The Disney Dining Plan – What’s all the fuss about?

A comment I hear a lot about Disney is how expensive it can be, especially when it comes to food.  While this can definitely be seen as a true statement, I can also say that there are ways around that. Dining at Disney can be an experience in itself.  Personally, I am a foodie – I love trying new food and experimenting with different ethnic flavors. And one thing I do NOT like to do on vacation, is cook. The way I see it, I am away from home, away from responsibility; I want to enjoy!

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But back to the topic at hand – I was first introduced to the Disney Dining Plan back in 2005. This was back when you were issued “vouchers” for each meal and they didn’t always expire at midnight the day you check out. For obvious reasons, this became an issue for Disney with the onset of eBay and other online auction sites. People who didn’t use all their vouchers would sell them and ultimately make a profit on them.  I had acquired a few vouchers prior to my trip (from a friend who didn’t use them from their trip) and knew I was going down. They were for quick service meals and we used them at the food court in Pop Century. I was amazed at what this little piece of paper got me! As I said this was a while ago, so things were different and much more was included.

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Anyway, the following year was the first year I remember the free Dining Plan promo being offered. It just so happened to fall into the dates we were going and were lucky enough to try it out. Needless to say, we were hooked! Every consecutive trip, we have used the dining plan. I have gotten it free and I have paid for it. And in all honesty, I won’t book a Disney trip without it anymore. 

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Some may ask why pay for it? – especially when it’s offered free so often? Well, if you think about it, it’s not really free…you are paying the full rate for the rooms, so Disney makes up for it there. Also, most people will add on to the meal with alcoholic beverages or appetizers (when not included in your plan). Plus, you are still in the parks, so money is being spent on other things. For me, it’s a no brainer because even if they aren’t running a free dining plan, I can still “pre-pay” for a majority of my meals and not have to worry about budgeting this in my spending money. Also, I can still order ANYTHING off the menu. (Meaning, I am not limited to a few entrees and if I want the filet on the menu, I can get it and not worry if I have enough money in my pocket. It’s already been paid for.)

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So, how does it work? First and foremost, you must be staying at a Disney resort. It is something that is added to your Magic Your Way package. You must purchase it for your entire stay (based on the number of nights you stay) and it must be purchased for your entire party (ages 3 and up – under 3 are allowed to eat off an adult’s plate). There are special prices for children since obviously they don’t eat what adults eat.

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There are 3 main dining plans to pick from: The Quick Service Plan, The Dining Plan, and The Deluxe Dining Plan.   For 2011, this is what is included for each:

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  • Quick Service – This plan includes 2 quick service (or fast food type) meals and 2 snacks per day, plus 1 refillable resort mug per person. It can save you up to 15% per person for the duration of your stay and currently costs $34.99 per adult or $11.99 per child per day.
  • Dining Plan (basic) – This plan includes 1 quick service meal, 1 table service meal, and 1 snack per day. Table service does include many buffets and character meals, so this plan works great for families with young kiddos who MUST dine with their favorite characters. It can save you up to 20% and current pricing is $45.99 per adult and $11.99 per child per day.
  • Deluxe Dining Plan – This plan includes A LOT of food. You get 3 meals per day of your choice; either quick service or table service and 2 snacks per day. You also receive a refillable resort mug per person. Its current cost is $78.99 for adults and $21.99 for children per day. It can be a savings of up to 35% per person.

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I have found what constitutes as part of the dining plan can vary from location to location. Some restaurants may consider only a small beverage as included while others may say a large. But, the basics are as follows: a snack is typically any individual item that is typically no more than $4.00. I have used snack credits for something as simple as a bottled water (a waste of credit if you ask me) to a handmade milk shake from the ice cream shop on the Boardwalk or a sinfully yummy Napoleon at the French Bakery. Many of the retail shops will let you use snack credits for individual size candy snacks – like the gummy Mickey heads or pretzels and the like. If you want to get the most bang for your buck, this is what I suggest using snack credits for – something that is considered individual, but can be shared.

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Any quick service credit includes an entrée or complete combo, a dessert and a non-alcoholic beverage. As you know, many QS meals can be nearly as pricy as a table service meal at home. I have found the average QS meal will cost about $12 per adult at WDW. Add that up for a family and it can get costly if paid out of pocket at that time.  Hint: one of the best places to use a QS meal is at Sunshine Seasons in the Land Pavilion at Epcot. Many options and not all “fast food” type meals.

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The Table Service meal is where you get the most benefit for the dining plan. Table service includes an entrée, dessert and beverage or a complete buffet (except for deluxe plan where it also includes an appetizer when not at a buffet). To give you an example, a character meal at Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom for dinner: an adult buffet is $43+ and a child is $21+. That will quickly add up if you do several character meals during your trip.

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So, using the examples I have spoken about above, a $4 snack, a $12 QS meal and a $43 TS meal puts you’re at about $58 for 1 person for the day. With the basic dining plan, you have paid $45.99 for the day and definitely made the plan work for you. Plus the only thing out of your pocket for those meals that day is your gratuity for the server at the TS meal.  Also, when you look at the cost of a child’s buffet at $21 – the price you paid for the full day is $11.99. That really makes it worth it! Now, of course this may not happen for every day/meal, but ultimately, it works out for you.  

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Personally, I have never used the Quick Service plan because I prefer to have at least one sit down meal per day. Well, that and the $10 difference per day to be able to have that makes it worth it to me. This upcoming trip, we are once again using the basic dining plan. In December, we upgraded our free dining plan to the deluxe – meaning we paid the difference between the plans (about $30 per adult and $10 per child per day). While I loved the deluxe plan & being able to choose more restaurants to try, it really was too much food for us. I felt like all we did was eat. But, I am once who like to see the proof of what we saved. For 2 adults & 1 child (my youngest was still free) for 5 days with 3 meals (typically 2 TS & 1 QS meal) and 2 snacks per day our dining bill came to about $1200. That would have been a lot out of pocket and did not include any gratuities for the week, either.

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All in all it comes down to a personal preference and whether you feel it works for you. But for me, I love it and always suggest to friends that it’s a great way to go.  Just one more way to enjoy the magic that is Walt Disney World.

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Sending pixie dust wishes & magical dreams your way – until next time…

Laura

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