How to get the Most out of The Disney Dining Plan

In an effort to create more value and build more “in park” revenue Walt Disney has been putting a lot of marketing effort behind the Disney Dining Plan. Is the plan worth it, and does it create a more enjoyable experience? We put the Disney Dining plan to the test last fall, and I’ll share my review and give you some helpful tips.

Disney Dining Plan Basics

The Disney Dining plan is an option for guests booking on property vacations, and comes with a few different choices:

  • Magic Your Way Package Plus Quick-Service Dining
  • Magic Your Way Package Plus Dining
  • Magic Your Way Package Plus Deluxe Dining
  • Magic Your Way Platinum Package

The Quick Service Dining plan gives you one breakfast, lunch and dinner meal per person at any counter service restaurant in the park or the hotels (this usually includes the buffet style restaurants in most resorts). As a rule of thumb if the restaurant has a waiter it’s not included.

The Plus Dining plan gives you one breakfast and lunch or dinner per person at any counter service restaurant in the park or the hotels. You also get one snack and one full service restaurant meal per day. Full service restaurants are generally restaurants with a with a waiter, but some exclusions do apply. You can use the full service meal for lunch or dinner it’s up to you.

The Plus Deluxe Dining plan gives you everything the The Plus Dining plan has, plus an extra snack per day and a refillable drink mug, per person.

The Platinum Dining Package gives you three full service meals per day per day, two snacks and one refillable drink mug.

You get all of your credits the moment you check into your hotel and can use them anyway you want. So if you want two counter service meals for lunch and dinner one day, and two full service meals the next day, it’s not a problem.However just keep an eye on how many meal credits you are using so you don’t run out before the end of your stay. You can check your balance at any of the guest service areas in the parks or at the hotels.

Planning Ahead

To get the most out of any Disney Vacation you really have to spend some time and plan ahead, showing up at the park, without a plan is a recipe for disappointment or disaster. Disney allows you to book restaurant preferred seating arrangements up to six months in advance (there are no reservations at Disney Restaurants). It’s strongly suggested that you take advantage of this as popular restaurants will often fill up at peak eating times very quickly. If you don’t mind eating lunch at 3:00 in the afternoon or dinner at 9:00 you can ignore that advice. Since Disney has made such a big push to get guests to adopt the dining plan, it has become extremely difficult to walk into a full service sit down restaurant and get a table with less than an hour or more wait. This is probably the biggest downside of the program. You may not want to plan your meals 3 months or more in advance, but even if you aren’t on the dining plan, walk up seating without a wait is pretty unlikely, and at Disney time equals money.

Your best plan of action is to figure out which days you want to be at which parks. Looking at early openings, extra magic hours, and parade and fireworks shows, will help you narrow your choices. Unless you are on the quick service or platinum plan you’ll have to decide do you want your “full service” meal to be lunch or dinner. if the parks are closing early 7 or 8 PM, I’d suggest making it lunch, and using the buffet at your hotel. If the parks are open until 9pm or later with extra magic hours dinner is usually a better bet.

Next look at some of the restaurants, if you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck, choose the most expensive restaurants (be aware some restaurants are excluded). However it’s really hard to make a bad choice, you get a full meal and a dessert, so chances are you’ll be leaving stuffed rather than hungry. When you’re making selections have an alternate choice, in case your first choice isn’t available. Once you’ve got your selections ready make your reservations preferred seating arrangements as soon as you can, you will be rewarded at the time of your park visit.

Was it Worth It

We tried the Disney Dining Plan last December and were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was. To be honest we had some trepidation about having limited choices for snacks or meals, but it just never occurred. We did occasionally go off plan and have to pay for soda’s, water, a snack or ice cream, but only two or three times during the entire week long trip, overall everything was included. We saved all of our receipts and and tallied up the cost of our meals and compared it to what we would have spent had we paid, and it we got over two times more than the meal plan cost us. Admittedly we probably would not have had a dessert at every meal, but the value was still there. Additionally we ate at some of the better quality restaurants, had better food and much better service.

So was it worth it and do I recommend it … absolutely! If you can deal with making your dinner plans a few months in advance, it’s totally worth it and will definitely save you money on your Disney Vacation.

Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: Flickr/Kellyv