Is the Disney Dining Plan Still Worth It? We Break Down the Numbers

One of the trickiest decisions when booking your Disney vacation can be whether you should book the Disney Dining Plan.

Columbia Harbour House Salmon

The Disney Dining Plan is an add-on available to Disney Resort guests that allows them to prepay for their food for their vacation. There are three different plans at three different price points, that we detail here.

At first, it seems like a no-brainer: you can pay in advance, use your MagicBands throughout the park, and you’re gonna eat, so why not save with a dining plan?

But… are you still going to save? The Disney Dining Plans offer a LOT of food per day, and with the price increases, are you really saving money? AllEars.net breaks down the numbers!

For the purpose of this post, we are going to take a closer look at the 2020 Standard Dining Plan.

Entitlements for the 2020 Standard Disney Dining Plan include the following for each guest (ages 3 and over) per night of your package stay:

  • One table service entrée, dessert (lunch and dinner only), OR full buffet
  • One quick service meal, including entrée OR combo meal
  • Guests under 21 years of age can choose one non-alcoholic beverage with their Quick Service and Table Service meal (including specialty beverages — i.e. Artisanal Milk Shakes, Fresh Smoothies, Premium Hot Chocolates, or Soda, Coffee or Tea – where offered). Guests 21 and older can can choose either one non-alcoholic beverage (including specialty beverages where offered) or one single serving mixed cocktail, beer, or wine (where offered) within their meal entitlement.
  • Two snacks
  • One Resort refillable drink mug per person, per package

The 2020 Price for the Standard Dining Plan is $78.01 per night ages 10 and up, and $30.51 per night ages 3 to 9.

This is about a $3 increase per day to the 2019 rates.

Autumn Train Station
Walt Disney World Railroad Station

Let’s spend a day in the Magic Kingdom, PAYING out of pocket for everything you’d get with one standard day on the Plan. For our story, we have a hypothetical family of four — two adults and two kids, one 6-year-old and one 9-year-old. They are named Bob, Helen, Violet, and Dash (sound familiar? or should I say “INCREDIBLE”?). They also have a baby, Jack, who is under 3, so he can eat off his parents’ plates for free.

Please note, gratuity is not included where applicable, as tips are not included with dining plans either.

Breakfast: Crystal Palace

Table Service Entitlement

Crystal Palace Buffet

Our family, The Parrs,  loves Winnie the Pooh — who can blame them? So they decided to start their Magical day at the Buffet with Character!

Violet and Dash decide to have orange juice (which is included with the buffet), but Mom and Dad decide to treat themselves and have a mimosa to kick off the day.

Lucky for them, they are visiting Disney World on a weekday, so their meal at Crystal Palace is slightly cheaper than during a holiday or weekend.

Buffet Cost per Adult: $24.99

Mimosa Cost: $11

Buffet Cost per Child: $13.99

Total Meal Cost: $99.96

 

Snack: Aloha Isle

Snack Entitlement

Pineapple  Float

Because the Parrs had such a big and delicious breakfast, they weren’t super hungry for a heavy lunch. So they decided to have ice cream for lunch — it is vacation after all! They head to Aloha Isle for classic Dole Whip-based treats.

Helen and Dash decide to stick with a classic Dole Whip cup (well, Dash got a swirl), while Bob grabbed a Pineapple Upside Down Cake and Violet picked a Pineapple Float.

Dole Whip Cup: $4.99

Pineapple Upside Cake: $6.99

Pineapple Float: $5.99

Total Snack Cost: $22.96

 

Dinner: Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe

Quick Service Entitlement

Bacon Cheeseburger

The Parrs are starving again! After all they only had ice cream for lunch. But they also can’t decide what they want — Helen wants a salad and a slushy, Bob wants a burger and a coffee, Dash wants chicken nuggets and a Coke, and Violet wants macaroni & cheese and juice.

Luckily, Cosmic Ray’s has everything they desire — plus an awesome toppings bar and the musical stylings of Sonny Eclipse. (We love Sonny!)

