5 Steps for Planning a Disney Vacation: A Cheapskate Princess Guide

steps for planning a Disney vacation

Updated for 2018!

So the family has been discussing taking your first Disney World vacation, but you don’t really know where to start? That’s totally understandable, because Disney World is a HUGE place, and the different options you have to customize your trip can seem endless. We’re going to help you get that planning in full swing with five big decisions you’ll need to face as you make your way to Orlando, and we’ll do it with finances in mind. 

Read: Ten and 1/2 Tips for 1st Time Walt Disney World Visitors


Step #1 – When Will You Travel?

This is usually one of the hardest decisions to make when planning a vacation. You have to coordinate everyoneʼs schedule and then try to find dates that match up with low prices, weather, and crowds.


For prices, Disney has several seasons that they consider “value,” which is the least expensive season to travel. The problem with Value Season is school will be in session, and there just are not many days that qualify. These are the dates for 2018 are as follows: 

  • January 2 to February 10, with the exception of Martin Luther King weekend
  • August 27-31
  • September 4-6, 10-13, 17-20, 24-27
  • October 1-4, 29-31
  • November 1, 12-15, 26-29

The next least expensive season is Moderate, with days in the fall. To see the calendar for the remainder of 2018, use this link. 

To Save Money, Visit Disney World During Value Season

These are the best times of year to visit the Walt Disney World Resort if you are looking for low prices. The closer you get to most holidays – summer break, spring break, and especially Christmas break – the higher prices will go. If school is in session, you will typically pay less money. 


There are several seasons in Orlando; locals jokingly call them hot, really hot, and “stay inside” seasons. Here are the average temperatures in Orlando if weather will be a factor in your planning.

Read: 10 Things They Forgot to Mention About Walt Disney World Vacations

Climate Data for Disney Vacation in Orlando


These two articles give you the “best” and “worst times of year to visit WDW in terms of crowds and overall craziness at the theme parks. Hint: if school is in session, crowds will be lower than normal. When the kids are out on vacation, this is the scheduling-best and yet “worst” time to travel to Disney. Crowds levels are connected with accommodation prices in many ways – during the busy times at the parks, prices are generally higher.

What Are the 5 Worst Times to Vacation at Walt Disney World?

What Are the Best Times to Visit Walt Disney World?

When one-day ticket purchases went to a seasonal/tiered system, it was assumed that the holidays may be slightly less busy, seeing how some people may not want to pay higher prices during holidays. This in turn could make other seasons, less busy times of year, more busy as people avoid paying higher prices.

“Less busy” these days in terms or Disney World crowds simply means it’s just not super crazy/ three-hour wait times. Disney is a busy place all year ’round; it’s just crazy busy during major holidays and summer. 

Where will you stay at Disney World

Step #2 – Where Will You Stay?

The Walt Disney World Resort has twenty-five hotels, including Value, Moderate, Deluxe, Deluxe Villas, and a campsite. That sure is a lot of options for your family’s vacation. In deciding on a resort, you need to choose a location that fits your budget and will work with your familyʼs vacation plans and needs.

Rooming options range from $100 to $500 per night room as a starting point, and for time’s sake, we haven’t even really discussed the amenities you get with each level room. The more expensive the room, the more amazing perks you’ll receive.

 Value Resorts

  • least expensive accommodations but smallest sized rooms
  • meals: food courts, pizza delivery
  • two to three quiet and large pools
  • a lot of walking and can be really crowded during busy times of year

Moderate Resorts

  • medium priced rooms – medium-sized rooms
  • bus and sometimes boat transportation to theme parks
  • meals: food courts, pizza delivery, table service (except POFQ) lounge bar
  • most offer quiet and large pools with slides and hot tubs
  • expect to walk a fair amount

Deluxe/Deluxe Villas

  • amazing theming, most expensive accommodations, largest sized standard rooms, interior corridors
  • concierge and deluxe suite options available
  • compact locations, so less walking is required in most instances
  • bus, boat and monorail transportation to theme parks (AK is bus service only)
  • meals: food courts, pizza delivery, room service, table service, fine dining, character meals
  • quiet and large pools with slides, hot tubs & spas
  • other amenities: playgrounds, pool bar, boating, video game room, gift shop, kid clubs, babysitting, health clubs, valley parking, salons, some bunk beds

We’re given you the quickie version here, but this article is the prime resource we have for helping you decide which resort will be the best for you money.

