Disneyland Dining Plan
Update: The three tiers of the “Dining in the Magic” Disneyland Dining Plan have been discontinued. Currently, there is no Disney Dining Plan available for purchase at Disneyland Resort, and there is no such thing as a “Free Dining” promotion for the California parks. What follows is historical information about what used to be offered, just in case it ever returns… (As of April 25, 2017, the Disneyland Dining Plan is still not available.)
Disneyland offers a Disney Dining Plan called “Dining in the Magic,” but it’s absolutely nothing like Walt Disney World’s meal plan. Instead, you can buy pre-paid vouchers as part of your vacation package that amount to a less useful version of a gift card.
These “packages” have different days depending upon the length of your visit: Donald’s 2-Day Dine in the Magic Meal Plan, Goofy 3-Day Dine in the Magic Meal Plan, Minnie’s 4-Day Dine in the Magic Meal Plan and Mickey’s 5-Day Dine in the Magic Meal Plan. Basically, you pay a set amount in advance, and receive vouchers valued (in total) at the exact amount you paid, except some state that they’re for a character meal, $15-use, or a snack.
However, each of these vouchers has a “face value” and that face value is exactly what you paid for it, so with one exception (see below), all these vouchers are is less-useful gift cards. They’re less useful than a gift card because you can’t receive cash back from the voucher, meaning that you need to spend its full value when dining (or lose your balance).
The Disneyland website describes Dining in the Magic as a way to: “Sample a bit of everything while using vouchers instead of cash. Dine in the Magic includes two (2) meals and one (1) snack per number of days selected, including dining with your favorite Disney Characters.”
What you actually receive is a voucher for a character meal, a voucher for $15 to spend elsewhere, and a voucher for a snack per day. At this point, you might be thinking that my initial description was a bit inaccurate. It’s not. The vouchers can be used for anything, and despite being seemingly earmarked for specific purposes, you can use any of them anywhere.
Still confused? You’re not alone. Here’s an example: let’s say your Character Dining voucher is worth $30. That means you paid $30 for it. Let’s further say you want to eat at Hungry Bear Restaurant (wise decision!), a Quick Service Restaurant in Disneyland that is not a character meal. No problem, you can do that.
However, if what you order costs only $11.99 and you pay with the voucher, you forfeit the remaining $18.01 on the voucher. That’s $18.01 worth of real money you just lost. If your meal at Hungry Bear is somehow $31.50, you don’t “save” $1.50…you have to pay that $1.50 out of pocket.
There is one circumstance where you can potentially save a bit of money with this plan, and that’s if you eat at nothing but character meals for lunch or dinner. In the case of character meals, the vouchers aren’t worth their face value, but are instead are actually good for the character meal, including tax and tip.
The vouchers typically cost about $5 more than the actual character meal before tax and tip, so once you add on the tax and the tip, you could end up saving about $5 per person. Again, this is only for character meals.
Based upon the foregoing description, it should be pretty clear that we’re not fans of the Disneyland Dining Plan. While we’re not incredibly strong advocates for the Walt Disney World Dining Plan, at least guests can leverage that to their advantage with careful planning.
The Disneyland Dining Plan is just plain dumb unless you only eat at character meals and you’re incredibly cautious about not forfeiting any part of the $15 or snack vouchers anywhere else. I’d hazard a guess that this dumb system works out to the guest’s advantage less than 5% of the time. Not only is the Disneyland Dining Plan system dumb, but it uses an antiquated system that fleeces guests if they aren’t careful.
The only other conceivable “pro” of the Disneyland Dining in the Magic program is the ability to prepay so you don’t worry about a budget on vacation. However, if you’re one of those people who needs to do this (and I can totally understand wanting that disconnect when on vacation), but a Disney gift card instead. You can purchase them in advance, and best of all, if you used a $30 one to purchase that $11.99 meal at Hungry Bear Restaurant, you’d still have $18.01 on your gift card!
We strongly suspect that Disney will overhaul the Disneyland Dining in Magic program sometime very soon. With all of the work Disney put into overhauling Disney California Adventure to make Disneyland Resort a bona fide tourist destination, it would only make sense to create a version of the Disney Dining Plan that actually appeals to guests. The Walt Disney World Dining Plan does just this by offering savings and convenience, and still locks guests into spending a set amount of money on food at Disney. So it’s a win-win. Guests get convenience and the ability to save money, Disney gets guaranteed spending.
