Disney’s 2019 Dining Plan: Is it still “worth it?”
Well folks, it is time for the annual revisit of Disney’s Dining Plan and whether or not the price of the plan is still worth what you get out of it. I had an opportunity to use the plan for my December 2018 trip to Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort with my 22 year old daughter, who is a senior in college. She had her best semester ever and a few circumstances tipped me into dining plan territory, although I did not originally book it when I deposited my trip. Since the 2018 and the 2019 dining plan prices are still the same as of this writing, we can use my December 2018 figures to do some comparisons.
How Much Is It?
First some background on prices of the various plans available, which have stayed steady for a while now, and the NIGHTLY rate:
|01/01/2019 Cost per night of stay|
|Disney’s Quick Service Dining Plan|
Includes two Quick Service meal credits (Entree + designated beverage) and two Snack credits per night of stay per person age 3+.
|age 10+||$ 52.50|
|age 3-9||$ 23.78|
|Disney’s Dining Plan|
Includes one Quick Service meal credit (Entree + designated beverage), one Table Service meal credit (Entree+ designated beverage + dessert) and two Snack credits per person age 3+ per night of stay. Does not include gratuity.
|age 10+||$ 75.49|
|age 3-9||$ 25.75|
|Disney’s Deluxe Dining Plan|
Includes three meals (appetizer, entree, dessert, beverage) per person age 3+ per night of stay. Does not include gratuity. Quick Service and Table Service meals are not separated.
|age 10+||$ 116.25|
|age 3-9||$ 39.99|
There may be some minor disparities in cost per night when you do the math for your own trip due to rounding of numbers and the number of nights of your trip. But its going to be close. Please note that dining plans at Disney are only available for those guests staying in Disney hotels with a Magic Your Way vacation package. If you have a room-only reservation, you are not eligible to book a dining plan. You can book Hotel plus a dining plan, which makes it a vacation package.
So now that we know what the plan costs, we have our breakeven point for food–which really isn’t too difficult to hit if you’re eating twice a day and getting a snack. A typical Disney resort guest does not have a vehicle so there’s no running off site easily to get lower priced meals. Plus if you did leave for two meals a day you’re taking away your park time –and isn’t that what you’re paying for when you do a theme park trip? Also, I want to add that this is a dining plan. Emphasis on the word “plan” here. Planning involves making reservations or at least figuring out where you’re going to be each day or you may be wandering aimlessly looking for food. Walk ups to most Disney table service restaurants are rarely possible even during the slower times of the year. If you’re not willing to make a plan and want to just “wing it”, then you need to consider paying as you go or you’ll probably lose money.
Originally I had no dining plan as part of this little trip. After the significant price increase on quick service food and snacks in early October, and the new character meal at Artist Point to which I scored a table on opening night, I was in a position where I needed to add one as it was going to save me some money. (You can read about my Storybook Dining at Artist Point experience here.) After I really assessed what I was going to spend on food with Artist Point and my usual places, it was time to make a modification to the trip and add Disney’s Dining Plan as it was going to save me some money, and I was going to eat a whole lot better than if I paid for my food as we ordered it.
How did we use the plan?
This was a short trip of just 4 nights and 5 days, and plenty of park hopping due to the extra cost Christmas parties in the Magic Kingdom and that park closing at 6:00 pm–plus my Fastpass+ reservations were made 60 days prior and could not be adjusted. With two adults, the cost of the dining plan ended up being $301.96 per person, so an additional $603.92 for the entire trip. Yikes! Sure seems to be a lot as I’m typing, and it is. However my budget is usually $60 per day per person and that is not doing character meals or snacks. Also, when I pay as I go I tend to say “No” a lot to snacks. I figured I would be spending $450-500 for the two of us for five full days and by adding the plan I would eat a whole lot better. My daughter loves the dining plan because I do not tell her she can’t have something. Seriously, I stopped buying ice cream bars once they were more than $3.00 each. Now with them approaching $6 each I am less likely to cringe if she wants one because it is a Snack credit.
