Disney Dining Plan For Kids

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It’s been said many times on WDW Today, by no less an authority than Len Testa, that the Disney Dining Plan isn’t exactly worth the money.  Depending on the time of year, the regular Dining Plan can run you $41.99-$46.99 for adults and $11.99-$12.99 for kids.  In exchange, you would receive one counter service (fast food) meal, one table service (sit down) meal and one snack.  In a lot of cases, the math simply doesn’t work out, especially for adults.  If you have kids, however, it can be a whole different story.

I have two children, age 8 and age 4.  Under the Disney Dining Plan, both are classified as children.  Since they usually travel with us to Walt Disney World, feeding them is expected.  I know, I know, we could just leave them in the room and hope for the best, but Child and Family Services frowns on that sort of thing.  So, let’s do the math for a typical day at Walt Disney World for the four of us, and see how the Dining Plan can actually save us money, just because of the children. 

Let’s assume that we’re starting our trip at the Magic Kingdom, because that’s what we usually do.  Our typical obsessive plan calls for us to be at the Magic Kingdom for rope drop, which means an early wake up call.  My kids eat very light for breakfast, so we would either go to the food court at our resort, or park at the Transportation and Ticket Center, then walk over to the Polynesian and get breakfast at Captain Cook’s before going to the Magic Kingdom.

 

Either way, we would end up with the following (based on our last trip):

-   Cereal – $1.99

-   Milk (for the cereal) – $1.99

-    Yogurt  – $1.99

-  Chocolate Croissant – $2.79

-  Adult Breakfast Platter – $6.29 – includes eggs, bacon, potatoes and biscuit

-  2 coffees – $1.99 each, so $3.98

-  2 juices – $1.69 each, so $3.38

That includes cereal and milk for my son, yogurt and some eggs for my daughter, splitting the platter and croissant for my wife and I.  Total comes up to $22.41 for breakfast, not including taxes. 

Let’s move on to lunch.  If we’re at the Magic Kingdom, that means Pecos Bill’s.  Gotta have the fixins bar, right?  Again, based on our last trip down, here’s what we ordered:

-   Deluxe 1/3 lb Angus Cheeseburger w/fries – $9.09

-   Chicken Wrap w/Apple Slices – $8.59

-  1/3 lb Cheesburger w/fries – $8.09

-  Hamburger kids meal w/applesauce, grapes and juice box – $4.99

- 3 regular drinks – $2.19 each, so $6.57 total

That brings our lunch total to $37.33.

Finally, there’s dinner.  My kids looooove Crystal Palace, so that’s where we ate for dinner.  This one’s much easier to figure up.

-  2 adults at $32.99, so $65.98

-  2 children at $15.99, so $31.98

Dinner total comes up to $87.96.  Whoa!  That’s a lot of money, and doesn’t include tax or tip.  However, the Dining Plan doesn’t include tip either, so I won’t factor that in.  The total we spent out of pocket for food on that one day at the Magic Kingdom comes up to $147.70 plus tax.  Tax on those meals would have been 8%, so tack on $11.82, and you come up with $159.52.  Now you see why some people take out second loans for their Disney trips.

Let’s go through that with the standard Dining Plan cost of $107.96 (2 adults at $41.99 each and 2 kids at $11.99 each) and see how much was covered by the Dining Plan, and what wasn’t.

Breakfast  – Cereal and milk is a snack credit, as is the yogurt and chocolate croissant, so that’s 3 of our 4 snack credits.  The adult breakfast platter would be one Counter Service credit, and included one of the coffees and a juice, so that’s one credit used.  Out of pocket that leaves one coffee and one juice, so $3.68 out of pocket.

Lunch – The three adult meals would be Counter Service credits, and would include a drink.  Remember, Disney doesn’t make you order a kid’s meal with Counter Service credits, so you can order an adult entrée, such as we did for my son. 

The out of pocket here is my daughter’s hamburger meal, which cost $4.99.  But remember with the Dining Plan we would have gotten desserts as well, which could have been strawberry yogurt, carrot cake, or even apple slices.  For kids, the dessert option works well, because you can supplement their meals. 

Dinner is easy, because it’s all covered under the Table Service portion of the Dining Plan.  So, no out of pocket costs there.  That leaves us with a total of $8.67 out of pocket, with tax means we spent $9.36 on top of the Dining Plan cost of $107.96, for a total of $117.32 under the Dining Plan.  That’s a savings of $42.20 versus paying completely out of pocket.

