The Disney Dining Plan at Walt Disney World is a pre-paid eating plan that many people love. Especially popular is the Free Dining promotional offer. In this, the Disney Dining Plan is offered free as a discount on a Disney vacation package. Signing up for a Disney Dining Plan can take a lot of hassle out of your vacation. Or at least it seems that way. But the dining plan at Walt Disney World is not like a cruise ship vacation where most of your meals (except specialty meals) are included in the price. You cannot can eat as much as you want, and the Disney Dining Plan comes with many conditions. While you can sometimes maximize savings by signing up for the dining plan at Walt Disney World, it may not always be right for you. So, is the Disney Dining Plan worth it?
There is no right answer to this question, to be honest. Whether the Disney Dining Plan is worth it depends to a large extent on your eating habits and dining reservations. Both the Disney Dining Plan and pay-as-you-go are viable options and worth considering on your Disney vacation.
We’re here to help you decide whether a Disney Dining Plan (DDP) is worth it for your family. Continue reading to pick up a few tips on how to do the math, based on what you like to eat on vacation. (Doing math is not the best way to start a vacation, we know, but if you want to save money at Disney World, you will have to do some rough calculations). Learn more about the Disney Dining Plan, including how you can make it worthwhile. Also find out when you could end up actually paying more on the dining plan.
What is the Disney Dining Plan?
The Disney Dining Plan is a way to enjoy pre-paid meals at Disney World. You can pick one of three options for your family.
Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan
This plan allows you to dine at quick-service restaurants in Disney World (there are more than 100). You can enjoy 2 casual meals per day. No dining reservations required. Just show up, order your food, and eat. This DDP is designed for people who like quick meals on-the-go. Each guest in your party who is above the age of 3 years receives 2 quick-service meal credits per night of stay and 2 snack or nonalcoholic drink credits per night of stay. There’s also a resort-refillable drink mug thrown in as well. This mug can be refilled at full-service beverage islands in Disney Resort hotels.
Disney Dining Plan Plus
This DDP allows your family to enjoy the convenience of quick-service meals but also indulge in some meals at table service restaurants. Everyone in your party above the age of 3 years gets to enjoy 2 meals (these can be either quick service or table service or a combination of the two). There are also 2 snacks or nonalcoholic drinks per night of stay included in the dining plan and a resort-refillable drink mug.
Disney Deluxe Dining Plan
For guests who love more flexibility, the Disney Deluxe Dining Plan includes quick service, table service, signature dining, and dinner shows. Included in this DDP is 3 meals per night of stay for each member of your party above age 3 (any combination of table service or quick service or signature dining experiences), 2 snacks or nonalcoholic drinks per night of stay, and one resort-refillable drink mug.
You can sign up for a Disney Dining Plan by booking a Disney Resort vacation package. Using your dining plan is pretty easy – review the list of restaurants included in your dining plan, choose a restaurant, show your ID (use your MagicBand) at the chosen dining location, and redeem your meal credits. You can track your dining plan usage in the My Disney Experience app and also access your most recent dining receipt.
Is the Disney Dining Plan worth it?
A Disney Dining Plan can definitely be worth it if you make some smart choices. For instance, spending your snack credits on a $4.95 cupcake or a $5.99 Dole Whip rather than a $3.29 coffee can help you save money. We’ve found that, in general, to make the Disney Dining Plan worth it, you have to choose snacks above the $5 price mark. One easy way to do this is to use your snack credits at Starbucks locations in Disney World. (Nearly all the coffee drinks are eligible and easily overshoot the $5 mark).
Quick service meals on the Disney Dining Plan
There are also ways to make the most of your quick service credits. These are valid at any quick service location where you order your food and take it to your table yourself. (There are no servers or wait staff available). One quick service meal credit gets you an entrée and a beverage at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We’ve done the math for you and identified a ballpark figure of $22. Any quick service meal for adults that costs more than $22 will make your Disney Dining Plan worth it. For kids, it’s around $8 including tax.