Differences in the Disney World Resort Levels: A Cheapskate Guide

While Orlando is filled with hotels and resorts off Disney property, there are many reasons to stay right on-property with the Mouse.

10 Cheapskate Reasons to Vacation on Disney Property


Step #3 – Tickets!

If you chose one of the Deluxe resorts, you may not even need tickets with so many activities to do on property. But if you are headed to Orlando to visit the theme parks, then once you’ve narrowed down when to travel and picked out a place to stay, now you need to choose what sort of tickets you’ll need.

You need to determine how many days you plan to visit the amazing theme parks as well. We always suggest at least one “down day” of no park activity just to enjoy the resorts amenities and swimming pools.


What You Can NOT Wear to Walt Disney World Theme Parks


Disney offers several ticket options, starting with the Admission to One Park ticket, which is often called a base ticket. This is your starting point. Determine the number of days you want to visit the parks. This ticket allows you to enter one major theme park every day, although re-entry to the same park is allowed. You can add other options to this ticket. These are pre-tax prices for 2018.

Park Hopper Option

By adding this option, you can visit of the four major Walt Disney World theme parks for every day you have tickets. You can add the Park Hopper Option after you have started using your tickets if you realize you want to “park hop,” as in visit more than one park per day.

For adults, using a 4-day ticket as an example.

For children, using a 4-day ticket as an example.

Park Hopper Option

What’s new in recent years is the Park Hopper Plus option: this gives you water park and other fun opportunities.

Read: Disney World Water Parks: A Cheapskate Princess Guide


Step #4 – Purchase the Disney Dining Plan or Not?

Disney offers a food option to their packages called the Disney Dining Plan. There are three options:

  • Quick Service Dining Plan
  • Basic Dining Plan
  • Deluxe Dining Plan

Here is the 2018 cost per person per hotel night for each plan. Every plan comes with a refillable resort drink mug.

  • Quick Service (snack, 2 counter service meals)  Adult $44.13, Child $19.04

  • Standard (snack, 1 counter service meal, 1 full service meal) Adult- $63.70, Child $22.85

  • Deluxe (2 snacks, 3 counter or full service meals) Adult $115.08, Child $35.49

If you are looking to save money on food while you vacation, there are lots of alternatives to purchasing a dining plan, including eating in your resort room and bringing snacks/meals into the parks with you. You are allowed to bring snacks, drinks and coolers into all theme parks and resorts. Use this link for other item restrictions.

What Items Can You NOT Bring to Walt Disney World Theme Parks?

However, if you plan to enjoy any of the amazing Signature Dining experiences and Disney Character meals, then the Disney Dining Plan can save money over the cost of paying for your meals out-of-pocket.

Dining Plans allow many visitors to pre-pay for their food, so once they arrive in Orlando, they are not making meal decisions based on cost. As the cost of the meal plans have risen through the years, many seasoned travelers feel the meal plans are not the deal they used to be.  

best Disney Dining Plan

The Top 20 Best Disney Restaurants, So Says the Fans!

Step #5 – Other Plans?

Orlando has so much to offer besides Disney roller coaster rides. Some will require tickets but many will not. We have links to much more detailed information on some of these activities.

Will you visit Disney Springs, for dining, entertainment, and shopping?

23 FREE Activities at Disney Springs! 

Will you do some shopping at any of the other malls?

70% Off Disney Parks Authentic Merchandise? Cheapskate Bargains Galore!

Will you spend any time “resort hopping” = looking around the Disney Resorts?

Almost 130 FREE Walt Disney World Resort Activities!

For our most detailed article on entertaining yourself in Orlando mostly for free, use this link:

3 Days with No Orlando Theme Park Tickets; How We Survived and Thrived Almost for FREE!

mall of Millenia in Orlando

It’s almost as simple as that. Determine the following:

  • when you will travel and for how long
  • where you will stay
  • ticket preferences
  • meal plans or out-of-pocket meals
  • other plans beyond the theme parks?

And this is enough to get you started on your way to a magical Disney vacation, maybe not in a financial sense but certainly in an organizational direction.

