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.
- 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?