Can a Cheapskate Princess Afford the Disney Dining Plan?

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Free Disney Dining has almost taken on a life of its own. If you planned your entire vacation around qualifying for free food,  then you just might be a Cheapskate Princess!  Travel agents stay tied up for days to get their clients the accommodations and Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) they have requested to get those free meals. People go crazy for Free Disney Dining, and why not? Traveling during those certain dates can save you a lot of money. Those of us who are DVC members or can not leave work to travel during  the free dining dates, we just sit around and mope that we don’t get to eat for free.

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But, uh oh, what if you don’t qualify for the free dining and have to pay for your dining plan?  Is it worth the money? Let’s take a look at how the Disney Dining Plan works.

The Quick Service Disney Dining Plan

For each person on the room reservation, the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan includes:

  • Two quick service (counter-service) meals per night
  • One snack per night
  • A refillable drink mug per stay

The current 2013 daily price of the Quick Service Plan is $37.58 per adult and $14.32 per child ages 3-9 for a stay during regular season. This is the lowest level for the dining plan.

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The Disney Dining Plan

For each person on the room reservation per night of package stay, the Disney Dining Plan includes:

  • One Table Service Meal
  • One Quick Service Meal
  • One snack
  • One  refillable drink mug per stay

The current daily price per night for the Disney Dining Plan is $55.59 per adult and $17.16 per child for most times of the year except peak season. Peak season prices are $56.94 per adult and $18.16 per child ages 3-9.  Children under three eat free from an adult’s plate. Your gratuity is not included for table service meals. Two table service credits can also be used for signature restaurants, dinner shows, private dining, or pizza delivery.

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Deluxe Disney Dining Plan

For each person on the room reservation, the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan includes:

  • Three meals at your choice of counter service restaurants or table service restaurants per night
  • Two snacks per night
  • One refillable drink mug per stay

The current daily price of the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan is $99.97 per adult and $26.84 per child during regular season. The cost of Peak Season dining is $102.27 per adult and $28.91 per child ages 3-9. Children under three eat free from an adult’s plate.  Two table service credits can also be used for signature restaurants, dinner shows, private dining, or pizza delivery. Gratuity is not included for the table service meals.

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Lots of people describe “ease” as one of the main reasons the Disney Dining Plan is the route to go. Here are several reasons purchasing the DDP will make your vacation easier.

  • Simply present your Key to the World card to your server or cashier just before you order. The Key to the World card electronically monitors the meals allocated for your group.
  • You can track your meals with an easy-to-read receipt your server will provide you, which will display your remaining meal balance.
  • You can redeem your meals in any order throughout your package stay until each person’s meal total is complete.
  • There are over 100 select restaurants available throughout the WDW resort and Downtown Disney to choose from that accept the DDP.

We asked our Disney’s Cheapskate Princess Facebook fans what they thought of actually paying for the Dining Plan.

Samantha Berry said, “Our family uses the dining plan for every trip! It is the best choice for our on the go family and offers the most flexibility and convenience for our stay at Disney World. It allows us not to price check everything during the trip and because we have already paid for the dining plan included, there are no surprises at the end and no overspending!”

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Kristen related, “Deluxe Dining gives us the flexibility we want in choosing where to eat, the opportunity to sample a greater variety on the menu, and the luxury of including signature restaurants in our plan. It’s my default for great Disney dining.”

Melissa said, “I definitely think its worth it. I’d rather pay for it up front and know I won’t have to pay for anything else other then gratuity. I order the most expensive meal and enjoy, when at home, I would always look at price. It’s a nice way to be care free.

Lori said for her family of seven, the DDP is the route to go. “We like to eat stuff other than quick service and really enjoy our character dining. Some of the places (1900 Park Fare from our last experience) are just too expensive to do otherwise.”

Kristy said, “The DDP is definately worth it if you are going to do a sit down meal. It almost pays for itself with just that. Believe me, we keep receipts to add up and see how much we save!!”

