Slightly OT.. Disney dining plan?

We're starting to plan a Disney trip during "Jersey Week" 2011.

Do any of you seasoned vets think the dining plan is worth it, or can you eat for less than 40 bucks a day per person at WDW?

I'm leaning toward getting it, because this is the last time I'll be going for awhile because, quite frankly, I can't stand WDW LOL, but we want to get the kids there before they get too old to care.

I've never, not once, spent as much money just eating what, where, and when I wanted as the appropriate dining plan would have cost. The dining plan isn't so much a "discount" as a "convenience", and a bit of an upsell in disguise.

The plus side: you'll have a hard number that you *know* will cover your food expenses. So, from a budgeting standpoint, that's kind of nice.

Raven-Phile's avatar

Yes, yes, Y-E-S. However, you won't win any brownie points from my by hating on WDW. :)

It's absolutely worth it, and it's a deal breaker for me. I won't go to Disney (and pay to go - of course I'll go if it's free :) ) without it.

Jeff's avatar

This isn't even a little OT.

I would never do time at Disney without the dining plan. It's a liberating experience. You get great food for slightly less money, there's no money changing hands (except for tips, and even that can be charged back to your room) and there is some exceptional food to be had there.

So, yes please. Do it!

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog

Gemini's avatar

Food budgeting at Disney always caused a bit of anxiety for my wife. It wasn't an issue of running out of money, but rather trying to keep the spending on food under control.

We finally tried the Dining Plan a couple of years ago. My wife and I were beyond thrilled. It's not the savings that was our big win. It was the freedom of knowing it was taken care of as well as the freedom to try new places we wouldn't otherwise consider.

Park tickets are probably a poor analogy, but I'm going to do it anyway. :) If you pay $xxx up front for seven days, you spend your week going to as many parks as you want. But if you took that same $xxx divided by seven, then paid for entry each day, maybe you'd think about skipping a day or two.

Walt Schmidt - Co-Publisher, PointBuzz

Jeff, Wasn't sure if this was appropriate topic, thanks.

Raven... I just feel like I'm being guilted into it, like I'm neglecting my kids because I never took them to Disney.. with the cost involved, I suspect this will be my last time ever barring some insane new ride. That and the heat kills me. LOL

I'm on the fence now, because my picky 11 year old has to pay full boat when she barely eats

Last edited by billb7581,
Jeff's avatar

Well for the counter service meals, she can certainly pick off of your stuff. Keep in mind that you just have a "bank" of meals. It doesn't matter who uses them. I know I used more snack credits than my wife (sodas mostly), and she used more counter service. And I forget where, but she had something, somewhere that required two table service credits. It all kinda works out.

You could just not get it for her, and when you run out of credits, pay with cash, but that's less fun. :)

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog

Kick The Sky's avatar

I have to throw in here in favor of the dining plans. We have done three vacations at Disney with the plan and we will never, ever do one without it. We like it because we pay for it upfront. We pay off our vacation gradually before we go, so once we go, we don't need a lot of money for the actual trip save tips, cocktails and souvenirs.

It's nice being able to go to a sit down restaurant every evening and not worry about the cost of the meal. It forces us to relax for part of each day. The Disney restaurants all serve pretty good food. You have the option of using two dining credits at an upscale restaurant, so if you want REALLY good food, you can do that. We usually do one really good meal when we are at Disney, using a table service from a day we would do Sea World or Universal. The counter service food isn't bad, either, with them starting to offer some healthier choices there.

We probably do end up spending more money on the dining plan. It probably is an upcharge, but it is so worth it in convenience that I'll gladly pay the difference.

Certain victory.

We also do the dining plan just about every trip. Last trip we only did counter services, and paid for one character dinner out of pocket. Paying for it in advance can provide piece of mind as well, knowing that you don't have to worry about how much you’re spending on your vacation.

As Jeff said, it can be liberating. Wandering thru Epcot and think the chicken smells good back by Morocco, try it. My daughter got some kind of chicken there this year with couscous, and said it was incredible. If you are walking by and thinking how much is this going to cost me, you think twice, but if it is just a meal credit and you know you have a spare, you might try something you would otherwise pass up.

