Disney Dining Plan 101
For those of you unfamiliar with DisneyDiningPlan (DDP) allow me to bring you up to speed. DDP allows you to pay for all of your meals before your trip. Think of it like an all inclusive resort or a cruise. Once you get to Walt Disney World all of your meals are loaded onto your MagicBand and all you have to do is order, tap, and enjoy.
In order to take advantage of DDP you must book a “Magic Your Way Vacation Package” or use Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points. If you don’t have DVC and book your vacation through Disney’s website you will be using the vacation package. All this really means is that you are staying at a Walt Disney World Resort and have purchased at least 2 days worth of tickets. (I encourage you to head to Disney’s website and put in a mock stay to see what your vacation will cost and what it takes in order to qualify for the dining plan.)
The dining plan is issued to each person on your reservation and you pay a certain amount per person per day. The dining plan is issued for the entire length of your stay, this little fact is not negotiable. If you have 4 people going on a 5 day Disney trip, all 4 people will have the dining plan for all 5 days.
Once you decide on the plan you want each person is issued credits. These credits do not have a
monetary value. Therefore it does not matter if you have lunch at a really expensive quick service restaurant or a relatively cheap one, so choose your restaurants wisely. Take full advantage of the dining plan because everything is the same in Disney money, which is just your money that you don’t have anymore.
If your family really doesn’t eat a lot, the Disney Dining Plan may not be the best option for you. I recommend going online to DisneyWorld.com and simulating a full days worth of meals for your family based on places you would want to eat. Once you total up what it would cost for your family to eat at Disney for a day divide it by the number in your family. If the number you come up with is less than the cost of the dining plan you may want to reconsider purchasing it. Now if it is bigger, get the dining plan! It WILL save you money.
One thing I tell everyone considering the Disney Dining Plan is this: price out the places you really want to go, not where you would go because it is cheaper. That is the whole point of DDP. It allows you to eat at places you normally wouldn’t because the prices are high. In order to get a true gauge on what is the best option you must compare apples to apples.
On the contrary if you are trying to save money on your trip it is definitely possible to eat at the parks for cheap. By cheap I mean cheaper than what the dining plan would cost you, because lets be real- you are not getting many snacks cheaper than $4 inside the parks (unless you bring your own).
Before we [FINALLY] get into the specifics of each plan and how to score FREE dining you have to know a few Disney Dining Plan terms.
- Quick Service- Also known as counter service, this is basically your Disney “fast-food” joints. These meals include an entrée (or combo if it is offered) and a non-alcoholic beverage.
- Table Service- Restaurants where you sit down and someone takes your order. Think fine dining. These meals include an entrée, dessert, and a non-alcoholic beverage.
- Snack- Basically everything else. Ice cream, chips, candy, Starbucks, water, fruit, the list is endless.
- Refillable Mug– This is the mug you will use at your resort to get drinks all week. There is a sensor in the bottom of your mug, therefore it will not work beyond your allotted stay.
- Adult- Anyone over the age of 9. To be more specific 10 and older.
- Child- 3- 9 years old.
Disney Dining Plan Options:
Disney Dining Plan offers three different dining options; The Quick Service Dining Plan, the Disney Dining Plan, and the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan. Each plan comes with a certain number and type of meals and snacks each day.
The following prices are for the 2017 calendar year and include tax.
- The Quick Service Dining Plan:
- 2 Quick Service Meals
- 2 Snacks
- 1 Refillable Mug
- Adult Price: $48.19 per adult per day.
- Child Price: $20.88 per child per day.
- The Disney Dining Plan:
- 1 Quick or Counter Service Meal per guest per day
- 1 Table Service Meal per guest per day
- 2 Snacks
- 1 Refillable Mug
- Adult Price: $69.35 per adult per day
- Child Price: $24.95 per adult per day
- The Disney Deluxe Dining Plan
- 3 Meals per guest per day: This can be any combination of table service and quick service meals
- 2 Snacks
- 1 Refillable Mug
- Adult Price: $106.68
- Child Price: $38.75
The original Disney Dining Plan is plenty of food! Most of the time you will even have a few snacks and quick service meals left over, the extra $40 for the Deluxe Dining Plan isn’t worth it. However I would plan on paying for one of your meals out of pocket, usually it is breakfast at your resort. If you want to avoid this bring cereal, granola bars, yogurt, fruit, etc. for breakfast.
Booking Your Disney Dining Restaurants:
This is one of the best parts of planning your trip! Once you have booked your hotel, chosen a dining package and are 180 days out (THAT’S 6 MONTHS) from your vacation you can begin to book the restaurants you want! 6 months sounds like a long time, BUT in order to get restaurants like Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Royal Table, and even a few others you need to book this far in advance.
There are a couple different ways to get your reservations booked. The first is to do it online by yourself.
At 6:00am on your 180 day mark head here to Disney’s website and make sure you are signed in. Once you are signed in put in the date, time, and number of people and click search- a list of restaurants will appear with times that are available for your specifications. This can be slightly overwhelming initially if you do not know what any of the restaurants are. I recommend looking up restaurants before your 180 day mark to figure out where you want to go. DisneyWorld.com has all of there restaurants listed with descriptions, menus, and prices for your convenience.
The other way you can book your reservations is by calling Disney at (407) 939-5277 and having them book it for you. Disney Cast Members are [usually] extremely helpful and are glad to book your reservations for you. Sometimes they even can get you into restaurants that might not have been available online. Calling to make your reservations is especially helpful if you have questions about any of the restaurants or have special dietary needs.
The moment you have been waiting for- how to score FREE dining! Every so often Disney will offer free dinging packages with your vacation if you stay during certain dates. 90% of the time these dates are during non-peak months. The only way to officially find out when it is offered is to check Disney’s Special Offers page here or stay in tune to DisneyParksBlog, they are your best source for “official” information. We will also have an update when FREE dining gets released.
You can expect fall free dining dates to be released in the spring. Although the free dining dates have not been officially released, the 2016 dates were as follows:
- August 23 – October 1, 2016
- November 15 – November 21, 2016
- November 26 – November 28, 2016
- December 10 – December 21, 2016
Now we cannot assume that the 2017 dates will be the same or that Disney will even offer anything at all, but it has been a consistent fall promotion for many years.
A few VERY IMPORTANT facts to keep in mind when FREE DINING is offered is this.
- If you are staying at a value resort you will only be “eligible” for the free Quick Service Dining Plan, but can upgrade to any of the others for the price difference.
- If you are staying in certain rooms at certain resorts you may not be eligible. For example “The Little Mermaid” rooms at “Disney’s Art of Animation Resort” is not eligible for free dining.
- Be sure to read the fine print when the dates are released. For example if you don’t book your trip in the allotted window you may not be eligible for the free dining. Please just pay attention so that you don’t miss out on this amazing offer.
In A Nutshell:
I personally recommend the Disney Dining Plan simply for the freedom. You will eat at restaurants you wouldn’t normally, there is no worrying over how much things cost, you feel like you’re at an all inclusive resort, and you will have plenty of food. For me and my family it makes our stay more enjoyable since we are usually there for a week at a time.
Have you used the Disney Dining Plan before? Share your experience or questions in the comments section!