Friday, May 1, 2009

Disney Dining Plan...Is it Worth the Money?

Ok...I am going to be more open than I would ever be with something as personal as the costs of our vacation. So many friends and clients struggle with whether or not they should pay for the "Disney Dining Plan." Disney advertises the plan as a "savings" to your overall food budget but what I wanted to do on this last trip is determine if there truly is a savings or not.

Here is the plan in a nutshell. A family of 4 would pay in advance for meals and snacks that they will be eating during their WDW vacation. Disney gives you credits on your resort room key that you then use each time you eat snack or meal. So say that you and your family will be staying 7 nights. The cost is determined by how many adults (ages 10 and up) and how many children (ages 3-9) there are in your party. So a family of 2 adults and 2 children would pay $39.98 per adult and $10.98 per child (and then multiply that by the number of nights staying, 7) for a total of $713.44. That would be the cost without tips and any extra meals and snacks. The plan gives you the following credits per night, per person: 1 Table Service (TS), 1 Counter Service (CS) and 1 snack. So each person in this scenario would get 7 TS, 7 CS, and 7 snack credits. I hope you are following me so far. So one thing that needs to be pointed out is that there is technically a meal credit missing in the plan. On the will be eating at least one meal a day out of pocket on average. So you have to consider extra meal costs as well as the added tips that are no longer a part of the package to get a true cost.

With all of that said and explained...let me know get to our trip and actual costs. Had we paid for the plan, I figured our "actual Dining plan costs" would have been:

Dining Plan (2 adults, 7 nights)= $559.72
Tips (est.) =$105.00
Extra Snacks/Misc=$64.00
Extra Meal per day(CS)=$161.00
Estimated Total for 2 adults, 7 nights=$889.72

Now keep in mind that the above totals include at least 7 TS meals. Now since we were not on the plan, we only scheduled 4 TS meals and had one lunch at a restaurant at Downtown Disney that would have also used a TS credit for a total of 5 TS meals and the rest being CS.

We kept receipts for every food related purchase so we would have our exact costs to the penny. Here is how much we spent:

Dinners (any tips included): $262.12
Lunch (any tips included): $275.88
Breakfast (any tips included): $165.22
Snacks: $214.01
Grand Total: $917.23

Now this total takes into account food we bought going to and coming home from Walt Disney World. Even if you consider the fact that we would have been able to eat at least 2 more TS restaurants during our trip had we been on the dining plan, it still would not have been a "cost savings." And as you can see...we enjoyed SEVERAL snacks during our trip which were above the 1 snack credit that you get with the plan.

So the question the Dining Plan Worth it?? The final depends. :) Here is what I mean by that. If you are one who can eat only a light snack or meal in place of the one the plan does not cover and if you are someone who can maybe bring grocery items with you so you can eat that meal in the room and if you are someone that can do just fine with 1 snack per day (i.e an ice cream bar, bottle of water etc), then you are someone that can probably make the plan work for you and your family and possible make it a savings.

But so many people do not add in the costs of the extra snacks, tips and meals that they spend money on above and beyond the plan. Also...the Dining plan demands rigid and well-organized meal planning. You are only able to make ADR's 90 days in advance of your trip and everyone on the plan is anxiously awaiting that date so they can get into their favorite restaurants. This means you have to be willing to plan things out and have every day set well in advance of your trip. For some...that works perfect. But for others who like to hop from park to park or who decide they are really just ready to go back to the resort, having a set schedule can be more of a hassle and stressful. For example...on a day we did not have an ADR, we entered Animal Kingdom for morning EMH's. We had done everything on our "wish" list by 10:30AM so we decided to head back to the resort and then hop over to the Magic Kingdom later that day. If we would have had an ADR in the Animal Kingdom for later that afternoon or evening, we would have felt the need to stay in a park or come back to park that we were technically finished with. Having some select ADR's leaves room for change in your schedule where the Dining Plan demands that you have a set schedule which is perfect for a lot of folks.

So that is why I say it is worth it for some and not for others. The cost savings are no where near the 40% that Disney advertises so please do not make the decision to go with the plan based on the idea you will save a lot of money. At best shoot for a break-even and know you have at least several good TS meals.

And also beware of those special TS meals which take 2 credits such as Cinderella's Round Table.

I hope this helps give a truer picture of what the plan costs and please let me know if you have any questions and I welcome your comments.


TheAngelForever said...

We just got back from our Disney World vacation. The meal plan has changed a lot over the years. We opted to do the regular meal plan with 1 snack, 1 quick service and 1 TS each day. Two adults, 1 child (our youngest was under 3) = $92 a day. Typically each of our table service meals had a bill that was $90 or more without the gratuities. We used the snacks for breakfast and never bought any extra food at the parks (I packs fruit snacks and granola bars for the room). Gratuities had to be added, but that was the only out of pocket expense.

What the dining allowed us was to order without thinking about the price, get a great smoothie/milk shake without blinking, and splurge on a goody after the meal. said...

I think I see the dollar value in the plan...but we are so "fly by the seat of your pants" travelers that it can become a bit rigid on the plan. But I know folks and have clients who love the dining planning process and love the plan. Thanks for commenting.