Disney’s Dining Plan for 2018: is it still “worth it”?
Disney has released vacation packages for 2018 and there are some changes that include an enhanced beverage component for all dining plans. Also new for 2018 is a rate increase, which probably surprises no one. All prices in the chart below are based on each night of stay. If you run your own scenario based on length of stay you will notice some variances of a few pennies. This is due to rounding of numbers. Dining plans at Disney do include sales tax, but they do not include gratuities.
For 2018, Disney has added in the opportunity to include a specialty drink such as a smoothie or shake, glass of wine or beer, or select cocktail as a beverage with all dining plans–even the Quick Service plan. (At this point we do not have a maximum dollar limit as to that beverage cost and brochures are not available, nor have we been advised if these items can be pooled for adult use while those age 20 and under drink water.) With the addition of adult beverages to the plan, remember to bring your government issued photo ID if you wish to imbibe (valid driver’s license or state ID, or valid passport.)
Here is what the beverage option for dining plans will be for 2018, and it also includes the Quick Service dining plan:
I know, I know… not everyone drinks adult beverages and this is not an enhancement that is going to be enthusiastically embraced by everyone. There are also some unanswered questions, including what sort of specialty drinks will be at Quick Service restaurants, and if that means there will be more alcoholic options in locations that previously had none (Magic Kingdom – that would be you.) Since it is not yet addressed, let us explore how we can incorporate this feature when selecting table service meals with dining plans.
The typical character dinner at Disney is around $45 with some that are higher priced. In January 2017 I dined at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall which was $57 per person age 10+ to pay with real money, or one Table Service credit on Disney’s Dining Plan. Disney does not post actual buffet prices and current rates on their site as of June 2017 is $35-$59.99 per person (plus tax.) For one table service credit on the dining plan, Akershus is a huge value.
Regardless of cost increase, the typical group of two adults and two or three children ages 3-9 will come out ahead with just a tiny bit of planning when booking Disney’s Dining Plan or the Deluxe Dining Plan. This is because the nightly rate of the plan for children age 3-9 is less costly than paying for their food as you go. Even parties where kids are age 10 and up can come out ahead with a plan of some sort. When I refer to a plan, that does not meal walking up to a popular restaurant at 6:00 pm and asking to be seated! Disney has over 29,000 hotel rooms and around 100 table service restaurants. Make reservations because plenty of people are going to be turned away due to most locations being sold out at all times of the year. Will there be walk ups available? Probably somewhere, but as a rule walk ups are difficult to obtain especially in the Magic Kingdom.
Let’s Do Some Planning!
To see if this is going to work out, let us take a party of one adult and one child age 3-9 who have a five night stay with Disney’s Dining Plan and run some dining scenarios. They want a trip that does not include princesses with healthier meal selections (no burgers and fries) with some indulgent splurges on snacks. The adult also does not want to fetch food for the entire vacation and prefers menu dining rather than a buffet or character meal each day. They have selected Table Service meals at the following locations:
- Chef Mickey Funtime Buffet (Contemporary Resort)
- Jungle Navigation Company Skipper Canteen (Magic Kingdom – Adventureland)
- Coral Reef Restaurant (Epcot-The Living Seas)
- Tusker House (Animal Kingdom – Africa)
- The Wave of American Flavors (Contemporary Resort)
Since they already know that quick service breakfasts are not a good option on Disney’s Dining Plan, they will be using Snack credits for a bite to eat before they head out to the parks. Their planned Quick Service restaurant lunches are:
- Be Our Guest Restaurant (Magic Kingdom – Fantasyland)
- La Cantina de San Angel (Epcot – Mexico)
- Satu’li Canteen (Animal Kingdom – Pandora)
- Electric Umbrella (Epcot-Future World Innoventions East)
- Columbia Harbour House (Magic Kingdom – Liberty Square)
Snack credits on dining plans at Disney cover a lot of items. You may use your snack credit on things like a piece of fresh fruit (around $1.49 value), a package of Goofy’s Candy Company bagged treats (cash value at $4.49), or even a funnel cake in Epcot ($7.00 if purchased.) With some planning, your snack can be a mini-meal or it can be an indulgent dessert. It is totally up to you—and on all three dining plans each guest age 3+ receives TWO snack items per night of stay. That’s a lot of Mickey Bars! My little sample family is going to use a snack item for their breakfast and their refillable resort mug for a beverage, do a Quick Service lunch, and a Table Service dinner.
On Day 1, our family arrives for their trip and goes to Chef Mickey for dinner. This is always a good start to a Disney vacation and a great value for table service meals on dining plans.