Greek Salad with Chicken: $11.99

Frozen Strawberry Lemonade Slushy: $5.99

Bacon Cheeseburger: $13.29

Coffee: $3.29

Kid’s Chicken Tender Meal (includes drink): $7.49

Kid’s Macaroni & Cheese Meal (includes drink): $6.99

Total Meal Cost: $49.04

Snack: Plaza Ice Cream Parlor / A Popcorn Cart

Snack Entitlement

Plaza Ice Cream Parlor

It’s almost time for the fireworks! The Parrs decide it’s time for one last treat to enjoy while they watch Happily Ever After.  Bob is over the sweet stuff so he grabs some popcorn at a cart, while Helen takes the kids to the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor. She gets the All-American Sundae (she just KNOWS Bob will take a bite even though he said he didn’t want any), Violet selects a double scoop, and Dash sticks with a Kids’ Cone.

Popcorn: $4.50

All-American Sundae: $6.49

Double Scoop Ice Cream Cone: $6.99

Mickey Mouse Kids’ Cone: $3.49

Total Snack Cost: $21.47

Happily Ever After

Total Cost for the Day: $193.43

Total Cost for the Standard Disney Dining Plan for a Day: $217.04

 

That’s pretty darn close… let’s take a look at some factors that may have influenced the day in one way or the other:

  • The Parrs got lucky, and Crystal Palace was less expensive than if it had been a weekend. It was also less expensive to do a character breakfast instead of lunch or dinner. Had they gone for, say, dinner on a Sunday, the total could have been $166 for that meal alone, which easily would have pushed the total past the dining plan cost.

 

  • The Parrs were at the Magic Kingdom, where alcohol is only served at certain Table Service locations. Had they been at another park, Helen and Bob could’ve enjoyed an adult beverage at their Quick Service meal as well, which can cost upwards of $22 total for the two of them. However, not every adult wants to drink at every meal, if at all, thus losing a decent amount of the value of the Plan.

 

  • Because they had the dining plan, the Parrs didn’t share any meals or snacks. Disney portions can be very generous, especially when it comes to sweets. Where some families may split one or two desserts between the whole gang, the Parrs got four treats each time they used a snack credit. And when you’re on the dining plan, you want to use ALL your entitlements to maximize the value.

 

  • The Parrs didn’t spend any other money, where a lot of people would have. They didn’t buy any additional water bottles, or buy another meal instead of eating Dole Whips for lunch. Just because you have the dining plan doesn’t mean you don’t spend any other money on food throughout the day.

 

  • Don’t forget, the the Parrs each get a refillable mug with their dining plan. They can use it to refill throughout their time at the resort, which is a fun perk to the Dining Plan, plus they get to take it home. Any guest staying at the resort can buy one, but it costs $18.99 out of pocket per mug.

So…is the dining plan actually worth it?

Our answer — it depends.

Image result for disney character shrugging gif
The Emperor’s New Groove ©Disney

Sorry that isn’t a more clear answer! It truly depends on your family, and how much you eat. Unfortunately, it takes a decent amount of research to figure out what is best for you.

Here are a few bullet points that may help in your decision.

Consider Getting the Dining Plan If:

  • You enjoy drinking alcohol, milkshakes, and other specialty drinks. These can add up quick (especially alcohol) and if you intend to drink at every meal, this can be a great value.
  • You want to try something new. If you’re on the dining plan, you may be more apt to try out a new treat or restaurant with less guilt because you’re not “paying out of pocket.”
  • You want to have a sit-down meal every day. Unless you’re combining credits for a Signature meal, you’re looking at a table service meal every day of your vacation. If you have a short trip you may not want to spend an hour or two on a meal every day.
  • You really love those refillable mugs.

Consider Skipping the Dining Plan If:

  • Your family members aren’t big eaters and are happy splitting meals. Disney portions are very generous in a lot of places, and you may spend less money splitting a few meals here and there, rather than everyone getting their own.
  • You don’t drink. Alcohol costs can add up quick ($8-12 a pop), but if you don’t drink the plan may not be worth the money.
  • You aren’t going to always shoot for the most expensive items on the menu. The plan is definitely worth it if you always aim for the most costly restaurants, meals, and snacks. But if you’re going to generally pick a $4 ice cream cone over a $7+ sundae, the plan may not add up for you.

 

At the end of the day, it’s up to your family what is best for your vacation. There are strong pros and cons to both sides, so the good news is — there isn’t a wrong decision!

Are you a fan of the Disney Dining Plan? Let us know in the comments!

 

Molly is a lifelong Disney enthusiast, and former Walt Disney World Guest Relations Cast Member and tour guide. Her Walt Disney World favorites include Festival of the Lion King, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Fantasmic!, Mickey-shaped pretzels and rice krispie treats, and anything with Buzz Lightyear! She lives in Orlando with her husband (who she met in Guest Relations) and their two rescue dogs, Kronk and Cruella de Vil (Ella for short!)

