Is the Walt Disney World Standard Dining Plan a Good Deal?
Is the Walt Disney World Magic Your Way Standard / Plus Dining Plan Worth the Cost?
Wondering if the Disney World Dining Plan is a good deal? Here is a three day outline of with actual Disney restaurant menu prices comparisons to help you decide whether or not the Standard Disney Dining Plan (also called the Plus Dining plan) is a good value for your family.
All photos are my own. (c)Stephen Johnson.
How Much Does the 2014 Standard (Plus) Disney Dining Plan Cost?
What is included in or covered by the standard Disney Dining Plan?
Cost of the 2014 Disney World standard (plus) dining plan: $60.64 per Adult / $18.88 per child (age 3- 9) per night of stay. The dining plan is only available as part of a Magic Your Way Package for guest staying at a Walt Disney World Resort. If you choose a dining plan, it must be for the duration of your reservation. For example, you cannot choose to only have the dining plan for 3 days on a 5 day reservation.
The "Plus Dining" plan provides one table-service meal credit, one counter-service meal credit, and one snack credit per person over age 3 per night of stay.
The Standard / Plus Dining Plan also includes one resort refillable mug for each person in your party. This mug can be used in any of the resort food courts and can be filled with things like soda, coffee, lemonade, iced tea or hot cocoa. The mug cannot be used in the theme parks.
The Child's Meal plan is for children between the ages 3 - 9 years. They must order from the children's menus except in buffets or where meals are served "family style" so we always encourage our clients to book some of these to give the kids a break from kids meals. Children age 10 or older are considered adults.
Your table service credit covers (1) an entrée, (2) a beverage like soda, coffee, milk, or iced tea, and (3) a dessert. Sales tax for the meal is covered but the gratuity (tip) is not covered by the dining plan. Most Disney table-service restaurants require only one table service meal credit per person. There are lots of great choices: character meals, fun themed restaurants like "Sci Fi Dine In" and lots of nice restaurants. Advanced reservations - which can be booked up to 180 days prior to arrival - are strongly recommend. Popular restaurants like Chef Mickey,, Coral Reef, and Ohana often fill all their reservations very early and frequently cannot accommodate "walk up" guests.
The counter-service meal credit covers (1) an entrée & side dish or a "combo" plate, (2) a beverage like soda, coffee, milk, or iced tea, and (3) a dessert. These are quick-service locations like resort food courts or restaurants where you order at the counter and take the tray to your table yourself. These locations do not accept advance reservations.
Snack credits can be used for a myriad of food items costing less than $4.
There are a few locations that are "Signature Dining Experiences" and these will require 2 table-service credits per person. Some examples are "The Hoop Dee Doo Revue", Cinderella's Royal Table, California Grill, or Jiko.
Children under age 3 do not participate in the dining plan. You can purchase food for them or they can eat from your meal.
You will use your room key card at the restaurants to apply dining credits to your meals. At the restaurant, you only need to present one person's key card to use dining credits to pay for the meals - you don't need to present a key card for each person. If your family is in two separate rooms, you may want to present a key card from each room to evenly use the meal credits. You will need to pay the gratuity (tip) with cash or a separate credit card.
You can add a Disney Dining Plan to your Walt Disney World "Magic Your Way" package at any point up to 5 days prior to arrival. You can remove the dining plan from you package anytime up to 45 days prior to arrival and not pay a penalty; removing the dining plan less than 45 days prior to arrival will incur a change fee of $50 per room. The dining plan cannot be added once you've arrived.
Three Day Comparison of Meals at the Walt Disney World Theme Parks and Resorts
Sample meals and prices to help you decide whether or not the Disney Dining Plan is right for you.
I took meals from three days and ran some comparisons to show whether the dining plan will be a good value or not. I tried to be very moderate in my selections: mid-range entrees, desserts, etc. Even though you can select a snack up to $4, I used $3.00 to $3.50. I did not include sales tax.
