Happy Blogday Tuesday, friends!
Today I would love to talk about the Disney Dining Plan, since a surprising majority of our Just Ask questions pertain to that very subject. Unless you go to Disney often, the Dining Plan can be a bit confusing, so I’d love to answer a few of our frequently asked questions. As a pre-disclaimer, know that much of what I say in this post is fact, relayed straight from Disney, but some of it is pure Elrod opinion, so if you find yourself disagreeing that a Coke is a waste of snack-credit, then throw that info aside…because we all know that our own opinions are always correct.
1. What exactly is the Disney Dining Plan?
The Disney Dining Plan is a package that can be purchased prior to your Walt Disney World visit. It is a flat price per person over the age of 3 that is added on to your vacation package and once obtained, covers your meals while you are on Disney property. It is pretty much like taking an all-inclusive vacation in Walt Disney World.
WOW! So does that mean that you can pay a flat price and eat anything and everything you like while on vacation? Well, no. There are some limits to what you can get. This is how it works: You purchase a Dining Plan Package based on how much food you and your family would like to eat and what type of restaurants you would like to eat at while on vacation. Once you arrive, credits for each meal and snack is loaded onto your room key, a.k.a. your Key to the World! When you want a meal or snack, you present the key and the Cast Member taking care of your transaction will slide it like a credit card, removing one credit of whatever you’re using (a meal or a snack) from your card. The remaining number of credits will be printed on your receipt so you can keep track of how many you have left. There are three categories, or grades, of Dining Plans:
Quick-Service Dining Plan: Includes two quick service meals and two snacks per person ages 3+ for each day of stay, along with one refillable resort mug per person.
Dining Plan: Includes one quick service meal, one table service meal, and one snack per person ages 3+ for each day of stay.
Deluxe Dining Plan: Includes three table or quick service service meals and two snacks per person ages 3+ for each day of stay, along with one refillable resort mug per person.
A quick service (also sometime referred to as a counter service) meal is Disney’s version of a fast food meal, although you can often get more than your basic burger and fries at these restaurants. A table service meal is a meal you get at sit down restaurant where you will be served by a waitstaff. A snack is a Disney designated item that usually costs somewhere around $5 or less (ie. an ice cream, cookie, or popcorn). Disney makes ordering items on the Dining Plan easy. On each menu located throughout Disney property, Dining Plan symbols (like that which is below) will appear next to all items that apply.
2. Is the Dining Plan “worth it”?
We always get the Dining Plan for FREE, since we book our longest WDW trips during the time of the year that Disney offers that promotion. So in that case, YES! The Dining Plan is worth it! In fact, it is beyond worth it; because admittedly, food on Disney property can be a pretty penny if you are paying out of pocket, so getting it for FREE saves you a lot of moolah.
However, if you are planning a trip for a time of the year that the FREE Disney Dining is not offered, then here is how I decipher if purchasing the Disney Dining Plan is worth it for you. Ask yourself these questions:
1. What type of dining experience to I expect on vacation? Do I like to eat a granola bar in the room for breakfast and pack a PB&J in my bag for a quick bite at lunch? Or do I like to just grab my room key and park ticket on my way out in the morning and purchase any meals I want to eat throughout the day?
2. What type of items do I typically order off of restaurant menus? The cheap chicken finger and fries or iceberg salad, no matter the restaurant? Or do I prefer more expensive items like steak and seafood?
If you answered “yes” to the second questions in each set, then maybe the Dining Plan is not worth it for you. You can probably get out a lot cheaper if you prefer to pack your own lunch and take it into the park, or if you are only going to eat the cheapest items off of any menu. However, if you answered “yes” to the third question in each set, then the Dining Plan will probably be beneficial and money-saving for you and your family.
Disney advertises that you can save 20% when you purchase the Dining Plan, but we find that this is only true if you are using each credit that you are given (because if you don’t use it, you lose it), and if you are prone to ordering the most expensive items on menus. Now, in real-life Tim and I are not “big spenders” when it comes to eating out, but when we are in Disney and using the Dining Plan, we are always conscious about allowing ourselves to get that filet mignon or huge breakfast platter. That’s what makes vacation…well, VACATION to us. But maybe that is not the case for your and your family, so deciding if the Dining Plan is “worth it” to you is based purely on your personal opinions and vacation expectations.
3. I’ve decided the Dining Plan is “worth it” for me and my family. Now which package should I purchase?
Once again, choosing which grade of Dining Plan that you want/need to purchase is based on what vacation expectations you have. I’ve created a quiz that you can take here to see which Dining Plan would work best for you. Of course, this is just a jumping off point. You may want to go “outside of the box” on your next trip and try more restaurants than you have in the past, or take less time eating meals than you have in the past, in which case you would change which package you choose based on what you want your vacation to look like.
4. Do I need to make reservations for table service meals?
Yes! Walt Disney World has so many wonderful places that you can use your table service credits, but because they are so wonderful, they tend to fill up fast! Yes, I have heard the random story of, “I didn’t have any reservations, but we just walked up to Liberty Tree Tavern and got right in!” Of course, walking up and putting your name on the list is always an option, but stories like these are few and far between. Usually you will have to wait a long time, or possibly not get in at all! Planning ahead and making reservations is always best. Disney accepts reservations 180 days out from the date of your arrival and you can make dining reservations online or by calling 407-WDW-DINE or (407) 939-3463.
Elrod WDW Tip: If you are going during a time when Disney is offering the FREE Dining Plan, remember that where you stay determines what grade of Dining Plan you receive. If that plan is not in line with what you are wanting for your vacation experience, you can always upgrade to the Dining Plan you want by paying the difference. In fact, that is exactly what we are doing this September!
5. Do my meal credits expire at the end of each day, or at the end of the week?
Good news! At the end of the week. This means that if you are on the middle-of-the-road Dining Plan, where you get one quick service, one table service, and one snack a day, you do not have to use exactly that each day. If you stuff yourself at your buffet lunch and end up not wanting a snack that day, no worries. They roll over, just get two snacks the next day…or the next day! Just be sure to get them before you leave. Also, know that Disney makes it easy by keeping all the credits linked to your trip reservation number. That means that when you are at a table service meal and it comes time to pay, everyone doesn’t have to hand over their room key to have their credit deducted. Only one person does. The good thing about that is that each person’s name is not on their credits! By that I mean that if Grandma is a light eater and doesn’t use up all of her quick service meal credits, but Uncle Joe is always hungry and could use an extra one, well Uncle Joe can chow down on Grandma’s quick service meal! Disney doesn’t care who eats the credits, just use them if you got them!
Alrighty, you Disney lovers, I think this is where I’m going to call it quits for the day. Look for more Disney Dining posts in the near future (since there has been such demand for it!) with advice, Elrod WDW Tips, and more! And as always, if you have any specific questions…Just Ask!