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21 Replies to “Is the Disney Dining Plan Still Worth It? We Break Down the Numbers”

  1. When they offer the free dining package it is a no brainer. We like it because we can do a show like Hoop de Doo and use two credits. We just skip a sit down meal one day and share counter service. We have also been able to share counter service and pick up meals for some family members visiting for one day.

  2. We’ve done WDW with & without the planning plan. Last December we got the “free” dining with the Disney VISA and it was a good value for us. No we didn’t get a room discount but with the addition of alcohol & speciality drinks it made sense for us. Sometimes (not always) wait staff will trade you dessert for a salad, one waitress traded my husbands dessert for an extra beer at dinner. We used snack credits for breakfast too. I think It just depends on the trip & the family. A trip with just DD & me might not need the dining meal but my husband & I could put it to good use

  3. I’m a numbers guy and we’ve been going to Disney World every year since 1994. We really don’t watch what we spend and put everything on our room charge. We just pay off the credit card bill when we get it. Yes, we do waitstaff meals and one character meal. When we return, I always total up the amount we spent on all of our food and drinks. I then divide it by two people. We NEVER come anywhere close to justify spending money for a dining plan. Our finance guy is a big Disney fan as well and goes every year. He too can’t justify the dining plan. People say they like the idea of paying for their vacation before they start their vacation. Either way, you are going to pay for eating or the dp. It’s funny when you hear about people rushing at the end of their vacation trying to use up all their credits. I guess it depends on what people want, but I bet the number one reason is the dining plan is a convenience to some. I look at it this way. If Disney isn’t making money on it they wouldn’t offer it. That’s the Disney way.

    1. You talk too much common sense and logic for this thread. If you want Disney dining lovers to understand you, you need to use emotional phrases like “ makes me feel good”. You need to speak more like a used car, or DVC, salesman.

  4. For my family, the dining plan has never been worth the hassle .. having to figure out ahead of time where and what we should eat to stay within the plan. We’ve been to Disney every year since 2004 and several times prior, yet never utilized a Dining Plan. Besides, if you have a Chase Disney credit card, you can earn reward dollars and use them anywhere in Disney World .. food, merchandise etc. I have more than $1500 in Disney Rewards at the moment to use for meals etc on our upcoming trip late July and we will never have to be concerned about staying within a Dining Plan budget ordeal. Not for us!

    1. I love a good reward card. Amazon card is free, pays a higher reward percentage (amazon purchases alone get 3% and sometimes more) and you get the rewards in cold cash to spend anywhere you wish (even universal studios).

      1. Card isn’t “free”. You are paying $119.00 a year for the privilege to shop at Amazon and use their card. Plus if you really do comparison shopping you will find out that 90% of the time you are overpaying for goods on Amazon.

        1. Not so. You don’t have to belong to Amazon Prime to get the free card. (If not you still get 1% and sometimes more on Amazon purchases) And, as with any shopping you have to comparison shop for the best price. Not sure why people always throw out the “90% of Amazon stuff is over
          priced.” That’s just not so. Sometimes a brick and mortar store is cheaper, sometimes it’s not. Now, there may very well be better cards out there, but the Disney card is not one of them. Amazon is a good deal and doesn’t force you to spend every dollar at Disney.

          1. The point of having the Disney card is that you want to use the cash back for Disney…..

          2. No, my point is that there are many reward cards that offer way more money back and the freedom to spend it however you want. And Even if you want to use all of your reward money at Disney, the other cards do not make you put it on a special “Disney only” debit card” with an expiration date. With other cards you can just use your regular card and spend away. If you don’t want to believe me, just read independent reviews of the bast reward cards and the Disney card is always at or near the bottom. The Disney credit card, like the Disney dining plan, are designed to play on your emotional connection with Disney. For the sheer joy of holding a card with Mickey Mouse smiling back at you, people will forgo all common money sense because it makes them “feel good”. I don’t care how you spend your money, I’m just informing you that there are other options that would allow you to earn even more money with less restrictions to spend at Disney, if that’s what you want to do.

  5. Just curious–how often is Crystal Palace $25 for an adult breakfast? I don’t think I’ve seen anything below $38 plus tax recently. I checked a Wednesday in the first week of September by calling Disney, and it’s $38 then (traditionally a very low crowd week, but who knows with GE; plenty of reservations still available). Has that $25 cost been verified recently?

