Dining Plan Dilemma

I am playing Devil’s Advocate here but I am getting a vibe from some of the responses that you need to look and decide what you would order in advance to do the math. However, I think if you have a DP, you might find that you order differently. I mean prices for some TS meals can be pricey with the entrees. So, it might be more liberating with a DP to order outside your normal box since you might be price conscious. This feels like a little bit of psychology but the DP might create more of an experience because you aren’t “splurging” for that Lobster Tail or Filet since it is all inclusive.


It’s not much “encouragement”, though. Heck, even 60day FP access wasn’t enough to drive people to the Disney resorts, apparently. Hence they extended it to the DS hotels.

On the other hand, not being constrained by what’s in your wallet has, historically, been a pretty huge driver of spending. The easier it is to spend, the more people will. Otherwise people wouldn’t be walking around with CC debt up to their eyeballs, as some do.

I don’t disagree. I just think that is what was Disney’s motivation. I don’t think it has played out that way in reality. But they have to hold back certain benefits (the 60 FP being the main one) from off-site guests to drive more people on-site.

I can see Disney changing this policy in the future if they feel it will drive up their revenue.

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Reading the different points of view here confirms one thing in my mind … there is no clear answer on whether the dining plan is worth it in general.

With various financial and emotional factors influencing people’s decisions, the decision for each family will be personal based on how that family evaluates those financial and emotional factors.

Of course, I’m not sure all this helps the OP resolve the Dining Plan Dilemma.


I 100% agree that for me, this is a psychological issue. I ran all the numbers last year and then found I couldn’t bring myself to stick to the plan. Actually sitting down and ordering the steak I wanted was just too much $$$ pain to the pocket. And we’d bought some discounted gift cards before going. I ended up having a very different food expierence than I’d planned.

This year on paper it should save us money but I really don’t care if it does. It’s more about me being able to order whatever I want off the menu. Last year I found myself sticking with QS child meals simply because it filled me up and was cheaper. For a week we spent about $1000 total for food, drinks (including alcohol) even though I’d planned to spend more. The actual savings weren’t worth the trade off.


This is a really good point. Yes, it’s usually one or the other. We go for the discounted room rate every time, because our room rate tends to be higher. So if folks are staying in a Deluxe resort, chances are the DDP is not going to pencil out as well as the discount.

Yes. After about two days I was pretty much eating only kid meals, appetizers and snacks. Wow, does WDW do a great job of snacks!! :smile: But that’s how we roll. We have ice cream for lunch all the time, skip breakfast, have linner (lunch/dinner combo) etc. etc. I don’t want to keep track of it.

I just want to do what I want to do on vacation. Is that to much to ask? :laughing:
Probably. But I still try.

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Yes, I did that.

But I’m thinking DH and DD won’t eat that way.

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It’s all been very helpful! If nothing else than to hear other people’s experiences. It’s been a great discussion and I hope others get benefit from it!

Even my TA said “it’s up to you!” lol

I’m going to give it the weekend and make a decision soon, I think.


This. We had the free dining plan on our last trip, and we maximized the heck out of it to try to get the most value. It was a lot of work, and involved a lot of research and planning in advance. It ended up covering 7 days worth of meals on a 6 night stay (6 days worth of credits). We used snack credits as light meals (e.g, pulled pork fries or fried rice at Animal Kingdom), got slushy drinks or alcohol with meals, got extra snacks instead of drinks when eating at our hotel, etc. But it really changed how we would normally eat, and so much waste! We’re all normally happy drinking from our water bottles, and while the slushy drinks and soda were a bit of a treat, my kids mostly took a sip or two then we threw them out. We encouraged them to get fancy cupcakes, etc. because they were included in the QS credit when eating at our resort, but again, after a bite or two these went to waste. My husband and I rarely drink at home, but got alcohol with every dinner. Again, a nice treat, but we would not otherwise have done this with every dinner if not for the dining plan. And we couldn’t handle more than one meal a day with drinks especially in the Florida heat. And we were practically forcing the kids to eat more snacks since we had so many! Because we had free dining, at Pop, for 2 adults and 2 kids (we paid to upgrade to the standard plan), we still came out ahead. But paying for the full dining plan would not be worth it for our family, both because it would not result in saving money (we would actually pay less out of pocket eating as we normally would), and because, for us, the added complexity in working to get the most of out the dining plan and the resulting difficulty in being spontaneous removes a lot of the value proposition.


I think it’s definitely worth pricing it out. I know that my DS will always order steak if it’s available for example, we never order apps and I can usually spot our dessert straight away, and we do a lot of buffets because teenagers are bottomless pits so I don’t have to wonder if he’d go for chicken or pasta (in the absence of steak :joy:).


