The short answer is: it depends. It truly does!
Those who love it, those who avoid it, and those who have no idea what it is. We tend to fall into the second camp – it just doesn’t work well for the way we eat. Too much structure, and therefore in NO way a value for our family.
In today’s article I want to touch on the basics, as well as shout out some good resources if you decide you’d like to look more deeply into if it works for you. There are different plans (official info here) depending on what kind of dining you want to do. So the first thing to look at is not the plans – but how you dine on vacation.
Do you often eat at buffets and set price dining experiences? Do you usually eat full meals or share? Does eating within a structured system seem complicated or a delight to you? Do you like having your vacations fully pre-paid and very few bills after?
For us – we often share entrees or just order appetizers and drinks, and we regularly pick 2 table service meals skipping breakfast and snacks and avoiding counter service. We use meal time to sit, relax, plan our moves, and take a break as we drink plenty of water and chill. We also do maybe 2-3 buffet or set value meals over a 7-10 day trip so we don’t have a lot of built in value/sure thing pricing wise meals to help make the plan “worth it”.
The big key to remember is that the dining plan is a prepaid meal plan, structured to “favor the house of mouse” should you not work it to its full advantage. This isn’t a bad thing – but it means that for some folks like us we would wind up with loads of unused credits while paying out of pocket for a number of uncovered meals and items. If someone falls ill, doesn’t make a meal, or simply isn’t hungry it’s also easy to end up with “spare” credits. I can not tell you how many times on a WDW message board I’ve read “Help! I’ve got — snack and — quick service credits left and need to use them! The plane leaves in a few hours!”
You can use up and burn those snack credits on things you can take back home on the plane – but are they really things you want to take back?
For my family, we purchased the TIW card (info) on our last trip – which gave us 20% off most everything we ate. I did run the math both before and after our trip. We came out ahead vs dining plan- and were much happier with total dining freedom.
While it works far better for us to avoid a plan – I know that for many folks it is actually better to have a dining plan! If your crew is more of a grab the grub & run – the quick service plan is a great option. If you’re doing a lot of set price meals such as character buffets then you KNOW no matter what you order on the menu it will be a good monetary value for your plan. Some other possible scenarios include:
- ‘free’ dining is offered, and for your group the savings of dining plan vs a room discount is larger
- one person paying for larger group that wants meals included
- LOVE planning/coupon/bargain hunting and will enjoy the quest to maximize dining plan $
- For budget reasons it works better to pre-pay for convenience factor and don’t mind if you wind up a few dollars over spending for plan
- You run the math and the dining plan clearly saves a significant amount
- Planning is overwhelming, you’d rather just know to plan on 1 quick service + 1 table service (regular plan) per day
Bottom line? If it works well for you, or you think it will, go for it! Disney Food Blog has a great FAQ page and they frequently include information on their site about good snack and other dining plan credit uses.
As an alternative if you like pre-paying but don’t think any plan is a good fit – purchase Disney gift cards in advance and use those to pay for meals! This works well if you are not staying at a Disney hotel as well (only on-site guests can book a dining plan). This is a great fit for all types of folks from the adventurous foodies who relish every bite to those who just see food as fuel and want to eat and run.
Note that other Disney resorts may have meal plans as well – we are currently planning a trip to Disneyland Paris and their plans are quite different and I am currently investigating if one will be a good fit or choice for us. I’ll be sure to keep you posted!