Pros to the Disney Dining Plan
You are what you eat. No, I’m not judging you, merely expressing the importance of each meal. That’s true even when you’re on vacation at the Most Magical Place on Earth. And since food is so important, you need to have a plan when you head to Orlando. The question is whether you need that plan to be the Disney Dining Plan (DDP). Today, let’s explain the Disney Dining Plan, evaluating the pros of it to see why you may want to add it for your next trip.
What Is the Disney Dining Plan?
The Walt Disney Company understands that guests burn a LOT of calories while visiting Walt Disney World. All of the parks require a lot of walking, and you need to eat a lot to fuel your body for this high level of exercise. Disney also knows that its restaurant pricing is…ambitious. Walt Disney World is the number one tourist destination in the United States, and everybody knows tourists should expect to pay more food and merchandise. The price markup is the nature of the beast.
The Disney Dining Plan is a way to offset such concerns. Disney provides participating guests with a set number of meal entitlements. The visitor can use these entitlements to “pay” for meals. A person can exchange one Quick Service credit for a meal at any Quick Service restaurant such as Electric Umbrella, Columbia Harbour House, and Restaurantosaurus. A Table Service credit is even better. You can exchange these for a meal at either a Quick Service restaurant or a Table Service restaurant such as Be Our Guest, Tusker House, or Sci-Fi Dine-In. You can see the full list of participants here.
Your meal credit lets you order set items from the menu. For Quick Service entitlements, you get an entrée complete with side items and a beverage. In other words, you get a meal. The Table Service entitlement also includes an appetizer and dessert. So, those credits give you a FULL meal that will make you wish that you were wearing sweatpants or, at the very least, something loose-fitting. With the DDP, you also get at least one snack a day.
What’s in a Meal?
Before we move forward, let’s go into a bit more detail about the meals since that’s the most important thing. When I say an entrée and side items, what I mean is your conventional burger and fries. When you eat at a pizza place like Pizzerizzo at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you get a pizza and a beverage. Guests who want to eat healthier could get a chicken club and green beans at ABC Commissary. Basically, you eat the same thing you would have ordered at a Quick Service restaurant anyway. The only difference is that you pay with an entitlement rather than money.
At Table Service restaurants, an entitlement pays for a buffet at a restaurant like Chef Mickey’s or 1900 Park Fare. At Be Our Guest, you can order a steak and potato plus an $18 appetizer and The Grey Stuff for dessert, all for the cost of one entitlement. That’s the basis for a pro that we’ll discuss briefly in a minute.
You should understand that the DDP has some limitations. You’re still responsible for tipping your server, you must pay for anything extra that’s not covered on your meal plan (such as a second appetizer or additional adult beverage), and you must pick a participating restaurant. I think it’s fair to say that more than 90 percent of Walt Disney World restaurants are a part of the DDP program, but you should always check to make sure.
The DDP has a couple of other quirks. These aren’t negatives or positives, just stuff you need to know. When you order the DDP, you will have to get it for every night of your hotel stay. So, if you’re visiting for six nights, you’ll get the DDP for six nights, even if you think you only need it for three or four. Disney doesn’t give you a choice. Similarly, you must order the DDP for every guest over the age of three staying in your room. There is children’s pricing, though.
Now that you understand the basics of the DDP, let’s talk about the pros. The most important one is cost control. This reason explains why my wife and I ALWAYS travel on the DDP, which means I let me wallet do the talking about the program.
How does the DDP give you cost control? Well, you have to order it in advance, and that means you have to pay for it prior to your arrival at Walt Disney World. In fact, you cannot even purchase the DDP if you’re within three days of a park visit. Disney runs this program under the premise that they want to know how people will eat and pay, and they want to know these things ahead of time. Since the DDP isn’t as lucrative to them, they don’t allow people to buy it once they’re on the campus. That would defeat the purpose, as many guests would purchase it upon arrival. It’s that good a deal to a lot of folks.
