The ever controversial Disney Dining Plan is constantly a topic heating up Disney message boards all over the Disney online community and it’s not going to stop anytime soon. Since its introduction in 2005, the Disney Dining Plan has gained many faithful users that swear by its convenient and possibly money-saving practices. Of course, the beloved pre-paid meal plan has also garnered a rather impressive amount of criticism as well, for many reasons. Here’s something that shouldn’t surprise anyone… the Disney Dining Plan price will increase again in 2013. To see the detailed changes for 2013, check out this article.
Before I start my ranting and raving on the topic, I’d like to touch on the truly great benefits of the Disney Dining Plan. First of all, the plan allows for families to pre-pay for their meals ahead of time before ever leaving home. I can understand that for some people, this is huge plus. Secondly, the Disney Dining Plan does provide a substantial amount of food… much more than the average person chooses to eat on vacation. I will also say that it absolutely can be a money saver for people, provided it’s done the right way.
Back when the Disney Dining Plan was first introduced to the public, there was simply what we know now as the Standard Dining Plan. Nothing less, nothing more… just one plan. The plan included everything that it does now, only with your full-service meal, you were also given an appetizer. Oh, yeah! And an 18% gratuity for your sit-down meal was also included in your pre-payment. Did I mention that the plan was about $35.00 per adult, per night, and $10 per child, per night?
Today, we have three plans offered to us, Quick-Service, Standard, and Deluxe (for all you super foodies). In comparing the 2005 Standard Dining Plan to the 2013 Standard Dining Plan, the differences are substantial. While the snack portion of the plan hasn’t changed much, we have seen minor adjustments to the quick-service dining. For example, using a quick-service credit on breakfast used to allow you to get an extra drink with your meal to make up for not getting a dessert. That’s gone.
The biggest changes that have obviously hit guests the hardest is in regards to table-service credits. While you were previously given an appetizer along with your meal, that was cut out. Your gratuity is now your responsibility to pay outside of the plan at the end of your meal, even though 18% used to be included in the plan’s upfront price. Over the years, the price of the plan has slowly increased. Think about this… the 2005 Standard Dining Plan was about $35 for an adult (per night, of course) and the appetizer-less, gratuity-less, 2013 Standard Dining Plan is a whopping $55.59 per night for an adult. And that’s during a value or regular season! If you’re thinking of traveling during peak season, add almost $2 more to that amount.
I’d like to also mention that the 2013 Quick-Service Plan will cost adults $37.38 per night. That’s right, folks. The plan that doesn’t even include one sit-down meal is currently more money than the 2005 Standard Dining Plan before all of the changes.
If you’re new to the Disney community or didn’t use the Disney Dining Plan before the changes, you might be wondering why Disney chose to alter the plan. I, along with many other dining plan users, contacted Disney to express our frustration and also get some well-deserved answers. Everyone got the same reply. Disney said that guests often complained of receiving far too much food on the plan. They also claimed that their guests wanted control over their tip instead of having 18% automatically given to their server. Now, I’m not saying that these claims aren’t true, but, I will say that it’s a very nice excuse for Disney to give their guests who disagree with the changes, all the while saving the company a buck or two.
In my opinion, I think the plan was too much of a money-saver for guests in Disney’s eyes. The appetizer was a clear winner of what to cut-out because it’s much easier and affordable to mass produce desserts than it is appetizers. Gratuity was probably targeted because there was a plausible reason as to why to cut it out. Do I agree that guests are constantly being offered less in the Disney Dining Plan while being charged way more for it? No way. I don’t think many of you agree with it either.
Let’s take a look at “Family X.” They are a family of 4 traveling to Walt Disney World in 2013 and have decided to pay for the Standard Disney Dining Plan. They are 2 adults and 2 children. However, their son is 10 years old and must order off of the adult menu while their daughter, age 7, is still young enough to count as a child. Per night of the stay, the family will pay a total of $183.93 for the plan.
Let’s pretend that they are super planners and have their Advanced Dining Reservations taken care of well ahead of time. They’re also financially savvy and want to make the most of the Disney Dining Plan. They’ve chosen to pack granola bars for breakfast every morning. Maybe they even made a run to a grocery store or used Garden Grocer to get a few boxes of cereal and milk for breakfast before they ever leave the room. They’ll be trying to realistically order the more expensive items on menus to get the best value. Their park of choice for day 1 is the Magic Kingdom.
Breakfast: Protein bars and a piece of fruit for each of them. Cost = $5 total
Lunch: Columbia Harbour House
Mom: Grilled Salmon $10.19, Apple Crisp $3.59, and Water $2.50. Total = $16.28
Dad: Fried Shrimp $9.99, Chocolate Cake $3.59, and Water $2.50. Total = $16.08
Son: Chicken Nuggets and Fish $9.29. Chocolate Cake $3.59, and Water $2.50. Total = $15.38
Daughter: Tuna Sandwich Kids Meal = $5.49
Meal Total (including sales tax) = $56.69
Snack: Aloha Isle
4 Dole Whip Floats at $4.49 each. Total (including sales tax) = $19.13
Dinner: The Crystal Palace Character Dinner
3 adults ($39.40 each) and 1 child ($19.16) = $137.36 (including sales tax)
18% Gratuity Paid Out of Pocket = $24.73
Disney Dining Plan paid for $213.18 worth of food.
Family X Paid: $29.73 (Out of Pocket Total) and $183.93 (Plan Price) = $213.66
Had Family X paid for their meals out of pocket and ordered exactly as they did it using the Disney Dining Plan, it would have cost them $242.91. The family saved $29.25 by using the Disney Dining Plan. However, if they’d chosen a less expensive table service meal or chosen cheaper options for their snacks and quick-service entrees, they could have easily lost money. It’s also important to remember that if the family paid entirely out of pocket and not ordered desserts with either of their meals, they would have saved much more money. Alternatively, they could have shared entrees for lunch or even shared snacks. These are common practices that a lot of families do that are NOT using the Disney Dining Plan.
