Among die hard Disney World fans, few topics are quite as contentious as the debate over the Disney Dining Plan. Whether it’s worth it to you and your traveling party will depend entirely on what type of eater you are, which is why I personally maintain that there really should be no debate at all. If you’re a certain type of eater, it will be a great monetary deal for you. If you’re not, you will unequivocally lose money.
Simple as that.
And especially now that MagicBands obviate the need to carry cash or credit cards, there is no added convenience factor I can see to any of the dining plans.
So, how does the Disney Dining Plan work, and is it a good fit for you? Read on for some number crunching and real world examples.
First, a primer on how the dining plan works. For guests staying on-property AND packaging theme park tickets with their hotel stay, Disney offers three tiers of their dining plan (well, technically there are even higher tiers, but they are so ridiculously priced that they are not even worth consideration).
To be perfectly clear, you HAVE to be staying at a Disney resort AND be purchasing your theme park tickets as part of your vacation in order to even have the option of adding a dining plan. (Annual Passholders are the only exception to this rule – they can purchase the dining plan with just a Disney resort reservation).
Also, if you choose to add a dining plan, it will apply to EVERY member of your traveling party over age 3, for EVERY night of your stay.
The prices quoted below numbers are for 2016. I will update this page for 2017 in the new year:
- Quick Service Dining Plan ($44.13 per adult per night, $19.04 per child per night):
- 2 Quick Service meals per guest per night
- 1 Snack per guest per night
- 1 Rapid Refill mug per guest per stay
- Regular Dining Plan ($63.70 per adult per night, $22.85 per child per night):
- 1 Quick Service and 1 Table Service meal per guest per night
- 1 Snack per guest per night
- 1 Rapid Refill mug per guest per stay
- Deluxe Dining Plan ($115.08 per adult per night, $35.49 per child per night):
- 3 meals (either Quick Service or Table Service) per guest per night
- 2 Snacks per guest per night
- 1 Rapid Refill mug per guest per stay
If you are reading these dining plan descriptions and already thinking to yourself, “dang, that’s a lot of food,” then I can almost guarantee none of the plans will make sense for you. Regardless, let’s dive into the numbers with some real world examples to see just who these provide a great deal for, and who they don’t.
Since the Regular Disney Dining Plan seems to be the most popular, the examples below will deal with it.
Example 1 – When the Dining Plan Makes Sense
Let’s first consider a hypothetical couple who are visiting Disney World on their honeymoon for a three night stay. They are both big eaters who eat snacks on top of their meals.
With a three night stay, if they choose the Regular Dining Plan, they will each get three Quick Service meal credits, three Table Service meal credits, three Snack credits, and one Rapid Refill mug. Since Rapid Refill mugs sell for $18.99 each (at time of writing), let’s deduct those from the totals to get an accurate picture of what their nightly cost of food is on the Disney Dining Plan.
Basically, we want to see what (and where) they will be eating in order to make up for the $344.22 total they’ll be spending on food in the plan. In other words, will they EACH eat $57.37 worth of food per day, and will that money be spent in the form of one Quick Service meal, one Table Service meal, and one Snack each per day?
Day 1: Our hypothetical couple checks into the Grand Floridian in the afternoon and hops on the monorail for dinner that night at the Magic Kingdom. Being savvy Disney-goers, they already have ADRs booked for the three Table Service meals they will be redeeming. Here’s what they EACH eat on their first day of vacation, so the Running Total listed is per person. Remember, these folks eat a lot, so they can each pack away a steak dinner followed by Dole Whip without sharing.
Day 2: Our hypothetical couple wakes up hungry, so they each eat an entire Bounty Platter from Captain Cook’s Quick Service restaurant over at the Polynesian Resort. They head to Animal Kingdom for the day and each eat a whole Mickey Pretzel for a light lunch. Finally, they head back to the Grand for a character dining buffet at 1900 Park Fare, where they gorge themselves on $45 each worth of Mongolian beef, Mojo roast pork loin, shrimp, and grilled salmon.
Day 3: These guys can really eat. They wake up on their third day of vacation and each pack away another Bounty Platter over at Captain Cook’s. (As an aside, Bounty Platters vary slightly from restaurant to restaurant, but generally you will get eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes or waffles, hash browns, and a biscuit. It’s a LOT of food.). They head to EPCOT for the day and each eat a whole cream puff as a snack during the day. Finally, they redeem their last Table Service credit for another character dining buffet, this time at Akershus.
Day 4: Alas, our hypothetical couple’s trip is at an end, and they each have one Quick Service credit left. They are so hooked on those Bounty Platters that they eat at Captain Cook’s again for breakfast.
Remember, in this first example, both people are EACH eating everything above at each meal. So, did they save money using the Regular Disney Dining Plan?
Yep, they sure did! Over fifty bucks between the two of them, too!
