Most folks new to Disney think of the castle and Mickey when they think of Walt Disney World. They’re not thinking of the world class dining offered in each of the parks, resorts and guest areas. For Disney veterans, dining is one of the first things many think about when making plans for their next Disney vacation. Wondering what it is and if the Disney Dining Plan is a good deal?
Disney allows guests staying on property to purchase the Disney Dining Plan (DDP) when booking a Magic Your Way Package for their visit. (Dining Plans are available for Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members and Annual Passholders (AP) but the rules regarding what has to be included in the booking change. Be sure to read all the fine print if you’re booking yourself or ask the Cast Member or travel agent you’re booking with if you fall into those categories.)
One of the best ways to help you stay on budget during your vacation is to use the Disney Dining Plan. By making a selection when booking your vacation, you can add the Dining Plan to your vacation package. These plans are only offered to guests staying on site in one of the Walt Disney World Resorts and can make your vacation feel all inclusive.
While it’s not a requirement to use the Disney Dining Plan during your stay, it can help save money if you’re planning to eat multiple meals inside the parks or on Disney property. It might not be the best fit if you’re planning to bring most of your meals into the parks and won’t be eating much on property.
Keep reading to help you make the best decision for your visit and see when the Disney Dining Plan is a good deal for your Disney budget.
Before You Decide
Know the lingo.
Quick Service meals – these are also known as Counter Service meals and can most easily be described as a location where you walk up to place your order and take the food to your seat. Compare them to a fast food type location in the real world.
Table Service meals – restaurants that require an Advanced Dining Reservation (ADR) can be classified as Table Service. Here a hostess will seat you and a server will take your orders and bring your food or direct you to the buffet. These locations can be compared to a local sit down place outside the parks.
Snacks – tasty treats found all over Disney property! Some classic examples are Dole Whips and Mickey Ice Cream Bars. Compare this to the pretzels or chips you’d grab out of your pantry.
Advanced Dining Reservation – similar to a reservation you’d make at a local place. Up to 180 days before your trip, you can make Advanced Dining Reservations either online, by phone, or using the My Disney Experience app for your preferred location and meal time. These reservations can also be made in the parks at Guest Services if there’s availability.
Nonalcoholic beverage – basically this is a fountain drink (Coke, lemonade, ect) that you would generally receive a free refill on during your meal. Coffee and tea are included in this group as well.
Nonalcoholic specialty beverages – these are drinks that you wouldn’t get a free refill one and include things like milkshakes, smoothies, or hot chocolate.
Single serving alcoholic beverages – adult beverages like beer, wine, or mixed drinks.
What’s included in the plan?
Disney Dining Plans are offered several different ways. If your family wants to enjoy Quick Service meals, you can buy a plan that offers credits for just Quick Service meals during your stay. For families that want to enjoy a mix of Table Service and Quick Service meals, there’s a plan for you as well. Both plans include snack options in addition to the meal options available in the plan. Currently there are three different tiers available with the Disney Dining Plan:
Quick Service Dining Plan – choosing this plan allows you two quick service credits per night of your stay. A quick service meal includes a main dish/entree and drink.
Table Service Dining Plan (also known as the Disney Dining Plan) – when you select this plan, you’ll get one table service and one quick service meal credit per night of your stay. As mentioned above, quick service meals include an entree and drink as part of your credit. Table service meals include an entree, dessert, and drink as part of your credit. If you’re dining at a buffet restaurant, your credit would cover one buffet and one drink.
Disney Deluxe Dining Plan – this plan gives you the opportunity to have three meals of your choice per night of your stay. When eating at a signature restaurant, your meal credit will include an appetizer, entree, dessert, and drink for each adult on the dining plan. These meals can be whatever you’d like – quick service or table service.
In every plan you’ll get the following:
- refillable drink mug to be used at your resort
- two snack credits per night of your stay
Can I use my credits on room service?
If you select the Disney Dining Plan or Disney Deluxe Dining Plan, room service or pizza delivery is available to you to purchase with your meal plan credits. Understand that using the room service or pizza delivery service costs you two meal credits per meal ordered instead of just one.
Is every meal one credit?
Nope. Some dining locations will count as two credits on your Dining Plan instead of just one. This should be disclosed to you either on the phone or online when you’re making your Advanced Dining Reservations. Again, you should eat where you will enjoy the food but be sure to calculate the cost of these restaurants at the higher cost of two credits when budgeting. Many guests will pay out of pocket for two credit meals and use their Dining Plan credits for other places during their stay. Examples of restaurants that require two table service meal credits are:
- Cinderella’s Royal Table
- Be Our Guest (only at dinner time)
- Le Cellier
- Monsieur Paul
- Hollywood Brown Derby
- Flying Fish
- California Grill
- Artists Point
- Yachtmans Steakhouse
- The Boathouse
- Morimoto Asia
- Mickey’s Backyard Barbeque
- Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review
- Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show
- Pizza Delivery
- Room service
How many credits do I get?
For each night you stay on site in your Disney Resort, you’ll get one set of Disney Dining Plan credits. Based on the plan you choose, Table Service, Quick Service and snack credits will be loaded to your Magic Band for each person in your group. For example, if you’re spending six nights and seven days at a Walt Disney World resort, you’ll get daily credits times six for your stay.
When can I use my credits?
Once you’ve check in to your Disney resort, all your credits for the length of your stay are available on your Magic Bands. You can use all of your credits on the first day of your visit if you’d like to. Just know that you’ll be on your own for food the rest of your visit.
