Disney Dining Plan, Is is worth it?

Disney easily comes up in conversations with random people I meet, but when they find out I am a travel consultant they always ask me if the Disney Dining Plan is worth the money.  I have read so many different opinions on various Disney blogs, Facebook pages, and travel agent outlets about people’s views on this subject matter.  It seems like people are split, some love it and some say it is a waste of money.  Well, we recently went to Disney and I decided to add the Disney Dining Plan to our package so I could see if it is worth it. 

Before I go into if is it worth or not, I must explain that there are several dining plans available through Disney.  Because of the variety, I am wondering if those who feel that the Dining Plan is not worth the money may have been talked into the wrong Dining Plan for their family, see chart below for quick reference.  Why so many options?  It is easy to understand, there are many cultures and different types of families that go to Disney so they are really catering to everyone.  One family may say that a particular plan has too many meals for their family while another may say this is the perfect amount for us.  I will tell you, that no matter which plan you choose for your family, it will be perfect. 


For our family we choose the Disney Dining Plan which includes 1 quick service, 1 table service, and 1 snack per person per night of stay and 1 resort refillable mug.  The refillable mug can be used at your resort.  You cannot use this mug in the parks to get refills, but I will tell you that we did take our mugs along with us to the parks and asked for ice water, which is free.  We then transferred our ice water into the mugs.  With each table service meal, we were able to choose one entrée from the menu, one dessert, and one non-alcoholic beverage.  When you choose an entrée you are not limited to a select menu specifically for those on the dining plan.  You receive the same menu that everyone receives and get to choose any of the entrées including steak or salmon.  Dessert at Disney is fantastic!  It is gourmet and no matter what you choose it will not disappoint.  However, having dessert every day could be a lot for some people, as it was for me.  There is a little known fact that isn’t shared by the wait staff, but some restaurants now allow you to substitute your dessert for an appetizer.  You have to ask your server when you sit down if this is one of the participating restaurants and which appetizers are included, but you may have an option of a salad instead of the that rich chocolate cake.


Quick service meals are just like the combo meals that you get at any of your local fast food places, and snacks include a variety of foods including popcorn, cookies, cupcakes, a banana, or the famous Mickey Mouse ice cream bar. 


Now the Disney dining plan was the perfect amount of meals and snacks for my family, but some families have teens or growing, hungry children who eat a lot more or need more snacks, so purchasing another plan to fit their family’s needs would be a better option.  I have put together some additional information in the chart below that shows the various dining plans available and what is offered with each dining plan.  This will help make it easier to find what will work best for your family. 

When you purchase a dining plan that has several table services with it, you must make your reservations in advance.  You can start to make your dining reservations up to 180 days prior to your arrival date for the entire length of your day, but not to exceed 10 days of stay.  What this really means is on the 179th day you can call to make your reservations.  I would recommend calling to make your reservations.  It is much faster and you will also be able to make any additional reservations such as Pirate’s League or any tours, all with one phone call.  If you don’t make a reservation in advance, you could be told that the restaurant is full for the day or you may have a two-hour wait.  A two-hour wait with hungry children is not fun for anyone!


So are you ready to find out if the dining plan is worth the money?  For a family of four going to Disney for seven nights, who elect the Disney Dining plan, it is a little over $1000.  (Now that is just for the Dining plan, not including park tickets or resort stay.)  For four people on this seven day Disney vacation, it comes to between $33 to $40 per person per day.   One character meal is around this same cost, so if you do one character meal you have paid for your entire day right there!  Even if you are doing non character meals, your meal cost with entrée, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage can easily reach the $40 to $50 range per person.  When you look at the numbers you really see that you are paying for table service but getting a quick service meal and snack for free.  I, personally, find that the dining plan is worth the money and saves me time when we are there.  My meals are planned out, they are paid for, and everyone is happy because the food is so good. 


Now, one thing you must know is that tip/gratuity is not included.  The suggested tip is based on your total meal cost prior to deducting your plan.  It is up to you, how much you want to tip unless you are a party of six or more than 18% is automatically added to your bill.  When you receive your bill it will tell you how many of that service you have left.  So if you had six table services to start and just finished eating, then your bill will show that you have five remaining.  You can always get your entire amount of allotted meals from the concierge or guest services area at your hotel.  It is important to note that meals do not roll over after your stay.  If you don’t use them up you will lose them so I highly recommend planning out your meals for each day you are at Disney.  Also, the meals are to be used at your discretion.  If you want two table service meals on one day and two quick service meals another day, it is up to you how you use them, but again, use them up!


Next time you are at Disney, consider using one of the dining plans that will work best for your family.  It is well worth the money. 

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