Monday, May 2, 2011

Is The Disney Dining Plan Worth It, Part 1

Is the Disney Dining Plan worth the price and is the a better plan out there?

Kouzzina on Disney's Boardwalk is one of the many Table Service Options on the Disney Ding Plan

Ever since its inception, this question may be the most asked of Disney trip planners.  After all, Disney says it can save you a bunch of dough if you purchase this plan.  So it must be a no-brianer, right?  Well, not quite.

There are actually five different levels of the Disney Dining Plan offered; the Quick Service Plan, Disney Dining Plan (referred here to as Standard), the Deluxe Dining Plan, Platinum Plan and Premium Plan.  A summary chart of all plans is at the end of this post for your comparison.  Today, we are going to utilize the Standard Disney Dining Plan in our examples.  In future posts we will look at the Quick Service and Deluxe Dining plans. 

As for the Platinum and Premium plans, their cost are such that relatively few travelers will consider them.    That does not mean they are not worth it, if you have the means to afford it, it could very well be worth looking in to.  . 

Disney Dining Plan.

First we will take a look at what the plan is, how much it costs and who can purchase it.  Then we will compare its value to another discount plan and let you decide if it this plan works for you.

The Disney Dining Plan is essentially a pre-paid dining program that can be added on for guests staying at a Disney World resort on a Magic Your Way Package.  This package will include your resort room, dining and theme park tickets.  All people traveling on the itinerary must have the same plan and ticket.  The only place to purchase this is through Disney World (of course a travel agent will also be able to book this through Disney for you.)  Disney Vacation Club Members utilizing points for their stay may also purchase the plan. 

What does the Plan Cover and how much does it cost?
The Famous Mickey Bar counts a snack credit.
The Disney Dining Plan provides each person in your itinerary with one counter service (fast food type) meal, one table service meal and one snack per resort night of your stay.  You can use the credits in any way you wish (for example, 2 table service meals one day, none the next, saving all your snack credits for the last day, etc.) until they have either all been used or expire (the credits all expire at midnight on the day you depart from your stay.)  Each table service meal consists of an entrée, desert, non alcoholic/non-specialty drink (soda, ice tea, water, etc) or one complete buffet.  The counter service meal covers an entrée with a side or combo meal, dessert and non-alcoholic/non specialty drink.  Children ages 3-9 must order from the Child’s menu when available.  Children under 3 can eat off a parent’s plate for free or you may purchase a meal for them if you wish at an additional cost.

There are no refunds for unused credits and they cannot be carried over to a future visits or given to other guests.  Additionally, you can utilize two table service credits to eat at a signature restaurant or for a dinner show such as the Hoop De Doo Review.  Gratuities are not included and alcoholic beverages cannot be purchased with the plan (although your cash is accepted for these items, it is Disney after all, cash is always good.)

Currently, the plan costs $47.99 per adult per day and $12.99 per child per day during peak season.  During off peak times, the cost is $45.99 per adult per day and $11.99 per child per day.  Prices are subject to sales tax and are subject to change.

What are the advantages of the plan?

  • It can save you money, depending on how you eat and how you utilize the plan (more on that coming up). 
  • Allows for pre-payment of your dining, (less gratuity).   For some people , not having to worry about how much dinner will cost and bringing cash or facing a large bill upon checkout  is very valuable.    It also can be very valuable for budgeting purposes. 
  • You will be more apt to try items or restaurants that you would not normally because of cost or type of cuisine than while paying cash.  Having it already paid for allows some to be more adventurous.

There are downsides to consider as well:

  • Loss of flexibility.  Package purchases are less flexible, requiring final payment to be made 45 days before arrival and are generally not discounted.  Room only reservations can be canceled with no fee 5 days in advance (6 days if booked online) while packages must be canceled 45 days before arrival for full refund.  If cancelled 7-44 days out, there is a $100 penalty, and less than 7 days incurs a $200 penalty. 
  • No substitutions, you get what the plan covers.  If you would rather have an appetizer than a desert, you will have to pay for the appetizer out of pocket, whether you have desert or not.
  • The Plan can be cumbersome to use as each restaurant has different rules for what is allowed under the plan.  Sometimes certain entrees (lobster for example) or deserts may be excluded.  It is necessary to ask before ordering to be sure what is covered.    You will also receive two bills, one to sign for the plan and another to pay for the gratuity or anything you purchased not covered by the plan.
So, Can it Save Me Money?

Short answer is yes, the Disney Dining Plan can save you money, depending on how you eat.  It may not provide you with the best value however (more on that in a bit.)   If you typically would have a table service meal a day with desert and a soft drink on your vacation you can end up ahead. 

