My Disney Top 5 - Reasons I'm Anti-Disney Dining Plan

by Chris Barry, contributing writer
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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


For thirteen years in a row 'Ohana reservations at Disney's Polynesian Resort have escaped me. Photo by Tina Delaney.

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


Cinderella's Royal Table used to be the only restaurant you had to plan for six months in advance. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

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.


Our refrigerator was filled with snacks like these at Cafe Rix at Coronado Spring's Resort. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

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.


We bring breakfast cereals and snacks with us to save money. Photo by Chris Barry.

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.


The reflections on Barefoot Bay that stopped me in my tracks and altered my evening for the better. Photo by Chris Barry.

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.

 

Comments

  1. By petesimac

    A negative top five! Ha, no problem. We are fans, not Disney-bots. It's healthy.

    I have absolutely no problem with most of your reasons for not liking he dining plan (that is, I don't think they are real problems). I have rarely not been able to get a reservation at a restaurant for an upcoming trip. Too much food? Naw, even when everything was included, it's not like they are shoving it into your mouth. You can even just have a taste of the desert and share the appetizers, etc., you don't have to eat everything in your plate. For me it is how they keep watering down the plan. It its earlier form, you did save money if you tended to eat the same meals anyway. I agree with removing the tip, as servers had very little incentive to do a good job knowing that the tip was already a done deal. But as the app was withdrawn, and I think even more had been removed now, it no longer saves me money, so it has been years since I bought into the plan.

    Aside from a lack of savings, for me the biggest problem is the homogenization (sp?) of the menus. It is as if in order to cater to so many people, they synchronized the menus so that most of the same or similar dishes are available at every restaurant. There are loads of exceptions of course, but a fish dish here, a fish dish there, there a fish dish, here a fish dish, everywhere the same blasted fish dish.

    The other problem for me, especially now with the watered down version of the dining plan, is that you still have to buy So much outside of the plan. The more they removed from the plan, the more you had to pay for beyond the plan. It is no longer worth it.

    In short, if it were offered for free, I'd take it! But I agree with not every buying it again.

    Don't be afraid of the dark side; your observations, negative or positive, are always enjoyable to consider.

  2. By jheigl

    The only time we ever had the Dining plan was on our honeymoon and it was included for free. We only had the quick service plan and found it to be perfectly fine for us. We don't often dine at restaurants while on vacation... we normally just grab a hot dog at Casey's or something similar. Was nice having breakfast in the morning and snacks and such, but I don't think I would entertain paying for it directly.

  3. By goofy1958

    Chris,

    We completely agree with you. We had the dining plan once in 2007, and it was too much food. Being DVC members and AP holders, we now purchase the TiW card to save us the 20% (good for alcohol as well!).

    One thing you did not note is the prices at the restaurants that take the dining plan have gone way up to make it look like the dining plan is a good deal. I mean, c'mon, $51 for a steak at most places? At least with the TiW it brings it down to a more reasonable price. My wife and I also share entrees at different places, as even that is too much food. Saves quite a bit, though I will say we tip the same as if we had bought 2 entrees. Seems only fair. We only make a few ADRs nowadays, and play the rest by ear. Works great for our way of touring and dining.

    We are like you in that we still love Disney, and still think it is an excellent value for our vacation dollar. We don't agree with everything they have done, but we also think that they are getting much better over the last 5 years.

    Keep up the Top5! We love the articles.

    Kevin

  4. By carolinakid

    Great list. The DDP just doesn't work with our preferred style of dining.
    Breakfast: very light....coffee and a bagel or fruit or protein bar while sitting on our balcony.
    Lunch: again tends to be light because of the heat....usually counter service (he loves Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge) for my boyfriend and I'll sometimes have a fruit cup and iced tea or a yogurt.
    Dinner: we tend to eat our evening meal at the signatures and usually hit 2 or 3 of the Swan/Dolphin restaurants during the course of the week.

  5. By danyoung

    Quote Originally Posted by petesimac View Post
    I have absolutely no problem with most of your reasons for not liking he dining plan (that is, I don't think they are real problems).
    Knowing you as I do, pete, I think what you meant here is that the problems in the article are not problems FOR YOU. They are definitely problems for Chris, though, and I would think his opinion is just as valid as yours. Right?

    But as the app was withdrawn, and I think even more had been removed now, it no longer saves me money, so it has been years since I bought into the plan.

    This is the main problem for me as well. I did the plan one time, back in the old days when they included the appetizer and tip. Even then I didn't much like the regimentation, the need to book a table service meal every day, and the need to eat lunch at a quick serve when maybe all I really needed was an ice cream bar. But then, when they took out the app (which I always get) and put in the dessert (which I rarely get), it just didn't make any sense for my style of dining.

