Friday, March 23, 2018

How to Choose the Right Dining Plan

We've tackled resorts and tickets; now let's figure out that dining plan!

Let’s start with a few basic facts: the dining plan is allotted based on the number of nights of your Disney resort stay.  Only guests staying in a Disney resort can purchase the dining plan, and the dining plan must be purchased for every person in the room.  If you have two families in two separate rooms, they can select different dining plans, but within one room, everyone must have the same one.  Children under the age of 3 do not get the dining plan, but are welcome to eat off of an adult’s plate.

Chicken and ribs at Flame
Tree BBQ in Animal Kingdom.
One thing many people find surprising is that ALL characters meals are included in the dining plan, too!

The dining credits are all given to you at the time of check in; they are not doled out per night, so you may use them however you like. You could opt for three quick service meals one day and only one the following day, for example, or you can use one quick service per day.

Unlike some theme park dining plans, nearly every restaurant in the Walt Disney World Resort area is included; that means dining at every Disney World park, every Disney World resort, Disney Springs, and the Disney waterparks are included. You're not give a special "dining plan" menu either! The vast majority of table service meals are 1-credit meals; only one character meal (Cinderella's Royal Table) takes 2-credits. The other 2-credit restaurants are Signature (more high end) dining locations. Note: Be Our Guest will change to a Signature restaurant for dinner only on July 27, 2018. The Beast will still be available for photos at the end of the meal.

There are three Disney Dining Plan (DDP) options:

  1. Quick Service – This plan is the least expensive. For each person ages 3 and up, you receive a refillable mug to use at your Disney resort for unlimited coffee, tea, soda, and hot chocolate.  It also gives each person 2 snacks and 2 quick service meal credits per night of your stay. This option is great for those who don't want to take the time to sit down for a meal especially if you have a short stay and experiencing the attractions is more important!
  2. Disney Dining Plan – This is the moderate and most popular selection. This plan gives each person the resort refillable mug.  It also gives each person 2 snacks, 1 quick-service meal, and 1 table service credit per night.
  3. Deluxe Dining Plan – This plan provides a LOT of food! You still get the resort refillable mug along with 2 snack credits per day.  In addition to that, you receive 3 table service credits per night of your stay.  They can be used at any quick-service or table service location.  


Snack symbol
What’s included in each meal type?
  • snack is anything single service that has the purple and white “Snack” symbol.
  • quick service meal consists of a beverage (alcoholic, where available, or non-alcoholic) and an entrée.
  • table service meal consists of a beverage (alcoholic, where available, or non-alcoholic) and a buffet OR an entrée, a dessert and a beverage.  This includes character meals and restaurants where a waitress takes your order from the table and buffets--basically anywhere you need to make reservations.
  • Note: At the end of your table service credit meals, you must pay gratuity.


Susan and her son at Crystal Palace
How do I know which plan is right for my family?
First, your Wishdrawals travel planner should be able to help you determine what may fit your family.

Think about how your family likes to eat on vacation--do you enjoy table service meals where you can relax and chat or do you like to eat and go? Do you enjoy food or consider yourself a foodie? Some things to consider--
  1. Will you want to eat a table service meal each day?
  2. Do you plan to do multiple character meals during your visit?
  3. When are you planning to visit? (I might make different suggestions for mid-November than I would for Christmas week!)
When are the dining plans a good fit?
Quick Service Dining Plan is good for families who just want to eat on the go and move on with their day. They plan to spend minimal time eating and more time riding rides. A family with a very short visit may find this is their best option so they can maximize their park time! If you're traveling with little ones in strollers, this is a little more challenging to have all your meals be quick service.

The Disney Dining Plan is a good fit for families who want to do multiple character meals and/or buffets. These are expensive when paying out of pocket! This is an especially good plan when you have multiple children ages 9 and under because the savings is huge! This is also a good option for families who want to rest and recharge and have someone bring meals to them rather than standing in line for food!

Deluxe Dining Plan is best for people who want to eat at multiple signature restaurants or dinner shows (which require 2 credits).  An additional bonus is that an appetizer is included with this dining plan. This is a lot of food, though, so we find that the best use of this is a table service breakfast and a Signature dinner with snacks during the day.

Be Our Guest dinner
Photo Credit: Walt Disney World Company
When are the dining plans NOT a good fit?
Sometimes, the dining plan is just not a good fit for a family. One good example is if you are traveling with children ages 10-12 who may still prefer children's meals for portion and food choice. For Disney, once the child has turned 10, they are charged the adult meal pricing for the dining plan. Without the dining plan, at any restaurant with a menu, that child may choose from the kids menu instead which might work out cheaper for your pocketbook. (At a buffet, these kids will be charged adult pricing though!)

If you plan to do a few table service meals or only a few character meals, you might be better off paying for meals out of pocket especially if you're doing restaurants with menus versus buffet. 

Finally, a family who likes to share meals or split desserts may find they dining plans actually provide too much food! While you can't split a meal at a buffet, you are welcome to do so at most other restaurants.

Emily and family at Chef Mickey's!
What else should I know?
Disney’s dining plan prices are seasonal, so they vary slightly depending on when you travel.  The moment when my husband realized that he could never travel to Disney again without the dining plan   The bill for two adults and three children was about $175 – or 5 table service credits. Here’s why he thought it was such a GREAT deal!  Our dining plan cost about $25/night for the kids.  If we had paid out of pocket, their meals at Chef Mickey’s were about $27 each.  This means that not only did we save $2 per kid on that meal, but their 2 snack credits and quick service meal were FREE! 

When we went to purchase ice cream bars before the parade, it was so much easier for my husband (a penny pincher) to tap his Magic Band to pay “3 snack credits” than for him to pay $15!  The quick service credits are great, too!  At Animal Kingdom, we got $19.99 plates with chicken, ribs, pulled pork, coleslaw, and baked beans and a drink for 1 quick service credit!

It’s not for everyone, but our family loves the Disney dining plans!


This blog was a collaborative effort between Susan Burks and Emily Lamb!

Emily Lamb has been to Disney over 65 times, usually for multiple days on each trip. Now she also has two Disney cruises under her belt, and she's always planning the next Disney World trip!  The tips she sharing are from first-hand experience as a kid and now as a mother of her own beautiful children. Contact Emily to help plan your next Disney trip!

Susan Burks is a military wife, and a homeschooling mom to a 
robot-programming, space-loving 11 year old! In addition to many Disney World trips, Susan has done nine Disney cruises and one Disneyland trip! You can contact Susan at susan@wishdrawals.com