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Although I’m not always the biggest proponent of the Disney Dining Plan, I have used it plenty of times, and I think it can be great, especially if you are savvy when making your Advance Dining Reservations and ordering. While Beaches & Cream might be a fun place to grab a meal, it’s generally not the best advice to use all of your Table Service credits on their cheap menu items, like the $9.49 cheeseburger, when you could use those same credits on a $30+ steak at Tutto Italia. I’m no master statistician like Fred Hazelton, but something tells me you get over three times as much bang for your Dining Plan credit by using the credit on the Tutto Italia steak instead of the Beaches & Cream burger.
Wide swings in price like the example above demonstrate how the value of the Disney Dining Plan can vary widely depending upon where and what guests order. Luckily, saving money on Disney Dining Plan really isn’t that difficult. All it requires is that your eating habits at least somewhat closely match the Plan, and that you plan ahead to maximize your value, eating at restaurants that would typically be more expensive if paying out of pocket and ordering the most expensive entrees at these restaurants (you’ve already paid a flat daily fee for the Dining Plan, so ordering the most expensive menu items is actually a good idea on the Dining Plan to get more bang for your buck!). I’ve previously detailed why Signature Restaurants are usually a bad use of Disney Dining Plan credits. I’ve also done quantitative rankings of the 10 best table service restaurants, 10 best counter service restaurants, and 10 best snack credit uses at Walt Disney World, if on the Dining Plan.
What about the restaurants to avoid based upon value? For the reasons listed in my post discussing the poor credit value of Signature Restaurants, these 2-credit options are generally among the worst per-credit values on the Dining Plan. We already know this, so let’s just focus on the five 1-credit Disney Dining Plan restaurants that, on average, offer the worst bang for your buck.
Since we’re only focusing on 1-credit restaurants here, this list actually has dual purpose: it gives you the worst-value restaurants for the Disney Dining Plan, and the best-value restaurants when paying out of pocket or using the Tables in Wonderland card.
The Plaza Restaurant (menu) – The Plaza Restaurant’s most expensive entree is a salad. Need I say more? No entree here comes near $20, and while this restaurant is a fan-favorite that is frequently recommended as a Magic Kingdom dining gem, this is in large part due to the cheap prices. Those cheap prices make it a great option for those paying out of pocket or using the Tables in Wonderland card, but make it a terrible option for those on the Disney Dining Plan. I’d save the Plaza Inn for a trip when you’re not using the Disney Dining Plan.
Beaches & Cream (menu) – Beaches and Cream is one of my favorite restaurants at Walt Disney World. We eat here at least once every-other trip, and this is largely because of the incredibly reasonable prices, since we’re almost always paying out of pocket. It’s basically a table service meal for the price of a counter service meal! Additionally, the ice cream is great, the ambiance is really fun, and I find it oddly romantic in a 1950s sort of way (or at least what I assume the 1950s were like). That said, the most expensive menu item here is a $14.49 double cheeseburger. That doesn’t bode well for value on the Disney Dining Plan.
Trail’s End (menu) – Trail’s End is yet another fan favorite and, again, this is because of the great value it offers. At $25/person for dinner (and even less for breakfast and for its a la carte lunch menu), it’s the cheapest buffet on property. This all-inclusive price is $10 cheaper than entrees, alone, at some of the best-value restaurants, making Trail’s End a poor choice. Trail’s End is a fun restaurant and it’s always nice to visit Fort Wilderness (especially at Christmas), but this is another restaurant you should hold off on visiting if you’re using the Disney Dining Plan.
ESPN Club (menu) – ESPN Club makes the list largely because it has a number of menu items below $15 and only one item that crosses the $20 mark (and just barely, at $20.99). If you order one of the handful of items that are above $18 and an expensive dessert, value here is not terrible, but you still will get significantly less bang for your buck than if you maximized your value at a restaurant like Tutto Italia or Kouzzina.
Big River Grille & Brewing Works (menu) – This is where the differences in potential value start to become less significant, especially if you’re not fixated on maximizing your value. Big River Grille has a few entrees that are $25.99. While it also has a lot of low priced entrees (mostly burgers and salads), these $25.99 entrees look the most appealing to me. By contrast, comparable menu items are nearly $10 more expensive at top-value restaurants, but median menu items at the top-value restaurants are less expensive than $25.99, as are (obviously) lower priced items. To be sure, you can still squeeze a lot more value out of a restaurant like Whispering Canyon Cafe or Coral Reef Restaurant than you can Big River, but beyond this point in the list, the gap closes quickly between “worst” and “best” restaurants.
Several of these Walt Disney World restaurants probably look appealing to you (they better!). What do you do if you think the Disney Dining Plan would be a good deal for you, but you also want to eat at some of these restaurants? If you’re not taking advantage of the “free” dining promotion, I recommend splitting your stay (you’ll usually be able to stay in the same room for both parts of the trip) and not purchasing the Dining Plan during part of that split stay. For example, on our honeymoon, my wife and I split two days of our trip off as a separate reservation. We purchased the Dining Plan for the first 8 days, but didn’t purchase it for the last two days. On those last two days, we dined at Victoria & Albert’s (not on the Dining Plan), California Grill (a Signature Restaurant that is a bad value on the Dining Plan), and Beaches & Cream (another bad value), along with some cheap counter service restaurants. The rest of the days, we ate at “high-value” restaurants on the Disney Dining Plan. This helped us maximize our bang for buck both out of pocket AND on the Disney Dining Plan. It was the best of both worlds!
What restaurants do you think offer the best and worst value on the Disney Dining Plan? Share your tips in the comments!