Dining at Disney is a hot button topic because, let’s face it, everybody’s gotta eat.
The Disney Dining Plan is a prepaid meal package available to guests who book a package (tickets and hotel) at the Walt Disney World Resort.
There are three tiers of Disney dining plans: Quick Service, Disney Dining, and Deluxe. They vary in price and features, but all function the same way. You pay for a dining plan that comes with entitlements, or credits. You then use those credits as your payments for your meals and snacks at Walt Disney World Resort.
But why would I buy that, you might ask. Why not just buy all my food as I go, paying out of pocket?
It’s a good question, and one asked by millions of visitors to Disney world before you. Seriously, type Disney into your favorite search engine and one of the first autofill responses you’ll get is about dining.
The answer, like many things when planning a Disney vacation is: it depends. I know, not super helpful, right? But true. Cost of the Disney Dining plan vs paying out of pocket is going to seriously depend on your family size, eating habits, vacationing habits, even where you are traveling from.
When we were young marrieds we did not even THINK about the dining plan. We went to Disney and ate where we wanted, when we wanted, what we wanted. Sometimes we ate nothing but snacks all day. Sometimes we had two table service meals a day. We were young, wild, and free.
Things didn’t change when we had the Glass Slipper, either. We did one character meal a trip, which was really just an excuse to get a bunch of pictures of Mr. B holding an uninterested eight month old next to Winnie the Pooh.
But time and more littles changed the picture for us. Our 2017 trip, the Glass Slipper was four and the Frying Pan was just shy of two and were we in trouble. We no longer had babies who could be fed a bottle on the go. We had legit small people with regular meal time needs. And they knew they were at Disney, so now there were character meals took on a whole new shine, for all of us. Poor Mr. B almost chocked on his coffee when we got the bill at Minnie’s Beach Bash.
That was the last trip we payed out of pocket. Which brings me to my first “It depends…”
It depends…if you’re going to do a lot of character meals.
Character meals are exclusively table service meals, which means they’re more expensive than quick service options. Some of the most sought after character meals, meeting Beast at Be Our Guest or the princesses at Cinderella’s Royal Table, are prix fixe menus, which means the prices are set.
For our party of four, it would cost around $160 to do dinner at 1900 Park Fare with Cinderella. Compare that to the cost per day of the Dining Plan that includes table service, around $200 per day for our family of four. So for us, we can pay $160 for one meal, or we can pay $200 for the DAY, which includes not only that character meal, but a quick service lunch, and two snack credits. Since we like to do several character meals a trip, the dining plan is definitely worth it for us.
It depends…on your transportation.
Did you bring your car on vacation? Did you rent one? If so, you have access to off site dining options that may be cheaper. But, if you’re like us and you’re obsessed with staying in the “Disney Bubble” then your dining options are limited to what is available on the Disney property. If you can drive off site to find nourishment, the Dining Plan might not be worth it for you. But if your only modes of transportations are the ones Disney provides (bus, boat, and monorail) then it might be worth it for.
It depends…on your vacation style.
Mr. B LOVES the DDP. He loves it. He likes the peace of mind that comes with paying for everything upfront, before we arrive. We have one hard and fast rule on vacation: we don’t think about money. We thought about money enough while we were working to get here. Once we’re at Disney, we just enjoy ourselves. Having the dining plan allows us to not think about comparing prices and budgeting out meals. We just scan our Magic Bands, and we get to eat delicious treats.
Now some people say you can accomplish this just as easily as putting your meal budget on a gift card and scanning that every time you eat. And to you I say…you’re right! You can! And if that’s more your style, the DDP might not be worth it for you.
It depends…on your family.
I touched on this before. The DDP did not make sense when we were footloose and fancy free in our 20s. Now, in our 30s with three kids, the DDP is our best buddy. The character meals alone make it worth it for us, but if you’ve got kids in their teens, who would be happier with a burger at D-Luxe than sharing a hug with Princesses over chicken nuggets, it might not be worth it for you. If you’ve got light eaters who would be just as happy with a snack portion of Mac and cheese or clam chowder than a full sized entree with a side…it might not be worth it for you. If you’re on the go and would rather spend your time riding e-ticket attractions than sitting down to a meal, it might not be for you.
