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Our Disney Dining Plan Experience

Last week my wife and I went to Disney World in Orlando Florida to celebrate our one year anniversary and, for the first time, opted for the Disney Dining Plan. You can only include the Disney Dining Plan if you are booking a vacation package with Disney, in our case I booked a five-day Magic Your Way Package, with lodging at the Port Orleans Riverside resort, and included the standard Dining package.

Overall, we were pleased with the Dining Plan and felt that it was a great deal. There was only one downside, it was too much food!

How the Disney Dining Plan Works:

Each person is given a certain number of “entitlements” each day for one of three categories. The three food categories are:

There are five dining packages, but only three are truly just about meals:

There is a Premium Dining Plan and Platinum Dining plan but they start getting crazy. The premium includes refillable drink mugs, tickets to a Cirque du Soleil show (La Nouba), etc. The Platinum includes fireworks cruises, in-room babysitting, spa treatments, etc. By the way, the Premium costs $159 per person per day and the Platinum costs $209 per person per day!

How We Fared

Having gone to Disney before, we knew we enjoyed eating at several places already – Marrakesh [3], the Moroccan restaurant at Epcot, and Biergärten [4], the German buffet at Epcot. We discovered another new favorite on this trip, Kona Café in the Polynesian Resort [5], that we probably wouldn’t have tried without the meal plan (maybe we would’ve, who knows!?).

Since we knew we were going to eat out every meal and we weren’t going the frugal route, the dining plan seemed to make sense. On the whole we “spent” approximately $551.86 across the five days, or $55.19 per person per day. Considering the package cost us only $39.99 per person per day, we came out ahead about $15 each per day. In theory, we thus saved $151.96 by going with the package.

But wait… there’s a huge caveat – We got more food than we could handle! Having the dining plan changed how we would’ve normally ordered food. The most notable change was in desserts. I never order dessert because I don’t have a big sweet tooth! If anything, my wife and I share a dessert. Never in my life have I ordered dessert for five meals straight, which we did on the meal plan because it was included. I also almost never order soda with dinner because I’m concerned the caffeine would affect my sleep. Cut out one soda and one dessert and you’re already talking $7-8 a day, cutting half our savings! We probably wouldn’t have bought chips or dessert with our lunches either, another $5-6 in savings at lunch, thus negating almost all of our savings! (in the case of lunch, we would ask for bottled water or give the dessert to some kid who wasn’t hyper enough)

Want another caveat? We were left with two snacks we had to use at the end of the trip – we bought some fudge and a caramel nut apple to take home. That’s $8 we probably wouldn’t have spent if we didn’t have to.

Your savings are really in those “extras” – the side of chips, the desserts at dinner, a soda with every meal, etc. I normally don’t get those and my wife normally doesn’t either, so had we behaved “normally,” we probably would’ve saved more by not getting the plan.

Best Values

The best snack, in terms of value and maybe nutrition, in any park has to be the pretzel – which ranges in price from $4.04 to $4.20. I was surprised to see different prices, sometimes within the same park, but they do vary (though I don’t think the pretzel size changes). We would routinely split a pretzel as a snack during the day. Another good snack, though not particularly healthy, is a candied apple – the caramel and nuts coated apple at about $4.24.

The best quick service meal, hands down, is the #1 Combo Rib & Chicken at Cosmic Ray’s in Magic Kingdom [6]. After you add in a soda and a desert (they won’t give you bottled water there!), the price for that meal rockets to a stunning $21.37, nearly twice the average price of any other quick service meal. It’s definitely enough food for two, but since we were both on the meal plan, it made no sense to “save” because we would have to spend it later anyway.

Best Hacks

Ask for bottled water instead of dessert: I don’t know many people who eat dessert with lunch but I do know a lot of people who would enjoy a nice bottle of ice cold water as they wandered around a theme park in the heat of Florida. Some places will let you do it, some won’t, it never hurts to ask!

Skip breakfast: In terms of value, breakfast is clearly the least valuable of all the quick service meals. My wife and I usually opted to share a pretzel for breakfast and just wait it out until our lunch.

Try to get substitutions: It’s not always clear what counts as what, so if you are in doubt ask. In one case, the attendant didn’t know if a caramel nut apple counted as a snack until she tried it in the machine and it worked. Be courteous and you never know!

Don’t try to maximize value all the time: Remember, the goal of a meal is to be fed and to be happy – not to maximize the dollar amount of what you’re getting for your entitlement! Nowhere is this more true than at a buffet, don’t stuff yourself so full that you’re sick and can’t ride Buzz Lightyear at Magic Kingdom afterwards. Eat until you’re satisfied, then go out and ride some rides so you’re happy and satisfied. How much you dented the restaurant’s bottom line won’t matter!

Snacks convert well into souvenirs: We left with a candied apple and a square of fudge, but you can always get popcorn balls or some other neat Disney snack souvenir you can give a friend when you get home.

Overall Impressions:

Looking back, we probably won’t get the dining plan again though we were by no means displeased with our experience. I felt the whole experience was a wash financially, though we did discover a really awesome restaurant we didn’t know about before. I don’t know how the experience would’ve skewed had we had kids, whose plans are $8.99, $10.99, and $20.99, but that’s something to worry about down the road.

(Photo: ckramer [7])