I think the best way to examine the plan closer is to use an example.  Meet the Generics, a family of four: Mom, Dad and two kids, Bobby and Cindy ages 5 and 8 who are visiting Disney World this week.  Let’s spend some time with the Generics and see what they eat at Disney and if this plan is best for them.  Prices used are current to the best of my knowledge.

Dinner at Chefs De France
Here is what the Generics ordered for dinner:
Dad: Filet de boeuf grille $34.95, Creme Brulee $7.25, Soda $2.95.  
Mom: Lasagnes de legumes $19.95 (an excellent choice), Crepe $7.25, Iced Tea $2.95
Bobby: Blanc de Poulet Aux Nouilles $7.00, Choix de Glace ou Sorbet $3.00, Soda (included in kids meal).
Cindy: Croquette de Boeuf en Brioche $8.00, Chocolate Chip Cookie $2.5, Milk (included in kids meal)

Total Cost (before tax and gratuity)for Dinner at Chef's DeFrance for the Generics $95.80.
Cost of the Dining Plan for this family per day (off peak): $115.96, (peak): $121.96

That means if the Generics  spend anything more than $20-$25 on a quick service lunch or breakfast and one snack per person, (and they will…easily.  Remember the mouse shakes your hand with one hand and your wallet with the other) they will be saving money with the Disney Dining Plan.
Chef Mickey himself.

Example #2 A Character Buffet
Here, our the Generics  visit Mickey for Breakfast at the famous Chef Mickey’s.  Chef Mickey’s is an all you can eat buffet and this will count as the table service credit for the day.

Cost Per Adult:  $26.62 (x2) Total: $53.24
Cost Per Kid: $13.99 (x2) Total: $27.98
Total for Family: $81.22

This leaves approximately $35 to spend on 4 snacks (one per person) and a quick service meal for the family.  Again, they should make out a bit ahead (even more so if they use this credit for Dinner at Chef Mickey’s which costs more).

Again, this assumes the family wishes to eat like this each day of their trip.  For example, if the family prefers to eat their table service at Breakfast or Lunch, the value of the plan is less.  Or, if the family is more apt to eat a couple counter service meals or does not have desert with each meal, then they are paying for a plan that is providing them with more than they need and therefore, not truly a value.

Even if our family of four does want to eat the way our examples are shown each day, the Disney Dining Plan still may not be the best value for them.  Depending on the length of stay and weather mom and dad like to enjoy an adult beverage now and then, there may be a better option for the Generics, the  Tables in Wonderland Card.

Tables in Wonderland.

What is Tables in Wonderland (Other than an awkward goofy sounding name)
Tables in Wonderland (Formally called the Disney Dining Experience – I like the former name better too, but what can ya do), provides card holders with a 20% discount  on food and beverage (including alcohol) at participating Walt Disney World Resort and Theme Park Restaurants and Lounges. Generally, this discount will apply to Table Service Restaurants (along with various lounges on property).   The discount applies to parties of 10 or less and an 18% gratuity will be included to each check.

The Tables in Wonderland Card can only be purchased by Pass Holders or Florida Residents and is good for one year and is non-transferrable.  The cost of the card is $75 for pass holders (seasonal or annual) and $100 for Florida residents.  This makes the break even point in dollars to be $375 (for pass holders) spent using the card.  Anything over that amount, represents a savings.  This works out well for those who make longer visits or visit more than once a year and it does not require a Disney Travel Package or even a room, just an annual pass (or being a florida resident).

As mentioned, unless you are a Florida resident, you must have an annual pass (or seasonal pass) to be able to purchase the Tables in Wonderland card.  You may think this kills the value for many people, specifically the majority those who do not plan on visiting more than once in a year.  However, an Annual Pass can be of tremendous value even if you are only making that one visit.  Not only does it provide the holder the ability to purchase the Tables in Wonderland Card, but also provides other valuable discounts that can add up to more than the price differential paid for an annual pass vs. a Magic Your Way Ticket.   Resort Discounts (up to 45% depending on season and resort), dining discounts (at some locations that do not accept Tables in Wonderland), Free Parking for those not staying at a Disney Resort this can add up fast with parking rates now at $14 per day for cars), and various merchandise and tours and activity discounts.

So, how does this help our beloved Generics on their vacation? 
Let’s assume they are staying for a 6 night off peak visit. We will compare the out of pocket costs for dining with the Disney Dining Plan, Tables in Wonderland or Paying Cash (or credit, after all, the Mouse likes his plastic too).  We will assume they eat the same no matter what plan they are on for ease of comparison.