    1. We check the prices often, but it’s hard to know what the price will be for the coming seasons. We went and checked the other day and you’re right — the price is currently $38 for breakfast. We’ll have to see if it goes back down during the off-peak seasons.

  6. We enjoy the meal plan because we are 4 adults that like the break from the park to sit down for dinner. We have tried a lot of restaurants I would never have splurged on if not for the dining plan.
    We generally use a snack credit at the hotel in the Am for breakfast & just have a croissant & use our mug for a cup of coffee/ tea. Lunch is our quick service meal then sit down dinner. On occasion we use a second snack during the day but I usually wind up with extra snack credits that I use to get souvenirs for people at home ( like the coconut mickeys). It pays for us & no matter what people say I do like pre paying for meals. One less thing to worry about while I am there & I can add it into my budget while planning & saving. As it is it takes two years to save to take my vacation. Plus the time of year we go there is usually a discount if you book the entire package

  7. This plan is just convenient and has not been a “value”since 2007 when they removed appetizers and tip. There is not really a savings now since they added the alcohol plan.

  8. When was it EVER worth it. You only get it when you grossly overpay for a package and unless you are a professional eater you will NEVER come close to getting your moneys worth. And when people say, “I know it cost me more, but I just like having everything prepaid cause it make me feel good”, it really makes me wonder (and worry) about the type of people visiting WDW.

    1. You really don’t have to be a professional eater to make the DDP work for you, especially now that it includes alcoholic beverages. It just depends on how & where you like to eat. Example from my last trip: I went to Be Our Guest for lunch (using a Quick Service credit for the entree and Snack Credit for dessert) & Boma for dinner (using a Table Service credit). I got a drink with both meals. Combined, those two meals would have cost $10 more out of pocket than I paid for the DDP that day – and that’s not counting the “bonus” snack credit I saved to use at a festival booth the next day. Even if it wasn’t cheaper, people just assess value differently – and that’s fine! I’d rather pay a small premium for the convenience of budgeting in advance & the peace of mind that comes with ordering whatever I want, without feeling compelled to check the relative price of every entree and drink. Different strokes for different folks! 🙂

  9. As you said it is based on family. Your cost break down was only based on kids under 10, try it with a family of 4 with older kids, A 16yo boy and 12yo girl. We have always done the dining plan, and we do pay out of pocket for maybe 1 or 2 breakfasts. It has always benefitted us. Oh and did i mention we always go durning 4th of July week.

  10. Caveat that I’m an accountant and love spreadsheets, but I do an analysis every year we go to break down the cost comparison. I review menus for all the restaurants we have reserved and determine what we are most likely to order. I estimate an average quick service value based on past experience and then $5 a snack. This year it worked out that we are buying the plan. This year we are also traveling with 2 others in separate rooms so we are buying the meal plan and the other room is not. That will help with sharing all the food that you get. I just can’t do a full dessert at each meal. If at all possible I try to avoid buying bottled water with a snack credit as the value isn’t there.

  11. I did the dining plan last year, upgraded to 1 sit down / one counter + 2 snacks as the base plan was “included” in our package. Yeah, I know -nothing is included. It was a multi generational family trip and I went along for the good of the group. At $75 a night, you’d have to do a sit down dinner every night, and to me that’s just a hassle. We ate at Chef Mickeys’, 1900 Park Fare and the Beach Club clam bake 3 of the 4 night’s I was there. Those are $50+ an adult easy, but I can’t eat a big buffet every night so it was wasted on me. The food at Pop Century was not that expensive – I could have gotten by with a refillable mug and light meals at Parks and resorts for way less than $75 a day. Especially now that you can get snacks / food delivered to the Resort by Amazon or local. I ended up using my “leftover” credits to get my grand kids breakfast and snacks the day I left. But I get that people like the idea of “all included” for budgeting. If the whole family is into restaurant dining and WDW is your “big vacation” then you’ve already spent so much that the 30-40 a day difference might not matter. And I thought the food was excellent at all the sit downs we visited, I’m just not interested in that much calorie intake every day – even with all that walking!

  12. We always get it . We like knowing most meals are paid for we still pay out of pocket for breakfast as we like character meals. We also pay out of pocket for water or the hoop de do review we are doing this trip