On Day 1, most people go to the Magic Kingdom, which is where our little family is headed after some Snack credits for breakfast. All dining plans include the refillable mug, valid at Disney resorts only. If they were trying to max out their one Table Service credit meal on a dining plan, they would need to consider the Crystal Palace which is usually around $45 + tax per adult for dinner.
On Day 3, they head to Epcot, and to Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie in France for some pastries. They leave the refillable mugs at the resort because they’re not valid in the parks, and get a cup of water with their breakfast item, which is complimentary at quick service locations if you ask. As you will see, they’re still coming out ahead even without the most expensive restaurant choices.
Day 4 is a big bang for the dining plan credit because they’re booking a Rivers of Light meal package at Tusker House. This comes with a voucher to enter the show that night without much waiting in line–and no Fastpass+ selection is required when you book a dinner package.
Day 5 is the last full park day and they decided to run around a bit. They get their pretzel and churro at Hollywood Studios, go to Epcot for lunch and share a huge meal, and have a relaxing and healthy dinner at The Wave… of American Flavors at the Contemporary Resort.
Since they did not use all of their snacks there are some leftover credits. Being smart guests they know not to leave anything at Disney as unused dining entitlements have no cash value and those which are not used are forfeited. Snacks can be portable and go home in luggage, which is why they select some candy. They decide to end their vacation in the Magic Kingdom, picking up two snack items (bottled water and a waffle) to bring in to Columbia Harbor House while the adult enjoys her healthy salmon dinner. Dining is purchased based on the number of NIGHTS and not days, so there is no daily cost for the plan on the last day.
Even though they did not order the most expensive items, or do character meals every day, this family ended up coming out ahead with the purchase of Disney’s Dining Plan–and didn’t order expensive alcohol for the adult:
As you can see, the “no brainer” part of a dining plan are children age 3-9. Even with the increase of the plan, the adult still came out ahead. Change this itinerary around to character meals and more expensive table service locations such as Teppan Edo (Epcot-Japan), and the purchase of a dining plan is still going to be a significant savings. Another benefit to the purchase of a dining plan at Disney is regardless of menu price, as long as you’re using dining credits to “pay” for your meals, you are protected from rate increases. Several times a year, notably during holidays, some restaurants increase their menu pricing.
So while we all may have a little bit of sticker shock at the nightly cost of dining plans at Disney, it is still a good value for the vast majority of guests, mainly because meals are so expensive. It can be a GREAT value if you go into it looking to get your best deal. Even without a dining plan I tend to spend at least $50+ per day on food and I don’t eat nearly as well as i would if I purchased a plan. This has swayed me towards a dining plan for my trips of 7+ nights.
Overwhelmed with all of this? Well, Hakuna Matata… let me or one of my colleagues at The Magic For Less Travel help you navigate your Disney vacation. There is never a cost to you!
9 Replies to “Disney’s Dining Plan – 2018 Edition”
I have done the math, and I can’t see how the dining plan for 2018 is a good value. I don’t drink alcohol, so I’m basically paying to get something I won’t order. My granddaughter will be ten, so I will have to buy an adult plan for her as well, and needless to say, she doesn’t drink alcohol. So that’s a bust times two. Then, you pretty much have to order the most expensive thing on the menu to come out even. Unless you want salmon or steak every night, you’re going to lose money. The character meals are pricey, so you would be good to get a dining plan if you’re going to load up on those. But if you’re just looking for good meals and some wind-down time, it’s no longer a good buy. It will cost me $200 (give or take) more to eat on the dining plan in 2018 than to simply pay cash for my meal. That’s an added expense of $400 when I include my granddaughter’s meals.
I guess it’s worth it if you drink alcohol, though. Will be interesting to see how much money Disney ends up losing on this new proposal or if it turns out to be a popular one.
Yes, you will need to run the numbers for your own trip as it relates to menu prices and what you will order. The value of a dining plan has to do with character meals and buffets, and a character meal is a huge time saver. While Disney is offering an adult beverage for the 2018 plan, you also have the option of smoothies or shakes for the under 21 crowd or those who choose not to imbibe. As someone who visits Disney somewhat frequently, I’ve observed that unless you’re eating hot dogs and chips or a turkey leg you are still easily going to hit $50 per day for two healthier meals and a snack. An ice cream treat is $5… fountain drink is $3.49 (Aug 2017 prices) and sales tax is 6.5%. I know for my own trips I sure eat a whole lot better when I spring for a dining plan, and I don’t have to tell anyone they can’t have something because it is too expensive.
