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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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!!”
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 allears.net. 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.
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.”
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.”
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!”
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.
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.
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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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!
Disney’s Cheapskate Princess