Let me start this post by saying that I get why the Disney Dining Plan is so appealing, I really do. You’ve pre-paid for your meals ahead of time (no un-magically big credit card bill to come home to), you don’t have to worry about how much anything costs (it’s “included”), and you can really just relax, enjoy your vacation and not worry about money. But the thing is, for OUR family, the Dining Plan really isn’t a great value (skip to the end for how our family still gets the “pre-paid’ experience without the Dining Plan). Here’s why:
Pre-paid means Pre-committed
So, imagine this scenario: You have an ADR (Advanced Dining Reservation) for Crystal Palace. 2 of your 3 kids are suddenly not feeling well at all. If you’re not on the dining plan, 2 or 3 of you can show up for your reservation, no problem OR you could cancel all together (if it’s within 24 hours they usually charge you $10 a piece for this but in my experience if you call and say someone is ill they will waive the cancellation fee). HOWEVER, if you’re on the dining plan, you’re paying for that meal anyway. So you’re left with two options: figure out a way to use those dining credits another day (maybe signature dining or a show if you can get an ADR) or use them for a snack. The first can be stressful if you’ve already planned your trip out (and if you use them for an additional sit down credit you now have extra counter service credits that will go to waste), and the second you lose money. I don’t like either option. And in all our trips to Disney, we’ve yet to have one where we didn’t cancel at least one meal because of illness or because we just didn’t feel like it. I don’t like the commitment and I don’t like losing money.
I Eat Weird
I am a vegetarian who eats fish (a pescatarian to be exact) so I don’t always want what’s on the menu for entrees. It’s not unusual at all for me to eat an appetizer as my main meal or to just get an appetizer and a side salad. The Disney Dining Plan doesn’t do that. I HAVE to get an entree. Also, some restaurants I love the atmosphere but not so much the food. Sci-Fi is a perfect example. We love it there and the kids love their burgers, but there’s nothing on that menu that I love so I usually get the spinach artichoke dip and that’s it. That would be a huge waste of a dining credit. Are you sensing a theme? I don’t like being told what to eat! I like the flexibility we get by paying out of pocket.
It Usually Doesn’t Save Us Money
Yes, I always do the math and yes, sometimes we would come out slightly ahead with the dining plan. But only if we all ate 2 snacks per day (unlikely for Scott and I), got 5 refillable mugs (I’m the only one who usually gets one as the kids don’t like having to walk ALL THE WAY to the lobby to fill up;), and if we’re eating lots of buffets. Even then, every time I’ve worked the numbers I save more money by getting the Tables In Wonderland card (20% off all our sit down means, available only to Florida residents and Disney Vacation Club Members, and annual passholders for a fee, currently $150).
So, to sum up. We don’t do the Disney Dining Plan because it is inflexible and doesn’t save us any money. But your experience may be very different so this is just this one mom’s opinion. No matter how you decide to pay for your dining, may your upcoming trip be filled with wonderful food and great memories!
Oh, almost forgot! Wanna know how we get the pre-paid experience WITHOUT purchasing the Disney Dining Plan? We use Disney gift cards purchased in advance! Throughout the months leading up to our Disney trip, I buy Disney gift cards at Target using my Red Card (which gives me 5% off). And, to avoid having a ton of gift cards to keep track of, I go to www.disneygiftcard.com and combine all my cards onto one (note: I pay this card in full every month. If you don’t, the money you pay in interest quickly makes this plan stupid). I then have a pre-loaded gift card that I can use one of two ways: either just use that to pay for our meals and snacks or, if you like the convenience of charging everything to your magic band, just go down to the front desk at least one day before check out and pay for your current bill using the gift card. Don’t wait until check-out day to do this, though, or they will have already charged your credit card.
Voila! No Disney Dining Plan but I still don’t have a big credit card bill to come home to and bonus, I got 5% off. You’re welcome. (as with all things, the 5% Target offer could end at any time)