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2013 Disney Dining Plan: Finding the Value

by Ron D’Anna

Screen Shot 2013-06-13 at 10.40.34 AMThere appears to be little about Walt Disney World that is as rationally and hotly debated as the Disney Dining Plan (“DDP”).  Convenience, value, amount of food, access to reservations, and the food quality are all aspects that are questioned constantly on innumerable podcasts, blogs, FAQs, and forums. While many of these topics are unquantifiable, one is easy to test: value. Are you getting your moneys worth on the Dining Plan? A quick answer is impossible to come by.

I’ve always been fascinated by numbers and how easily they can show us complex situations in a simple format, so a few years ago, I decided to break down the relative value of the DDP. I have updated it year by year, which isn’t an easy task. With over 85 participating counter service and over 70 table-service locations, there were a lot of items to go through. In fact, if you were to eat one dinner entrée a day, it would take you over four and a half years to sample every one of them! And since these menus change constantly, the task may actually be impossible. As such, please do not take this as absolute results; it is meant to be a general guide, not a play-by-play way to game the system. In fact, the data is already out of date: in the month it took me to compile the pricing, multiple locations changed menus. I have decided not to try and update it any further and let the general rules stand. I would like to thank TouringPlans.com for an excellent and regularly updated menu and pricing depository, without which this study could not have been done.

For those that are unfamiliar, there are three basic dining plans: the Quick Service Dining Plan (QSDP), the Plus (or standard) Dining Plan (PDP) and the Deluxe Dining Plan (DxDP). All plans also include the refillable mug you can use at your resort. The costs can vary by season, but the non-peak prices are $35.58 for QSDP, $55.59 for PDP and $99.97 for DxDP. Prices listed are per person, per night.

  • The QSDP includes one snack credit and two quick service credits per night of your stay.
  • The PDP contains one snack credit, one counter service credit and one table service credit per night. Both counter service and table service credits entitle you to an entrée, a drink and a dessert (if used for lunch or dinner).
  • The DxDP contains three table service credits, appetizers with lunch and dinner table service meals, and two snack credits per night.

Table service meal credits can be used at counter-service locations, but that is a definitively poor use for the plan. To figure out if any given restaurant is worth using on the plan, the components of the plan had to be broken down price wise. I did this with some relatively basic algebra and a few assumptions. The first assumption was that the refillable mug is just a bonus. Since you only get one per person whether you buy the dining plan for a week or for a night, its price isn’t something that can be calculated on a general scale. Second, the generally accepted snack credit value has been about $4 for a few years. Some snacks can definitely be purchased above that value, but that had been the general cap. I just set the value at $3 for my purposes for two reasons: 1) it gives a perceived premium value to the dining plan, and 2) Disney knows a lot of people just use them on things like sodas and bottled water, items priced well below the maximum value. My third assumption was that the Deluxe Plan was priced in such a way that Disney assumes two table service and one counter service use per day.

With these assumptions, the pricing was easy to work out with just a little playing around–the value of a counter-service credit is $17.29, a table service credit is $35.30 and the value of the appetizer for the DxDP is $3.04. I justified the relatively low cost for the appetizer in two ways: 1) you do not get it at breakfast and 2) Disney assumes people aren’t eating that much and will split them sometimes. Some final assumptions had to be made when pricing out the individual restaurants.

While there are many places that will offer milkshakes or other premium drinks, it was not always possible to tell which ones would be included without extensive hands-on research, which was not possible. Additionally, results could vary from server to server, so for simplicity’s sake, I priced all counter service meals to include a large soda, and have added $2.50 to all table service meals. There are also conflicting reports that certain items are exempt on certain menus, but these are inconsistent reports, so for the purposes of this article I’ve included all menu items. The value of items that say “for two” have been cut in half as I’ve heard they can be split.

There are a few general statements that can be made about working with the dining plan to maximize your value. The first one is: avoid using credits for breakfast. This is universally a bad deal across both table and counter service restaurants. The only exception would be breakfast at Akershus, where the $37.99 price tag is already above the credit’s value. While it is true that Cinderella’s Royal Table is more expensive, it is considered a signature restaurant, and therefore requires two of your table service credits. This is the second general rule: avoid dining at Signature Restaurants. It is almost impossible to extract value from them even if you order all the most expensive items, so go ahead and skip getting up at 6 AM to make that coveted Le Cellier reservation—sleep in!!

