Tuesday Disney Tip: The REAL Cost of Free Dining

Here is our party of 10 enjoying free Thanksgiving dinner!

When Disney’s Free Dining offer came out last week, I couldn’t wait to book the special.  This will be the third year my family will be enjoying the free dining plan. If you have decided that free dining is the best deal for you as well, take note of these budgeting tips.

My daddy always said, “nothing is free.” Although it is hard to believe, the free dining plan is just that. The first time we took advantage of this program, I was very skeptical about what the meals would entail. Would we have to choose between two entrees, neither of which we liked? Would we get the entrée free, but have to pay for the sides? The answer is no! On the free dining plan, you will receive wonderful menu items with sides, desserts and drinks – and all for free.If you have chosen to stay at a value resort then you will be enjoying the Quick Service Dining Plan. If you intend to eat only at the quick service restaurants and only get the snacks allowed on the plan as well, then you will not need to budget a cent for any meal expenses whatsoever.  If you will be staying at a moderate, deluxe or deluxe villa resort, then you will have the Regular Disney Dining Plan or higher, however, you will need to budget gratuities into your spending allowance.

Although you will receive all the food and drinks at your table service meals for free, you are expected to pay gratuities at these restaurants.  Whether the restaurant is an all-you-can-eat buffet, such as the Tusker House breakfast at the Animal Kingdom, or a menu table service restaurant such as Le Cellier in Canada at Epcot, your wait staff should be tipped. You will need to allow for this expense in your budget so I am going to give two quick examples of the amounts you would need to budget for table service dining. These are actual figures charged for my family of five this past November.

The first example is for an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast at Tusker House in the Animal Kingdom. At Donald’s Safari Breakfast at Tusker House (yes, this is also a character breakfast), we enjoyed an all-you-can-eat buffet loaded with delicious breakfast food choices, pots of coffee and a delicious house fruit juice. The charge for our family of 5 adults, if we had not been on the free dining plan, would have been $143.73. Our server, JW, did a fantastic job taking care of us and so we tipped him $25.87 (18%).

Let’s take a closer look at what this all-you-can-eat buffet meal consisted of: a waffle station, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, breakfast potatoes, French toast, yam casserole, cereal, biscuits & gravy, veggie frittata, ham & cheese frittata, cheese blintzes, beef Bobotie quiche, Dino hash, carved rotisserie honey ham, oatmeal, cinnamon rolls, croissants, muffins, bagels, assorted breads, turnovers, assorted cream cheeses, jams, jellies and fruit chutneys, yogurt station, fresh fruit, assorted freshly-made donuts and sweet breads, pancakes with assorted toppings, and danish. Plus all the coffee, tea, juice, milk, chocolate milk and soda we wanted.

All the food is delicious at Tusker House and we ate until we were quite full. Remember, we paid only $25.87 for all of this.

The second example is a menu-item dinner at Le Cellier in Canada at Epcot. At Le Cellier, we each ordered steak entrees with accompanying side, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage. The meal would have cost us $236.00. Matt was a great guy and was extremely attentive to our every need so we left him a tip of 20%, or $47.20.

Let’s take a closer look at what we ordered:

Entrees: two New York Strip steaks topped with Bercy butter and served with gryuere yukon gold potato gratin; two Coffee-rubbed Kansas City Strip steaks with hazelnut butter, served with cream cheese mashed potatoes; and one Le Cellier Mushroom Filet Mignon, served with wild mushroom risotto and white truffle-herb butter sauce.  For dessert: three Maple Creme Brulees and two Chocolate on Chocolate Whiskey Cakes finished with honey-thyme anglaise and a chocolate vanilla walnut sauce. Our drinks consisted of two iced teas and three sodas.

Please keep in mind that this is some of the most delicious food Disney has to offer by extraordinary chefs. To reiterate, we paid $47.20.

As you can see, then, the amount you must budget for your meal expense on the Regular Dining Plan during Free Dining is almost laughable considering all that you receive. Still, you do need to budget for the gratuities so you don’t end up short. Over our 10 days and 9 nights at Disney World, for a family of 5 adults, we paid a TOTAL of $248.87 for all of our delicious meals combined. Considering that we began with 45 table service credits, 45 quick service credits, and 45 snack credits and, thus, ate 90 full meals and 45 snack meals during our trip, $248.87 is quite a great deal.

Even as I am typing this, reality is hitting me and I am thinking ‘my goodness, we ate a ridiculous amount of food for $248.87.’ I have only covered two table service meals out of the 9 we consumed; or 10 meal credits out of the 90 we enjoyed during our trip.  The best thing is that these meals are not paper bag meals these are some of the best choices prepared by the best chefs at Disney World and it is an awesome deal.

I hope you will find this information helpful when trying to decide whether or not free dining is for you. It is definitely a blessing for my family. If you have any questions about free dining, feel free to post them and we will be glad to help you! Happy planning!

Want help planning your Disney vacation? Find out how the FREE services of a Disney World travel agent can make it all simple…and save you time and money too!

Brenda is a native Texan born and raised on the Gulf Coast. She visited Disney World twice as a teenager and always dreamed of growing her family Disney. She took her first-timer husband and their three children to Disney World in 2000 and they now spend every Thanksgiving there. Brenda writes with a comedic twist on various Disney topics. She will be sharing tips she has learned during her travels and also hopes to enlighten people on little-known freebies that Disney has to offer. She wishes she could have met Walt Disney and considers herself to be a student of Walt. In parallel to his dream it is her wish that everyone would take at least one trip to Disney World in order to share in its magic with their families.

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