In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into how the Disney Dining Plan works and more importantly whether or not it is worth your money. Since I’m all about combing through the smaller details, I’ll highlight some ways to absolutely maximize your use of the plan, if you choose to purchase it.
What Is The Disney Dining Plan?
Think Disney’s Dining Plan as a way to prepay for your meals while on vacation at Walt Disney World. Based on the number of nights you’re staying and which Disney Dining Plan you choose, you are given a select number of meal and snack credits that can be used throughout your vacation.
The Disney Dining Plan is accepted at virtually all the food locations throughout the resort and you can use them in whatever combination you like. For example, you’re not restricted in using just one credit per day. You can use two meal credits on one day, one credit on another day, and use all of your snack credits, all at once, on the last day of your trip, so the credits are completely flexible.
The best part of the Disney Dining Plan is that you pay for it upfront before you travel, in that way it’s very similar to going on most cruises. Once you arrive at Disney World almost everything can already be paid for and you can tune out and relax for the duration of your trip.
If you’re one of these people who visit Disney World once every few years this could be a great option for you. You can book an entire vacation with the Disney Dining Plan, prepay the entire trip in installments, and have the peace of mind that the hotel, tickets and meals are all paid for when you arrive at your hotel. But like everything in life, there is always the fine print, there are lots of little details to keep in mind that will determine if the Disney dining plan is worth it to you and your family.
Who Can Get The Disney Dining Plan?
First of all, I get asked all the time who can get the Disney Dining Plan and the answer is relatively simple… anyone staying at a Disney branded resort from deluxe resorts like the Polynesian to value hotels like Pop Century, they all offer it. However, this means that select hotels on Disney property (run by third-party companies) do not participate in the Disney Dining Plan.
If you plan on staying at one of the Disney Springs resorts such as the Hilton Orlando, the Holiday Inn, or the B Resort and Spa you cannot purchase the Dining Plan. The same goes for the hotels in the Bonnet Creek area where you’ll find the Wyndham Bonnet Creek or the Waldorf Astoria and finally, both the Swan and Dolphin resort are also excluded from the dining plan.
Many of these resorts do offer the 60 day FastPass reservation window just like the Disney branded hotels, but as of right now the Disney dining plan is not available. There are two ways to purchase the dining plan, one is when you’re booking an entire package at a Disney hotel along with tickets. If you book a package with hotel and tickets and exclude the dining plan you can add it later on but it has to be before your trip.
Annual Passholders, you too can purchase the Disney dining plan, but again as long as you’re staying at one of the Disney hotels. (But you probably already knew that if you are a passholder)
As a passholder myself I booked room only reservations at Disney all the time. However, if you’re making a reservation online and you booked a room on its own then you won’t be allowed to add the dining plan unless you purchase tickets. Since Annual Pass holders don’t need to buy tickets you may be wondering how do I add this to a vacation? Just call Disney right after you’ve made the booking and you’ll be all set.
How Do Disney Dining Plans Work?
Finally, the third big question you may be asking is what do dining plans at Disney actually give you in terms of the amount of food. Well, this is where things get a little bit more complicated
and there are lots of factors. Understand that no matter which dining plan you choose, the number of credits you receive is all based on the number of nights you stay at the hotel.
Additionally, all of the dining plans also come with a refillable mug that can be used at the quick service locations at all of the hotels. Typically that mug would cost you $18.99 by itself. The different types of credits you get are all based on which plan you choose and there are a total of three.
Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan
The entry-level plan is called the Disney quick service dining plan, and this plan will give each member of your party 2 quick service meal credits and 2 snack credits per night of your stay. Therefore, if you’re staying three nights, each person will get a total of six quick service meal credits and six snack credits. This plan will cost $55 per adult per night and $26 per child aged 3 to 9 per night as well.
Standard Disney Dining Plan
The next option is the standard Disney Dining Plan. This is the most popular option and this will give each member of your group one quick service meal credit, one table service meal credit, and two snacks per night of your stay. Again the price for this is $78.01 per adult, per night and $30.51 per child per night. Remember, a child counts as anyone between the ages of 3 and 9. Once a kid is ten years old they’re classified as an adult.
