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There always seems to be a great debate on the various Disney websites about whether or not the dining plan is “worth it” and since there are three levels of dining plans now, it seems harder than ever to decide if the dining plan makes sense for your family. Many of the arguments against the dining plan in general tend to center around the fact that it “isn’t as good of a deal as it used to be.” I have to agree with that argument. It used to be that with the basic dining plan (one table service, one counter service, one snack per person per night) an appetizer and the tip were included in the cost of the plan and that made it an awesome deal. But I think Disney was losing money on that deal and let’s face it, Disney is a business and they aren’t out to give us a deal so great that they lose money, so a little revamping took place and a couple of years ago, boom, no more appetizer or tip included in the cost and this is where a lot of people denounced the dining plan. Not me, however, I still like it. Why? Well for one thing it gives my vacation a more all-inclusive feel to it. When I make the final payment 45 days before we leave, I know that the major expense of the trip is taken care of. The room, the park tickets, and the meals (for the most part) are paid for. I will still have to tip and that is fine with me because I know that the waiter (or waitress) is going to get what they should. I tip fairly (generally 18%) and according to service and I don’t have to wonder if they are getting 15 or 18 or 20%, I know because I am leaving it. The appetizer argument seems valid enough to me. “The appetizer used to be included” and “why can’t I get an appetizer instead of dessert?” My best guess it that the appetizer is no longer included because it is more expensive than dessert. Again, Disney doesn’t want to offer the choice of dessert or appetizer because that would be more expensive for them. They offer a piece of cake or a scoop of ice cream rather than crab cakes or calamari. Disney pulls in a little extra money by having you pay for the appetizer that you want with dinner…
The other major reason why I use the dining plan is that I don’t stress at meal time. We walk up (or sit down) look at the menu and order what we want rather than what is cheapest. I would end up eating a lot more cheeseburgers during my trip if I had to pay out of pocket at each meal. That’s just me, I can’t ignore the numbers in front of me and it would ruin my day to know that I just plunked down $40.00+ for a fast food meal. I like that it’s already paid for, it’s less stress for me.
Another argument I hear is that the kid’s choices aren’t great. No, they are horrible! I really don’t understand why there can’t be a choice for kids that match the restaurant in addition to the old standby kid favorites. For example at Yak and Yeti counter service the kids meal options are a cheeseburger or chicken bites. Why can’t there be an Asian inspired option as well? An adult meal in a kid sized portion would be so nice. At table service locations with menus the choices are very inconsistent so I tend to go for the buffet or family style locations so that my kids have a few more “adult” options. My kids will eat salmon (aka “pink fish” in our house) until they can’t move. This would never be an option on a menu for them, but at a buffet it is fair game. Problem solved! This isn’t to say that we don’t eat anywhere with a menu, we just spread those nights out so that the kids have more variety.
The final common argument against the dining plan is that it “ties you down” to a particular time that you have to eat. Well, sure, but then if you want a table service meal at the hot spots like Chef Mickey’s, Akershus, ‘Ohana, etc. you are going to HAVE to plan that. I know that we are going to want to eat dinner every day (we’re crazy like that!) and I also want to know that we are going to have one nice sit down meal a day. Having the basic dining plan makes it easy to pick the pricier table service locations that I may otherwise avoid because of the sticker shock effect. We also prefer to have a dinner as opposed to breakfast. Dinner is hands down a better value “credit wise” than breakfast is.
The other meal plan options, in my opinion, are for “other people.” The Deluxe Dining plan is three meals and 2 snacks per person, per night of your stay. You can use the credits at counter service or table service locations but to get the best value, you really need to eat three table service meals a day. That’s a lot of food and a lot of sitting at restaurants. This may be a fun option for adults, but kids will probably revolt after the first day. The other newer option is the Quick Service dining plan which is two counter service credits and two snack credits per person per night. It is only for counter service locations, no table service locations are included. In my opinion it is good for people who want the all-inclusive, all ready paid for feel or for families who will be sending older children off on their own (who are responsible enough to not eat up all your credits!). Considering the cost, I think you would really have to plan out each meal to come out ahead and save a significant amount of money over paying out of pocket. The cost just seems a bit high for what you get in my opinion.
So if after reading all this, you still think the dining plan is not for you, great, but now you know my side… and I’m sticking to it!