For example, you could make Advanced Dining Reservations for breakfast at O’hana, Be Our Guest for lunch, and Crystal Palace for dinner in the same day. As long as you have three table service credits per person dining with you, you’ll be able to pay for all those meals on the same day.
Some people will spread out their dining plans throughout their entire visit. Others will use their table service dining credits for non-park or “rest” days where they can really enjoy the meal without feeling like they need to rush off to their next FastPass+ reservation or parade or show.
How do I pay using my credits?
After confirming the location you’d like to dine at takes the Disney Dining Plan, let the Cast Member know you’d like to use your Dining Plan credits. The Cast Member will need to scan the Magic Band of someone staying in the room with the reservation that the dining plan was made with. My kids love having their bands scanned and paying for meals when we use the dining plan. An adult does need to sign the receipt for the Cast Member just like they would if paying with a credit or debit card.
What if I don’t use all of my credits?
Credits don’t need to be used each day of your vacation so don’t worry about having to keep track of when you’re using different credits based on the days of your trip. When it comes to the end of your vacation and you have extra credits left over, you need to use them or you’ll lose them. Credits expire at midnight on the day you check out from your reservation made with the dining plan on it.
Many Disney planners will tell you that you should never leave Disney with credits remaining on your Dining Plan. I certainly fall into this category. If you come down to the end of your stay and you’ve got meal credits left, considering paying it forward at the food court or in a Quick Service line and purchasing another family’s meals with your remaining credits. Snacks don’t just need to be enjoyed in the parks. Bagged items from Goofy’s Candy Company can be found in many locations on site and qualify for purchase with a snack credit. Grab a few bags to use those credits and keep the Disney magic alive when you get home.
What if I change my mind?
Want to add a dining plan to your current reservation? You can add it up to 24 hours before your arrival date. If you’re within 30 days of arriving at Walt Disney World, you will need to pay in full when adding the dining plan to your reservation. If you decide you no longer want the dining plan on your reservation, contact Walt Disney World or your travel agent as soon as you make this decision. There may be a fee for cancellation.
Do kids have to order off the kid’s menu?
The short answer is yes. We’ve used the Disney Dining Plan numerous times and my kids have always been encouraged by the Cast Member taking care of us to order whatever they’d like. As a mom, this makes me happy because I’d rather my kids eat something they’ll enjoy instead of chicken nuggets for every single meal. When looking at costs, it also makes me happy as the adult meals are generally more expensive than the kids meals.
How long do the credits last?
Your Dining Plan goes into effect when you check into your resort and remains in effect until midnight the last day of your resort stay. Your credits are all preloaded onto your Magic Band so you don’t have to wait for any additional credits. If you wanted to eat two Table Service meals in one day and skip another day during your vacation, you could certainly do that. Despite checking out of your resort at 11:00, you’ll still be able to use remaining credits for the rest of the day so you can still eat and snack before heading back home.
Keeping track of credits.
Longer stays mean lots of credits available. Because credits are on each of your party’s Magic Bands, anyone can use any of the credits available on the plan. You won’t all need to dine together to use credits so if one of the kids wants to grab a Mickey bar, they can simply tap their Magic Band at the cart and pay for that snack. At the bottom of the receipt a total number of remaining credits will be shown.
How to figure out if using the Disney Dining Plan is a good deal
Comparing the cost of meals you’d like to enjoy while on vacation to the cost of the applicable Dining Plan may help you be able to enjoy the meals on your list (or maybe even more!).
How often will you eat in the parks?
Consider how often you’ll be eating in the parks. By doing a little bit of legwork, you can get an idea of what each meal will cost your group. Snacks average about $3 each, Quick Service meals average about $15 each and Table Service meals average around $30+ each depending on the location, if it’s a character meal or several other options. Make sure to also look to confirm the places you’re planning to eat accept the Disney Dining Plan. Keep in mind that one alcoholic beverage is also included with the plan so include those costs when comparing paying out of pocket to the price of the dining plan you’re researching.
How will you spend your days?
Will you spend time before you trip planning which parks you’ll be visiting and make Advanced Dining Reservations or do you plan on winging it while you’re in the parks? While both methods will work with the Dining Plan, you might be more successful making reservations to dine at table service locations in advance in places you’ll most enjoy. When it comes to quick service dining, reservations aren’t needed so winging it is much easier to use those credits.
How long will you be staying?
Longer stays usually mean more eating inside the parks or other locations on Disney property, especially if you’re staying on site. You can bring your own drinks and food into the parks which will help with the overall cost of your trip but preparing full meals in your resort room can be tricky. Make sure to factor in how many days you’ll need meals for when comparing costs.
Get the most bang for your buck.
Occasionally you’ll see that it’s suggested that you get the most bang for your bucks spent on the Disney Dining Plan. By reviewing the menus and costs for different restaurants, you can make Advanced Dining Reservations based on the cost of the meal as opposed to where you’d like to eat. I personally think you should choose meals that you enjoy and order whatever you’d like from the menu while you’re there.
The Disney Dining Plan can help you not only budget for your vacation but make it attainable for your family to eat at more locations during your Disney vacation. By taking all these things into consideration, you’ll have an idea of what you’ll be spending on meals if you eat inside the parks during your vacation. Now, compare that information to the cost and inclusions of the Disney Dining Plan options and see if it will be a better fit for your family. Doing this Disney math will help you see if the Disney Dining Plan is a good deal for your family on your next visit.
Have your tried the Dining Plan?