Vote of the week: The Disney Dining Plan

August 18, 2011, 11:38 PM · As the kids head back to school, our thoughts move from this summer's theme park visits to… planning our next theme park visits. On that note, this is the time of year when Walt Disney World offers its Disney Dining Plan for free to visitors who book hotel packages for what passes as the "off" season at the Walt Disney World Resort. (The "off" season as a Disney World park still attracts more visitors that the high season at many regional amusement parks.)

So let's talk today about the Disney Dining Plan. Have you used it? Thought about it? What do you think?

Pot roast
Pot Roast at the Liberty Tree Tavern

Personally, I've never used it. I love many of Disney's sit-down restaurants, so a Quick-Serve Dining Plan wouldn't be a good fit for me. But when I look at the amount of food included on a Deluxe or up plan - an appetizer, entree and dessert for three meals a day? That's just too much for me. My family always splits entrees when we visit theme parks, anyway. Throw in the fact that the only time I can visit WDW with my school-age children is during one of the high seasons, such as summer, when the Dining Plan isn't a freebie, and I've just decided to do without.

Is that the right call? I don't know. You tell me. I know that different visitors have different circumstances and I'm sure we'll hear from some readers who are fans of the Dining Plan, as well as others who've found other ways to get the most for their food dollars while visiting the parks.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, in the comments. Thanks again for reading Theme Park Insider, and stay tuned for my coverage from the Disney D23 Expo later today and through the weekend.

Replies (22)

August 19, 2011 at 12:12 AM · My wife and I are planning to visit WDW in November 1012. If we book before this November we can have the dining plan for free, or trade up to the service-meal option for £280 for the two of us for 14 nights. Since the offer is basically free there seems to us no point in not taking it. We won't eat in at a Disney restaurant every night, (we'll be taking in Universal, Sea World and Busch gardens Africa as well), but since some of the places we want to eat use two dining credits that will work out fine. We'll get a free drink and lunch each day we are in the Disney parks and if we don't use every credit we haven't lost anything.
Last time we stayed at Disney we spent a fortune on eating, ( we like to eat reasonably well), so this seems to me a win-win situation. And it certainly gives Disney the edge over a Universal resort for us.
August 19, 2011 at 2:53 AM · I selected that I haven't used it and likely wouldn't. It's not that I don't think it's a good idea, I just don't think, when it has to be paid for, it represents value for me.

Like many U.K visitors to Orlando I tend to stay for ten to fourteen days, meaning whilst I will be spending time at WDW I'll also be going to Universal, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and other attractions, meaning on a number of days my dining plan will be wasted as I'm not on-site.

August 19, 2011 at 3:26 AM · I think the same thing about the Deluxe. I can't eat ALL that food. The portions can be huge for the entrees. I am still interested in trying it though, just to see what it's like. I also heard you can use snack credits at F&W, as someone who doesn't snack it might be a good idea to save up those credits and use them going around the stalls one afternoon instead of lunch.
August 19, 2011 at 5:07 AM · Being a Disney Vacation Club Member and an Annual Pass Holder, I find it much easier to use the Tables in Wonderland card, which provides a 20% discount on food and alcohol. We tend to eat at a lot of signature restaurants and enjoy wine with our meals, so we enjoy the flexibility of the TIW card. I expect we would have to go with the Deluxe Dining Plan and because we stay DVC, we will never get offered free dining anyway.
August 19, 2011 at 6:03 AM · For how I hit WDW, the Dining Plan makes no sense for me, mainly cause I spend a good portion of my time not hitting Disney parks (but going to Universal, Busch, and/or Sea World.) Maybe if I were going down to Orlando just for WDW I would do it...
August 19, 2011 at 7:44 AM · I think that it all depends on your touring style. If you are a theme park commando and don't want to take the time for table service meals or wouldn't eat like that if you weren't on the DDP then it's not too great. However, if you already eat snacks and desserts (the standard DDP no londer inlcudes an appetizer)and really enjoy the food and making ADRs as part of your vacation -it's great. The other thing to consider too is that the "free" dining plan promotion(at least for US residents - not sure about UK) is NOT free. You have to pay rack rates for your room if you get the "free" dining plan, so if you had a pin code for the room, that could potentially be a better deal (especially with a higher priced moderate or deluxe). My husband and I personally love the dining plan if it's "free" or not. I love planning out ADRs, and eating is a big part of our trips. Our eating/dining style matches with the plan well, and I know we have saved money with DDP.
August 19, 2011 at 8:38 AM · I have used the Dining Plan twice before (paying full price).

If you are doing a Disney only trip and plan on eating onsite, it really can save money.

BUT, there are two problems associated with the plan.

1. Due to so many people eating at the restaurants due to the plan, many of the restaurant menus are becoming too similar and food quality is suffering.

