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Is the Disney Dining Plan worth it?

Will a dining plan save you money?

There’s no single answer to whether the Disney Dining Plan is right for your family. Depending on your dining style and food preferences, you may save money with the Disney Dining Plan or it may be far more than paying for food out of pocket.

And the amount of money you will or won’t save may not even be the main reason to buy or avoid the Disney Dining Plan.

My family spends less money paying out of pocket for our food at Disney World than if we bought a dining plan. I’ll be sharing real numbers from real trips to show you how. I’ll also share our dining habits so you can compare them to your family and decide if a Disney Dining Plan is right for you.

First, I’ll quickly review what the Disney Dining Plan is…

school bread

What is the Disney Dining Plan?

The Disney Dining Plan is a prepaid meal plan available to guests staying on-site at a Disney World hotel. Your prepayment provides a bank of credits that can be exchanged for meals and snacks during the length of your stay.

There are three different dining plan levels. These plans provide the following meal credits for each person on the hotel reservation per night of your stay:

  • Quick Service Plan – 2 quick service meal credits
  • Disney Dining Plan – 1 quick service meal credit, 1 table service meal credit
  • Deluxe Dining Plan – 3 meal credits (quick service or table service)

Each of these is also separated in price by adult (ages 10 and up) and child (ages 3-9).

All three dining plans also provide each person 2 snack credits per day and a refillable resort mug.

For example, a family with 2 adults and 2 children under the age of ten staying for 4 nights at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort with the Quick Service Dining Plan will have a total of 16 adult quick service meal credits, 16 child quick service meal credits, and 32 snack credits to use during their trip.

This is just a basic overview of what is included with the Disney Dining Plan and the different plans available. There are so many details that could be discussed and Disney Food Blog does a great job explaining exactly what the Disney Dining Plan *IS*. Visit DFB for a complete FAQ and current pricing as dining plan prices.

The purpose of this blog post, however, is to discuss whether it is right for your family and the reasons you may or may not want to consider purchasing the Disney Dining Plan.

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Who Should Consider the Disney Dining Plan

If you enjoy an all-inclusive feeling on vacation, knowing that food is prepaid before the trip even begins, the Disney Dining Plan might be for you.

Character dining and buffet restaurants are some of the most expensive Disney meals, so if you plan on making reservations at these locations, they can make the Disney Dining Plan a good value. Ordering more expensive meals will save you money on the dining plan because you have already prepaid a fixed price.

If those in your group are big eaters, have a taste for steak and other higher-priced menu items, or plan on drinking alcoholic beverages with most meals, a dining plan could save you money.

Be Our Guest restaurant

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Why We Skip the Disney Dining Plan

The Disney Dining Plan can save you money if you enjoy character meals, drink alcohol with many meals, and have expensive taste … but we don’t fall into any of those categories! We drink mostly water and little alcohol while at Disney World. We eat mostly quick service meals. And we prefer chicken and salads over steak and lobster.

We don’t enjoy having our vacation days completely planned out, needing to be in specific places at certain times throughout the day. So, we wouldn’t consider a dining plan that provides at least one table service meal per day. Table service restaurants usually require reservations which results in a schedule that is too structured for our vacation style.

Keeping our vacations simple also means not worrying about an extra step like managing food credits to ensure that they are all used by the end of the trip. We don’t necessarily eat the equivalent of 2 meals and 2 snacks per day, especially when there is a festival at Epcot and a “lunch” might be a few snacks instead of an actual meal. On the dining plan, a quick service meal credit can be traded for 3 snack credits, but credit management is starting to get complicated then, isn’t it? It’s just one more thing we’d rather not have to think about.

One of the top complaints about the Disney Dining Plan is that it simply provides too much food. If your family makes food a top priority, this would be a good thing. We do not. Rides and attractions are our priority and those don’t always mesh so well with eating large meals!

The all-inclusive nature of the Disney Dining Plan simply has no appeal to me. It’s not my nature to simply “set it and forget it” if we were to purchase a dining plan. I would still be looking at menu prices and would try to order the more expensive items just so I would get a better deal. That might mean not ordering what I really want. Maybe I just want a salad that night! Personally, I would always feel swayed to order a higher priced item even if the item I preferred was cheaper.