Example 2 – When the Dining Plan Does NOT Make Sense
Let’s now consider a not-so-hypothetical couple who are visiting Disney World to celebrate the totally awesome wife’s birthday over Thanksgiving, also for a three night stay. The husband is a decent eater who enjoys the occasional burger, while the wife is an extremely picky eater and recovering vegetarian. She eats chicken maaaaybe once or twice a week, but beyond that, her diet consists largely of fruits, veggies, granola, beans, cheese, and nuts. She also tends to eat a lot more snacks and fewer big meals.
As above, our question is, will they EACH eat $57.37 worth of food per day, and will that money be spent in the form of one Quick Service meal, one Table Service meal, and one Snack each per day?
Day 1: Our not-so-hypothetical couple checks into Pop Century in the afternoon and hops on the bus for dinner that night at the Magic Kingdom. Being savvy Disney-goers, they already have ADRs booked for the three Table Service meals they will be redeeming. Like the hypothetical couple above, they decide to dine at the Beast’s Castle for dinner. Except, unlike above, only the husband orders steak. The wife’s dinner total is considerably lower since she ordered vegetarian.
Day 2: Our hypothetical couple doesn’t enjoy big greasy breakfasts, so the husband orders just an omelet (which counts as one Quick Service credit), and the wife makes an a la carte breakfast out of a vanilla iced coffee, a cup of oatmeal, and a banana. That’s three Snack credits zapped. Gone. Zilch. Toast. All three of the wife’s Snack credits are used up by the end of breakfast on their first full day of vacation. During their day at the parks, both the husband and wife are still full from breakfast, so they skip lunch. They enjoy an early dinner buffet at 1900 Park Fare. Finally, they head back to the Magic Kingdom to watch the evening fireworks, where the wife gets a hankering for some Dole Whip. Remember, all of her snack credits are already used up, and since she will definitely be eating the same Snack-based breakfast the rest of the trip, we already know that she will use up both her and her husband’s Snack credits. So, the Dole Whip is shown in red below because it will have to be from out of pocket. (This is a small simplification, so that her breakfast the next morning won’t be part out of pocket and part Dining Plan covered).
Day 3: The husband loves to sleep in, so he totally misses breakfast. After her morning jog, the wife goes down to Everything Pop Shopping & Dining for breakfast by herself, where she uses up her husband’s three Snack credits on a vanilla iced coffee, a cup of Dannon yogurt, and a banana. Once her husband wakes up, they head to Animal Kingdom. The husband is hungry by this point, so he uses a Quick Service credit on a flatbread, while the wife is craving one of those delicious Mickey pretzels (what can she say? sandwiches and pizzas just don’t appeal to her). Since all the Snack credits are used up, she has to pay for this out of pocket. Finally, they redeem their last Table Service credit for dinner at their favorite Animal Kingdom restaurant: Yak & Yeti. Even though the wife orders chicken this time instead of the vegetarian option, her total is still significantly lower than her husband’s steak.
Day 4: Alas, our not-so-hypothetical couple’s trip is at an end, and between the two of them they have four Quick Service credits left. Yet again, the husband sleeps in, and the wife eats her a la carte breakfast by herself at Everything Pop Shopping & Dining. Again, this is all paid for out of pocket, since a collection of Snack items CANNOT (officially) be paid for with a Quick Service credit. The husband wakes up and is hungry for lunch, so he exchanges a Quick Service credit for the fanciest burger they serve at Pop. They have to head to the airport now, so unfortunately they are leaving three Quick Service credits on the table…paid for, but never used.
So, did they save money using the Regular Disney Dining Plan?
Heck no, techno!!! Not only did they overspend to the tune of $80. Not only did they waste three Quick Service credits (which could have theoretically be redeemed for up to $60 worth of food). But in in addition to both of those things, they paid nearly $25 out of pocket on top of the cost of the Disney Dining Plan just because the wife is a very picky eater who tends to eat a bunch of Snack foods instead of traditional entrees.
I mean look, even if this totally-hypothetically-and-not-me (;-)) wife hadn’t eaten an extra $25 worth of Snacks out of pocket, the $344.22 the dining plan cost them still far exceeds the $264.96 that they would have paid out of pocket.
The point? The Regular Disney Dining Plan makes sense (and cents) for you if everyone in your party not only takes advantage of the priciest menu items at all meals (which virtually always means beef and/or pork), but also if you are judicious with dining at restaurants that offer the highest priced items. So it’s a combination of both what and where you eat that will make the Regular Disney Dining Plan worth it for you.
If, on the other hand, even one person in your party is like me and eats loads of smaller, mostly vegetarian snacks, then you will indisputably lose money on the Regular Disney Dining Plan.
Basically, if the photos below look like you (which show one of my actual breakfasts and an actual lunch between me and my husband), then it will never make sense to do the Regular Dining Plan.
Please leave any vacation planning questions in the comment section below!