The key thing is, though, the savings comes almost entirely from the kids.  The kids’ portion of the out of pocket bill comes up to $56.60, so using the Dining Plan is well worth paying the $23.98 that it cost us.  But if it was just my wife and I, it wouldn’t work out. 

As always, this is just one case, so it might not work the same for you if your kids eat a bigger breakfast, if you did different restaurants, etc.  Let’s not even try to figure out the “extra” charge during peak times, when Disney adds $5 to the Dining Plan for adults and $1 for kids, but also adds $4 to the price of buffets.  However, what we’ve determined is that if we’re taking the kids with us, it makes a lot of sense to use the Dining Plan, but if we’re solo, it doesn’t. 

What about you?  What’s your experience with your kids and the Dining Plan?  Does it save you money, or is it not worth the hassle?

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Posted on August 23, 2010

62 Responses to “Disney Dining Plan For Kids”

  • Great post, we also have 2 kids, and have used the dining plan in the past. It is great to see numbers put to it.

  • Thanks, Rob. It might not work for everyone, but it definitely does for us.

  • I think we would pay for it again (we had a code and did free dining a few weeks ago). Our kids are five and seven, and with the character breakfasts alone it was worth it. The total for one character breakfast (pre-tip) was $87! The snacks were more than enough for us and we split a counter service meal several times (and then sometimes we’d get another one for a “snack” if we could).

    I’d say that if you’re going to eat at some character meals and maybe a buffet (like Boma), go ahead and do it, and you’ll save money for a family of four as the OP said.

    • Definitely, the character meals and buffets are a big difference. If you’re eating at the Plaza and Kona every day, then it might not work, but with kids, how likely is that?

  • by Keith C (TheFugitiveGuy) on August 23, 2010, at 11:54 am EDT

    I had never really considered the DDP in the past (probably too much WDWToday influence ;) ) but with the free DP offer in conjunction with staying at Pop during value season, I couldn’t resist for our next upcoming trip.

    But now that you lay it out so clearly, I can definitely see how our kids eat way more than $12 of food a day, no matter how cheaply we eat. I’m going to have to run through the numbers of what we actually spent last time, to compare how it would have worked out for us if we had been on DP then instead. Definitely a thought-provoking post!

  • Our first trip with kids was on the free dining promotion. I know, I know, since we were paying rack rates on our room it wasn’t really “free” so I did the math to see how the dining plan would work our for us. We were hundreds of dollars over the cost of the dining plan so it was a savings for us. The character meals are so expensive and the cost of the kids dining plan for the day is less than just one of those meals. It’s a no brainer. Granted, if you really wanted to go on the cheap you could find a way to save more money but to me that’s not a vacation. I also love being able to order whatever I want from the menu without looking at the prices!

    • I’m with you on not wanting to look at the cost of entrees. Sticker shock! That’s one of the reasons I like doing the Dining Plan when I’m with the kids, because I don’t have to worry about that and can focus on all of us having a great meal.

  • by Ed from Texas on August 23, 2010, at 12:18 pm EDT

    We’re taking our first trip in November and I ran some numbers myself and came to a similar conclusion. My kids are 5 and 9, so my oldest just qualifies for the kid DDP. So, this year, her daily cost of $12/day vs. $42/day that she’d cost next year makes all the difference. So, this year particularly since I’m hoping to have this be our one trip to CRT, I elected to buy the DDP (no free dining, but a 40% room discount when we’re going also made buying the DDP more palatable as well).

    In the future, if we go back, I expect we wouldn’t do many table service meals anyway.

    • I know what you’re saying. When my oldest turns 10, it won’t make as much sense to do the Dining Plan or do table service meals. Just won’t be worth it. Right now, it’s nice for the youngest to get out of the heat, rest, and have a nice meal. But as they get older, it probably won’t make sense.

  • We just did the QS dining plan in July. We had 2 adults, a 12 year old, which is an adult on the plan, and two children. It was my understanding that the children had to order kid’s meals if the CS offered it.

    I think b/c we had the 3 adult meals it probably wasn’t worth it, but it sure was fun and worry free. I like the idea of not having to dig in my pocket. It was easy to budget and all paid for ahead of time, so I factor that in as well.