As you read on, I did save 26% had we purchased the same items with real money. We did have adult beverages when they were available. Would I have ordered a $12 cocktail without a dining plan or invited Stella Artois to lunch in the Magic Kingdom? Probably not. However I liked having the option available.
So how did I use the plan? Well here goes…
On Sunday, December 16, we checked into the hotel and headed to the Magic Kingdom and grabbed a Cinnamon Roll at Gaston’s Tavern. These things are huge, and shareable, so we split it. The photo below is the holiday edition with red icing. Disney needed to be handing out Stain Stick and laundry vouchers with this one as that red icing seemed to get everywhere. And you saw that red icing on many holiday items in bakery cases, which is why I did not get my beloved Gingerbread Cupcake this year.
We met some friends for lunch at Be Our Guest Restaurant where we had the roast pork and an adult beverage. This is not a place that I “have” to do each trip, but stalking the reservation system netted a table at a decent time, so we went. I don’t care for everything on the menu but their pork is like something I would make at home (albeit with far less salt.) In January 2018, Disney added adult beverages to the menus for quick service and table service meals. The only QS to have alcohol in the MK is Be Our Guest so no cervezas with your nachos in Pecos Bill’s. We rounded out our dining credits with a trip to the Big Top in Storybook Circus for a caramel apple and a pineapple spear, and for dinner we went to Storybook Dining at Artist Point. Total if we would have paid: $215.66. Dining plan cost: $150.98. Savings of 30% off menu pricing. Wow.
Since the reservation at Artist Point was so late, we did not leave the restaurant until almost 10pm. We were not hungry when we woke up early and went to Animal Kingdom on December 17 where we had a “Caring for Giants” tour. Since the tour was early we were done by 10:30am. We rode Kilimanjaro Safari and then headed to the Eight Spoon Cafe by the Tree of Life and Discovery Island for that amazingly delicious Macaroni and Cheese with Pulled Pork. They weren’t open yet, but we joined the line and waited. I will own up to park hopping for this stuff. It is delicious and at one Snack credit on the dining plan, it is a mini- meal for me. I’ve had the shrimp version too, but I prefer the pork. When not on a dining plan, I pay the $6.49 + tax for this. But I liked it a whole lot better as a Snack credit.
The mac & cheese is a substantial snack and we had no need for lunch. Dinner was at Hollywood Studios with a reservation time of 5:30 pm. Since I splurged for the dining plan, I wanted to go somewhere I hadn’t been for a very long time: the Hollywood and Vine Fantasmic Dinner Package. Frankly I don’t remember when I was last there, but I think my kids were little and now my baby is a college senior, so it has been at least 12-15 years. This is a character buffet at $60 per person and included vouchers for the first showing of Fantasmic. (Cost is a little less without the Fantasmic.) This is probably my favorite show in all of Disney and I usually don’t miss it. You don’t need a dinner package for the show however if you are going to eat at the H&V you might as well get the Fantasmic package if it is available. These usually sell out pretty quickly but I was able to get it booked about a week prior to arrival. As for the food… well… this was probably our least favorite meal. It was “just food.” Nothing special about any of it and frankly I can’t remember anything I ate except that I had to send my Margarita back because it was terrible and they replaced it with a Blue Moon and a warm glass. The broccoli on the kids buffet was good as was the flank steak. Salad selections were very weak, and I never even took photos. The menu is seasonal and I guess I need to try another season. We certainly did not overdo it at that place. Fantasmic was great, as usual, and the dinner package seats were awesome. After the show we walked to Epcot to see Illuminations. (It was 1.87 miles from Fantasmic to France.)
Value of food with one Snack and one buffet each: $164.25. Amount paid for plan: $150.98.
