On my next trip to Disney World, it is a no brainer to take the Disney Dining Plan because it is offered for "free." I know there are people that would love to point out that it actually isn't "free." I realize that I have to tip at the table service restaurants and I also realize that only 2 meals are included.
Even with these 2 minor things, I still consider my dining free. Whether the dining is free or not, I am going to give you a few good facts about the dining plan to help you decide if you should purchase it on your next vacation.
First off, you must be staying at a Disney resort to get a dining plan. You can't stay at a condo in Kissimmee and buy the dining plan, not how it works folks.
With all dining plan choices the following are included:
Marina discounts (15% off)
2 Tickets for Miniature golf
2 Tickets to DisneyQuest
Planet Hollywood meal voucher and souvenir
100 Arcade points (please beware that most games are about 25-50 points per play)
Children Activity Center discount (15% off)
Spa discount (15% off)
Guided Fishing discount (15% off)
10% off Sammy Duvall water sports
10% off Splitsville
RESORT refillable mug (Resort is in caps because you cannot refill in the parks)
There are a few dining plan choices, I will touch on 2 of them (the most affordable). One of these is Quick Service Dining. Quick Service Dining consists of all of the above mentioned along with 2 quick-service meals (think go to the counter and get your own food) and a snack. Quick service meals include entree, dessert, and drink. Snacks consist of a lot of choices, 20oz drink, popcorn, bottle of water, etc. Fun things we have purchased with a snack credit have been slushies at Goofy's Candy Company in DTD, fun cupcakes, and Goofy's sour candy stix (think sour Pixi-stix).
|This logo will be on the snacks that qualify under the plan (photo from here)|
|Goofy's slushies (photo from here)|
|Sour Candy Stix (photo from here)|
The other dining plan that I will talk about is the Disney Dining plan. It includes all of the above but the meal choices are different. With this dining plan you get one quick service meal, one table service meal (think a waiter takes you order), and one snack.
When ordering at a table service restaurant you get an entree, dessert, and a drink. This is a lot of food. You will not go hungry. The choices of restaurants are endless. There are restaurants that serve African food, Japanese, American food, pizza, Mexican, etc. Warning: some restaurants take 2 dining credits per person! These can be found here.
This is where the tip comes into play. You need to tip at the table service restaurants. Most of the receipts have suggested amounts on it to help you calculate what you should leave. We are offsetting the extra expense of tips this year by saving all of my change at home, cashing it in at the bank and then ordering gift cards at Disneygiftcard.com. I have been ordering them in $25 increments. I figure that if my tip is higher than that, we can always add some cash with it. We have 5 table service meals reserved and so I will get 5 $25 gift cards.
The next couple of tips include how to get 3 meals out of a 2 meal plan. These are suggestions on how to get breakfast other ways and you can use your meal credits for lunch and dinner (the two most expensive meals). One way that we have done in the past is to use a snack credit for a muffin or piece of fruit at your resort and you can eat that for breakfast. This is a good way to discourage your kids to not get candy or treats with their snack credits. Another suggestion is to save your desserts from the meals from the day before and eat that as breakfast. I have heard that some restaurants will box up cake for you to take with you. I can tell you, from experience, that I usually have those chocolate cakes from the quick service meals stacked up in my room and I have eaten them for breakfast the next day.
The final way to have your third meal is to order breakfast foods from Garden Grocer. This years order for me includes Pop Tarts, bananas, and granola bars. These are to help make up for breakfast.
Garden Grocer is an excellent grocery delivery service. Place your order online and it will be delivered to your resort. They have a minimum of a $40 order and you will pay tax, delivery, and tip on top of that. One of the things I recommend getting from them is a case of bottled water. We also buy snacks that I can put in baggies to make snack bags for the parks, like pretzels and Cheez-it's.
Another suggestion is to MAKE RESERVATIONS 180 DAYS IN ADVANCE for table service restaurants. A lot of the popular restaurants are booked 180 days in advance. I attempted to get a reservation this year at 'Ohana on the first day reservations opened up (7am) and the only time slot available was 8pm. I hate eating that late but it worked in my favor because Wishes starts at 9 and the fireworks can be seen from the restaurant, BONUS!
All in all, everything considered, the dining plan is worth the money. I saved my receipts one year and we did save 20-30%. Although, we wouldn't have eaten at half the restaurants we did nor would my son have been allowed to eat the $30 steak if we didn't have the dining plan. I have a friend who is adamantly against the dining plan because not having that third meal does not make her happy. She eats a lot of food.
Some people consider it convenient to have your meals paid for before you leave, this saves the out of pocket while you are there. This is a great way to look at it.
Have you tried the Disney Dining Plan? Did it work for you?