Restaurant Reviews

Reexamining the Disney Dining Plan’s Value

The Disney Dining Plan is always a hot topic when it comes to planning a trip to Walt Disney World.  We’ve discussed the dining plan on this blog a few times through the years but with prices ebbing and flowing at Disney World it’s time to revisit the value of the dining plan for 2019 and beyond.

In a surprising move, Disney has opted not to raise prices on the Disney Dining Plan in 2019.  The cost will remain at $75.49 per adult ($27.98/kid) for each night of the trip.  That is for the standard dining plan.  While the other plans didn’t go up either, we don’t recommend the Quick Service Dining Plan and the Deluxe Dining Plan is a good value but probably way too much food for a long trip.  For this post, we’ll stick to the standard dining plan.

Meanwhile, prices on menus throughout Disney World did go up.  Some snacks went up by nearly a 50% price increase, while most entrees also went up by a couple of dollars throughout the parks and resorts.  Recently, we considered the dining plan vs. paying out-of-pocket debate to be nearly a wash in terms of value.  Now, that seems up in the air and worth further investigation.

Beef saulti canteen Pandora AK

While the initial cost of the dining plan is somewhat unsettling in terms of money, what you get for that money is appealing to the stomach.  Each Regular Dining Plan comes with:

  • 1 Table-Service Meal
  • 1 Quick-Service Meal
  • 2 Snacks
  • 1 Refillable Mug

Each meal includes a soft drink, a specialty non-alcoholic beverage (when applicable) or an alcoholic beverage, although that can be a limited selection.  The Table-Service Meal also includes a dessert along with it.  As far as snacks go, a snack credit will generally cover any single serving item that is less than $7.  That’s not always the case but is a rough estimate.  The refillable mug is useful to those who like to drink soda and/or tea in the morning.  These mugs can only be refilled at the Disney resorts so you may not get much use out of it during the day.

Now that we’re through the details, let’s break the cost down a little bit.  The decision on whether the dining plan is right for you typically comes down to your park habits.  If you don’t like sit down meals then, most assuredly, the dining plan isn’t for you.  If you are a first time guest that doesn’t necessarily know what your park habits are, we do recommend at least a few Table Service meals during the trip.  While we typically do one per day or so, that’s not a hard and fast rule.  There are some excellent restaurants throughout Disney World to try.  Plus, it’s nice to sit back and relax for a while.  Do what’s right for you.

Lobster again narcoossees

Assuming that you’re not opposed to Table-Service meals, let’s take a look at the price.  As we’ve mostly admitted, a Table-Service restaurant every day might not be for everyone.  Putting that aside, on average these meals will cost anywhere from $35 to $55.  There are some outliers but most fall within that range once you factor in dessert and a drink.  Here are some specific examples:

  • Magic Kingdom’s Jungle Navigation Co. LTD Skipper Canteen:
    • Entrée: Lamb Chops – $28
    • Dessert: Kungaloosh – $8
    • Drink: Sangria – $10 or Schweitzer Slush – $6.50
    • Total Before Tax – $46 w/ alcoholic beverage or $42.50 w/o alcoholic beverage
  • Epcot’s Rose & Crown Dining Room:
    • Entrée: Shepherd’s Pie – $22
    • Dessert: Sticky Toffee Pudding -$8
    • Drink: Imperial Pint – $9.75 or Soft Drink – $4
    • Total Before Tax – $39.75 w/ alcoholic beverage or $34 w/o alcoholic beverage
  • Hollywood Studios 50’s Prime Time Cafe:
    • Entrée: Fried Chicken – $24
    • Dessert: Chocolate Peanut Butter Layered Cake – $8
    • Drink: Grandma’s Picnic Punch – $13.50 or PB&J Milkshake – $9
    • Total Before Tax – $45.50 w/ alcoholic beverage or $41 w/o alcoholic beverage
  • Animal Kingdom’s Yak & Yeti:
    • Entrée: Lo Mein Combo – $21
    • Dessert: Mango Pie – $9
    • Drink: Yak Attack – $11 or Shanghai Lemonade – $5
    • Total Before Tax – $41 w/ alcoholic beverage or $36 w/o alcoholic beverage
  • Disney Springs – Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’
    • Entrée: Capitol Meatloaf – $26
    • Dessert: Chocolate Cake – $10
    • Drink: Blueberry Bliss – $12 or Soft Drink – $4
    • Total Before Tax – $48 w/ alcoholic beverage or $40 w/o alcoholic beverage
  • Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Sanaa
    • Entrée: Tandoori Shrimp – $19
    • Dessert: African Triple Chocolate Mousse – $8
    • Drink: Malawi Mango Margarita -$12 or Berry Smoothie – $6
    • Total Before Tax – $39 w/ alcoholic beverage or $33 w/o alcoholic beverage

