Just like with any holiday, food is likely to be the next biggest cost you need to budget for or consider, after flights and accommodation. Speaking from experience, the Disney Dining Plan (DDP) takes away the element of worrying about having enough money for food, drinks and snacks when you are vacationing in WDW. It is important to note though that this is something that is only available to WDW hotel resort guests who are booking a package (hotel and park tickets), so if you are visiting WDW but staying elsewhere in the Orlando area, unfortunately, you won’t be eligible for booking the DDP.
What is the DDP?
There are 4 DDPs available to add to your WDW hotel package:
- Quick-Service Dining Plan
2 quick-service meals, 1 drink (including alcoholic) per meal, 2 snacks, refillable mug
- Disney Dining Plan
1 full-service meal, 1 quick-service meal, 1 drink (including alcoholic) per meal, 2 snacks, refillable mug
- Disney Dining Plan Plus
2 full-service meals, 1 drink (including alcoholic) per meal, 2 snacks, refillable mug
- Deluxe Dining Plan
3 full-service or quick-service meals, 1 drink (including alcoholic) per meal, 2 snacks, refillable mug
As detailed above, the type of meals you are entitled to is what differs between plans. Beverages included with meals, snack credits and refillable mugs are included in all plans. The refillable mug is one that you collect from your resort hotel quick-service restaurant. I recommend that you collect it on arrival, so that you can take advantage of soft drinks and hot beverages for the entirety of your stay. Please note, these mugs are not able to refilled in the Disney Parks, however you are able to take them into the Disney Parks filled, allowing you to enjoy your morning coffee without rushing, or a cool beverage as you enter the park of your choice during a hot afternoon. Full-service meals do include character dining, and signature dining (it is likely though that a signature restaurant will require 2 full-service credits). You will be pleased to know that your dining plan, whichever you choose, can be used in most of the restaurants around WDW (with the exception of a few, such as Victoria & Albert’s), including those at other resorts to the one you are staying at, so it’s definitely an excuse to make your way to other resorts to see what they have on offer to you. In summary, the DDP transforms your holiday into a half-board or full-board deal.
You may be asking which dining plan I recommend, and personally I would always go for the DDP, 2nd down on the list above, that entitles you to 1 full-service meal, 1 quick-service meal, 1 drink (including alcoholic) per meal, 2 snacks, and a refillable mug. I feel that this offers you the perfect balance of credits, whilst providing you with maybe a few extra, allowing you to visit a wide range of restaurants in WDW. When staying in a Moderate resort, we upgrade our dining plan if we have booked during the free dining plan offer, so that we have full-service credits as well as quick-service. As you read on, this is the dining plan that I will be talking about.
In terms of other dining plans, if you are not wanting to eat in full-service restaurants, then the Quick-Service Dining Plan will suit you and your party; I would suggest though researching the quick-service restaurants available around the entire WDW resort to seek out the many different quick-service meals available. You may struggle to get value for money with the Disney Dining Plan Plus and Deluxe Dining Plan, as they do come at a considerable extra cost to you, and whilst providing you with a lot of food, you may find that it’s actually too much. It is worth remembering that American food portions are significantly larger than UK portions; additionally, all full-service meals entitle you to 2 courses – main course and dessert, plus a beverage of your choice.
Is the DDP actually worth the money?
This may very well be your first question, after discovering the DDP as an option available to you. In my opinion, there is 2 versions of yes to this question…
Yes, as long as you are planning on using as many of the credits your plan entitles you to, and you aren’t planning on eating outside of WDW, with maybe one or two exceptions (The Cheesecake Factory is usually always a must-visit restaurant for us, after a day of shopping at the Outlets and Mall at Millenia!).
Or, yes, if you are able to take advantage of the DDP being offered free, based on the WDW resort you choose to stay at. For a number of years now, around April, WDW have released packages for the dates within the following year that include a free dining plan: Quick-Service Dining Plan for guests choosing to stay in a Moderate Resort; and Disney Dining Plan for guests choosing to stay in a Deluxe Resort. For guests who book when this offer is on but choose to stay in a Value resort, or the Cabins at Fort Wilderness, you will get quick-service breakfast included for free, but can add other dining plans for an additional cost. For all reservations booked within this period, you are able to upgrade the dining plan that is offered to you if you would rather a plan that differs from that which is included with your reservation. If you are booking when WDW are offering the free dining package, I recommend pricing up the accommodation options to you – you may have decided on a Moderate resort but want to book the DDP, so you will need to upgrade your dining plan; in this case, price up staying in one of the cheaper Deluxe (LINK) resorts as it may work out better value for you to book a Deluxe that offers free DDP, as you will get a more luxurious hotel and offerings there for a § small additional cost.
Why is the DDP worth the money?
There are a number of reasons for this:
- You will be able to book dining reservations 180 days prior to your arrival date, which will be beneficial if you are wishing to get into some of the more popular WDW restaurants. This will also help you to plan your time in WDW and Orlando effectively.
