I get many questions from people who are thinking about visiting Walt Disney World and want Disney World vacation tips and suggestions. Disney vacation planning can be very involved and confusing as well, so the goal of this series is to start at the beginning, and look at everything you need to think about, in the general order you need to think about it. Each week’s post will be numbered and link to all the others so that, when complete, you will have a guide with all the steps and information you need to plan your own Disney magic.
Now that we have covered some of the major and most expensive portions of your trip…lodging and transportation…let’s talk about food.
One of the best ways to help have a truly affordable Disney vacation is to plan your meals economically. This post will discuss one of the most popular ways to get the most out of your food budget: using the Disney Dining Plan.
On the Disney Dining Plan (DDP), if you have reserved a Disney package, you can have the option of pre-paying for most, if not all of your meals, by choosing one of several plans. (Please note that having a Disney package is a requirement, unless you have Annual Passes or are Disney Vacation Club members.)
With the Quick Service Dining Plan, you get two quick service meals and two snacks per person, per day, and one resort refillable mug per person, per package. With the basic Dining Plan, you will have one table service, one quick service, and one snack per person, per day. And finally, there is the Deluxe Dining Plan, offering 3 table or quick service meals and two snacks per person, per day, plus a refillable mug for each person per package.
So basically, there is a Plan for whatever your budget is. 🙂
Since we enjoy a table service meal each night, our family has purchased the basic Dining Plan on each of our last several trips and it is a huge saving for us. We use the counter service meal (entrée, drink, and dessert) for lunch, the table service meal (entrée, drink, dessert) for dinner, and we use the snack credits for either breakfast…or eat light in our room. For us, it is usually way more food than we can usually eat, and so often get our dessert at dinner “to go” since we are so full. Other times we choose fruit and/or muffins for our lunch or dinner desserts and use these for snacks later or breakfast. We have experimented with the plan a number of different ways, and no matter how we do it, we eat very well, have food left over to bring home (snack credits purchase great edible “souvenirs” J), and we save money.
How then does the Dining Plan help us have an affordable Disney vacation?
Currently, the basic plan costs from $41.99 to $46.99 (depending on the time of year) per adult/per day, which for our family of 3 is usually less than we would have spent out of pocket just for dinner itself. So clearly, it is a huge cost-saver for us.
Will it be for your family? Possibly, depending on your family size, eating habits, time of year etc. In other words, like most other things related to planning an affordable Disney vacation, you’ll need to do the research and then do the math. J Compare all levels of the Dining Plan: if you have small children, you may find the Quick Service Plan to be more suited to your family’s needs than the basic or Deluxe Plan.
Related to the Dining Plan, there are a few additional things you should know:
- Disney has offered for the past few years, a package promotion in late summer/early fall that includes the Disney Dining Plan for FREE. Yup, you have that right: FREE FOOD. This is seriously a huge cost-saver, and if your schedule allows traveling at that time of year, you should really consider it. Now there are no guarantees, but in the current economic climate, and since Disney has offered this the past several years now, it is reasonable to think that they MAY offer it again this year. Stay tuned.
- While you don’t have to pay for the Dining Plan when you reserve your package, and so technically it is not something you need to decide early in the planning process…..this is so important…..IF you are planning to get the Basic Plan and so have table service meals…you absolutely need to think about what restaurants you will want to eat in, and make your reservations (Advanced Dining Reservations) well in advance. Disney currently starts accepting ADRs 6 months in advance, and if you are visiting during any of the busy seasons…or during Free Dining…if you don’t reserve well in advance, you risk not eating where you want. I just can’t stress this part enough…when it comes to Disney table service restaurants during high-traffic seasons, the early bird definitely gets the worm.
So your action plan for this week for planning an affordable Disney vacation: look at the Disney Dining Plan and see if it can save you money!