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Melissa said Deluxe Dining, always. “Since we are DVC, we don’t qualify for free dining. We usually wind up saving a little bit of money, but we eat like kings and queens, and we aren’t worried about the cost, because we already paid for it!”

Tammy told us, “Free dining is by far the BEST, but we’ll still always go with a dining plan. My kiddos are older, and between their dining preferences and mine, we always come out ahead on the dining plan. For our next trip, we actually decided to go Deluxe rather than Basic, as a matter of fact. My number-crunching teenager went through the list of restaurants we want to go to (many of them 2 credit eateries) and ball-parked the costs from the menus on When he compared it to the cost of the deluxe plan, we came out money ahead using the plan. We won’t save a TON of money, but a little ahead is still ahead, and that gets combined with the convenience of the prepaid plan and snacks thrown in. If you tend to get quick service most of the time, you’re going to be better off paying out of pocket, though.”

These items are not accepted with the Disney Dining Plan.

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Items that are more than one serving, like a box of doughnuts or a jar of peanut butter
  • Items served in souvenir containers
  • Items sold at recreational rental counters
  • Items that are considered to be merchandise, like bottle toppers, glow cubes, and bottle straps
  • Some special event dining events with special menus


 The Fine Financial Points to Remember with the Dining Plan

  • Gratuities  are not included except at dinner shows, private in-room dining, and Cinderella’s Royal Table.
  • 18% gratuity is automatically added to your bill for parties of 6 or more.
  • Items that are not included in the Disney Dining Plan will be added to your bill.
  • If a guest under three orders a meal off the menu, this cost will be added to your bill.
I read some DDP reviews on , where someone commented that the cost of the Disney Dining Plan has increased by 22% over the last several years, so while you were saving a fair amount of money several years ago, this is not necessarily the case now.

Cheapskate Princess fan said, “You will like the DDP if you like to take the time to eat and like good quailty food and trying new things. I would do the dinning plan that includes 1 Quick Service, 1 Table Service and 1 snack per person per number of nights stayed. It works out really well, especially if you are traveling with kids and adults (like me) that like to do character dinning experiences. Then it pays for itself. If you have a bigger appetite, the meal plan is the way to go. If you go by yourself or travel with people who do not want to take a lot of time for dinning, then just do Quick Service only. However if you are like my sister and her family, who can live on a cup of soup for 10 hours, then don’t do any of the meal plans.”

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Melissa said her group just got back from Disney, “We didn’t do Disney Dining, but we had a condo and brought in lunch every day of sandwiches, drinks, and snacks. We only paid for our princess lunch at Epcot and two other meals in the park, which was less expensive than the dining plan for us.”

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Jennifer described her dining plan experience. “We’ve always had free dining in the past, but this year we’re looking for a room-only rate to stay at a dream resort and won’t have dining. I think it works out. The dining plan for us ends up always being too much food. We wouldn’t normally order desserts and sodas with every meal, and we tend to want less sit-down meals each trip. If we actually calculated what we would normally purchase, it would turn out to be far less than the dining plan cost. Even when it’s “free,” there is a cost because you must pay rack rates for rooms instead of getting the sometimes-hefty room discounts. Since we do like the ease of not thinking about the price of things, I think for the next trip we’ll pre-purchase Disney Gift Cards in large amounts and just hand those over when it’s time to pay. That way we still won’t have to see cash exchanging hands, and it will still have the illusion of being free!”

Janie said, “I have done the dining plan and thought it was great. While planning my next trip, I am up in the air on it, since my 10-year-old is considered an adult. I know she won’t eat $57 a day in food, but I will have to pay $35-$40 for character dining so it seems worth it. I also end up paying way more in tips, because if I wasn’t on the dining plan I wouldn’t order the pop, dessert or the most expensive thing on the menu.”

Kim said, “We used to get free dining, and then once we paid for it because we got a great discount. Now that we have Annual Passes and the dining price went up… Nope. We eat at Taco Bell and Fuddruckers!”

