If you’re staying on-site at Disney World, almost everything is paid for before you even arrive – hotel, park tickets, airfare – but that leaves one main expense that you still have to think about: food.
As they always do, Disney came up with a solution for handling this when they created the Disney Dining Plan. This plan allows you to pre-pay for all of your dining so you don’t have to worry about it later and gives your vacation an “all-inclusive” feeling. Disney even offers the Disney Dining Plan for free during some promotions.
Here’s how you can figure out if the Disney Dining Plan makes sense for you.
Who can use it
The only people that can use the Disney Dining Plan are those who stay on-site at Disney World. This includes all of the hotels listed in the Hotel Filtering Tool except the Dolphin and Swan hotels.
What is included
When you’re using a Disney Dining Plan, you can use it toward these things:
- Table Service credits – used at participating Table Service restaurants, includes an entree, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage
- Counter Service credits – used at participating Counter Service restaurants, includes an entree, non-alcholic beverage (plus dessert if you’re eating lunch or dinner)
- Snack credits – used at many locations, including some food carts. Can be used toward everything from a bottle of water to cotton candy to an ice cream bar. For the most current list of snacks, see this DISBoard list of confirmed snacks.
- Refillable mugs – each dining plan includes a refillable mug for every guest who is 3 years old or older.
You can use this mug to get free refills but only at your resort. These mugs would cost about $13 each if you purchased them on your own.(Updated 8/19/2013: Disney has begun to roll out RFID mugs which allow you unlimited refills at all resorts, not just your own. If they are purchased separately, they cost $17.99 to use for 4 days or more.)
The restaurant search from DisneyFoodBlog.com lists all eating establishments in Walt Disney World and lets you know if they participate in the Disney Dining Plan.
Disney Dining Plan options
There are 3 main types of dining plans, each with different perks. The information below is per person per night (except for the refillable mug which is per person but each mug is used throughout the duration of your stay).
|Name||Counter Service credits||Table Service credits||Snack credits||Refillable mug included? (free refills, to be refilled at any resort)||Adult Price after June 17, 2013 (ages 10+)||Child Price after June 17, 2013 (ages 3-9)|
|Quick-Service Dining Plan||2||0||1||Yes||$39.64||$15.75|
|Regular Dining Plan||1||1||1||Yes||$58.66||$17.16|
|Deluxe Dining Plan||<-- 3 credits to be used for either of these -->||2||Yes||$102.94||$28|
How to use your credits
Although your credits are per night of your stay, you can use them whenever you’d like until they run out. For instance, you may have the regular dining plan which gives you 1 Table Service credit and 1 Counter Service per day. You could decide to use 2 Table Service credits one day and 2 Counter Service credits the next. You could use all of your credits in one day. It’s up to you.
Disney Dining Plan vs. paying out of pocket
People have different ways of looking at using a dining plan. For some (like me), it’s about having a vacation that is stress-free where we aren’t worrying about money. For others, it’s purely a financial decision.
Create a list of what meals would cost you if you were paying out of pocket. Then see what the same meals cost if you have the Disney Dining Plan. Be sure to add 18% gratuity to the Disney Dining Plan figures (so if your strategy is to order the most expensive entree while using the Disney Dining Plan, remember that it increases your tip as well).
How do you get it free?
Of course, if you don’t have to pay for your Dining Plan then the calculations and comparisons don’t matter at all. Free food is awesome. Disney does “Free Dining” promotions periodically. Here’s the history of when they’ve been announced and for what dates they were valid. If I was betting money, I’d say there’s a pretty good chance of enjoying Free Dining from mid-August through mid-December.
|Booking Period||Free Dining Stay Dates|
|8/1/2013 - 9/15/2013||9/29/2013 - 12/22/2013|
|5/9/2013 - 7/31/2013||9/2/2013 - 9/25/2013|
|7/12/2012 - 9/29/2012||9/30/2012 - 12/13/2012|
|3/5/2012 - 5/18/2012||8/25/2012 - 9/29/2012|
|8/3/2011 - 10/29/11 and 10/27/2011 - 12/17/2011||1/8/2012 - 3/31/2012|
|8/3/2011 - 10/29/2011||10/2/2011 - 12/17/2011|
|5/2/2011 - 8/27/2011||8/28/2011 - 9/24/2011|
|8/16/2010 - 12/20/2010||8/19/2011 - 9/29/2011|
|8/16/2010 - 12/20/2010||5/27/2011 - 6/2/2011|
|8/16/2010 - 12/20/2010||1/1/2011 - 3/3/2011|
|8/16/2010 - 12/20/2010||10/1/2010-12/21/2010|
|7/6/2010 - 8/14/2010||8/15/2010 -12/21/2010|
|5/3/2010 - 8/14/2010||8/15/2010 - 10/2/2010|
|7/27/2009 - 9/26/2009||9/27/2009 - 12/17/2009|
|3/30/2009 - 6/21/2009 and 6/10/09 - 7/26/09||8/16/2009 - 10/3/2009|
When you book Free Dining, the level of your dining plan will be determined by which level of resort you have booked.
- If you book a value resort, you will get the Quick Service Dining Plan for free. You can upgrade to the next level of Dining Plan for $18/adult and $3/child per night.
- If you book any other level of resort, you will get the regular Dining Plan for free. You can upgrade to the Deluxe Dining Plan for about $44/adult and $10/child per night.
Note: as long as you arrive by the last day of the promotion, you can enjoy free dining during your whole stay.
Free Dining isn’t always the best option
Many people get caught up in thinking that Free Dining is better than any other promotion but that’s not necessarily true. For instance, there was a discount code for 30% off room rates running at the same time as the recent Free Dining promotion. Depending on the hotel and dining package, 30% could work out to be a much better deal.
Maximizing Disney Dining Plan credits
To see which restaurants provide the best value, check out my analysis of all Table Service and Quick Service restaurants at http://wdwprepschool.com/maximizing-disney-dining-plan-credits-for-2014/
Questions about how the dining plan works? Comments? Leave it in the comment section.
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