What is the Disney Dining Plan? Should we get it?

Depending on how you like to dine, the Disney Dining Plan (DDP) can save you some money.  Even when you are not saving a lot, it can be worth it for the convenience. It is only available to Disney Resort Guests. In recent years Disney has offered free DDP during slow months as a promotion. There are three types of DDP: Quick Service, Regular, and Deluxe. 

DizKrazKate's Disney Tips in a Nutshell
 The Quick Service plans allows for 2 quick service meals, and 2 snacks per night stay. You also get a resort refillable mug.  In 2012, you will only get 1 snack per day.

 The Regular DDP gives you 1 quick service, 1 table service, and 1 snack per night stay.  In 2012 it will also include a resort refillable mug.

The Deluxe Dining Plan includes 3 meals per night stay (either quick or table), 2 snacks and a resort refillable mug.

The Premium and Platinum DDP are the same as the Deluxe, but are part of the Premium and Platinum levels of vacation packages.

Dessert is included, however appetizers are only included in the Deluxe plan.

The DDP does not include gratuity at table service restaurants.

Alcoholic beverages are not included. If you wish, you may add the Wine and Dine Plan to any package that includes dining for an additional fee in 2011.  This will not be available for 2012.

Some people are confused because they think they are getting allotments "per day" when you are actually getting them "per night stay".  If you have a 6 night, 7 day vacation, you only get 6 sets of allotments, not 7.

I think the DDP used to be a better deal than it is now, but we continue to get it because we do still save money, and you can’t beat the convenience!  The DDP isn’t for every family, and you’ll have to decide if it’s right for you or not. If you are staying on property, have at least 2 children between the ages of 3 and 9 and plan on eating all of your meals out, it’s probably a good idea. If you are on a tight budget and are going to eat a lot of meals in your room, are just adults, always order an alcoholic drink and an appetizer, or have picky or light eating children (or adults I guess!) over the age 9, it might not be such a good deal for you.  Additionally, if you cannot stand being tied down to dining reservations, and only like to do things as you go along, the Regular or Deluxe DDP is not for you. If you purchase those plans, you must make reservations, or risk not getting a table at anywhere you want to eat, and losing a lot of money.

If you like the idea of pre-paid dining, but don't want the DDP, you can consider purchasing a Disney Gift Card and put your food budget money on the card.  Then you can use that card to pay for your dining while at the parks. It is accepted at most restaurants, but not all food kiosks.

How does it work? 
The DDP is a basically a pre-paid meal plan.  You get a certain amount of allotments, or credits, per night of your stay.  The credits are in one big pool, so you can use them in any order you wish. For example if you have 2 adults staying a total of 3 nights on the regular DDP, you will have 6 table service credits, 6 quick service credits, and 6 snacks. If you want to have two snacks on one day, and none on your last day, that is fine. You can use the credits whenever you wish, but they do expire on midnight of your day of check-out.  Any unused credits are gone. With a little thought there is no reason for credits to go to waste.

Some of the plans for 2011, and all the plans for 2012 include a resort refillable mug.  This allows you unlimited refills on soft drinks, coffee, and tea at your resort hotel. We love these, and buy them every trip. Just make sure you understand you can use them for free refills at your hotel, but not in the parks.
All the credits for a room are lumped together, and can be accessed from anyone in that room's Key To The World Card (KTTWC).  Simply present the card when you go to pay for your meal or snack, and the credits will be deducted from the pool.  This can be super convenient for teens who might venture off on their own. They can get a snack or meal without needing to carry cash.

Keep in mind, kids must order from the children's menu where available. Also note that some very nice restaurants, most notably Cinderella's Royal Table, and dinner at Le Cellier are considered "Signature" restaurants. These will require 2 Table Service Credits, and are usually not an economically wise choice.

