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.
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
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.