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Jennifer explained her opinion, “We’ve been annual passholders for the last few years. Our December trip will be our very first time on a dining plan. We’ve seen no need for it before, and the only reason why we have it this time is because it was free. We easily save hundreds of dollars more by purchasing meals ourselves. We don’t need a dessert or a soft drink with every meal, and we actually prefer to drink water. And if you stay off resort, it’s much cheaper to eat out, even at Cracker Barrel or Chili’s, than it is to eat in the parks. It’s all about preference and convenience. The meals are so big that you can easily share anyway, especially if you have kids.

Now this Princess? I truly am a cheapskate. For my family of five, all over the age of nine, to use the Disney Dining Plan, the step up from the Quick Service Dining Plan, would cost $277.95 before we paid the %18 gratuity for the one table service meal. My husband estimates that we normally spend $150 per day, at the high end, on food for our family of five people all considered to be adults. We don’t go to any character meals, we usually eat one or two meals in our hotel room, and the meal we purchase in the parks or resorts consists of burgers and fries.

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Now looking at these numbers, I can totally see how free dining would pay off, even if you were paying for the upgrade for a more expensive dining package.  But I’m not ready to step up the price level of my meals, as I feel like this would cut back on the numbers of days I can afford to stay at Disney. The more days you stay in Orlando, the more you will spend, either on hotel, food or souvenirs.

One factor to remember is that with the popularity of the free dining promotion, if you plan a last minute trip while other people are eating for free, or you stay in a DVC resort using points, should you try to purchase the dining plan on your own, you may not be able to get reservations at the restaurants where you really want to dine. My husband called last week to enquire about the dining plan for our upcoming trip in November, which is just 4 weeks away.  There were no reservations available at Chef Mickey’s for breakfast, lunch, or dinner for the entire eight days of our reservations. No available reservations could put a crimp in your last minute plans.

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So most of the Disney’s Cheapskate Princess Facebook fans responded that they purchased the Disney Dining Plan for the convenience of having meals paid for ahead of time. No one mentioned they were saving a tremendous amount of money using the plan, although lots of people said they saved a ton of money by vacationing during the free dining promotion. Which leaves me cupcake icing green with free dining envy.

A special thanks to Bob Abgelo for his fabulous dining photos. You can visit him on facebook at Pixie Vacations with Bob Angelo, Specializing in Disney Travel for more great photos.


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Erin Johnson, our Cheapskate Princess Travel Agent

Erin Johnson, our Cheapskate Princess Travel Agent

Use this link for a free no obligation vacation quote from  Erin, our Disney Vacation Planner with Destinations in Florida travel.  She offers promotions like Disney Trading Pin sets, autograph books, and free Mickey Mouse ear hats for kids under age 17.  We know our readers love free…

Give Erin a call at 214-697-7732, or send an e-mail to erin @ 

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Thanks you for stopping by, and we’ll see you in line for Chef Mickey’s. I’ll be seated in the Contempo Cafe looking over the barrier wall to see what I am missing out on. Be sure to wave at me!


  1. Nicole says:

    We just came back from Disney, we paid for the dining plan because we were there the one week of October it was not free, (thankfully because the crowds were low). We went to 5 Character meals, mainly to avoid waiting in lines at parks, like an all in one shopping trip, now the dining plan was around 56 a day, 224 a day for 4, one character meal totaled 186, add in 4 quick service with drinks and desserts at 18 per person, 72 a day, plus a snack at 4, 16 a day. total of 274, plus free drinks at the hotel. (complimentary cup) even with 18-20% gratuity I ended up 20 to 30 ahead. If we didn’t do character meals, I don’t think it would be worth it. It definitely is way more food than anyone person needs. Most days we would use 2 quick service for breakfast and 2 quick service for dinner or lunch and split them because the food amounts were enormous. If we ate at the resort we used our mugs and got bottled water or powerades to lug into the park to keep us from buying drinks or using snack credits for refreshments and we got fruit as desserts and would bring them in also for snacking in line.

