Tag Archive: disney dining plan

  1. Disney Dining Plan v. Paying Out of Pocket

    One of the questions I get asked most often about Disney World travel is “Should I get a dining plan?” I covered the basics of the Disney Dining Plans in my last post, so next I’ll address when it makes sense to purchase a dining plan, and when you’re better off paying out-of-pocket.

    Flame Tree Barbecue at Disney's Animal Kingdom

    Use a Quick Service Credit at Flame Tree Barbecue at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

    Who Benefits Most From the Dining Plan

    The dining plans tend to work out better for some folks than others, depending on their style of vacationing and where they prefer to eat. Here are the keys points to consider to help you decide if a Dining Plan is a good fit. (NOTE: Please take these suggestions with a grain of salt! They are just overall guidelines to help you get a picture of who benefits most from using a Dining Plan.)

    You should consider using the Dining Plan if you:

    • Want to eat at several Character Meals or buffets (These tend to be the most expensive out-of-pocket and represent the best value on the plan)
    • Have one or more “big eaters” in your party
    • Are planning a vacation at least 6 months in advance (though this definitely isn’t a make-or-break aspect)
    • Don’t mind making a touring plan (complete with dining reservations) and sticking to it
    • Are visiting during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival

    You might want to avoid the Dining Plan if you:

    • Are a light eater (e.g. like to order an appetizer as your entrée)
    • Aren’t a planner
    • Don’t want to be bound to a schedule or touring plan
    • Want to eat at several Signature Restaurants
    • Are vegetarian or vegan (Though if you want to experience several buffets/character meals or eat some fish the dining plan still makes a lot of sense)
    • Are planning a vacation less than 6 months in the future
    Disney Dining Character Meals

    Character meals are often a good deal on the dining plan

    The main factor that determines if you’ll get the full value of the plan is where you dine. Certain restaurants offer the best value on the plan because the are they most expensive out-of-pocket. However, be forewarned: these are also the most popular restaurants which means many of them are completely booked up as soon as the six-month window opens up. 

    If you want to get the full value from the plans, you really should make dining reservations as early as possible, ideally the morning six months before your check-in date. I use this date calculator to find the day my dining window opens, and mark it in bold in my planner!

    As a general guideline, I estimate that table service restaurants that cost over $40 per person per meal and quick service restaurants that cost around $20 per person per meal give the best return on your investment with the dining plan.  Since most buffets and character meals cost over $40 for adults, they tend to be a good value on the plan.

    It is pretty difficult to get good value from the dining plan at Signature restaurants since they require two table service credits. You can get close at California Grill and Narcoossee’s (especially if you are after that lobster!), so keep that in mind when planning meals.

    Food & Wine Disney Dining

    Save your snack credits for Food & Wine Festival

    You can get tremendous value from snack credits during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival because you can use a snack credit for most food items at the marketplace booths. Some items are upwards of $8 and can be purchased with just a snack credit. Changes to the dining plans for this year have added a second daily snack to the Quick Service and Disney Dining Plans, making the plans even more desirable during the festival. We like to save our snack credits and use them the eat our way around the festival at substantial savings!

    Now let’s look at a few sample days on the dining plan to compare the cost of the dining plan vs. paying out-of-pocket.

    Dining Plan vs. Out-of-Pocket Price Comparisons

    Let’s compare what you would pay for the Disney Dining Plan versus out-of-pocket during a day at Epcot.

    For breakfast, you use a snack credit to buy a pastry at your resort along with coffee from your refillable mug. You have lunch at Sunshine Seasons in The Land pavilion and enjoy a pressed Cuban sandwich, a fruit and cheese plate, and a fountain drink. For dinner you head to Akershus Royal Banquet Hall for an incredible three-course Norwegian meal with the princesses.

    Here is a comparison of what it would cost out-of-pocket vs. on the dining plan:

      Dining Plan Out-of-Pocket Cost
    Breakfast – Resort Food Court 1 Snack + refillable mug Pastry – $4.79
    Coffee – $2.79
    Lunch – Epcot’s Sunshine Seasons 1 Quick Service Credit + 1 Snack Pressed Cubano Sandwich – $13.49
    Fountain Drink – $3.29
    Fruit & Cheese Plate – $6.69
    Dinner – Epcot’s Akershus Royal Banquet Hall 1 Table Service Credit Adult All-You-Care-to-Enjoy Meal – $55.37 (including tax)
    Total Cost $69.35 $88.43

    With this sample day, you would save $19.08 for one person on the dining plan. Keep in mind that Akershus Royal Banquet Hall is one of the priciest one table service credit restaurants at Disney World, so I wouldn’t expect to save this much every day. But if this is the type and quantity of food you would likely eat on vacation, then the dining plan might be a good fit for you!

