One of the best ways to have a truly affordable Disney vacation is to plan your meals economically. For many folks, one of the Disney Dining Plans is the single best way to manage their food budget, and spend the least on food as well. But to make a decision about whether the Dining Plan is right for your family, you will need to understand how the programs work, and see if any will be a cost-saver for you.
There is a Dining Plan for every Disney vacation budget
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. (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.
How can the Dining Plan help you 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. Since we tend to eat at table service restaurants every evening, for our family of 3, that 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? It may be, 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 want to do some research and then do the math. 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.
Ways the Dining Plan saves us money on our Disney vacations
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 we 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” ), and we save money on our Disney vacation in the process.
Other things to know about the Disney Dining Plan
- Disney has offered for the past few years, a package promotion in late summer/early fall that includes one of the Disney Dining Plans for FREE. Yes, that is correct, 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 since Disney has offered this the past several years now, it is reasonable to think that this may become a yearly event.
- 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, if you are planning to get the Basic Plan and so will have table service meals, you absolutely must 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. This is extremely important: when it comes to Disney table service restaurants during high-traffic seasons, the early bird definitely gets the worm.
Affordable Disney vacations become very possible when you can save money on your food expenses. The Disney Dining Plan is a great way to do just that.