Similarly, restaurants we LOVE might be skipped because they’re not a good value on the Disney Dining Plan. Beaches and Cream Soda Shop is one of our favorite Disney World restaurants, but it’s rather inexpensive with the cost of most menu items closer to quick service price points. Beaches and Cream is a poor value on the dining plan so I’d be tempted to skip it entirely because we’d “lose” money by eating there.

Lastly, none of the dining plans match our dining style. The Deluxe Dining Plan isn’t in our budget. Whether on a dining plan or paying out of pocket, we simply can’t budget over $100 per day for each adult in our family on food alone. When eating exactly what we want during a week-long vacation, we eat mostly quick service meals with 2-3 table service reservations. Ideally, this means we’d need a plan that falls somewhere between the Quick Service Plan and the regular Disney Dining Plan. So, we would have to get the quick service plan and additionally pay out of pocket for our few table service meals … which would likely leave unused quick service meal credits at the end of the trip.

Disney Face Masks

Alien mouth face mask
Alien Mouth
Epcot face mask
Spaceship Earth
Mouse Flowers face mask
Mouse Flowers
The Child face mask
The Child

How Much We Spend on Disney Food

On average, we spend around $130 per day on food at Disney World for the four of us – two adults and two school age boys. Aside from beginning each day with a light breakfast in our room and occasionally eating a granola bar for “hangry” snack emergencies, we purchase all of our meals and snacks in the parks. Our daily food average still comes in far under the roughly $180 we’d spend daily on the Quick Service Dining Plan.

I’ve tallied our food costs from several Disney trips and translated our purchases to Disney Dining Plan credits. These numbers are for two adults and two kids. My older son became a “Disney adult” when he turned 10 in 2018 so we would have been paying much more for an adult dining plan for him even though he still mostly eats off the kids menu (anyone can buy food off kids menus out of pocket, but must pay dining plan prices according to age).

Note that I’m rounding cents on all figures for simplicity. And remember that Disney Dining Plan rates and menu costs increase every year along. So, while these exact numbers may no longer be precisely accurate, both dining plan and out of pocket prices mostly increase in tandem so the concept still applies.

As a Target RedCard holder, I would be able to buy Disney gift cards at Target with a 5% discount. If I were prepaying my Disney trip including the Disney Dining Plan, I would certainly be buying discounted gift cards to save even more money on food so I’ve included the 5% discounted price for the dining plan as well.

Winter 2019 trip – 7 nights

On this trip, a combination of cooking a few meals at our Fort Wilderness cabin and having meals included with special tours and events (Backstage Magic tour and Dine with an Imagineer) resulted in fewer purchased meals than usual.

Twice we ate at table service restaurants – Beaches and Cream Soda Shop and Via Napoli.

Here’s what we ate:

  • 22 adult quick service meals
  • 19 child quick service meals
  • 3 adult table service meals
  • 4 child table service meals
  • 26 snacks

The Quick Service Dining Plan would have provided these credits for 7 nights:

  • 42 adult quick service meal credits
  • 14 child quick service meal credits
  • 56 snack credits

For a 7-night hotel stay, this dining plan would have cost $1,254 ($1,191 with 5% RedCard discount). While costing more than paying out of pocket for food, the dining plan also would have left us with many unused credits. We could have loaded or suitcases with candy and treats from the gift shops to use up those snack credits, but I have no desire to bring home that much sugar!

Even if my older son was under 10 and charged the kid price, the family’s dining plan total would have been $1,039 ($987 with 5% discount). We still paid less out of pocket.

In addition, we would have paid $149 combined out of pocket for the two table service meals. Alternatively, we could have purchased the regular Disney Dining Plan which covers table service meals, but this would cost even more than the Quick Service Dining Plan plus two meals out of pocket.

Dining Plan Price + table service meals ($1,191 + $149) = $1,340
Actual Out of Pocket Cost = $959
Savings = $381

Satu'li Canteen bowl

Fall 2018 trip – 6 nights

Here, we ate at Trail’s End and Beaches and Cream Soda Shop for our only table service meals (totalling $177) so I’ll again compare our total out of pocket cost to the Quick Service Dining Plan with out of pocket table service meals.

In case you’re wondering why the adult meal total is so low, Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival was in full swing so we ate more snacks than actual meals!

Here’s what we ate:

  • 15 adult quick service meals
  • 18 child quick service meals
  • 5 adult table service meals
  • 3 child table service meals
  • 32 snacks

The Quick Service Dining Plan would have provided these credits:

  • 36 adult quick service meal credits
  • 12 child quick service meal credits
  • 48 snack credits

At 2018 pricing, the Quick Service Plan would cost $1,075 ($1,021 with 5% discount) plus the additional out of pocket costs table service meals.