    Disney DIning - Sunshine Season

    Sunshine Seasons in Epcot’s The Land pavilion

    Here’s a day at Animal Kingdom to compare the dining plan versus paying out-of-pocket:

      Dining Plan Out-of-Pocket Cost
    Breakfast – Resort + Creature Comforts (Starbucks) 2 Snacks + refillable mug Pastry – $4.79
    Smoothie – $4.99
    Coffee – $2.79
    Lunch – Tusker House 1 Table Service Credit Adult Buffet – $45 (including tax)
    Dinner – Flame Tree Barbecue 1 Quick Service Credit St. Louis Rib Dinner – $18.99
    Mandarin Orange Lemonade – $3.99
    Total Cost $69.35 $82.86

    Today you’d save $13.51 with the dining plan and you’d eat some of my favorite food in all of Disney World. Again, this assumes eating at one of the most expensive quick service locations and dining at a character meal.

    So overall, if these sample days represent how you generally like to eat on vacation, the Disney Dining Plan could work out very well for you! If you are looking to dine at a few Signature restaurants or aren’t that interested in buffets or character meals, you will likely be better off paying out-of-pocket.


    Here’s a quick summary of my main points in these posts:

    • Disney Vacation Club owners and guests have the flexibility to add a dining plan to their stay without having to purchase park tickets.
    • Guests choose the dining plan for an “all-inclusive” vacation experience, to control their food budget, or to try out new dining experiences.
    • The standard Disney Dining Plan offers the best bang-for your-buck and I rarely recommend either the Quick Service or Deluxe plans.
    • You’ll need to plan your dining six months in advance to get the most out of the Dining Plan.
    • You’ll get the most of the plans if you are dining at several buffets or character meals.

    I hope these posts helped you better understand the dining plans and who stands to benefit most from using them. Whether you choose to use a dining plan or not, you’re sure to enjoy some outstanding food on your next Disney vacation!

  2. Disney Dining Plan: Should you get it?

    One way to enjoy the incredible food at Walt Disney World is to use a Disney Dining Plan. The plans (which have been around since 2005) are an attempt by Disney to provide a more all-inclusive vacation experience, and it is clear from the popularity of the plans that guests are interested! With a Disney Dining Plan, you essentially pre-pay for a set number of meal “credits”, then choose when and where to redeem those credits throughout your vacation.

    Disney Dining Plan BasicsDisney Dining Plan Info - Learn the basics of the plan, why to get it, and tips for picking the best one for your vacation.

    Dining Plan Table Service Meal at Disney's California Grill

    Dining Plan Table Service Meal at Disney’s California Grill

    First, Disney Dining Plans can only be used by guests staying at a Walt Disney World resort hotel, i.e. hotels owned and operated by Disney World. The Disney Dining Plans currently cannot be purchased by visitors staying at any hotels that are not owned by Disney (“off-property” hotels) or locals visiting for the day.

    There are a few ways to add a dining plan to your stay. You can add a dining plan to any existing Disney resort reservation, but this usually also requires purchasing theme park tickets as part of a package.

    Disney Vacation Club owners and guests have the flexibility to add a dining plan to their stay without having to purchase park tickets. Just call Member Services to add a dining plan to any upcoming stay, but do so at least 48 hours prior to check-in. Payment in full is due at the time of adding the dining plan to your reservation.

    Annual Pass holders who are staying at a Disney resort may also add a dining plan to their stay without having to buy additional park tickets. You can also get a dining plan as part of a “Free Dining” package, the popular promotion that Disney often releases for select fall travel dates.