A quick example – at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café in Magic Kingdom, the most expensive entrée on the lunch and dinner menu is the chili-cheese all-beef foot-long hot dog at $13.49. Most beverages are in the $2 to $4 range with the most expensive being a Minute Maid strawberry lemonade slushy, which is a specialty beverage that costs $5.99. So, even if you choose the most expensive entrée and beverage ($19.50), you’ll still be short of the $22 mark.
This number ($22) is possible to hit at lunch and dinner but can be quite tough to manage at breakfast. Keep in mind that hitting this number is important if you want to maximize the value of your Disney Dining Plan. So, it usually makes sense to save your quick dining credits for lunch and dinner and pay for breakfast out of pocket. Remember, you’ll get free refills of fountain drinks and coffee with your resort-refillable drink mug, so you can just order a breakfast platter at your hotel. If you’re in a Disney theme park at breakfast time, consider using a snack credit for smaller breakfast items instead of a quick meal credit.
Table service meals on the Disney Dining Plan
In Disney lingo, a table service restaurant is any location where a server will bring the food to your table. At breakfast, a table service Disney Dining Plan credit gets you an entrée and a beverage. At lunch and dinner, one credit is good for an entrée, beverage, and dessert (you might be able to swap out the dessert for a salad or soup). To make the Disney Dining Plan worth it at table service restaurants, the magic numbers are $45 for adults and $12 for kids.
Let’s take the example of the 50’s Prime Time Café at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a table-service dining location. The most expensive entrée on the dinner menu is A Sampling of Mom’s Favorite Recipes at $26. The most expensive dessert is Dad’s Favorite Chocolate-Peanut Butter Layered Cake a la mode at $10. And the most expensive beverage is Mickey’s Bee Bop Drink which costs $8. The total is $44 and you’re just about hitting the $45 mark IF you order the most expensive item in each category.
Food and drink festivals and special events
Another way to get more value out of your Disney Dining Plan is to use your credits at any kind of special event. For instance, if you visit Epcot during a festival, you can try some really unique dishes at these events without paying the steep retail prices.
One of the best ways to make the Disney Dining Plan worth it is to use your credits at a character meal. For instance, lunch at Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom Park is $62 per adult and $37 for kids aged 3-9. By using your dining plan credits here, you’re really getting your money’s worth on the DDP. Remember though, signature dining experiences are included on the Disney Deluxe Dining Plan only. They are not included in the standard Disney Dining Plan or the Disney Dining Plan Plus.
What are some reasons NOT to choose a Disney Dining Plan?
We’ve given you some tips above on how to make the Disney Dining Plan worth it. Now, let’s look at some reasons why the Disney Dining Plan might NOT be worth it.
Your DDP does not include gratuities. So, if you’re on the Disney Deluxe Dining Plan, you’ll pay 18-20% at table service locations just like you would at any fine dining venue or upscale eatery. Leaving a tip and how much you tip is up to you, but it’s always recommended since the servers work so hard. Also, keep in mind that tips might be mandatory if you are a group of 6 or more people, in which case Disney will automatically add 18% gratuity to your bill. This is something you need to factor into your budgeting when you’re trying to figure out if a Disney Dining Plan is worth it. (Gratuities may be already included in the price of some specialty dining experiences. However, these dining experiences will not be covered by your standard Disney Dining Plan). Tipping on a Disney Dining Plan is similar to pay as you go. You can tip with cash, cards, by charging it to your Disney account through your MagicBand, or with Disney gift cards.
Appetizers and alcoholic drinks
The Disney Dining Plan may not cover the cost of your entire meal. For instance, appetizers and alcoholic drinks are not included in the DDP. So, for example, if you’re dining at Chefs de France at the World Showcase in Epcot, the average entrée is $30, a nonalcoholic drink is around $5, and a dessert is roughly $12 – these will all be included in your dining plan, adding up to $47. This is above the magic number of $45 per adult to make the Disney Dining Plan worth it (see above). So far so good. But, if you choose to add an appetizer ($10-$15) and a glass of wine ($8-$17) to your meal, you’re going to pay for these out of pocket. In this case, the Disney Dining Plan may not be worth it for you.
