After my article on How to Choose the Perfect Disney Resort For Your Family, I was asked by several readers if I’d write something on my thoughts of the Disney Dining Plan.
Be Our Guest Restaurant Menu
During my 6 years as a Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, the Disney Dining Plan was introduced. At it’s debut in 2005, it cost about $37.99 for adults and $9.99 for children, and the entitlements included one table service, one counter service, and one snack per guest. The table service meal including an appetizer, entree, dessert and gratuity.
Even at those prices, I didn’t often recommend the plan to my guests. I always tried to save them as much money as possible. However, when the free Disney Dining Plan was announced, that was extremely popular! I spent a total of 35 or so nights on the free plan over the first few years, which allowed me to talk about my thoughts of the Disney Dining Plan with my guests. I enjoyed the free version quite a bit back then, although it was way too much food for me to eat each day. I’m lucky I live close by, I took meals home! Snacks were also in larger sizes, like full-sized bags of chips.
Mickey Waffle at Trails End Breakfast – Not a Good Value on Disney Dining Plan
The Disney Dining Plan has changed quite a bit since then. Gratuity and appetizer are not included, and the price has risen considerably.
Disney’s Quick Service Dining Plan now costs more than the original 2005 Disney Dining Plan (with table service entitlement). Disney’s Quick Service Dining Plan includes:
Two Quick Service Meals per night of your stay
One Snack per night of your stay
One Resort Refillable Mug (for the length of stay)
$39.64 Adults 10+, $15.75 Children Ages 3 -9
* Per night means that each night of your resort stay. If you stay 3 days, 2 nights, you receive 2 days of entitlements.
The standard 2013 Disney Dining Plan includes:
One Entree per night of your stay
One Dessert for lunch or dinner
One single-serving, non-alcoholic beverage
One resort refillable mug, per guest
$58.66 per night Adults 10+
$18.88 per night Children ages 3-9
Deluxe Dining Plan
$104.94 per night Adults 10+
$29.51 per night Children 3-9
In the two months I’ve had this article sitting around waiting to be finished, the prices for the Disney Dining Plan went up by a few dollars (and then menu prices also raised a few weeks later).
Be Our Guest Restaurant Strip Steak
Now that we’ve looked at plan prices, there are some things to remember. All dining credits expire the night you check out. So if you missed a dining reservation at Be Our Guest Restaurant and never replaced it with a different meal, that credit is gone. I know from experience – and the experiences of friends and family – how easy it is to have credits left over on the last day. Leaving credits behind is the same as leaving money on the table.
The examples below are shown for adults, because I think plans for children (ages 3-9) are fairly reasonable compared with meal costs. A dinner at Chef Mickey’s costs about the same for a child 3-9 as the plan cost. Once you have 2 adults and two kids ages 10 and over, you are looking at over $220.00 per night PLUS gratuity and any extras – like appetizers – for the standard Disney Dining Plan. It really can add up.
Jeff With Minnie at Chef Mickey’s Restaurant, Disney’s Contemporary Resort
I think it’s also important to decide what you’d normally eat at any given restaurant before purchasing any plan. Would you usually buy a dessert with lunch and dinner, and would you always buy a drink? Would you prefer a vegetarian entree or chicken instead of the higher priced steak dish? And if I know if I’m already getting two desserts, I don’t really want a funnel cake from Sleepy Hollow ($5.69)for a snack – I’d rather have an apple (around $1.50), which is significantly less expensive and not as good a value for the money.
With or without the Disney Dining Plan, I often prefer buffets because they include appetizer items like salads, along with a beverage.
And while I do like to know my food is paid for ahead of time – away from Disney I often prefer hotels like Homewood Suites that includes meals with the room price – I don’t like to spend more than I need to on food. I won’t buy a plan for convenience unless I know it will save me money too.
Here are some examples of dining at Walt Disney World, with recent prices. Drink prices and other items went up slightly in the past couple of weeks, and I changed what I could to reflect that.
Be Our Guest Restaurant at the Magic Kingdom is one of our new favorite restaurants at Walt Disney World. I consider the dinner a good value with cash, but the value is harder to come by on the standard Disney Dining Plan.
My preferred meal is :
Layered Ratatouille $17.49
Iced Tea $2.99
Layered Ratatoutille at Be Our Guest Restaurant, Magic Kingdom
With tax, my dinner here with tax costs about $27.00. If I was on the standard Disney Dining Plan, I’d need to find a counter service meal and snack that would equal over $30.00 to break even.
The best scenario on the plan:
Grilled Strip Steak $32.99
Soft Drink $2.99
With tax, the above meal costs just over $40.00, and I’d only need a counter service and snack to equal $18.00 to break even – still not always easy, but doable (especially during the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, where samples are included as snacks).