Alright, let’s pretend now that Family X is planning a vacation on a whim. They booked their vacation last minute and couldn’t get any of the more expensive restaurants. They prefer using their quick-service meal for breakfast and never look at prices when ordering.
Breakfast: Pop Century Food Court
Mom: Breakfast Wrap with Potatoes $5.99, Coffee $2.09. Total = $8.08
Dad: Breakfast Pizza $5.49, Coffee $2.09. Total = $7.58
Son: Chocolate Chip Pancakes with Side of Meat $6.29, Orange Juice $2.39. Total = $8.68
Daughter: Mickey Waffles Kids Meal. Total = $4.99
Meal Total (including sales tax) = $31.24
Lunch: The Plaza Restaurant
Mom: Plaza Club $11.49, Iced Tea $2.99, Sundae $4.99. Total = $19.47
Dad: Grilled Reuben $10.99, Soda $2.99, Sundae $4.99. Total = $18.97
Son: Turkey Sandwich $11.49, Soda $2.99, Sundae $4.99. Total = $19.47
Daughter: Kids Meal (Who cares which one? It’s a flat price.) Total = $8.59
Meal Total (including sales tax) = $70.83
18% Gratuity Paid Out of Pocket = $12.75
Snack: Popcorn Cart
4 Bags of Popcorn at $3.25 each. Total (including sales tax) = $13.85
Disney Dining Plan paid for $115.92 worth of food.
Family X paid $12.75 (Out of Pocket) and $183.93 (Dining Plan Cost) = $196.68.
I already know what you’re going to tell me. ”Stacey! They haven’t eaten dinner yet!” Well, Family X made some poor choices and they are going to have to pay for that out of pocket later on in the day. To be honest, I could have made Family X more ignorant by having them choose pastries and fruit from Main Street Bakery but I decided to be more realistic. Family X lost $68.01 by using the Disney Dining Plan.
Disney has been consistently offering a popular “Free Dining” promotion to their guests every year. The discount was recently announced again for the end of 2012. Our very own Tom Bricker did a great expose on the Free Dining promotion last year and it’s a fantastic read that will help you better understand how Free Dining isn’t so free. The discount works best for folks wanting to stay at a value resort and those who know how to maximize the plan.
I’m sure there are many people that hear about the Free Dining promotion and decide to book a last minute reservation at the Polynesian Resort since they are “eating for free.” Paying rack rate for a garden view room at the Polynesian Resort will run you at least $400.00 a night. Multiply that by six nights and you can kiss your “Free” dining savings goodbye. Anyone booking a last minute reservation in order to take advantage of Free Dining is sure to get stuck with at least a couple of lower cost restaurants because ‘Ohana and Boma are booked up. Even if you can get into higher priced restaurants, you’re pressured to order more costly items off of the menu just to get the most savings.
Many guests feel that both quality and quantity of food at Disney has been compromised since the Dining Plan’s introduction. Even many of the restaurant menus have been altered to a combination lunch/dinner menu. Slowly but surely, variety is diminishing at Disney restaurants. Menu prices across the board have sky-rocketed so that those dining off of a Dining Plan can hardly afford the cost of one meal. The popular Epcot restaurant, Le Cellier, now requires 2 table-service credits for dinner and come next year, lunch will be 2 credits as well. Another new change for 2013 is that ordering from a prix fixe menu will come with a surcharge. Guests have previously gotten around the “no appetizer” rule by ordering from a prix fixe menu when it’s available. Those days are gone.
Remember when you could walk up to almost any restaurant in Walt Disney World and get a reservation for that same day? Yeah, that’s basically long gone too. This is easily the biggest complaint that locals and other non-Disney Dining Plan users have. Restaurants get booked up like crazy now and it’s hard to get a reservation for the most popular restaurants if you aren’t booking an Advanced Dining Reservation at 180 days in advance.
Obviously, I’m really good at pointing out all of the negatives of the Disney Dining Plan. I really would like to make it clear though, that despite all of the crummy things I’ve mentioned, the plan certainly can save people money. People that know how to maximize their dining credits. People that book their vacation far enough ahead to reserve higher priced, one credit restaurants. People that only use their table-service credits on dinner. People that eat breakfast in their room instead of wasting a quick-service credit. People that know you can ask for a cup of water from any quick-service restaurant for free instead of using a snack credit on a bottle of water.
If the convenience of the plan is what draws you to it, know that with a little simple budgeting and purchasing a Disney gift card, you could basically be doing the same thing as the Dining Plan but cutting out the middle man. Plus, how many of you current users of the plan would actually eat one sit-down meal a day if you weren’t using a meal plan? You could save yourself some money by doing a little “reality check” homework before you decide to opt for a Dining Plan.
Disney has done a really great job of getting their guests hooked on a well-rounded, money saving plan (back when it was almost always economical), only to make drastic changes that their guests have to cope with. People love the convenience of the plan and ability to dine at restaurants they normally wouldn’t when on vacation at Disney World. However, because of the Disney Dining Plan, it’s now so much more work just to find out if you’re making the most economical choice for you and your traveling companions.
When will guests say enough is enough? How long will it take before guests choose not to pay for the Disney Dining Plan or participate in Free Dining?
Let’s hear your take on this. Are any of you out there done with the Disney Dining Plan? How many of you still find it to be a savings for your family? Let me know in the comment section!