My Disney Top 5 - Reasons I'm Anti-Disney Dining Planby Chris Barry, contributing writer
For more than eight years now I've done my best here on MousePlanet to stray from the bad vibes that infest the ones and zeros all throughout the World Wide Web. Disney gives me much happiness that while I don't always agree with the company's decisions—and certainly don't love every single product they release—I'd much prefer to, as the song goes, accentuate the positive.
The Disney online universe is not alone in its vitriol however. I'm a fairly consistent reader and occasional poster in both The Grateful Dead and Bruce Springsteen online universes and holy mackerel, can those people get negative, and sometimes downright nasty. Like Disney, Bruce and The Dead have such loyal, passionate fans but its amazing just how angry some of these people can get when they're finally given an outlet to voice their opinions. Me? I consider myself blessed and fortunate that I'm still going to Dead shows 33 years after my brother took me to my first and that Springsteen is still going strong and creating music for us fans.
I feel equally strongly about Walt Disney World and Disney in general. In less than two weeks I'll be passing underneath those magical arches again and disappearing from the real world and I simply can't wait for that transformation to occur. They've done things right and they've done things wrong since I first got hooked on the place, but all in all it still does it for me and I know just how happy I'm going to be once I'm there.
One of the purposes of a site like MousePlanet is to provide insight into all the ins and outs of a place as massive and complex as Walt Disney World. We're here to voice our opinions and share our experiences, and hopefully you can walk away with some knowledge and adapt it to your own travels. One of the key aspects of the true Disney experience is dining throughout the resort. Walt Disney World has more food options than you could possibly experience in one vacation. After visiting for thirteen years in a row there are still plenty of restaurants that I haven't been to, and they keep adding new ones.
When it comes to dining at Disney something that seems to create a lot of division amongst the Disney faithful is the Disney Dining Plan. For ten years now, Disney has been offering many different iterations of a prepaid dining plan and it has drastically changed the Walt Disney World travel landscape. As you can tell from the title of today's article, I am not a fan of the Disney Dining Plan. I hope you'll indulge me a brief dip into the negative zone as I present the Top 5 reasons I'm anti-Disney Dining Plan.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me just say that we had the Disney Dining Plan once when it first came out years ago. We had it for free for a 10-day trip at Port Orleans Riverside. This was the original plan that included appetizer and gratuity. Despite the obvious savings and pleasure of having free food for 10 days, we still walked away vowing to never pay for it. Here's why.
5 – Reservations have become too scarce
There has been a direct correlation between the advent of the Dining Plan and the inability for the average traveler to secure reservations at most Disney restaurants. The company has done a more than efficient job marketing the plan as something you must have in order to have your complete, magical Disney experience.
Of course, the more plans that are sold the more reservations that will be snapped up. The days of walk-ups and last minute reservations are long gone. A family such as ours that typically is unable to book trips half a year in advance is all too often faced with the predicament that we're shut out of our favorite restaurants. In my eyes, the Dining Plan is directly responsible for this.
4 – You have to plan way too far in advance
The Disney Dining Plan has ushered in a new era, that of the preponderance of the 180-day reservation as a necessity. Remember how crazy of a thought it was that people actually set their alarms, woke up at 6 a.m. at exactly six months out from the date of their trip, and made sure they were on the phone at precisely 7 a.m. to score that reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table? This wasn't the norm. This was the extreme. Now, it's the norm for just about everything. You can still get reservations late in the game, but the choices will more than likely be slim pickings the longer you wait. Once again, the Dining Plan is at the root of this new madness.
3 – It's too much food
This issue seems to be a point of contention for many people. I have friends that have happily bought the former Deluxe Dining Plan that came with three full sit down meals in one day… every day. Personally, I couldn't fathom eating that much food in one day, every day of our trip. These friends are just regular folks that like to sit down and be served on their vacations. When we had the standard plan, we thought it was just too much food. I can't begin to tell you how many carrot cakes were in our Port Orleans fridge by the end of the week. It was a waste.
We're not big eaters. We like a few special meals in the course of our trip. For example, we do tend to book the Pooh breakfast at the Crystal Palace once during our trip; otherwise breakfast is typically a bowl of cereal (that we bring with us) or some fruit and a muffin in our rooms while we plan out our day. When it comes to dinner I'd just as soon grab some awesome counter service food at Tangierine Café in Epcot's Morocco pavilion or order a pizza by the pool at Stormalong Bay at The Yacht Club than stop and sit for a big meal. We like a nice sit down meal on our final night, but our focus isn't food on our trips, it's pretty much everything else.