Deluxe Disney Dining Plan
Finally, the granddaddy plan is called the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan. This higher-end option will give each member in the group 2 snacks per night but offer 3 meal credits per night. The kicker here is that the 3 meal credits can be used interchangeably between quick-service locations and table service locations, so it offers a lot more flexibility. This deluxe plan will cost $119 per adult per night and $47.50 per child per night. All of the prices I’ve just mentioned include tax but not the tip. You’ll have to cover that part out of pocket when you dine at the restaurant.
You can choose any of the three plans no matter which hotel you stay at. You can choose to save money on the hotel and stay at a value resort and splurge on food and get the deluxe dining plan. There are times when Disney runs a special promotion and you can get the Dining Plan for FREE. When you see this offered it usually means that the hotel you are staying with may limit you to only a specific level of the dining plan.
Before we get into some of the great ways to use snack credits and meal credits on the plan, let me highlight some changes to the Disney Dining Plan in recent years. Some of the changes in recent years might sway your mind into purchasing the dining plan, even if you never considered it before, for example, the inclusion of alcoholic beverages.
First, we have changes to snacks. In previous years guests were given one snack credit per night of their stay; this was true across the board in all of the plans. But in 2017 Disney changed that and removed desserts from all the quick service meal credits to give guests an additional snack credit. This is why now everyone gets two snack credits per night.
Quick-service meal credits now include one entree and one beverage, but those of you with a sweet tooth should remember the dessert is still included with the table service meal credits. The second major change to the dining plan happened last year.
In the past, all the meal credits, meaning both quick-service and table-service entitled guests to a non-alcoholic beverage. So if you wanted to enjoy a glass of wine you had to pay extra for that. However, in 2018 Disney updated the plan so that guests 21 and over have the option of getting either a non-alcoholic drink or an alcoholic beverage.
For the most part, a lot of alcohol options are included here, you can get a glass of wine, a beer, and even some specialty cocktails. Some locations do offer some higher-end spirits and cocktails and some of them may be excluded from the plan. That will vary from restaurant to restaurant so it’s always best to ask your server when you’re dining.
Obviously entire bottles of wine are not covered in the plan, nor our specialty beverages in special cups like the ones found at Trader Sam’s. But the inclusion of alcohol means that the general price of the plans went up naturally.
For those of you who don’t drink, don’t worry because your non-alcoholic beverage options have improved a little bit.
As opposed to just soda, tea, and coffee guests opting to skip the booze can choose non-alcoholic specialty drinks like artisanal milkshakes, fresh smoothies, and premium hot chocolate. Again souvenir cups are not included, you’ll have to pay for those. I find that depending on which entree you choose, even sticking to just soda means you still can get your money’s worth on the plan.
However, getting that special milkshake, which will cost more out-of-pocket than a coke, will certainly mean you’re getting your money’s worth. The price hike isn’t as bad as you may think, but all of that depends on the specific choices of food you make and the restaurants you select, which takes us to the next topic.
Making smart choices when it comes to specific dishes and specific restaurants will either make the plan worth your money or not. No matter which of the plans you choose and whether or not you plan on drinking alcohol.
So let me share with you some simple tips that make sure you are really getting the best bang for your buck.
Let’s start off by talking about snacks. Disney has really improved the variety of snacks found all over the parks in the past few years and the upgrade of getting 2 snack credits per night from 1 really has been a big bonus to the plan.
There are dozens of quick-service locations that have great entrees but just mediocre desserts. So removing dessert from the quick service meal means that I can eat a burrito at Pecos Bill and jump over to Aloha Aisle to get a dole whip for dessert, using my extra snack credit.
I think this change provides options and great flexibility. This also means that you can space out your food intake as well. I sometimes like to enjoy a quick service meal, walk it off a bit, ride some rides and then get dessert. If you’re someone who doesn’t eat huge meals all at once and snacks all day then these changes may work really well for you.
The $5 Rule
The major tip I have when it comes to snack credits is to aim for the snacks above the $5 mark. Recently Disney World hiked up the prices of standard snacks across the board and almost all of them are now five dollars or more. But famous snacks such as dole whips are big in size and cost about $6 which is a really good use of the snack credit in my book.
Another good use of snack credits can be at one of the Starbucks locations. Nearly all of the coffee drinks at the four Starbucks locations in the parks are eligible as a snack credit, and we all know that you can easily hit $5 on most drinks at Starbucks! You can get that venti, white chocolate mocha that is normally about $6 and use a snack credit here instead.
Finally, a third fantastic use of snack credits is at Epcot, which now has four festivals throughout the year. From the end of August, all the way to the end of May; Epcot is hosting some sort of seasonal event so chances are that when you visit the park you’ll want to try some of the unique dishes offered at one of these events.
Nearly all the dishes offered at the events now qualify as a snack credit and many of them are well above the $5 mark. So if you’re visiting during an event like Food & Wine I would definitely save up some of those snack credits for your Epcot day.
Quick Service Meals
Next up, let’s talk about quick service meals. For those of you new to the Disney lingo, a quick service location is a restaurant where you order your food at a counter and take your food to your table by yourself. Basically it’s any restaurant that doesn’t involve a waiter bringing your food. Think of places like Pecos Bill’s in Frontierland or Sunshine Seasons in The Land Pavillion. A quick service meal credit will get you one entree and one beverage, this applies to breakfast lunch and dinner.
If you’re wondering what’s the best way to get your money’s worth on a quick service meal then your magic numbers to remember are $22.50 and $8.
When you look at a menu at a quick-service restaurant, remember that adults will be saving money if their meal comes out to anything above $22.50 after-tax and the same goes for $8 for kids.
If you hit these numbers, you really will be maximizing the use of the credits. For the most part, this is a really easy number to hit with one exception… breakfast. If you’re a hardcore planner look up some menus and crunch the numbers; you’ll notice that you’ll be hard-pressed to find a quick-service restaurant that offers breakfast at $22.50 for the adults.
Most breakfast platters at the hotels will cost around $10 and even if you buy a juice or a coffee you still won’t hit that $22.50 mark. This is when you must remember that refillable mug which is included in all of the dining plans. Those mugs allow you to get any fountain drink at the quick service locations or even coffee. So if you use your mug for coffee and order a breakfast platter you may want to consider paying that out of pocket and saving the credit for lunch or dinner.
The same even applies to the quick service restaurants in the parks as well. Take Sleepy Hollow Refreshments, for example, the most expensive breakfast entree there is the egg and cheese waffle sandwich at $8.99. If you get yourself a regular coffee you’ll have to add $3.29 to that bill because the refillable mugs can’t be used inside the parks. Even then, after-tax you still will be under the $22.50 mark, this is why paying out of pocket for a quick breakfast is wise or simply use a snack credit for a smaller breakfast item.
I personally love to have breakfast at the Patisserie in the France pavilion at Epcot, especially on the day I’m touring world showcase. You can get an item such as the ham and cheese croissant as a snack credit and it’s a great way to jumpstart your day. Now it normally cost around $4.75, but after-tax you’re close enough in my book to the $5 mark which makes the snack credit use worth it here.
This means that you can save that meal credit for later in the day. Also, remember if you find yourself with the spare quick-service meal towards the end of your trip you can split that meal credit into three snack credits. That again could be really handy during those Epcot festivals like Food and Wine.
Table Service Meals
Finally, we have table service meals, as I mentioned before if you’re new to that Disney lingo this means any restaurant that you make a reservation at and is a sit-down dining experience where a waiter will serve your food. A table service credit means that for breakfast you’re entitled to one entree and a beverage.
For lunch and dinner, you’ll get an entree, a dessert, and a beverage. In some cases, if you don’t have a sweet tooth you can swap out dessert for a soup or a salad. Here again, that varies from restaurant to restaurant as well so I would double-check with the server for more details.
Your magic numbers at table service restaurants are $45.50 for adults and $12.50 for kids. You may think $45.50 is a little steep, especially if you don’t drink alcohol.
But let’s look at a restaurant like 50s Primetime Cafe at Hollywood Studios. Working backward, you’ll see that all of the desserts range from $7 to $10. Let’s use an average of $8 and subtract that from $45.50, you’re left with $37.50. A regular soda is $3.99, so subtract that from our total and you’re left with $33.50.
Most of the entrees here are between $20 and $27, so you’ll have to go for something a little bit more expensive to break even at $45.50 dollars after taxes. But if you get a glass of wine or a
specialty milkshake as your beverage you’ll certainly be saving some money on the Dining Plan. Milkshakes here are around $9 and drinks will easily start at $10.
If that doesn’t satisfy you, then check out the kid’s meal! This is when you start to notice that kids can potentially save a lot more in the Dining Plan than the adults. Again that magic number for kids at a table service restaurant is $12.50. Looking at the same menu most kids meals are $10 or $11, so if you order a simple fountain drink add $3 to that. So you’re already at $13 total and you still haven’t even hit dessert.
So if a kid goes for a specialty drink, an entree, and a dessert they will almost always save some money on the dining plan. So if the adults are worried that they won’t quite hit those magic numbers, remember that kids almost always certainly will and that balances out the whole thing.
But the best use of a table service credit is definitely at a character meal. Take a look at something classic like Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort, breakfast and brunch cost $50 for adults and $33 for kids. So already you’re getting your money’s worth at this specific location. If you opt for character dining at dinner then you really start stretching the use of that credit. At Chef Mickey’s adults will normally have to pay $60 per person and kids have to pay $39.
But then you get some curveballs, as not all character meals are treated the same. Case in point is the Garden Grill located inside the land pavilion at Epcot, this restaurant will normally cost $42 dollars for adults and $27 dollars for kids at breakfast. This means that the adults are not really saving any money but look at the price for the kids.
Out of pocket, you’ll pay $26 to eat here and the standard Dining Plan for a kid costs about the same amount per night. With that, you get one table service credit, a quick service credit, and two snacks all for the same amount of money.
If you’re on the deluxe dining plan your meal credit is worth a whole lot more. If you opt for this top-tier Dining Plan your meal credit at a table service restaurant will get you an entree, a dessert, a beverage, as well as an appetizer. So not only are your meal credits interchangeable between quick service and table service, but you will physically get more food when you use them at the sit-down restaurants.
Table service meal credits can also be used at signature restaurants, but those locations are worth two credits instead of just one. Some of these locations include Cinderella’s Royal Table at the Magic Kingdom or dinner shows like Spirit of Aloha at the Polynesian and my favorite the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue at Fort Wilderness.
Is it worth using 2 credits at signature restaurants? That is really tough to answer because it really depends on your specific itinerary and what other restaurants you do alongside the signature restaurant. But I will tell you this… if you’re on the deluxe dining plan where you get three meal credits per night then using those credits at places like Cinderella’s Royal Table could really make some Disney dreams come true.
Disney Free Dining Plan
Now if you’re still questioning if the dining plan is right for you, remember that sometimes you can snag a promotion where the Dining Plan is free! For example, Last year Disney came out with this year’s free dining plan promotion. To get the free dining plan you had to purchase a non-discounted package for at least a five-night stay. This means you had to purchase a hotel along with tickets that have the park hopper option. You also had to book it by July 7th and travel between August 20th and September 29th as well as November 24th through the 27th.
But there were some restrictions in terms of which meal plan you could get. Select Deluxe hotels offer the standard Disney Dining Plan for free and select moderate and value hotels offered the quick service Dining Plan for free. This is just one example, and these exact terms and conditions may not fit the bill for everyone.
But every year around late April Disney releases details on their free dining promotion. So mark your calendars now if you’re interested in booking a trip for late summer and fall of 2020.
Is The Disney Dining Plan Worth It?
In conclusion, the Disney Dining Plan can be well worth your money if you use it wisely. To really make dining plans for Disney worth it then remember certain key tips.
- For snack credits go for the $5 mark or higher.
- Snack credits can also be used at Epcot festivals.
- Remember your magic numbers when it comes to quick service and table service credits.
- Remember that breakfast is usually not worth the meal credit especially when it comes to quick-service restaurants.
- Character meals are certainly a fantastic use of table service credits.
I hope you enjoyed my in-depth look at the Disney Dining Plan I know that it’s a really popular topic. I hope that I’ve explained the concepts of the Disney Dining Plan for you so that you’ll go into your Disney trip planning a little more prepared. I recommend checking out Disney’s website as well to find out more about the current plan and the particulars. I would also recommend checking out Disney Food Blog’s video on the topic before you leave just so you have a full overview on the topic from someone else’s perspective as well.
What is the Disney World quick service dining plan cost?
The Quick Service Dining Plan cost per night is $52.50 per adult and $23.78 per child ages 3-9.
What is the Disney World Dining Plan?
The Disney Dining Plan is a prepaid meal plan offered at Walt Disney World so guests can budget their dining costs in advance and possibly save money.
Does Disney dining plan save money?
The Disney Dining Plan can save you money if you utilize it properly. It's not perfect for everyone, and quite often it can cost you more than it is worth depending on your situation.
Can you add a dining plan after booking Disney?
The only way to book a dining plan is to book your hotel stay through Disney.