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Cinderella's Royal Table

One of the most frequently touted benefits to staying on Disney World property is the ever-popular Disney Dining Plan, a perk that is only available to Disney resort guests. While perusing online forums and so-called Disney budgeting blogs, you’ll often find Disney guests who rave about the plan and the money it saves. After all, you get an array of food choices for each day of your stay at one low, flat, daily rate. Before you say, “Sign me up!” however, there’s something you should know: it’s a bad deal.

I doubt there are many people who have crunched the numbers on this as often as I have. I worked as an accountant for over a decade, so I’m a bit of a meticulous planner when it comes to budgeting.

Of course, I once used the Disney Dining Plan on a trip, and I really enjoyed it. However, it was included with the price of my room as a promotion that year, and I found myself wondering if I would actually save money by purchasing it out of pocket.

Every time I plan a new Disney vacation, I go straight to my handy little spreadsheet, just to see if the Dining Plan might make sense for us on our next trip–but it never does, at least financially. On top of the financial aspects, though, there are several other reasons why the Disney Dining Plan is just a bad idea for most groups. (And, just to clarify, we’re only discussing the regular plan here, though the same principles apply for all levels of the service.)

1. Some items aren’t included

Image: Disney

Disney likes to imply that the Dining Plan is a convenient all-in-one package that includes all of a person’s food requirements for the duration of their stay, but that’s simply not true.

Here are just a few things that aren’t included in the plan:

  • One full meal. You only get one quick service meal and one table service meal per day; you’ll have to pay out of pocket for breakfast, lunch, or dinner (or skip a meal entirely). It makes the most sense financially to use the plan for lunch and dinner and pay OOP for breakfast.
  • Gratuity. Yes, you’re still expected to tip when you’re on the DDP. It’s definitely not included in the cost.
  • Alcohol. While the DDP does include a nonalcoholic drink with your meal, no alcohol is included. You don’t even get a discount, so watch your tab.
  • Additional snacks. Snacks are one of the best parts of Disney World, in my opinion. You only get one per day on the DDP, so choose wisely.

2. It’s too much food for some people, too little for others

'Ohana Breakfast

So what does the plan come with? I’m glad you asked. You get a table service meal, a quick service meal, and a snack for each day of your trip. You also get a refillable drink mug, but it can only be used at the resorts–fountain drinks at the park aren’t included. Each meal comes with an entrée, a dessert, and a nonalcoholic beverage.

While the plan leaves out some things like the aforementioned gratuity, many people (myself included) find that an entrée, a dessert, and a soda really aren’t necessary with every meal. I personally love the dessert addition, but even I can’t eat that many sweets in one day. Some Cast Members will let you trade in your dessert credit for a bottle of chocolate milk or something similar, but this is totally at their discretion.

I also know quite a few people who always drink water with their meals. You can use the drink credit to purchase a bottle of water, but it’s not really saving you any money since cups of ice water are completely free.

On the flip side of that argument, though, is the fact that some guests eat more than the Dining Plan offers. Some people just have a big appetite, and they’ll find themselves paying out of pocket when they get hungry again. Many older kids often fall into this category. Kids from ages three to nine are given kid-sized portions for meals. Many eight and nine-year-olds get frustrated with the small size of their entree, especially if they compare it to an adult's. However, a three-year-old will struggle to eat a whole kids’ meal in one sitting. There's just no way for the Dining Plan to work for everyone's needs.

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