I remember when I first heard about the Disney Dining Plan. It seemed shiny and new (because it was), but my kids were little and as a single mom I was laser focused on being able to visit Disney World yearly in the least expensive way possible. At that time, we stayed exclusively in Value resorts, I took snacks in our suitcases to have in our room, and there were no mini fridges in the room (unless you requested and paid for one, which I actually didn’t figure out until later). I based my food budget on how much I knew my kids would eat and stuck to that. Adding the dining plan at that time was more than my food budget so I didn’t bother with it.
The first time that I saw a Free Dining Plan offer from Walt Disney World, I got super excited! Of course, to get the dining plan for “free,” you couldn’t use a room discount like I very regularly did, so I had to sit down and figure out if it would be worth it and if it would fit in my budget for that trip. Since I’m a Disney World
hoarder collector, I still had my food receipts from the year before, so I did some calculations and research to figure out how much paying rack rate for our room was going to be in order to get the Quick Service Dining Plan for free compared to if I used the room discount and paid for our meals out of pocket.
It turned out that the free dining deal would be slightly less for us that year than the room discount plus my food budget, so we made a reservation that included the free Quick Service plan (2 quick service meals plus drink per person per night’s stay, 2 snacks per person per night’s stay, and a refillable resort mug for each person). It ended up being really easy to use and actually more food than I expected. We had snack credits left at the end of our trip so we used them and took some snacks home because of that plan! Another year, when my sister and her family went with us, we were able to get the free dining plan again. It worked out very well and saved us money for that trip too.
But then I never got the dining plan again, free or otherwise. If there was no free dining offer, the plan just didn’t make sense for my trips because my kids were becoming increasingly picky and even though we were only getting quick service meals in the parks or at our resort, they often only wanted french fries or wouldn’t eat enough for me to justify paying for the plan knowing they wouldn’t each eat 2 full quick service style meals a day. Once I was able to order a grocery delivery to our room and then later when Disney put mini fridges in the value rooms, it worked out better to get things for our room that they preferred and I would use the microwave and toasters in the food court to make them stuff they usually ate and get other food from the food court or quick service places as needed.
Oh wait, I just remembered that in 2017, one of my best friends and I went for the runDisney Princess Half Marathon and she bought the regular Dining Plan for that trip. We ate primarily at table service restaurants so that worked out really well and was less expensive than if we had eaten at all of those places without the plan.
By now, with the eating habits of my family, combined with my preference of staying in a villa that either has a kitchenette or a full kitchen, it would only make sense for me to buy the dining plan if for some reason I planned to eat at more table service restaurants and it would be less expensive to buy the dining plan. I even looked into getting the Tables in Wonderland card to get 20% off at participating locations, but based on how my kids and I eat at the parks and resort, the cost of the card ($150 for Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club members, and $175 for Florida residents) would likely be more or basically the same as the amount I would save.
For some people, it makes perfect sense to buy the dining plan or use the free dining offer, but for me, it’s not the best use of my food budget. I’ll continue to look at what will work best for me, but I don’t think I’ll be using the Disney Dining Plan anytime soon. °O°