- Honestly, Disney dining is not cheap – even quick-service meals and snacks can be expensive, so the dining plan really does take away the worry of how much you are spending on food and drinks, or if you have enough money. In fact, I’d say it allows you to just enjoy, eat what you want and when you want, and maybe even keep track of how much you would have spent without the dining plan (we’ve done this for most of our visits with the dining plan, and every trip have managed to get at least $1800 worth of food and drink!)
- Your credits only expire at midnight on the day of check-out, so don’t feel pressured into using your credits each day for fear that if you don’t use them, they will be taken from you. You may find though that you have credits left at the end of your trip, as realistically, the dining plan provides you with a lot of food! Make sure not to waste these credits though – snack credits can be used on sealed candy packs that you can take home as souvenirs, or maybe as gifts for friends and family. Even quick-service credits can be used to buy 3 snacks instead of a meal, so you can have a stash of your favourite Disney snacks to enjoy a little bit of the magic at home, when the Post-Disney Depression has set in!
- The DDP is accessed by cash registers when ordering food or ‘paying’ for meals in restaurants by your magic band or your My Disney Experience (MDE) app on your phone, so you can travel light to the parks. I advise taking a small amount of cash with you if you prefer to tip this way, in full-service restaurants. However, upon check-in you will have the option to add a credit card to your account, which will enable you to charge straight to your card from your magic band or MDE. Don’t worry about security either – you will be asked to create a pin for your account, which you will need to enter when using your magic band or MDE to pay with your dining plan. Even the younger members of your party can redeem their snack credits with their own magic band, as long as they know their (or your!) pin too.
- The refillable mug can help to save you a considerable amount on soft drinks and hot beverages, as you can help yourself to a wide selection of drinks as many times as you like. You will be pleased to know that these are also available to purchase and take advantage of, if you are a WDW resort guest that chooses not to add the dining plan to your package. The refillable mug is able to refilled in any of the Disney resort hotel quick service restaurants, so if you are taking time to explore other resorts, be sure to take your mug with you to stay refreshed throughout the day.
How to make the most of the DDP?
Here are my tips for this, without going into to detail on which restaurants, meals, snacks or drinks:
- Use snack credits for high value items, so when browsing the Disney stores, carts and restaurants, look out for snack credits that are $4 or more. Some of these items are perfect for sharing, so may work out well sharing it between two of you, as a mid-morning or afternoon snack, or so that you eat in intervals throughout the day, rather than just keeping to main meals.
- Browse the menus for both quick-service and full-service restaurants on the WDW website, and when you find a meal you like, make a note of the restaurant and your choice so you can build that into your planning. You will find that there will be some staple meals that are offered throughout each of the parks in quick-service restaurants, but some will be specific to themed areas or resorts, and they are worth going to get and enjoying.
- Keep signature dining restaurants to limit – when using the dining plan, we will only visit one of these, as they require 2 dining credits for one meal. You will find then that this reduces the value of each credit.
- If you enjoy the choice buffet restaurants offer, and like to fill up when dining in these restaurants, these will be a good choice for your party, as a breakfast or dinner option, as you will get a lot of food for a lower price. A lot of buffet restaurants will also be character dining so they have the added extra of Disney friends joining you whilst dining. Just make sure to fill up if these are a choice of restaurants for you!
- Restaurants that offer family-style dining, where they bring skillets to your table are also a great use of a dining credit, as they will likely include 3 courses for dinner, where as usually you will only get 2 courses with your dining plan. All skillets are able to refilled to, and to your choice, so if you really enjoy a particular item, be sure to ask your server for more and they will bring you extra helpings.
- For adults in your party, taking advantage of an alcoholic beverage with your full-service meal will be another way in which you can bump up the ‘cost’ of your meal, meaning you are redeeming more value.
- If you are travelling during Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival or International Flower & Garden Festival, your snack credits can be redeemed on items for the booths around Epcot and World Showcase, most of which are high-value items.
- As mentioned before, don’t waste any credits you have left on your last day – be sure to visit your hotel resort shop before you leave for the airport, and cash in snack and quick-service credits for souvenir snacks.
- Be sure to ask if you are able to substitute. You will find that it is possible for you to get a snack instead of a beverage when buying a quick-service breakfast in your hotel, as you will likely be using your refillable mug to get a beverage. If you’re going for a cooked breakfast, this may work well for you to add a piece of fruit to your morning rather than an extra drink. You may still want to grab a drink though as the meal includes, and take that to go for later in the day. Likewise, you can also ask to get a side rather than a beverage when dining in a quick-service restaurant in the parks. Similarly, when enjoying a full-service meal, ask your server if you are able to substitute your dessert for a side, if you would rather enjoy that over a dessert, or if you are saving yourself for a snack-credit-dessert a little later on.
- Instead of buying bottles of water in the parks, using a snack credit, you can ask any quick-service location of a cup of iced water which is complimentary.
That’s all for now on the Disney Dining Plan, but be sure to check back as there are more posts to come with my recommendations for everything dining-related!
Have a magical day and see ya real soon!
Post courtesy of our resident Disney expert: @disneytoria