  6. By stan4d_steph

    Quote Originally Posted by petesimac View Post
    Aside from a lack of savings, for me the biggest problem is the homogenization (sp?) of the menus. It is as if in order to cater to so many people, they synchronized the menus so that most of the same or similar dishes are available at every restaurant.

    The menu changes are my big complaint too. It's not "as if" they have; changes have been made, dishes removed, prices on appetizer greatly increased, etc. in order to make operating the restaurants profitable at Dining Plan margins.

  7. By DisneyGator

    Funny. I agree with just about everything you said, but I still like the DDP. Definitely agree it's too hard to get ressies these days. I remember on my honeymoon in 2002 walking up to the reservation window (yes, you read right) at Crystal Palace and getting a reservation that night for dinner. That night!!! As for planning, I don't mind that too much. It's sorta fun. Is it too much food? I'd say yes. I remember being grossed out at Garden Grill because I'd just filled my belly 5 hours earlier at Teppen Edo. And I let nothing go to waste. I never lost weight at WDW, but I always lose weight at DL with the minimal amounts of food I choose to eat. For finances, it used to be worth it. I used to do the math and it would definitely save us, even if just $50-100 on an 8 day trip. Now it's about even, but only if you're ordering the top shelf items. As for spontaneity, the DDP can't touch what FP+ did that. In fact, they should've put Spontaneity on a Haunted Mansion tombstone the moment FP+ began.

    But we still like the DDP. Well, at least I like it when it's free. For a family of 5, it's just too much cash to pay out of pocket. And since we try to squeeze into a Moderate, the 25% savings there doesn't even come close to what we save with free food (if they're offering). Unfortunately, Disney doesn't offer free dining for the Moderate rooms of 5, or at least it's a very limited offering. And without free dining, I can't pull the trigger budget-wise on a WDW trip. Free DDP - it's my ticket to the World.

  8. By bobaloo000

    Not a big fan of the dining plan either but will disagree about not being able to walk up and get seated. Unless we've been very fortunate we've been able to secure walk ups at the following restaurants over the last five years with party sizes ranging from 5 to 7. Crystal Palace, Olivia's, Via Napoli (twice), 50's Prime Time (also twice). Sci-Fi Drive Inn, Tusker House and Yak and Yeti. All of these have occurred either during the summer months or the week between Christmas and New Years. My favorite memory was standing at the top of castle steps a few days after Christmas at around 9:30 in the morning after having arrived at the park at 7 when we decided we were hungry and ready to eat. I glanced over at the Crystal Palace and asked everyone if they wanted to take a chance at getting seated. Off trotted seven of us to the window where I expected to get a no way instead the woman took my name and fifteen minutes later we were being seated.

    Maybe I am just incredibly lucky because I was also able to score breakfast at the Castle on New Years Eve about a month before we left, oh and we also watched Christmas Wishes from O'hana that trip also booked less than 180 days out because we didn't get our plane reservation until October some time.

    Having said that I agree with you about the dining plan. If it was free yeah I'd take it but it has watered down the menu's as someone on here mentioned and also made it incredibly difficult for newbies to manage their vacations.

  9. By danyoung

    My sense with the "watering down" of menus is that it has gone through a cycle, and about 2 years ago started to get better. At one time the Coral Reef had 7 entrees on its menu, and only 3 of them were fish. But now the menu has started to expand again. I'm guessing in this case Disney heard the complaints and are making moves to fix the problem.

  10. By RogP

    I totally understand why the dining plan doesn't work for you - my only suggestion would be to change the title of the article to "Five Reasons the Disney Dining Plan Doesn't Work for Me".
    Many people agree with you but there may be people looking for 'pros' as to why it may work for them - the dining plan actually works well for my wife and I.
    Background: We are in our mid-60s, Annual Passholders, live approx. 500 miles from WDW, and we have an RV so we stay almost exclusively at Fort Wilderness (which we've never seen to have discounted prices).
    We do make some dining reservations in advance to get into some of the places we really like and to get into some places we've never tried. We also try to get one or two reservations as the Signature restaurants which 'cost' two authorizations for one meal. This frees up a couple of days for complete 'spontaneity'. Over the last several years we've been blessed to be able to travel to WDW for at least two 10-day trips a year so we don't have to rush around to see everything - but we've also been known to park-hop up to three parks in one day. The point being we have the flexibility that suits our needs but totally understand our needs aren't the same as others.