We park hop for food
After last night’s dinner at Hollywood and Vine, I was greatly looking forward to our plans for Dec 18: Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and then Animal Kingdom for a dinner at Tusker House. It was a short trip and we still had things to accomplish! We did our usual rope drop dash at the Studios and even got to ride the Slinky Dog Dash, Tower of Terror and Rock n Roller Coaster, and I splurged for a few adult beverages (paid for with real money) at the Baseline Tap House as I had some emails to answer and phone calls to make. Unfortunately, adult beverages are NOT a snack on the dining plan! If you like craft beer, this is a good place to try. I never liked beer until my family introduced me to craft beer and brewpubs and now the Baseline Tap House is a must-do every trip. We decided we needed some food and daughter wanted to do ToT again, so we headed in that direction. I picked another place to try I had not been to in years: Catalina Eddie’s. I really wanted a salad, and she wanted pizza. Plus there was plenty of seating and the warm December sun felt good.
If you’re done any reading on quick service pizza at Disney, you probably know it is not that great. I was willing to take this for the team and try it for myself and we certainly were not going to starve if we didn’t like it. My salad was just lettuce and chicken with Parmesan cheese (dressing was on the side)so nothing spectacular. Her pizza was a generous portion of crust, some sauce and a little bit of cheese with spicy pepperoni, served with a small side salad. I didn’t take pictures of any of it, but it really wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t great, but we didn’t put it in the trash or complain about it for 20 minutes either. It was “just food.” I will add that normally when I go to Hollywood Studios I don’t eat anywhere except for the burger at the Sci Fi Dine In. I love the burgers at the Sci Fi but on a dining plan I wasn’t going to waste a table service credit on an $18 hamburger. That reservation was cancelled when I added the dining plan to my trip.
After lunch she did her ride on the Tower of Terror, and then we walked another 2 miles well into Epcot where I had my cream puff in Norway. Gosh, I LOVE those cream puffs! Many people love School Bread but nope, not me: give me a cream puff (and I am not going to share it.) The refurbishment and expansion of the Kringla Bakery Og Kafe was a huge improvement, but too bad they were not able to expand the seating. At $5.59 + tax it is a pretty decent value for a Snack credit too.
That night’s dinner was in Animal Kingdom at Tusker House. I absolutely love Tusker House. I have never had a bad meal there and this meal, along with Boma, are among my favorite places in all of Disney. The food is similar so when I’m on a dining plan I go to Tusker House to see some characters. When using ‘real money’, I go to Boma as it is slightly less costly. As a character meal, Tusker House is now coming in at $52 per adult.
We had a great meal and excellent character interactions. The server was on her “A” game, and the food was fresh. I had the best plantains ever that night: they were well cooked, hot, and sweet. The food was so good I told the manager.. and I may have suggested that he send some of his staff to the Hollywood and Vine to teach them how to cook. To me, Tusker House never disappoints. However you must be a more adventurous diner and be willing to enjoy the unique flavors of their many dishes.
Yes, we did three parks this day and it was a lot of walking as shown by my Samsung GearFit:
Food value: $176.41. Amount paid: $150.98. Savings of 15%.
Tracking Dining Plan Usage
We’ve been at Disney for a couple of days and aren’t following any set patterns for meal credit usage except for having reservations for our table service credits. A party of two adults with annual passes are generally more mobile and flexible than a party of four with kids. We were also park hopping often, which can be a struggle to do with a family. Securing Fastpass+ reservations before dining reservations also contributed to the park hopping. I find it strange that it is easier to change a restaurant than a ride reservation! We were losing track of Snacks as we weren’t really hungry but fortunately Disney has a handy tool as part of the app on your device where you can track your meal credit usage and what is remaining. Here’s our dining plan history on Dec 18, 2018:
You can also get a general overview of the credits you have been assigned, and what was used from the app as well. Here’s an example after I used my QS meals on Day 1. We did redeem our refillable mugs, but didn’t use them much as we spent most of our time in the parks. The December 2018 cost of the mug is up to $18.99 plus tax, or $20.22. They are included with all dining plans for your length of stay up to 14 days. With fountain drinks being $3.99 and coffee at $3.29, they pay for themselves in just a day or two.
