When planning a Disney World vacation, many people are surprised at the sheer number of dining choices that are available. Approximately 70 full-service restaurants (and countless quick-service eateries) operate within the Walt Disney World Resort. These establishments serve a wide range of cuisine, from family-friendly character buffets to gourmet dining experiences. To secure a table at the most popular sit-down eateries at the most desirable times, you must make Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) 180 days before your trip. Before you do this, it’s a good idea to decide if you are going to pay out-of-pocket for your meals while on vacation or if you are going to add a pre-paid dining plan to your hotel reservation. Disney World offers several dining plan options, from the Quick-Service Dining Plan (which includes two quick-service meals and one snack per person per night) to the Platinum Dining Plan (which includes three quick-service or sit-down meals and two snacks per person per night, as well as unlimited access to Child Care centers, Cirque du Soleil tickets, and other recreational activities).
The most popular dining package at Disney World, however, is the Standard Disney Dining Plan. This plan includes one quick-service (fast food) meal, one table-service (sit-down) meal, and one snack per person per night of your vacation. During the 2013 Value and Regular Seasons, this plan costs $55.59 per person per night for adults (ages 10+) and $17.16 per person per night for children (ages 3-9). During the 2013 Peak Season, the plan costs about $1 more per person per night.
So, is the dining plan a good value? The answer depends on several factors. First, if you have small children in your party and you plan to reserve a character meal (or two) on your trip, the dining plan definitely makes financial sense. Second, if you value convenience and you like to have every aspect of your trip pre-planned and pre-paid, the dining plan is the right choice for you. Third, if you have big eaters in your party, the dining plan is probably the best option (the meals come with a TON of food). On the other hand, if you plan to eat many meals offsite or you are a light eater, you will almost certainly save money by NOT purchasing the dining plan.
My personal preference is to add the Standard Disney Dining Plan to my hotel reservation. I like not having to think about how much a meal is going to cost or if we can afford a particular snack: everything is already paid for, so there are no surprises. Furthermore, since our kids are still small, we usually enjoy at least two character meals (which can be quite expensive) on a typical five-day Disney vacation, so we actually save money by purchasing the dining plan.
What about you? Do you purchase a dining plan when you visit Disney World? Why or why not? Dining plans aside, what is your favorite restaurant at Disney World?
As a brief aside, I’d like to take this opportunity to clear up a common myth about travel professionals that I’ve been hearing quite a bit lately. Many people hesitate to consult a travel agent when they are planning a vacation because they think that they will have to pay him or her for their services. In actuality, most travel services are completely free to the client (we get paid commission by our suppliers, NOT our clients). From research to booking to follow-up, a travel agent will use his or her expertise and knowledge to find you the best deal at (usually) no cost to you.
Ginger's Getways: http://www.mm-gingersgetaways.com
Drinking The Kool-aid: A Mom's Guide to Disney World: http://drinkingkool-aid.blogspot.com/