I’m often asked by friends and readers in the midst of planning their Walt Disney World vacation the age old question of whether or not to buy the Disney Dining Plan. Without hesitation my answer has always been, “Fuck no.”
But I got “Free Dining!”
Awww, that’s so cute how you think Bob Iger is handing out free shit. Think again! First of all the Dining Plan is for guests of Disney Resorts only and you absolutely SHOULD stay at a Disney owned resort during your trip, but in order to get the “free” dining plan you must book as a package thru Disney. Meaning you pay the room rate they want you to pay in order to “qualify” (foregoing any room-only discount which can range up to 30% at times) and you must also buy your Park tickets from Disney directly which you SHOULD NOT do unless you’re only going for one day or you are an annual passholder. The savings you can gain by pricing things individually can be substantial. Reputable 3rd party ticket brokers can sell Park tickets at great savings to you. Full prices Park tickets (plus taxes) and then missing out on heavy room discounts in order to get the “free” Dining Plan is not something I can recommend. Plus the thousands you could save at Deluxe Resorts if you were to Rent DVC points is totally out the window
ANYWAY, I digress….
Here are the details for this year’s dining promotion. This is good for most dates between July 5th and September 30th and must be booked by February 10th in order to qualify. You must book for 6days/5nights and include Park Hopper or Park Hopper plus tickets in your booking.
The following resorts receive the “free” Quick Service Dining plan
- Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
- Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
- Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside
- Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
- Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort
- Disney’s Art of Animation Resort – Family Suites Only
- Disney’s Pop Century Resort
The following resorts receive the “free” (regular) Disney Dining Plan
- Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Jambo House
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village
- Disney’s Beach Club Villas
- Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
- Disney’s Old Key West Resort
- Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
- Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Disney’s Beach Club Resort
- Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
- Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
- Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
So I was going to be headed to Disney World during those times seems like I might as well go for it then, huh?
FUCK NO!! The math has been done by many a blogger, one of my favorites being Tom Bricker. You can even head to Touring Plans and use their handy calculator (you’ll need to pay for the premium subscription to get his feature – money well spent) to see if it’s going to be worth it for you to buy the DDP – SPOILER ALERT, it’s probably not. Basically in order to actually save money using this crap you’re gonna have to consume lots of food and know exactly where the most expensive items are at each Park or Resort. You’d then have to actually want to order those items or else you’re just doing so on the account of “saving money.” With over 140 eating establishments at WDW, that is going to involve a lot of planning which if you’re doing things right you’ve already racked your brain trying to plan Park days, where to stay, what to pack and so on and so forth. You also need to keep in mind that though it’s widely accepted, the DDP is not a usable form of payment everywhere on property. Take some time and peruse through the menus available online, thru fan sites like Disney Food Blog so you can gain an idea of what you’ll be spending per day in the parks based on your eating habits.
Besides the monetary investment you must also consider your time. If you are maximizing the DDP to save money you most certainly are losing time actually doing things inside the Parks because a sit down meal takes time. Sure you can “maximize” the Quick Service plan too, but to much less of an extent than you can with the Standard and Deluxe Plans which offer meals at Table service locations. The prices on those QS meals are relatively low to begin with so any dollar savings is small even if you do manage to turn it into a cost savings (which you probably won’t).
Editor’s note: By “maximizing” your DDP, you will likely fall into the trap of thinking that cost is equal to quality at Disney World. While this is sorta-kinda the case when jumping from Quick Service to Table Service. Even though there are some Table Service places to avoid like San Angel Inn which is absolute fuckery in terms of food quality. Now, within the same category of eatery price is just a price and really no indication of what’s good food so you have to be cognizant of what your fellow park goers are saying about their meals. Simple Google searches and Yelp reviews can help with that. Oh an be sure to check the dates on reviews you read shit changes with these places often as restaurant staff has turnover just like any other place you’d eat outside the Disney bubble.
But I just want to know what my food cost is before I leave.
OKAY OKAY I get it! We all want to have a budget in mind so if you’re hell bent on knowing a dollar figure here’s what you do. Figure out the cost of the DDP for your trip. Then instead of paying Disney for it, march your ass over to Target or Sam’s Club or wherever you can get maximum credit card points then buy some pre-loaded Disney gift cards for the amount you would have shelled out on DDP. My favorite method is to combine the Sam’s Club discount with Discover Card Cashback during the months when warehouse clubs get 5% back. You end up saving around 9% because Sam’s Club is offering the cards for about 4.5% below face value already. At Target you can use your RedCard (if you don’t like credit cards just get the Debit version, it’s free) and that saves you 5% on all purchases at Target (not including actual Target Gift Cards). This method is starting to be frowned upon by Target as people have been buying them left and right on their website. So Target has begun to limit or outright block you from doing this online. However, you can still find these in-store and you still will save 5% there without hassle. There are ways to save more, but that requires more legwork than I’m willing to provide so I’ll let you figure it out if you really want to dig deep. Anyway, once you’ve done this you’ve saved money and since I’m fairly certain you won’t eat enough to run through your full gift card balance you can use the rest to buy souvenirs or really anything else Disney since your dollars are not tied to just food. If you buy the DDP your unused dining credits are lost.
So now I’ve got a bunch of Disney gift cards and I’ll have to read them off one-by-one to some poor Disney cast member to pay off my room-charge balance before checkout, right?
Nope. Just go here, click on “Manage Card” and consolidate that shit
Editor’s note: Be sure to stay mindful of your spending limit at each resort. If you reach this limit the credit card you have on file will be charged. So before you hit your threshold and/or the night prior to check-out make sure to go to the front desk to pay down your balance with the gift card. Just a note: I’m not affiliated with nor compensated by any of the websites I’ve mentioned above. I’m just a fan like you trying to pass on a bit of advice. If you’ve already got the Dining Plan don’t worry it’s not going to make your vacation any worse, in fact many folks purchase it even after knowing its many shortcomings and still make it home in one piece.