Where Can We Use It?
Disney Dining Plan Icon
The DDP can be used at over 100 restaurants and food kiosks throughout the resort including the theme parks, water parks, Downtown Disney, and the hotels. Upon check-in at your resort you will receive an informational pamphlet on the DDP that lists the eateries that are currently accepting the DDP. You can also look for the handy icon that Disney places on the menus next to snacks that you can purchase with the DDP.  Pretty much anything under $4, and quite a few things that cost more than that, are considered a snack in Disney's eyes. You can see this year's pamphlet by clicking here for the 2011 info.

What Does it Cost?
For 2011 the prices are as follows, are on a per night basis and are listed as Adult/Child:

Quick Service Plan- $34.99/$11.99
Disney Dining Plan- $45.99/$11.99 (regular season)
                               $47.99/$12.99 (peak season)
Deluxe Dining Plan -$78.99/$21.99
Wine and Dine Add on - $39.99

For 2012 the prices are going up a bit, along with the addition of the resort refillable mug to the Regular DDP, and the fact that the Quick Service Plan with only have 1 snack per day rather than 2. And alas, for you wine drinkers out there, no more Wine and Dine add on. It is being phased out apparently.

Quick Service Plan- $34.99/$11.99 (no change! Yea!)
Disney Dining Plan- $51.54/$11.99 (regular season)
                               $53.54/$12.99 (peak season)
Deluxe Dining Plan- $85.52/$23.79 (regular season)
                               $89.52/$25.79 (peak season)
Wine and Dine Add on- No Longer Offered!

Is it Worth the Money?
That depends.

Let's look at the Quick Service (QS) plan first.  For a family with 2 adults and 2 kids between the ages of 3 and 9, your cost in the regular season will be $93.96 per night stay.  If you add up the price of food for one day:

Early morning snack/breakfast using your refillable mug and a snack credit:
                                Dad:  Danish and Coffee $4.39
                                Mom: Coffee Cake and Coffee $4.59
                                Kid 1: Cinnamon Roll and soft drink $4.59
                                Kid 2: Oatmeal and soft drink $4.29
Lunch at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe at Magic Kingdom using 1 quick service credit each:
                                Dad: 1/2 Chicken and BBQ Rib Combo and drink: $16.68
                                Mom: Turkey Bacon Wrap $11.08
                                Dessert for Dad and Mom $7.18
                                Kid 1: PB&J meal $4.99
                                Kid 2: Turkey Sandwich meal $4.99
Afternoon Snack at Magic Kingdom using 2nd snack credit.
                                Dad: Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar $3.50
                                Mom: Popcorn $3.25
                                Kid 1: Dole Whip: $3.19
                                Kid 2: Funnel Cake $4.29
Dinner at Columbia Harbor House:
                                Dad: Fried Shrimp and drink $12.38
                                Mom: Fish and Chips and drink $9.98
                                Dessert for Dad and Mom:  $7.18
                                Kid 1: Chicken Nuggets $4.99
                                Kid 2: Macaroni and Cheese $4.99

Total Price $110.53. So your savings for the day is modest, but still, $16.57 for 7 nights is now $115.99! You may save more than this if you tend to get more expensive items on the menu, or less if you tend to get the least expensive, or use your snack credits for something small like a bottle of water or small soda. If you don't normally get dessert at the quick service places, your savings would only be around $57 for the week.

Now the Regular DDP. For 2 adults and 2 kids between the ages of 3 and 9, your cost would be $115.96 per night stay. For convenience we will use some of the meals from above. Remember you only get 1 snack credit, so you are on your own for 1 meal. (Tip: eat cold cereal or bagels in your room).

