Monday, April 18, 2016

why I love the disney dining plan

I had a discussion with a friend this weekend about the Disney Dining Plan. I tried to convince her of its merit and that it is not as much about the money we save as the convenience of having an all-inclusive trip planned. 

1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian

I believe the Disney Dining Plan allows us to have a different experience at Disney than those without it (unless those people have unlimited funds but who does, right?). With the dining plan, we schedule a lovely sit down meal every evening and many of those include character interaction. 

Caroline and Prince Charming - 1900 Park Fare

The meals are at a different resort each night and I build time into our schedule to relax in the lobby of a resort that I wouldn't see without a dining reservation there.

Lobby of The Grand Floridian

During our time at the parks, we rarely stand in line for an autograph because we know we will see almost all of the princesses (more than once) and the entire Mickey Mouse gang. You could schedule your dining in such a way that you also see Stitch, Winnie the Pooh and more. I hate standing in line for an autograph, I want to ride rides or shop or see a show. Also, with a long line of people behind you, the character experience is very quick. At dinner, the characters come over and talk to you and interact with you and your child and make you all feel very special.

Chef Mickey's at The Contemporary

There's just nothing like it. The food is great and I always book the earliest dinner reservation available (often 4:55 pm) so the characters are fresh and so is the food!

Some of our favorite moments of all our Disney trips have been at these dinners. We sit and enjoy dinner and relax and we never feel rushed.

O'Hana at The Polynesian (our table overlooked Cinderella's Castle at Magic Kingdom)

The characters and at the non-character meal, the servers, have always been extra nice to us probably because we're so happy to be there and we never complain. 

Akershus in Epcot's World Showcase (Norway) even includes a free photo package with a 5x7, 4x6's and wallets! It's always with Belle in her yellow dress.

This is a photo of the photo thus the poor quality.

So you may be thinking, "Well DO you save money on the dining plan?" 

The answer is YES! I do. I always do. I know that for sure.

We leave in 12 days so I have every meal scheduled and know where we will be eating every day. Here's the cost breakdown (from an online Disney Dining calculator) but keep in mind, this is an average cost. I just actually ordered our food online (today) at Be Our Guest and it came to $70.52 vs. the $51.95 you see here. So this is a very low approximation.

This is the average cost projection for our meals (for three people):

5/1 - Pop Century Food Court - $46.42
5/2 - Sunshine Seasons at Epcot - $49.97
5/2 - Biergarten at Epcot - $143.23
5/3 - Be Our Guest at Magic Kingdom - $51.95 (actual cost $70.52)
5/3 - 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian - $158.31
5/4 - Pop Century Food Court - $46.20
5/4 - O'Hana at The Polynesian - $150.77
5/5 - Columbia Harbor House at Magic Kingdom - $42.37
5/5 - Chef Mickey's at The Contemporary - $177.18
5/6 - Sci Fi Theater Restaurant at Hollywood Studios - $81.50
5/6 - Captain Cook's at The Polynesian (self-serve Dole Whip!) - $39.87
5/7 - Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge - $86.69

With every meal, you get an entree, drink AND dessert. We do not eat dessert sometimes at lunch so we ask for carrots or grapes and put those in our bag for later. You also get a snack so the cost of the dining plan includes a snack for each of us each day. That is not reflected in the cost above. Those snacks can be as much as $6 each snack so that's about an additional $100 we would spend just on snacks if we were to purchase them ourselves.

So with the calculator, the cost for the plan (one quick service, one table service, one snack plan) is $1,267.63 and if I paid out of pocket, according to the calculator, the cost is $1,074.46. It says I am spending $193.17 more with the plan but here's why I know for sure that is wrong. 

First of all, I've figured it up exactly what we spent on each trip and we always come out ahead with snacks and every meal and I will do that again and do a follow up blog post.

Secondly, as I showed you above, just the cost of Be Our Guest was off by $20. I know that in some of the restaurants we eat at on the plan, I order the most expensive meal and some people order a low priced meal. If I were paying out of pocket, I would order the lowest priced meal so you can't really calculate the cost by using an average. You have to know how you eat and what you order. 

Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom

But here's the truth of it. Even if I thought I was spending almost $200 more for the plan (I'm not): it would be worth it. One reason is: I pay for it up front which means our entire trip is all-inclusive. (If you've ever been on a cruise, you'll understand the beauty of that.) So all of our dining and snacks for the entire day is paid for up front. I do take tip money but other than that, I walk in with a gift card in my pocket for souvenirs and the entire trip is paid for. I don't have to consider how much something will cost. I just sit down and order like a princess. Now when does that ever happen in real life? (Then an actual princess comes over to talk to me while I'm eating.)

You might say, "Well my kids just don't eat enough to pay for that, we split meals." I understand that. This is for kids who are healthy eaters or above 12 and/or adults. I have to think about the cost of every meal, every day because we eat out every day and it adds up quick! So at Disney, I don't want to think about "what will this cost me?" because let's face it, I'm probably NOT going to be okay with the Chef Mickey buffet costing $177 for three people. Are you kidding me? What are we 

So this brings me to another plus on the side of the dining plan. Because you're not worried about the cost when your bill comes, you just eat and enjoy. You're not physically laying out $177 for three buffets. That would smart!!! Ouch!!! I can't do it!!! So I eat. I enjoy. Mickey comes over to see me. I walk out happy. It's less stress, especially if you're a penny pincher. (I am not but I'm not wealthy either.)