    That being said, I don’t think I’d use it again with our family situation b/c next time we go our 2nd kid will cost the same as an adult.

    • You get different answers from different cast members about ordering the kid’s meal vs. getting an adult meal for the Counter Service credits. However, I’ve been using the kids’ credits for adult meals (where I needed to) for the last 3 years, and had several CM’s say it was okay.

      I would definitely agree that when you have kids that are “adults” in Disney-speak, the Dining Plan is not worth the hassle.

      • I really wish I would have known that before. My friend just came back a couple of days ago and that was her main complaints. That the kids meal choices for CS were very limited and that the size of the serving was too small for her oldest boy.

        • I agree that the kids choices are very limited. I don’t like for my kids to eat chicken & fries, pizza, or mac n cheese for too many days in a row. We always have balanced meals at our house & I wish they’d have more meal choices (like smaller adult choices) for the kids.

          • The counter service options I always find somewhat difficult, but it all depends on what your kids will eat. Mine like fruit, yogurt and some green veggies, and will eat rotisserie chicken. So, for us, a good bet is Cosmic Ray’s for the 1/4 chicken with green beans.

            But even if you have to get a hamburger, you can get applesauce, grapes or carrots with most kids’ meals.

            Now that my son is older, we usually let him order off the adult menu, but try to steer him towards healthier items. If not, then we limit his snacks to fruit or something healthy.

            It’s never going to be ideal at WDW, but table service is good for healthy choices, and you can make counter service work, but it’s just that – work.

  • We are from Brazil, and we use to travel to WDW every year with our son (he is six). Last year, we stayed at French Quarter, on Deluxe Dining Plan for the first time, using the Free Dining discount. It was great! We had every single character meal available, we dinned at Yatchsman Steakhouse two times, had lunch at Hollywood Brown Derby… And at the end we still had a few credits left (and a lot of extra pounds, lol). If we had paid out of our pockets, it would have costed us more than double of what we paid in the plan (I made the math at home – some meals were over 200 dollars!). We are a month apart from our upcoming trip, and we’re staying at Boardwalk Inn this time, on Deluxe plan again. I got the 40% off Summer Savings discount, and added the dining plan. It came out much less than the free dining plan offer itself. I’m not sure about the Quick-service or One-table Service Dining Plan, but the Deluxe is deffinetelly worth it!

    • Wow! I don’t think I could ever eat that much food, and would never want to leave credits on the table. However, I can definitely see if you’re coming from out of the country how that could work for you.

      My wife and I booked a trip with Deluxe Dining for October, but we ended up cancelling the dining package, because we just couldn’t eat that much or that often. If it worked for you, though, more power to you!

      • Well, Ryan, it really was a lot of food… But we usually would have a very good healthy breakfast, snack during the day, and sit down for a quiet dinner… I’d order salad as appetizer and many times skipped dessert (with a broken heart, lol). But it was very good to see my son eating fruits, vegetables and steak instead of pizza and hot-dogs every day! And we traded our snack credits for fruit, juice, milk… We all ate much healthier in the dining plan than in the previous visits without it, because we felt we had more options. Not having to check the price of very single item made us choose food better.

        • That’s a very good point. That’s one of the things I mentioned in the post, was using the dessert credit for strawberry yogurt or fruit. That makes a big difference in the kids’ energy levels, etc.

          Every once in a while, it’s fine to have a burger or some pizza, but eating some of the healthier foods is easier to do on the Dining Plan for your kids, that’s for sure.

    • We always use the Deluxe Plan. It saves us hundreds of dollars and gives us many entertaining options for eating out of the sun (as we go in the summer). This summer we saved $400 over 7 days. And, we did not always have appetizers and desserts.

      • Wow, $400? That’s great. I think the key is always to do the math, just like everything else with Disney. Sounds like you made the most of it.

        • The key is not to “waste” a credit on a counter service meal. I think that Disney is counting on people using the credits for both.

