People usually fit into two camps when it comes to the Disney Dining Plan, Disney’s pre-paid meal package. They either love it and wouldn’t be without it, or they hate it because they don’t think it’s value for money.
We probably flit between the two.
Here in the UK, there’s usually a decent free dining offer announced in April. This means many people travelling over to the Orlando parks stay on-site at Disney to make the most of the free plan.
We’ve done it all ways. We spent a week on-site with free dining in 2017, we paid for the Disney Dining Plan when we stayed at All Star Sports in 2018, and I’ve done many off-site stays with no dining plan at all.
Whether it’s worth paying for is still up for debate – we actually did the dining plan calculations to see if it was after our last stay – but we thought it would be fun to take a look at the people who really should avoid having it, free or not.
A little caveat, this is all pretty tongue in cheek, so please don’t take it too seriously. We love the dining plan, but we don’t think it suits everyone – including us. If you’re one of the people listed, share whether or not you agree with us in the comments.
Avoid the Disney Dining Plan if you’re… spontaneous
That’s right, spontaneous people might struggle with the Disney Dining Plan. Although the quick service version gives a bit more variety, you’re only able to make the most of the full dining plan if you book your meals 180 days in advance.
No, that wasn’t a mistake. You have to decide where you want to eat, every day for a 14-day holiday, six months before you step on the plane.
Although this suits some people, those who like to go with the flow will find this a completely alien and, quite frankly, bonkers concept.
We’re a pretty in-the-moment couple, which meant we ended our last on-site Disney World stay with four table service credits left. Considering the average meal at a sit-down restaurant cost around $100 for both of us, that’s technically $200 we didn’t make use of because we chopped and changed our plans and just didn’t feel like eating at the places we’d booked six months before.
We’ll note here that you can make same-day reservations, but if you want to eat at popular places at a decent time, you’re very unlikely to get the reservation you want if you don’t book 180 days in advance.
Avoid the Disney Dining Plan if you’re… on a budget
This one will probably spark some debate, especially when you take the free dining offer into account. But for me, if you’re planning a budget trip, onsite at Disney with dining (free or not) isn’t the option for you.
To start with, free dining is only ever available on the full rate of the room. So if we take current figures (on 8th March 2020) into account, the cheapest Disney Resort (that offers a full dining plan) for two adults on a random fortnight in May is Port Orleans French Quarter at £3,402. The free dining offer isn’t on yet, but if we take it at face value that the price won’t change, that’s your cost without flights or tickets just for the quick service dining plan and hotel room.
If you compare that to a moderate off-site hotel – let’s take Universal’s Cabana Bay as an example – you can get the hotel for £1,613 on booking.com for the same two weeks. This would leave you with £1,789 for food when compared to the Disney price. Now, if you plan to eat every meal in Disney World, it might feel worth it, but considering this is just for quick service food we highly doubt it.
If you chose to eat some meals offsite, you’d absolutely save money by NOT getting free dining and booking a cheaper hotel.
If we use the figures above to calculate the cost of staying on-site and paying for the dining plan (as we did in 2018) it’s even more.
So as you can see, if you’re wanting to book a budget Orlando trip, the Disney Dining Plan isn’t really a cheap option, even when it’s free. Our advice if you’re trying to keep things inexpensive is to stay off-site and buy food as you go. Swapping Disney table service restaurants for Applebee’s or Millers on International Drive will all but insure you save money on food, free dining or not.
Avoid the Disney Dining Plan if you’re… a tee-totaller
As part of the dining plan you can have one alcoholic drink with every meal on all plans. A fact that was music to our ears when we booked our last holiday.
However, when we did the calculations on wether the dining plan was worth it, we realised we saved about $77 by buying the plan vs paying for the exact same food and drink out of pocket. This entire saving would have been wiped away if we hadn’t had two alcoholic drinks included with each meal.
We’ve mentioned many times before that as keen drinkers, the price of alcohol at Disney World is astonishing. So it’ll come as no surprise that we made the most of the drinks included on the dining plan.
That said, at an average of $20 for alcohol per meal (cocktail for me, Bud Light for Carl), our $77 saving would have been wiped out in just four meals, meaning that from that point on we’d have been working in a deficit.
Alcohol does make the dining plan more worthwhile so if it booze doesn’t float your boat, you might be best off choosing a different option.
Avoid the Disney Dining Plan if you’re a… fussy eater
I think it’s universally accepted that the Disney Dining Plan is most effective if you order the most expensive thing on the menu. It makes sense, right? Because you’re getting the best value from the plan (free or not) by ordering steak every night.
But you can only eat so much steak. And the other high ticket items? Crab. Lobster. Lamb. All things fussy eaters like Carl stick their nose up at.
So yes, if you have extravagant or experimental tastes, eating the most expensive things on the menu at each restaurant might guarantee you get the most out of the dining plan. But if all you really want is a burger every night like my husband, you might be left wondering what you paid so much for.
One of the things we LOVE about the dining plan is that it opens up the realm of possibility. In no other world would we have been able to justify munching down on a $70 steak with no guilt. But, plain old chicken nuggets are your bag, we’re not sure this option is for you.
So there you have it, the four types of people that should avoid the Disney Dining Plan. Do you agree with us, or think we’re taking rubbish? We’d love you to share your thoughts in the comments!