One way to enjoy the incredible food at Walt Disney World is to use a Disney Dining Plan. The plan changes slightly from year-to-year, but a big change is coming in 2018 – alcoholic drinks are included in all dining plans!
With a dining plan, you essentially pre-pay for a set number of meal “credits”, then choose when and where to redeem those credits throughout your vacation.
So when does it make sense to purchase one of the Disney dining plans, and when it is best to pay out-of-pocket? The decision has gotten even more complicated with the addition of alcohol to the plans, so I’ll answer this question for you (with lots of details and support) in this post!
Disney Dining Plan Basics
There are three different dining plans available – the Disney Dining Plan, the Quick Service Dining Plan, and the Deluxe Dining Plan. Each plan offers a different combination of meal and snack credits that you can use throughout the course of your stay.
Here’s the cost and credits included with each plan per night of your stay in 2018:
Prices effective January 1st, 2018
You’ll get an entree and beverage (even a specialty or alcoholic drink) with each Quick Service credit on any plan. On the standard Disney Dining Plan you’ll get an entree, dessert and beverage (or a full buffet) with each Table Service meal credit. Table service credits on the Deluxe Plan also include an appetizer.
Those are the rapid-fire basics. If you want in-depth coverage of the plans, I suggest my Disney Dining Plans eBook that’s currently only $0.99 on Amazon!
Next, let’s look at who potentially benefits most from the plans. Most of what I will share applies to the most popular plan by far, the standard “Disney Dining Plan”.
Who Benefits Most From the Dining Plan
The dining plans tend to work out better for some folks than others, depending on their style of vacationing and where they prefer to eat.
Here are the keys points to consider to help you decide if a Dining Plan is a good fit. (NOTE: Please take these suggestions with a grain of salt! They are just overall guidelines to help you get a picture of who benefits most from using a Dining Plan.)
You should consider using the Dining Plan if you:
- Want to enjoy an alcoholic drink with both lunch and dinner every day
- Want to eat at several Character Meals or buffets (These tend to be the most expensive out-of-pocket and represent the best value on the plan)
- Are planning a vacation at least 6 months in advance (though this definitely isn’t a make-or-break aspect)
- Don’t mind making a touring plan (complete with dining reservations) and sticking to it
- Are visiting during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival
You might want to avoid the Dining Plan if you:
- Are a light eater (e.g. like to order an appetizer as your entrée)
- Don’t drink alcohol
- Aren’t a planner
- Don’t want to be bound to a schedule or touring plan
- Want to eat at several Signature Restaurants
- Are vegetarian or vegan (Though if you want to experience several buffets/character meals or eat some fish the dining plan still makes a lot of sense)
- Are planning a vacation less than 6 months in the future
Certain restaurants offer the best value on the plan because they are the most expensive out-of-pocket. However, be forewarned: these are also the most popular restaurants which means many of them are completely booked up as soon as the six-month window opens up.
If you want to get the full value from the plans, you really should make dining reservations as early as possible, ideally the morning six months before your check-in date. I use this date calculator to find the day my dining window opens, and mark it in bold in my planner!
As a general guideline, I estimate those table service restaurants that cost over $40 per person per meal and quick service restaurants that cost around $20 per person per meal give the best return on your investment with the dining plan. Since most buffets and character meals cost over $40 for adults, they tend to be a good value on the plan.
It is pretty difficult to get good value from the dining plan at Signature restaurants since they require two table service credits. You can get close at California Grill and Narcoossee’s (especially if you are after that lobster!), so keep that in mind when planning meals.
You can get tremendous value from snack credits during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival because you can use a snack credit for most food items at the marketplace booths. Some items are upwards of $8 and can be purchased with just a snack credit. We like to save our snack credits and use them the eat our way around the festival at substantial savings!
Now let’s look at a sample day on the dining plan to compare the cost of the dining plan vs. paying out-of-pocket.
Dining Plan vs. Out-of-Pocket Price Comparisons
Let’s compare what you would pay for the Disney Dining Plan versus out-of-pocket during a day at Epcot.
For breakfast, you use a snack credit to buy a pastry at your resort along with coffee from your refillable mug. You have lunch at Sunshine Seasons in The Land pavilion and enjoy a pressed Cuban sandwich, a fruit and cheese plate, and a beer. For dinner, you head to Akershus Royal Banquet Hall for an incredible three-course Norwegian meal with the princesses.
Here is a comparison of what it would cost out-of-pocket vs. on the dining plan:
|Dining Plan||Out-of-Pocket Cost|
|Breakfast – Resort Food Court||1 Snack + refillable mug||Pastry – $4.79
Coffee – $2.79
|Lunch – Epcot’s Sunshine Seasons||1 Quick Service Credit + 1 Snack||Pressed Cubano Sandwich – $13.49
Fat Tire Amber Ale – $8.75
Fruit & Cheese Plate – $6.69
|Dinner – Epcot’s Akershus Royal Banquet Hall||1 Table Service Credit||Adult All-You-Care-to-Enjoy Meal – $55.37 (including tax)
Viking Coffee – $9.00
With this sample day, you would save $25.39 in one day for one person on the dining plan. Keep in mind that Akershus Royal Banquet Hall is one of the priciest one table service credit restaurants at Disney World, so I wouldn’t expect to save this much every day. But if this is the type and quantity of food you would likely eat on vacation, then the dining plan might be a good fit for you!
Here’s an example of another day at Epcot that wouldn’t be such a good deal on the Disney Dining Plan:
|Dining Plan||Out-of-Pocket Cost|
|Breakfast – Resort + Fountain View (Starbucks)||2 Snacks + refillable mug||Coffee Cake – $3.19
Smoothie – $4.99
Coffee – $2.79
|Lunch – Katsura Grill||1 Quick Service Credit||Teriyaki Chicken – $10
Soft Drink – $3.05
|Dinner – Rose & Crown||1 Table Service Credit||Shepard’s Pie – $20
Fountain Drink – $3
Warm Fruit Crumble – $7
Today you’d lose $21.47 with the dining plan. The main reason is eating at some of the most affordable restaurants out-of-pocket and choosing soft drinks as opposed to pricey alcoholic drinks.
So overall, if the first sample day represents how you generally like to eat on vacation, the Disney Dining Plan could work out very well for you! If you aren’t a buffet fan, are a lighter eater, or don’t drink alcohol with your meals, it would likely make more sense to pay out-of-pocket for your food.
Here’s a quick summary of my main points in this post:
- Guests choose the dining plan for an “all-inclusive” vacation experience, to control their food budget, or to try out new dining experiences.
- You’ll need to plan your dining six months in advance to get the most out of the Dining Plan.
- You’ll get the most of the plans if you are dining at several buffets or character meals.
- With the addition of alcoholic drinks to the plan, you’ll save the most if you already planned to enjoy a drink with both lunch and dinner.
I hope this post helped you better understand the dining plans and who stands to benefit most from using them.
If you want help deciding whether or not to get the dining plan, I strongly suggest getting a free quote from the expert Disney agents at Destinations in Florida! They can help you decide where to eat, where to stay, and make reservations for you, all at no additional cost to you!