Be Our Guest is both a Quick Service and Table Service meal.

Few Disney topics are as divisive as the subject of meals, especially with regards to payment options. Disney is the top amusement park company in the world, and it prices its meals to reflect its superiority.

Any visit to Disney will include these sorts of tourist trap costs. Were it not for these expenses, the term staycation never would have been invented.  Alas, amusement park meal charges are constantly increasing, but I have a handful of recommendations for park visitors in order to maximize the contents of their bank account and thereby their vacation. The key is hacking the Disney Dining Plan to maximum benefit.

I want to note at the start that the Disney Dining Plan is available only to people staying at Disney properties. Then again, if you are planning a park trip wherein you choose to stay off site, I want to add that I think you are making a real mistake and should reconsider your plan. The All-Star Resorts options are virtually the same cost as non-Disney properties, and you will make up any difference in charges via the meal plan as long as you strategize correctly while saving yourself a ton of aggravation with regards to transportation.

Simply stated, Disney resort guests are treated better than those customers who are not providing the company with the monopoly of their vacation money. And from a business perspective, that is the way it should be.

5. There are three main Disney Dining Plan options. Don’t pick the wrong one.

Cosmic Ray's Starlight CafeCosmic Ray's Starlight CafeThis place is a creepy sci-fi take on Country Bears Jamboree. Image © Disney

In terms of pricing, there are technically five tiers of the Disney Dining Plan. Unless you are an oil baron, there are realistically only three. The Disney Quick Service Dining Plan is the lowest tier as well as the cheapest option. You may be swayed by the daily cost of $39.64 per person. A family of four would only spend $950 on a seven day, six night trip to Disney. It is not the sweet spot, though. Your family would live off burgers and fries for a week, which is neither healthy nor satisfying. The Quick Service plan offers neither Table Service meals nor the means to switch multiple Quick Service meals for a single sit-down offering. Plus, the Disney character meals that children covet more than Enchanted Tales with Belle FastPasses are off limits. In short, the Quick Service Plan is cheap but far from optimal.

Conversely, the Deluxe Dining Plan may make you feel like a king when you purchase it. By day four, however, only people with potentially fatal tapeworms will still have any remaining appetite. At the cost of $104.94 per person per day, the plan user is entitled to three Table Service meals per day. A Disney Table Service meal on this plan includes appetizer, main course, dessert and beverage. Jabba the Hut could not consume that much food on a daily basis. There is no living creature at Animal Kingdom that could, for that matter. It would be like celebrating Thanksgiving every meal for a week. If you ever chose to buy this plan, the first person you see when you get home had better be your gastroenterologist. Plus, it is pricey to boot. The same family of four would have to spend $2,500 on meals and then purchase a family gym membership after vacation. Again, that is not the sweet spot.

4. Why the Disney Dining Plan IS the right choice

Columbia Harbour House at Magic KingdomColumbia Harbour House at Magic KingdomIf you like fish, this place is not to be missed. Image © Disney

At a modest $58.66 per day (at time of publication), the Disney Dining Plan is named precisely that way by the company. I presume they do so to identify it as the best option. They know it and now I am about to explain to you why.

The proverbial family of four spends $1,400 on this plan, less than $20 more per person per day than the Quick Service plan. A family saves $1,100 over the Deluxe Dining Plan in this manner. Meanwhile, they also receive much better food for only $450 (an average of $75 a day) more than the Disney Quick Service Plan. The key is in the options made available.

Under the Disney Dining Plan, each park visitor receives one Quick Service meal as well as one Table Service meal. The contrast is in the pricing. I will presume that you provide your own breakfast cereal or fruit in the morning, because that is the healthy (ish) way to eat at a theme park. A Quick Service meal at Disney is priced for adults to spend about $20 each for the remaining two meals a day plus $12 each for the two children in our theoretical example. That is a charge of $128 for a plan that costs your family $158. That doesn’t sound like a great deal, does it?

