7 minutes reading time (1494 words)

Disney Dining Plan – Is it worth it?

I'm often asked if the Disney Dining Plan (available as an add-on for your Walt Disney World package) is worth the money and it's hard to give a definitive answer. It depends a lot on your eating patterns as well as the ages of those in your group.

When working on Disney math it's important to remember that an 'adult' is anyone aged 10 and above. This means your 10 year old will be paying the same price as you are to likely eat much less food.

Below I've put together two dummy itineraries, one that tries to maximise the value of the dining plan and another that doesn't. I'll price each of them out for an adult and a child so you can see the out of pocket expense vs. the dining plan expense. When making your comparisons keep in mind that the 10-year old can order off the kids menu at a la carte restaurant that doesn't serve a set price menu, this is what can make a significant impact on costs for families with children that are considered Disney 'adults' but still eat like children.

What does the dining plan cost?

The dining plan is charged per person, per night and has to be booked for your entire stay. Adult pricing is $75.49 USD per night and child pricing is $27.98 USD per night. Children are those in the party aged 3-9, kids under 3 eat free off an accompanying adult's plate (buffets and all you can eat meals are awesome if you have a kid under 3, just saying).

What does the dining plan include?

The regular Disney Dining Plan we are working with in this post includes:

  • 1 table service meal per night
  • 1 quick service meal per night
  • 2 snacks per night
  • 1 refillable mug

A few points to note…

The meals credits are pooled together and can be used as you like, so you aren't restricted to one of each meal per day. Guests under 21 years of age can choose one nonalcoholic beverage (including specialty beverages where offered) with their meal while guests 21 and older can choose either one nonalcoholic beverage (including specialty beverages where offered) or one single-serving mixed cocktail, beer or wine (where offered).

Itinerary 1 – Let's try and maximise the Disney Dining Plan value with all set price menus, most of which are character meals.

Day 1 – Arrival day with dinner at 'Ohana (1 ts credit)
Day 2 – Magic Kingdom with dinner at Cinderella's Royal Table (2 ts credits) and a quick service lunch (1 qs credit)
Day 3 – Disney's Hollywood Studios with a Fantasmic! Package at Hollywood & Vine (1 ts credit) and a quick service lunch (1 qs credit)
Day 4 – Epcot with a pre-park opening breakfast at Garden Grill (1 ts credit) and a quick service lunch (1 qs credit) and dinner (1 qs credit)
Day 5 – Magic Kingdom with dinner at Crystal Palace (1 ts credit) and a quick service lunch (1 qs credit)
Day 6 – Epcot with dinner at Akershus (1 ts credit) and a quick service lunch (1 qs credit)
Day 7 – Animal Kingdom with quick service lunch (1 qs credit)
Day 8 – early departure

Cost per adult with Disney Dining Plan = $528.43 USD
Cost per adult paying out of pocket = $575.37 USD
Cost per child with the Disney Dining Plan = $195.86 USD
Cost per child paying out of pocket = $304.10 USD

As you can see, if you have children under the age of 10, load up on character or other set-price meals and have healthy appetites you can potentially stand to save a significant amount of money if you purchase the Dining Plan. If you have children aged 10 or over that don't usually eat a lot then the character meals become an expensive exercise because you're guaranteed to not get value for money from those meals.

Itinerary 2 – Let's avoid too many set price meals and see how we fare. I'm going to price out the most expensive entrée (what we call a main meal here in Australia) and alternate between including an appetiser and dessert at the table service locations for the out of pocket calculations. I will also include an alcoholic beverage with the table service meals.

Day 1 – Arrival day with dinner at Kona Cafe (1 ts credit)
Day 2 – Magic Kingdom with breakfast at Cinderella's Royal Table (2 ts credits) and a quick service lunch (1 qs credit)
Day 3 – Disney's Hollywood Studios with lunch at 50s Prime Time (1 ts credit) and a quick service dinner (1 qs credit)
Day 4 – Epcot with a pre-park opening breakfast at Garden Grill (1 ts credit) and a quick service lunch (1 qs credit) and dinner (1 qs credit)
Day 5 – Magic Kingdom with dinner at The Plaza Restaurant (1 ts credit) and a quick service lunch (1 qs credit)
Day 6 – Epcot with lunch at Tutto Italia (1 ts credit) and a quick service dinner (1 qs credit)
Day 7 – Animal Kingdom with quick service lunch (1 qs credit)
Day 8 – early departure

Cost per adult with Disney Dining Plan = $528.43 USD
Cost per adult paying out of pocket = $548 USD
Cost per child with the Disney Dining Plan = $195.86 USD
Cost per child paying out of pocket = $223.69 USD

As you can see, the savings are a lot smaller here, especially for children, and this is when you order the most expensive menu items at each of the restaurants. If you aren't a fan of steak or don't drink alcohol then you will be spending less than I've calculated here! These calculations also assume that you are going to use all of your quick service and snack credits, which is a lot of food. We regularly share quick service meals or an appetiser/dessert at table service meal to taste something that sounds delicious because serving sizes are generous and we are more than comfortable with just the one course per meal. You could easily make a few adjustments to what you order and come out having spent less than the dining plan is worth. If you have a 10 year old that you think would be happy ordering and eating off the kids menu then you will save plenty paying out of pocket.

Of course, one benefit of the dining plan is that everything is paid for in advance and you don't have to worry about what you order. It becomes a matter of deciding if that convenience is worth the potential overspend the dining plan might result in. We have used the dining plan in the past and found it especially good value when ML was under 3 as there was plenty of food to share around with her. If we plan on lots of set price meals then we'd potentially get it again for convenience but once the kids hit that magic age of 10 I don't think we'd find the same value in it and would probably just pay out of pocket, especially since I don't drink alcohol.

If you've decided that the dining plan is something you'd like to make use of it needs to be booked as part of a package. Online this can only be done with a room and tickets, however, if you ring you are able to book a ticketless package which will still allow you to take advantage of the discounted tickets available through Undercover Tourist.

**These calculations allow $25 USD per adult quick service credit and $10 USD per child quick service credit and $3 USD per snack. You may end up spending more than this depending on the menu items chosen and whether or not you make use of the included specialty/alcoholic beverage inclusions.

**These itineraries uses all the available credits for a 7-night stay and assumes you'll make use of the 2 snack credits allotted per night as needed. Any meals not listed would have to be paid for out of pocket, so aren't being used for comparison purposes.

**With the exception of Cinderella's Royal Table, tips are an additional expense not included in the calculations. A tip of 18-20% is the usual expectation and if your party includes 6 or more guests you are automatically charged an 18% gratuity. 

One great thing about the buffets is that everyone is bound to find something they like!
There are certainly some snacks that prove to be better value on the dining plan than others. If you opt for the dining plan be sure to choose carefully.
Some restaurants, like 50s Prime Time, are just great value when ordering a la carte and paying out of pocket.
Breakfasts are usually the cheapest table service meals, so not normally our recommend option for dining plan participants, unless the reservation comes with some sort of bonus.
Whilst not mentioned in the itineraries above, Whispering Canyon Cafe is one set price menu option for those looking to maximise the dining plan value whilst avoiding all character meals.
Epcot's Food & Wine Festival is a great place to use snack credits. The Liquid Nitro Chocolate-Almond Truffle is our favourite snack!
Walt Disney World - September 2017 Trip Report

Related Posts