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Kevin Yee

Disney Dining Plan

So you'd like to purchase the pre-paid Disney Dining Plan, would you? Or perhaps you've just heard about it, either from your travel agent or from a friend. Maybe even on the official Disney website?

No matter where you've heard about it, chances are your information is fragmentary. As we'll soon see, I think the reasons for this are intentional. Not a very wise promotional technique, if you ask me.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, perhaps I should explain what this plan actually is, and give some examples. Then we can all look a bit more closely at the numbers.

The Disney Dining Plan is sold as an "Add-On" to a package deal purchased at a Disney Resort Hotel. The package already includes Flex Passes, plus Early Entry to the Theme Parks, as specified on your package. There is a minimum two-night stay to purchase one of these packages.

Once you've bought the package, then you can choose to purchase the "Disney Dining Plan." Let's look at the Three-Day Plan first. Once we understand that one, the Four-Day, Five-Day, and Six-Day versions are easier to understand. We will look specifically at Disneyland for this article, keep in mind Walt Disney World has similar options.

So let's say you bought a Three-Day package at a Disney hotel. Whether you did this through the Disney website or through your travel agent, it doesn't matter, you should still get an option to purchase the Three-Day Disney Dining Plan. This plan includes the following 8 vouchers:

1 Magic Morning Voucher
1 Character Breakfast Voucher
3 Snack Vouchers
2 Cheap Meal Vouchers ($10 each)
1 Moderate Meal Voucher ($15 each)

Adult Cost: $66
Child Age 3-9 Cost: $43

Tomorrowland Terrace menu
The Tomorrowland Terrace breakfast menu: not a whole lot of variety available.

Let's break that down. The "Magic Morning" is a breakfast at Tomorrowland Terrace which occurs during the Early Entry into Tomorrowland. The Early Entry is part of your hotel package you purchased. The Magic Morning has no dollar value associated with it, but you get one breakfast meal and a drink. The meals at TLT cost $6.99 and look like this:

Sunrise - $6.99 (eggs, meat, potatoes, muffin, drink)
Rise-n-Shine - $6.99 (egg substitute, turkey sausage, potatoes, muffin, drink)
Fresh Fruit Plate - $6.99
French Toast Sticks - $6.99

The Character Breakfast is also a morning thing, obviously, so you'd do that on a different day. It takes place at the Plaza Inn, and is an all- you- can- eat buffet that normally costs $19.95.

Plaza Inn breakfast
The Plaza Inn offers character breakfasts with a great, though pricey, all- you- can- eat buffet.

The Snack Vouchers are good only at Outdoor Vending (ODV) carts, and have an upper value of $3.

The cheap and moderate meal vouchers are unrestricted by location: they may be used at fast food, buffeterias, or table service restaurants. 

If we attach prices to all the vouchers, the result looks like this:

$7 - 1 Magic Morning Voucher
$20 - 1 Character Breakfast Voucher
$9 - 3 Snack Vouchers
$20 - 2 Cheap Meal Vouchers ($10 each)
$15 - 1 Moderate Meal Voucher ($15 each)

Total Benefit = $71

Adult Cost: $66
Child Cost: $43

As you see, the Plan does offer some savings: a 7% discount, to be precise.

How do the other Plans add up? For each day you add, just add one Snack Voucher, one Cheap Meal, and one Moderate Meal. The results are tallied below for you.

Four-Day Plan

$7 - 1 Magic Morning Voucher
$20 - 1 Character Breakfast Voucher
$12 - 4 Snack Vouchers
$30 - 3 Cheap Meal Vouchers ($10 each)
$30 - 2 Moderate Meal Voucher ($15 each)

Total Benefit = $99

Adult Cost: $91
Child Cost: $59
Percentage of Savings (Adult): 8%

Five-Day Plan

$7 - 2 Magic Morning Vouchers
$20 - 1 Character Breakfast Voucher
$15 - 5 Snack Vouchers
$40 - 4 Cheap Meal Vouchers ($10 each)
$45 - 3 Moderate Meal Voucher ($15 each)

Total Benefit = $134

Adult Cost: $124
Child Cost: $78
Percentage of Savings (Adult): 8%

Six-Day Plan

$7 -2 Magic Morning Vouchers
$20 - 1 Character Breakfast Voucher
$18 - 6 Snack Vouchers
$50 - 5 Cheap Meal Vouchers ($10 each)
$60 - 4 Moderate Meal Voucher ($15 each)

Total Benefit = $162

Adult Cost: $140
Child Cost: $95
Percentage of Savings (Adult): 14%

As you can see, the more you are willing to spend, the more savings you can accrue. 