Compare the same calculations if you decide to “splurge” for Table Service at The Crystal Palace, a character buffet at Magic Kingdom. The same family would be charged $140 plus tax for that meal alone plus the same $64 for lunch. That is a $176 worth of food that costs over $200 if purchased without the Disney Dining Plan. You have gotten much better bang for your buck while enjoying a world class buffet rather than a mediocre plate of chicken nuggets. Plus, your children get to meet Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet, which is tantamount to free on-site babysitting in an air-conditioned building for over an hour. All parents reading this recognize that the value of this aspect cannot be accurately measure.



we have gone to Disney and not bought the dining plan and at times we have gone and bought the Disney quick meal plan. Most of the time U get way too much food even with the quick service, and if U do your homework , there are restraunts at each park where U can get food other than burgers and fries. The thing I do not like about it, ( and this year with just two of us going, without the plan) is U HAVE to get a desert , drink and lets say burger and fries or pizza and salad or a big salad. I can go in a place and if I'm not hungry for a full meal, just get a burger and a glass of ice water for a meal without the plan and for a lot less, Most of the deserts they supply with the meals are ones U cant carry around with U till later when U want one ,or something I do not li ke or cannot eat because of an allergy. if I want a snack later I can get one that if I don't finish it right away I
can carry around . Snack points are ridiculous, one per person per day. Normally I don't even use mine. who needs another desert when U have had two that totally stuffed U earlier in the day. There is usually so much food on a plate that m y husband and I can split the plate and be totally satisfied and that makes it half the price of a food plan. Now the last few years we have gotten the food plan, one year we took my granddaughter and her wrestler boyfriend, who would eat half my pizza and half my granddaughters pizza along with his own in a meal, plus fries, large drinks and desert. Last year we took 3 grands that liked going and buying their own meals so it was fun for them to have the plan. This year its just the two of us going, we will be keeping track of what we buy to eat and mostly will get water to drink(at no charge) My hubby can get his mickey icecream and maybe I will get something or maybe not, I think we can buy all 3 meals a day and a snack and extra drinks for less than the dining plan. We will soon see as we are going to Disney this weekend for 8 days.

In reply to by Visitor (not verified)

we also have Disney mugs up the wazoo, all the same for the last few years, we have them packed in boxes in the attic, have taken them to family reunions over the years until they asked us please don't bring any more, and have given them to family members and friends for gifts. Soooo we don't need the Disney meal plan.

In reply to by Visitor (not verified)

No doubt and agree 100%. The Meal Plan is over cost because you pay for food you really do not need. When we did the Meal Plan on prior visits we felt like Thanksgiving every day. How is so much food healthy-? It’s not difficult to bring breakfast in a separate bag on a plane (bananas, oranges, doughnuts, granola bars, whatever) in a side bag for breakfasts in your room. If you drive there are tons of grocery stores around where you can stop off at before check in and buy easy lunch foods to make sandwiches that you can carry in to the parks. Bring zip lock bags to hold resort ice to keep the meals cold in a nylon cooler. Then pick a nice place for dinner and order what you want. You will be surprised at the cost savings. With the money saved we do other pay activities (boats, water ski, fishing, etc.). No doubt Disney gets our money but not on something we are going to eat and just poop later. Extra things that make memories. I wish Disney would offer a meal plan that was sensible where you pay for what you want and sure you may pay over slightly but not a huge profit gouge like Disney sucks out of you. It would make the vacation easier. Screw Magic Bands, how about a way to give more to the visitor at a fair cost.

In reply to by Visitor (not verified)

I totally agree. My mom, my 11 yr old daughter and I are going for spring break and we going CHEAP! My first stay at a value, Pop Century, and my first time without a dining plan. We plan to share meals, use peach tea crystal light packets in our free water, and make out own Mickey waffles with my Mickey waffle iron in our room! I know this isn't the ideal way to Disney for everyone but I love to go more than once a year so going frugal is a welcome option for me and just to be there makes it so worth it!

I love the Disney Dining Plan. I do think even the quick service meals are too much food (especially being forced into dessert) so my daughter and I share a quick service meal twice a day - then we each get a light/normal breakfast and a light/normal lunch and our table service is our main meal for the day. My daughter is 17 now, we started doing this when she was little and it's always been the perfect amount of food.

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