2. While the gratuity and app went away, the cost has gone up significantly.


August 19, 2011 at 8:49 AM · It is a waste of money and food. If I eat one big meal, I eat much less for the other meal times. The dining plan is expensive for a family. It isn't so much a big deal if you're only going by yourself or as a couple. I prefer maximum flexibility. Disney's plans force you to use them, not that you will. I think most people will make an effort and then give up by skipping meals. Disney still wins.
August 19, 2011 at 9:05 AM · The three Disney Dine Plans are flexible and more affordable than paying out-of-pocket. Parents always say "But my kids won't eat that!" Oh, so you don't ORDER for your kids? Well, yes of course you do. So, even when you have to PAY for the DDP's you still save about 40% whether your kid eats it or not. Don't use the DDPs, go ahead. Disney will take your 40% more.
August 19, 2011 at 9:37 AM · I think the Deluxe Dining plan is a good thing to do IF (and probably only if) you are serious about trying a lot of signature restaurants. Otherwise, yes, it is too much food.
August 19, 2011 at 12:24 PM · I gave it a "used it, wouldn't recommend it" vote on the assumption you're paying for it. If you were going to go anyway during the time it will be given for free, well then that's just a nice bonus. Should you go just because they're offering it for free? Well I suppose the couple hundred dollars in savings since you won't be paying for most of your food could be a good incentive. But if you would otherwise pay for all of your own food and are considering paying for the dining plan instead, I would think hard about it. If you want dessert with every meal, and do not anticipate deviating from the snack-counter service-table service ratio set in your plan (I've used the one with one snack, one counter service, and one table service per day) then it might be a good idea. If you want flexibility, especially to be a lighter eater or eat mostly at one particular type of restaurant, then you might be better off just paying for each meal in the normal manner.
August 19, 2011 at 3:33 PM · I've done the basic dining plan twice- 1 snack, 1 counter service, 1 table service. If/when we return, I don't think I'll go for it next time. It has a major convenience factor, and I loved just being able to whip out the KTTW card, and not have to look at prices when choosing my food. However, I think in the longrun it's a bit wasteful for me. I am not a dessert person, but of course found myself with something sweet at the end of every meal, wanted or not. I would much rather have an appetizer, but rarely ordered one on the dining plan, because it just ended up complicating the bill. I absolutely love the planning process, and I love planning out ADRs- and foolishly, I was associating the online ADR process w/ the plan- it didn't really occur to me until my last trip that I can still plan all the ADRs I want, even if they'll be out of pocket. Then again, I did go to several restaurants while on the dining plan that I would otherwise probably avoid, for budget I guess I'm undecided now :)
August 20, 2011 at 1:41 AM · My family has used the Dining Plan with much success (1 Snack, 1 Counter Service and 1 Table Service per day), and don't see how anyone would ever need the plan that includes 3 table service meals a day--it seems like just too much food. Table Service credits can be combined for premium dining experiences like Hoop-De-Do or Cinderella's Castle. The table service meals serve as a nice break from running around the park and when at the park we tend to eat on a fairly random schedule--even though we try to plan out the meals, we don't stick to a ridged time table, with dinner tending to be much later in the day that usual, sometimes providing a nice end to the day in the parks as things wind down. We usually have several snacks left over we use as we check out of the hotel to buy several snacks for the trip home or combine and use like another meal. I think it is a real value, I don't like to pay resort prices for food and this kind of hides the sticker shock of the $150 price tag for one meal for a family of 4 that I'd have to pay otherwise--and that would depress me for quite a while. It's like the Airlines--I'd rather pay $440 for my airline ticket and them treat you like a guest and that they are happy to see you and give you a "free" meal on the flight, than pay $410 and then they want you to by a $25 Ham Sandwich and $5 for a Soda. I'm much more relaxed when it's already included in the price of admission... BTW We plan our vacations on offers like the "Free Dining" offers, from what we figure it saves us 30% off of what the entire stay at the park would normally cost and that is with us making a real effort to be frugal.
August 20, 2011 at 5:22 AM · I think everyone realizes that "free" DDP isn't really free, as one has to stay in WDW resorts at full rack rate and/or make some other qualifying purchase to get it. That said, you can realize a significant discount over out of pocket (OoP) costs if, as others have said, you eat more than one table service (TS) meal per day, or one routinely eat appetizer, entree and dessert at each TS meal, or you have a large family (interpret that as you will) that enjoys consuming mass quantities.

I voted "tried it and would recommend it" but with the caveat that my recommendation is to try it once -- then compare your actual receipts to what you would have paid OoP. Add that to your hotel bill, and compare it to what your trip would have cost had you taken advantage of available discounted lodging. This will give you the data you need to decide if the "free dining" option actually works for you.

In our case, we used four of our six TSs to enjoy the premium experiences of the Candlelight Processional Package and the Fantasmic! Dinner Package during our latest visit, along with the delightful all-you-care-to-consume dinners at the Biergarten and Liberty Tree Tavern.

