The Disney Dining Plan is one of the many add-on options when would-be Disney vacationers book a Magic Your Way vacation package.
Most people feel very strongly either one way or the other about the DDP, so today we’re going to talk about who should and shouldn’t get the Disney Dining plan.
What is the DDP
Before we get started, let me explain exactly what the DDP is.
In fact, there are three kinds of dining plans, including:
Quick Service Dining Plan – typically for guests staying at the Disney Value Resorts,
Standard Disney Dining Plan – what’s included in Free Dining for moderate, deluxe, and Deluxe Villa Resorts,
Deluxe Disney Dining Plan – available for purchase anytime or for upgrade with the Free Dining option.
Let’s take a look at who should and shouldn’t get the DDP!
Who should get the DDP?
The Disney Dining Plans(s) can be really great for some people!
Like to eat: The DDP offers a lot of food. Even the Quick-Service Plan (commonly referred to as QSP) allows two counter-service meals and two snacks per night; the higher plans include a counter-service and a table-service or three credits you can use however you want to with two snacks per night for each plan. At the standard level, this means two meals and two snacks per day. Even if you use one of these snacks for breakfast, that’s still a lot of food. If you like to eat three meals a day, then the Disney Dining plan is for you and it may save you some money!
If you plan to use one of your snack credits for breakfast, you can maximize the value of those credits. This is a much better use of the snack credit than, say, picking up a Mickey-shaped rice crispy treat, which has a significantly lower value than, say, something at Starbucks!
Pay ahead: One really great advantage of the DDP, and perhaps the biggest one in my opinion, is that you can pay ahead of time for your meals. Plenty of people like that this allows them to know for sure how much of their budget food will take up. If this is you, even if you end up paying a bit more than what you would out of pocket, the DDP is a good option for you!
Reduce stress: Likewise, if you would stress about every dollar you spent out of pocket and choose not to eat certain items or even entire meals because you don’t want to spend the money, the Disney Dining Plan takes the stress out of dining because you can pay ahead and then just enjoy your trip without worrying about the money – just use your credits!
Pick expensive items: If you want to do mostly table-service dining, you plan to eat the most expensive items on the menu, and you will use up all your credits, the DDP will save you a bit of money. This includes dining at the finer restaurants. In this case, choose the Disney Dining Plan (as opposed to the QSP or the Deluxe plan).
Festivals: If you are visiting Disney World during one of the Epcot festivals, you could also save money with the Disney Dining Plan. All around World Showcase during the festivals, marketplaces are set up to sell event-specific small plates and drinks, and they all count as snacks. One really convenient thing about the DDP is that you can use your credits however and whenever you want even on different days. If you can stockpile your snack credits from previous days, you can use all your snack credits on your Epcot day. Many of these snacks are enough for an entire meal, and they cost up to $10 each, which is much more expensive than even anything you could get at Starbucks.
Finally, it’s important to realize that even paying ahead of time for your DDP doesn’t mean you won’t pay anything out of pocket. While taxes are covered, you still have to pay out of pocket for tips at table-service restaurants. This wouldn’t apply for those on the QSP, but for all other guests, tips will be extra.
Who shouldn’t get the DDP?
Adding alcohol: Disney recently added alcohol as a beverage option. Guests on any of the three plans can opt for a specialty beverage, which could be something like a milkshake or a beer, wine, cider, or cocktail. You might be saying, “I don’t drink alcohol, but I like milkshakes”. That’s a valid argument, but you will get the most bang for your buck if you choose the alcohol option for your beverage since alcoholic beverages are the most expensive beverages. I’m certainly not encouraging drinking to excess, but a mixed drink costs more than a milkshake – that’s just the math.
Small meals: As I mentioned above, the DDP almost forces you to eat lots of food each day. If you prefer smaller meals or are satisfied with meal-like snacks, you will most definitely lose money on the DDP. The same idea also applies if you prefer to grab your food and go, in which case the only DDP that would make sense for you (if at all) would be the QSP since there are no table-service credits.
Avoid waste: Along the same lines, if you don’t like to waste food (and money), you will likely shed a tear with every meal if you get the DDP. Even some quick-service meals are large portions, so if you don’t eat a lot, you will waste food (and money!).
Skip combos: What’s more, if you like to order exactly what you want instead of being forced into a “combo”, the DDP isn’t for you. DDP meals include an entrée, a side, a drink, and a dessert. If you want two sides or don’t want dessert with every meal, you will end up ordering food that you don’t want, and you might even end up paying out of pocket for that extra side.
Off-property: If you are spending any of your vacation off property – even one day – the DDP is not a good idea for you. You will, essentially, waste an entire day of credits, and it will be very difficult to catch up on the following days.
Away from the resort: Similarly, if you don’t plan to spend much time at your resort, the included refillable mug will lose its value since these mugs can only be refilled at the Disney resort hotels and not in the parks. Sure, you can fill it in the morning before you leave for the parks and refill it at any of the Disney Resort Hotels, but if you plan to be at the parks from sun up to sun down, the mug won’t be a very benefit.
Vegetarians: If you are vegetarian, you definitely want to avoid the DDP. Vegetarian meals cost much less than the pricey steak, and you will end up paying more for your meals that you would out of pocket. This is also true for people who prefer pasta or chicken dishes. If you’re not going to order the most expensive item on the menu, the DDP will not save you money and might end up actually costing you more than paying out of pocket.
In conclusion, the Disney Dining Plan has some notable benefits, but you have to consider your own eating habits and whether it will actually save you money. In fact, it takes a good bit of planning and effort to use all of your credits [wisely], and some people think it’s more stress than it’s worth.
Others find pre-paying to be less stressful.
It’s also worth mentioning that Disney World restaurants have changed their menus to accommodate the DDP, so it’s harder to order only what you want. This might be a reason to get the DDP, except that all prices have increased according to these accommodations. What’s more, you also want to consider each vacation separately; even if you used the DDP on your last vacation, the price increases and menu changes might mean that the DDP doesn’t make sense for your next vacation.
Finally, if you can get the DDP for free, the value suddenly increases dramatically. But that being said, if there are other discounts (like a room rate discount) available, you’ll want to weigh your options to make sure that the DDP is indeed the best discount you can take for your vacation. You cannot double dip and take more than one discount when booking a vacation package.
Disney Dining Plan: a good deal or a waste of money?