Is the 2020 Disney Dining Plan Worth the Cost?
Here’s a question that readers frequently ask MickeyBlog and suddenly have plenty of time to strategize for your next trip. Is the 2020 Disney Dining Plan worth its price? This one doesn’t have a yes or no answer.
The situation is more nuanced than that. Some Disney park guests will find it saves money, while others won’t. So, let’s discuss some ways that the 2020 Disney Dining Plan is a good idea along with a few others why it’s not.
Explaining the Disney Dining Plan
The 2020 Disney Dining Plan (DDP) works a lot like a school meal plan. You receive a set number of entitlements each day that you may exchange for meals. You’ll get at least two entitlements, possibly more depending on the type of meal plan that you select.
For 2020, prices start at $55 per day for adults, while children aged 3-9 cost $26. Anyone under the age of three isn’t eligible but also doesn’t get the meal entitlements.
Something to remember about the dining plan is that everyone in your hotel room must buy it. As an example, you can’t add it for one person out of a party of four.
Now, you may wonder what counts as a meal at Walt Disney World. The answer depends a bit on your type of meal plan.
However, the rule for most of them is that you receive an entrée, a side item, and a beverage. Also, your drink can be alcoholic if you’d prefer.
Disney also throws in a couple of snacks a day, along with a refillable mug. The snacks will save you at least $6 a day and possibly as much as $18, depending on how you use them. So, they have a lot of value.
As for the refillable mug, it’s a lifesaver at the hotel. Your cup comes with an RFID chip that automatically unlocks beverage stations at your resort. So, you walk up to one of them and refill your mug whenever you want, easy peasy.
Now then, let’s talk about why you might want the dining plan. For starters, it’s flexible. Disney offers several tiers of the DDP. I just described the basic one at $55 per adult.
Called the Disney Quick Service Dining Plan, it comes with Quick Service entitlements only. These credits will pay for your meal at Disney counter service restaurants, i.e., fast food places.
The next level of the dining plan is the standard one, simply called the Disney Dining Plan. When you buy it, you get two vouchers each day, one of which you may exchange for a Table Service meal.
Obviously, Table Service restaurants at Walt Disney World are nicer. They’re sit-down establishments like Akershus, Chef Mickey’s, and Sci-Fi Dine-In.
A meal here is usually better. However, it costs more when you pay out of pocket. With the DDP, that’s not a problem, though! You merely exchange an entitlement for a meal. And it even comes with free dessert!
Since the DDP provides more value, it comes at a higher price. It’s $78.01 per person per day, $23.01 more. Since the plan is otherwise identical to the Quick Service version, you’re paying that much more for one Table Service meal.
Of course, Disney knows that some of us (like me!) prefer Table Service meals. The company recently introduced the Disney Dining Plan Plus for such customers. It’s the same as the previous two dining plans, only you get two Table Service entitlements instead. This plan costs $94.60 per person.
What’s the overall takeaway here? Disney sells a plan that will fit anyone’s needs. In fact, I haven’t even discussed my favorite, the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan, since it’s not for everyone. Still, the point holds. The dining plan options provide tremendous flexibility for customers.
Yes, cost certainty is the other reason why the dining plan is worthwhile for many. When you travel on vacation, you have a budget. You don’t want to blow it with any surprise expenses.
A meal comes with that sort of unwanted suspense, especially a Table Service one at Disney. A buddy of mine just visited last week. The price of a meal for five at Akershus gave him sticker shock. It was over $300 before tip! On the dining plan, everyone would have paid with a Table Service credit instead.
Disney requires payment for the dining plan before the trip. I quite like that rule, as it means that I’ve already paid for all my meals before I leave. I know how much I’ll spend on my meal budget while I’m at Disney. It’s a number close to zero, depending on how many extra snacks I buy.
I wouldn’t call myself a planner. I’m also not someone who agonizes over spreadsheets while looking at my family’s finances. However, I love that almost all my vacation budget goes toward merchandise when I’m at the parks.
I paid for everything else ahead of time! That sort of cost certainty alleviates my money stress while I’m on vacation.
Forces You to Eat at Disney
The DDP isn’t perfect, though. For starters, entitlements only work at Disney restaurants. Technically, it’s not even all of them, although the exceptions list is so small that it’s insignificant.
Let’s say that you have other favorite places in Orlando, though. For example, maybe you want to visit Universal CityWalk or ICON Park. You obviously can’t use dining plan entitlements at non-Disney places.
This problem may or may not matter, depending on your vacation style. If you like the occasional fast food meal, the dining plan isn’t ideal. On the other end of the spectrum, foodies probably want to eat at a few non-Disney places. I wouldn’t suggest the dining plan in that situation, either.
When you’re on the DDP, you’re deciding to eat at Disney restaurants. That’s great since so many eateries serve decadent cuisine. It’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario, though.
A Lot of Food
I mentioned the four tiers of the dining plan. As you go higher up the food chain, you get more food. In fact, the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan comes with free appetizers along with dessert.
Let’s do the math here. You’re eating at least one Table Service meal with a dessert each day. On the Plus version, you’re eating two such meals. That’s a LOT of desserts. Yes, you’re on vacation and should enjoy it.
Even so, one of the most frequent complaints I hear about the dining plan involves portions. Some guests believe that it’s too much food. Since they don’t eat it all, they view it as wasted food and, thereby, wasted money. That’s totally valid.
Tipping Not Included
Finally, one other issue arises as you pick more Table Service restaurants with your dining plan. These meals don’t include tips. Circling back to the Akershus example, my friend was responsible for at least 16 percent of the ticket in tips.
Let’s assume that my friend tips better and pays 20 percent. That’s $60. The dining plan wouldn’t cover this charge. Instead, you must pay out of pocket for all tips. Believe it or not, this can add up over an extended trip.
I’ll show you my math here. For a couple that averages $100 for each Table Service meal, a fair estimate, the tip would be somewhere between $15 and $25. With two Table Service entitlements per day, you’re spending another $30-$50 on tips alone. Over a six-night vacation, you’re adding $180-$300 to your vacation budget just for tips.
So, Is the Dining Plan Worth the Cost?
Ultimately, I cannot make this decision for you. I buy a dining plan for almost every trip. I’ve only had two vacations over the past decade where I didn’t have it. I also strongly recommend it to all my friends, many of whom don’t listen to me. It’s a pearls before swine situation.
While dealing with these frequent rejections from loved ones, I’ve come up with some advice. I believe that making a call on the dining plan is simple. Here’s what you do.
Take 15 minutes to spec out a schedule of restaurants where you would eat during your trip. Then, compare the cost of those meals vs. the daily dining plan. You can get a ballpark estimate of whether you’re saving money or not.
Again, the only caveat on the downside here is that tips aren’t included. However, you DO get two snacks per day and a refillable mug, albeit one that doesn’t work at the parks.
We recently did this for a recent trip and realized that we were priced in on a dining plan purchase. Friends have told us that they discovered the same.
Of course, the answer will depend on which restaurants you favor at Walt Disney World. Some provide high value for an entitlement. Then, there are places like The Plaza, where the staff will try to talk you out of wasting DDP credits.