylinders. Dining capacity is improved as compared to last year thanks to the dropping of physical distancing and hiring initiatives, but still pretty far from 100%.
One other positive note on the staffing front is that Walt Disney World is bringing back the Cultural Representative Program in August 2022. The Cultural Representative Program is smaller than the College Program, but it’ll nevertheless facilitate the eventual reopenings of World Showcase restaurants. More importantly, it’ll allow the Cast Members currently at those restaurants to be reassigned to other restaurants around Walt Disney World, thereby helping to increase capacity across the board. That alone will be huge.
Ultimately, even with the Disney Dining Plan not offered for 2023 Walt Disney World vacation packages, it remains our perspective that the best case scenario for the return of the Disney Dining Plan is in mid-August or September 2022. We think this is the absolute earliest the DDP will be available again, not when it’s guaranteed to be back.
Even if this summer ends up being slower than originally forecast or staffing improves significantly, there’s going to be a lag between when the decision is made to bring back the Disney Dining Plan and when it actually returns (as evidenced by it being unavailable for 2023!). That alone pushes the return of the Disney Dining Plan into the post-summer off-season, which is also easier from a logistics perspective.
If the Disney Dining Plan doesn’t come back by Fall 2022, it seems more likely than not that it won’t return until January 2023. A serious post-summer spending slowdown could change the equation and result in the Disney Dining Plan being rushed back in October or November. However, it’s more likely that the holiday season will be busier than fall at Walt Disney World, regardless of the macroeconomic environment. Given that, the company might be content just letting spending play out without the DDP for the remainder of this year.
That would also offer a “clean break” with the Disney Dining Plan returning in 2023, rather than a random date this year. Just because it’s not available as of this announcement is relatively meaningless–the Disney Dining Plan could still be made available as an add-on for those packages anytime between June and December.
Suffice to say, if you’re anxiously awaiting the return of the Disney Dining Plan…you’re going to have to wait a little (or maybe a lot!) longer. If one thing is clear by now, it’s that Walt Disney World’s operational environment and on-the-ground circumstances continue to change–the only thing that’s certain is uncertainty.
Given how lucrative the Dining Plan is for Walt Disney World in “normal times,” I never would’ve predicted it would be gone for this long. But clearly these are not normal times. In any case, you can sign up to our free email newsletter and we’ll keep you posted as soon as Walt Disney World makes an announcement or there’s more news regarding the Disney Dining Plan’s return.
When do you expect the Disney Dining Plan to return? Thoughts on whether a spending slowdown coupled with resolution of the staffing shortages could allow Walt Disney World to bring back the DDP “suddenly” (in Fall 2022)? Or, do you think it’s gone for good and the 2023 Walt Disney World vacation package announcement should be interpreted as such? Would the Disney Dining Plan’s reinstatement make you more likely to book a trip? 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!