Disney Dining Plans

The Disney Dining Plans are pre-paid plans that give you ‘credits’ to eat at over 100 of the restaurants around Walt Disney World. There are different options, depending on your needs, from just quick service, to deluxe plans.

Are you eligible?

In order to be eligible to buy a Disney Dining plan you have to be staying at a Walt Disney World Resort. Depending on where you book, you may also need to have bought Walt Disney World tickets through the same place. This is the case if you book with Walt Disney World directly. If you’re interested, consider that when you decide who to book with – not all travel companies offer this as an option. Others do, but without really stressing when it’s being offered free, so make sure you know what’s available when booking.

Is it worth it?

Well if you’re getting it for free (on one of the free dining offers), then yes, of course it is. If you’re trying to decide whether to buy a plan, then that really depends on how much time you’ll be spending within Walt Disney World. If you fully utilise the plans they’ll save you between 20% and 40% on what the same food would cost you to buy directly (although you have to consider the exchange rate at the time too). In my experience, the regular Disney dining plan actually provides us with more food than we would really buy, so its not quite like-for-like, but still very much worth while.

You have to buy the plan for every person in your party, and for every night of your stay and you all have to be on the same plan – it’s all or nothing. So you need to be away from Walt Disney World less than the amount you’re saving. If you’re thinking of splitting your time between Walt Disney World and the other Orlando parks, and shopping, so will  actually only be in Walt Disney World for approximately 50% of your meals, then you’d be better paying out of pocket, at the time. If, like us, you spend two or three days away from Walt Disney World out of a fortnight, but still eat breakfast there and maybe come back for the evening meal on one of those, then you could still be saving yourself some money.

We also find that a big benefit is having a chunk of our food paid for in advance – it doesn’t leave us with any nasty surprises when we get back!

The Plans

There are 3 plans available to UK guests:

Quick Service Dining Plan

Entitles each person, per night of their stay to:

  • 2 quick (counter)-service meals
  • 2 snacks
  • 1 refillable Resort mug per person

In 2012, the cost of this is £23.99 per adult (aged 10+), per night and £7.99 per child (aged 3-9), per night.

Dining Plan

Entitles each person, per night of their stay to:

  • 1 quick-service meal
  • 1 table-service meal
  • 1 snack

In 2012, the cost of this is £33.99 per adult (aged 10+), per night and £10.99 per child (aged 3-9), per night.

Deluxe Dining Plan

Entitles each person, per night of their stay to:

  • 3 table-service or quick-service meals
  • 2 snacks
  • 1 refillable Resort mug per person

In 2012, the cost of this is £52.99 per adult (aged 10+), per night and £15.99 per child (aged 3-9), per night.

In the States there is also a Wine and Dine plan, which gives you credits for a bottle of wine per night, although you can use more credits to buy better wine. Unfortunately this isn’t offered with Disney packages booked in the UK.

So what does that actually mean?

  • A quick service meal is juice, main course and a non-alcoholic drink if you have it for breakfast and a main course, dessert and non-alcoholic drink if you use it for lunch or dinner.
  • A table service meal is juice, main course and a non-alcoholic drink, or a full buffet meal, if you have it for breakfast and a main course, dessert and non-alcoholic drink, or a full buffet meal if you use it for lunch or dinner. For children (age 3-9), it also includes an appetiser. If you’re on the Deluxe Dining Plan, a table service meal also includes an appetiser too.
  • Snacks are anything around the resort that has the Disney dining plan symbol next to it and includes things like ice cream, muffins, crisps, fruit etc. We find the snacks to be perfect for breakfast – fruit, muffins, croissants etc. Typically anything under about $4 is classed as a snack. The ones Disney mention in their leaflets are cheaper snacks, so make sure you keep your eye out for that symbol as you can get much better options than those suggested.

How does it work?

