Why the Disney Dining Plan Isn’t a Great Idea for First Timers at Walt Disney World

Dining at Walt Disney World can really add to your overall budget.  All those meals and snacks add up quickly, and it can be a shock to your wallet if you’re not prepared for it. For this reason, a lot of guests choose and love the Disney Dining Plan.  You pay one price up front, get a certain number of meal and snack credits (called “entitlements” officially), and then you’re done. You use your allotted credits to ‘buy’ your food as you go, and you never have to think about the cost of your eats while you enjoy your vacation.

However, the Disney Dining Plan isn’t a great deal for everyone, and it may not be a good idea for first time visitors.

You don’t know what you like or don’t like yet. 

Between the resorts, four theme parks, two water parks, and Disney Springs, there are far too many food options even to count. If you’ve never been there, you might not know that you love the Sweet-and-Spicy Chicken Waffle sandwich at Sleepy Hollow or that the popcorn at Kat Saka’s tends to be a little stale. These are things you just have to learn for yourself (or from AllEars, of course!). 

Outpost Mix

But learning what you do and don’t like is trickier to do when you’ve pre-set your options. For example, if you select the Quick Service Dining Plan, you may end up avoiding Table Service restaurants that you otherwise would have tried. Or perhaps you discover that your kids would prefer to eat an adult appetizer than a kids’ meal, therefore causing you to waste a bunch of meal credits. Without knowing what you like or don’t like — or even what your touring style might be like — we can’t recommend limiting yourself with the Dining Plan on your first visit. 

It can be overwhelming. 

Having a Disney Dining Plan sounds like an easy way not to have to worry about your dining options, but it often ends up being the opposite. For starters, you will want to track your credits to make sure you’re using them all (you can do that by reading receipts or pulling it up on My Disney Experience).

Disney Dining Plan Credits in My Disney Experience

You also want to make sure you maximize what you’re actually spending them on. Not all food and snacks are created equal, but they are treated equally within the plan.  For example, at Flame Tree BBQ in Animal Kingdom, you can get a huge pile of fries with cheese and pulled pork, basically a meal, for just one snack credit. You can also use a snack credit for a piece of fruit at the Harambe Fruit Market. The Pulled Pork Fries could serve as a meal and cost $6.99.  The fruit would cost $2.29 if you were paying cash. If you’re trying to maximize the financial benefit of using the DDP, you’ll need some time to figure out the best approach. 

Pulled Pork Fries

Again, these are things that you learn during your visit. But it would be far too easy, on your first visit, not to know the tips and tricks needed to maximize your credits. It’s also a challenge, particularly at food courts at the Resorts, to gather all the things that are included in the meal. For example, if you get your meal at one window but want a smoothie as your specialty drink from another, you’re talking multiple stops to get the most from your credit.

Landscape of Flavors has great options — but it can be a lot to handle!

If you’re traveling with a kiddo, you’ll also need to order their meal, then head to the cooler with kids’ sides. Knowing what’s included when you’re not even sure what’s available generally is a real challenge.

It’s not always a good value.

We know that DDP is a popular choice for guests, and we can appreciate the peace of mind that comes from not having to whip out a debit card every time you need to eat. But if you’re on a budget, it takes some genuine effort (and a bunch of planning) to know you’re getting your money’s worth from the Plan.

Slinky Dog Dash Fisheye 1B
No one should be worrying about snack credits when they’re having this much fun!

On your first trip, you’ll have a ton of things to think about, and maybe which snacks and meals lasso you the best value isn’t so important. You can focus, instead, on experiencing attractions and making magic.

Do you use the Dining Plan? Did you on your first visit? Let us know what you think in the comments below! 

Sarah is a former high school English teacher, mom of three, and a (nearly) life-long writer. She's worked with AllEars.net since 2018 and loves sharing the Disney magic with AllEars.net readers.

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3 Replies to “Why the Disney Dining Plan Isn’t a Great Idea for First Timers at Walt Disney World”

  1. We love the Dining Plan and my family has allergies. So we always purchase the Deluxe Dining Plan and don’t worry about eating everything to get my money’s worth……….(which, yes is expensive, but then I don’t have to worry…….which is priceless).

    I am considering the new Dining Plan Plus next time to see if that works for us since it is always tough getting out for breakfast everyday………I like the idea of the new option.

    Anyway, that is my take on it…………..Also we do sometimes eat in Quick Service, but rarely……..

  2. We have never gotten the dining plan. Having researched it, it just seems like too much food everyday. Even the cheapest plan has too much! What we are happy with is maybe one special snack or small meal a day, the. Satisfy our hunger with snacks we bring into the park (which Disney allows in case you didn’t know). We can eat these snacks while waiting in line rather than waste precious touring plan time at sit down meals.

  3. I liked the dining plan back when it included an appetizer. Since I don’t use alcohol, the new plan with drinks is less attractive.
    The plan was nice so our large group didn’t have sticker shock at bill time. And we didn’t need to sweat bill splitting.