Lunch at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe at the Magic Kingdom using 1 quick service credit:
                             Dad: 1/2 Chicken & BBQ Rib Combo w/drink: $16.68
                             Mom: Turkey Bacon Wrap w/drink $11.08
                             Dessert for Dad and Mom $7.18
                             Kid 1: PB&J meal $4.99
                             Kid 2: Turkey Sandwich meal $4.99
Afternoon Snack at Magic Kingdom using snack credit.
                             Dad: Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar $3.50
                             Mom: Popcorn $3.25
                             Kid 1: Dole Whip: $3.19
                             Kid 2: Funnel Cake $4.29
Dinner at The Crystal Palace Character Meal with Winnie the Pooh and Friends using table service credit:
                             Adults $36.99x2 is $73.98
                             Kids $17.99x2 is $35.98

Total for the day is $169.41 for a savings of $53.45 for the day. If you ate this way every day your savings would be around $375.  If however you ate at somewhere less expensive than The Crystal Palace, like The Plaza for example, your spending for the day might only be $122, and savings might only be $6 that day. You really save the most money I feel, on the kids. If  you have more than two kids, as I do, the DDP becomes even more of a value. Most of the buffets and character meals, cost more per kid than the actual cost of the DDP for the whole day! That kind of savings really adds up.

Either way, you can save a little or a lot of money, and it certainly is easy and convenient. Also, for some families it can be helpful to have their meals pre-paid before they go.

Making Advance Dining Reservations (ADR's)
  Disney does not make "Reservations" the way you may be used to. You may and should make ADR's for all your table service meals at the world. However, it's more of a call ahead seating than a reservation. You still may have to wait 10 to 20 minutes for your table.  If you do not have an ADR however, especially during busy seasons or free dining promotions, you may not get a table at all.  You will often see signs saying "Not accepting walk up's at this time".  We have an acquaintance who sent us a text while at Disney, that he hated the place.  They couldn't get a seat at a single table service restaurant.  Well, if you have no reservations, and go during Spring Break, that is what happens. It's supply and demand. If you are purchasing the DDP, or especially if you are getting it during a free dining promotion, you really MUST make ADR's. ASAP. Like yesterday. If you decide to just show up with no ADR's you may find yourself frustrated, and wasting a lot of money using your table service credits at quick service locations, because you cannot get a table.  If you are the type of person that needs to make plans on-the-fly, and cannot be tied down to reservations, DO NOT buy the DDP.

You can make ADR's for up to 10 days of your vacation, starting 180 days before your check-in day. You can find some handy online tools for calculating your 180 call day, like this one, click here.  You can either call, or  use their online dining reservation system. I prefer the online system, found here.  The online method is much faster, and you can get access to the reservations at 6am Eastern Time, rather than waiting for the phone lines to open at 7am Eastern Time. If you are wanting a hard to book place such as Cinderella's Royal Table, Chef Mickey's, Le Cellier, or O'Hana's, that extra hour can make the difference. (Tip: try to book hard to secure reservations towards the end of your trip, as the farther out towards the end of the 10 day window you get, the more likely you are to get a table. And book in order of restaurant popularity, not chronologically day by day.)