By paying in advance, you’ve gained an advantage on your trip. You don’t have to worry about food or snacks during your visit. You’ve already paid for those! You may even find this feeling liberating, as you can eat whatever you want without dreading the bill afterward. You won’t think about the cost of the foods that you’re devouring. Instead, you can simply obsess on the quality, which is particularly great for foodies. When you’re on the DDP, you can eat without guilt. After all, you paid for this meal months ago!
Another pro of the plan is that the list of participating restaurants is robust. There are more than 100 options between the Quick Service and Table Service eateries onsite. When you’re on the DDP, you can check off plenty of restaurants from your Walt Disney World bucket list.
To wit, I just counted, and we ate at 24 different restaurants during our most recent Disney visit. About 10 of those were new to us, while the others are favorites that we deem integral to a Disney vacation. Including our previous four trips, we ate at more than 40 restaurants for the first time. You have that many options on the DDP.
You can read the full list of DDP-eligible establishments here. You’ll notice almost all of your favorites on the campus. The primary exceptions are restaurants at the Swan & Dolphin, and there’s an explanation for that. Disney doesn’t actually own these properties. They are Starwood Hotels, now a subsidiary of Marriott International.
Nice Meal Balance
Something great about the DDP is the way the entitlements work. You get a set number of Quick Service and Table Service credits. If you’re staying five days, you get five of each type. The plan is flexible in that you don’t have to eat at a Quick Service and Table Service restaurant each day. On some days, you may want two Quick Service meals, especially if you have a lot planned. On other days, you may want to take it easy and enjoy some fine dining. You can use your various entitlements as you see fit.
Similarly, you don’t HAVE to use any of them on a day. Let’s say that you’re spending the day at Universal Studios and plan to have some Butterbeer and a Krusty Burger. You won’t want to use your entitlements that day, and Disney won’t make you. They carry over through the end of your trip. The reverse is also true. You can use all your entitlements in the first few days if so inclined and then pay for the other meals out of pocket. This can happen if you’re paying for meals for friends or going to breakfasts regularly.
The flexibility of the DDP is so good that it can fit virtually any vacationer’s needs.
Modular Disney Days
You have given a puppy dog head tilt at this header. Here’s what I mean. The Disney Dining Plan organically structures your day. When you’re at the parks, you’re in a chaotic environment. You treasure every second of your visit and want to maximize your fun. That philosophy can lead you down the wrong path.
When you have the DDP, you can break down your day in increments. You can spend some time at the parks in the morning and then have a Table Service meal at lunch. This tactic allows you to catch your breath and enjoy some downtime outside of Walt Disney World traffic. You’re just seated at a restaurant enjoying a meal, and so you’re calm. After you eat lunch, you are rejuvenated enough to attack the parks again. Later in the day, you can grab a Quick Service meal at your hotel once you’re ready to exit the parks.
Conversely, you can have a Quick Service lunch during a park visit. A quick bite at Casey’s Corner lets you stay close to the hub of Magic Kingdom, giving you quick access to all areas of the most popular theme park in the world. Once you’ve downed your corn dog nuggets, you’re refreshed and ready to jump back into the action. After a full day at the parks, there’s no better way to unwind than sitting down at a Table Service restaurant and enjoying 60-90 minutes of haute cuisine.
Since you have entitlements to use, you can plan your day around the DDP. You’ll have calmer, more organized park visits, and that enables you to enjoy a (relatively) stress-free vacation. Parents with children also have an excuse to sit down for a while. “We have to eat right now because it’s already paid for!” Kids love Disney, but they understand what “free lunch” means.
Finally, you should know that Disney offers a Free Dining package that includes the DDP as part of a hotel reservation. You should ask an expert at MickeyTravels for full details about this program, but I also want to offer a word of warning. Don’t view this as the only time to book a room. Disney shuffles their hotel reservation pricing around enough that you can actually stay cheaper at times by booking a room at a discounted rate and then buying the DDP on your own. Mickey Travels agents can help you find the best deal for your budget.