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Getting the Most Out of the Disney Dining Plan – Part 1

This week, Shannon Bonadurer from Destinations to Travel LLC. brings you part 1 of 2 of a #TravelAgentThursday special series on getting the most out of the Disney Dining Plan!  Take it away, Shannon!

A huge part of any Disney vacation is the amazing food – and it’s no small task to plan what, when and where you’ll be eating.  Some things to consider are budget, appetites, food preferences and how dining is going to fit into the rest of your Disney vacation plan.

Mmmmm ... by rick pilot_2000

Mmmmm … by rick pilot_2000

I have used the #DisneyDiningPlan (DDP) and we’ve also gone on vacations where we didn’t use the dining plan and it worked out well for us.  Below I’ll tell you what I consider the pros and cons of purchasing a Disney Dining Plan.  Just to clarify, by “À la carte” I mean not purchasing the dining plan.  It could be any mix of table service/quick service/snacks that gets you through the day without starving.

To begin, just for anyone who isn’t familiar with the Disney Dining Plan, it’s a meal plan that is purchased as part of your Disney vacation package.    It includes one #TableService meal, one #QuickService meal and one snack per person, per day.  The meals are added as ‘credits’ so for a 5 night stay, there are 5 table service credits, 5 quick service credits, and 5 snack credits per person.  So if a snack isn’t used on Day 1, the credit will carry over to the following days (until midnight at the end of the vacation.)

Use your Magic Band to pay using the Disney Dining Plan - photo by Bill S.

Use your Magic Band to pay using the Disney Dining Plan – photo by Bill S.

Here’s what I think is great about the Disney Dining Plan:

  • It’s paid for before the vacation begins – This is a good way to budget for vacation, knowing that most everything is paid for (except souvenirs!)
  • 2 dining credits buy a signature dining meal – Certain table service restaurants that offer signature dining, like Cinderella’s Royal Table, are typically more expensive than a regular table service meal. For these meals, the dining plan can be used to pay for the meal by using 2 dining credits. That means giving up one day of table service dining (unless paying out of pocket) but I think it’s a pretty good deal.
  • One snack per person, per day – I love this perk of the dining plan because it builds in an allowance for some of the fun treats like Mickey bars, giant rice crispy treats, or even a spring roll. 
  • Rapid Fill Resort Mugs are included – These are refillable mugs that are used at the Disney resorts for soft drinks, coffee, milk and tea. 
  • Different dining experiences every day – The dining plan gives the opportunity to have a fancy dinner every day at one of the themed restaurants. I could use all my table service credits in EPCOT alone, since there are so many delicious restaurants in the World Showcase, not to mention the Coral Reef Restaurant in Future World.
Walt Disney World refillable mugs

Resort Mugs are included in the DDP!

There are a few downsides to having the Disney Dining Plan, like:

  • Planning needed – It’s tough to get into a table service restaurant without a reservation and some of the popular restaurants are booked months in advance.  Sometimes you have to take a reservation at whatever time you can get it, so the rest of the day has to be planned around the reservation time.
  • Time consuming – A table service meal can take a few hours, so for families that have a long list of must-see attractions, it can take some time away from the parks – – but the dining experience is usually worth the time!
  • It’s a LOT of food!! The quick service meals are not small and the table service meals are definitely enough to fill you up, especially at the buffets, and once you throw in a snack it’s tough to fit it all in some days.  We usually end our vacation stocking up on Minnie’s Bakeshop Cookies and Mickey-shaped rice crispy treats to use up the rest of our snack credits on our way to board the Magical Express.
Main Street Ice Cream Parlor will be closed for a while

Ice Cream for lunch? Why not?! – Photo by Samantha Decker

Now for à la carte dining –  the pros:

  • Pay as you go – If the family is starving one day and would rather just have a giant ice cream sundae for lunch the next day (hey, it’s vacation!) then you only pay for what you eat that day.
  • Planning around picky eaters – There’s no sense buying a dining plan if some of the group isn’t going to like what’s on the menu.  With that said, Disney does a good job of offering kid-friendly options as well as options for other dietary restrictions so that shouldn’t be a reason to avoid the Dining plan.  A little menu research can help determine which restaurants fit the group’s needs best.
  • Flexibility – Without reservations blocking off time in the day, there’s more flexibility in moving around the parks, FastPass+ times, and park hopping.
  • Not having a table service meal every day – Believe me, like I said, it’s a LOT of food!  By the end of a 7 day trip with the dining plan, I usually feel pretty stuffed.  The good news is that all the walking on a Disney vacation lets you come home without gaining a pound!

The cons for à la carte dining:

  • Character and signature dining are expensive – With the dining plan, 2 credits can be used for the more expensive meals – but without, it could be a few hundred dollars for a family to dine.
  • Snacks and extras can add up – Let’s face it, Disney isn’t cheap and when a cookie costs $5, snacks add up quick over the course of a family vacation!
Character dining isn't cheap! Photo courtesy of Disney Parks Blog.

Character dining isn’t cheap! Photo courtesy of Disney Parks Blog.

Click here for all the details on what’s included in the Disney Dining Plan packages!

Stay tuned next week, when we’ll look at how to choose the right plan for your family’s #PerfectVacation!

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