There are, however, significant trade-offs for the savings you get with the Disney Dining Plans. The biggest, to my mind, is the lack of flexibility that comes with the voucher system. No matter which plan you have, you must attend the Magic Morning at least once and the Character Breakfast at least once to get the most for your money. Looking at it another way, you will have to attend those specific meal events if you bought the Plan - whether you like those kinds of events or not.

The Plaza Inn at Disneyland
The Plaza Inn at Disneyland

More to the point, your vacation becomes more and more structured when you have meal vouchers. You begin to plan things out like a military campaign. What if, on the last day, you still had the Character Breakfast and two $10 vouchers left over? In that instance, you will have to eat at the Plaza Inn for breakfast (even if you weren't hungry), and you'll probably want to use the full $10 per meal, so you'll opt for buffeterias for lunch and dinner, meaning you have that much less time left over for attractions.

But wait, there's more to look at here. On each Plan, you are also granted a certain amount of Snack Vouchers (ODV). I do not consider this to be a good thing. If you're forced to eat one cart-snack per day as a meal replacement, you'll get awfully tired of churros by the sixth day. And if you opt instead to forgo the Snack, then you're negating the savings of the Plan.

You do not get change back if you fail to use all of a voucher's value. The practical result of the "no change" rule is either you will end up spending even more money so as to not lose pre-bought value, or you will end up reducing the spread between the value of your vouchers and how much you paid for them. Either way, the Plans lose even more of their luster when viewed in this light.

I haven't even gotten to the worst news yet.

A table at the Storyteller's Cafe in the Grand Californian
A table at the Storyteller's Cafe in the Grand Californian

The Plans are only good inside the theme parks. The vouchers do NOT work at the Disneyland Hotel, Disneyland Pacific Hotel, Grand Californian Hotel, or Downtown Disney restaurants. And those are some of the best restaurants at the Resort, for my money.

So what's positive about these Plans? The best that could be said about them is that they do offer some savings, up to 10%. You do not reap any benefits such as not needing to stand in lines, but there are some individuals who would consider the vouchers equivalent to not worrying about their food options. It would be wrong to say that the vouchers take the place of money, for vouchers cannot be easily replaced if lost, and you'd be stuck using your hard-earned money instead.

The Disney Dining Plans, offered as upgrades by the Walt Disney Travel Company, are not, to my mind, good values. Interestingly enough, it is very difficult to find solid information about them either in print media or online. Travel agents can go to disneytravelagents.com for their information, but your average Guest has no real outlet. The official Disney website (which annoying closes its bookings / reservations for nightly maintenance) mentions the plans as an optional upgrade, but does not offer any information on their pricing or composition, let alone include them as an electronic booking option. Perhaps Disney recognizes this deal as one which doesn't maximize value very well, and therefore they've hidden it?

I have no doubts that some folks prefer the more structured vacations that arise from vouchers. I prefer the joy of discovery and the freedom to decide where, when, and what to eat next.

Rancho del Zocalo in Disneyland
Rancho del Zocalo in Disneyland

My "final answer" on the Disney Dining Plans is that they are almost certainly a "pass." If you prefer a vacation with structure, I'd instead advise building up a plan of attack before you leave (in that case, why not start with MousePlanet's Restaurant Review, which has prices on all menu items for you). If you are attracted by the idea of saving 10%, I'd suggest that perhaps you investigate alternate travel packages instead. You can save much more than $15 - the maximum Dining Plan savings in real terms - if you choose your hotels and plane reservations carefully.

Disney vacations are about attractions, yes. But don't underestimate the joy of good food when you discover it. When you force yourself to eat it for the sake of pre-bought vouchers, you may discover that the bad taste in your mouth is only indirectly related to the food.  


Questions and comments can be sent to:  kevinyee@mouseplanet.com

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