Do you save money with the Disney Dining plan? My stance on the Disney Dining Plan for years has been simple. I’d always say something along the lines of, “The Disney Dining Plan is a bad deal. Nobody will eat that much food.” And honestly, I still feel that way in most cases. The Disney Dining Plan reminds me of something like a 7-3 meal plan at college. Sure, theoretically you’ll eat 3 meals a day on campus 7 days a week, but in reality you often don’t use all your allotments. But it turns out saving money with the Disney Dining plan is very realistic in certain situations, though the annual pass definitely saves more families money.
The Backside of Magic podcast clued me in to the key to saving money with the dining plan, and I tested it out with the help of friend of the blog and Award Travel 101 moderator Rachel Berkey. So, let’s take a look at how the Disney Dining Plan works and how to save money. If you’re already familiar with the Disney Dining Plan, click here to skip to the part about saving money.
Disney Dining Plan Basics
Who can get a Disney Dining Plan
Any on-site Disney guest (staying in a Disney hotel) can sign up for the Disney Dining Plan. (Related: Benefits of staying at an on site Disney hotel). While Disney’s website will only allow you to buy the dining plan for packages that include tickets, in my experience if you call after you have booked a hotel you can add it. Annual Passholders can add the dining plan to any Disney hotel reservation. Remember, you can pay for Disney packages with points if you’d like. (Related: Buy Disney tickets with Chase points).
Children under 3 in your room do not need a dining plan. However, you must buy the dining plan for every person listed in your room. You pay for the dining plan for each night listed on your Disney reservation. No more, no less. You can use the dining plan from the day you check in until the day you check out.
What you get with the Disney Dining Plan
You can purchase three different types of dining plans. Each gives you different numbers of allotments in three credit buckets (per night of your hotel stay), plus a refillable souvenir mug. The souvenir mugs can be refilled at any hotel on Disney property but not in the parks. Note one fairly major change for 2018 is the inclusion of an alcoholic beverage for both quick service and table service meals.
Quick Service Credits
Quick service credits can be used at any counter service restaurant on property. Counter service generally means just that. No wait staff, just order at a counter and get your food.
Table Service Credits
Table service credits are used at sit down restaurants on Disney property. Some of the more expensive restaurants cost two table service credits, though the majority cost only one.
Snack credits can be used for anything at a cart or counter service restaurant with the purple “DDP” sign. They range anywhere from a soda to some of the more expensive offerings at booths at the various Epcot festivals.
The three different Disney Dining Plan types and prices
|Quick Service Credits (per day)||Table Service Credits (per day)||Snack Credits (per day)||Adult Cost (per day)||Child Cost (per day)|
|Quick Service Dining Plan||2||0||2||$52.50||$21.74|
|Regular Dining Plan||1||1||2||$75.49||$25.75|
|Deluxe Dining Plan||0||3||2||$116.25||$39.99|
(Note: All prices include tax and every dining plan comes with one free refillable souvenir mug)
Gratuity is NOT included in the Disney Dining Plan, so budget accordingly.
How to pay with the Disney Dining Plan
Paying with your dining plan is simple, most wait staff will ask you if you’re on the dining plan. Say yes, tap your magic band, and the appropriate credit will be deducted from your plan. One very important thing to note is you receive your full allotment of credits at the beginning of your stay. You can also use those credits to pay for anyone’s meal. That means you can use them all up as quickly (or slowly) as you’d like, and you can pay for friends or family who aren’t staying in your room too.
So for example, if you have the Quick Service Plan and are staying for three nights, you will receive 6 quick service credits and 6 snacks. As soon as you check in to your hotel, all of these will be available. So if you buy 6 hot dogs at Casey’s on your first day, you’ll be out of quick service credits for your trip.
You can check the number of dining credits you have left using the My Disney Experience app on your phone, which I’d highly recommend doing. You also get a list of what you have left on your restaurant receipts.
Why you usually don’t save money with the Disney Dining Plan
Many people like to get the Disney Dining Plan for convenience. It definitely eases the stress food wise, you pay up front and then you don’t worry about it in the parks. It also works great for older kids if you don’t want to give them money or a credit card. The Disney Dining Plan also prevents you from having to wander outside Disney property to look for (much cheaper) food. Disney wants this (obviously), but sometimes guests want this too.
But the reason you don’t usually save money with the Disney Dining Plan is due to breakage. In other words, it’s tough to use up all the credits you’re given realistically. Take the quick service plan for example. It’s certainly possible to spend $20 per meal and $6 per snack, especially if you take alcohol with your meal. But alcohol isn’t always an option and ordering extra food because it’s “free” doesn’t mean you’re actually saving money. Plus, at that point you’re still just breaking even.
In most instances, unless you plan very well and eat quite a bit, you’ll break even at best. Which, again, if you’re looking for convenience, might not be the worst thing. To consistently save money with the Disney Dining Plan, however, you have to understand the three keys to saving money with the Disney Dining Plan.
1. Child dining plans are very cost efficient
The first trick to saving money with the Disney Dining Plan is understanding that the children’s cost is very cost efficient. Remember, Disney considers anyone between 3-9 a child (under 3 is free). Take the regular dining plan for example. It costs a child about $25 a day, but most character meals cost $25, so if you go to one character meal and one counter meal a day you save money.
Another reason why a child dining plan saves money: you can use child quick service credits to buy adult meals at counter service restaurants. In fact, Disney makes no distinction between “child” and “adult” quick service credits. Children can’t buy alcohol, however. (That would be wrong!) But let’s say you use your child’s plan to buy an adult quick service meal (~$12) and to pay for your child to go to Chef Mickey’s (~$25). You’ve already saved $12 and you haven’t even used your snack credits yet.