 

Let’s start looking at the counter service locations. There are many locations where you are never going to be able to get to that target of $17.30 to come out ahead. The chart below lists them out.

Dining Value Chart 1

The outright winners for best value were the two Wolfgang Puck Express locations (over $30 at West Side!), but I cannot guarantee they will honor the dining plan for these items, since they aren’t operated by Disney. The Pepper Market, Bongo’s Window, Sassagoula Food Court, Cosmic Ray’s, Fairfax Fare, Pecos Bills, Tangerine Café, Cookes of Dublin, & Katsura Grill can all top the $20 mark if priced right. There were only five locations that the average meal price will beat the DDP cost: the two Wolfgang Puck Express locations, Tangeriene Café, Bodies, and the Pepper Market are the highest average values. Sorry folks, but perennial favorite Earl of Sandwich is actually the bottom of the list as far as average value goes: under $12.

Table service restrains get a bit more complicated when you add in the DxDP. Tutto Italia tops the list for best potential value with $63.50 for an entrée, appetizer, and dessert. San Angel Inn is the best value if you are on the PDP. There are only seven non signature restaurants that cannot get to the minimum value to make your money back: Big River Grille, Trails End, The Plaza, Beaches & Cream, Tusker House, 50s Prime Time, and the ESPN Club. The vast majority of restaurants have an average cost under the $35.30 threshold. The below restaurants have an average cost that will give you a good value for dinner:

  • 1900 Park Fare
  • Chefs de France
  • Kouzzina
  • Cape May Café
  • Tutto Italia
  • Restaurant Marrakesh
  • Hollywood & Vine
  • Chef Mickey’s
  • Tokyo Dining
  • Garden Grill
  • Boma
  • Teppan Edo
  • Akershus
  • Liberty Tree Tavern
  • Coral Reef
  • Crystal Palace
  • San Angel Inn
  • ‘Ohana
  • Biergarten

Overall, the average maximum value you can receive for table service meals is $28.66 for breakfast, $37.35 for lunch, and $42.18 for dinner, so on average, ordering the most expensive items will get you your value. The overall average values are $28.38 for breakfast, $32.76 for lunch, and $39.01 for dinner. Dinner seems like a good use of the credit!

At counter service, the average values are $10.92 for breakfast, $17.49 for lunch and $17.81 for dinner. Both lunch and dinner will get you your value. The average maximum values you can get are $12.28 for breakfast, $20.67 for lunch, and $21.55 for dinner.

Let’s also just look at the average cost per item across all of property. Starting with the signature restaurant, the average lunch entrée costs $26.18 and dinner is $37.09. A signature lunch appetizer is $12.17, and at dinner it is $14. Desserts will run you $8.83 and $10.11 on average for lunch and dinner respectively. Remember, it will cost you two credits to get those. At standard restaurants, the lunch entrées are $17.96 and dinner is $20.26. The desserts are $7.58 for lunch and $7.02 for dinner. Lunch appetizers average $9.21 and dinner is $9.27. Note that prices for all-you-care-to-eat places, such as buffets, include only the entrée portion of those averages. Counter service entrees average $9.13 for both lunch and dinner and $3.61 for the dessert.

What’s the most you can spend in a day? Well, let’s say you have a Parkhopper and don’t want to eat at the same place twice. You can eat $57.85 on the QSDP, $77.85 on the PDP, and $162.74 on the DxDP.

Given all this, I guess I should answer the question—would I recommend the Disney Dining Plan? While there can be substantial savings, you still have to do some work to get them, so I cannot recommend it outright. However, I cannot completely dismiss it as a waste of money either, simply because you can get your value out of it if you know where to avoid.

I’ve included a link to my summary sheets for those who want more information and specific details—just remember that these numbers are not exact, should only be used as a general guide, and are subject to change at any time:

2013 Summaries

edited by Amy Yacullo

I don’t know about you, but there are times when planning a Disney vacation can be overwhelming! There are so many options, where to stay, when to go, is this the best price. So, I want to introduce you all to Cindy Minor and the team at Small World Big Fun. They will help you plan your Disney vacation for FREE. Contact them today!

About the author

Ron D'Anna

Traveling to the parks since before he can remember, Ron is a former WDW cast member and Universal Orlando Team Member. Ron is a cohost on WDWNT Nerd Alert and the host of WDWNT Drawn From The Vault. Reach him at [email protected] or @graceysbutler on Twitter.