After a few days of using the dining plan, we decided we wanted our table service meals to be earlier–like a late lunch after 1:00pm. It worked better with our early park arrival and blasting through attractions. I had a reservation at Chefs de France for dinner on the December 19th, but we wanted to eat earlier. No problem… there was a table at the Coral Reef for a lunch around 1:30 pm and I modified things from my app. The Coral Reef Restaurant is also a place I hadn’t been to in probably 15 years while Chefs de France is a place I go to regularly. For a while the Coral Reef was considered a “signature meal” for dining plan guests and had the pricing to go along with it. Fortunately Disney changed this to a one-table service credit establishment. Since I spend a lot of time in Florida on the east coast, I am able to get fresh seafood without thinking about it too much and the Coral Reef is generally off my radar for that reason.
With our early park arrival we were hungry, and I wanted to visit the Holidays Around The World booth in Mexico. We grabbed a quick snack right as they opened at 11:00 am as lunch was still a few hours away.
The tamale and enchilada were both delicious. The sauce on the enchilada had quite a kick to it and I was glad I had water with me. So two snack credits got us through to our lunch. I hope they bring that enchilada back for future events.
After strolling through the World Showcase we headed to the Coral Reef . We were a little early and they seated us within 10 minutes of arrival. We had a great table for two right at the tank itself so we lucked out. (Important to note: seating requests can not be made in advance. You can ask for a specific section at check in but it is not guaranteed.) Here’s the menu from the board outside:
Despite our earlier snacks we were pretty hungry and ordered appetizers, which are not included on the basic Disney’s Dining Plan and needed to be purchased with real money. (We did not ask about substituting them for a dessert, but when I ordered the server said they would be extra.) I had the clam chowder (a little peppery but good with chunks of clam and potato) and daughter had the calamari, which she loved. Our dining plan entrees were the salmon and the Shrimp & Grits. Here’s a photo of the Shrimp & Grits. I tried and tried, but that salmon never looked appetizing in the photos. But it was rather tasty despite being unattractive through the lens of the camera. The Shrimp & Grits was delicious and not too spicy. She said she would order it again.
We also ordered desserts as they were part of our table service meal credit: the Key Lime Pie and the Angel Cake with berries. Both were really good. Since were were on the dining plan we had adult beverages along with our water. She had the Pina Colava and I had one of the Florida beers on the menu (Sea Dog Sunfish.)
At one table service credit each on Disney’s Dining plan, the $100 lunch before tip is easier to stomach. My appetizers were extra and not shown here as they were on a separate ticket since I was paying for them. Service was excellent by the way and the food was really good. I would go back willingly even if I had to pay with real money. However I would probably not order dessert if I was using money.
We were down to 9 snacks and 4 Quick Service credits remaining and we decided dinner would be at Sunshine Seasons in Epcot, which is a regular stop for us since we don’t generally eat quick service burgers and fries at Disney. Bur first we did the “Last Call” ride on “Living With The Land.” It was decorated for the holidays, and the sun had set and I thought it was very pretty:
Back at Sunshine Seasons, we had the rotisserie chicken with rice & beans ($12.29 x 2) and for our drinks I had a Rum and Ginger because I’d never seen it ($9.50) and she had a Fat Tire Belgium Ale ($8.75.) The Rum & Ginger mostly went in the trash–not something I’d ever order or buy again. Since we had so many Snack credits, we also popped in to the Patisserie Boulangerie in France and had a Napolean and a Chocolate Croissant. These are reasonably priced items I purchase regularly:
Our total daily total for December 19: four Snacks, two table service and two quick service. Amount of cash value: $174.32. Amount paid: $150.98. Savings 14%.
Last day: exhausting the meal credits
Since we were checking out on December 20, and dining credits did not expire until midnight on check out day, we had 5 Snack credits and 2 Quick Service meals to use up so we headed to Disney Springs. Had the weather not been so awful we would have gone to a park but with the torrential downpours and thunderstorms it just wasn’t worth the hassle. Here’s what we encountered at Disney Springs that day–and thank goodness for Duck Boots and rain ponchos!
