Cons of the Disney Dining Plan
Okay, in the last article, I wrote a shamelessly positive piece about the pros of the Disney Dining Plan. That’s my family’s opinion of the program. I want to stress that others have perfectly valid counterpoints. It’s NOT a perfect program, and it’s not for everyone. So, in the interest of fairness, let’s turn around and discuss the cons of the Disney Dining Plan.
You Still Have to Pay
Previously, I argued that cost control is the chief benefit of the Disney Dining Plan (DDP). By that, I meant that you have to pay for the plan in advance. Disney won’t allow you to buy it when you’re at Walt Disney World. So, you will show up at the park thinking that you’ll get all your food for free.
That’s not quite accurate.
You will have one extra expense for sure when you’re on the DDP, and you may have others. The expense that’s unavoidable is tipping. The only restaurants that participate in the DDP that include tips are the shows like Disney’s Spirit of Aloha and Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. Everything else will require a tip.
How big a deal is that? Well, that depends on your meals. Let’s say that you’re staying for seven nights and thereby have seven Table Service entitlements, the only meals that will require a tip. Most of these meals cost $35-$40 per person, and so I’ll $37.50 as the average. Then, I’ll assume that you’re traveling in a party of two. When the bill arrives, you’ll see payment of $75.
A 20 percent tip (I’m assuming you’re a generous soul who appreciates the hard work of cast members) is $15. Over the course of seven Table Service meals, you’re paying $105 more than expected. If you’re a party of four, that number doubles to $210.
That doesn’t seem so bad, right? It’s still $105-$210 that you can’t spend on Disney merchandise. Also, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The DDP comes with one snack per person per day. Unless you’re bringing your own beverages and snacks into the parks, unlikely when you’re traveling from outside of Orlando, you’ll have to pay for extra snacks and drinks, too.
These splurges can easily cost you $10 more person per day. Even bottled water at Walt Disney World costs $3-$4, depending on if it’s Smart Water! If you’re a huge fan of candy and ice cream, you’ll feel nickeled and dimed when you’re on the DDP. These tiny expenses add up over the course of a week’s vacation.
Finally, you may want to eat an extra Table Service meal or two. Seven isn’t enough for some people, especially folks who enjoy breakfast character meals at places like ‘Ohana and Trattoria al Forno. Since we just established the cost of these meals as $90 including tip, just a couple of extra Table Service meals can blow your budget.
So. Much. Food.
Here’s the criticism that I see the most about the DDP. As mentioned in the last article, Table Service restaurant credits include an appetizer and desserts. Importantly, that’s for each person. Let’s now assume that you’re traveling in a party of four. You see where I’m going with this.
What’s the purpose of an appetizer? It’s table food that’s meant to be shared. You order nachos, and then everyone noshes on them while waiting for main course to arrive.
Pop quiz: How many times in your life have the people in your party ordered two appetizers at a restaurant? Now, let’s extend the thought. How many times have they ordered three? Or four? Yeah, it’s weird and certainly not something that comes up a lot.
When four people are on the DDP, you’ll order four appetizers at EVERY Table Service meal. And that’s only half the story. You’ll also order four desserts as well. I don’t know about you, but I rarely order an appetizer and dessert during the same meal. It’s just too much food. On the DDP, this is the default practice.
Now, there’s a positive in this. You’ll get to sample virtually everything on the menu that interests you. And since you’re at Walt Disney World, you’re burning so many calories while walking that you don’t have to worry about your weight the way that you would at home. Still, you’ll never eat more in your life than when you’re on the DDP. For that reason, a lot of people rightfully decide that it’s too much food.
Also, let’s tie these two cons together. When you order that appetizer and dessert that you aren’t hungry enough to eat, you’ve added roughly $15-$20 to the cost of your meal. You have to pay more on your tip for that. So, the extra foods you’re ambivalent about eating cost you up to $3 per person per meal. It’s like a DDP gluttony tax.
The DDP Requires Planning
One of the dirty secrets of Walt Disney World is that you can’t eat wherever you like, at least you can’t unless you plan in advance. Because the parks are so congested, the best restaurants sell out for ahead of time. A place like Be Our Guest or Chef Mickey’s will book 180 days in advance on most days of the calendar year.
Even if you have the DDP, you aren’t guaranteed a table unless you set up an Advance Dinner Reservation. To eat at the aforementioned bucket list restaurants, you WILL have to plan in advance, at least for some places. Don’t get me wrong. You can always find a place in the World Showcase at Epcot or Disney Springs that can seat you in a (relatively) timely manner.
The issue stems from the most popular eateries on the Disney campus. Those are the ones you know by name like Cinderella’s Royal Table, Chef Mickey’s, Sci-Fi Dine-In, Akershus, and so forth. These places book quickly, as does any restaurant at the World Showcase that has a view of IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. To stay at any of these places, you will need to book in advance, and let’s face it. A lot of people HATE planning their vacations. If you’re a free spirit who doesn’t want to get locked into plans far ahead of time, the DDP isn’t for you…unless you really like the World Showcase and Disney Springs.
What’s a Budget?
The final con with the DDP is one you may not realize until after the fact. Since you pay for the plan before your trip, that’s a sunk cost you might not worry about while you’re on your trip. And since you’re spending so little money on food, you may open up your wallet and throw more cash around than normal. You can easily justify the cost of expensive souvenirs when you’re not paying for your meals.
What’s the problem with this logic? You DID pay for the meals, just not recently. Even if you got the Disney Dining Plan for free, you still paid the cost of the hotel room, and Disney does raise those rates a bit to compensate for the lost food revenue on those dates. So, you paid money even if you don’t know the exact cost.
When you spend more on your trip thanks to the “free” meals, you won’t realize what happened until later. Then, you’ll pull up Quicken or whatever financial planner you use and input your vacation data for the month/quarter/year. At that point, you’ll suddenly realize that you paid a LOT more for your Disney vacation than you’d budgeted due to the confusion caused by the DDP.
This con is COMPLETELY avoidable now that you’re aware of it. Still, I have to list it as a con, because it does happen. In fact, my family is especially guilty of this. We generally travel on the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan, something I’ll discuss in a future article. We frequently pay months in advance, forget about that sunk cost, and then spend far more than I’d like to admit at the Mitsukoshi Department Store at the Japan Pavilion. We’d be smarter about our vacation finances if we did NOT get the DDP. So, if you’re buying the DDP, please learn from our mistakes and stick to your vacation budget.
Again, the experts at MickeyTravels will offer you the best advice on whether the DDP is right for you. I’m an ardent supporter of it, but I’m also well aware of its flaws. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it may be right for you!