Disney has done a great many things to make a vacation to Disney World a fun and easy experience. They have created options like the Magical Express to deal with transportation to the airport and FastPass to deal with standing in lines. Another area where Disney has worked hard to make things easy is with the Disney Dining Plan.
Like many of the options offered at Disney World, it takes a bit of research and analysis to figure out if the Disney Dining Plan is right for you.
Note that the information below is current as of mid-2012. Disney frequently changes the details of these plans, so make sure you are looking at recent information when you do your research and make your decision.
Types Of Meals In Disney Speak
Before you can understand the various options of the Disney Dining Plan itself, it is important to understand the types of meals that Disney offers.
Table Service Meal – This is a meal that you enjoy at a sit-down restaurant. It normally requires an advanced reservation. A meal at table service location includes an entrée, a dessert, and a nonalcoholic beverage.
Quick Service Meal – This is a meal where you go up to a counter, order your food, and then get it right away. There is no waiter or waitress involved. Outside of Disney Property, you might refer to this as “fast food”. The meal at a quick service location includes an entrée, a dessert, and a nonalcoholic beverage.
Snack –Just as you might expect, a snack is a quick bite to eat. It includes things like popcorn, fruit, ice cream bars, pastries, and many other food items that are quick and easy to eat.
Refillable Mug – This is a plastic mug you can use at your Disney resort hotel food court. You can get as much soda, coffee, and tea in your mug – but only at your hotel.
Types Of Dining Plans In Disney Speak
There are three levels of dining plan:
Disney Quick Service Dining Plan
What you get: The quick service plan includes two quick service meals and one snack per person per night of stay at Disney World.
Who it’s good for: This entry level plan is good for people on the go, or those who aren’t big eaters.
Disney Dining Plan
What you get: The dining plan includes one table service meal, one quick service meal, and one snack per person per night of stay.
Who it’s good for: This mid range plan is typically the most popular option. This plan offers for some flexibility as well as a chance to enjoy some higher-end meals at nicer restaurants.
Disney Deluxe Dining Plan
What you get: With the deluxe dining plan you get three meals per night of stay. The meals may be either table service meals or quick service meals. You also get two snacks per person per night of stay.
Who it’s good for: The deluxe plan is the most expensive and provides the most flexibility. It’s best suited to people who plan to eat three full meals per day. Given its structure, it is also good for people who want to take advantage of more expensive dining options like dinner shows and signature meals (meaning meals at the more expensive restaurants). See the section “Using Multiple Meal Credits” below for more details on that.
All three dining plan levels include a refillable mug for each person in your party.
How The Disney Dining Plan Works
When you check in at your Disney resort hotel, you will be given a room key which not only unlocks your resort hotel room but also contains your Disney world park tickets and the automated tracking of your dining plan usage.
Whenever you go to a Disney Restaurants, the Cast Member will ask if you are on a Disney Dining Plan. When you place your order, you give the Disney Cast Member the room key of each person in your party. They will swipe your room key to deduct the meal credits from your dining plan. For each meal, your receipt will show the number of dining credits you have remaining. All the tracking is automated and done for you.
Using Multiple Meal Credits
You can use two table service dining credits to enjoy a dinner show or a signature dining meal.
The dinner shows includes things like the Spirit Of Aloha dinner show at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, or the Hoop-De-Doo Musical Revue or Mickey’s Backyard Barbeque Dinner Show at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort.
Remember that the credits you earn are based on the number of nights you are staying, not the number of days you are staying.
If you have three snack credits left at the end of your stay, you can make a stop at a Disney snack location and pile up on cookies of fruit to take home with you.
Be sure to call 180 days in advance to make dining reservations. Reservations go fast at the most popular locations, and go fast everywhere during busy time periods. You would hate to have credits and no dining reservations with which to use them.
Is The Dining Plan A Good Deal?
This is a question that can be debated endlessly: is the dining plan a good deal? But really, that’s not the question to answer. The question to answer is this: is the dining plan a good deal for YOU?
Several years ago, the Disney dining plan was a truly valuable financial deal. It was a good way to save big bucks on your food at Disney World. Over time, however, Disney has adjusted the terms of the plan and it is typically not as good a financial deal as it was in the past.
In order to know if it is really a good deal for you, you would need to calculate the expected cost of your meals compared to the cost of the dining plan. That can be quite a complicated exercise – especially since you might not know precisely what you want to eat and how often when you’re on your vacation.
Generally speaking, people choose the dining plan when they want convenience. If they don’t want to worry about carrying cash and watching the prices on individual menu items, the dining plans provide a carefree way to enjoy food. The dining plan can also be a good deal if you are someone who loves to eat and never misses a meal.
Aside from those situations, however, the dining plan is often not a good monetary value these days. Even if you receive a “free” dining plan, you normally get that perk as a tradeoff for paying full undiscounted rates for your room.
Dining Plan Bottom Line
All that said, unless you purchase a dining plan and end up eating very little, these plans may not end up being a bargain but they won’t end up breaking the bank either. If you’re looking for plenty of food or convenience, spring for a dining plan. Otherwise, consider just paying as you go.