  • I posted about the Disney Dining Plan recently, but will edit my blog to link to this. Thanks for doing the math!
    We recently tried Deluxe (upgraded free dining-so we paid the difference.)
    I believe in tipping, and appreciate the great service we receive, but it was lovely to use the 2TS meals as a way to fill an evening, have an adult beverage, and not worry about the tip out of pocket, since shows and special events with food include gratuity. For example, category 1 Hoop Dee Doo Review included unlimited beer, wine or sangria, gratuity and all you care to eat, and would have been $187 for 2 adults and 2 small (under 6) kids. Well worth the upgrade.
    While kids eat cheap, I appreciate the buffets at places like Crystal Palace and 1900 Park Faire, because you can get a plate of fruit, cheese, or finger foods for the kids to graze on while mom and dad fill their own plates. My kids eat less in the heat and excitement, so it is nice not to walk around thinking, “I spent $8.99 on that-You are going to finish it!!”
    Great explanation. Thanks.

    • That’s a perfect way to put it, Shannon. Forcing the kids to eat because you paid $9 for it ruins what should be a fun experience. The meals are supposed to be fun, right?

      I’ll go check out your blog and read your post about it. Thanks for reading!

  • Even with kids it still doesn’t make sense for us. We choose a maximum of 2 character meals in a 9 or 10 day trip. We just can’t sit still for table service meals every day when there’s a whole “World” to explore! (I’m sure I have adult ADD!) Plus, because we usually eat breakfast in our room anyway, room discount deals make way more sense than the free dining deals.

    • I totally understand where you’re coming from. When my kids get older they will be following the “Dumbo-In-A-Day-Or-Die” plan.

      To be clear, though, I’m not a fan of free dining promotions, because you have to pay rack rate for the hotels. Those hotel rates are going up to the point that it no longer makes sense to do that. I’m simply referring to adding the Dining Plan to a room reservation. I’m almost always better off adding the Dining Plan to a discounted room, rather than Free Dining.

  • I have a trip planned in late September and originally thought that we would not use the dining plan because it was only my 7 year old son and I going this trip and we wanted to be more casual. Then we started planning what table service options we wanted and realized I might as well have the dining plan because we were planning at least 5 sit downs out of 7 days. I added the dining plan before free dining came out but rebooked the trip when free dining was announced, free dining ended up being $79 less than the 30% off PIN code for a moderate.
    The cost for the sit downs (especially the character buffets) is very close to the cost of the dining plan for the day and I like the convenience of having the meals pre-paid.
    Great article, thanks for another perspective!

    • I imagine it was the inclusion of your son that made it so appealing. Like I said, for my wife and I, the Dining Plan doesn’t save much, if any, money. But for the kids? Different story.

  • My husband and I did the DDP for our honeymoon in 08 (before they had a quick service option). I researched every restaurant and menu beforehand, and we picked the most expensive meals on the menu to get the most bang for our buck. We had AMAZING meals, and definitely got our money’s worth, but we decided not to use it our next trip. Why? Because we had too much food! Yes, it can be a great deal, but it’s WAY more than you need (referring to original DDP- not quick service). So, if you like to eat a lot without worrying about the price, it’s great. If you’re looking for a way to cut costs- buy cereal and milk at a local store to keep in your hotel room (ask for fridge if there isn’t one provided), eat before you leave for the park, then have your “dinner” around 3 (before “dinner” prices kick in), and order pizza back at the hotel after parks close! It’s a great way to save money and still get a bit of the disney dining experience! =)

    • Great tips, Rachel! I agree with you that as adults, it doesn’t work out to have the Dining Plan. When my wife and I go solo, we snack a lot, have some adult beverages, and maybe one or two sit down meals. But with the kids, it works better for all of us to go in and sit down, take a break. That’s when we save money.

  • If you want to put it in simpler terms, the per day cost of a child’s Dining Plan is roughly equal to(sometimes less than) the cost of a child’s Character Meal. Since we love Character Meals, (hmmm–stand in line for an hour or sit, eat and let the characters come to you?) the Dining Plan was a no-brainer for us. It paid for our children’s meals, plus we got “free” snack and counter service meal credits. We’ve used it on our last three trips, and are planning one more trip before my daughter, alas, becomes an adult in Disney’s eyes. After that I’m not sure the plan will be worth it.
    PS–on our last trip the Akershus Princess Meal included free photos taken with Belle in the entrance, similar to Cinderella’s Roayl Table but at a “cost” of one table service credit per person.

    • Akershus is a fantastic tip. Cinderella’s Royal Table was overpriced and not great food, but I loved the breakfast at Akershus, and my daughter was over the moon with meeting the princesses.