    We are also very familiar with the transportation system so we also 'resort-hop' and travel to Disney Springs for some of the other restaurants on property - I know we could do that even if we didn't have the dining plan but it works for us.
    One of our next trips we will probably try dining without the dining plan to compare the costs. But we'll still make some reservation far in advance to get into the places we want -- one of our fondest memories is having the center table for two by the window at Cinderella's Royal Table for the early fireworks display last New Year's Eve. The point is, with or without the dining plan there are some reservations that have to be made far in advance even though it takes away some flexibility.
    All in all, great article with very valid points that anyone should consider when thinking about the DDP.

  11. By petesimac

    Quote Originally Posted by danyoung View Post
    Knowing you as I do, pete, I think what you meant here is that the problems in the article are not problems FOR YOU. They are definitely problems for Chris, though, and I would think his opinion is just as valid as yours. Right?.

    Yes indeed, Dan, early morning posts as one is heading out the door is often perilous. I'm hoping that my effusive praise of Chris' articles was more than enough to convince most readers that I meant no harm. But just to be clear, my opinions are always more valid (to me) than anyone else's, and knowing you as I do, I think you feel the same about your opinions

  12. By petesimac

    And Chris, should you ever venture back to the dark side, my I suggest "The Five Reasons Why I think the FP+ is ruining the Disney Experience," but that is for another day.

    As to the menus, Dan, I think I saw recent evidence to support your point of view: we haven't eaten at Chefs de France for a long time because of the stagnant menu, but a quick glance at the new menu a few months ago revealed several new and interesting options. Fingers crossed that this is a trend and not just a coincidence.

  13. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by petesimac View Post
    A negative top five! Ha, no problem. We are fans, not Disney-bots. It's healthy.

    I have absolutely no problem with most of your reasons for not liking he dining plan (that is, I don't think they are real problems). I have rarely not been able to get a reservation at a restaurant for an upcoming trip. Too much food? Naw, even when everything was included, it's not like they are shoving it into your mouth. You can even just have a taste of the desert and share the appetizers, etc., you don't have to eat everything in your plate. For me it is how they keep watering down the plan. It its earlier form, you did save money if you tended to eat the same meals anyway. I agree with removing the tip, as servers had very little incentive to do a good job knowing that the tip was already a done deal. But as the app was withdrawn, and I think even more had been removed now, it no longer saves me money, so it has been years since I bought into the plan.

    Aside from a lack of savings, for me the biggest problem is the homogenization (sp?) of the menus. It is as if in order to cater to so many people, they synchronized the menus so that most of the same or similar dishes are available at every restaurant. There are loads of exceptions of course, but a fish dish here, a fish dish there, there a fish dish, here a fish dish, everywhere the same blasted fish dish.

    The other problem for me, especially now with the watered down version of the dining plan, is that you still have to buy So much outside of the plan. The more they removed from the plan, the more you had to pay for beyond the plan. It is no longer worth it.

    In short, if it were offered for free, I'd take it! But I agree with not every buying it again.

    Don't be afraid of the dark side; your observations, negative or positive, are always enjoyable to consider.

    Thanks for the positive words Pete! I will continue to not shy away from my dark side every once in a while

  14. By dpayne007

    Another great Article and I get where everyone who dislikes the dining plan is coming from. But I love it. I've been to Disney World over 20 times in the past 12 years almost always for 2 week stretches and almost all with the dining plan. I will start off by saying I'm a foodie I love to eat and great food is an important part of a great vacation to me.

    But the number 1 thing I love about the dining plan is that it changes how I feel when I'm ordering. If at the end of the meal I'm going to have to pay a bill I tend to feel guilty for ordering some of the more expensive items on the menu. I don't like feeling guilty on vacation and the dining plan removes that barrier for me. I'm not a person who feels the need to get the dollar value out of the plan because the increased convenience has value for me.

  15. By indyjones

    I totally agree that trying to get reservations for restaurants sucks now. We used to just be able to walk up to any of the restaurants and be very spontaneous. Now you have to make a reservation, as you say, 6 months in advance at most places. And we ALWAYS go during the slow times yet we still cannot get reservations even 4 months in advance at many of the places. Or we have to eat at 10 PM or 4:30 PM if reservations happen to be available. We went in early May and I spent checked online every day for about a month in order to FINALLY find an opening at Ohana that wasn't at 10 PM or later. So you CAN find things occasionally but it is quite a pain in the butt.

  16. By DisneyGator

    Quote Originally Posted by petesimac View Post
    And Chris, should you ever venture back to the dark side, my I suggest "The Five Reasons Why I think the FP+ is ruining the Disney Experience," but that is for another day. .

    YES!!! This is a Anti-Top 5 worth talking about. I've not been back since they implemented and don't want to go back until it's gone or completely redone.

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