Saving money with the Disney Dining plan

Mickey Cupcakes

Prior to 2005, when Disney World introduced the Magic Your Way packages, Disney didn’t really offer a dining plan for it’s many restaurants in the theme parks and resorts of Walt Disney World. Yes, of course, they had the Silver, Gold and Platinum plans, but very few people could afford them, as they included all your meals, as well as entertainment, tours and other events. They never were meant to be a money saver, more of a convenience for those who wanted everything covered in their package, and didn’t really care what the cost was.

With the 2005 introduction of the Disney Dining plan, and the 2008 release of the Disney Deluxe dining plan, Disney World has two true dining plans that cover your meals while at Disney World, while not being forced to pay for anything else that you might not want. So, great, they offer a dining plan or two, but I thought MouseMisers was about helping me save money on my Disney vacation! Just read on to find out how you can save money on your Disney vacation by purchasing the Disney Dining plan.


So, what exactly is the Disney Dining plan?

Walt Disney World has over 125 restaurants spread out between 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 25+ resorts and Downtown Disney. The Disney Dining plan gives you access to just about all of these restaurants, along with their full menus. So, what exactly is included? For each night of your stay, each person in your party age 3 and older will receive:

  • One table service meal per person
  • One counter service meal per person
  • One snack per person

What does that all mean?

A table service meal would be any character meal or restaurant that offers a buffet, or where you order from a menu at a table. When ordering from a menu, your meal would include an entree, dessert and drink for each person in your family. You are free to order basically anything onon the menu, your waiter will explain if anything is excluded (many restaurants offer a dessert that is a sample platter, which is usually not included). Please note that gratuities are not included, so please remember that as you plan and dine.

The table service meal is available to use at most sit down restaurants. There are a few restaurants that Disney has deemed to be “signature” restaurants, and you can still use the dining plan there, but instead of paying one table service meal “credit” per person, it is double the cost, two credits per person. The list of all table service and signature restaurants can be found on the brochure below.

A counter service meal is where you walk up to a counter, and order your meal, similar to a fast food restaurant if you wish. Each counter service meal would include an entree, side, dessert and drink for each person.

A snack is typically a bottle of coke, an ice cream bar or popcorn. Many restaurants offer other items that can be considered a snack, just look for the square purple and white dining plan logo to tell you if it is included or not.

The great thing about the dining plan is that it is very flexible, when you check into your Disney resort, you are given all of your credits at that time, and your room key acts as a sort of debit card each time you eat, deducting each meal or snack from your pile of credits. After each meal, you will get a receipt showing you how many of those types of meals/snacks you have remaining, and it is your job to make sure you use all of them before you head home, you can’t take them home with you. So, if your kids (or you) want to eat all of their snacks the day you arrive, technically, it is no problem.

The cost of the 2008 Disney dining plan is $38.99 per night per adult (10 and older) and $9.99 per night per child (3 – 9), and is based on the number of nights you are staying. Please remember that each person in your room must be on the same dining plan (or no dining plan at all), you cannot pick and choose who will be on it. There is no cost for kids under the age of three for the dining plan, but be aware that you will not get any food for them at the restaurants. The only exception is restaurants that are buffets, they will be allowed to have their own plate and own food if you wish. If an item is not included in the plan, or you want to order something extra such as an appetizer, you will be billed for them along with the tip at the end of the meal.

That sounds good, but what does the Deluxe Dining plan include?

If you don’t think the Disney dining plan will be enough food for your family, consider the Deluxe dining plan. For each night of your stay, you will receive:

  • Three meals per person
  • Two snacks per person

The meals can be either counter service or table service meals, it doesn’t matter how you use them, it is totally up to you. Disney does not keep track or regulate how many of each type you use. The same rules apply for table service, counter service and snacks under both plans, and gratuities are not included under the deluxe plan either.

Many people who choose to the deluxe dining plan opt to eat at quite a few of thee signature restaurants during their stay, and with each signature meal taking up two of the meals, that leaves them one other meal and two snacks to use for breakfast and lunch.

The 2008 deluxe dining plan is $69.99 per night per adult (10 and above) and $19.99 per night per child (3 – 9), and again, everyone in your room must be either on the plan or not.

These seem a bit expensive, can I really save money with the Disney Dining plan?

For most people, the answer is yes. Just ask yourself this question:

Do I plan on doing one table service meal each day while at Walt Disney World?

If your plan is to eat as cheaply as possible each day, by either doing just counter service restaurants or sneaking in your own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, then the dining plan is not for you. You will not be saving money.

If you are like most park guests, and do a character meal with the kids or a nice sit down dinner, the dining plan is perfect for you. Here is a sample day for a family of four (both kids are in the 3 – 9 age range):

Lunch – Tangierine Cafe, Epcot

Chicken & Lamb Schwarma platter – $13.99
Lamb Meditteranean Wrap – $9.99
2 soft drinks – $2.09 each
2 desserts – $2.50 each
2 kids meals – $6.95 each
Total cost with tax: $50.12

Snacks – 4 Mickey head ice cream bars ($2.50 each) – $10.65

Dinner – Le Cellier, Epcot
Le Cellier Mushroom Filet Mignon – $29.99
Herb crusted Prime Rib – $24.99
2 soft drinks – $2.99 each
2 desserts – $5.99 each
2 kids meals – $7.99 each
Total cost with tax: $94.70

Total cost for the day: $155.47. The cost of the dining plan for this family is $95.96 per night, so just this one day, they saved nearly $60 on their food bill. I purposely did not choose the most expensive items on the menus, so the savings could be more. It could also be less, depending on which restaurants you choose.

