The Disney meal plan is one of the “perks” of staying at the Disney resorts. But it may not appeal to everyone. And it is a little confusing, so bear with me as I outline the highlights as I understand it.
On my last Disney vacation I purchased the Disney Magic Your Way package plus Dining.
It was kind of a spur of the moment decision since I really didn’t know much about the Magic Your Way dining plan before I bought it.
I was on the phone booking my vacation with Disney reservations and they asked me if I wanted to add the Walt Disney World Dining Plan to my reservation. Based on their brief description, and on the fact that I was traveling with two of my young children - I said ok.
This turned out to be a good choice for me.
What does the Disney meal plan include?
In simplified terms the Disney World dining plan includes the following for each night of your stay - (all details should be confirmed with Disney reservations):
one table service meal
one counter service meal, and
Since I was staying at the Disney resorts for three nights and four days - this meant that I received three sit down meals, three counter service meals, and three snacks that I could use during the four days of my stay.
It sounds easy enough, but all the rules and regulations are what stirs things up.
Apparently only guests staying at the Disney resorts are eligible for this perk - and this means the properties that are owned by Disney. Also, everyone staying in one room must purchase this plan, otherwise no one in that party can buy it. One final point is that I think that this add on must be purchased at the time of booking the rest of the package - including rooms and tickets. If everything is purchased separately then I believe that the Disney dining feature is not an option. Of course, a quick call to the folks at the Walt Disney Travel Company prior to booking anything is a must to find out the latest rates and rules.
For me, this meant that I had to buy the Disney dining plan for myself and my two children or not at all.
I felt that the cost of the plan was reasonable. At the time of our Orlando vacation, I believe the price was $39 per adult per night, and $11 per child per night (check current prices at the official Disney website or at disney.com. I figured I would probably spend at least that much on food without the plan.
Disney Character Dining
Table service under the Disney meal plan includes Disney character dining - a big plus if you are booking Disney family vacations. The downside is that meals need to be planned well in advance of the trip because you need advance reservations.
I happen to like following an itinerary. I sat down and planned out what parks we would visit each day and chose the restaurants we wanted to dine at. The kids loved having a character meal each day.
My Disney Meal Plan Experience
On the day of our arrival we had one snack and an early table service dinner followed by a second snack for a late night dessert.
On the second day, we used our third snack for a light breakfast, with a table service lunch, and a counter service dinner.
On the third day I paid for our breakfast out of pocket, and we had a counter service lunch and a counter service dinner.
And finally, on the day of our departure - the fourth day, we enjoyed our last table service meal as a Disney character breakfast at Chef Mickeys in our hotel.
The Benefits of the Disney Meal Plan
Convenience - pay once up front.
Ample Portions - I found the portions for table service (many restaurants offer a buffet) and counter service to be large enough for all of our appetites.
Structure - Planning the meals first can provide an outline on how to structure the parts of Disney vacations.
Cost - Overall, I think the cost was reasonable. And since the portions were generous, we did not feel the need to snack as much - and spend more money - in between meals.
Common Complaints about the Disney Dining Plan
Too Much Structure - Some people enjoy spontaneity, and it is hard to be spontaneous about which park to visit if you are tied to dining reservations.
Lack of Choices for Kids - If the restaurant or counter service restaurant offers a childrens menu, then the kids are required to order a childrens meal under the plan. Sometimes the choices are very limited - read “lots of chicken fingers and fries”. My kids happen to like chicken fingers and fries - a lot. But even they got tired of this fare once in a while. So, on those occasions I would either let them order of the regular menu and I would eat their chicken fingers for that one meal or we would share with each other for a little variety.
Too Much Food - Those table service buffets can be filling. And if I look at it only as being about the food then maybe it is too much food. But I consider the table service meals to be more about the Disney characters and about taking a much needed break - especially when your feet ache so badly that you feel you can’t possibly take another step.
So, I guess the disney meal plan was right for me, but everyone must make their own choices. A Disney reservationist can provide a wealth of information if asked the right questions. I always make a list before I call so I can make an informed decision.