I am not a fan, at all, of the dining plan, but I do know that there is a circumstance where it can actually save you some coin if you're doing a lot of character dining and you have several children in your party. What is the rough math on how many kids/character meals need to be in the picture before you start to seriously start considering it?
It depends on the resort you're at, how many kids, and where you plan to eat. As a starting point, however, 2 children under age 10, at a value resort, with 2 character meals, seems to be good.
I use NTKS's dining calculator. It's easy and gives you and good comparison. Here's the link.
I think the more important question is "Does the DDP fit your style of eating?" For me, the answer is "no". When DW and I are on vacation, we want TS lunch and dinner (frequently signature) every day.We have no special interest in CMs or the HDDR. We like to share an app at dinner (rarely, if ever, at lunch), and rarely have dessert with a meal (we get something later). Clearly the regular DDP doesn't come close to meeting our needs. I've (seriously) considered the DxDP; this would cover a regular TS every lunch and a signature dinner every day. But here's the rub... for the two of us, for 7 days, I'd be paying for about 20 apps and 20 desserts that I would never ordinarily have ordered... When I "ran the numbers", OOP came out over $300 cheaper than the DxDP - and when I added in TiW, the savings was almost $600. Not saying that the DDP isn't a good deal for some families (and some people like it for the convenience more than for the "savings") - but I encourage people to really look at what they're paying for and to see if it is what they really want.
Corollary to the above: IF you plan on eating almost exclusively TS, AND IF you would "normally" have an app, entree, and dessert at every meal, then the DxDP WILL save you several hundred dollars over OOP - but oh man, that would be a boat-load of food...
FWIW, I personally pay OOP using TIW for the reasons @bswan26 noted -- DDP shoehorns me into eating a certain way that doesn't match the way I would actually eat on my own. I have a buddy that is booking his trip, though, and despite my admonition to him that the DDP should be avoided, I did want to make sure he didn't fall into that unique kid/CM situation where it can save you real cash. It will be his family of 4, staying at AoA for 5 nights, and doing a couple of character meals, including Akershus. Beyond that, though, I don't have a lot of detail on his situation -- just asking broadly.
Thanks for the input, all!
For us coming from the UK and getting 'free' dining it is working out in our favour. 2 Adults, 1 Disney adult and 3 children for 16 nights. 3 of these children have never been to Disney so we will be doing many character meals. We are planning on splitting some of the QS's to stretch our DP, and we will have many afternoons by the pool whilst using the refillable cup. On top of that if we have a cupcake as a snack we can also split that know the size of them which means the potential of 2 snacks each on a few of the days. It has to work for you and this can be one of two ways either its a cost saving exercise or its a pay up front so its one thing you don't have to worry about
In 2012 we had free dining for 3 of us, 2 adults and 1 child, I didn't do the figures to see if we saved if we would have paid for it, but what we did find was that we didn't penny pinch, it was something we didn't have to worry about, to the point my DH said that he would actually pay for it out of pocket if we needed to it felt much easier passing a card over to have scanned rather than dollars, and coming from the UK we cant buy the Disney gift cards to load up over here to spend once we get there. Like I said it needs to work for you, some are dead against it but it is personal choice.