How do I make sure I save money when I buy the Disney Dining plan?

There are a few tips that can ensure that you get the most out of the dining plan.

  1. Plan early. Make sure you plan as early as possible, many of the restaurants, especially those that are great deals on the dining plan, fill up months in advance. Dining reservations can be made 180 days in advance of the day you check in for your vacation by calling 407-WDW-DINE, or if you are lucky, your travel agent will do it for you. Do not wait to make reservations, once you know you are going to Disney World, get the reservations made, and adjust later on if needed.
  2. Eat your table service meal at dinner time. Many of the table service restaurants offer lunch, but the portions, and costs, are smaller.
  3. Use your counter service meal at lunch time. Breakfast tends to be a lot cheaper than lunch at many restaurants, and many people can just grab something quick for breakfast, and that doesn’t work as well for lunch.
  4. Look around for snack options. As mentioned before, many restaurants and food courts offer snack options in addition to the standard bottle of Diet Coke or popcorn.
  5. Avoid character meals. While fun, character meals are a fairly poor use of the plan. I usually plan on doing one each trip, it is enough for my kids to enjoy the experience, but not get bored with them.
  6. Understand what is included. The Disney dining plan can be confusing, don’t be afraid to ask your waiter what is or is not included. They deal with the plan all day long every day, and know exactly what you can or cannot do, and are usually very helpful in helping you get the most out of the plan.
  7. Read the brochure. Disney has a great brochure all about the dining plan, including all the restaurants on the plan, how to use it, etc. Take the few minutes to read it before you start your planning. There is a link below to download the brochures.
  8. Use all your credits. If you leave for home with a bunch of credits still on your room key, you probably didn’t save much money by purchasing the dining plan.

What about the Deluxe Dining plan, will I still save money?

For most people, the deluxe dining plan is overkill, too much food, too much time required to eat all those meals, etc. Under some circumstances, the deluxe dining plan may work better for you, depending on what your dining plan looks like. Imagine the example above, where the cost for two meals and a snack was around $155. With a nightly cost of about $180 for the family on the deluxe plan, and one more meal and snack to use, it doesn’t take much to break even and start saving money. Before upgrading to the deluxe plan, make sure it works for you.

I like saving money and all, but are there other reasons to do the Dining plan?

For me, the money savings is great, and one of the main reason why I do the dining plan each trip. However, there are a few other reasons why I choose to pay for my meals in advance:

  1. Budget – I know going in roughly what my total food costs are going to be for my entire trip. There aren’t going to be any big surprises, and I am not going to run out of food money half way through the trip.
  2. Pre-paid - It sure is nice to have all your meals pre-paid, before you even get to the parks. You don’t have to worry about what you are going to order once at the restaurants. Without the dining plan, you may really, really want the $30 steak, but you end up ordering the $12 pasta instead to save a bit of money. Plus, now I don’t have to fight the kids over what they order, whether it is macaroni and cheese or a steak with lobster, it doesn’t effect my cost.
  3. Convenience – The dining plan is very easy to use, and I don’t have to worry about carrying around a bunch of cash or credit cards, just my room key.
  4. Nicer Restaurants – what typically happened before the dining plan existed is that we would have plans to eat at a nice restaurant for dinner, and then I start thinking about the enormous cost for our family just for dinner, and how much cheaper it would be to eat hamburgers instead, so we would go with the hamburgers. The dining plan allows you to eat at nicer restaurants than you normally would.

Where can I get more information about the Disney Dining plans?

Disney Dining - great website with up to date information about the Disney dining plans, where the best restaurants are to eat at to get a great deal, and all the restaurants included on the plan.
Disney World Menus – full menus of all the restaurants at Disney World, a great way to start your planning
Disney Dining Plan brochure – this is the official brochure, be warned, it is a big download (PDF file)
Deluxe Dining Plan brochure – again, a bit larger than the standard plan brochure, so it might take a while (PDF file)

To book a Magic Your Way package with the Disney Dining plan, or Deluxe Disney Dining plan, contact our great sponsor Mouseketrips.

Comments

  1. jesicawabbit says

    I am looking for the eat for free while staying on the resort properties, for late summer or ealry fall. andy codes out there yet?

  2. Keith says

    jesicawabbit

    Aren’t we all? Disney World is working on discounts for April/May right now, won’t see anything for this Fall until sometime after the current discount has expired. My guess would be early April for a release date, so check back in a month or so.

  3. lmamar says

    if my memeory serves me, you can book a package now, then apply the discount code later for reimbursement for the dinig! Thats what i do.

  4. Kristie says

    We are taking our first trip to Disney World with our 3 year old!!! We are so exciting. I am getting so many good tips by really “planning ahead.” My question is do you do a dining plan if you are staying off property?

    • Keith says

      Kristie – The Disney Dining plans are only available if you are staying at a Disney hotel. If you are staying off property, you are on your own.

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