Disney Dining Plans Pros & Cons

cf5fe5b62e26e8efc49fccd8e07beb25_-jiminy-cricket-disney-disney-jiminy-cricket-clipart_236-559Last week we asked… You answered.   The best thing to buy from your online grocer is WATER.   Thank you, Holly A. for drenching us with your intellect. 

Now let’s see what we will find this week!

The Disney Dining Plan. Few add-ons to a Disney vacation elicit such passionate and differing opinions. While many in the Disney fan community believe that the Dining Plan has lost its value over the years, others continue to drink the kool-aid.  Your opinion about the DDP may depend on how you like to vacation and eat at Disney. Do you like all aspects of the trip paid up front to eliminate budgeting concerns during the trip? Do you prefer quick-serve meals? Character dining? Signature restaurants? All of these may factor into your opinion of the various Disney Dining Plans.

Rich here:

  1. Cost – Being a DVC member I really have not investigated the different dining options.   I know they exist, but really don’t have the interest in looking at them because of the cost of the dining plan.   I am sure that with the right restaurants it could be beneficial, but I do not have the time or energy to search and spreadsheet and make reservations until I get to a cost savings option.  
  2. Flexibility: I am a planner.   That is what I do. I like to plan my trips to a point, and then once I get into the swing of things, I change and adapt as I go.   I do not plan a table service meal every night, and between hanging with friends, going with the flow, and my new non-commando Disney attitude, I have learned to adjust as I go, I don’t want to be locked into being somewhere at a certain time, all the time.
  3. Budgeting: When it comes to vacation I like to budget.   The more I can prepare for and prepay the happier I will be.   I like the fact that when you go on vacation all your meals will be paid for, and that there will more food available to me than I can possibly eat in a week.

Amanda, what say you?

Amanda here:

  1. Good – Budgeting: If you’re someone who likes to know exactly how much your vacation will cost, the Disney Dining Plan may be a good option. Since you pre-pay for dining before you leave (except for tips for your sit-down meals), you have a pretty clear idea how much your vacation will cost. It also allows you to pay for dining in small increments as you find extra money in your budget so that you can vacation debt-free. I think for people who follow Dave Ramsey or use other, similar, budgeting plans, this may provide peace of mind. No need to calculate the cost of each meal to make sure you’re staying in budget.
  2. Lack of flexibility: Not only does using the Disney Dining Plan force you to plan out sit-down meals in advance, it controls what food you may order at those meals. Counter service meal? You get an entree and non-alcoholic beverage. Sit-down meal? You get an entree, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage. You prefer to eat 2 appetizers and skip dessert? Nope. Want a salad instead of dessert? Nope. Like to enjoy a nice cold beer with dinner instead of your fountain soda? You can pay for it but you’re wasting the drink component of your pre-paid dining plan. The one time I traveled with “free” dining, I found myself with tons of snack credits left over and lots of unexpected out of pocket expenses when the way I like to eat didn’t match up with the rules….
  3. Character buffets: If the goal of your Disney dining experience is to maximize your character dining experience, the dining plan may be for you. Buffets are outrageously expensive and if you can plan ahead enough to guarantee that most/all sit-down meals are buffets, you may save money. It’s important to look closely at the cost of your planned meals compared to the cost of the dining plan. With 4 children – all of whom will be “Disney adults” by the time of our next trip – buffets are crazy expensive. If we wanted to hit a buffet per day, the Disney dining plan might be the only reasonable way to make that happen. As Disney veterans, I’m not sure that’s a priority for these kids anymore (how many times can we ride Expedition Everest in a row is more their speed nowadays) but I might consider a dining plan if they had pangs of nostalgia.

Special Guest Jon North, What are you cookin’ up?:

Disney dining plans are already hated by most Disney regulars. A search of the typical boards leads to a very consistent theme: you save money by paying out of pocket, it is too much food, and ultimately there is no great reason to do the plan. And that is for the regular plan. While you can find some people who like these plans, once the discussion moves to the Deluxe Plan, there is a very universal no. Being on of the few people to crunch the numbers and determine, correctly, that the Deluxe Plan would save my family money, I thought some positives and negatives would be nice

  1. Save Money. I realize that people say you can’t save money on this plan, but during our last visit, we saved over $300 using the DDP. This happened during the hurricane in October when the park closed down, which means we saved this money while having 12 credits left over (due to restaurants closing and us being unable to use planned credits). There are a lot of small reasons for this, but one trick on the plan is that we could invite friends to dinner, use the plan for the friends, and have them pay us for their dinner (we would give them the dessert or app free so they got something extra as well). This offset the 3 sit-down meals–we only had one sit-down breakfast on the plan. One item that isn’t advertised about the DDP, but is a huge help on the cost side, is that credits are credits. That means the kids’ credits you purchase can be used for adults (see our friends joining us for dinner). Equally important for our 7-year-old, she was allowed to order food from the adult or kids menu on the DDP. If you have kids who like to try different food and get sick of the kid’s food, DDP is a huge money saver as well.
  2. Guilt Free Ordering. While I can sit at home and say I will order whatever I want when I am at Disney, this just isn’t true. The numbers add up fast. As I get through part of the trip and see how much we are spending, I start to look at the price of everything. That includes food, which leads me to make choices based on price, not want. DDP allowed me to ignore this–it didn’t mean we ate the most expensive items, it meant we ordered whatever we wanted without worrying about price. This includes feeling comfortable ordering food you may want to try but aren’t sure if you will like. If you are a foodie or a person who loves trying new food, the DDP helps you try more food, including apps and desserts, without worry about paying for food you may not like. Plus you have so many snack credits you can offset a poor meal with snacks at no extra cost also.
  3. Too Much of Everything: For me specifically, this is too much food and too much rushing. While the dining plan is 3 sit-down meals per trip, our approach included breakfast in the room plus two sit-down meals. This allowed us to incorporate a lot of signature dining into our trip. But a 3-course lunch and a 3-course dinner added up quickly, and there was way more food than needed. My wife hated this more than I did–but I felt comfortable ordering a dessert having 3 bites, and even doing that it was too much food. This means you will be wasting food, eating much smaller portions than served, or overeating for your entire trip. There was also a bit too much scheduling–it got to the point we felt like we were always rushing to get to the next reservation. With the addition of the scheduled FP+ ride model, our entire trip felt like a fight to get to the next thing, and the DDP just made this worse as it was another location we had to drag the kids to. And after a day in the park we didn’t want to go right to dinner, so it was run back to the hotel, shower/change, drag the kids back out to dinner…just made the trip feel rushed.

Jonathan has been to Disney 6 times, 3 times as a kid, once as an adult with no kids, and twice as a parent. With constant pressure from wife and kids for more trips, he is always looking to increase the fun while decreasing the total cost of trips. 

Ok .. now it’s your chance …

  1. Who was right?
  2. Who was wrong?
  3. What is your opinion?