Disney Dining Plan
Cost of Plan: $695.46
Gratuities:  $95 (using an 18% tip with an average bill of $88.50 for table service meals)
Total Cost:  $790.46

Tables In Wonderland
Cost of Card: $75
Additional Cost for one Annual Pass: $214.38 (over purchasing a 7 day park hopper ticket)
Table Service Meals: $501.27 (discounted price, plus gratuities using the $88,50 average ticket)
Snacks (1 per day per person): $72 (average of $3 per snack used)
Quick Service Meals: 241.30 (I picked typical meals from 6 popular quick service locations for this price)
Total Cost: 1103.95

No Discount Plans:
Table Service Meals: $531.00
Gratuities: $95
Snacks: $72
Quick Service Meals: $241.30
Total: 939.30

Using the above assumptions, the Disney Dining Plan is the best value for this family, with Tables in Wonderland being the worst.  However, this does not include any additional discounts, specifically room discounts, the Annual Pass could provide. 

If the Generics was staying this week (first of May) at a moderate resort (Caribbean Beach),  the rack rate (list price) for a standard view room would be $1065.  There is an annual pass holder discount of 30% for moderate resorts during this time period.  So Dad Assuming the discount was available when the family booked and Dad Generic purchased the pass, the savings on the room would be $319.50.  This savings brings the total vacation cost below that of buying the magic your way package with Disney Dining plan, unless a special discount program for the package is available, which is not common.

Additionally, having the Tables in Wonderland would allow for more flexibility in your dining plans.  If you don’t want desert, don’t order it.  If you want an appetizer or a glass of wine, no problem, it will be discounted.  You only pay for what you want, with the Dining Plan you pay for what it covers, whether you use it or not (again, there are no refunds for unused credits or meals).  If you want all of your meals to be table service ones, you can do that with each of them being discounted.

Lastly, the Disney Dining plan is a whole bunch of food and if you are not typically a big eater, you may find it to be more than you really want.  (And lets not even bring up the Deluxe Dining Plan, aka, the glutton man special.)  Some people may want two deserts a day, but many will not.
Deserts from Biergarten in Epcot

Personally, I have traveled on the Dining Plan (both standard and Deluxe) and also have a Tables in Wonderland Card.  While I  enjoy the convenience of having meals pre-paid and finding  ways to maximize the value of the plan (what to order, etc.),  at the end of the day, I generally find Tables in Wonderland to a better value for me.   Tables in Wonderland with it’s additional flexibility and discounts on alcohol (we enjoy wine with dinner), combined with the dining plan having so much food makes this our choice.  You may think different and be right as well.

Bottom line on the value of the Dining Plan really varies from person to person and how they use it.  On paper, it can represent a nice savings, but that requires you to take full advantage of it, eating all of the meals and snacks and having the appetite to do so.  There is a value, however, to many travelers to having their dining paid for before arriving.  These travelers like the peace of mind that comes with having the bill (less gratuities) already paid for and for those who like to budget ahead of time and not leave with a credit card bill the size of Montana to hit them when they get home, the Dining Plan adds value that is hard to quantify.

Price Adult
Price Child
Table Svc
Quick Svc
Quick Service
Includes Refillable Mug.
Standard DDP
45.99 OP
47.99 P
TS includes 1 Ent, 1 Des.  Tip Not Incl., Signature= 2 TS CR
Deluxe DD Plan
TS Includes 1 App, 1 Ent, 1 Des. TS Credits can be used at QS.  No Tip, Signature = 2 TS.  Includes 1 Resort Mug
Platinum DDP
All of premium PLUS Richard Petty Experience, Spa Treatment, Room Service, Victoria & Alberts, Pre Arrival Planning, Fireworks Cruise, Fantastic Seating
Premium DDP
TS Credits can be used at QS.  TS Includes App, Entre and Desert.  No Tip,  Includes 1 Resort Mug, Preferred fireworks viewing,  Unlimited golf, water sports, boat rentals fishing, horseback riding, admission to Cirq De Soli, Unlimited Tours, Child Activities, Photo Session


  1. Just stopped in from the hop:)Very interesting. We've done both OOP and DDPs with DVC.It works well most of the time but has been break even a few times. We're not big snack or dessert eaters and wouldn't always order desserts with dinner. Thanks for sharing all your research.

  2. great info!!! following from the blog hop today!!

  3. I want to try out the Quick Service plan for our next trip. The Dining plan is very nice, but sometimes it's just too much food for us.