  2. Kelley says:

    This was a very helpful article. We are a family of 5 and planning to go to Disney in about a year and were wondering if the DDP is really worth the extra money. We are planning on staying at the Fort Wilderness Cabins, which have a kitchen and an outdoor grill, so we were thinking that maybe it would be more cost effective to call a grocery service like Garden Grocer and have them deliver groceries for the week. We could eat breakfast and dinner at the cabin and maybe have a quick service lunch in the parks. That would save us a lot of money. Has anyone else done this? I’d like to know how much money this would actually save us.

    • Cheryl W. says:

      We just got back from a five-night stay over spring break, and we had the DDP for the first time. We stayed in a Fort Wilderness cabin, also a first for us, since the cabins can accomodate 5 people, and we were trying to save money and not have to book two rooms.

      We arranged our travel package very last-minute through a travel agency, and the DDP was included, otherwise we probably would not have considered it.

      Now that we’ve given it a try, I can tell you how we made out with it. There definitely are pros and cons to the plan. Pros: Primarily convenience. No meal planning, food shopping, and cleanup. Cons: The plan offered more food than we really needed (entree, dessert and beverage for counter service and table service meals.) Also, sometimes we would have preferred an appetizer rather than dessert, but this isn’t allowed.

      There were several days where we were just too busy waiting in lines, going to and from and just trying to see and do everything to take the time to take advantage of all of the food we had allotted. (And we’re a family of foodies–we rarely forget a meal!) Also, you are getting a snack and two meals even on the day you check in, which for us, was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. We got dinner, and that was it, no need for the snack or the counter meal that day.

      Plus, often after a table meal, we weren’t hungry for anything else! Dinner reservations were hard to come by, so on two days, our table service meal was at lunchtime. Most portions at table service restaurants are ample–at least at Liberty Tree Inn (our favorite), Trail’s End (Fort Wilderness), Restaurant Marrakesh (Epcot), and Sanaa–and we just weren’t that hungry to be seeking out snacks and more food all day, and the frugal side of us didn’t want to use up our snack credits on bottled water in the park, so we brought our own in. Another drawback is the time it takes to get to and from the table service restaurant, and the time that sit-down meals take away from doing other things in parks–particularly in the middle of the day.

      Another thing to consider is how adventurous your kids are. Our ten-year-old was considered an adult on the plan. He really would have preferred the items on the kids’ menu, but he had to choose from the adult selections. (Some restaurants did offer him fries instead of whatever the listed side dish was, but he rarely ate the whole meal, and often didn’t want the included dessert either.)

      The adults in our group really enjoyed the meals we had, and exploring new restaurants, but if I had to do it again, I might go with the quick service meal plan only, then pay out of pocket for one or two restaurant meals. At the end of our stay, we still had unused meals (10 snacks and 7 quick service), which the staff at Trail’s End Restaurant (at Fort Wilderness) nicely suggested we use on items we could take home with us. Since we had a two-day drive ahead of us, take-out food was out, so we ended up converting our quick service meal credits to snack credits and taking home a rather costly bag of 5 bottled waters, 7 chocolate chip cookies, 2 carrot/celery stick snacks, 2 apple slice snacks, and one piece of chocolate cake that rang up to close to $90 had we had to pay for it at the register. Better than nothing I suppose.

      Bottom line, next time I might go with the quick service plan and plan to prepare some meals in the cabin. Or, if it were just my husband and me, our itinerary would be very different, and we might be able to make use of all of the meals on the plan. Consider the preferences of your family or group. Having our big meals at night would have probably made a difference too, if that had been possible to arrange. Definitely don’t get the plan if you think you will save money. For us, four out of the five days we were there, we ordered food totaling between $30 and $40 per person, and we did NOT go hungry! (I think the plan costs roughly $56 per person per day now.) The last day, realizing we needed to use up our remaining meal credits, we bought items totaling a little more than $60 per person, buying more drinks and snacks in the park just to use up what we had left.

      I think your plan makes a lot of sense! Wish we had heard of the different dining plan options and that we’d had more time to plan! Next time. . . 🙂 Hope this helps, and have a great trip!


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