2020’s Guide to the Disney Dining Plan
It’s easy to get lost in the daily grind. To become so engrossed in the humdrum routine of work and chores and the myriad responsibilities that come with family that we forget to seek out the magic in our lives (yes, this is a guide to the Disney Dining Plan, just bear with us). And there is abundant magic to be found for those who know where and how to look for it.
It’s in the smile on your child’s face when you’ve given them a gift that you know they’ll never forget. It’s in that squeeze your significant other gives your hand when they know that you’re about to embark upon an important part of your journey together. It’s in that tingly feeling of elation you get in the pit of your stomach when booking and planning your latest family vacation and in the feeling of childlike wonderment that we all get when we step off the plane and into a world of adventure.
And where else to feel this sense of elation and wonderment that 7 year olds of all ages get on vacation than The Most Magical Place on Earth… Walt Disney World. Walt Disney World in Florida draws legions of couples, families and groups from all over the state, the country and the world. Every sight, sound and scent is precision engineered to help bring us back in touch with our own inner child while ensuring that our children themselves get an experience that they’ll never forget. And with new experiences like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge which allow you to take your vacation to the Star Wars Galaxy itself, it’s an opportunity to interact with the props, sets and characters that made your childhood fantasies so special.
There’s no doubt that Walt Disney World is the perfect place to spend a family vacation and bring an abundance of the magic that is so sorely missing from our lives most of the time. However, while there are so many wonderful rides, attractions, stores and activities for visitors to enjoy, let’s face it, we all need to eat. And that can represent both great opportunities and potential challenges for budget conscious families embarking on their dream vacation.
Dining is a huge part of your vacation experience… Even at Walt Disney World
Let’s face it, dining is a huge part of any vacation experience. Whether we’re immersing ourselves in other cultures through the exotic sight, scent and taste of new cuisine or making our vacation all the more special with the taste of familiar foods we already love, dining isn’t just necessary to keep the whole family happy and energized… it’s a real part of the multisensory experience that is your vacation.
The good news is that whether you’re looking for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a tasty snack to tide you over between these, Disney World offers a plethora of dining experiences. So many, in fact, that you it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll get to take a bite everywhere food is served in Disney World. The happiest place on Earth is home to over 200 dining establishments including about 90 full service restaurants, over 30 of which are situated within the Disney parks themselves.
So, variety won’t be a problem, but for the gourmand who wants a taste experience every bit as thrilling as Space Mountain, it can prove a logistical minefield, as well as a pain point for the budget conscious.
Fortunately, families who want to keep a close eye on their finances on vacation can still dine like royalty and try something new and delicious every day through the Disney Dining Plan. In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into what exactly the Disney Dining Plan is, what diners can expect from it, how much they can expect to save and where they can get this affordable pass of delectable delicacies.
Smell good to you? Then take a seat, grab a napkin, select a bottle from the top of the menu and prepare to dig in!
Please note that all prices quoted are accurate for 2019. Subsequent pricings may vary with each year.
What is the Disney Dining Plan?
The Disney Dining Plan is a prepaid meal plan offered at Walt Disney World in Florida. Itis designed to allow guests to budget their dining costs in advance, preventing unplanned spending and potentially saving a lot of money on what can snowball into being an expensive (albeit magical) vacation.
The Disney Dining Plan provides guests with an pre-established amount of credits that can be redeemed for snacks, counter service meals, table service meals, or even meals in the park’s fine dining establishments. Oh yeah! It’s not just fast food in Disney World. Even the seasoned gourmand will get the opportunity to tickle their taste buds. These credits are stored on the guest’s MagicBand so there are no cards or vouchers to worry about carrying around or potentially losing. And with the receipt provided at each restaurant or snack bar after credits are redeemed, guests can keep track of how many credits they have left.
It’s worth noting that the Disney Dining Plan is available exclusively to Walt Disney World guests purchasing a vacation package with a room and tickets through Disney. This means that if you are staying in off-site hotel or have bought discounted Walt Disney World tickets through a Disney-authorized seller, you are not eligible for the Disney Dining Plan.
Why get the Disney Dining Plan?
As most families know, budgeting is at the heart of harmonious family finances. It’s easy to lose track of our finances when we’re not sure exactly where our money is going. By planning our outgoing costs in advance, we can reduce the risk of overspending, incurring debt and throwing away money on interest on loans and credit cards.
The Disney Dining Plan is advantageous for families who want to pre-allocate a budget for their dining to better manage their costs while on vacation. That way, if the kids desperately want a Mickey hat or other memorabilia on their vacation, parents can treat them without worrying about how they’re going to make next month’s mortgage payments. What’s more, the great thing about the Disney Dining Plan is that users aren’t limited to a single restaurant meaning that they can get a wide range of gastronomic experiences for their buck and meals will never become boring or repetitive.
Plus, because the Disney Dining Plan is available in a plethora of restaurants, families can box clever and go to the restaurants which will get them the most value for their credits (more on that later).
