While planning our last trip, I decided early on to purchase the Disney Dining Plan as part of our Disney Vacation Package. Why? Well, there are several reasons we went with this pre-paid meal option but the number one being convenience. It’s just one less thing to worry about. You can literally walk into the park with just your magic band (and some clothes, please wear cloths) and you’re still able to eat. Is using the Disney Dining Plan for your 2018 Walt Disney World vacation something everyone should consider? It depends.
In this post, I’m going to give a bit of background on what the Disney Dining Plan (2018 version) is and what things to consider in deciding whether the plan is right for you and your family. For fun, I’ll also share where, in some cases what, we ate while at Disney on and off the plan.
Is the Disney Dining Plan worth it?
Before making your decision, the number one question to ask yourself is whether the Disney Dining Plan is worth it. How you define “worth it” will depend on your family’s unique circumstances and disposition. Based on our experience, and considering “value” both indirectly (the Benjamins) and indirectly (how it contributed to our overall experience), it definitely was worth it. Monetarily, the Disney Dining Plan can be a really good value, a poor one or you could just break even. How much financial value you get out of it will depend on your family’s eating habits and preferences.
First, let’s talk about how much the Disney Dining Plan costs…
The Walt Disney World Disney Dining Plans are available in 3 categories:
Quick Service Disney Dining Plan: The cheapest option – at this level each person on the room reservation gets two quick-service meals (per night), two snacks (per night) and a refillable drink mug (per stay). The cost of the Quick Service Plan (sometimes known as the counter-service plan) is $52.50 for an adult and $21.74 for a child (ages 3-9) per night.
Disney Dining Plan (Regular/Standard): The middle ground option – at this level each person on the room reservation gets one “table service” meal (per night), one quick-service meals (per night), two snacks (per night) and a refillable drink mug (per stay). The cost of the Regular Disney Dining Plan per night is $75.49 for an adult and $25.75 for a child (ages 3-9).
Deluxe Disney Dining Plan: The most expensive option – at this level each person on the room reservation gets three meals of choice at either counter service restaurants or table service restaurants (per night), two snacks (per night) and one refillable drink mug (per stay). The cost of the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan is $116.25 per adult and $39.99 per child (ages 3-9) for each night. I’ve heard it can cost more during peak seasons.
What is included with the different levels of the Disney Dining Plan?
A “quick service meal” is essentially counter service. It includes an entree plus side and beverage but no dessert. Your beverage can be an alcoholic one if that option is available at the restaurant you choose (not all restaurants serve alcohol). Additionally, you can trade one counter-service meal for 3 snacks.
A “table service meal” includes an entree, dessert, and beverage. Your beverage can be an alcoholic one if that option is available at the restaurant you choose (not all restaurants serve alcohol).
A “snack” is any item marked as such with the symbol “DDP”. It may include items sold at snack carts as well as options in quick service restaurants. It includes things like bottled water, Starbucks coffee (our favorite), fruit, cupcakes, and some side items such as soup and salad.
Other things to consider on the Disney Dining Plan
- Kids 2 and under cannot be on a Dining Plan. You will either have to purchase their food separately or have them eat off of your plate. It is worth sharing that our daughter falls into this category and we only ever purchased a separate meal for her once. Most of the time she shared our meals. We also did two buffets where kids under 2 essentially eat free.
- One of the reasons the price of the Disney Dining Plan increased 2018 (apart from inflation lol) was the addition of alcoholic drinks. If no one in your party is going to partake in this new perk, then this may effect the value of the plan.
- Tax is always included in all plans, but gratuity is not. This will have to be paid out of pocket.
- Some meals (like Cinderella’s Castle for Dinner and California Grill at Contemporary) require two table service meal credits. This may not be worth it and you may be better off paying cash.
“Best and Worst” Ways to Use the Disney Dining Plan
The most obvious thing to do if you purchase the plan is to maximize the monetary value of your meals. My best advice, however, is not to stress yourself out trying to do this. If you’re in a state of panic about getting ever penny’s worth, this will undoubtedly erode the value that the plan gives you in terms of peace of mind and convenience.
That being said, to maximize your plan, you may want to consider:
Booking a high-value Quick Service meal. Most quick-service meals do not require reservations. One of the exceptions to this is Be Our Guest at the Magic Kingdom. Reservations are required for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. While Dinner requires a table-service credit, however, Breakfast and Lunch are quick-service. These meals are one of the best values and experiences at the Magic Kingdom on a quick-service credit.
