The Disney Dining Plan: Making a Good Value Great

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By Sarah DeMare

** Note:  This is an archived article written in June, 2007, the information have changed greatly since that time, for current information please visit The Mouse For Less’ Disney Magic Your Way Dining Plan page at:

So, you’ve researched, run the numbers, and now you’ve decided that the Disney Dining Plan (DDP) would be a good value for your family. Maybe you are wondering how to turn that good value into a great value? There are a couple of tricks to make sure that you get the biggest bang for your buck on the dining plan.

First – just to refresh your memory – the DDP can be purchased along with your Magic Your Way vacation package for $38.99/night for adults and $10.99/night for children (ages 3-9). This price includes one Table Service (TS) meal, one Counter Service (CS) meal and one snack per night of your stay – and the price also includes taxes and an 18% gratuity at the TS location. You can use these in any combination you choose (two TS one day, two CS the next), but your credits must be used by midnight of the day you check out or you lose them. Additionally, you have to purchase the dining plan for your entire stay, for everyone in your party. So if you are staying for six nights, each member of your party gets six TS credits, six CS credits and six snack credits to use. You are not able to only purchase the dining plan for a portion of your stay, unless you are willing to book two separate reservations, one ressie with the plan, one without.

So, back to getting the biggest bang for your buck. Let’s look particularly at your TS meals, since these are by far the most expensive and where you can really get your money’s worth on the dining plan. First and foremost, make Advance Dining Reservations (ADR) for all your TS meals. With the popularity of the dining plan, it is getting increasingly more difficult to just walk up to a TS restaurant and get a table without an ADR. The easiest way to lose money using the dining plan is to not use all your credits, so let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.

Next, remember that breakfast is cheaper than lunch, which is cheaper than dinner. So if you are looking for getting the most for your money, consider using your TS credits for dinner, and limiting the number of TS credits you use on breakfast and lunch.

Finally, Disney has two types of dining choices. There are the all-inclusive buffets/family style restaurants, which are one set price per person. There are also restaurants where you order off the menu. If you are on the dining plan and ordering off the menu, you get an appetizer, an entree, a dessert and a non-alcoholic beverage. Yep, it’s a lot of food. So another option to get the biggest bang for your buck for the “off the menu” restaurants is to share meals. Disney has no qualms about two adults (or one adult and one child) sharing one adult TS credit. That frees up a TS credit for another meal, or you could share a few meals and splurge on a Signature Dining Experience (2 TS credits).

Now that you know how to use the Dining plan to its fullest potential, which restaurants should you consider? Are there some that are more expensive than others? Let’s break it down between the all-you-care-to-eat restaurants and the order-off-the-menu restaurants (1 TS credit restaurants only).

Character meals are the most expensive all-you-care-to-eat meals, with Akershus’ Princess Storybook Dinner and the 1900 Park Fare dinner being the most expensive, at $28.99/adult. Most other character dining experiences (dinner) will run you $27.99/adult. Chef Mickey’s and Crystal Palace are two popular ones, but don’t forget Liberty Tree Tavern or the often overlooked Garden Grill. The non-character all-you-care-to-eat meals are around $25.99/adult. If you are in the market for character meal, consider which characters appear at each meal, and take a look at the menus to determine which would be the best fit for your family. It doesn’t matter how much the dinner cost if no one will eat it and you end up having to buy food later now is it? Or if Joey Junior wants to see Donald but the “best value” meal is all princesses?
Disney Dining Plan Links for You:If you are planning a late summer trip to the World, the DDP might be a no-brainer. Click HERE for information on the “free dining” offer, which must be booked by June 24, 2007.For a handy one-sheet pocket guide to the DDP, in pdf form, click HERE.

For more information on the DDP, as well as a link to a handy Disney Dining Plan Tracker, see HERE.

For the order-off-the-menu restaurants, it’s pretty easy to spend $30/adult when you factor in all the food you get on the dining plan. Biggest “bang for your buck” spots include Le Cellier (rapidly becoming the most popular restaurant at Walt Disney World), Kona, Spoodles, and Coral Reef. But again, it depends on the tastes of your party. Check the menus. Don’t forget the sharing options at these restaurants. If you are going to leave most of your food, split your meal, have another one later and get two restaurant experiences out of it.

I haven’t mentioned children on the dining plan because it’s nearly impossible to not get your money’s worth (and then some) out of children’s meals on the dining plan. Most all-you-care-to-eat children’s meal prices are at least $10.99 for dinner (the cost of the children’s meal plan for a day). Factor in a $3.99 counter service children’s meal plus drink and a $4 snack and you are well ahead of the game.

The Disney Dining Plan can be a great value for you and your family, with a little bit of planning—and a big appetite. Part of the fun for me on vacation is trying out new restaurants. It’s all part of the Disney experience. And with the dining plan you’ve already budgeted for and paid for your meal. So go ahead, get that $28 steak (and don’t forget your appetizer and dessert). Bon appetit!

Top 10 biggest “Bang for your Buck” 1 TS credit meals (no set order)

Le Cellier dinner

Teppanyaki dinner

Coral Reef dinner

Marrakesh dinner

Kona dinner

Princess Storybook dinner

Spoodles dinner

1900 Park Fare dinner

Le Chefs de France dinner

Chef Mickey’s dinner

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