Children aged 3-9 have to have meals off the children’s menus ands adults aged 10+ get adult meals (although they usually let you downgrade to children’s meals if you have a picky eater – although you wont be getting best value for money). The meals are actually ‘credits’ and a record of these are kept on your room key – your ‘Key to the World’. Each adult in the room will be given a key and the entire amount of credits for your whole room, for your entire stay are placed on your Key to the World, for you to use however you like. So for instance, if you’re a family of three; two adults and one child, staying for 7 nights with the regular Dining plan, your Key to the World will have 14 (7×2) adult counter service credits, 7 (7×1) child counter service credits, 14 (7×2) adult table service credits, 7 (7×1) child table service credits and 21 (7×3) snack credits. During your 7 night stay you can use these how you like – if you want to use 2 lots of counter service meals on one day, you can. Most table service restaurants are just one credit per person, but the signature restaurants take 2 per person, so you can spend 2 credits per person on a really nice meal if you want to. At the end of each meal you’ll be given a receipt to sign, showing how many credits you owe, plus any excess to pay – i.e. anything not included in the plan and a gratuity. You hand over your Key to the World and your credits are deducted (and if you want the balance remaining charged to your card, or you can pay separately). You then get a receipt telling you how many credits you have left to spend.

What restaurants can I eat at?

Most, but not all, of the restaurants in Walt Disney World are part of the dining plan. A few, which are not operated by Disney opt out of the plan and so if you eat at these, you’ll have to pay out of pocket. The most popular non-dining plan restaurants are T-Rex at Downtown Disney and Rainforest Cafe which has locations at both Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Downtown Disney. In the parks and at the resorts, the vast majority are part of the plan – and that includes Signature restaurants (costing two credits per person) and character meals.  At Downtown Disney, I’d say its about half and half. If you sign up to the plan, you’ll be sent a leaflet that lists all of the eligible restaurants. If you want to see these earlier, you can download the PDFs from the Disney site.

Which plan to choose?

Well that’s totally your choice and depends on your eating preferences. We always get the regular dining plan. The meals are pretty big, and despite being big eaters ourselves, it is always more than enough food. We never buy any other food while in Walt Disney World (unless we want an alcoholic drink or an appetiser). The free plans Disney occasionally offers are usually a quick service plan if you stay at a moderate resort (but you can pay the difference to upgrade) or a regular dining plan if you stay at a Deluxe resort. We always upgrade to the regular plan – we love the restaurants at Disney and I don’t want to eat counter service food for all 14 days. But if your plan is to enjoy the rides and theme parks and do little else, then the counter service plan might work well for you. If I’m honest, I can’t ever see a reason for the Deluxe Dining Plan, although it does give you optimum flexibility. But 3 table meals a day? You’d spend the whole time eating! But why not if that’s what you enjoy?!

Toddlers

Children up to the age of 3 (includes if your child turns 3 during your stay) are not eligible for a dining plan. They don’t really ‘count’ in numbers at Disney – they don’t need a ticket to get into the parks, they don’t count on your room count and as such, they’re also not eligible for a dining plan. However, they are allowed to eat off the adults plates for free – which works especially well for buffet meals! And is probably ideal if you have a 1 year old. But if you’ve got a nearly 3 year old, chances are that at least some times, they’re going to want or need their own meal. In that case, your only option is to buy them a child’s meal out of pocket. That is still likely to be best value for you, as you wouldn’t necessarily be buying an appetiser, main and dessert, like you’re paying for with the children’s dining plan.

What isn’t included?

  • Gratuities – tipping is customary in the States – even when the service is bad (which is very rare in Walt Disney World). If you are a party of 6 or more, 18% is automatically added onto your bill, which you’re expected to pay. If you’re in a smaller party, a couple of suggested tips are calculated for you at the end, based on a percentage of the total of your order – and you can chose one of these to pay, or tell the waiter what you’d like to tip instead.
  • Alcohol – any alcoholic drinks are paid for at the end of your meal
  • Speciality drinks – non standard soft drinks can also be out of the dining plan – your waiter/waitress will let you know if you order these
  • Appetisers – kid’s dining plans include appetisers, but adult plans do not, unless you get the Deluxe plan.

What next?

Selecting a dining plan will be an option when you make you’re booking. If you’re going to get one you really want to consider making advanced dinner reservations, so you can make the most of your plan and eat at the best restaurants.