There’s a sample of restaurants, one from each park, one from Disney Springs and one from a resort.  I only chose 1-credit restaurants for this sample.  Also, I focused on restaurants that get decent reviews where I know the food is moderately priced relative to the rest of Walt Disney World.  I picked the median entrée and dessert in terms of price at each restaurant and then picked the most expensive (usually) alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink.  This all left us with an average of $43.20 per meal with an alcoholic drink and 37.75 per meal without an alcoholic drink.

Chefs de France beef

Obviously there are problems with this “study”.  First, if you are paying out-of-pocket instead of with the dining plan then chances are that you won’t get an entrée, dessert, and drink with every meal.  I stuck with this though because sometimes guests may get more or may get less.  Sticking with the median prices and cheaper restaurants also would help offset not ordering an entrée, dessert and drink every meal.  Obviously, leaving out taxes is fairly significant.  They don’t pay me enough to factor in that math though 😉

Fallacies in the examples aside, what this leaves us with is roughly $30 left if you partake in alcohol and $35 left if you don’t.  I did factor in a little tax after all!  $30 for a counter-service meal, 2 snacks and the refillable mug is not bad.  The two snacks should be at least $10 and that’s on the cautious side.  A counter-service meal costing $20 is fairly typical.  While there are cheaper deals to be had, surpassing a $20 average on counter-service is easy to do, especially when ordering alcohol.  A quick look at my favorite counter-service entrees shows a $17 average before adding a drink.  We won’t factor in the refillable mug here as the value varies.

Flame Tree chicken AK

What all this goes to show is that the dining plan will almost always balance out if you are planning to eat that same amount of food.  If you don’t want to have a table-service meal every day then the dining plan likely isn’t for you.  But, assuming that you do then the plan will should pay for itself.  There are a few exceptions.  If you aren’t a big dessert person and mainly stick to water then bypassing the dining plan is probably a good move.  Likewise, if you are a vegetarian then I would definitely pay out-of-pocket.  On the flip side, if you enjoy a cocktail or beer then the dining plan will be a good value.  Also, if you like steak and seafood then the dining plan will almost assuredly be a good value.  Take our sample meals from above and add about $8 per entrée for the steak.

All in all, the Disney Dining Plan is currently at the best value it has been in years.  While I don’t expect that to last after 2019, now would be a good time to jump on the offer if you enjoy table-service meals.

BOG clams

Update: May 2019

Over the past few months, Melissa and I have done the dining plan several times. We’ve easily surpassed the $75/night price in terms of value each time. Melissa usually sticks to non-alcoholic drinks and comes in much closer to $75 a day while I’m closer to $100 per day. When first writing in this post, I may not have factored in how significant an alcoholic drink at a counter-service restaurant was. Instead of a soda for just under $4, upgrading to a cocktail or a different drink generates an extra 5-10 dollars a day. Factor this in with finding good values (for the Disney Dining Plan) at counter-service restaurants and some of these meals can be over $30.

The key here is to find counter-service restaurants that have expensive entrees. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective), that isn’t a hard feat to accomplish. We’ll get to a blog post on the subject in the future but a few of our favorite more expensive counter-service restaurants include Polite Pig (Disney Springs), Flame Tree Barbecue (Animal Kingdom), Tangierine Cafe (Epcot), and Be Our Guest Restaurant (Magic Kingdom).

Essentially, we’ve proven our hypothesis right that the alcohol included in the Dining Plan (plus Disney not raising the price) has made this a decent value. The downside, and one I’ve tried to articulate, is that there’s a ton of food. If you don’t have a large appetite then there’s a pretty strong chance that you’ll be ordering way more food than you would otherwise. If you have an extra day to finish off whatever extra credits you have (say the last night of your stay is Wednesday but you’ll spend some time in the parks Thursday) then the Disney Dining Plan is far more enjoyable plus you’ll get a decent value. As we suspected, whether or not you have a big appetite and like alcohol are the big factors to consider on whether you should get the Dining Plan or not.

What are your thoughts on the Disney Dining Plan?  Let us know your thoughts and any questions you have in the comments.  For a broader look at Disney World, check out our Disney World Travel Guide.  We hope you enjoy what you are reading here on Wandering in Disney.  You can subscribe to the blog via WordPress or email on the right side of this page.  Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!

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