In 7 or 8 trips on the dining plan in 5 years, not once have we gone down on check-out day and not had a few meals and at least a dozen snacks left to use that day. This March on the counter service plan, with two snacks per person per day, we vowed to use our snacks during the week, but yeah, it was more like 25 snacks left over. Chocolate dipped Mickey ears as souvenirs for all the kids' friends again.

Another benefit, depending on the kids' ages, is that they can wander off to another part of the park you are in, or another park altogether, and you don't have to worry about them needing money for snacks or food. The meal and snack credits are on all of your room keys, so the kids can stop for a pop or ice cream or meal whenever they want.

Jeff's avatar

I'll never understand how people have credits left over. I've not had that problem. I'm usually buying drinks or popcorn or ice cream novelties out-of-pocket by the last day.

Oh, you can use a table service credit for pizza delivered to your room, too (might depend on location). We did that the one night that Diana was zapped (she was pregnant at the time).

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog

We are in the process of Planning at trip to DisneyWorld next summer. We are Definalty going to use the Meal Plan. I have heard that some of the counter service food has taken a hit in quality becuase the dining plan from another site....but the way I look at it, its counter service fast food stuff. I know this gives me a peice of mind that i wouldnt over spend on my food budget and if we are lucky enough to get the dining plan inculded with our stay free, I see that as a bonus.

We also plan on going to Universal and Seaworld for a couple days also. In total I believe we are shooting for 10 day and nights down in the orlando area. Does the Universal Hotels offer a dining plan as well?

Last edited by Talonstruck,

It's not the savings that was our big win. It was the freedom of knowing it was taken care of as well as the freedom to try new places we wouldn't otherwise consider.

I think this is exactly right. If you're the sort of person who's going to cringe at the right-hand side of the menus, the dining plan can be pretty nice. However, if you just fork out whatever, whenever, because hey you're on vacation...then it doesn't really provide much of a benefit.

Also, for those of you who have a reason to have annual passes: the Tables in Wonderland card is a pretty sweet deal. $75 gets you a bit more than a year of 20% discounts off the total tab (including booze!) at almost all of the sit-down places. There's an automatic 18% pre-tax gratuity, but if you're tipping less than that, you're a cheap bastard anyway,

The big win of the Tables card is that you don't have to order the way the Plan says you do. Want to make a meal out of a couple of appetizers? Skip the dessert? Order little Timmy the steak? Have a glass of wine instead of an iced tea? It's all good.

However, there is another situation when the dining plan is a big win: if you're going to make food a centerpiece of your trip, and have a really nice dinner every night, then the dining plan is going to work out for you. My wife and I did that on a no-kids trip, and the dining plan would have worked out except that we ate at a couple of the 2-credit signature places, so the regular plan wouldn't have covered us but the deluxe plan was overkill. So, we used the Tables card instead, which saved us enough to have several Kungalooshes in the dearly departed Adventurers Club.

I have heard that some of the counter service food has taken a hit in quality becuase the dining plan from another site

I haven't really seen it. And, if you know where to go, there are some really good meals at some of those places. The hummus sandwich at Columbia Harbor House in MK is *really* good. So are the shwarma platters at Tangerine Cafe in Epcot. I still miss the salmon dish they had at the old Tusker House counter-service location though. That was awesome.

Edited to add one more thing:

You could just not get it for her, and when you run out of credits, pay with cash, but that's less fun.

To do this, you have to leave her off your room reservation entirely---if you get it, you have to get it for everyone on the reservation, for the entire length of stay. That's probably not worth it, as it also means she's not eligible for Magical Express, nor Extra Magic Hours.

Last edited by Brian Noble,
crazy horse's avatar

I always get the dinning plan.

The only gripe I have about it, is that in no longer covers the tips.

what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard.
Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it.
I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

If you enjoy meat, I highly suggest you check out:
Ohana @ the Polynesian (a monorail ride away from MK and Epcot)
Wilderness Canyon Cafe @ Wilderness Lodge (a boat ride away from the MK)

Jeff's avatar

I disagree that just paying whenever is not a benefit, because it doesn't take long to get more for your money. Since the table service meals include dessert, most of those meals (for two) flirt with, or exceed a hundred dollars. That's $50 each. In the non-peak, it's $42/day per person, so that's the table service, plus a counter service, plus a snack. That was pretty consistently $70 worth of food per day for us (and the plan was I think $40 at the time).

