Vote of the week: Are dining deals the best deal for you?
How hungry do you get when you visit theme parks? Food and beverages provide a huge share of income for most theme parks, and smart park managers know that offering something other than the same food anyone can find in a shopping mall food court can help drive spending in their parks.
Just take a look at the new Simpsons-themed Springfield land Universal Orlando has opened in its Universal Studios Florida park. (The latest phase opened today.) Universal already had a Simpsons Ride — the new Springfield land surrounding it is driven by an opportunity for Universal to increase food and beverage sales. The new "attractions" in Universal's Simpsons land are stuff you can eat and drink: Krusty Burgers, Lard Lad Donuts, Flaming Moes, and Duff Beer.
A bartender at Universal Studios Florida's Moe's pulls a Flaming Moe. Photo by Justin Pegg.
It's not just what theme parks sell you. Parks try to lure your business by how they price and package their food, too. Walt Disney World this week announced its annual "free dining" promotion, where visitors who book certain vacation packages at its on-site Disney World hotels get a free Disney Dining Plan option during their stay. Universal's also added an expanded dining plan option, too, and you can buy variations on one-price, all-you-can-eat deals at SeaWorld and Six Flags parks, as well.
Of course, the deal's in the details with any of these dining packages. Some Disney fans are getting upset over leaked news that Disney World soon will add RFID chips to the refillable mugs that it sells to guests at its on-site hotels, and throws in "free" with Disney Dining deals. The chips reportedly will work to allow mugs to be refilled only at the hotel where that guest is staying, and only for the duration of the stay. That's the current rule for the mugs, but with no enforcement, guests have been refilling them at other hotels, and even bringing them back to refill on future visits, too.
All this raises the question: How do you find value on food and drinks when you visit a theme park? Do you look for one of these specially-priced dining deals? Or do you try to save money (and calories!) by sharing over-sized portions, ordering from a kids' meal or otherwise limiting what you buy to eat?
Sharing the Lobster bisque and a baguette at Epcot's Les Halles Boulangerie and Patisserie.
Or are you one who doesn't buy food in parks? (Maybe you bring your own, or wait to eat until after you've left the park.) Or, finally, do you just say "I don't have time for that," and order what you want, when you want, making dining part of your theme park experience?
It's time for our vote of the week.
Tell us your experience with dining deals, in the comments. And, as always, thank you for reading Theme Park Insider.
As a visitor from the UK with the 'free' Dining Plan I have to say it worked great for us. We upgraded for £10 per person per day to the next level which got us a Table Service meal each day as well as a counter service and we booked several signature dining restaurants and used our 'free' dining to get us superior quality meals at standard prices, plus we ate for free each lunchtime we were in a Disney park, plus we used our snack credits to graze our way around the Epcot Food and Wine Festival on two separate days.
The meal plans just aren't the deal they were to start with at disney. I'd still get it if it were free, but once they got people hooked they took out stuff like the tip so it's just not the same value as before.
We don't use the dining plans. We tried it once. Although we like to eat at table restaurants, we found that the food was too much. We don't eat like that. I would love to have some flexibility in the plan, i.e. instead of dessert- an appetizer (I know it would be too difficult to track). When we did the quick service only, we didn't want the large size drinks and felt that on either plan we felt compelled to order everything we were allowed but instead we wasted the food. We attempted to take the dessert with us but found that it didn't make it in a very appetizing state. We are headed to WDW in December and are contemplating giving it another try but since we are DVC, we will just buy groceries for the room and eat 1 nice meal at the parks on our dime.
As Tracy mentioned, the Disney Dining Plan isn't what it used to be. The basic plan lost the appetizer and tip. The one and only time I used the dining plan it was part of the free promotional period. I did the math though during the trip and if real money was on the table, paying for the plan would've saved us approx $600 over an 8-night trip.
I didn't vote.
"What dining plans really offer are is less worry."