Booking high-value Table Service meals and ordering the more expensive items from the menu. This one is obvious and needs no explanation. You can find the menus for all Disney restaurants on the website.
Using your snack credit on high-value items. This can include those fancy cupcakes, items from snack carts, and (our favorite) fancy coffees from Starbucks. No matter what type of coffee you get (a Venti, triple, vanilla latte with extra whip) – it’s only one snack credit.
Splitting meals. If you’re on the Quick-Service or Regular Plan, you may find that you don’t enough credits for how many meals you actually eat in a day. At some restaurants, two adults or one adult and one child can split a meal. Doing this, you can “save” a credit for another meal. I can only speak for the Magic Kingdom and Contemporary Resort – but places I know for sure that splitting meals is feasible include the Contempo Café and Be Our Guest.
It’s your plan to do with what you want. However, try to avoid, if you can, using quick-service credits on low-value restaurants/meals, using your table service credits on low-value menu items, and spending snack credits on items that cost less than $3.00. A snack credit is worth $5. Depending on how many days you’re on the plan, losing $2.00 or more per snack can really ad up.
Where and what we ate – The Disney Dining Plan Restaurants
Now, the best part: what restaurants we ate at using the Disney Dining Plan. Again, we stayed at the Contemporary Resort (look out for a review post coming soon) and the only park we visited was Magic Kingdom. We were two adults on the Regular/Standard plan. Our daughter was not on the plan as she is under 3. We stayed for three nights – that means in total we had three quick-service credits (1/night each), three table service credits (1/night each) and six snacks (2/night each). I’ve listed our meals in the order in which we ate them and included pictures if we took any.
Day 1 on the Disney Dining Plan
Contempo Café (Lunch) – Two Quick Service Credits
We ate at the Contempo Café upon arrival and check-in at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. As we weren’t going to a park that day, we decided to enjoy a leisurely lunch (our room wasn’t ready yet) before heading to Disney Springs for a few hours. My husband, daughter and I shared two adult meals. The portion sizes here are quite generous and two people with smaller appetites could have shared one meal. I didn’t finish my sandwich which was the Braised Beef Grilled Cheese. Unfortunately, I didn’t snap a picture (guess I was too hungry) but there is a great one here. But I did snap this of our dessert:
TIP: We redeemed our refillable mugs at the Contempo that day. For the duration of your trip, you can fill these with water, soda, juice of coffee from the fountains at the Disney Resorts (not at parks) for free. Because we used the mugs for our drinks, we were able to substitute the two beverages that came with our quick-service meals for two snacks. I got grapes for my daughter (not the best value, I know) and we all shared a beautiful and delicious Disney cupcake. If you’re gonna use the beverage with your meal, however, I recommend using it on a beer or wine (if you consume alcohol and won’t be operating heavy machinery).
T-Rex (Dinner) – Out of Pocket
T-Rex is the Rainforest Café-like restaurant that features dinosaur-themed animatronics. While the food is not exactly gourmet, if you’re kids (or you) are into dinosaurs, then it’s definitely a cool place to eat. Our meals weren’t bad either. While at Disney, I tried my best not to stray too far from my weight watchers program (read about it here) and my meal at T-Rex was pretty healthy. I’ve forgotten the name of the entrée but it was basically a small flank steak with some grilled tuna, broccoli and about half a cup of rice.
TIP: When I was unable to get a reservation for a time I wanted using the My Disney Experience App, I just called the restaurant directly and they had plenty of availability. My guess is that the company only releases a certain number of tables to the DDP. Also, to save some bucks, consider joining the Landry Select Club (I’m not affiliated with them in any way). You get $25 for singing up which you can use toward your meals at T-Rex and other Landry restaurants. One last thing, the meteor shower may scare some kids.
Starbucks at Disney Springs – One Snack Credit
We shared a Venti Vanilla Latte with an extra shot – Yummy!
Day 2 on the Disney Dining Plan
Be Our Guest (Breakfast) – Two Quick Service Credits
This is one of THE reservations to score for your Disney/Magic Kingdom Trip. After visiting the restaurant, I now see why. While dining at the parks isn’t exactly the height of gastronomic experiences, the dining rooms at Be Our Guest (the Beauty and the Beast inspired restaurant) are hard to beat. If you’re paying out of pocket for your meal, I’d say go for lunch if you’re able to get a reservation. But if you’re using a DDP credit, then breakfast is fine and actually pretty delicious. The Beast only comes out for dinner (and in this case it’s a table service credit for the meal).