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog

It absolutely *can* be a great deal, and it *can* save you money. But it doesn't *necessarily* save you money. It depends on how you'd order if left to your own devices. For example, I often skip dessert after a meal, because I'm just not hungry at that point, and I'd rather pick up something else later. So, the fact that dessert is included doesn't "save" me the cost of dessert---it's just included.

I suspect that for the average family, it's a slight upsell. That's okay---it's not a terrible deal for what it is. And, as I said, if you make dining a focus of your trip, it can be a very good deal, and it sounds like you do. But, the average family probably wouldn't ordinarily make dining a focus.

Empirically, it wouldn't have saved us money on our July trip, even if we hadn't had the Tables card. Partly that's because we tended towards more lunches than dinners for our "big meal" just to avoid the worst of the heat, and lunches are less expensive. But still, I was pretty surprised to see the numbers work out that way. I was sure that the dining plan would have ended up saving us a bit because we ate the right number of meals to exactly fit the plan.

kpjb's avatar

You can absolutely eat for less money at Disney World if you don't get the dining plan, however you can't eat as extravagantly for less money.

Last time I was there I was having steak, lobster, all kinds of high-end meals, and I never would have done that without the dining plan.

Keep in mind, though, that there are multiple kinds of dining plans. The two most common are the Counter Service Plan (you get two fast-food meals and two snacks per day) and the Disney Dining Plan (you get one fast-food meal, one snack, and one table-service/restaurant meal.)

billb7581 said:
I'm on the fence now, because my picky 11 year old has to pay full boat when she barely eats

This can actually work out in your favor.

If you do a bit of research beforehand, it's easy to spread out your meals and end up with extras. For example, at Cosmic Ray's in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom, you can get a combo meal of half a rotisserie chicken, ribs, potatoes, vegetable, dessert, and a drink for only one counter service credit. (Normal cost of over $20.) Last time we were there, my wife, son and I all shared this one meal and were all full when we were done. This left us with an extra meal that we used for a breakfast which normally would have been out of pocket.

It's fairly easy to find things like this, too. If your daughter doesn't eat too much, you'll still have to buy her the dining plan as I think you have to get it all-or-nothing for everyone in your party. Keep in mind, though, that you eat 3 meals a day and only get 2 for free. If you get something big and she picks off of it, then you can use her unused meals for any other ones that you'd normally pay out of pocket.

Another important note, if you're doing the plan with the table service, you can reserve your restaurants 180 days ahead of time. Many good ones book up quickly, so make reservations early.


I agree that you can save money with a dining plan but the question is whether that is how you would otherwise work your dining options or would your dining choices be made to fit the plan. We had a dining plan last summer. Dining was not the focus of our trip at all. Looking back, we would have likely saved money without the plan. My kids aren't big eaters and don't have much patience for lengthy meals (they got both from me). So other than dinner in the castle for my wife and daugther, we didn't go to any fancy or expensive meals. Dessert was always there but had we gone ala carte, we would have skipped dessert at least 1/2 of the nights. Ended up with a few extra snacks and that was after we caught up the last day using snacks for a lunch. If you either don't have kids or have kids who like to eat bigger/fancier meals and the adults are more into bigger/fancier meals, the dining plan would probably work out dollar wise.

I also understand the budgeting issue involved with the dining plan.

I have dined both ways, money and food plan.

WITH OUT A DOUBT go with the food plan!!!

It is absolutely crazy to not go with that, unless you don't plan on eating anything there.

You will save SOOOo much time, $$, stress, etc.

Almost every time I see a park offering plans like this, I jump on them now, after realizing how much easier, time saving, and $$ saving it is.

My wife and I dining style when at a park:
We like sit down at night, counter in the afternoon, and a quick breakfast in the morning. At least once or twice on vacation we like to have fine dining.


kpjb's avatar

I find that a nice dinner is a good wind-down after a long day at the parks.

Usually the only time I do a sit-down for lunch is at Epcot, because there are so many good choices there I hate to pick just one.


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