      Your point about the price being equal to a character meal is spot on. If you don’t eat at buffets or character meals, then the Dining Plan might not work, even with kids. Then again, add up the cost of two kids’ meals at counter service, and you’re pretty close already.

  • Thanks for all of your thoughts! We have utilized the DDP twice in the past & it may have saved us $100.00. We went to Mickey’s Backyard BBQ & the Hoop-De-Do-Revue by using 2 TS credits each. I believe that’s what made it a better choice for us. One of the times we were upgraded to Concierge service, so it was a waste of money to have the DDP (there was no way of knowing this without advance notice). We personally cannot eat that much, especially in the heat. The convenience is nice though.

    We are planning our next trip, so to see this ahead of booking is great!

    • Thanks for reading, Jodi! I have mixed feelings about Hoop Dee Doo and the other dinner shows on the Dining Plan. You’re “overpaying” by using 2 credits, but by the same token, it’s really, really hard to pay those prices out of pocket, too.

      • If you are on the Deluxe Plan, using two credits for the dinner shows works out, especially when you know you’re getting adult beverages and tip included.

        • I can see that. I have not done Deluxe yet, so I can’t comment, but I can see where it would work, because you have so many other options. We had a plan to do Deluxe this October, and our thought was to use 2 TS credits for Dinner and 1 for lunch, then use the snacks for breakfast. I think using 2 credits for a nice dinner is a great idea on Deluxe.

          • It does work out beautifully. There are so many snack credits that you can eat a “meal” from them and use 2 credits for 1 meal every day. Try Narcoossees. It’s a must-do for us.

          • Ryan,
            We did the DDP for the same reason. Ate at Cinderella’s (lunch is WAY better than dinner as we have had both meals there. Not only do you get your food,and the castle “experience”, but photos as well!), Narcooossee’s, Flying Fish, California Grill and possibly every character meal there (BTW Park Fare is better food than Chef Mickey’s and Crystal Palace probably better than both of those. Cape May is also very good esp if you are going to HS in the morning). We kept our little boys happy with the character meals and we were happy with the 2TS dining meals. Plenty of snack credits for breakfast (cinnamon rolls at Main Street Bakery!)or if we had had a sit down meal for breakfast, we had fruit or something midday as we certainly weren’t hungry until dinner! This past time we didn’t get a dining plan because I found I was spending a lot of time trying to make my dining reservations. There were just times when I wish I hadn’t had to leave a park or the pool to get someplace on time! Having a TiW card has been pretty useful for us. It’s nice to save 20% on food and wine when you eat. I love reading everyone’s comments and getting a different perspective!

  • The dining plan saves us (2 adults, 3 children) money, so we’ll stick with it until that changes. For now, a trip to WDW means a character meal every day, so using the DDP is a no-brainer. :)

  • I liked seeing the finances of the DDP broken down for your family, Ryan. For us, Tables in Wonderland combined with breakfast at the hotel (full kitchen) works out better. Breakfast at the hotel in-room works better for us from a time management perspective, too. As people are finished getting ready for the day, they can eat. When we leave the hotel, it’s straight to the parks for rope drop.

    Glad to see they’ve added you to the regular bloggers, Ryan!

    • I didn’t address Tables in Wonderland, but that would have made it almost even on the table service meals. I am a huge breakfast eater, so I refuse to do breakfast in the hotel room unless I have to, but I really know why it’s great to be ready for rope drop.

      Thanks for the kind words! I’m thrilled to be blogging with these guys.

      • My 5 year old son has been eating homemade whole grain porridge for breakfast for years. I make a batch of his porridge for the week,and then just prep his bowl the night before. (We add blueberries and at least one other fruit, plus a teaspoon of flax oil. It’s his most nutrient dense meal of the day, and he thrives on it.) He loves eating his porridge at the breakfast bar on a stool and chatting with everyone else as they cycle through the kitchen in our vacation villa each morning. We like hot breakfast on occasion, so what I did for was buy bacon and sausage and eggs. My mom and I cooked all of the bacon and sausage one night, and then everyone could pull what they wanted from the fridge each morning and heat it up. We scrambled eggs,too, and then used tortillas in the morning to make breakfast burritos. It sounds like a lot of cooking, but it really isn’t. Throw in some bagels, cream cheese, salmon spread, and fruit, and you’ve got a lot of variety and something for everyone. It works like a charm.

