Updated for 2015!
Ask a group of seasoned Disney visitors about paying out-of-pocket for the Disney Dining Plan, and you are guaranteed to spark a pretty good debate. Many people love it, while others refuse to pay, only using the dining plan when they can get it during a free promotion. It’s hard to argue with that logic, as every Cheapskate Princess loves FREE! But what do you do if the free option falls outside of your travel window? Do you pay for your own food whenever you feel like it, or do you pay for the Disney Dining Plan in advance of your vacation?
Resort guests who purchase a Magic Your Way Package or book using Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points can purchase The Disney Dining Plan (DDP). With the dining plan, you simply purchase a certain number of meals on a “voucher system.” Every night of your stay, each guest on your reservation receives an allotment of quick service meals, table service meals and snacks. The number of meals you receive depends on the dining plan you choose.
Your Key to the World card (room key) monitors your group’s allocated meals. After you finish your meal, your receipt will display how many meals you have remaining for each room (not per guest), which allows you to keep track of what you have left. Meals and snacks may be redeemed in any order during your stay until the balance is at zero or until midnight of the night you check out.
The Disney Dining Plans come in three types. Magic Your Way Package Plus Quick Service Dining, Magic Your Way Package Plus Dining and Magic Your Way Package Plus Deluxe Dining.
These are prices for the 2015 dining plans. Each price is per night. Going by Disney rules, adults are people 10 years and over, and children are ages 3 to 9. A ten-year-old may not be an adult in your house, certainly not in mine either, but they are viewed as adults at Walt Disney World. Maybe it’s time to send grown up Jr. (age 10) out to mow the grass before you leave?!
Quick Service Dining
2 quick service meals, 1 snack, 1 refillable mug
$41.99 per adult, $16.03 per child
1 table service meal, 1 quick service meal, 1 snack, 1 refillable mug
$60.04 per adult, $19.23 per child
3 meals – any combination of table service and quick service, 2 snacks, 1 refillable mug
$109.53 per adult, and $29.86 per child
We asked our Cheapskate Princess Facebook Fans what they thought about paying for the DDP; their answers can help you plan your next Disney vacation!
No – Do Not Purchase the Plan
Vegetarian Options are Limited
Lisa, “No, we don’t because we are vegetarian, and the dining options are very limited. It’s mostly the meat dishes that are expensive.”
Too Much Food
Stefanie, “We tried the dinning plan, and we decided it wasn’t for us until our son decides to eat more. I ended up sharing with him a lot. Disney does know how to fill a plate! We never left hungry!”
Stacey, “We have done it both ways, and the dining plan is just way too much food for us. We don’t want a dessert with every meal. It is just cheaper for us to pay out-of-pocket and get what we want rather than purchase the dining plan.”
Food Costs Less with No Dining Plan
Erica, “I took my three youngest kids in April, and due to their ages, Disney wanted $200 a day for the dining plan. We spent less than that for the entire three days we were there.”
Tammi, “When we don’t get the dining plan for free, it just does not make sense. We normally never eat desert, etc. When we have it, we eat two times as much as we normally would.”
Liz, “We didn’t even get it free this time. The Room Only discount made more sense financially for us. The first time we went, we paid for Deluxe Dining, and what a mistake that was! Way too much food and way too much time spent getting to and from restaurants. This trip in September, we are paying out-of-pocket for food. We made a few ADRs but not many. We will eat breakfast in our room most days, and we will eat what we want, when we want, from counter service spots. My back-of-the-envelope calculations/estimates have us paying just over half what we would have for the dining plan.“
Jennifer, “We don’t purchase the dining plan, because there’s just two of us. We feel like it’s not worth the price, because we share a lot of food, and we don’t want to be ruled by reservations and desserts! We end up eating wayyyy more when we have the dining plan, and it kind of drags me down. So we just eat when we are hungry, and we save a lot of money.”
Freedom from Constant ADR Scheduling
Salina, “We pay out of pocket for our food. We are big eaters, but we always do much better paying as we go! Then we can have a few sit down and character meals and not have to have a sit down meal every day. Our kids want to go go go!”
Yes – Pay for the Dining Plan
Given the cost of the dining plan, it always somewhat surprises me people are willing to spend that much money on food. But the beauty of a Disney vacation is that no particular vacation plan is right for every family. Some people go to Disney to experience all the amazing cuisine WDW has to offer, and the DDP is a great way for Disney foodies to whoop it up.
Mendi and Nick, “The dining plan may be our favorite Disney perk. That is where they hide the magic.”
Tammy, “We’ve done it both ways – free and out-of-pocket. On our last trip, we did four nights at Disney World, (three days in park,) then Disney cruise, and then back to the parks for two days. So we got a Five day Magic Your Way with dining. The dining worked for the first part of the trip, but for the last part after the cruise, that was out of pocket. We were using the ‘leftover’ two days of park tickets and paid for a hotel at the Art of Animation. After always having the dining plan, paying out-of-pocket was very different. We said then that we would never pay out-of-pocket without the dining plan again ( if our stay allowed.) It just makes things so much more simpler and a little easier on your budget, if you plan on eating in ‘the world.'”