All in all, it's nice not having to worry about what to order, as everything but lobster is available using the plan, but with the elimination of the gratuity from the plan, and the price increases over the past few years (along with the elimination of the breakfast "dessert" option which we used to acquire extra drinks at counter service breakfast locations), the regular Dining Plan is much less attractive to us than it used to be. That, and the ubiquitous nature of the offer means that unless you're willing to eat at the lesser venues, you pretty much have to plan all your meals 180 days prior to arrival and secure Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) to ensure you'll be seated within a reasonable window of expectation for those meals. (Caveat -- As in other aspects of theme park attendance, "reservation" doesn't have the same meaning in Disney-controlled restaurants that it has in the real world -- ADRs don't guarantee a set time for seating, they only guarantee you'll get the next available table, after you check in, after your ADR time, which can mean waits of several minutes to half-an-hour. Some horror stories I've read online about miscues at the more popular venues include waits of up to 90 minutes -- but who would do *that* in the real world???)

So, again, as I suggested -- try it and see for yourself.

August 20, 2011 at 7:00 AM · We have young children and have been using the Dining Plan since it started. It pays for us, because we've been doing the Character Dining, which would cost a lot more without it.
August 20, 2011 at 8:29 AM · I did it! It was a shockingly good deal. While my family probably got the most out of the meal plan, we determined it was actually TOO MUCH food!

So do I recommend it, yes, because it allows you really eat good quality items.

August 20, 2011 at 9:40 AM · I have done it both ways, with dining, without dining, and even with deluxe dining. The dining plan really is worth it in every sense of the word. The deluxe dining plan is something that I would recommend, only if you would rather do most of your dining at sit-down restaurants. There are places, appetizers, entrees, and desserts that we would most likely not try if we were paying for each thing. It is an excellent way to take advantage of eating "around the world" at Epcot. We also love ordering room service late at night, which takes two adult meals per person. We decided after trying Disney without a dining plan last year, that we would always have a dining plan for each of our trips.
August 21, 2011 at 11:12 AM · I'm in the "tried it, wouldn't recommend it" camp, at least for people with park touring and eating patterns similar to mine. There's a lot of food in the regular plan, and I don't like eating that much at any one meal. The Quick Service plan is closer to my style, but I don't want the dessert. (How much chocolate cake can you eat, really?)

I can totally see how a dining plan would be a good thing for people with different needs and wants. That's the cool thing about Disney -- there's something for everyone!

August 23, 2011 at 6:04 AM · I have used the Disney Dining Plan 5 times and love it, but all of the uses were with the "Regular Plan" which included a snack, a counter service, and a sit-down meal. I would not consider the "Counter Service" plan or the "Deluxe Plan".
A big part of my family's vacation is planning and enjoying the many "Sit-Down" meals at places we have never enjoyed before or ones we absolutely love. We must have that. The "Deluxe Plan" gives you more food than a normal person can eat, so either food is wasted or you overeat and do not enjoy your vacation. I understand that the "Regular Plan" now requires you to stay at a Moderate Resort, as opposed to a Value Resort. That is really no problem either. We like to stay at different resorts anyway, even though the moderates are a bit more expensive. Our family has been to Disney 8 times and since we tried the "Disney Dining Plan" on our 4th trip we have used it every trip since.
August 23, 2011 at 7:35 AM · Am a DVC Member, the one time I used we were not informed that the Dining plan is tied to your stay at one resort unfortunately we had to put together the vacation based on the availability of room space which I had to puzzle together at two different resorts near the middle to end of our stay at first resort found we had more meals than we could physically eat and was informed that they were not transferable. On top of that popped for the premium plan for 4. If we ever do again will only do middle tier.
August 23, 2011 at 12:04 PM · I use it when it is free. It used to make more sense to get the dining plan, but once they took out the gratuity and appetizer, it made less sense. You are forced to order more than you normally would. It makes more sense economically to set that money aside and pay out of pocket. But having done that too, i must say, it is a whole lot easier and more convenient to pre-pay for meals and feel like everything is all inclusive. so maybe the solution to that is to get a pre-paid Disney or Visa gift card and set aside the money ahead of time.
August 24, 2011 at 12:22 PM · We have been going to WDW twice a year for the past five years and always try to book when they are offering the dining plan as part of the package. The one quick serve and one sit down plan suits us just fine. We do not want to eat more than one big meal per day nor do we wish to tie ourselves down to a definite time and place to eat more than once per day. We make our reservations online with Disney and even tho we sometimes are unable to make a reservation at a specific restaurant today, we just wait a few days and try again. Before they made Le Cellier a twofer, I tried every day for two weeks before we got in. All in all, we recommend the dining plan---if for no other reason than your meals are prepaid and you do not cringe at the cost of the meals when ordering. Pulling out fifty dollar bills each time we ate became disconcerting to say the least and put a real damper on the trip.

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