When you are planning your Disney World vacation and trying to choose a Disney vacation package, one decision you have to make is whether you are buying the dining plan or not. There are actually three plans to choose from:
- Quick service dining plan: 2 quick service meals, 2 snacks each day and 1 refillable mug.
We think the quick service plan is probably great for really young children that can’t sit during a sit-down meal or for families that don’t have adventurous eaters. Most table service restaurants offer mac ‘n’ cheese or pizza but if everyone in the party would prefer that most of the time you might be wasting your money on a table service plan.
- Disney dining plan: 1 quick service meal, 1 table service meal and 2 snacks each day plus 1 refillable mug.
We prefer the Disney dining plan for our family as we love sit down meals (and one of us likes to avoid buffets). We also like to see the characters while we eat rather than standing in line at the parks. Character meals can be very pricey when you are paying out of pocket and not the most relaxing. When you are using a dining credit for them, it is more enjoyable. Plus, you won’t get too worked up when your kids won’t finish their meal.
- Deluxe dining plan: 3 table service meals/credits each day and 1 refillable mug.
The Deluxe dining plan is great for the family that plans to eat at a lot of sit down meals or a lot of character meals or who wants to indulge in some of the restaurants that charge two dining credits a meal. You can always use your table service credit for a quick meal if you need to on this plan. Our recommendation that this is a lot of food so it might not be the right plan for a family with little kids that wants to spend a lot of time at the parks.
Quick service: A cafeteria style restaurant where you order at the counter. Some of our favourite quick service restaurants include Columbia Harbour House at Magic Kingdom (for their lobster roll) and Flame Tree BBQ at Animal Kingdom (with the best BBQ sauce).
Table service: A sit down restaurant where you have a server. Some are buffets, family style (big plates serve the whole table) or a la carte (from the menu). All character meals are table service. Some restaurants use two table service credits per person per meal because they are higher end or really popular options.
Snack: Often this would include a muffin, popcorn or cookie. There is a wide range of snack options at Disney and to get the best value you should use your snack credits for things that would normally cost you $5 and pay cash for things that would cost less. The poutine near Tomorrowland is considered a snack but is almost a small meal.
Resort refillable mug: each person on the dining plan gets one mug per stay. You can use this mug to enjoy refills of fountain drinks, coffee and tea at any Disney resort self-service beverage location. Your refillable mug can not be used in the parks, only at quick service resort cafeterias. Tip: You are entitled a drink with your quick service meal so you should use your refillable mug and get a second drink for later.
Character meal: a meal that has Disney characters who come to your table and pose for photos while you eat. See our post about our favourite character meals.
Pros: There are some great reasons to add the dining plan to your vacation package.
- First, it allows you to pay off almost your entire vacation before you even travel. Don’t forget you only need a $200 deposit to book your vacation and the balance is due 30 days before your trip. However, you can certainly make multiple payments to spread out the cost. When you book the dining plan it is included in your price and is therefore, paid off before you travel.
- The dining plan has enough food for most people so you don’t need to purchase too many extras. In fact, we found snacks could easily substitute for some of our kids’ breakfasts (cereal, muffins, fruit, etc). We also ate snacks before and after a large mid morning brunch so we only needed two full meals that day.
- The dining plan gives you the feeling that you are eating for free because it is prepaid and you aren’t paying cash for each meal. This meant we relaxed more, enjoyed our food more and weren’t worried about how much things cost.
- Disney recently added one alcoholic drink with each meal entitlement for their 2018 plans. That means guests 21 and over can have a beer with lunch and a glass of wine with dinner.
- Children under three can eat off Mom and Dad’s plate because they are not charged for the plan. In our experience, it was no problem to share our food and all walk away full.
Cons: There are a few downsides to the dining plan.
- Dining plans don’t include gratuities, so you do need to budget for that on each sit down meal.
- You will also need to buy a few breakfasts or lunches depending on how you use your credits.
- If you want more than one alcoholic or speciality drink it will cost extra as well.
- If you eat a the few restaurants that charge two dining credits, you may not have enough credits to cover all your meals.
- Recently if you purchased nights at a value or moderate resort you only qualified for a Quick service dining plan, then you had to pay extra to qualify for the Disney dining plan.
Free Dining: In the past, Disney has released some dates that include their Free Dining promotion package each year. This means that if you book a certain number of nights at a Disney resort you can have the dining package for free. We have enjoyed Disney’s “free dining” options as part of our vacation package twice. It isn’t always free; your room charge might be cheaper if you took advantage of a different promotion (and you can’t combine free dining with other promotions) however, we certainly enjoyed the experience enough to recommend this option even when it isn’t the cheapest deal. There is nothing like the feeling like you are eating for free.
Kid friendly snacks: We have often remarked at the nutritious options that Disney offers. We appreciate that their menus clearly state which meals are healthy and that all kids’ meals come with milk and fruit at no extra cost. When you know you are going to indulge in a Mickey bar later in the day you can swap out a lunch cookie for yoghurt. Some of our favourite snacks included pretzels, Bacon cinnamon bun, Mickey shaped rice crispy treat and Dole whip.
There is over 150 different restaurants to choose from at Disney. Planning out where you want to eat can be really fun. However, a good Disney travel agent should be happy to recommend your best option and book all your dining reservations at no extra cost.