One of our favorite buffets is Epcot’s Biergarten in the Germany pavilion, and we go there for lunch at least twice per year. The lunch and dinner are very similar (IMHO, not different enough to justify the extra $13 or so cost), and we like to eat earlier so we can walk it off. Plus, for the difference in price to dinner, Jeff can buy a beer!
Lunch during non-peak times at the Biergarten currently costs about $22.00 plus tax, or approx. $24.00 total (a little more with seasonal buffet pricing). With the Disney Dining Plan, I’d need to find a counter service meal and snack worth over $30 to break even.
Biergarten at Epcot’s Germany Pavilion
Another favorite buffet is the Boma breakfast at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. We visit here at least once per year, and the non-peak price with tax equals about $20.00 per person. With the Disney Dining Plan, I’d need more than $35.00 to break even with a counter service and snack.
Zebra Domes at Boma For Birthday Breakfast in 2011
(One note – one of my favorite counter service locations on the Disney Dining Plan is Wolfgang Puck Express at Downtown Disney’s Marketplace – it’s a very good value on any dining plan, and even with cash for less expensive items).
Pasta at Wolfgang Puck Express, Downtown Disney Marketplace – Large Enough For Us to Split
The Earl of Sandwich at the Downtown Disney Marketplace is a wonderful value with cash, but not as much the Disney Dining Plan. This is one of our favorite quick service locations at Walt Disney World. My regular meal, if I was choosing all of the entitlements:
Holiday Turkey Sandwich at Earl of Sandwich, Downtown Disney Marketplace
Holiday Turkey Sandwich $5.99 (they have it year round now!)
Iced Tea $1.99
Cupcake Coronet $1.99 or Ice Cream Sandwich $3.29
Because AAA members receive 15% off, my total would be around $10.00, a little less with the Cupcake Coronet after tax. This is a really great value for cash – and if I had the Disney Dining Plan (Plus or Quick Service), I wouldn’t use my credits here. Remember to also sign up for the Earl of Sandwich eClub, which offers a free sandwich on your birthday!
In our top 10 counter service restaurants at Walt Disney World is the Kringla Bakery. The prices and what is included with the sandwiches has changed quite a bit over the last couple of years, but this is the current menu items I’d order:
Roast Beef Sandwich $8.19
School Bread $2.69
Iced Tea $2.99
Roast Beef Sandwich at Kringla Bakery, Epcot
If you’ve never been, definitely give this location a try – the sandwiches are very tasty, and the cast members will toast them for you! The school bread has also been a popular favorite for many years. We split a cream puff this past week that was light and airy, but not quite as yummy as the school bread.
Cream Puff at Kringla Bakery, Epcot
My cost above for the meal would be about $14.00 in cash, definitely not worth the Disney Dining Plan price. Plus, I often prefer water when out on a hot day, so my cost would usually be less – and the above meal is enough for Jeff and I to split, making it $7.00 per person including the drink we don’t usually buy.
Spicy Chicken Sandwich, Sleepy Hollow Refreshments at the Magic Kingdom
Another of our favorite locations is Sleepy Hollow Refreshments at the Magic Kingdom. We usually split a Sweet and Spicy Chicken Waffle for $7.19 plus tax, with two waters. It’s an inexpensive and filling meal – great with cash, not so much on the Disney Dining Plan. We could add on a baked potato from the Liberty Square Market for $3.29 along with corn on the cob for $1.99 to split, and we’d have a large meal for us, just over $12.00 plus tax.
One of the most popular counter service restaurants is Sunshine Seasons at the Land at Epcot. It’s never been my personal favorite, but everyone else I know seems to love it!
A higher end counter service meal there would cost:
Slow-Roasted Pork Chop $12.49
Chocolate Mousse Cake $3.99
Soft Drink $2.99
The total cost for this would be about $21.00 with tax, and would be better on the Quick Service plan than buying it out of pocket.
Le Cellier used to be a fantastic deal on the Disney Dining Plan. Now it’s a 2 credit Signature location, with an all-day dining menu. Here is the most expensive meal I can find:
Dry-Aged Bone-In Ribeye $56.00
Drink – $3.00
The $69.00 price plus tax (about $73.00) has to be split between two days of dining credits. So for those two days, you’ll want your counter service meals and snacks to equal over $20.00 per day to break even. In the same vein, dinner shows like the Hoop-De-Doo Musical Revue are not a good value on the Disney Dining Plan, taking 2 table service credits at the value of about $30 each, and not for the top tier seating. We love the Hoop-De-Doo Musical Revue, and I highly recommend it – but not with the Disney Dining Plan.
Hoop De Doo Revue at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground
Strawberry Shortcake at the Hoop De Doo Revue – Save Room For It, No Matter How You Pay!