The Dining Plan works for us because it gives the shortest members in our family time to rest their little legs and recharge their overstimulated brains. Families with big kids or no kids might not need the recharge time that prepaid meals and snacks provide.
It depends…if it is free.
Free Dining is the most popular promotion at Walt Disney World. Disney vacations are expensive and there is nothing like eliminating a major cost factor. If you visit during the time of the year the promotion is offered (it varies) and meet the requirements (they vary) you could pay less and get a lot more.
We priced out a vacation during Free Dining where we would have paid for our dining and only done three day base tickets. Our TA pointed out that we could stay at the same resort, do four day Parkhoppers and get Free Dining for $200 LESS than we were paying with our original trip. We got Free Dining, an extra day in the Parks, the Park Hopper option, and paid less money.
If Free Dining is an option during your stay and your trip meets the requirements, I would say it is definitely worth it. Because free.
It depends…on your planning.
We talked a little about how I love to plan every single detail of our meals. My ADR day is one of my favorite days of the year. As soon as my dining reservations are cemented, I feel like it gives shape to my touring plans for the parks. Because of that, I can see my Dining Plan credits in action 180 days before my trip even starts, which makes it worth it for me.
What I like about the dining plan is the freedom it gives me within the plan. I can say, “Ok, we’ll do a Quick Service at dinner.” It could be Casey’s Corner, it could be Cosmic Ray’s. But I don’t have to budget those meals in advance because they cost the same amount of credits.
If you’re not a planner, or want to take your chances with table service walk ups, the dining plan might not be for you, since you don’t know for a fact you’ll be able to use the credits you paid for.
It depends…on your diet.
I subscribe to the belief that people with dietary challenges can still enjoy a Disney vacation because I’ve lived it. My husband is a Type 1 diabetic, and so his diet is very regimented and specific. With planning and menu research, we have found options for him at every place we’ve eaten at Disney World.
Similarly, I’ve heard stories of gluten and dairy allergies being accommodated at table service restaurants, and friends on the keto and paleo diets have found options as well. The trick on this one, though, is doing the legwork before hand. Knowing specifically what meals and snacks you can have before you go will be the best use of your credits. If you have dietary needs and don’t feel like researching your food options before you go, the dining plan might not be for you.
Similarly, how much you eat will dictate how useful for the dining plan is for you. If you love fast casual and don’t plan on doing character meals, then the Quick Service Plan is going to the better (more cost effective) option for you. If this your Honeymoon and you want to take advantage of all the signature dining, then the Deluxe Plan would make more sense than the Quick service.
Let’s take a look at what the Disney Dining Plan gets you in 2019.
Disney Quick Service Dining Plan
Per Day: Adult: $52.50, Child: $23.78
- 2 Quick Service Meal Credits
- 2 Snack Credit
- Refillable Drink Mug
Disney Dining Plan
Per Day: Adult: $75.49, Child: $27.98
- 1 Table Service Meal Credits
- 1 Quick Service Meal Credits
- 2 Snack Credits
- Refillable Drink Mug
Deluxe Disney Dining Plan
Per Day: Adult: $116.25 Adult, Child: $43.49
- 3 Table Service Meal Credits
- 2 Snack Credits
- Refillable Drink Mug
For us, the Disney Dining Plan is worth it because it enhances our vacation experience by saving money on character meals, providing a planning resource, and saving us stress. We’ve weighed the costs, benefits, and our family’s needs carefully, which is the best way to decide if the Disney Dining Plan is right for you.
What are your biggest questions about the dining plan? Where would you like to eat that you’ve never tried? Let me know in the comments!
Kristen B. is wife to the best Prince around, mama to the spunkiest little princesses, and lover of all things Disney. She started her savings journey three years ago and is now dedicated to making her family’s wishes come true one coupon at a time. She is so excited to take her love of saving to the next level and share her journey with you! Click here to catch up on Kristen’s Savings and join in on your own savings adventure!