I can speak only about Six Flags, as that's the only chain for which I have a season pass. (To buy a meal plan anywhere else wouldn't make a lot of sense.) At the time that I looked into the dining plan, it limited the choice to one of three entrees; the plan did not and probably still does not afford the flexibility of ordering whatever you want. Dietary restrictions were mentioned previously and as a vegetarian, I found that none of the entrees were suitable. I have additional dietary restrictions so manage to find something that will get me through the day -usually ice cream for lunch and cheese fries or something similar for dinner. Going to an amusement park is a good excuse to eat junk food! On occasion I've tried to get something more nutritionally sound but couldn't because there are so many foreign nationals with a limited command of English at the food concessions that when I asked what was in a particular entrée, they didn't understand the question and consequently were unable to answer.
I'm heading to Disney World in the spring and just finished sorting through all the dining plan options. As an over-planner, I already know all the restaurants I intend to eat at, so I was able to compare the cost of dining with and without their plans. For our 11 day stay, it would cost us (using the 2013 plan prices) $611 for the standard dining plan or $1099 for the deluxe plan per person, plus the cost of meals at restaurants not included in the plan or outside the parks on days when we leave the resort, bringing the per person food costs with the plans to $941 and $1274, respectively. By choosing not to purchase the plans, we will be able to eat at all the same restaurants for $590 per person.
Decided to try the Six Flags one-price season dining plan, and I have very mixed if not negative results. One the one hand, it is VERY convenient and if one goes to the park often, it feels like its definitely worth the $70.
I voted for the first option.
The buffet breakfast at the Swan in the Epcot resorts area is about $25 per person after you factor in drinks. For a family of four that's $100 for one meal. At this rate your budget can spiral out of control quickly. It's the same price at Universal for the breakfast buffet.
I've used Disney's dining plan a few times, and while there were certainly benefits, I've decided not to go for it on future visits. It's not a good fit for my family, because we just don't eat that way on a regular basis. Dessert with every meal? No thank you. I'd much rather have an appetizer, so I often end up paying separately for that- and leaving a dessert uneaten. When "free" dining is offered, it's at the expense of getting a possible room discount- which is much more of a benefit for my family of three. I will say,though, that I'm glad I've done it, if only for all the character meals. It helps to not have to worry about the price when you're booking those special meals. If paying out of pocket, I'd be much less likely to spring for the character meal prices.
The past few years we have traveled to WDW twice a year and have taken advantage of both the "free" dining plan and/or the 30-35% off room rate packages. We have now gone through all of the restaurants in both fast food and sit-down. However, I did some rough calculations and found that it is cheaper to go with the 30-35% off room rates rather than the "free" dining plan. We have been staying at The Beach Club for the past four years and with the rooms running over $500 per night the discount saves something like $150 per day. For our next trip this fall we plan on taking advantage of the room discount special and just purchasing a quick serve dining plan separately. If we want to eat at one of our favorite places, like Tusker House, we will just pay for it as it is not that expensive to begin with. Perhaps we just got tired of scheduling our park visits around a dining reservation.
I usually do a little research before going to the parks (Thank you TPI!) and try to select a place that I know is good, regardless of price. If it is good, I would be willing to pay an extra bit. I think this is my issue with the Six Flags parks.
What are you talking about
My main experience with Six Flags is the one in Maryland, Six Flags America. Its not the best park to begin with. Six Flags Great Adventure has its problems as well, but definitely a lot better park experience.
We chose to skip the Disney Dining Plan last year when we spent seven days in Walt Disney World. Didn't seem like it would pay off for the way we like to eat. We just don't ever feel the need to sit down to three full meals each day, preferring to grab snacks when we are hungry, and possibly taking time out once per day for a relaxing meal. When I got home and added up all our food receipts (I'm obsessive about this sort of thing), I determined that we definitely made the right choice for us. Bottom line, it would have cost us about 35% more if we had purchased the Dining Plan. And like many commenters noted, we would have felt compelled to eat a lot more often, and in larger quantity, just to make sure our money didn't go to waste. Not a healthy mindset. Now, a free Dining Plan is a completely different story. I wouldn't hesitate for a second to make use of that. Who cares if you skip a meal or two when it's free?
To Eric G - There's no call for you to be rude if you disagree with someone. Your comments to me and one other person were insulting and there's no excuse for that. Polite disagreements are perfectly acceptable but calling someone ridiculous is not!
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