Disney Dining Plan Tips and Tricks

  • The quick service plan is not a big money saver, but it is convenient.
  • The regular DDP can save you some $$. Only 2 meals may scare you, but trust me there is plenty of food.
  • The Deluxe DDP is honestly A LOT of food, too much really, and a major time waster as you spend a good deal of time in restaurants.  By the time you finish at one, you have a few short hours and its time to eat again!
  • If you have more than 2 kids between the ages of 3 and 9, the DDP can be a really money saver, especially for buffets and character meals. 
  • If you have the Regular or Deluxe DDP, you really need to make Advance Dining Reservations ASAP. At the 180 day mark is preferable. If not, make them as soon as you can, popular times and places fill quickly.
  • Try to book the hard to secure reservations towards the end of your trip, as the farther out towards the end of the 10 day window you get, the more likely you are to get a table. And book in order of restaurant popularity, not chronologically day by day. This only applies if making ADR's on the 180 day mark.
  • You get the best value for your table service credits at dinner and buffets.
  • Consider eating at off-times, such as an early lunch at 11:30, late lunch at 1:30, or early dinner at 4:45, especially with kids. You will find it less crowded in the restaurant and get faster service. Additionally, you will then be in the parks doing attractions, while everyone else is eating at a more popular time.
  • If you have kids, consider buffets. There is a larger selection of foods, and faster service. It's hard for a cranky kid to wait to order, and then wait for the food to arrive. At buffets, you are often eating within 5 minutes of sitting down. 
  • At quick service locations, know what you are entitled to and decide before you get to the cast member to order. (Others behind you in line -like me- are hungry) Each person gets an entree and side, or combo meal, drink, and dessert. Kids meals automatically come with healthy options like grapes and carrots, and milk, juice or water, but you can get a soft drink, fries or a cookie as a substitute by asking.  Its in the fine print at the bottom of the menus.
  • Know before you go! While the Disney literature uses popcorn, ice cream bars, and bottled water as examples, there are hundreds, thousands even of items you can get as a snack. Look for the DDP icon next to items that are snacks.  Also, check out the DisBoard's "List of Confirmed Snacks".
  • Kids must order from the kids menu. Ahem. Skip this if you think you may be morally compromised... look away now! (at quick service places, the credits are all the same, so sit your kids down with mom, and order them whatever you want if they are tired of chicken nuggets, or you need more chicken nuggets to share with an under 3 kid).
  • If you have a stroller or wheelchair to store bags, keep a small cooler bag with you, and Ziploc bags.  The plan can have a lot of food, and you can put your dessert or a kid's uneaten bag of grapes in your cooler bag for a snack later!
  • Kids under the age of 3 cannot have the DDP plan purchased for them. They can however eat from everyone else's plates, and at buffets they can eat for free! Most menu type places will usually bring the wee one a beverage for free.
  • Snack credits can be used for a pastry or muffin in the morning as a breakfast. Get your coffee in your resort refillable mug and you are set to go.
  • If eating at a quick service at your resort, get your beverage in your refill mug, and use the beverage you are entitled to with your meal credit to get a bottle of something to go for later.
  • Some quick service places will automatically give you a medium soft drink with your meal, but you can have a large drink if you ask!
  • Also at some quick service places, especially at the resort hotels where you may be choosing some pre-made things from a cooler case, they will often let you swap a dessert for a side salad or fruit, as long as the price of the swapped item is less than $4.
  • If for some reason you end up with an extra table service credit or two, most but not all quick service places will let you use it there. You are not getting your money's worth for sure, but in a pinch, it's better than letting it go totally to waste.
  • If you have extra meal credits, consider getting a quick service to go on your last day, and taking it to eat once you get to the airport.
  • Have extra snack credits? Pick up some souvenirs to take home for friends such as Mickey shaped Rice Krispie treats, lollipops, cotton candy, cookies, or any other pre-packaged food item less than $4!
  • If you want to spread your quick service credits out to have enough for both arrival and departure day, some places have rather large menu items that 2 adults could share.  Share on 2 days and you have gotten an extra day out of your credits.  Try the 1/2 Chicken and BBQ Rib Combo at Cosmic Rays at Magic Kingdom, 1/2 Chicken or 1/2 Slab of Ribs meals at Flame Tree BBQ at Animal Kingdom, or split a sandwich, share a large soda pop,  and use a snack credit for an extra side of fries.
  • For the best dessert options with your quick service credit, use it at resort hotels, Sunshine Seasons or Kringle Bakery at Epcot, or Starring Rolls at Hollywood Studios. Zebra Domes at Animal Kingdom Lodge's Mara, a creme brulee at Sunshine Seasons, or a rice cream at Kringle Bakery top the chocolate cake in a cup you get at most of the quick service places.
  • Don't waste a snack credit on a bottle of water or soda.  Bring a refillable water bottle, or bring your resort refillable mug with you to the park and ask at any quick service for a cup of ice water, it's FREE! Pour it in your bottle or mug and you've got free water to go.
  • If you like the idea of pre-paid dining, but don't want the DDP, you can consider purchasing a Disney Gift Card and put your food budget money on the card.  Then you can use that card to pay for your dining while at the parks. It is accepted at most restaurants, but not all food kiosks.

One of my favorite use of the snack credit is the famous Dole Whip and Dole Whip Float. YUMMY!