Sunday, February 23, 2014

Is the Dining Plan worth it? We think so.

The Disney Dining Plan has been evolving since its inception.  The price for the plan is not cheap but for me; one of the main draws to Disney World is the availability of good, unique and fun dining opportunities.  The plan is only available for people staying at a Disney resort.  Disney accepts reservations (preferred seating, as they call it) 180 days in advance.  The last several trips we have taken, we planned our meals out for the entire week before we left and had reservations made six months in advance.  This ensures you will be able to eat where and when you want.  It also removes the conundrum of trying determine where you want to eat when you are starving and arguing with tired children only to decide and find out your wait is two hours (not atypical without reservations).  Planning from home allows you the opportunity to look at menus on-line, read reviews, and discuss options. 

The plan allows you to pay a daily fee (depending on time of year about $58.66/ adult and $18.88/ child or a little more depending on time of year).  We have made this work well for us.  We typically do the Magic Your Way Dining Plus (there are cheaper as well as more expensive options).  With this plan, you will receive at check in the number of meals according to how many nights you have booked.  So if you are staying six nights, you will receive (per person) 6 quick service meals (includes drink, meal), 12 snacks (which could be any number of “snack items”) and 6 table service meals (includes entrĂ©e, drink and dessert).  Each person in your party will also receive a refillable resort mug. You can use them any way you choose and Disney will use your room key to keep track of what you've used.  So, you can eat two quick services one day and two table service meals the next.  You can also use a table service meal as a character dining experience.  Character dining is a restaurant (or buffet) that has characters roaming the floor.  They stop at your table for autographs and pictures.  Some dining experiences and restaurants "cost" two table service meals (Hoop-De-Doo revue, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Le Cellier and Citricos to name a few).

Example for a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 kids 3-9 years old)

  • Dining Plan for one day would be  $155.08
    • Lunch for 4 in Magic Kingdom at Cosmic Rays: 50.07
    • Snacks for 4: $20
    • Dinner for 4 at Chef Mickey's: $138.42
    • Total without the Dining Plan: $208.49 (you would save $53 each day, over a typical 6 night stay this would be a savings of $318)
  • To add to the value, I would buy adult meals at lunch instead of the two kids and two adults I figured above. This would give you more food so you could share. Then your extra credits would add up throughout the week and you could have a breakfast with extra credits one day.
Tipping is not included so bring some money or use your Magic Band to charge your tip to your room throughout the week and then the final will be added to your resort bill. You could buy some snacks and bring them in your luggage (rice krispie Mickey heads for instance).  We have used snacks to buy breakfast items in our resort dining areas and reserved our counter service and table service meals for lunch and dinner.   

Many of the character meals require advance reservations so you will want to plan accordingly.  The Contemporary Resort dinner with Chef Mickey is great for groups, boys or girls.  Grand Floridian’s dinner with Cinderella, 1900 Park Fare is awesome for girls.  There is Prince Charming and great food for the parents, so it’s not too shabby with a son either, now that it includes the wicked step-mother and sisters it is pretty entertaining for all.  You can also take the Monorail from the Magic Kingdom for dinner to the Contemporary or either of the other two hotels on the rail (Grand Floridian or Polynesian) then back to the Magic Kingdom for fireworks.  We do this every year.  Dinner in the castle now counts as two table service meals (PLAN 6 MONTHS AHEAD FOR THIS!), this is worth it for the food (and the light in a four year old girls eyes!)  You get a professional picture of child with Cinderella and remember to bring their Halloween Dress to match the princess!  Thus you don’t have to waste time inside the parks to get photos and autographs.  The neat thing is the characters roam the floor, posing for pictures and signing autograph books while you are eating.   This saves you time later in the park because you don’t have to wait for these characters.
Expect to spend silly amounts of money on food if you don't choose to purchase the dining plan.  For instance, Coral Reef restaurant in Epcot is another favorite.  Typical lunch prices for four is about $120 (remember you get entree, drink and dessert) and throw in another $50 for a counter service and snack per person, the saving will add up.  One other point to note, if the restaurant you wish to dine in is in a theme park, you must pay admission to get in.  

Overall, we think the dining plan is well worth it but you must plan ahead to maximize the deals.  Don't be afraid to ask the server/cashier to clarify what you can get with your plan.  They are always willing to help and most know the "tricks" to help maximize your dining experience.  One important 'trick' is to share adult meals for quick service to save up your meals as a family. If you do this a couple of times, those extra counter services could buy breakfast one morning. You can email if you need help picking restaurants.

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