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Okay, so you’re going to Disney World.  You’ve decided when you’re going, how many days you’re going to the parks, and where you’re staying.  Now, you have to make the all-important dining plan decision.  Today, we are going to be discovering Disney dining plans.  I will give you our theory and strategies behind them and tell you what we’ve done in the past.  Disney World is so big and they have so many restaurants, it is easy to be tempted to jump on a dining plan.  However, you need to understand the differences, benefits, and drawbacks around all of them.

kids with pluto
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Leslie and I recently discussed the dining plans in our AttM 007 podcast.  If you want to listen to it, you can check it out here:

The Basics

There are three different dining plans at Disney World.  Before we get to them, you need to understand a few key terms.  First, a quick-service meal is one where you order at a counter and pick it up before taking it to your table.  Second, a table-service meal is a traditional meal where you sit at a table and are waited on with your meal being brought to you.  Character meals are table service meals.  Third, a snack is really anything that Disney deems it to be and includes things like popcorn, candy, bottled water, etc.  Typically the snack is anything that would cost you $4.99 or less at a Disney shop, cart, etc.  Finally, Disney has signature restaurants.  These are restaurants that will cost you two table service credits per person, per meal.  Here is a link to what restaurants at Disney World accept the dining plan and what category they fall under:

The Plans

The three different dining plans cost different amounts.  All, however, are based on a per-person, per-night stay.  It is important to remember that if you do the dining plan, all members of your party (everyone on your room reservation) must have the same plan and you have to purchase it for all nights of your stay.  So, if you have a spouse and two kids and are staying for five nights, you will have to purchase four dining plans and they will each have five nights.  Here is a quick chart of the dining plans for 2017 that Leslie put together to show the key differences:

(adults are 10 years and older in Disney prices)
(children are 3-9 years old in Disney prices)
Quick Service Dining Plan

  • 2 quick-service meals
  • 2 snacks
  • 1 refillable mug
$48.19 $20.88
Regular Dining Plan

  • 1 table-service meal
  • 1 quick-service meal
  • 2 snacks
  • 1 refillable mug
$69.35 $24.95
Deluxe Dining Plan

  • 3 meals (any combination of table-service and quick-service)
  • 2 snacks
  • 1 refillable mug
$106.68 $38.75

Here’s how this works.  In the above example, for a family of four staying five nights on a regular dining plan, they would have 20 table-service meals, 20 quick-service meals, 40 snacks, and 4 refillable mugs.  These credits can be used from the time you arrive until midnight on the night you check out. They can also be used in any configuration.  If you wanted to buy 40 snacks at once, you can.  If you want to buy 6 meals for 3 people, you can.  It’s up to you.  The mugs are plastic and can be used at the resort for soft drinks and coffee.  We like them, but since we don’t spend a ton of time hanging out at the resort, we don’t care if we don’t have them.

Leslie with oysters
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Our Strategies

So, those are the basics, but that’s not why you’re here.  Full disclosure, we have done the deluxe plan twice, the regular plan once, and never done the quick-service (we like food too much).  The other times we have paid cash.  Here are our thoughts and strategies for using these dining plans:

  • Hands down, the best perk of the dining plan is the fact that it is prepaid.  You don’t have to come home worrying about a giant credit card bill.
  • You will save money by doing the dining plan, but only if you were going to buy everything anyway.  We wouldn’t.  For example, there are four of us.  On the deluxe plan, we got four appetizers, four entrees, and four desserts with every meal.  It is literally too much to eat.  If you don’t eat all of it, you don’t save money.  It’s as simple as that.
  • On the dining plan, I am not able to order what I want.  This is completely a mental thing.  On this plan, I find myself only ordering the most expensive thing on the menu in order to save the most money.  I’m not ordering what I really want to eat.
  • Be sure to not save up your credits (especially snack credits).  We did this on our first vacation and ended up with about 10 snacks we were trying to use an hour before we left for the airport.  Can you say, “bags of gummy worms?”
  • Since our little one doesn’t eat a whole lot, he can easily share with the rest of us.  Therefore, we can get by with paying for three meals instead of four, which you can’t do if you prepay for the dining plan.
  • We have been using Tables in Wonderland.  This is a discount that DVC members, Annual Passholders, and Florida residents can purchase for $150 and receive a 20% discount on food and drink in certain restaurants.  We tend to do better with this than the dining plans.
  • Dining plans DO NOT include alcohol or tip.  Be sure to factor these in on top of the cost.

So how do you do Disney dining?  We would love to hear from you.  If you have any questions about dining plans, send us an email and we will definitely get back to you.


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