Disney Dining Plan or Out-of-Pocket – Which to Choose


First off.  Disney Dining Plan works really well for my family.  We have a family of hearty eaters.  We try to pick several family style meals and buffets during each trip.  This allows the children to get what they want without fear of them not liking what they have been given to eat, having  to pay for another meal if they don’t like it and it also allows them a chance to eat a hearty meal.

That being said, the Disney Dining Plan does not work for everyone.   If you have picky eaters, light eaters or severe food allergies the Dining Plans may not work for you.

The basic Disney Dining Plan offers 1 counter service credit, 1 table service credit and 1 snack credit per person per day. The Disney Deluxe Dining Plan offers 3 meal credits (may be used for either table service meals or counter service meals) and 2 snacks per person per day.

To purchase a meal plan all members of your traveling party (reservation) must be on the same dining plan and have the same ticket options. You must stay on Disney property and the dining plan must be for the entire length of your stay. All credits expire at midnight on the last day of your stay. The dining plan has to be attached to a package.  This is non-negotiable with Disney.

The price for the Disney Dining Plan for 2010 will rise to $41.99 per day for adults during non-peak season and $46.99 during peak season. The prices for children will also rise to $11.99 per day for non-peak season and $12.99 during peak season.

The Deluxe Dining Plan for 2010 will stay the same price as 2009 at $71.99 per day for adults all year-long and $20.99 for children.

So is it better to pay out-of-pocket or buy a dining plan?

It all depends on your family. Look at a good website such as http://allears.net/menu/menus.htm This will allow you to see the prices and menus for most restaurants in Walt Disney World. Pretend you are eating out at Walt Disney World as you would during your vacation.  Add up your total bill for the week.  If you only plan on eating in one or two restaurants during your stay where will you eat the rest of your meals?  Will you buy groceries? Eat off Disney property?  Those costs also need to be added into your total so that you get a true picture of how much money you are really spending on meals and snacks.

Now multiply the number of nights you are staying at Walt Disney World by the price of the meal plan. Which total is lower? That is the plan that will most likely be best for your family.

A picture of the Jumbo Blue Crab Cakes from Cap’n Jacks.

EXAMPLE: A 5 night stay on the Basic Disney Dining Plan during non-peak time for a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 children under the age of 10) would cost approximately $538.80 plus gratuities at all table service restaurants which are out-of-pocket.

The same above family decides to eat bagels and cold cereal for breakfast and only eat at three table service restaurants during their stay. They plan on bringing granola bars and bottled water with them each day. They choose for their 3 meals The Crystal Palace – $28.99 per adult and $13.99 per child; Cinderella’s Royal Table – $57.19 per adult and $34.19 per child and ’50’s Prime Time Cafe with an average meal price (entree, drink and dessert for lunch) $22.00 per adult and $7.50 per child. So just with those three out-of-pocket meals the total is approximately $327.72 plus gratuities.

For this family the out-of-pocket scenario appears to work best but they still have not added in the items purchased for breakfast and snacks.  They also have not factored in that they are eating only one meal a day for three days.  They still need to add in either more groceries to cover the remaining meals or costs for the rest of the meals off property.    If they total cost of the additional items is  $150 or more they are better off purchasing the Disney Dining plan from a time and financial perspective.     Time spent traveling to grocery stores or off property dining establishments takes away from family time in the parks, hotels and water parks.  How much is this time worth to you and your family?

Often families do a combination purchasing the  Disney Dining Plan and then purchasing some out-of-pocket items especially with snacks and counter service meals. If your snack is a bottle of water or drink you may be better off paying for it out-of-pocket and using your Disney Dining Plan snack credits for the higher priced fruit bowls, ice cream treats or candy you may want later. Drinks are approximately $2.25-$2.50 while snacks are about $4.00.

Remember whatever you choose it has to work for you and your family. What works for us may not work for you or anyone else.

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About koolaidmoms

I am a Mom of two that loves my family and all things Disney. I have been playing a game to see how many different meals I can make each weekday. These are our adventures in food and life.
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