For more ideas on Disney travel, we have an entire page of articles. Bookmark it and the just read at your convenience!

Vacation Planning Tips

Thanks for stopping by, and we’ll see you looking at your calendar, calculator in hand.

To see more of our Cheapskating Guides, use this link.

Amanda, Disney’s Cheapskate Princess


Now let our vacation planner help you plan your trip, totally for FREE!

Earn $20 Rewards for Vacation Referrals!

Use this link for a free no obligation vacation quote from Mike Ellis, our Disney Vacation Planner with Pixie Vacations.

Call Mike at 919-606-6725 or e-mail him at mike@pixievacations.com.



Should You Purchase the Disney Dining Plan?

Disney Dining Plan recommendations

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?

Walt Disney World’s Giant Turkey Leg; Gotta Have It or Skip it?

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

Regular Dining

1 table service meal, 1 quick service meal, 1 snack,  1 refillable mug

$60.04 per adult, $19.23 per child

Deluxe Dining

3 meals – any combination of table service and quick service,  2 snacks, 1 refillable mug 

$109.53 per adult, and $29.86 per child

I Completely Disliked Starbucks at Walt Disney World, Until This Happened…

should you get the Disney World Dining Plan

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!”

Where to Find FREE Disney World Snack and Drink Samples!

Disney Dining Plan Tips

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!

Disney World Food Tip #1: Why You Should Share Dessert

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.”

Are Disney World’s “Rapid Fill” Refillable Resort Mugs Worth the Cost?

Character Meals 

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.”

What Are the Top Three Character Meals at Walt Disney World?

Disney Dining Plan

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.”

information on the Disney Dining Plan

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.

Can’t Afford to Stay at This Pricey Disney Resort? Then Go Eat Here!

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.

Get a taste of the Dark Side

To see more of our Cheapskating Guides, use this link.

Amanda Major Cheapskate Princess


Disney’s Cheapskate Princess


Now let our vacation planner help you plan your trip, totally for FREE!

Earn $20 Rewards for Vacation Referrals!

Use this link for a free no obligation vacation quote from Mike Ellis, our Disney Vacation Planner with Pixie Vacations.

Call Mike at 919-606-6725 or e-mail him at mike@pixievacations.com.

Amanda Major CheapskatePrincess.comAmanda Major is the creator of cheapskateprincess.com. She remembers her first visit to Magic Kingdom like it was yesterday, because she had a ham sandwich tucked in her shorts pocket. The whole family snuck in their lunch; you can’t make that kinda stuff up. 40 years worth of trips to Orlando later, she is still trying to save money on vacations.

Amanda is a Disney Vacation Club Member and Annual Pass holder. Her amazing husband, band director Carl Major, plus three teen children and two dogs keep her busy. Amanda teaches Leadership to high school seniors in the almost-coastal town of Foley, Alabama. Read about her cheapskating local vacations with this link. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, walking somewhere, or paddling a kayak. Life is indeed a blast. 

We hope we can help save you some money too. Use this link for a free no obligation vacation quote from our Travel Consultant with Pixie Vacations, Mike Ellis. You can also e-mail him at mike@pixievacations.com.

Can a Cheapskate Princess Afford the Disney Dining Plan?

Disney Dining Plan

Updated for 2017

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 cannot leave work to travel during  the free dining dates, we just sit around and mope that we don’t get to eat for free.

Free Disney Dining…Is It Really Always 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) meal credits per night including non alcoholic beverage;
  • Two snack credits per night; and
  • A refillable drink mug per stay.

The current 2017 daily price of the Quick Service Plan is $48.19 per adult and $20.88 per child ages 3-9 for a stay during regular season. This is the lowest level for the dining plan.

Read: To Save Money on Disney World Food, Eat Breakfast Here!

Disney 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 credit per night including entree, dessert, and non alcoholic drink or full buffet;
  • One Quick Service Meal credit per night;
  • Two Snack credits per night; and
  • One  refillable drink mug per stay.

The current daily price per night for the Disney Dining Plan is $69.35 per adult and $24.95 per child for most times of the year. Children under three eat free from an adult’s plate. Your gratuity is not included for table service meals. Be sure to include this in your food budget as some guests get a surprise while on vacation. Two table service credits can also be used for signature restaurants, dinner shows, private dining, or pizza delivery.