I had heard rave reviews of The Polite Pig from my friends but had not been there yet due to a variety of reasons, including the fact I don’t like to shop and Disney Springs holds little appeal to me unless I need cosmetics at MAC or Sephora. The Polite Pig menu is expansive and can be overwhelming, and not everything on it is part of Disney’s Dining Plan. This is where asking questions helped, as did a knowledgeable cashier who advised us what we could have, and what was extra cost. Since I love salmon, I had the Cedar Plank Salmon ($22.00) with their Margarita ($11.00). My side would be mac & cheese. It came with slaw and a little cornbread. Daughter had the half chicken with mac & cheese ($17.00) slaw and muffin, and the Polite Punch ($11.00). The bill before dining credit usage was $64.96 with tax. HOLY CANNOLI BATMAN! This is basically a “Fast Casual” restaurant with table service quality food. Would I have done this without a dining plan? Absolutely not, especially with the adult beverages. However they were probably the best drinks outside of Artist Point we had during the trip.
When the food came to us I couldn’t believe the size of the portion. This was absolutely delicious and a fantastic deal for a Quick Service credit on any dining plan.
After lunch we donned the ponchos and braved the rain for a bit of shopping as daughter needed to get a mug at World of Disney, and we had a few Snack credits left. We headed to Ghiradelli for ice cream and learned that you had several options depending on the number of Snack credits you wanted to use. Basically a snack credit has a dollar value at that location and if you wanted a $13 sundae, it would be three Snack credits. So we each had a one-scoop cone for one Snack credit and waited out more of the rain. It really was like July with the storms but at least it wasn’t 95 degrees. We were now down to 3 Snack credits remaining, and decided to get some coffee and tea, so we headed to Joffrey’s Tea Traders Cafe. Now this sort of annoyed me because I ordered a Vanilla Latte and they charged two Snack credits for it. Apparently syrup “costs” one credit. They should have told me this in advance, but we were pretty much done with this trip and needed to head out for our transportation back to the house. Daughter had a cup of tea.
Credits used: two Quick Service and five Snacks. Value: $86.14
In summary we got a huge value from our four nights of Disney’s Dining Plan. We did enjoy the adult beverages and these contributed to the overall savings.
So should YOU buy a dining plan? Even if you do not enjoy adult beverages, it is easy to hit the break even point for Disney’s Dining Plan with one Quick Service meal, two Snacks and a Table Service meal per night of stay. If you are strict vegan, or vegetarian, you’re going to be eating on the lower priced end of menus and you probably aren’t going to hit the break even point. If you are doing character meals regardless of style of eating, you probably need to purchase Disney’s Dining Plan due to the cost of those meals. If you have at least one child age 3-9, or have the sweet spot of two or three kids ages 3-9, you are highly likely to come out ahead on a dining plan at Disney because the cost of their food is going to exceed the cost of their dining plan fees. Kids age 3-9 with one or two adults are the ‘no brainer’ for Disney’s Dining Plan, especially if you do one or two character meals. Another plus for those pricey character buffets: the characters come to you, and you’re not standing in lines waiting to meet them.
I previously wrote about this plan in June 2017 for 2018 when Disney increased their price and whether or not it was a good value. Since then menu prices have gone up quite a bit. As of October 4, 2018, a Mickey pretzel is a whopping $7.45 ($7+ tax.) A bottle of water is $3.50 and an ice cream from a cart is approaching $6. When you purchase a dining plan you are locking in your meals at the price of the plan–not the price printed on the menu when you are seated. On a personal note, we really enjoyed our meals and our options without regard to price or thought–if we wanted it, we got it. We thought Disney’s Dining Plan was a stress-free way to do our trip. I will definitely book it again–we all know that prices rarely go down at Disney and I liked the fixed cost of that plan. .
You can click on this link for a PDF summary of costs of this trip: Dec 2018 Dining Plan & Costs