TIP: Meals are served with a complimentary bread basket of assorted pastries for the table. If you eat them all, they will top you up. Consequently, we asked for seconds and took them to go. Before you go, visit he Rose Room and snap a photo in front of the stained glass window.
Storybook Circus Food Cart (Lunch) – Two Snack Credits
The three of us we shared two Mickey Pretzel’s and cheese for lunch on our second day. This meal would have been $12.00 plus tax so using two of our snack credits was a good value.
TIP: You really only need one cheese sauce (if any).
Starbucks at Disney Springs – One Snack Credit – Again, we shared a Venti Latte.
Colombia Harbor House (Dinner) – Two Quick Service Credits & Paid meal for Child
Portion-wise, Columbia Harbor House meals were among the smallest. The hubby ordered the chicken pot-roast which was served with green beans while I opted for the lobster roll which came with a bag of chips. No alcohol is served here so we got bottled water and soft drinks. As our meals were not shareable (daughter wouldn’t eat), we purchased a kids meal for her. I’d heard good things about the food but have to say I was somewhat disappointed. The lobster roll was pretty good but the pot-roast was kind of terrible.
Day 3 on the Disney Dining Plan
The Crystal Palace (Breakfast) – Table Service Credit
Our third day was all about food. It just worked out this way in terms of what restaurant reservations were available on our dates. As the Crystal Palace is a Character Meal, this was perhaps one of the most enjoyable experiences of our trip. It was our second day at the Magic Kingdom which means were pretty relaxed overall, having accomplished quite a bit the previous day. Our daughter had a blast here and at Chef Mickey’s – which are both buffet-type services. She was able to interact with all four characters (Winnie-The-Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet and Tigger) and had loads of fun dancing with them.
It’s also really great that the cast members come around to all the tables to ensure that all guests have had the benefit of the full character experience. The food is pretty great as well. We munched on made-to-order omelets, French toast, mickey waffles and the infamous Breakfast Lasagna. There are lighter options available for those craving healthier fare.
TIP: You’ll be getting out of your seat quite a bit to take pictures with the characters. Eat quickly or time your servings between the character breaks. Take a banana to go.
Tony’s Town Square (Lunch) – Table Service Credit
I’ll reserve my thoughts on this restaurant for an upcoming post reviewing the Festival of Fantasy Parade Dining Package, but here are some sneak peak photos of our meal.
Chef Mickey’s (Dinner) – Table Service Credit
Although another buffet, it was the perfect end to our trip. Food-wise, I went for the carving station (prime rib) and salad bar (kale and beet salad). Overall, the pickings were decent but that’s not really what you come here for. It’s for the Characters which include Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck and Pluto. Similarly to Crystal Palace, cast members come around to all the tables to ensure that each character has visited you. Every so often they do an inter-active type of thing where all the kiddies (and adults) are invited to form a sort of Congo dance line with the characters. Indeed, with more energy then she knows what to do with, our DD really enjoyed that aspect of the Character Meal.
TIP: If you’re eating late, ask for a table by the windows so you can also see the electric parade go by while you dine.
What we used our leftover snack credits on:
Chocolate Milk: Usually, our daughter doesn’t drink anything but water. As a treat, however, we allowed her some chocolate milk.
Large Lollipops: One of those large, swirly lollipops is just under $5 at the Main Street Confectionery. Although your dentist might disagree, it’s not the worst use of a credit.
Water: While not the best use of a snack as most bottled water throughout the parks and resorts sells for about $3.00 or $3.50, it’s better than using the credit on something you don’t need. By the second day of our trip, I realized we’d likely not use all of our credits. That’s when I decided that using credits on water was better than paying for water.
My Final Thoughts On the Disney Dining Plan
As two adults with a child under three, I would say that the Disney Dining Plan was definitely worth it. Based on our experience, in money and time saved, the pros of going with the Disney Dining Plan versus not going with No Dining Plan outweigh the cons. We never felt restricted by the plan and enjoyed the peace of mind of knowing that our meals were taken care of. For a three night trip, the Regular/Standard plan was just enough. Yes, we did pay for one meal (dinner at T-Rex on the first day). However, that’s mainly because we were saving our table service credits for the third day of our trip. In reality, not everyone is going to need or want so many sit down meals in one day.
Have you ever experience the Disney Dining Plan? What are your thoughts?
This content is provided informational purposes only and is based on the author's personal experience. The information is not intended to replace medical advice offered by physicians. All items featured in this post were purchased by the author unless otherwise noted. Any products or services provided as PR will be marked with an asterisk "*". This website uses Skimlinks and this post may contain affiliate links.