The California Grill is re-opening at Disney’s Contemporary Resort in a few days, and that is another Signature restaurant. 2 table service credits are needed for the experience on the Disney Dining Plan.
From the new menu, a more expensive meal would be:
Oak-Fired Filet of Beef ($49.00)
Chocolate Pudding Cake (13.00)
Soft Drink ($3.00)
That would cost about $70, or 2 table service entitlements of $35 each. It would take more than $20 for two days to break even with a counter service meal and snack. If you prefer the Bell & Evans Chicken (35.00), then you’ll be looking at closer to $30.00 to break even on those two days.
Some restaurants that are currently a good value on the Disney Dining Plan include:
The Wave at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, if ordering:
Grilled Beef Tenderloin $32.99
Tea, Soda, Coffee – Approx. $3.00
This meal with tax would cost about $50.00.
Kouzzina at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort if ordering:
Wood-Grilled Ribeye Steak $34.99
Soda or Iced Tea $2.99
This meal would also cost just over $50.00.
Plaza Restaurant, Magic Kingdom
But another of our favorite restaurants, The Plaza Restaurant at Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park is not a good choice for the Disney Dining Plan. My usual meal:
Cheese Steak Sandwich $11.99
Drink (if not choosing water) $2.99
And we usually split a Brownie Sundae $6.49
Jeff’s Club Sandwich, Plaza Restaurant
I always split the sundae with Jeff, so I’ll split the difference in cash – it really is big – and say that my meal with tax and tip would be around $22.00. I’d need $36.00 combined counter service/snack to break even on the Disney Dining Plan.
If you plan to mostly enjoy character breakfasts, than it is nearly impossible to recoup the adult Disney Dining Plan cost. For children ages 3-9, it is quite a bit easier.
No matter what you decide, do the math ahead of time. I don’t like to spend more than I need to for food. For some guests there may be the thrill of the hunt, trying to get the most bang for the Disney Dining Plan buck – but that is harder and harder these days. I have friends who enjoy the free Disney Dining Plan when it is offered, and I think it’s a good deal with the value and moderate resorts – even with deluxe resorts, depending on how many guests are in the room, and what type of other discounts are offered (like Passholder rates).
For those who don’t know, counter service ice water is always free – even if you don’t buy anything.
We had debated buying Tables in Wonderland again this year, which offers dining discounts. Tables in Wonderland is for Florida Residents, Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club Members, with members receiving 20% off many table service restaurants and a handful of counter service locations. We did finally buy back in, at $100.00 for a year (which is actually over 13 months from the date purchased). That is another option for a family with at least one Annual Passholder. It is expensive, but in our case, we will more than break even on it in the first few months.
There are some great websites that have menu items and prices on them, like AllEars.net. In the 6 years I spent as an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, I sent hundreds of guests to the website (formerly Deb’s Disney Digest). Menu prices can change, so use any menu site as a guide.
In general, I don’t recommend the Disney Dining Plan – but again, just a little math and knowing where you really want to go (and what you are most likely to order) goes a long way.
Lobster at Narcoosee’s, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort
Another tip – we often get asked about Be Our Guest Restaurant, because it can be a tough ticket for reservations. Jeff and I (along with friends) have always walked up without a problem. If you really want to dine at Be Our Guest, have a backup plan ready – there are no guarantees. Show up around opening, and be ready to dine at that time. That is how we’ve been able to enjoy dinner there 4 times. I’ve been called the queen of the disclaimer because I’ll follow Jeff around and say “not guaranteed” when he offers tips, but there is my disclaimer. We have had only wonderful experiences at Be Our Guest Restaurant, and I think it’s worth the visit no matter if you are paying cash or the Disney Dining Plan.
Create-Your-Own-Pasta at Port Orleans Riverside – Another Counter Service Favorite That Can Be Split 2-3 Ways
One last piece of advice…especially if you are on the Disney Dining Plan. Book early! I’ve seen guests trying to book their full dining itinerary at the resort concierge, trying to choose from what was left. Some restaurants will book up at the 180+ day time period, and character restaurants like Chef Mickey’s are especially vulnerable to selling out early. I remember back in the 90’s, I could book Chef Mickey’s on the same day and have my choice of times! That is not the case now. Other very popular restaurants include ‘Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Resort and Narcoossee’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. Back when I worked at the Disney Reservation Center (in 2000!), a guest called on Christmas Day and wanted to book the Crystal Palace that morning for breakfast. I checked and let him know it was sold out – and he asked, “in 5 minutes?” These days, you especially have to plan ahead to get the full range of meal choices (and perhaps rides and attractions as well, with Fastpass+).
There are a lot of wonderful dining options at Walt Disney World, and I definitely recommend doing some homework before deciding if the Disney Dining Plan will work for you.
Interested in MagicBand information? We have an article here along with plenty of videos!