[Updated June 2017]
OK, you're shouting it from the rooftops: you’re going to Disney World. But the decision to go may be the easiest one of the trip. From booking your perfect hotel, to choosing your park tickets, there’s a lot to think about.
And you can’t forget about food. First-time guests and even seasoned visitors have to ask themselves whether they should purchase a Disney Dining Plan. These pre-set meal plans don't come cheap, but can save you lots of headache and even money -- if you choose the right one.
First, some background on the plans: There are three of them (Quick-Service, Dining, and Deluxe Dining) and they can be added on when booking a Magic Your Way Vacation Package, which includes accommodation and park tickets. For each night of the vacation, parties receive a certain number of meals for each member of the traveling group. This ranges from two meals per night with the Quick-Service Dining Plan, to three meals at the Deluxe level.
The regular Dining Plan offers two meals per night, one for a quick-service location, and the other for a table-service location. Those purchasing the Quick-Service plan can only dine at participating quick-service locations, while those opting to get the other plans can have their pick of quick-service and table-service venues.
All of the plans include two snacks for each visitor per day, as well as one refillable mug, per guest, to be filled at the resort hotel.
How much do the plans cost? It depends. For children, plans for 2017 cost about $21 per night for the Quick-Service plan to about $39 per night for the Deluxe Plan. Adults can expect to pay about $48 per night for Quick-Service up to about $107 per night for Deluxe. Premium and Platinum plans go up from there. Prices are, of course, subject to change.
Here are six things to consider if you’re interested in a Disney Dining Plan:
Am I willing to pay for meals before the trip?
If you like to plan things well in advance, a Dining Plan could buy you some peace of mind. Meals are fully prepaid through the plan, along with hotel accommodations and park tickets. The benefit? There’s no worrying about having to pay for food when you get to the parks. The downside is that dining plans will add significantly to the cost of your total package, and you have to pay for all of it up front. Take into consideration whether you're willing to pay for meals weeks before the trip. If you’re not getting a dining plan, you’ll have more time to save up for when you get to the resort.
Does my family have picky or light eaters?
More than 100 dining locations participate in the Disney Dining Plan program; guests can eat American, Italian, African, or Mediterranean food, just to name a few. Many of those eateries even offer buffets. If you have picky or light eaters in your party, rethink getting one of the plans, especially since the plans include snacks in addition to large meals that even include dessert. On the other hand, if you and your brood have voracious appetites, don’t count out the Disney Dining Plan. You should also know that kids ages 10 and up are considered to be adults on the Disney Dining Plan, although they’re still free to order off the kids’ menu. However, getting the plan isn’t exactly an economical choice if your kids don’t eat as much as the grownups, because you’ll still be charged the adult price.
Do I plan to eat off property?
With all of the dining locations across the parks, hotels, and Disney Springs, the food offerings at Walt Disney World cater to almost every palate imaginable. But what if you want to venture off property and into the Orlando area? In this case, a Disney Dining Plan isn’t your best bet because you would be paying for extra meals on top of what you already shelled out for the plan. Plus, you may not have the chance to use up your dining credits before you leave the resort.
Are sit-down meals too time-consuming?
Shows, rides, parades, and meet-and-greets -- oh my! There’s so much to do that often families find it hard to carve out time to have a table-service meal, preferring to eat on-the-go. In this instance, think about purchasing the Quick-Service option so you aren’t tied down by a table-service meal that would require at least an hour to properly enjoy.
Am I willing to make dining reservations 180 days in advance?
All guests looking to eat at a table-service restaurant have to make reservations, either by phone or online. Even during slower times of the year, dining reservations go fast, so it is strongly recommended that you make your reservations 180 days in advance. The downside to this? You may not know what you want to eat six months ahead of your trip. So if you’re more into spontaneity and don’t want to feel obligated to use the table-service credits that you’ve paid for, a plan may not be the best bet for you. The same can be said if you’ve booked a last-minute trip and the optimal dining slots are all reserved. You can still wait on standby at the restaurant, but nothing is guaranteed.
Will I want to do some imbibing?
Beginning in 2018, each meal under the three dining plans will include a choice of one non-alcoholic specialty drink or alcoholic beverage (for guests of legal drinking age, of course). Naturally, this comes with a price increase: adults can expect to pay about $53-$116 per night, depending on the plan -- about a $4-$10 increase from 2017. Items considered to be specialty drinks include milkshakes, smoothies, and premium hot chocolates; for boozy drinks, choose a beer, wine, sangria, or cocktail. If you're not one to opt for drinks other than water, soda, coffee, or tea, a dining plan may not be the best fit.
Some final tips on the Disney Dining Plans:
- You can only purchase a Dining Plan if you book through Disney.
- You’ll be deducted two table-service meal credits per person when partaking in a Signature Dining Experience, such as Citricos, certain Character Dining Experiences like Cinderella’s Royal Table, in-room dining at select resorts, and certain seating categories at select Disney dinner shows. Pizza deliveries require two adult table-service meal credits per pizza and Candlelight Dinner Packages require two adult table-service meal credits per person dining.
- The Dining Plans don’t include gratuities, so make sure you allocate money towards tipping restaurant servers. Gratuities, however, are included for pizza delivery, in-room dining, Dinner Shows, and Cinderella’s Royal Table.
- Your Dining Plan goes into effect from the moment you check-in until midnight of your last day there. Leftover snack credits are great for goodies on the way to the airport, or in the car going home.