If you have ever looked into planning a trip to Walt Disney World you have undoubtedly heard about the Dining Plans that they offer. The number one question I hear from clients is “what is the dining plan”? They want to know how it works, what’s included, and if they should purchase it. Hopefully I can help you answer these questions, and more, in my blog post today.
Spoiler alert – I love the dining plan and won’t travel to Disney World without it. Now, having said that, everyone is different and have different priorities so it’s best for you to get educated and make the right choice for you and your family.
Something you may or may not know about me is that I work for a large hotel chain. For that reason, I can book hotels at a very low rate. I can stay right in Disney Springs for well under $100 a night. These hotels are Disney “neighbor” hotels and offer Fastpasses in advance, transportation to the parks, and are within walking distance to Disney Springs. However, I chose to not stay here at the low rate for a couple of reasons, the main reason being the dining plan. You must stay at a WDW resort to purchase the dining plan. It is that “worth it” to me that I am willing pay Disney resort prices (and not the value level resorts even) to stay on site and get the benefits that come along with it. Here is why; I am not good at “saving for vacation”. I always have great plans to do so but each month closer to a trip I find I’m in the same place financially. It is expensive to eat at Disney! With the dining plan you don’t have to worry about any of that. You get dining credits to use at your discretion and the only out-of-pocket costs are the tips on your sit-down meals and any extras you purchase. As of 2018 you even get one alcoholic drink per adult (over 21) with your table-service and counter-service meals. This is HUGE to me. Everything is paid for up-front and I don’t have to look at the cost on the menu. If I want to order a $100 steak with all the fixins I can do so, if I want seafood and a glass of wine along with my dessert I can order that, if I want pizza or pasta or any other number of meals – I can do that! I don’t want to be on vacation and feel like I am limited on what I can order or eat, or to feel like on day 3 of the trip I’m going to have to eat a shared quick-service to afford getting through the rest of the trip.
My typical plan is the Disney Dining plan which gives me 1 sit-down credit, 1 quick-service credit and 2 snack credits per night, plus my refillable drink mug to use at the resort. Many people who’ve not been to Disney worry about that 3rd meal. They will ask me “what do you do for breakfast (or whichever the 3rd meal is). This is a fair question but I assure you it works out. If we have a quick-service scheduled for lunch and a sit-down for dinner, then we’ll just use a snack credit for the morning. Maybe a bagel or an elephant ear (a fried pastry), perhaps you are more a cup of fruit person, or a cupcake person (yes, I’ve done cupcakes for breakfast! Hey, I’m on vacation!) – you can use a snack credit for any of these. You can also use a snack credit for any sized coffee drink at Starbucks. Hey – that sounds like a great use of 2 snack credits to me. Now, if you want that elephant ear and a regular cup of coffee it might make sense to pay for your coffee (using your Magic Band) and then use your snack credit for the pastry – thus saving your 2nd snack credit of the day for something else (Mickey shaped ice cream bars, popcorn, churros). I do recommend using all your credits in places where you will get the most value. Never use it for things like a bottle of water. Quick side note – you can get a cup for free ice water at any park dining venue so do that instead for water!
Some final notes – a sit-down or table service meal are your restaurants where you are seated and served. Some Signature restaurants are 2 credits. You can do these with the Disney dining plan (or the next level dining plan which is the Deluxe Dining Plan) you just need to plan accordingly. Your quick-service meals are counter service meals where you walk in (or mobile order) and get your food before finding a table. You will find many places to use snack credits. I love using them at Epcot because there are so many food options. If they are doing a festival, it is an even better option! You will know that the item can be purchased on the Disney dining plan by looking for this symbol:
There are 3 dining plans that Disney offers. We talked about the “middle” one today which is the Disney Dining plan. There is also a quick-service option which gives you 2 quick-service or counter-service meals, 2 snack credits and the refillable mug. There is also the Deluxe Dining Plan that gives you 3 credits to use however you’d like, plus 2 snack credits and the refillable mug. All can be added to your on-site resort vacation. Each person must have the same plan and it cannot be only for special guests – it’s all or nothing.
To give you an idea of cost, the Disney Dining plan in 2019 is $75.49 per adult and $27.98 per child per night. If you start to look at what a sit-down meal, a counter-service meal, and 2 snacks would cost in a day I think you will find this is a no-brainer. Any time you use the dining plan you can check your balance on the receipt or visit the resort front desk for a print-out of what you’ve used and what you still have available.
Finally, you can use the dining credits however you’d like. It doesn’t have to be one a day, or one per person. The credits are basically a total number that you use as you wish. If you want lunch but no one else does, or if you want to get a snack to share – do it! Use them however it makes sense for you and don’t feel locked in to a set schedule for using them. And, don’t leave with any credits unused. Quick-service credits will break down to 3 more snack credits and you can use these on your last day to purchase things like bagged candy, Mickey shaped rice crispies treats or any number of other items that travel well.
I hope this helps to answer some questions. Always feel free to reach out if you have other questions or something that wasn’t addressed here. Disney is for Foodies and the options are endless. You owe it to yourself to experience the fully immersive Disney vacation and food is a big part of that. Plus, the dining breaks are a great way to get off your feet and recharge. Dining reservations open 180 days prior to arrival so you will want to be thinking about what restaurants you’d like to visit and make your reservations on the day they open. I can help if you need it!
Until next time. Bon Appetit!