Disney Dining Plans are not “eat as much as you want” like you do on cruise ships. They include a fixed number of dining credits for snacks, quick service meals, table service meals, and signature dining experience. This depends on the type of plan you have and the length of your Disney vacation package. As a result, you might end up paying out of pocket for some meals. For instance, if your Disney vacation package is for 3 nights, you’ll receive 3 table service meal credits with your Disney Dining Plan Plus. If you eat at table service restaurants 5 times during your trip, you’ll pay for the two additional meals out of pocket.
When you factor in any unused credits on your Disney Dining Plan, it may not be worth it. For instance, on a 3-night Disney vacation package, if you purchase the Disney Dining Plan Plus and eat 5 table service meals and 1 quick service meal, you’ll pay for 2 table service meals out of pocket and have leftover quick service credits.
Is the Disney Dining Plan worth it for my family?
It boils down to this – if you’re the spontaneous sorts who like to make last-minute dining plans, then the Disney Dining Plan may not be the way to go for your family. This is because to make the Disney Dining Plan worth it, you need to do some math and make smart choices. You’ll have to pick the exact number of snacks, quick service meals, and table service meals included in your plan to use all your credits. You’ll also have to choose items from the menu that give you maximum value for money.
Without a Disney Dining Plan, you can eat a snack, a quick meal, or a table service meal – and order the items you want – without considering what makes sense on the DDP. Essentially, when you’re paying on-the-go for each meal out of pocket, you eat what you want where you want and pay for what you eat and you’re done. This means when it comes to convenience, paying out of pocket definitely comes out the winner. The “convenience” of the Disney Dining Plan is an illusion.
Is the Disney Free Dining offer a no- brainer?
Now, while the Disney Dining Plan may not seem worth it under normal circumstances, you can snag a free Disney Dining Plan during some promotions. This is usually offered with a 5-night Disney vacation package that includes a stay at a Disney Resort hotel and theme park admission tickets with the park hopper option. It might seem like a no-brainer to grab this deal, right? But there are some caveats here as well.
For instance, the type of Disney Dining Plan you’ll get for free will depend on the type of Disney Resort hotel you book. Moderate and Value Disney Resorts will typically include the quick service dining plan. The Disney Dining Plan Plus may be included with select deluxe Disney Resorts.
And here’s the catch – the free Disney Dining Plan is usually offered on non-discounted vacation packages. Meaning, you’ll pay full price for your hotel room. In many cases, it might make more sense to avail a discounted room rate and pay for the Disney Dining Plan separately or simply eat as you go at Disney World.
For example, 25% off on a deluxe resort such as Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa which averages $1,000 per night works out to a saving of $250 per night. The standard Disney Dining Plan was $78 per adult per night in 2020 and $30 per child per night. In this case, if you’re a family of 2 adults and 2 kids, the room discount will be $500 per night (for 2 rooms), and the value of the free Disney Dining Plan (standard) will be $216 ($78 per adult x 2 and $30 per kid x 2). So, choosing the room discount makes more sense here.
The Bottom Line – Should you get the Disney Dining Plan?
If you really want to get the most bang for your buck at Disney World, you’ll have to do some math to find out if the Disney Dining Plan is worth it for your family. If you like planning your meals in advance and don’t mind choosing items from the menu that make the Disney Dining Plan worth it, then getting the DDP might serve you well. However, if you want to make eating decisions spontaneously and eat what you want where you want without thinking about maximizing DDP value or using credits in the best possible way, we suggest you stick to paying out of pocket for your meals at Disney World.
Let us know in the comments below if you think the Disney Dining Plan is worth it. We’d love to hear what your family’s experience has been. And if you have some tips for our readers about how to get the maximum value out of a Disney Dining Plan, then we’d greatly appreciate your sharing them with us.