Is the Disney Dining Plan Worth the Money?

Nutella Fruit Waffle at DisneyOK everyone, here it is… the answer to the long debated question, “is the Disney dining plan worth the money?”! If you know me, you know that I have been a huge advocate for getting the dining plan. In fact, I even wrote a post on why you should get the dining plan (which you can read here). However, I will admit I had never went to Disney without having one of the dining plans. Last month we gave it a try, we stayed for 4 nights with no dining plan. I tracked all of our food expenses: refillable mugs, snacks and meals to see if paying for the plan is worth the expense or not.

How the Disney Dining Plan Works

Before you can decide if the dining plan is worth the money or not, you need to know the details of how they work. You can add a dining plan on to your Disney package (that means you need to be staying at a Disney resort). There are several plans, but I am just going to cover the two basic options here:

Quick Service Dining Plan

This dining plan option provides each member of your party (ages 3+) with the following for each night of your stay:

  • Refillable Resort Mug – You only get one of these for each person, but you can use it for the entire length of your stay and they make great take-home souvenirs too. We have a cupboard full of them!
  • 2 Quick Service Meals – These are the equivalent of fast food, only for the most part the food is much better. However, for almost every quick service meal you order at a counter and take your food on a tray to find a table to sit at. Disney has some GREAT quick service restaurants including lunch at the Be Our Guest restaurant.
  • 1 Snack Credit – There are what seems like an endless amount of choices here including both food and drinks.

Disney Plus Dining Plan

This dining plan option provides each member of your party (ages 3+) with the following for each night of your stay:

  • Refillable Resort Mug – see above
  • 1 Quick Service Meal – see above
  • 1 Table Service Meal – This is a traditional restaurant meal. You are seated at a table and the wait staff serves you. There are many types of table service meals at Disney: character meals, buffets, resort restaurants, and Signature restaurants. There are a few restaurants that require 2 table service meals instead of 1 (for example: Cinderella’s Royal Table located within the castle).
  • 1 Snack Credit – see above

***QUICK NOTE – Beginning in 2017 both of these plans will include 2 snack credits per day instead of 1. ***

What We Spent on Food at Disney Without the Dining Plan

Disney Snacks creditsWe had a few things pop up which changed some of our dining plans while on this trip. We arrived at Disney the morning of October 24th and left on the 28th. We usually leave right after breakfast on the last day of our trip, but due to one of my daughters being under the weather on the 27th we stayed in the hotel room for the day and moved our Magic Kingdom plans to the 28th. So, we stayed on the 28th and spent some money on food that we typically wouldn’t do.

Our total expense on food, including purchasing resort refillable mugs for the 5 of us, was $752.86. This total included the following:

  • October 24th: snacks, lunch, dinner and purchasing the mugs – Total spending $272.80
  • October 25th: snacks, lunch and dinner – Total spending $109.51
  • October 26th: snacks, lunch and dinner – Total spending $82.18
  • October 27th: snacks, lunch and dinner – Total spending $82.10
  • October 28th: breakfast and snacks – Total spending $206.27

Cost of Food at Disney World

Disney Dining Plan vs. Out of Pocket

As mentioned above, for the 4 nights that we stayed at Disney World, our total out of pocket spending was $752.86. If we had purchased one of the dining plans detailed above here is what we would have spent to purchase the plan:

  • Quick Service Dining Plan $681.95
  • Disney Plus Dining Plan    $947.22

Important Facts That Affected Our Spending

There are a few key things that are skewing our comparison. It is the most helpful when you can compare apples to apples, but the way our tripped worked and the types of meals we ate were different than they would have been if we had used a dining plan. Here are some keys factors that affected our spending:

  • We did 2 table service meals, 7 quick service meals, 26 snacks and purchased the mugs. With either of the plans these numbers would have been different. With the Plus dining we would have eaten more table service meals and also had to pay more tips. With the quick service dining plan we wouldn’t have eaten any of the table service meals.
  • We did a late breakfast at Crystal Palace which allowed us to skip lunch for the day and just share a few snacks.
  • Other than the day we had breakfast at Crystal Palace we ate food in our hotel room that we brought from home for breakfast.
  • My daughters shared a large pizza for dinner one night and then one of them ate the leftovers the next day for dinner.
  • My husband and I shared a few meals.
  • One of my daughters was sick for a day and barely ate anything.
  • We usually do not stay at Disney on the final day, but leave in the morning to head home. We ended up staying during this trip until around dinner time, which made us spend more on food.
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Tasty Treats at The Ganachery in Disney Springs

Conclusion: Is the Disney Dining Plan Worth the Money?

Why I Loved Not Having a Dining Plan

I never thought I would say this, but on the trip we just took, I’m glad that we didn’t pay for the dining plan. We would have chosen the Plus Dining because we enjoy using our dining plan for character meals. However, it was Food & Wine Festival at Epcot and Dustin and I enjoyed snacking around World Showcase. We never would have tried that if we had the dining plan because it would mean we would be using more snack credits than we should be in a day and not using one of our meal credits. I enjoyed getting to try what I wanted without seeing if it would count as a dining credit or snack credit or not. It was an added benefit that we saved money.

Why I Missed Not Having a Dining Plan

With that being said, I hated paying out of pocket at the same time. We were constantly having to look at the price of meal items and snack items. There were times that I avoided getting the meal that I wanted because I wanted to save money. My favorite thing about using one of the Disney Dining Plans is that I don’t look at the menu prices. I don’t like to spend money (I can be pretty cheap) so I enjoy spending the money before my trip to purchase the dining plan and than relaxing and enjoying the food while at Disney World.

I also enjoy having the Plus Dining Plan because my family likes to use the credit at Character Meals. They are a great use of the dining plan and a nice way to meet characters without having to stand in line at the parks.

Final Thoughts

Disney turkey legCan you save money by not using the dining plan? Absolutely. You can save a lot of money. You can even bring all of your own food and not spend any money. If you are going to spend out of pocket and want to know how much to budget I would recommend checking out the menus at allears.net. You can look up recent menu options and pricing to get a feel for how much your meals will cost you.

Do I recommend the dining plan? Absolutely. I enjoy the food at Disney World as part of my vacation. If you can afford to purchase a dining plan I would highly recommend it. Even better, if you can plan your trip during a time when the offer a dining deal you could receive a free dining plan, or a highly discounted one. If you have a chance at a dining deal, I would ALWAYS recommend taking it.

So, the final word is… it’s up to you! You need to determine what type of person you are. Will you enjoy your trip more if you don’t have to count the costs while you are there? Then get a dining plan. Does the idea of spending that much on food cause your heart to race? Skip the dining plan and find ways to save on food (share meals, get pizza, snack around the World instead of getting a meal, eat a Turkey leg because they are filling).

Do you have questions about the dining plans? Leave a comment below.

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