By contrast, at Disneyland, very few people use this meal plan, and there it’s much easier for tourists to go off-property to Harbor Boulevard and eat at Denny’s or somewhere else for a much lower price than they’d pay to eat at Disneyland. Disney has made a huge investment in Disneyland to draw more tourists, and it would follow that Disney will soon want to commit tourists to spending as much money in the parks. Presently, Disneyland is more of a locals park (although it has already started to shift since World of Color debuted), and a Dining Plan doesn’t appeal all that much to locals, but with more tourists already coming for Cars Land and Buena Vista Street, one can only assume that Dining in Magic’s days are numbered. Here’s hoping that there’s a better Disneyland Dining Plan in 2014!
If you’ve used the Disneyland Dining Plan, what did you think of it? Do you plan on using it? Share your thoughts in the comments!
In defense of the WDW dining plan – we get the Deluxe plan every time for two big reasons: First, with several food allergies in the family, it’s just so much easier to do table-service for our meals because we can sit down and discuss with the menu with the chef rather than try to figure it out with people waiting in line behind us (we tried a counter-service lunch on our last trip. Choas!). Second, a big part of being on vacation (for us, anyway) is the ability to do things we wouldn’t normally do at home, like take advantage of fine dining. For our family, the dining plan saves our sanity, and definitely saves us a ton of money compared to what we would spend out of pocket to eat at the same restaurants. Sure, you can do it cheaper, but who wants to nickel-and-dime on vacation?
Just a quick FYI- They aren’t offering the Disney Dining plan anymore. I was looking into making reservations for this October and it isn’t even listed as an option. When I contact DL Resort about it all they told me was that it wasn’t available for now and they aren’t sure when it will be. I think you can still pre-purchase character dining but you can’t do the multi-day plans anymore.
I have tried the dinning plan at Disneyland and it worked for me and my family if you buy for three any monies left over can be added to anyone else in the party. We had 4 adults and 1 child paid for we ran into some of our family down there and had dinner together that’s two more adults and 2 children. And it covered all of us plus tip so it can pay for its self . Also it’s a great way to prepay everything over time and all you need upon arrival Is spending money for other stuff
Interesting! Thanks for sharing your experience on the plan!
Now that is exactly what I wanted to hear. I have 3 kids; one of them is only going to be 2 years old when we visit, so he’s not eligible for the dining plan. With what you’re saying, it sounds like my older kids will be able to pick what they want (without me hinting them towards the more expensive items) and we’ll have enough leftover that my 2 year old can get something of his own?
So the vouchers can add up and pay for an entire meal (food, drinks, and desert)?
I personally called Disney and they told me that was the case. My mom loves dining at the more expensive side restaurants anyway. So we can just pay the difference and it’s a great way to save for a trip because we will be making great use of the character dining aspect. If you have little kids in my opinion it works great.
Which restaurant is best for a character meal? We will have two preschoolers with us.
PPS About the DL Dining Plan (since that’s what this was supposed to be about), if the plan is to stay around (which I’m sure it is), hopefully they make it user friendly like the WDW version. On the other hand, I hope it doesn’t end up dumbing down all the menus as it has done at WDW. I really hate what it has done to the once “unique” dining experience at the World. Nuf said….
While I have no numbers to base my statements on, I have to agree with Tom on his locals vs non-locals statements. Although I grew up at WDW (first visit in ’73 at age 12), I’ve visited DL numerous times since ’79. As a tourist (at DL), the vibe I get when visiting is that it’s lots of locals. I base that on the conversations of those around me when I’m watching fireworks, Fantasmic and World of Color. I particularly remember watching the “Remember” fireworks and whenever dialog was spoken in the show, the crowd would all narrate right along. I never hear that at WDW….more oohs and ahhs on the east coast. So whether its a 70/30 mix or even a 50/50 mix, DL locals aren’t hesitant to make their presence known….hence it feels like a “locals” park to me.
PS…it doesn’t affect how I feel about DL (or WDW) either way. Just my observation.
Totally agree. A LOT of locals at DLR, not so much at WDW. I am an AP holder from two states away, not quite local but just under 500 miles.
Of interest might be the fact that when all is said and done (transportation, lodging, food, tickets, etc) WDW is more cost effective than DLR. Anaheim is just plain expensive even “off site” I love the original, but when it comes down to the money I have always done better and gotten more at WDW.
So are you saying that anybody from California that goes to Disneyland is a local? You do realize how large California is both geographically and in population? I don’t consider people driving 6-8 hours, getting a hotel room and staying a few days anymore of a local than a family from Tennessee driving down to wdw. Heck even the CSA of Los Angeles is comparible to the population of the state of Florida. So of course California residents will make up more percentage of guest to Disneyland than Florida guests will to Walt Disney world.