What options do guests have on the Disney Dining Plan?
There are a number of Disney Dining Plan options and the best one for your family will depend on a range of factors from budget to dietary preferences. Let’s take a look at the options available to guests so that you can decide which is the best fit for you…
Quick Service Plan
This is the lowest tier of the Disney Dining Plan although it can ensure that families keep rumbling tummies at bay affordably. This tier of the Disney Dining Plan is often included with Free Dining packages at the Value Resorts.
For each family member on the room reservation, the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan includes the following per night:
- Two counter-service meals
- Two snacks
- And a refillable drink mug to use throughout their stay
The Quick Service Plan costs $52.50 per adult and $23.78 per child ages 3-9 per night.
Standard Disney Dining Plan
This is the plan that most refer to when they reference the Disney Dining Plan. That’s because, well, that’s its name, although for the sake of clarity we’ll refer to this as the standard plan. This is the plan that’s usually included with the free dining included in the Moderate, Deluxe, and Deluxe Villa Resort packages.
Value Resort guests can also upgrade from the Quick Service Dining Plan by paying the price difference per night.
For each family member on the room reservation, the Standard Disney Dining Plan includes the following per night:
- One counter-service meal
- One sit-down meal
- Two snacks
- And a refillable drink mug to use throughout their stay
The per night price of the Standard Disney Dining Plan is $75.49 for each adult and $27.98 per child.
Disney Dining Plan Plus
The newest plan to join Disney Dining, this plan is a step above what the Disney Dining Plan offers with perhaps the most flexibility of all plans. It might cost a bit more but the options are perfect for a family who plans or does not plan for their dining.
Each family member on the room reservation will receive the following with the Disney Dining Plan Plus:
- Two meals per night, redeemable at any quick service, table service or character dining restaurant
- Two snacks per night
- Unlimited soda refills at any table service restaurant, tea or coffee or one non-alcoholic specialty drink. Guests over 21 receive one alcoholic drink.
- And a refillable drink mug to use throughout your stay
Deluxe Disney Dining Plan
This is the gold standard of Disney Dining Plans and perfect for families that want to make quality dining one of the defining characteristics of their stay. No resort tiers offer this as part of their Free Dining packages, but standard Disney Dining Plan users can pay the difference to upgrade to it for one day or throughout their stay.
For each family member on the room reservation, the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan includes the following per night:
- Three meals at your choice of counter service restaurants or table service restaurants
- Two snacks
- And, of course, a refillable drink mug to use throughout their stay
The per-night price of the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan is $116.25 per adult and $43.49 per child during regular season, and more during peak season.
Guests using the Deluxe Plan are now officially allowed to mix their adult and child credits, meaning that child credits can be used to buy adult entrees. This has long been a loophole that Disney World has since opted to legitimize rather than prohibit.
I’m vegetarian / vegan / lactose or gluten intolerant. Can I still use the Disney Dining Plan?
Absolutely! If you are vegetarian or vegan or have food allergies or specific dining requirements (like a lactose or gluten intolerance for example) you have absolutely nothing to worry about. You can use your Disney Dining Plan on whatever options best suit your ethical choices and / or medical needs. Vegan diners or those trying a plant based diet for health or ethical reasons might want to check out PETA’s guide to vegan dining at Disney World.
The beauty of the Disney Dining Plan is in its flexibility. Depending on your specific type of plan you may be able to use it at virtually any restaurant or dining establishment in the parks. But this can be both a blessing and a curse, as different outlets will represent different savings opportunities.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at…
How much can guests really save with the Disney Dining Plan?
This can be difficult to quantify. Because the credits don’t have a specific dollar value, and how much they are “worth” widely varies based upon your dining preferences. This is why it’s important to plan your meals in advance so you can get the most out of your credits. This means deciding which restaurant is the best fit for the kind of meal or service you’re looking for, and planning your days accordingly.
Different restaurants and food service outlets will all represent a different degree of bang for your buck. Don’t worry, we’ll get into using your Disney Dining Plan effectively in the next section. Still, by rule of thumb it’s a good idea to box clever with your credits. A table service credit can be redeemed at a modest restaurant where a sandwich, ice cream dessert and glass of water might normally cost $23 in total. Alternatively, that same credit could also be redeemed at a more upmarket restaurant for a glass of wine, steak and classy dessert with an approximate value of $62 in total.
As you can see, the huge discrepancy between the different restaurants, the fare they offer and their prices makes it hard to ascribe a vale to each credit. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to want swordfish and chablis for every meal. But it does highlight the importance of getting the most out of your selected Dining Plan.
Take some time to analyze the pricing of the Disney Dining Plans, and it’s fairly easy to arrive at an approximate value that Walt Disney World places on each meal type within the various plans.
Don’t worry, we’ve done the math so you don’t have to!