You say the dining plan is included in your package. First, which dining plan? The quick service one or the standard one?

Second, if you bought a package, that means you likely gave up some other discounts, like room only discounts or the option of buying discounted tickets from places like Undercover Tourist or Tickets at Work. To figure out if it’s financially “worth it”, I would compare the room/tickets discounts you lost to the out of pocket costs you think you will spend on food. After you’ve done the financial part, you can think through the emotional part with all the great advice given here.

We did this for our trip this past August. Staying at Pop, the room discounts of 20% off (what we saw when we booked), were about $50/day four our two rooms (so not that much compared to Disney food costs). We got four day park hopper plus tickets (which were the kind we wanted, we didn’t get them just because that’s what came with the package) and didn’t see much of a discount available for those type of tickets. Even with paying the difference to upgrade to the standard plan, we were financially ahead.

Given that DH and I like to drink on vacation and we are all good eaters, we did the math and knew we wouldn’t LOSE money. In other words, we’d be ordering booze either way, so the fact that we drink improved our value in getting the DDP over a room/ticket discount. And, we knew that we wanted some pricier sit down meals/ character meals, but not the two credit ones, so again, what we already wanted to do would help us get value out of the plan. After we were confident it was a good financial decision, we thought about how we like to eat/feel/plan on vacation. After we had thought through both, we knew it was a good plan for us.

Did we 100% maximize the plan? No, we did not. We had a few snack credits left, but we were happy to bring a few disney snacks home. Did we lick our plates clean at every meal? No way. But our kids usually came close. And, the plan allowed us to go to 'Ohana and Akershus, which are otherwise very spendy, without feeling vacation spending guilt. Of course, we could have just budgeted those in and made other sacrifices, but we truly wanted to eat at those places and we got the good feeling of knowing we “should” to help maximize the plan. And DH and I did enjoy having drinks galore, and we all enjoyed snacks galore. Even without completely maximizing the plan, we knew we saved over getting the room discount and it allowed us to do vacation food the way that works for our family.

And to echo what others said regarding ADR’s “locking” you in, we found them rather flexible day off as well.

It’s the standard dining plan.

We booked a package for 2020 so no room discounts yet. I’m hoping they’ll announce those soon, though. If they happen to offer spring free dining, I’d jump on it in a second. As for other discounts, we may make changes to our package once they announce for 2020 to take advantage of those. I just wanted to book a package for convenience and budgeting purposes.

A lot depends on the dynamics of the family also. We just returned, well I should say my DD8 & I. So the total for 4 nights was $414. 1 adult, 1 child. It worked this time because all of my TS meals were character meals. The total for those without alcohol was only $80 less than the cost of the plan. Then I had to use 8 QS and 16 snacks. So for us it was a win. I stopped counting after our total was up to $550. Next time we probably won’t do it because DD says she is done with character meals. Well maybe I can talk her into one. :slight_smile:
It most likely wouldn’t work for our family of 4 because DS13 would be considered an adult and would cost over $75 a day vs, DD8 at only $28ish. He’s very picky but does like steak and he wouldn’t survive the craziness of the character meals.

I can eat, and my daughter can eat if it’s something she likes. But it was a lot of food! We forgot to eat dinner one night, but we were so hot and wanting to get where we were going we didn’t even think about it. So I was trying to figure out how to use all the QS credits. I had 6 snack credits left on Sunday, less than 24 hours before we were leaving.
But it was so nice to not have to worry about how much the bill was when the server brought it. I know I didn’t have a choice since all our meals were buffets but if we were somewhere that had a menu, I wouldn’t have felt the need to order the least expensive thing. Which is what I usually do on vacation. I was able to order a soda, or alcoholic beverage if I wanted one and not fret that it cost $3 or $4 bucks! My DD8 wanted ice cream and I said sure, why not. I paid full price for my dining plan but I got a really good rate on the room through MVT so it didn’t feel like much.
I had a good spreadsheet going of what I might would spend and knew I had to add in $20 for tips (really a few dollars less, but I just stuck with $20). That is what really helped me decide to do it and the fact that I knew I could get to the $80 difference easily. Heck the mugs alone were $40 with tax. Did we drink $40 work of soda, probably not but you better believe I went and filled the cup up as much as I could. And it makes a nice souvenir. :slight_smile:

I also had to make changes to TS on the fly because of changing plans and FPP not being at a desirable time. This is the first time we have had ADR’s so I honestly didn’t like being tied down to that time. But it was a nice cool break to get us off our feet and to recharge. Typically we would just grab QS somewhere and rest for a shorter period of time.

You really have to weigh everything in your decision.


