The Disney Dining Plan (DDP) is immensely popular. Free stuff is also quite popular. Put those together, and it’s the equivalent of getting your chocolate in my peanut butter (um…it’s good). I have never been the biggest proponent of the dining plan, but on my recent trip to Walt Disney World I took the plunge (and the free dining promotion).
Let me start with my preconceived notions about the DDP. I’m always leery about package-style deals because, in most cases, I can find a better deal by breaking the package into pieces. My spidey sense started tingling as soon as I began hearing about all the money that could be saved with the DDP. However, since I became a travel agent I have realized just how popular this promotion is, especially when it is offered for free. To better inform my clients (as well as stuff my face every day) I decided to just say yes to Disney’s Dining Plan.
(For purposes of information, I was on the “standard” Disney Dining Plan, which allowed me 1 Table Service, 1 Quick-Service, and 1 Snack per person per hotel night.)
I’m starting with the bad stuff so that I can end with rainbows and unicorns (not literal…or is it…teaser!). My biggest problem with the DDP is that I felt like it really negatively impacted my park touring. I’m not a drill sergeant when it comes to getting through the parks (well, I try), but I do like to get certain attractions done early because I don’t like waiting in line. Since we had at least one Advance Dining Reservation (ADR) every day, I felt like everything was based around that. For instance, one day we had an ADR at The Crystal Palace for breakfast (but after park opening). What we did was arrive at the Magic Kingdom at opening, ride Dumbo, grab FASTPASS tickets for Peter Pan, and go to breakfast. It worked fine all things considered, but that monrning (and the entire week) I felt like I was always looking at my watch so we wouldn’t be late for an ADR.
The other negative for me was the amount of food, which is an oddly common complaint. It felt like work to get rid of all those snack credits by the end of the week (which is sad, because some of the snacks are awesome). Nothing makes a person more conflicted than staring at a sweet cream cheese pretzel, knowing you can get it, and not being the least bit hungry because you ate at a breakfast buffet 5 hours ago.
Now the rainbows and unicorns (gotcha, it was metaphorical). The biggest plus for me with the DDP is the freedom to try all sorts of new restaurants without feeling like you are risking your own money (you are of course, but it doesn’t feel like that). On this trip I ate at several restaurants for the first time such as: Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, Tusker House, Kona Cafe, and Les Chefs de France (which I found to be very good, good, excellent, and “really, this is supposed to represent French cuisine?” respectively).
The other positive is that I now believe that you can save money on the dining plan (and it takes a lot for me to admit that). The caveat is that you have to be very careful because it’s very easy to lose track of, and therefore waste, credits. One mistake that is often made when determining how much money is saved is looking at the receipt and assuming that the dollar figure on there is the savings. You have to be careful with that because if you wouldn’t normally order dessert at a quick service, you shouldn’t count that as savings. The only real way to determine your savings is to look at what you would order at a specific restaurant and compare only those items (which requires yet more planning, but we love planning, don’t we?).
My overall impression is mixed (helpful, I know). I really like to eat, and I like trying new places, but the time and the excessive scheduling necessary just didn’t make me happy.
From a fiscal point of view, I determined that I personally would have saved about $20 with the dining plan (if I had paid full price) versus what I would have spent out of pocket. Of course, if I was not on the DDP, I would not have eaten at so many table service restaurants either.
Overall I can feel comfortable in recommending the Disney Dining Plan to others, especially if they love to eat out, but I don’t think I’ll be doing it again. My best advice to those who want to do it is to plan. Plan your ADRs carefully, plan when to use which credits, and plan on which exercise program to start when you get back.