A table service meal is worth approximately $45, a counter service meal on the Disney Dining Plan is worth approximately $21, and a snack has an approximate worth of $5. The drinks are harder to quantify. You could fill your mug with a soft drink or you can also enjoy a beer, wine or cocktail at no extra cost. With that in mind, we’ll treat the refillable mug as a throw-in, since its value is likely to fluctuate a great deal throughout your stay, even if you don’t drink.
Now, let’s compare this to the average restaurant cost.
A family of four can expect to pay about $45 for a quick-service lunch with two soft drinks, two adult entrees, and two kids’ meals (which include drinks). Let’s say they go through around two snacks per person throughout the day. That’s an extra $40. Then you’d be looking at around $130 for a table-service dinner including two soft drinks, two cocktails, two adult entrees, two adult desserts, two kids’ meals and two kids’ desserts. Of course, you and the kids will also want to stay hydrated when you’re not dining so that’s an extra $18.99 plus tax for the rest of your stay per family member. This means that families can expect to pay at least the better part of $250 a day on food and dining.
Altogether this means that you can typically expect to save between $100 and $150 at least throughout your trip. Of course, there’s potential for even greater savings if you know how to use your card effectively…
How to use the Disney Dining Plan for maximum savings
Using the Disney Dining plan is simple. Just show a member of staff your MagicBand and they’ll take care of the rest.
Using the plan effectively for maximum savings is an altogether different matter.
In all frankness, knowing where and how to use your Disney Dining Plan can make all the difference between potentially saving and losing hundreds of dollars. It’s worth noting that there are certain groups of people who are likely to get less bang for their buck no matter where they dine. Teetotalers, vegetarians and vegans, for example are way less likely to make significant savings as the vegetarian and plant based dishes tend to be lower in cost than their meat or seafood based counterparts.
If nobody in your family drinks or eats meat, you might struggle to run up the kind of tab that makes the plan such good value for most. Likewise, if you have humble tastes and feel more at home in counter service establishments than sit down restaurants, you may not get the optimal bang for your buck without straying from your comfort zone.
If you are on the Deluxe Dining Plan (and everyone in your family has a really big appetite), there’s nothing to stop you from eating three table service meals a day. This can go a long way toward not only getting the most out of your dining plan but also towards ensuring that every meal you share with your family feels special and memorable. And there are enough sit down restaurants spread throughout the park to ensure that things never become repetitive.
Think about the inherent value of everything you order. A bowl of pasta, for example has a much lower monetary value than a swordfish steak dinner and a glass of soda has way less inherent value than a glass of wine. By all means stay hydrated, but don’t be shy about ordering a coffee, tea or soda as an alternative to water (or diet soda if you’re keen to avoid empty calories).
Using a Disney Dining Plan is also a great way to encourage kids to eat outside of their comfort zones while knowing that the family is getting the most value for money out of their dining.
But, of course, this kind of attitude can diminish your experience as much as it can contribute to it. There’s nothing worse than really feeling like a spaghetti carbonara but opting to order a swordfish steak instead. If you want a big ol’ bowl of pasta go ahead and treat yourself to a big ol’ bowl of pasta! As in most things, it’s all about finding balance between the monetary value of your savings and the value you personally derive from your dining experience. A greater saving doesn’t necessarily make your meal taste better, no matter what anyone says.
Still, one of the chief virtues of the plan is that families can be safe in knowing that they can eat as much as they want throughout the day (any of the plans is enough to make sure that nobody in your family goes hungry) without worrying about unexpected costs.
Where and how to purchase the Disney Dining Plan
The best way to get a Disney Dining Plan is by choosing it as part of a resort package that offers you incredible deals on every aspect of your once in a lifetime Disney World vacation.
That’s where we come in!
At Park Savers, we’re completely dedicated to making sure that you get the vacation of your dreams without ever having to worry about whether or not you’re getting the most out of your deal. We bring you the best possible savings on packages that suit the needs of your family.
Booking a Walt Disney World Resort Package with Park Savers couldn’t be easier! All you have to do is visit www.disneyworld.com and put together the package that brings you everything your family could want from a Walt Disney World vacation (including, of course, the Disney Dining Plan of your choice). When you get to the “Review” page, make a note of the packages pre-tax and post-tax prices. You’ll need these in a moment.
Then come back to us and fill out the form right here. Put together the same package as you did on the Disney World website. Then simply enter your pre-tax and post-tax prices. We’ll show you your Park Savers price with your discount on the package. All that’s left to do is complete your purchase with Park Savers and you’ll receive your package confirmation within 12 hours of booking!
You’ll receive the exact same package and benefits that Disney offered, and enjoy a lower price on the family vacation of a lifetime!
Dean has been writing and blogging for over 10 years. He specializes in Disney theme park news including updates, openings, special events and general advice for travelers. He doesn’t shy away from the good, the bad and the ugly. His previous work includes being a Cast Member at Disneyland and working as a travel agent.