Walt Disney World is ever-changing, and nowhere is that more evident than in food offerings. Since the figures below were published in 2015, Disney has shifted dining plans into three new tiers: a Quick-Service plan for order-at-counter eats, the standard Disney Dining Plan, and Deluxe. The advice remains imperative, but refer to the Disney World website for current pricing.
Many years ago, the marketing geniuses at Disney had a stroke of brilliant insight: People love convenience, and they hate having to take out their wallets on vacation.
And so, the Disney Dining Plan was born. On the plan, which is purchased ahead of time (often as a package deal with your park tickets or hotel) has several price points and levels. With each, you get a certain number of meal credits per day, divided among table service restaurants, counter service restaurants, and snacks. It may be convenient, but it’s not always a very good deal.
Let’s look at some numbers. In 2007, the standard Disney Dining Plan got you one table service meal (including an appetizer, entrée, dessert, including tax and tip), one counter service meal, and one snack, and cost $39 per person. Today, the plan costs more than $60 per person, and the table service meal only gets you an entrée and a dessert – tax and tip not included. Moreover, not every restaurant is on the plan, and even those that are don’t necessarily include every dish on offer in their menu plan-compatible lineup. If you don’t like dessert, or want something else, you’re out of luck.
But here’s the real kicker: Like most things paid for in advance, you don’t get a refund if you don’t eat all the food. Let’s say you don’t want a sit-down dinner every day, or you forget to eat a snack or two. That’s money straight into Disney’s pocket, as your credits disappear at the end of your stay.
Like most things paid for in advance, you don’t get a refund if you don’t eat all the food.
The best way to figure out if you want the plan is to do some math. Go to a third-party website like Touringplans.com or Allears.net, which have all of the menus for every Disney restaurant listed. Map out a few days of dining options, and pick specific dishes that you want to order at each restaurant. Add up the cost (and don’t forget tax and tip, which aren't included). If the total price ends up being lower than the cost of the dining plan, don't get the plan. (We've broken down a good-value itinerary and a bad-value itinerary, below.)
Besides making sure the cost/value breakdown of the Disney Dining Plan plays out to your advantage, there are a few other ways to make the most of it.
- Blow your snack credits early, so you don’t forget to use them, and use them on portable things that hold up well in the Central Florida heat. That way, you can carry your snacks around and eat them whenever you need to, instead of having to slurp up your ice cream cone the minute you buy it.
- Save your table service credits for dinner, as dinner dishes cost more at almost every restaurant, so you’ll get a better value.
- Make sure to check how much is left in your account before you leave at the end of your trip. I’ve bought plenty of last-minute snacks for the flight home in order to not hand cash to Disney.
- Some "signature" restaurants — higher-end, higher-demand spots — require two table-service dining credits, per person, for dinner. Never, ever do it. The math just doesn’t work out. You’re better off paying cash for a fancy dinner — or, if there are a lot of signature spots on your list, just not getting the plan at all.
A two-day dining plan for one person costs approximately $120. Here are two sample two-day dining itineraries, showing you can game — or be gamed by — the value of the dining plan. The first itinerary shows how you can come out ahead. We didn’t scour Disney World for the most expensive of the most expensive dishes; if you want to do that research, you can fare even better — we simply chose more expensive items on the menus at popular, higher-end restaurants. Same thing goes second plan – they aren’t the cheapest or worst restaurants on property, just on the lower end of the cost spectrum.
TOTAL VALUE: $135.87
DIFFERENCE FOR A FAMILY OF 4: $63.48
TOTAL VALUE: $110.05
DIFFERENCE FOR A FAMILY OF 4: -$38.80
This information is based on information available as of August 2015 from Disney’s official website; Allears.net, a regularly updated fan website; and Touringplans.com, a popular Disney trip planning website. Not all Disney restaurants qualify for the Disney Dining Plan, but all those referenced above do.
A final note: Don’t even think about getting the Deluxe or Premium Dining plans, which include three table service credits and two snacks a day. You’d have to spend your entire day eating to make it pay off, and they cost an arm and a leg.