        I should mention that we ALWAYS rent a car, and one of my first stops on arrival day is Whole Foods up on Turkey Lake for organic/ msg-free provisions. I actually have a shopping list on my computer that I print out for every trip, so I can bop in and get what I need – then get out fast. I shop WF at home, so I’m familiar with their store/brands.

        I guess what I’m saying is that while we don’t skimp on breakfast…we sure don’t devote much time to it in the morning. The prep at night is well worth what we save in precious morning time. We schedule our character meals for late brunch, lunch, or dinner times to avoid the crowds both in the parks and in restaurants. It probably isn’t for everyone, but my family is very happy with the results.

        • Wow, can I stay with you guys on your next trip? That’s a great plan, and some good eating!

          We usually drive, too, but we are usually staying in a Value resort, so we don’t have a kitchen. Last April, though, we did stay off property in a villa, and we made breakfast each morning like you described. It worked out well.

  • I just find we eat too much when we get the plan and would eat healthier and choose much less expensive options without the plan…

    • See, that’s interesting, because I find it about even. When we don’t have the plan, we split sometimes at table service meals, because of the price, but end up eating unhealthy snacks. When we’re on the Dining Plan, we’ll usually eat full meals, but we eat healthy at them (veggies on the buffets, lean meats, etc.) It’s difficult to eat healthy at WDW regardless of which way you go, though.

      For me, I use WDW trips as my reward for diet and exercise, so I don’t worry too much about it, but just try not to go overboard.

      • A holiday is just that, a holiday. Why worry about what everyone’s eating as long as everyone is happy. Do that the other 51 weeks in the year.

  • 2009 me and DD got the regular DP via a PIN code…room, tickets and DDP for one price. It was great to be able to pretty much schedule what we wanted to as far as ADR’s and such but in the long run – it was a TON of food! LOL We never could of done this paying out of pocket and have the thighs to prove it LOL This year we are staying at AS Movies with the $200 gift card which we will use towards two of our big meals (Cali Grill at the Contemporary and Biergarten for Thanksgiving Dinner!) Other then that, pay as we go because for 2 people I just can’t justify the overall cost when I ran the numbers. For 2 or more it seems wonderful!

    • Double check on the gift card, because my Mom and Dad went last year with the free gift card offer, but they weren’t allowed to use it on meals. I imagine it’s a cast member by cast member thing, but just confirm it. Sounds like a great idea!

      • When we had the gift card March 09, we charged items including tips at meals (we were on the DDP) back to the room and then used our gift card to pay the room balance before checking out.

        • I like that idea thanks!

          And Ryan – I checked the Disney website and it does specifically mention you can use it for meals or whatever. Plus the CM on the phone who helped me with “adjusting” my rezzie mentioned the same thing – so a heads up to everyone with gift cards!

  • Nice work, Ryan. I’ve got practically the same family demo that you do (wife + two kids, 8 and 4) and came to the same conclusion you did. And even during peak season, we’d come out ahead with the Plus dining plan.

    But there are three important conditions that we met that made this work out:
    1. We don’t have a pre-teen child (10-12 yrs old),
    2. With one exception, our table service meal of the day will always be dinner, and;
    3. We picked from among the more expensive 1-credit restaurants.

    If a family fails to meet these conditions, especially #1, the dining plan doesn’t make sense unless it’s free. Kids in that tween-age range pay full adult price but can’t possibly eat like an adult… under that scenario, you’ll get absolutely hosed by the dining plan.

  • “Disney doesn’t make you order a kid’s meal with Counter Service credits, so you can order an adult entrée, such as we did for my son.”

    I think you got lucky and got a very flexible cast member. If you read through the brochure it says that kids must order from the kids’ menu, wherever there is a kids’ menu. Your card indicates how many adults and how many kids, and the cast member is supposed to only allow you to order what is in your plan. If there isn’t a kids’ menu (like in the case of Casey’s), then you can order from the adult menu. Personally, I would be too embarassed to order something that is not part of the allowed plan.

    I do agree with you on liking the dining plan. It’s an awesome deal for buffets, since the price of just the buffet for kids will usually be higher than the daily price of the plan.