    Disney Dining Plan - Epcot Food & Wine Festival

    Did you know? You can use your snack credits at Epcot Food & Wine Festival

    There are three different dining plans available – the Disney Dining Plan, the Quick Service Dining Plan, and the Deluxe Dining Plan. Each plan offers a different combination of meal and snack credits that you can use throughout the course of your stay. Here’s the cost and credits included with each plan per night of your stay:

      Credits (per night) Cost
    (including tax)
    Disney Dining Plan 1 Table Service Meal + 1 Quick Service Meal + 2 Snacks $69.35 (adult)
    $24.95 (child)
    Quick Service Dining Plan 2 Quick Service Meals + 2 Snacks $48.19 (adult)
    $20.88 (child)
    Deluxe Dining Plan 3 Table Service OR Quick Service Meals + 2 Snacks $106.68 (adult)
    $38.75 (child)

    Prices effective February 22nd, 2017

    Almost every restaurant, food kiosk, snack cart, etc. all over Walt Disney World accepts these Dining Plan credits. You’ll also receive a refillable mug with each plan that can be used for unlimited refills of coffee, soda, and more for the length of your stay (which is set to 14 days by default).

    You’ll get an entree and non-alcoholic beverage with each Quick Service credit on any plan. On the standard Disney Dining Plan you’ll get an entree, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage (or a full buffet) with each Table Service meal credit. Note that Signature restaurants require two table service credits per person. Table service credits on the Deluxe Plan also include an appetizer. Updated for 2018: alcohol and specialty beverages are included.  

    Your credits are pooled together for your party and can be used by anyone in your party with their Magic Bands. You can use the credits starting the morning you check in until midnight of the day you check out. Everyone on the reservation must get the plan and you also must get the plan for the entire length of your reservation – you can’t just add it for certain people or for just part of your stay.

    Now that I’ve covered the basics of the plans, let’s look at why some guests choose to add a dining plan to their stay.

    Why Get A Dining Plan?

    Disney Dining Plan - Sanaa Bread Service

    Bread Service at Sanaa – Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

    The dining plans certainly add some complexity to your vacation. You might be wondering: “Why would I go through the hassle of using these plans? Wouldn’t it be easier and more relaxing to just pay for my food the old-fashioned way?”

    Here are a few reasons why guests choose to use the Disney Dining Plans:

    • For the “all-inclusive’ feeling: Some guests like not having to look at the prices of menu items because they know they can order anything on the menu. I personally understand the appeal of this aspect of the plans. I am a self-professed cheapskate and I can’t shake it, even on vacation. I will choose an item that is $2 cheaper over the one that I really want, just to save a few bucks. Crazy, right? The dining plan helps me enjoy myself more and order what I actually want, without having to worry about the cost.
    • To control their food budget and pre-pay for their meals: Some guests like knowing exactly how much they will spend on food on their vacation ahead of time to help budget for their trip. As long as you don’t order anything extra, which is totally possible considering how much food you’ll get with the dining plans, you’ll be able to budget to within a few dollars well before your trip. You will need to factor in tips at table service restaurants, but that is fairly easy to predict.
    • To have new experiences: Disney World is full of unique dining experiences, many of which are very pricey. The dining plan can help cut down on costs of some of these special experiences, such as dining with the princesses in Epcot’s Norway pavilion or trying the African-inspired buffet Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge. But keep in mind that these locations tend to book up quickly, so be ready to make your reservations 180 days before your trip!
    Disney Dining Plan - Mickey Waffles at The Captain's Grill

    Mickey Waffles at The Captain’s Grill

    Tips for Choosing a Dining Plan

    The most popular plan by far is the standard “Disney Dining Plan.” I hardly ever recommend the Quick Service Dining Plan. At almost $50 per night, I think it is overpriced and find it virtually impossible to get decent value from the plan.

    For the most part I’ve found that the Deluxe Dining Plan is just way too much food! If you are splitting your stay between two different resorts, and your first reservation is for one or two nights, it may make sense to get the Deluxe Plan for just the start of your trip. You’ll get your resort refillable mug good for 14 days (and they are starting to push $20 out-of-pocket) and you’ll get plenty of credits to spread out of those few days.

    Once we stayed one night at Bay Lake Tower before moving to Animal Kingdom Lodge and got the Deluxe Plan for just that one night. We got our mugs and were able to stretch the credits for two full days’ worth of food, so it worked out great for us. Most people won’t get the full value out of the Deluxe Dining Plan. For these reasons, I almost always suggest sticking with the standard Disney Dining Plan.

    UPDATED PRICES: 2018 Disney Dining Plan Prices + Alcohol and Speciality Drinks