It Saves You $
Jordan, “Last November we chose to go with the upgraded (free) dining. We kept receipts and did the math. If you plan to do character meals, and ever consider doing desserts (even though most of ours ended up coming back to the room with us,) then paying full price for the dining would be worth it. You do come out saving some money. But if you pay for it, then for sure use it. If you want that 25$+ steak, then have it because then you really get your money worth.”
Nancy, “Before we started staying on property, we paid for meals with cash. Now when we stay on property, we use the deluxe dining. It totally saves money! Especially since we do a lot of character and signature meals. We feel it is definitely worth it!
Relax- It’s Paid for in Advance!
One big reason many people choose to purchase the dining plan in advance is because it takes a lot of worry over pricing out of your hands. Why worry about looking at prices, because it’s already paid for?
Randy, “We have used the regular dining plan since our children reached their upper teens. We park hop and most days and nights, we plan to be back at Epcot for lunch or dinner, even if we are taking advantage of Extra Magic Hours at another park. For us, knowing that a table service meal each day is paid for allows us to try a new restaurant each time we vacation, and yet we still get to enjoy our favorites… LeCellier and Via Napoli.”
Amy, “Yes! We did character dining each day plus Ohana for dinner. That added up. We didn’t have to think about prices, we ordered what we wanted. It made dining so simple and care free.”
Julie, “I have payed out-of-pocket because I love the dining plan; it affords me the opportunity to pre pay my food and eat whatever I want! The no-worries feeling helps us enjoy our vacation much more!
Melanie, “We just got back last week, and I did pay for it. I tracked all our expenses and we broke even, actually it was a little bit of a deal for us. I like the fact that my meals are paid for in advance. That’s one less expense to think about on the trip, since I have to think about tips.”
Most people who seem to really talk up paying for the dining plan are people who know for certain they will go to character meals.
Amanda, “We are making our first ever trip in December with our daughter. She will turn five while we are there. We are paying for the dining plan, because we plan to take full advantage of character dining and special dining. It would cost too much to pay for all of it without the plan.”
Melissa, “It depends. If you plan on doing character dining, then the dining plan pays for itself! I’ve done both; I think you can eat cheaper, and there are some really great quick service options. I’m not just talking burgers and fries here! My kids are spoiled though, and I must admit, so is their mom. We need our character interactions!”
Kelly, “We are DVC members, so we ALWAYS pay for the dining plan out-of-pocket. Going with two teenage boys, the dining plan is worth it. When they were younger, the dining plan allowed us to enjoy ALL of the character meals. The price of one character meal was usually equal to one person’s dining plan for our trip. When it is just my husband and I, we don’t usually purchase the dining plan because it isn’t worth it for just the two of us. We have friends that only go when there is free dining. So, my advice is, if it is only two adults and they aren’t big eaters, or not interested in trying some of the finer dining offered by Disney, then I say pass. But, if you have small children that love the characters it is worth paying for.”
Bring Your Snacks Home
Bridget, “We pay for the dining plan. We are DVC members, so I have to pay for it, but with character meals, it pays for itself. My daughter loves Chef Mickey. If we have left over snacks or quick service items, we bring stuff home to enjoy once we are back to real life.”
Judy, “The last three times I have visited Disney, we have paid for the dining plan, and I feel it was totally worth it. If you look at the cost of what meals would cost without it, and compare it to what you get with the meal plan, you can see that it pays. At many counter service and table service meals, you can get a meal and a dessert, or an appetizer and a meal. When we didn’t use the dining plan, I would normally skip the appetizer or dessert. Then if you add in all the character meals that you can attend, it definitely pays for itself. If I didn’t do the meal plan, I would only do one character meal. But since we purchased the plan this last time we visited last summer, and it was kids first time visiting, we were able to do three different character meals. At the end if the week, we had so many meals left over, so we used them to get snacks for traveling home. The other advantage I have found is that we try restaurants and meals that we would not normally try if we were paying for the meal out-of-pocket, like Tandouri chicken at Sanaa in Animal Kingdom Lodge.”
Remember the Tip at Table Service Meals
And remember, table service meals at Disney World come with a steep tipping cost added in for larger groups. Large by Disney numbers is any party over six people.
Melissa, “We purchase the dining plan, but it’s almost impossible to figure out if it’s truly a cost savings. We kept all our receipts, but the problem is that we ordered differently than we would if we were paying out-of-pocket, so it was really impossible to do a cost savings analysis. There is one thing to watch out for; if you have a group of more than six people, you pay an 18% mandatory gratuity on the ticket price of the meal. So, all those free desserts and free drinks, etc., start to add up. For our group of nine people for nine days with 2-3 table service meals per day, the meal plan cost roughly $5,ooo, but we paid over $1800 on top of that in gratuities for the trip. It was NUTS! Again, the gratuity is based on the ‘ticket price’ of your meals, not the cost of the dining plan. (18% of the dining plan would only have been $900). I would never do the dining plan for large groups for this reason, because it gets out of control. The ‘freebies’ aren’t free.”
Also, an automatic gratuity charge may also be added to your bill for items you order that are not included in the Disney Dining Plan, like alcoholic beverages.
I’m all about being a cheapskate, but if you can’t afford to tip, then you should be dining at counter service restaurants. We travel with five “adults,” so that’s where you’ll find our family.
For a much more in-depth look at the entire Disney Dining Plan, use this link. Thanks for stopping by, and we’ll see you waiting for your character meal reservation time.
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