Note that on the regular dining plan, child table service credits must be used for children. You can also use a child table service credit to buy a child quick service meal, but not an adult quick service meal.
If you have children 3-9 listed on your hotel reservation, it can really help you save money with the Disney Dining Plan.
2. You can use your dining plan credits on anyone, including people not staying in your room
The second key to saving money with the Disney Dining Plan is knowing that your credits can be used for anyone. If you’ve ever had a stranger at the end of her trip offer to pay for your meal using leftover dining credits, you know this is true. That really happens! (Further proof that it’s tough to save money using the dining plan). That means that you can really save some money, or at least guarantee you break even, if you book multiple rooms or are traveling with a larger party. Why?
Remember I mentioned that the dining plan is like a college meal plan. It’s tough to realistically use it all up. However, if you have, say, grandparents booked in a separate room, you can use your credits to pay for their meals. If they dine with you once or twice you pretty much guarantee you will use up all the credits. When you combine this with the first key, your savings can start adding up.
My five year old daughter and I can still share a counter service meal and both be satisfied. Let’s say we were on the regular dining plan so we each have one quick service credit (2 total). We can use one credit for a meal to share between the two of us, and then the second for grandma, and boom: all of a sudden the whole family comes out ahead.
You can use your dining credits on any day
Another thing to remember is it doesn’t matter which day you use the dining credits on. If I visit Disney on a three day trip, I don’t think I’ll realistically go to three character meals. If I was on the dining plan I might end up going to three character meals due to “the power of freeeeee.” But I’d be losing money since I wouldn’t have spent that much money had I not purchased the dining plan.
However, I always go to at least one character meal. What if I use one of my table service credits to pay for grandma? All of a sudden I’m not paying more than I would have without the plan, and again, the family overall comes out ahead.
Remember, you only pay for the dining plan for the guests listed in the room you purchase the plan for. You don’t have to purchase the dining plans for multiple rooms you booked. So, if like me, your family size dictates getting two rooms sometimes, you could just put one parent and one child in one room and only get the dining plan for that room, while still sharing all the credits among the whole family.
One special note for the Deluxe Dining Plan: the dining credits have no designations. So the 3 meal credits you get each day can be used for counter service, table service, kids, or adults. So if you take my above example, I could buy the Deluxe Dining Plan for my room with one parent and one child and we’d just have 6 meal credits a day we could use for anyone, including grandma and grandpa. Contrast this with the regular dining plan, where child table service credits must be used for children. So you can make some real hay if you think about it.
3. Alcohol is included in the 2018 Disney Dining Plan
So this doesn’t apply to everyone, and even if you do drink alcohol, you can’t get it at every restaurant. Most restaurants in the Magic Kingdom still do not serve alcohol.
However, if you do partake, the 2018 Disney Dining Plan includes alcoholic beverages. That makes saving money or at least breaking even much easier. Instead of getting a $3.29 soda, you get a $8 beer and save money. Personally, I don’t drink with every meal, so I don’t consider this a huge factor when I’m trying to save money with the Disney Dining Plan, but it is a factor.
My experience saving money with the Disney Dining Plan and how to calculate if you will save money
So before I left for my most recent trip, I used this handy tool created by Rachel Berkey to estimate my costs and whether the dining plan would make sense for my family. I traveled to Disney alone with my two older kids, but only one is above the age of three. (Related: Tips for flying alone with preschoolers). My parents stayed in a different room but joined us for some meals. We stayed at Coronado Springs for three nights.
We bought the Disney Dining Plan for my room, which meant I paid for one adult and one child, about $100 a day. However, I used two of my adult table service credits at Chef Mickey’s because my mom joined us. I used my last table service credit at Crystal Palace so I got good value out of all of those. On top of that we always used my daughter’s quick service credits for adult meals, and I bought one alcoholic drink.
We spent about $100 less than it would have cost us for our meals and snacks out of pocket on the trip. I don’t, however, really consider that our true “savings”. Simply put, if we had not bought the dining plan we would not have bought refillable souvenir mugs and some of the snacks we bought for the road. Even taking into consideration that I probably would have bought Diet Coke from Amazon Prime Now, I don’t count the refillable souvenir mugs as “savings”. So if you look at my rough spreadsheet below (from an earlier version of the tool), you’ll see I calculated that my real savings were $50. But I know some people think everything they get for “freeeeee” counts, and if you are that type, then you’d probably say I saved the $100+.
If you are Type A, which many Disney planners are, I advise you to try Rachel’s tool out to figure out whether the Disney Dining Plan will save you money. Remember, you’ll probably only save money if you use one or two of the tricks above. If I had to boil things down to one rule of thumb? If you are booking for multiple rooms, definitely do the math to see if you’ll save money by getting the dining plan for ONE of your multiple rooms.
Here again is the link to Rachel’s Disney Dining Plan Estimate Calculator. Make a copy for yourself and be sure to read the instructions carefully. It also includes some sample estimates as a guideline. Note we’re still working out some kinks so if you have issues, please e-mail me.
For many people, trying to save money with the Disney Dining Plan just isn’t worth the trouble. But if you like to plan, you definitely save money in the right circumstances. Remember, you can save if you book for one room but pay for guests in multiple rooms. You only pay for the guests listed on the room. Kids underpay, so you can take advantage of that as well. All in all, I kind of found managing my credits fun in a weird way. But I get that isn’t for everyone, so make sure you figure out what works for you and your family.
Still, I now am a believer that the Disney Dining Plan CAN save you money. You just need to approach it from the proper angle. Any questions? Drop a comment or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy to help if you need it!
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