Dining Plan Price ($1,021 + 177) = $1,198
Actual Out of Pocket Cost = $723
Savings = $475

Again, we spent over $400 less by paying out of pocket for the exact food we wanted and exactly where we wanted to eat.

Solo Trip – 3 nights

I enjoyed a 3-night solo trip during the holiday season and spent $167 on food. The Quick Service Dining Plan in 2018 would have cost $157 ($149 with 5% discount). However, I still would have had to pay for some food out of pocket that made paying out of pocket the better value.

Here’s what I ate:

  • 3 quick service adult meals
  • 2 quick service kids meals
  • 12 snacks
  • 1 meal not covered by the dining plan

The Quick Service Dining Plan would have provided me with 6 quick service meal credits and 6 snack credits.

Had I been on the plan, I would have bought adult meals in place of the two kids meals (even though I wasn’t hungry enough for an adult meal) and would have used a total of 5 quick service meal credits.

With so many snacks at Epcot’s Festival of the Holidays, I could have exchanged that one remaining meal credit for 3 snack credits. Along with the 6 snack credits that came with the plan, I’d still only have 9 snack credits to use and would have had to pay for 3 snacks out of pocket.

So, although the price of the Quick Service Dining Plan alone was less than I paid for everything out of pocket, three additional snacks (around $18) and the Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge meal which was not covered by the Disney Dining Plan ($26) means that paying for food out of pocket cost less … and I still got to eat everything I wanted.

Dining Plan Price ($149 + $44) = $193
Actual Out of Pocket Cost = $167
Savings = $26

Spring 2018 Trip – 6 nights

We ate table service meals at Beaches and Cream (are you sensing a trend here?), Via Napoli, and Sanaa. Again, this trip was heavier on snacks and lighter on adult meals because my husband and I enjoyed the current Epcot Festival – the Flower and Garden Festival!

Here’s what we ate:

  • 14 adult quick service meals
  • 18 child quick service meals
  • 6 adult table service meals
  • 6 child table service meals
  • 37 snacks

Just like the fall trip, the Quick Service Dining Plan would have provided these credits:

  • 36 adult quick service meal credits
  • 12 child quick service meal credits
  • 48 snack credits

At 2018 pricing, the Quick Service Plan would cost $1,075 ($1,021 with 5% discount). We additionally drove to Kennedy Space Center one day where we spent $40 on lunch and snacks. The three Disney table service meals totaled $272. None of these would have been covered by the Quick Service Dining Plan.

Dining Plan Price ($1,021 + $40 + $272) = $1,333
Actual Out of Pocket Cost = $822
Savings = $511

Paying out of pocket saves again. This time by over $500!

Try the gray stuff - it's delicious!

Disney Dining Plan For Split Stays

So, since we enjoy split hotel stays which would allow us to pay for the Disney Dining Plan for just part of our Disney vacation, could we save money on the dining plan if we chose the most ideal trip segment? Let’s pick our 2-night mid-week stay at Pop Century from the Winter 2019 trip as this looks to be the most hopeful trip segment with so much expensive Epcot festival food!

The two night stay would give us 12 adult meals, 4 child meals, and 16 snack credits. Credits can be used from check-in day through midnight on check-out day so that gives us three full days to use just 2 nights of credits.

On these three days, we paid $350 out of pocket for food, excluding lunch at Via Napoli that wouldn’t have been covered by the quick service plan. The Quick Service Dining Plan for 3 adults and 1 child over 2 nights would have been $362.

So, we’re getting closer to a good value, but still saved money by paying out of pocket even when buying some expensive Festival of the Arts food (that $9 risotto is just SO good!) that are excellent dining plan snack credit values.

What About Free Dining?

Disney occasionally offers free dining plan offers with hotel reservations. However, we’ve never had the opportunity to take advantage of free dining because it has never been offered when we have visited.

We would strongly consider using the Disney Dining Plan if it was offered during a free dining promotion. However, free dining offers exclude any other hotel discounts so we would have to compare the price of food to the best hotel discount.

Families will usually save more with the free dining plan over any hotel discount because there are more guests on the reservation to receive free food. Singles and couples would have to price out the difference because the hotel discount could be the better deal.

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Does the Disney Dining Plan save YOU money? Let me know in the comments below!