And if you think that Disneyland, only one of the most famous and most visited places in the world, was only started to be de-localized from world of color, well then thats just a laughable fallacy. People were traveling from around the world to visit Disneyland while wdw was still swampland.
I stand by my contention that “DLR is definitely more of a locals park [than WDW].” Note the words “more of,” which are indicative of a comparison. If you take issue with that, that’s fine, but don’t mischaracterize what I’ve said. I’m not contending that ONLY locals visit Disneyland, nor am I contending that ONLY tourists visit Walt Disney World. I’m contending that proportionately more locals visit Disneyland than visit Walt Disney World. Based upon the last sentence of your first paragraph, it seems you agree with this.
Obviously tourists have visited Disneyland throughout its existence. My contention is that proportionately more tourists have started to visit Disneyland since World of Color debuted, and even more will come once Cars Land and Buena Vista Street open. I don’t think Disney would have invested so much in DCA if the company didn’t want to present Disneyland as more of a tourist destination, and I think that Disneyland jacked up the prices on APs at the end of last summer to cut down on the AP population because the company anticipates more business from tourists.
As proportionately more tourists visit Disneyland, I think Disney will begin looking at options to increase its per-guest revenue. One such way it will do this, I think, is by offering a Dining Plan along the lines of the one offered by Walt Disney World.
For Disneyland we look at the block out calendars and try to pick times the two California cards are blocked out. That really limits the number of locals there and I’ve also noticed less ‘passholes’ show up.
The main problem with the tourists is they don’t know how to move around the park or manage the crowds. You’ve seen them, they’ll get their entire group in an open area like between Matterhorn and the Teacup Ride and stop to plan their next step with little or no regard to the congestion they are causing.
Both groups have a problem with thinking they are at Disneyland and can do whatever they want with no regard to the other people there. If everyone would be a little more considerate we could all have a stellar visit to the park!
What has made annual passes a mess is the installment plan for purchasing them.
The nice thing Disneyland has done is require older children/adults to accompany younger ones (under 14). It was getting to be a problem with people dropping their kids off and leaving them un-supervised at the park all day.
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I somewhat agree that the Disneyland Dining Plan needs some changes made, but the WDW Dining Plan only works if you eat at a higher priced location each day. Otherwise you lose money daily. Secondly the WDW plan now requires that you buy it for the length of your stay, which means if I spent a day away from Disney I most likely will skip or two of the dining plan options thus being a very expensive loss. They used to allow you to pay for only the number of days you wanted but recently changed it to lock you into to staying on property the entire visit. And btw, Disneyland is NOT considered a locals park. Just more than 60% of the people who visit there come from outside southern California. That is one of the biggest myths that still keeps being misreported by fan sites.
I am by no means a fan of the WDW Dining Plan. Just read the article to which I linked in this post and you’ll see that. WDW uses several techniques to lock you into staying on property (DME, “free” transportation, etc.), but that doesn’t change the fact that the DLR DDP sucks. Whereas some people CAN leverage the WDW plan to their advantage, no one can do that with the DLR plan.
As for it being a locals park, it absolutely is. I’ve seen the Al Lutz articles refuting the 70/30 number that is touted by other fan sites, and I don’t doubt that Lutz is correct, but look at how many people come from all of California, not just SoCal. Then compare those statistics to Walt Disney World. By comparison, DLR is definitely more of a locals park. I think it’s clear Disney has been working to change that, and I think the shift has already started to occur. That said, I think the biggest shift is still yet to come. With more of a shift, I think we’ll see more policies and packages mimicking those offered in WDW. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but if it’s any consolation, the number of Disney-owned hotels in Disneyland makes it difficult for Disney to get quite as aggressive as the TDO is.
I have been reading your blog as I’ve been wanting to take my 2 year old and family to disneyland but you’ve got some nerve having so much negativity into it. Hammering into people what seriously should be done vs not. It’s really more of a subjective opinion and I for one and a big fan of the Disney dining plan and I live according to Disney in SoCal. A reason why you see more locals is because they give annual passes out to SoCal residents at a cheaper price and they aren’t blocked out on the times you seem to like to visit so much. You said its hard to compare the two theme parks across the country and yet you do. You are an insanely big hypocrite and frankly I have yet to find anything that is not negative in your blog and is informative.
I wouldn’t consider “skipping a day” as a loss on the dining plan. I always go to Universal for one day of our Disney trips. Use the extra TS to eat at a signature dining location and the extra QS to get breakfast one day [since the plan is usually used for lunch and dinner]. As far as extra snacks, there’s never enough beverages or dole-whip. Just maximize the plan and it’s worth it- The Wave, Chefs du France, Via Napoli etc.