10 Comments

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  • "The QSDP includes one snack credit and two table service credits per night of your stay."
    Bit of a typo there…

    Outside of that, value in the dining plan also(imo at least) comes from the fact that you know the money you put aside to spend at Disney isn't also the money you put aside to not starve for a week. It's a convenience, and to some it's value is negligible but it means I'm not crunching hard numbers every time I choose to look around in a store.

  • The qsdp plan includes one snack credit and two counter serve meals per day, not two table serve as the article mistakenly says. When our family was in wdw last year we had the dining plan and loved it. I don't know if it saved us any money but convenience of having it and not having to worry how much we were spending at each meal was more than worth it.

  • Hi Ron,

    I think there's a typo. (Unless of course you guys get some VERY special treatment ;-)

    Quote "The QSDP includes one snack credit and two table service credits per night of your stay."

    I think it should be;

    2 quick (counter)-service meals

    1 snack

    1 refillable Resort mug per person

    Great article though, love the statistical example that mentions over four years of dining just to work through the resort's entree list!

    • Good catch on the typo.
      I use a different method in determining if the DDP is worth the money. I think this method is more reflective of an individuals potential actual use of the DDP as it simply reflects how an individual would actually use the plan.
      Plan your visit with the restaurants you wish to visit. Check the menu with prices and add up the costs of your selected meals being sure to add in the extras that aren't covered by the plan. Then add up what you would spend and compare to the cost of the DDP. The value or lack of value becomes apparent. Using this method, it is very hard to justify the cost of the plan unless you go for the highest cost items at the highest cost restaurants and you may not want the menu item or want to visit the restaurant.
      Getting the plan free for full cost rooms vs taking a room discount during select seasons and paying for your meals is even easier. Just compare the savings from your room discount against the cost of the plan. Most of the time you would break even at best. For example, 30% discount for a $300 room is $90 vs a DDP value of $55.59.

      • Good comment Frank. You stated the point I was trying to make much more clearly than I did. It shouldn't be about could I possibly make this a good deal by strategically ordering the most expensive included items, but more about is it likely to be a good deal if I just eat what I want to.

  • Interesting article, I like the very analytic, quantified analysis. Am I understanding correctly that you premised your evaluation around basically answering the question "is it possible to get expensive enough food with DDP that it would have cost more to pay out-of-pocket?" If I understand the question correctly, you've clearly demonstrated that the answer is yes.

    I've always approached it from the slightly different premise that the relevant question is "am I likely to spend less on food with DDP or out-of-pocket?" To that question I think the answer is clearly that out-of-pocket is almost always cheaper and therefore, I'm dumbfounded about why so many people fall for DDP. Would I get my money's worth out of DDP if I go around all week making sure to order the most expensive items on every menu, go to the most expensive restaurants in a given category, order dessert whether or not I want it, etc? Yes I would, but why in the world would I want to do that? If I just order whatever I want wherever I want my actual spending is going to come in much closer to the average prices of entrees, snacks etc, which is a much lower number than the "maximums" you used in your calculations. It doesn't work out anywhere close to a good deal to buy DDP.

    • I originally approached it more from an angle of "I am going to get the dining plan, where can i get the most for my money?" not necessarily whether it is a good value on its own. I did include averages in the analysis as well, and certain restaurants did seem to still be a good value and are listed above. Of couse most of those areall-you-care-to-eat places which did not have a lower price option to skew the average entree lower.

  • With lots of movement in the theme park tickets, parking etc, it seems almost inevitable that DDP package costs will probably increase this year, perhaps deepening the rift between the DDP being worth it unless it's taken out as part of a well discounted incentive.
    Now that there's a lot more substance heading to the Universal Studios theme park, loyal Disney guests may hold back on the DDP as they explore further afield for the first time?

    As the theme parks battle it out, it's good in one sense, because there's a lot more choice, but it's becoming increasingly difficult for Orlando tourists to decide which options and upgrades to take, which parks to visit and where to stay!

  • Years ago, we tried the DDP for free and thought it was a good value to purchase on future trips. After purchasing the dining plan for several trips after, we realized that we were not getting the value we thought we were getting. With the changes made over a year ago, eliminating certain menu items, turning some restaurants into signature restaurants, removing the appetizer from the PDP, etc. the dining plan actually turns out to be more expensive than purchasing your own food. We went to Disney in Feb. this year and decided not to purchase the DP. I saved all my food receipts, added them up and compared them to what the dining pan would have cost my family. I saved $420 for the week!

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