  • Great article, Ryan. The engineer in my loves the breakdown! Me, my wife and 7 yr old daughter just returned from a week long visit to WDW. We used free dining from the 15th through 21st and stayed at Port Orleans French Quarter. Something I have never been able to get a handle on that I hope someone can explain is the claim I often hear that using a room discount and paying for DDP is cheaper than paying rack rate with free dining. In our case, I think rack rate at POFQ is $180/nt. They have discounts available around 35% (+/- 5%). This is a savings of ~ $63. However, paying for the DDP would have cost $42 + $42 + $12 = $96/day. Free dining saved $33/day in our case. Am I missing something? Thanks.

  • Great post on the eternal Disney Dining Plan cost effectiveness debate. I have a different wrinkle to add, from the adult perspective: An adult on a special needs diet can make the DDP a huge cost advantage for a family.

    My wife is gluten intolerant and needs special meals when we go out – which Disney does a fantastic job with, by the way. We learned in 2009 (a non-DDP trip) that a counter service meal which costs me $10-12 often would cost her close to $20 because of the gluten free version of the meal. But on our 2010 trip (a DDP trip), we discovered that her more expensive counter service meals still only cost 1 counter service credit. This meant that we saved at least $10 per day using the DDP with her special needs diet.

  • My husband and I went in May and because of the size of some counter service meals (namely Cosmic Ray’s and Sunshine Seasons) we would split our breakfast and lunch, then have our full service meal each day, which really cut down on our out of pocket $$ above the dining plan. We also brought a small amount of breakfast stuff with us, in case we were still hungry. Worked out great!!!!

  • I love the DDP and wouldn’t go without it….even if I didn’t save money (or just broke even). I love just looking at a menu and ordering what I want, and not thinking about the price, and having it all budgeted/paid for in advance. I had a trip this July without DDP (very last minute, no deals at all, but I could get 50% off a room only res with my Disney Specialist travel agent discount…which the DDP can’t be added to at any price…) and I found I was “cheaping out” and not really ordering what I wanted, but what was less expensive (ie I’ll have a cup of water, when I really wanted a coke!) and I was a bit depressed about the whole thing. I had a Free Dining trip just a few weeks later, so that kept me going. If you are a person who always looks at the prices and tends to order by price instead of what you REALLY would want (if everything on the menu was the same price) then get the dining plan….don’t even do the math. You will be so happy ordering whatever you want and not thinking about price!

  • I am so on the fence about the DDP. I’m all about the convenience, but my 8 y.o. girl doesn’t like mac & cheese and may want chicken nuggets once, but not every day! She likes burgers, but the menus look like they offer only cheeseburgers. Frustrating for us! Do they make to order? We don’t “do” cheese and want to be able to order burgers without it. My kid likes salmon, pasta, healthy food. Plus, she is totally not interested in buffets or character breakfasts. I’m not sure that the DDP would be worth it for me, but I don’t want to carry around a ton of cash to pay for meals. Do they take credit cards everywhere? Do the snack kiosks take credit cards? If they don’t, I might have to do the DDP for convenience. We are going in March and it will be just myself and my daughter. Any suggestions?

    • First of all, just calm down. :) You will be fine, and Disney will make it easy for you to find what you need.

      As you can see above, if you have kids that are eligible, the DDP will save you some money. Even if your kids don’t like buffets or character meals, you can find meals where your kids eat healthy. And Disney will ALWAYS modify your food to your specifications. They will take the cheese off the burgers, or create some cool other kind of meal.

      I understand your kids’ aversion to character meals, but the buffets offer some of the best value and food around. A place like Crystal Palace will have salmon, pasta, vegetables, and yes, you’ll have to put up with Pooh and friends, but it’s worth it. A buffet like Biergarten in Germany at Epcot is also a great choice.

      Every place takes credit cards, but trust me, the snacks add up quickly, which is why the DDP makes a lot of sense.

      My kids are also healthy eaters most of the time, so we will also find healthy spots to eat. Counter service wise you can pick any of the food courts at the resorts, Sunshine Seasons at the Land in Epcot and more. Check the menus in advance and you’ll be surprised how much healthy food is available.

  • Thank you for every other wonderful article. The place else may anybody get that kind of info in such a perfect method of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I’m at the search for such information.

  • So, I’m going January of 2013 and the dining plan has gone up a lot. Do you still think it’s a good deal and I have a 3 year old and a 6 year old that barely eat?? The cost for the 4 of us will be $145 a day, that seems super high to me??