This is my favorite dessert at 1900 Park Fare (at any Disney restaurant, actually). I love every bite but would I love it knowing I had to get out $158 and pay for it? No. I don't think I could enjoy it. I just love my money more than that. ha!

I just figure if I'm going to Disney anyway and I stay in the value resort (Pop Century, adorable, clean, magical) then I may as well splurge a little on dining. It's TOTALLY WORTH IT! Trust me, you'll have something to look forward to every evening. A respite during an overly scheduled, busy, fight the crowds vacation. You'll be treated well and feel like royalty. The food is delish and the characters amazing. You'll have more time to ride rides and you'll pass the suckers in the line for Cinderella and think, "Ha! Saw her twice already at dinner." 

Most of all....your kids will love it. You will love it. I just can't say it enough. Disney is a different experience with the dining plan and character meals and time built in to rest before and after.

So here's the dining plan calculator but trust me when I say, this is a lowball figure you're getting... Disney Dining Plan Calculator. I'm going to try a couple different ones and I'm going to calculate every dime we spend and prove to you I am right but I will end this as I started it, it's not about the money - it's about the experience!

12 days and counting!


Unknown said...

All the times (except one) we have stayed on site and had dining. It was perfect for our family. When our son was little the dining plan was cheaper (kids rate) and then when he was older and still a bit picky they would just bring us extra chicken strips (if it was a sit down). We loved character dining too, my son has autism and the characters coming to tables were much better than the lines at the park!

Unknown said...

They use to offer the meal plan for free as a special in the fall. I don't know if they offer that anymore.

Unknown said...

Very good points! I'm going to play with that dining calculator!

Margie said...

I'm with you...I have a trip planned for october, and I want the dining plan-even if I have to pay for it! We did it once without the dining plan, and it was fine, and we ate WAY cheaper than we would have gotten the dining plan for, but we ate quick serve/ alot of pizza/ and I stressed about the money the whole time. I also love that you can just pay a bit at a time on MDE, and I am steadily chunking away at my balance. Now, if I can get the free dining that will take a big chunk off of my total! LOL! 6 Disney adults=expensive. It's ok, I basically just work for my Disney vacations anyway ;-). But I can't wait to try the dining plan-I have a bunch of character meals booked already!

Barbara Eads said...

Hey Tracie,
I love you but have to disagree with you here!! We consider our family to be Disney officianados---we've got it down! We know how to do Disney. We've done the dinging plan---twice. We decided after the first time it was not for us. We did it the second time because we were lured again by the money savings. But when it comes right down to it---we do not like to have our schedule revolve around dining reservations. Plus, it is sooooo much food! We can never eat all of our meals and snacks. Thus, many go unredeemed. We decided the last time to try an experiment and just eat what we wanted, when we wanted---snacks included. We definitely came out ahead and the "kids"---mostly young adults now, had anything they wanted. I agree that it's nice to have everything paid for upfront, but it doesn't really bother me to pay after. We always have extra charges anyway as I usually give the 5 grands a small budget of what they can spend on souvenirs. We just went last summer and decided that it's the only way to go for us!! PS We don't do the sit down restaurants every day---so that's a qualifier. Anything requiring reservations cramps our style. But then again, that's what we love about Disney!! There's something for everyone!!

TracieClaiborne said...

Barbara - That makes sense but the character meals are such a huge plus to our trips. I do think it's too much food but I just eat what I want and then we use our snack credits at the end for stuff to take home! I just know I could never lay down $177 for Chef Mickey's and feel good about it. I guess it boils down to how you consider the cost of things. Money is always relative. I have a friend who makes a killing every month and that wouldn't seem that much to her. :) To me, it's a huge amount. Also, again, it's just not about the money. That really doesn't even weigh into it for us. It's about pre-planning, having it scheduled and the experience with the characters and the rest time before and after. I do think you either like to be on a schedule or not. I kind of would have thought you would have Barbara! Knowing how organized you are. :) But to some that doesn't seem like a vacay.

Unknown said...

Plus, you get a free refillable mug for length of stay. That saves $18 a pop.

This is the first time I'm going without a dining plan (116 days to go!). Our girls are Disney adults and there is no way they will eat $65 a day in food plus we are going in August for the first time so I think the heat and humidity will lessen our appetites. We are staying at Pop for the first time. I'm kind of nervous staying in a value with the rooms and beds being smaller but I hear nice things about it and we are basically only there to shower and sleep anyway.

I'm still planning on buying the mugs though because they will pay for themselves.

Diann B said...

Just for your info, there is no more "serve yourself Dole Whip" at the Poly. They now have a new walk-up Dole Whip bar and they serve it for you. But it's still delicious. Also, walk over to the Art of Animation Food Court when you are at Pop, Tracie. I think they have the best food court on property, and it's just across the lake from Pop Century.