Counter-service meals are all comparably priced. I purposely chose to use the table service credits at one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner just to show how that affects the value of the dining plan.
Holiday Surcharges - The value of the dining plan increases a bit during the holidays when the Disney World buffets tack on a "Holiday Surcharge" to their price.
---Sample Day One---
Adult Lunch at Columbia Harbour House (Counter-Service at Magic Kingdom)
Anchors Aweigh sandwich: $9.19
Seasonal Cobbler - $3.99
Adult meal cost: $16.17
Children's meal at Columbia Harbour House: $5.99
Character Dinner at Crystal Palace
Adult meal: $39.40 to 43.66 Child's Meal: $19.99 to $21.29 (Lowest price used in comparison)
+ one snack per person, approx. $3.50 each.
Adult Daily total: $59.07 (up to $63.33) - Dining plan value: -$1.57 (+2.69 w/ holiday surcharge)
Child's total: $29.48 (up to $30.78) Dining plan value: +$10.60 (+$11.90 w/ holiday surcharge)
---Sample Day two---
Character Breakfast at Donald's Breakfast Safari (Tusker House Restaurant - Animal Kingdom): Adult: $28.75 to $33.01 / Child: $15.97 - $18.01
Adult Lunch at Pizzafari (Counter Service - Animal Kingdom)
Pepperoni Pizza with Caesar Salad: $9.69
Cheesecake in a glass: $3.99
Children's meal at Pizzafari: $5.49
+ one snack, approx. $3.00
Adult Total price: $48.42 to $52.68
Dining plan value: - $12.22 to - $7.96
Child's total: $24.46 to $26.50
Dining plan value: +$5.58 to +$7.62
---Sample Day Three---
Adult Lunch at Coral Reef (Epcot):
Orange Ginger-glazed Scottish Salmon with vegetables: $23.99
(Dessert) Vanilla Panna Cotta Tart: $7.99
Meal total : $34.97
Note: entrees range from $18.99 to $32.99 - value of the plan will vary according to selection.
Child's meal at Coral Reef (Epcot): $8.99
Dinner at La Cantina de San Angel (Counter Service / Mexico Pavilion - Epcot)
Tacos de Pollo with corn tortilla chips - $10.99
Churos with Carmel Sauce: $3.99
Children's meal at La Cantina de San Angel: $7.99
+ one snack, approx. $3.00
Adult Total price: $55.84
Dining plan value: - $4.80
Child's total: $19.98 Dining plan value: + $1.10
Adult (or child age 10 or older) 3-Day Savings Using the Dining Plan: - $18.59 (loss)
Child (Age 3 - 9) 3-Day Savings Using the Dining Plan: +$17.28
Summary of the Disney World Standard Dining Plan
Our recommendations and a few factors to consider before you decide whether the Disney World Meal Plan is for you.
We purposely tried to be very conservative in our selections for this comparison. We personally would use all of our table service credits for lunches or dinners so we would ordinarily save more money than the examples given above. We also tend to be very aggressive about getting the most from our snack credits. In a nutshell, we find that most people do get a good value from the dining plan. Having the dining credits tied to your room key / admission ticket is very convenient and works great for families with older kids who might need to get meals on their own.
Remember that your meal credits are based on the number of nights (not days) in your vacation package; most people have partial days on their arrival day and departure day. Your Disney World meal plan credits are available until midnight of your departure day, even though check-out is earlier. You can use your meal credits on your arrival day, even if you aren't going into a theme park; there are lots of resort based restaurants to choose from.
We typically try to have some type of quick breakfast (cereal, bagels, etc.) in the room. Two meals and a snack is usually enough food for my family. Doing this means that we have enough meal credits to cover our needs for arrival/departure days.
In most cases, families with children aged 3 - 9 always come out ahead with the dining plan. Couples or families with older kids may not save as much money with the dining plans - especially if you have several signature dining reservations. If your 10 - 12 year old typically eats a kid's meal at restaurants, you may not appreciate having to pay the higher dining plan price.