2 – Financially, it's not worth it
This point might spark some disagreements, because the Dining Plan is supposed to save you money and make things more convenient for you. I have to agree that it is convenient to barely worry about money on your vacation. Never looking at a price because everything is prepaid sounds pretty nice. Dollar-wise, at about $64 per night per person, the standard plan might work out for you, if you eat that much food in a given day.
My 13-year-old boys are an anomaly. They don't eat. They're healthy, but they just don't eat like some would expect a teenage boy to eat. There's no way they'll spend $64 in a day on food at Disney. That just isn't happening. I've done the math. I've saved food receipts and tried to figure out just how much we spent and made comparisons. For our family, the Disney Dining Plan just doesn't make good financial sense.
1 – It takes the spontaneity out of your trips
Obviously, this is the big stickler for me. Spontaneity has slowly been disappearing at Disney with the proliferation of the Dining Plan and FastPass+. Convenience is one thing, but the loss of spur of the moment special moments is another.
One of my all time favorite Disney moments was on a trip with just my then 10-year-old twin boys. One night the three of us were leaving the wonderful pool complex at Caribbean Beach's Old Port Royale headed back to our room to change and bus it over to a night at the Magic Kingdom to watch Wishes. My guys saw that they were setting up the outdoor movie for the night, Lilo and Stitch.
They begged to stay and watch the movie. I have to say, that wasn't in my plans at all. I was looking forward to Wishes. I told them that they could watch Lilo and Stitch any old time at home, but we couldn't see Wishes at home. They hesitantly agreed but as we crossed over the bridge to Caribbean Cay and I saw the first glint of sunset appearing over the resort, I gave in to the possibility that something special was about to happen.
We did an about face, ordered a pizza, and stayed for the movie. What happened next was quite simply, one of the best Disney nights we ever had. The sun was setting over Barefoot Bay, we relaxed in lounge chairs, watched Lilo and Stitch, ate our pizza, and I proceeded to have a deep, bonding, Disney, 'ohana moment with my boys. After the movie, we swam in the pools and hot tubs until closing time and slowly made it back to our room while chasing lizards and soaking up the tropical atmosphere. A pit stop at the quiet pool near our Jamaica room for another serene swim was the icing on the evening's magical cake.
That awesome moment was able to exist because I was free to stop in my tracks and change my plans. Technically there's nothing really stopping you from doing something like that if you're on the Dining Plan, but you'll be wasting your money because you prepaid for all of your food. Chances are more likely that you'll stick to the schedule and who knows what you might be missing. I just remember our one trip with the Dining Plan feeling like our whole vacation revolved around our reservations. My wife agreed. We really couldn't stand it. The aforementioned special evening is just one example of spontaneity producing memorable moments. There have been many more. Sometimes it's those last minute decisions that truly make your Disney trip what it is. In my opinion, being tied to the Dining Plan takes away a lot of potential sporadic magic.
As you can see, the Disney Dining Plan just doesn't work for us. As a matter of fact, we've turned it down plenty of times when it was offered to us for free. Now, before you start with the name calling and questioning of my sanity, hear me out. What a lot of people don't consider when the free Dining Plan is offered is that Disney has got you paying the full rack rate for your room in order to give you free food for the duration of your stay. If you're Walt Disney World savvy, and I certainly like to think that I am, you will discover with a minimal amount of searching that Disney typically is offering substantial room discounts around the same time as the free dining offers. You can't have both. It's one or the other.
These discounts have allowed us to stay at places like The Polynesian, The Yacht Club, and The BoardWalk Inn for up to 40 percent off the published room rate. I'll take that deal any day and twice on Sunday over the free dining plan.
I'm quite aware that I'm more than likely in the minority when it comes to this. I've talked to plenty of people, most newbies, that don't seem to even realize that the Dining Plan is in fact an option. You don't have to have the plan in order to spend a week in Walt Disney World. It's not mandatory but you wouldn't know that from its popularity.
When it comes to this writer and his family, we'll leave the Disney Dining Plan aside. The spontaneous moments, less food, and better deals on deluxe rooms have been working just fine for us the past nine years since the plan emerged, and we continue to avoid it. My advice to anyone considering the plan is to think carefully about what you want your trip to be and how tied you really need to be to a dining plan. We've been experiencing as much magic, if not more, than we did on our one and only trip with the plan years ago. Not to sound too negative, but the Disney Dining Plan—not a big fan.