Read: How to Score Free Drinks at Disney World’s Epcot!

Deluxe Disney Dining Plan

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

  • Three meal credits at your choice of Quick Service restaurants or table service restaurants per night. When using the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan, a Table Service Meal consists of an appetizer, entree, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage or one full buffet or family style meal;
  • Two snack credits per night; and
  • One refillable drink mug per stay.

The current daily price of the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan is $106.68 per adult and $38.75 per child during regular season. 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.

Disney Dining Plan

Should You Bring Your Own Snacks to Disney World to Save Money?

Want to see if the Disney Dining Plan is a good fit for you? Click HERE.

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 yourMagicBand  to your server or cashier just before you order. Your Magicband 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.
  • The Dining Plans can save you money if you plan to eat at the parks or resorts for every meal. Unless you plan on bringing food into the park or eat meals in your room then the dining plans will save you money.
  • A positive reason to get the dining plan is that you can pay for your meals ahead of time. This helps guests be able to save and budget for their meals while on vacation. You will already have everything paid before your vacation even starts. This helps you to not hemorrhage money while eating on your vacation.

We ask our  Facebook fans what they thought of actually paying for the Dining Plan. Here are their thoughts.

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!”

 Want to Save Money on Food at Disney World? Ziplocs Can Save You Cash!

Disney Dining Plan

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 it’s worth it. I’d rather pay for it up front and know I won’t have to pay for anything else other than 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 definitely 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!!”

 Read: Avoid These 10 Mistakes That Can Wreck a Disney World Vacation

Disney Dining Plan

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; and
  • 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 Allears.net., 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 quality food and trying new things. It works out really well, especially if you are traveling with kids and adults (like me) that like to do character dining 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.”

Want to Save Money on Food at Disney? Two Words: Kid’s Meals!

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.”

Disney Dining Plan

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!”

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!”

Read – Life Lessons with a Disney Twist: Teach Kids to Save Their Money

Disney Dining Plan

Jennifer explained her opinion, “We’ve been annual pass holders 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 looking at the 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. It might not work for every vacation, but run the numbers and you might be surprised that it can save you money in the long run.

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.

For a Fabulous Disney Meal, Make These Reservations ASAP!

Disney Dining Plan

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 Angelo for his fabulous dining photos.

To see more of our Cheapskating Guides, use this link.

Amanda Major Cheapskate Princess


Disney’s Cheapskate Princess


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Amanda Major CheapskatePrincess.comAmanda Major is the creator of cheapskateprincess.com. She remembers her first visit to Magic Kingdom like it was yesterday, because she had a ham sandwich tucked in her shorts pocket. The whole family snuck in their lunch; you can’t make that kinda stuff up. 40 years worth of trips to Orlando later, she is still trying to save money on vacations.

Amanda is a Disney Vacation Club Member and Annual Pass holder. Her amazing husband, band director Carl Major, plus three teen children and two dogs keep her busy. Amanda teaches Leadership to high school seniors in the almost-coastal town of Foley, Alabama. Read about her cheapskating local vacations with this link. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, walking somewhere, or paddling a kayak. Life is indeed a blast. 

We hope we can help save you some money too. Use this link for a free no obligation vacation quote from our Travel Consultant with Pixie Vacations, Mike Ellis. You can also e-mail him at mike@pixievacations.com.


Should You Bring Your Own Snacks to Disney World to Save Money?

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Updated for 2017!

If you ever brought your own snacks into the Disney World parks to save money, then you are definitely a Cheapskate Princess! I am constantly looking for ways to cut my food costs down while we vacation at Disney. I have eaten fries for dinner so I would have room for a snack later on that night. I have brought half a hamburger in a ziplock along with me in a backpack for a post-dinner yet pre-midnight-ice cream meal. I all about trying to save money on food so I can purchase take-home souvenirs

I asked Disney’s Cheapskate Princess Facebook fans if they brought snacks into Walt Disney World or purchased snacks in the parks. The overwhelming response was to bring your own snacks, but lots of fans brought snacks to save enough money to purchase Disney snacks at some point on the trip. Get your pen and pencil handy, because hopefully some of these tips can save you some money. [Read more…]