This article was updated on February 23rd, 2017.
One approach to dining at Walt Disney World is to use one of the Disney Dining Plans. These plans have been around since about 2005 and are basically a way to “pre-pay” for dining before your vacation starts.
In this post I will share basic information about the plans, including recent updates that allow for much more flexibility. Keep in mind that the plans are certainly not for everyone on every trip, and while they seem complicated at first, are actually pretty easy to use once you get the hang of it. If you know the basics but are looking for some tips & tricks, check out this post!
Who Can Use The Dining Plan?
Disney Dining Plans can be used by guests staying at any Walt Disney World resort hotel. They can be purchased as part of a package that includes your room, park ticket, and dining, or included as part of a Free Dining Plan Package (more on this later). They currently can’t be purchased by visitors staying at any hotels that are not owned by Disney (“off-property” hotels) or locals visiting for the day. The plan also must be purchased for every night of your stay and for everyone staying in your room.
What Dining Plans are Available?
There are three different dining plans currently available; the standard Disney Dining Plan, the Quick Service Plan, and the Deluxe Dining Plan. The credits shown are per night of your stay and each plan includes a Resort Refillable Mug. The children’s prices are for kids ages 3 to 9. Here’s what you get with each plan and their cost (tax is included) per night of your stay for 2016:
How Does The Dining Plan Work?
Each of the dining plans include credits that you can use all over Walt Disney World for almost any food or drink (except alcohol – but you can even get that with the dining plan in some instances!) These credits are loaded on the Magic Bands (read all about them here) of everyone in your party. You can use the credits at any point during your stay, from the time you check-in until midnight on the day you check-out. The types of credits are:
- Snack Credits (most items that aren’t a meal unto themselves fall into this category)
- Quick Service Meals (i.e. meals at locations where you order at a counter as opposed to having a server)
- Table Service Meals (“Sit-down” meals – Signature restaurants and dinner shows require 2 Table Service credits per person)
In 2017 each Quick Service Meal credit includes an entree and beverage. In years prior Quick service credits included a dessert. To make the plan more flexible, that dessert has been converted into a snack credit. I personally am THRILLED about this change! It allows you to use the credit for a snack any time of day, or at Food & Wine Festival, which is one of the best uses of the Dining Plan.
Each Table Service Meal credit includes an entree, beverage and dessert. This credit was made more flexible in 2017 by allowing guests to choose a salad or soup (if available at the restaurant) in place of a dessert.
You are of course always allowed to order anything else from the menu that is not included with the dining plan, such as adult beverages and appetizers, and pay for them out-of-pocket.
In addition to snack and meal credits, each dining plan includes a Resort Refillable Mug with unlimited free refills for the length of your stay. The mugs can be used at any Disney resort hotel for soda, coffee, tea, lemonade and hot chocolate, but aren’t good for refills in the theme parks.
How Do I Get a Dining Plan for Free?
You likely have heard of Disney’s wildly popular “Free Dining” promotion. For this offer, guests pay the regular, non-discounted rate for their hotel stay and park tickets, but get one of the dining plans at no additional cost. A free dining package usually requires booking a minimum three-night stay and purchasing a minimum of 2-day “Park Hopper” tickets for everyone in your travel party.
You can read everything you need to know about free dining in this post. If you are interested in booking a free dining package, I strongly suggest getting a quote from Destinations in Florida, my recommended Disney travel agency. You won’t pay anything extra and they can help you with every aspect of planning your Disney vacation!
Are They a Good Value?
If you are like most folks visiting Walt Disney World, you have a budget that you need to stick to for your vacation. Having a pre-paid dining plan included in a package in one way to help you stay within your budget at Disney World.
In the case of the Quick Service plan, the cost of the plan is roughly the same as what you’d pay out-of-pocket for the same food and drinks. So there isn’t really any financial benefit to using the Quick Service plan, unless you just feel better pre-paying for your food and don’t mind being limited to only Quick-Service establishments.
Disney has released a “Free Dining” promotion for the past several years, usually during the fall/winter travel seasons. The promotion works like this: you pay the regular “rack” price for your room and everyone staying in the room receives a dining plan at no additional cost. You also must purchase a minimum 2-day park ticket for everyone in your travel party.
If you are staying at a Value Resort (see my review of Disney’s Pop Century Resort for an idea of what they are like) you will receive the Quick Service plan. If you stay at a Moderate or Deluxe Resort then you receive the standard Dining Plan for “free”. Of course, nothing is truly free at Disney! Disney almost always has another room-only discount running concurrently with this Free Dining discount, and depending on where you are staying and how many people are in your travel party, the room-only discount may actually be a better deal than free dining.
The best value from Free Dining comes for groups of two or more who stay at a Value or Moderate Resort. Free Dining can be a fantastic deal for families with kids who don’t mind staying together in the same room at a Value or Moderate resort. Here’s an example of a family of four with two adults and two kids ages 7 and 10:
Rack rate at Disney’s Pop Century Resort during Fall season = $122 (including tax)
Value of Quick Service dining plan for everyone in the room = $142 in free dining
Total cost for Room + Food = $122
Best price for the same room using a room-only discount + Orbitz discount = $83
Out-of-pocket cost for similar dining = $142
Total cost for Room + Food = $225
As you can see, you will save over $100 per night of your stay by taking advantage of the free dining offer. Considering that you will also receive free transportation for your stay (read about the incredible value of this perk for Disney resort guests), you will only pay $122 for your transportation, lodging and food for your entire family for each night of your stay. Compared to other vacations, this price seems like a total bargain to me!
If you receive the Quick Service plan for a stay at a Value resort (which are among my favorite at Disney), you can also upgrade to the standard Dining Plan by paying the difference between the two. This difference is currently around $18 for adults and around $3 for kids. We have done this every time we have received free dining, because we like to eat at one Table Service restaurant for dinner each night, and it is possible to get a lot more value out of the standard Dining Plan than the Quick Service Plan.
The chart below compares what you’d pay out-of-pocket to what you’d pay for the Dining Plan on a sample day. I have actually eaten this food one day when I was on the Dining Plan!
Your total out of pocket costs would have been $83, but would cost $64 with the Dining Plan. $19 might not seem like a huge savings until you multiply it by four family members and consider that you can save close to that on every other day of your stay. For a family of four on a five day vacation the Dining Plan could save them over $350 compared to purchasing the same food out of pocket.
The Deluxe Dining Plan is super pricey and almost impossible to get your money’s worth from. Plus, it includes SO MUCH FOOD. Lunch and dinner table service meals include an appetizer, entree, dessert and beverage for every member of your party. I really don’t know how anyone could possibly eat all of that food over the course of en entire vacation. There is one situation in which you will likely get a good value from this plan which I share in my next post on Tips & Tricks for the Disney Dining Plans.
Have you ever tried the Dining Plan? Please share your experience in a comment below!