DS and I would never splurge for the Lobster Tail (or any seafood dish, although the filet sounds yummy). We often end up splitting meals because neither of us is too hungry and our food choices generally align. We opt out of the dining plan for this reason - if we’re splitting meals, and inexpensive meals, it doesn’t make sense. I’d rather splurge on things like Dessert Parties or EMM where the draw for us is something beside the food. (although I don’t know what we’ll do when he hits his growth spurt that my nephew is going through right now - that kid is never full. But we’re at 11 years old right now and DS is still eating like a bird)

I’ve only ever been to WDW without a dining plan twice in the past 12 years, and those were both for 2 day trips. Two times I meticulously saved every receipt and at the end of the trip we were close to breaking even. Since then I’ve used the dining plan calculator and when I put in our dining plans it comes out to be relatively close.

We typically get the deluxe plan, since when you have kids under 10 who would prefer to order from the adult menu at a lot of places it adds to the value tremendously, because on the deluxe plan they’re allowed to do that. For instance, when we had 5 kids (turning 10 on the trip, 9, 8, 6, and 4) we had 3 who definitely preferred the adult menu options, and even the littler ones ordered steak or fish sometimes. Often one meal for them would cost more than we paid for an entire day of the child’s deluxe plan. At the end of the third day (of 6) on that trip we were ahead by almost $200.

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The truth is there are many ways to save on food at WDW.

You can go without any Disney restaurants. You can have a simple breakfast in your room every morning and pack lunches and snacks for lunch then go somewhere else for dinner.

You can go around and make a game of seeing how little you can spend and still eat well.

You can use any of a number of dining discounts.

You can buy a dining plan for part of a large group and spread out the cost of some of the pricier special meals, while paying out of pocket for others.

You can go in search of the best deals with a dining plan, like getting the best value for your snack credits.

In our case, we are getting ready to make a trip for our anniversary. It comes with a lot of new things for us. First time staying on site, which has really been eye opening. First time with just the 2 of us. First time I ever planned a whole week at Disney- my parents are locals and we usually stay with them and let them do the planning. When we first started talking about going we started looking at places we might like to eat. We were still firming up the dates we could go, but we had already decided on a couple of character breakfast- still kids at heart ourselves, and I have loved Goofy for as long as I can remember loving anything. We also chose Tiffins and chose the tier 2 DP. As soon as I knew there was a buffet with crab legs that was added. I Spirit of Aloha show was an easy choice, as was Morimoto Asia for arrival night. Plus a day of checking out the F&W fest. I know BOG dinner is not a favorite for everyone, but it has been 15 years since I had dinner in a castle so we are doing that. Fantasmic! DP was also an easy choice. Then once our dates were set and I went to make our reservations I found DDP. I had no idea there was such a thing, and I put a hold on finalizing the reservation to make a decision about that. So I did a little research, and read all the blogs where they try to discourage people from getting it, and ran the numbers I had. We have the deluxe plan- and will be saving about $400. I did not go looking for ways to use it. I just took what I knew I wanted to do to celebrate and ran with that. All the credits that will not be used for those meals will be used to try things in SWGE, Pandora, And one morning my breakfast is going to be a pineapple upside down cake with dole pineapple whip. I have been looking forward to that one since he said “well, we could go to Disney World.”

The thing is that there are many ways to save money on meals while you visit WDW. It is all about doing exactly what you want.

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This exactly!!!

You say its included in your package meaning its free? If you dont take it was there a huge room discount? Otherwise I dont understand how you would not save money by not having to pay for food?
We had the free dining in september and we were 2 adults and 2 kids (one under 3 so didnt get a dining plan) Paying out of pocket for food would have costs hundreds of dollars for 10 days. We were in a value resort so biggest room discount is like 15% or 20% this is like 160$ for 10 days. No way we would eat for less then 160$ in 10 days. It saved us A LOT of money.

I just meant that we included it when we booked with our TA. We don’t have free dining at this point. I would jump on it if they offered it for our dates, but I’m not sure that will happen. I can see the value in it, for sure, I’m just conflicted on whether the reduced flexibility and the amount of food will make it worth it for my family. If we take the $1300 we would pay for the dining plan and use that as our food budget to pay out of pocket, could we get all we want out of that money or would we end up paying more for potentially less food? I think I might need to spend some more time with my spreadsheets to see. I do think that it would end up being more food than we typically eat but I also think it could give us the freedom to enjoy more desserts and alcoholic beverages than we might do otherwise since we know they’ve already been paid for. So, it’s still a toss-up in my head but I’m working through it.

I have a friend who does this exact thing for his family of four. The only difference is any leftover cash that day goes back in the suitcase. He considers it as savings. :smile: