10 Things You Should Know About the 2012 Disney Dining Plan at Disneyland

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Okay, I’ve been promising to write this blog for quite a while now but I’ve been putting it off!  Why have I been putting it off?  Because the dining plan at Disneyland is so confusing!  And I’m a travel agent who has been trained in all things Disney!  I’ve gone through online training and sat through actual classes at Disneyland about the dining plan and yet still, I find it confusing.  Hopefully I can shed a little light on it here.

I’ll tell you right up front, this blog is coming from a fan of Walt Disney World’s Dining Plan.  I consider Disney World’s plan to be easy to use, and, depending on your eating habits, it can save you money.  It’s not for everyone, but it’s perfect for a lot of guests.  At Disney World, depending on which plan you purchase, you get a certain number of meals and snacks per person per night of stay.  The cost of individual items is usually not a factor.  For instance, if you are using a dining credit at Le Cellier Steakhouse at lunch and you want that New York Strip Steak for $31.99 – get it.  It’s covered!  Disneyland’s plan is very different, however.  Here are some things you should know about it.

1. Disneyland’s Dining Plan is essentially prepaying for your meals.  You can either purchase individual character meal vouchers, or there are four meal plans to choose from (which also include character meal vouchers).  They are:  Donald’s 2-Day Dine in the Magic Meal Plan, Goofy 3-Day Dine in the Magic Meal Plan, Minnie’s 4-Day Dine in the Magic Meal Plan and Mickey’s 5-Day Dine in the Magic Meal Plan.  Each plan includes a different number of vouchers (to include character meal vouchers) with an established dollar value printed on them.  Except in the case of character meal vouchers when used at a character meal (described in #8 below), the vouchers are worth exactly the amount printed on them.  When you use them, that amount will be applied to your bill.

2. With the Disneyland dining plan, you can buy a shorter length plan than the number of nights you stay.  You can’t do this at Disney World, unless you split stays, so in this regard, the Disneyland meal plan provides a little more flexibility.  If you are staying 3 nights but are only interested in a couple of nice sit down meals, you can get the 2-day plan!  That way you won’t be stuck with extra vouchers at the end of your vacation.  Another major difference with the Disney World plan is that everyone on the same vacation package at Disneyland does not have to purchase the meal plan.  Parents can buy it for their teenagers and not for themselves, for example.

3. The vouchers expire at the end of the year in which they are purchased.  Unlike Disney World’s dining plan where dining credits expire on midnight the day of check out, at Disneyland the vouchers expire at the end of the calendar year.  So, you may be able to save them for your next trip if you don’t use them all the first time.

4. Similar to Disney World’s plan, you can’t add a Disneyland dining plan onto a room-only reservation.  At Disney World there are exceptions for things like a Disney Vacation Club stay, military discount, or Annual Passholder reservation.  At Disneyland, however, there are no exceptions.  Also, considering that what constitutes a package at Disneyland is sometimes different than what constitutes a package at Disney World, it can be difficult to know if you can add on a meal plan.  At Disneyland, you can’t assume that because you added tickets onto your room-only reservation that you can also add the dining plan.  To confuse things even further, Disneyland also has a ticket that is considered a package even if you don’t have a room of any kind booked!  It’s called Passport Plus and you can add dining plans to it.  You can, however, add character vouchers onto a room-only reservation.

5. You cannot use the vouchers everywhere.  Unlike the plan at Disney World where it’s hard to find a restaurant that doesn’t participate (especially with the 2012 plan adding a bunch of new restaurants like T-Rex Cafe and both Rainforest Cafés) Disneyland’s vouchers don’t work at restaurants or food carts in Downtown Disney where you will undoubtedly want to eat because of the great selection of restaurants there.  It didn’t used to work at the Disneyland Resort Hotels, but thankfully Disney has fixed that problem.

6. There is a difference between the types of character meal vouchers.  The Premium Character Dining vouchers cost $40 and are for lunch or dinner at Ariel’s Grotto (although they do not work for the World of Color dinner packages) and breakfast, lunch and dinner at Goofy’s Kitchen.  The [not-as-premium] Character Dining vouchers cost $33 and are for Minnie and Friends Breakfast at the Plaza Inn in Disneyland, Surfs Up! Breakfast at the PCH Grill in the Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, or Chip and Dale’s Critter Breakfast at Storytellers Café in the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa.

7. Character Meal Vouchers do not necessarily mean characters.  Both kinds of character meal vouchers can be used at places other than character meals.  If you purchase Mickey’s 5-Day Meal Plan for an adult, you will see it includes 3 character dining experiences, 1 premium character dining experience, 4 $15 dining vouchers and 4 snack vouchers.  The character vouchers have a dollar value and you can redeem them at any participating restaurant.  The value of the voucher you use will be applied to the meal.

8. It is possible to save money using the Disneyland dining plan.  And when I say save money, I mean just a few dollars.  When you use a character meal vouchers at a character meal, they are worth the value of the meal.  If you’re not traveling during a peak holiday season when character meal prices can be inflated, you will save a little.  For example, the current price for an adult dinner at Goofy’s Kitchen is $35.99.  A Premium Character Dining voucher is $40.  Because the voucher includes tax and gratuity which would add up to more than the difference of $4.01, you can actually save a few bucks.

9. It is also possible to lose money using the Disneyland dining plan.  Again, when I say lose money, I am probably talking minimal amounts.  If you use a $5 snack voucher for a snack that costs $4.50, you will not get change.

10. If you don’t want to carry cash, the Disneyland dining plan may be for you (Disney uses this as a selling point).  Since carrying credit cards or gift cards would also save you from carrying cash, I’ve tried to think of scenarios in which carrying meal vouchers worth specific amounts would be more convenient than carrying credit cards or gift cards.  As the mother of two teenagers, one scenario does come to mind.  If you let the teens go explore Disneyland by themselves for a while, vouchers may be better to give them than credit cards or gift cards.  The way I see it, there are two possible benefits with the vouchers in this scenario.  First, it’s not as big a deal if they lose a $5 voucher as compared to a credit card or gift card, and second, they can’t spend $20 on food if you only give them $10 to spend!

So there you have it!  An attempt to explain the Disneyland dining plan, and some pros and cons about it (could it be any different than the Disney World dining plan?).  Hopefully, the Disneyland dining plan is clearer now – at least a little!

How about you?  Do you still have questions about the plan or have any experiences to share?  What changes would you like to see made in the Disneyland dining plan?

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Posted on January 20, 2012

41 Responses to “10 Things You Should Know About the 2012 Disney Dining Plan at Disneyland”

  • So why is the Disneyland plan so confusing? Why don’t they streamline it? We are planning a trip to Disneyland in the future so I will need to understand the ins and outs at some point. This plan seems way more confusing then it needs to be.

    • by Tammy Whiting on January 21, 2012, at 3:28 pm EST

      That’s an excellent question! I would love it if they made the two plans more similar.

    • We never go wuothit the DDP. I highly recommend it! My favorite snack is a Dole Whip Float in the Magic Kingdom. Our favorite quick-service place to eat is Pizza Planet in DHS. And, there is NO WAY we could choose one favorite table-service place to eat. Several of our favorites include breakfast at Akershus, breakfast or dinner at 1900 Park Fare, dinner at O'Hana, and lunch or dinner at 50's Prime Time Cafe! I'm loving your countdown posts!

  • Nice job Tammy! Thanks for the info.

    • by Tammy Whiting on January 21, 2012, at 3:29 pm EST

      Thanks for reading, TheRealCam!

      • I’m going to Disneyland in about a week , I was wondering if you can add up your vouchers at Goofys Kitchen for brunch (premium character dining) . For example if the total is 160$ for a group of 4 adults and one children , can we use only 4 vouchers with the total of 172$ (43$ each) can we keep the child voucher that has a value of 22$ ? Or is it 1 meal per voucher ? Has anyone gone here this year or past month ? Help !

        • by Tammy Whiting on August 7, 2013, at 3:11 pm EST

          Hi Stephanie! The vouchers include meal, tax and gratuity, so I think you’ll end up using all 5. But you can use their cash value at a participating restaurant.

  • Good information. I have used the Dining Plan at WDW multiple times and we love it… we have really learned how to “work” the plan into some great savings. After reading this… I don’t see much point in using the Dining Plan if we go out to DL. You aren’t really saving money… so why bother?

    • by Tammy Whiting on January 21, 2012, at 3:31 pm EST

      It is hard to see the logic if you’re not saving money. For some people though, they like to prepay so it seems more all inclusive once you arrive.

  • by Martin McIntosh on January 20, 2012, at 5:33 pm EST

    I agree with everyone else, the DLR plan sounds insane. I am a fan of the WDW plan, but also understand why people are not.

    The DLR plan just doesn’t make sense but dining at DLR never has. In WDW, dining is an event at DLR it is just food. I’d love to see more dining options and a plan that make sense.

    • by Tammy Whiting on January 21, 2012, at 3:35 pm EST

      One of the reasons WDW has a better plan could be because of the sheer volume of restaurants. I think Disneyland’s plan could take a step in the right direction if they would include Downtown Disney restaurants which has some of the best places to eat.

  • We have been to DisneyWorld twice, and used the Dining Plan both times (back when you got two snack credits per person per day) It was WAAAAYYYY more food than we could possibly eat, and we ended up with approx. 20 snack credits at the end of our stay. It was nice, though, because we used the snack credits to purchase gifts for people back home – i.e., Mickey suckers, character chocolate coins (saved them for Chanukah and used them for gelt), etc. It’s hard to judge how much you’re really going to eat and whether it’s worth it for you. For example, instead of getting a HUGE counter-service breakfast every morning, the kids and I were happy with cocoa/coffee (free with your resort mug) and a bagel or muffin or fruit, which you can purchase for a snack credit.

    • by Tammy Whiting on January 21, 2012, at 3:37 pm EST

      We’ve used the quick service plan at WDW before and you’re right, it was a ton of food! It was fun to use all the credits though!

  • I am not planning to go to Disneyland, but I was curious to see how confusing it could possibly be..your RIGHT!..actually it seemed kind of pointless to me, the vouchers are not replaceable right? so if you dont want to carry cash (which incidentally survives water rides..dont know if you can say the same about the vouchers) because your afraid of losing said cash, wouldnt you be out $5, 10 or 20 $ if you lose a voucher at that value?… seems like more of an inconvenience than anything else..thanks for the blog..OH! and WHAT is that yummy looking “sandwich”? in the first picture???

  • Would you save money if you bought a character meal voucher for use during peak (Christmas) season? Or does the price of the voucher go up too?

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 13, 2012, at 10:40 am EST

      That should work, Jennifer! The character meal vouchers expire at the end of each calendar year, but they should be a constant price throughout the year.

  • I disagree that Disneyland’s Dining Plan is confusing. It’s really quite simple. It says right on the voucher what it can be used for. It takes about five minutes to plan out the whole 5 days. You can use the vouchers anywhere inside Disneyland (except Club 33) including most carts (in fact, I’ve never had one refused) and ALMOST everywhere inside California Adventure. The first time I used it I was a little confused and not sure of it. The second time I used it, I found it to be VERY easy, and I wouldn’t go without it now. If we’re going to be in the park for 5 days, I’ll get the 4 day plan. There’s plenty, and we usually don’t eat Breakfast in the park, other than a Minnie’s Character Breakfast. I’ve read things about this before, and I had to respond this time because I think many who would find it useful are being unnecessarily put off. Some people don’t see the point if it isn’t a money saver. In my opinion it is a money saver. No, you don’t save money on the food itself, however I carefully plan out where we will eat. And how many snacks we are likely to need in a day. If I did not do this, my three sons would be spending a lot more on snacks, and food, I’m sure. Things always change a little, but for the most part, the planning makes things much easier. Also we are on a strict budget and prepay our holiday from about 12 months in advance. It’s easier to spend $1000 in food (in a week) if the cost is already paid for. Especially since we usually go in December, when $1000 isn’t something extra I have hidden in a drawer. Also, someone said food at Disneyland isn’t an ‘event’. I disagree with this as well. It CAN be an event. Character Dining is an event. My family finds the Blue Bayou to be an event. We always go at Lunch time and get the first available meal time and are ALWAYS sat on the water. The Golden Horseshoe Laughing Stock Company show is what we do for one of our meals. Billy Hill and the Hillbillies is another thing we do for a meal. We always see the Jazz band for another. There are the Mariachi Divas in California Adventure. There ARE ways to make meals ‘events’ at Disneyland. I’ve never been to Disneyworld, and I’m sure the selection is extreme in comparison. I love what Disneyland DOES offer me though. I usually plan to spend a little more than the voucher, and pay the difference, typically only a few dollars a meal. Makes things so easy for me and my three kids! I LOVE the Disney Dining Plan and have used it FAITHFULLY for the last 6 years. I will continue to use it as long as it is offered.

  • This article is very helpful. We are going to Disneyland in June next summer and I am having so much trouble figuring out how the plan works and if it’s worth it. I can’t find info on exactly what each plan provides so I can’t tell if we would spend more or less without the vouchers. I even asked my travel agent and just realized she must have found info from 2007 (!) and gave that to me because it is SO different from the current info. I don’t know what to do about that (whole new issue!).

    • by Tammy Whiting on October 13, 2012, at 11:51 am EST

      I’m glad, Amy! It is pretty hard to find information on Disneyland’s dining plan. Especially when you compare it to the amount of information that’s out there on Disney World’s plans.

  • Thank you so much for writing this!! We did the WDW dining plan the last time we went so the Disney land plan had me baffled. I finally Googled “explain Disney land dining plan” and this popped up. The only reason we stay on the Disney property at WDW is to get the dining plan. Since the Disney land dining plan is not for us we will save money because we will stay off property. This article helped make that decision. Thanks again.

  • I’m looking for a list of the restaurants that accept each kind of voucher. The list seems pretty complete in terms of the “Character Dining” vouchers, but I’m curious about the cash and cart vouchers. Specifically: can the cash voucher be used for say the Fantasmic Dessert Package, Steakhouse 55, or the Plaza Inn for dinner? Also, I’m traveling with another adult, so is there a way to sort of “play the system” and not have a character type meal? Thanks!

    • by Tammy Whiting on March 2, 2013, at 7:13 pm EST

      Hi Steve! It has to be used at standard restaurants in the parks or hotels. So it wouldn’t work for the Dessert Package. It would work for Steakhouse 55 and Plaza Inn. You also do not have to use the character meal voucher for character meals! You can use the cash value of the meal voucher at any of the participating restaurants.

  • Thanks, Tammy, very helpful! Any ideas on good restaurants you’ve visited for adults where the dining plan will work? Napa Rose? Carthay Circle?

  • You’re the best, thanks!

  • We have purchased Goofy’s 3 day plan for Disneyland. I’m confused….we get 3 character dining vouchers, 3 $15 dining certificates, and 3 snack vouchers. Do we have to do breakfast for character dining or can we use them for other times of day?

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 6, 2013, at 6:51 pm EST

      Hi Courtcarp! Goofy’s plan includes 3 character dining vouchers. Those vouchers work for breakfast at Storytellers, Surf’s Up breakfast and Minnie and Friend’s breakfast. They don’t work at Ariel’s or Goofy’s Kitchen. Those take premium vouchers. So yes, you are looking at breakfast.

    • The character breakfast you can schedule for a later time, more like a brunch, though. We have done this many times. It works well.

      Also, to add to this (and Tammy said this earlier), you don’t have to use them for character dining. You can use them for other meals. Just make sure you remember the value of the the vouchers are higher than the regular meal vouchers. If you plan accordingly you can have some great meals (like Blue Bayou etc.) with this plan.