Looking at the 2018 dining plan on Disneys site it sounds like you don’t get the specialty or alcoholic drinks at the buffet restaurants.
They specifically exclude the specialty and alcoholic drinks for 2017, but they are in there for 2018 table service meals per Disney’s web site on the plans. What we do not have though are the specifics about alcoholic beverages in the MK for 2018, as not all table service locations serve them. Click here .
Do most people (who don’t drink alcohol) really want a smoothie or milkshake at every meal?
And I’m not sure how hitting $50 a day for meals is making it a good deal when the plan costs $75 a day? Even if you do get two snacks a day (which we never do), that would still be less than $75.
I think it’s only a good deal if you really load up on character meals which are pricey, or eat steak and salmon every meal. You’ll find, for example, that a meal at Paddlefish (Disney Springs) takes two dining credits, but the majority of selections are in the one-dining-credit price range.
We go to Disney every year, so we’re over the character meals. They’re too pricey for sub-average food. Tusker House was the only one that really delivered on food quality.
Everyone is different and some may prefer the convenience of having a dining plan linked to their magic bands. Some may eat the expensive foods at every meal. But I would seriously view the various menus and see approx what you’d be ordering before shelling out big bucks that might cost you more than it’s worth….especially if you go during the Halloween or Christmas seasons when Magic Kingdom closes to regular guests at 7 pm for their parties. I’ve found it extremely difficult to even get table service restaurants during those times.
I crunched some numbers the values really change whey you go from adding the 10+ age group to the mix. Having what is essentially 2 more adult mouths to feed really changes the dynamics of using the DDP or paying OOP. Crunching some numbers and including adult beverages for 2 on a few options I dont think that the DDP is really a good money saver in most scenarios for most people. Again everyone is different and eats different.
Mickey wont sell anything that does not put a little more cheese on his plate so my thought is that Disney is making money on the DDP at about every turn. Its the convenience of having it that really brings other value to it.
Non the less great article and got me to crunch some numbers to see where we are and what is the best ave for us
I enjoyed the write-up that was done and do like to hear about ways to save money at WDW. As the author stated about you should do your own comparison. While the 2018 plans cover 1 drink, you will have to add in the extra cost of gratuities and additional drinks.
I have done a comprehensive comparison to the Deluxe Dining Plan vs Out-of-pocket since 2013, we have done better out-of-pocket than if we were in a plan. During our stay we eat at many of the higher end restaurants and save $1000 to $1500.
For example: during our 2017 trip we ate at: The Wave, The Plaza, Flying Fish, Chef Mickey’s, Narcoossee’s, Sci-Fi Dine-In , Hoop-Dee-Doo, Crystal Palace, California Grill, Yak & Yeti, Yachtsman Steakhouse, Rose & Crown, Ohana, Citricos. There were 6 of adults and we saved $1165 vs the Deluxe, or $22 vs the standard plan. We do add in tables in wonderland to offset the gratuities.
Trying to decide on the dining plan or saving the money myself and using tables in wonderland. My sister is a first time annual pass holder and I was going to split the cost of the tables in wonderland with her. We are a party of five over 10 years old and one 3 year old. We will be doing one sit down a day and one quick lunch and breakfast in the room or snacks. Any advice advice?
Well, a lot of this depends on the restaurant and what you are going to order. I had TIW for years… until they really increased the price, which made that break even point pretty high, and they blocked out many days in which I normally travel. (As of October 2018, cost is $150 per year.) Also, there is a passholder 10% discount for TS meals. If you enjoy adult beverages and go to bars/lounges, the TIW is the only way to get a discount. Your particular answer is determined by getting out a spreadsheet and running the numbers for yourself. If you’re doing several trips a year or are local and running into Disney just for meals, then yes, a TIW is a good option. But if this is your only trip for fewer than 6 nights and you’re doing character meals/buffets, you may find the DDP is a better option for you. I rarely go to character meals (except for Tusker House, I love Tusker House!) and find that with the things I order nowadays I won’t get $150 worth of discounts on my TS meals to hit the breakeven for TIW as I usually travel solo or with one other person. Also, with TIW you need to have one check… so one person pays and you’re sorting through who owes who and maybe passing around cash. Since I don’t usually travel with much cash sorting out the bill with my friends who have TIW requires a lot of planning on my part. So for you, there’s no easy answer without looking at your existing plans for the cost of the meals, and comparing with DDP. Good luck! Linda N.