(Disney Dining Week) The Disney Dining Plan: Is it worth it?
June 11, 2013
On Facebook, when I mentioned that a “Disney Dining Week” was coming to GlutenFreeBaking.com, one of the first comments I received was “Is it worth getting the meal plan?” Such a good question! And one that's really tough to answer.
Honestly, I don't know if a Disney Dining plan is the right fit for you. It might not be. I can just tell you about my experiences at Disney with and without the meal plan.
During our first trip to Disney, you know the one where I didn't realize that Disney handled gluten-free meals, I stayed off property and didn't use a meal plan. We ate breakfast and dinner at our condo. And lunch...well. We didn't eat a traditional lunch. Rather, we picked up fruit, popcorn, cheese, and other light snacks while at the parks. It worked for us.
The one thing I noticed while doing this was that snacks tend skew a little pricey at Disney but not terrible. At the time, a banana cost $1.45, a cup of “Dole Whip” (frozen pineapple ice cream) ran $3.79, and--for the meat lovers--a smoked turkey leg cost $9.00. (Two people, in my opinion, could easily share a turkey leg.) The one area where I felt we spent more money than I'd like was on water. A bottle of water was $2.50 and, let me tell you, Greg and I are water drinkers. So we spent a lot of money on water during the course of our trip. On later visits I learned that any quick service location that serves fountain soda gives you a free large cup of ice water if you ask. Free water would have saved us serious cash on that first trip!
TIP: Save money on water--whether you are on a dining plan or not--by asking for cups of water at quick service restaurants.
A few years later, when I returned to Disney with my mother, we took advantage of a free dining offer. This is how it worked for us:
With our package (we stayed at Art of Animation in the Little Mermaid section), we were eligible for a free “quick service” dining package. That meant that we would have received two quick service meals a day, one snack per day, and a refillable mug. After thinking about it, we decided to pay a small fee to upgrade that plan to the “Plus Dining”plan. Similar to the quick service plan, this plan, however, includes one table service meal and one quick service meal a day instead of two quick service meals. (The snacks and refillable mug remain the same.)
Before we left, I wasn't sure if I'd like being on a “meal plan”. I came home loving it.
For me, the plan worked because
almost the entire trip was paid for before I left the house. The only food expense we incurred was tips for the wait staff.
I didn't mind managing “dining credits” while on vacation. For some, handling credits might be a pain. I didn't find it that way. One table service meal, one quick service meal, and one snack credit per person was easy enough for me to handle. At each meal your receipt shows how many credits you have left. So I never felt in the dark about how many credits we had remaining.
there's no additional charge for gluten-free/allergen-friendly foods. Use your snack credit for a mini-cupcake package from Babycakes and it costs the same as gluten-filled cupcakes! Same with all the meals. Nothing gluten-free cost more!
our dining plan was free. We did pay a small price to upgrade the plan but we did not pay the $55.00 per person, per day fee for the dining plan. The value for us was incredible! I think if we'd paid “out of pocket”, I might have tabulated each meal mentally to see if we'd “gotten our money's worth”. With the free dining promotion, however, I never gave it a thought.
TIP: As I write this, there is a free dining offer for September. If you are interested in Disney, take a look at the this and see if it works for you. We found it to be money saving. I'd also suggest reading more about the dining plan at either WDWinfo.com or Mousesavers.com. Both sites contain lots of good information about the various dining plans Disney offers.
Drawbacks of the plan.
For me, there really weren't any. However, here's what I see as potential drawbacks of a dining plan:
At table service restaurants, appetizers are not included in the plan. You receive a non-alcoholic beverage, a main course, and a dessert. If you want an appetizer, including a salad, it's extra.
Gratuity isn't included. If you want your entire trip paid for when you leave for vacation, this won't work if you dine at table service restaurants. (And if you don't tip wait staff, don't tell me. Ack!)
You manage the credits as you wish. When you check-in, ALL your dining and snack credits are available to you. This means you could go wild and spend all your snack credits in one day. (A friend's husband did this. He saw how many snack credits were available, walked into a shop and spent them ALL on bagged candy the first day. He didn't just spend his credits. Oh no. He spent everyone's credits. Since all the credits are combined, he just used his room key to buy the candy. My friend wanted to kill him. She'd budgeted those snack credits for the entire trip and within hours they were gone. Today they laugh about this. In the moment? Not so much.)
Not all table service restaurants are “one credit.” Here's where the plan gets a little tricky. Disney offers different dining options and some are very upscale. Pay attention to before making your reservations. Several restaurants require two table service dining credits per person, per meal. If you accidentally book a few “two credit” restaurants, you'll run out of table service dining credits before your trip is over. Of course, this is ok if it works for you and your budget. If you want to experience a two credit restaurant, go for it. Just know how many credits each restaurant requires when you make your reservations so you aren't surprised during your trip.
Snack credits vary in value. Greatly. The way Disney defines snacks seems kind of nebulous. A bottle of water? That's a snack. Bag of popcorn? Snack. Dole Whip? You guessed it, a snack. Pineapple spear? Snack. They do make it easy to see what's a "snack" by marking all the snacks with this nifty icon:
You can see how easy it would be to use several snack credits per person in one day. So be aware of what you are using and how many credits are you are redeeming when buying a snack. We used our daily snack credit on a Dole Whip while we watched fireworks from the beach at the Polynesian. In the parks, instead of buying water, we asked for cups at quick service counters. So no snack credits were wasted on bottles of water. :-)
How about you? Do you purchase a dining plan? Do you like it? Share tips in the comments below. I want to learn from your experiences!