Make your decision about the dining plan before making your final payment (45 days prior to arrival) on your Disney vacation package. Disney is great about letting you upgrade so you can easily add the dining package up to 5 days prior to arrival. However, you will incur a $50 "change fee" if you downgrade your Walt Disney World Magic Your Way vacation package by removing the dining plan after final payment. Do your research and make your reservations prior to final payment to avoid extra fees.
Final Thoughts and Tips for Getting the Most from the Disney Dining Plan
The dining plan many not be a good choice if you don't think you'll enjoy the desserts or your family always orders water.
Even if the dining plan isn't a huge savings, many people like the convenience of knowing a good total cost for their vacation without having to guess on a budget for dining.
The dining plan is honored at over 100 Disney theme park and resort restaurants.
A lot of the Disney sit-down restaurants have children's meals in the $6 - $9 range but the character meals are generally at least double that price. The more character meals you have booked, the more the dining plan will save families with 3-to-9 year old children.
Some of the Downtown Disney (shopping district) restaurants are not Disney-owned and may or may not participate in the dining plan. For example, House of Blues does not participate in the dining plan but you can use your table service dining credits at Planet Hollywood.
Remember that alcoholic beverages and specialty drinks are not included in the dining plan.
Unless you have a lot of extra snack credits, we recommend that you use cash to pay for items $2.99 and under and save your snack credits for items between $3 - $4.
If you have a rental car, consider buying a case of bottled water off Disney property, This is a lot cheaper than buying individual bottles in the parks and leaves your snack credits for other things.
Here's one of our favorite ways to use a snack credit: On a free evening (maybe after visiting Animal Kingdom), go to Disney's Polynesian Resort and use snack credits in Captain Cooks foodcourt to get Dole Whips (frozen pineapple soft-serve), then take it out to the resort "beach" area to watch the Electric Water Pageant (floating parade - 9:00PM) and the Magic Kingdom fireworks.
Departure day - use any remaining snack credits to purchase Disney themed candy bars, pretzels, etc. These can easily go into your luggage and can be enjoyed after your trip. They can also make fun little gifts for the pet sitter or the neighbor that collected your mail. Remember that you cannot take beverages through airport security so you probably won't want to use left-over snack credits for sodas or bottle water unless you have time to enjoy them before checking in at the airport.
---Thoughts on Breakfast---
When using the dining plan, I typically discourage using table-service/ full service restaurant credits for breakfasts in favor of lunch or dinner. This is for two reasons:
1.Breakfasts are the least expensive meal of the day so you get a better value using your dining credits for a lunch or dinner.
2.Morning is when the parks are the least crowded so it doesn't make sense to have you in a restaurant during low crowds and then out in the park when crowds are at their peak - I'd rather reverse this.
3. Many people use their snack credits for a light breakfast by getting a fruit cup or muffin. Another option is to bring cereail and disposible bowls with you - then use a snack credit for a container of milk from the foodcourt or the resort gift shop.
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Get the best price and avoid crowds and long lines.
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1) Help with selecting the right resort or hotel for your budget. We don't just book Disney resorts - we're happy to make reservations at other accommodations too.
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3) Help with dining reservations (subject to availability)
4.) We are convinced that everyone can benefit with good touring plans. During busy times, a good plan will absolutely keep you ahead of the crowds and out of the lines - our clients typically wait less than 20 minutes for rides, even thrill rides and headliners. During less crowded times, a good plan factors in shorter park hours and fewer performance times. But the most important benefit of a good plan is that everyone gets to ride and see the things that they are looking forward to because everyone's priorities are included in a plan that tours the parks efficiently and effectively. At no extra cost to you, we will provide 1) a TouringPlans.com subscription, - or - 2) the newest edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World when you book through www.buildabettermousetrip.com.
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More resources to help you plan a great Disney vacation.
The great Disney guidebook includes disney restaurant information and ratings.
If so, did you like the Disney Dining Plan? Did it save your family money? Tell us about your experiences.