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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, this can get overwhelming, fast.  However, we’re going to make it easy to understand the differences, benefits, and drawbacks around the different dining plans at Walt Disney World.

kids with pluto
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Before we get started, we love eating at Disney and we often get the Dining Plan.  We have recorded several podcasts about these topics.  Check out Disney Dining Plans Explained, Is the Disney Dining Plan Worth It, and How We Saved Money with the Disney Dining Plan to learn more!

The Basics

There are three different dining plans at Disney World.  Before we get to them, you need to understand a few key terms.  

  • Quick-Service (or counter service) Meal – one where you order at a counter and pick it up before taking it to your table  
  • Table-Service Meal – 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)
  • Snack – a drink or food item 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.  
  • Signature Meal –  meals that will cost you two table service credits per person.  
  • Here is a link to what restaurants at Disney World accept the dining plan and what category they fall under:  https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/planning-guides/in-depth-advice/disney-dining-plan/

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 want to get 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 2020 that Leslie put together to show the key differences of benefits and cost per day:

  PER ADULT, PER NIGHT
(adults are 10 years and older in Disney prices)
PER CHILD, PER NIGHT
(children are 3-9 years old in Disney prices)

Quick-Service Dining Plan

  • 2 quick-service meals
  • 2 snacks
  • 1 refillable mug

$55

$26

Disney Dining Plan

  • 1 table-service meal
  • 1 quick-service meal
  • 2 snacks
  • 1 refillable mug

$78

$30.50

Deluxe Dining Plan

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

$119

$47.50

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 multiple times (it’s our favorite by far), and never done the quick-service (we like table-service meals too much).  The other times we have paid cash.  Here are our thoughts and strategies for using these dining plans:

  • One recent change from the time I originally published this post – each meal comes with a specialty beverage.  If you’re over 21, this can be alcoholic (mixed drink, glass of wine, beer – price limits do apply).  If you’re younger, this might be a milkshake or smoothie, for example.
  • Another great change is you can use the dining plans with mobile ordering now.  This is an amazing feature!
  • 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 that is included anyway.  We wouldn’t on the deluxe plan because it is just too much food.  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 don’t always end up ordering what I want.  This is completely a mental thing.  On this plan, I find myself 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.  (Update for 2020, I have mostly overcome this and and happy to order what sounds good now.  Mostly :))
  • 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.  (Update for 2020 – this is still a good tip, but our little one isn’t so little anymore.  Sigh…)
  • We have used Tables in Wonderland in the past and it should be considered for anyone that qualifies.  This is a discount that DVC members, Annual Passholders, and Florida residents can purchase for $150 for DVC and AP holders and $175 for FL residents.  With it, you receive a 20% discount on food and drink (including alcohol) in over 100 restaurants.  Because it lasts for a year, you can save more money this way if you are going to Walt Disney World multiple times over the year.  It is also valid for parties of up to 10 guests! But be aware – there are blockout dates.
  • Dining plans DO NOT include tip.  Be sure to factor any gratuities in on top of the cost.

Disney’s dining plan rules change somewhat frequently.  Here is the official Disney Dining Page for Walt Disney World.  

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.

Cheers!

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