One of the BIGGEST questions for anyone going to Disney World..."Do I buy the Dining Plan, or not?"
If you are new to Disney Dining - the food is varied and overall pretty good, no matter where you eat. You won't be stuck to burgers and nuggets only at the Quick Service Dining locations! (though, the Kids Picks on the Quick Service meals could stand to be a bit more varied...) So don't worry, everyone will find something good.
Now, let me take you on a journey of how I face this "to Dining Plan, or not?" question each and every trip (and sometimes for the trips of my Clients), and then you will have your answer at the end.
Do we, or don't we?
If we do--will we really save?
And if we do...which plan? Quick, Regular, Deluxe???
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Like Disney doesn't have enough options already!!!!!
Let's look at this logically.
STEP ONE: The facts.
In my little scenario, we are going for 4 nights, a family of 2 adults and 1 child-let's call this family Brook, Joe and Henry. Creative, I know.
All people on your reservation must have the same Dining Plan, for the entire length of your stay.
The Quick Service Dining Plans includes / costs:
2 "Quick Service" meal credits (entree, dessert, non-alcoholic drink), per person, per night
2 Snacks per person, per night
1 refillable mug, per person
Adults $34.99 per person per night;
Children (ages 3-9) $11.99 per person per night
$81.97 per night. x 4 nights = $327.88
And the Regular Dining Plan includes / costs:
1 "Table Service" meal credit (entree, dessert, non-alocholic drink--gratuity is NOT included) per person, per night
1 "Quick Service" meal credit per person, per night
1 Snack per person, per night
For stays during off-peak seasons, cost is: Adults $45.99 per person, per night; Children $11.99 per person, per night
For stays during peak seasons cost is: $47.99 per person, per night; Children $12.99 per person, per night
For ease, let's just say we are visiting during an off-peak time.
$103.97 per night x 4 nights = $415.88
And the Deluxe Dining Plan includes / costs:
3 Meal Credits - to be used however you'd like. Quick or Table. per person, per night
2 Snacks per person, per night
1 refillable mug, per person
Adults $78.99 per person, per night
Children $21.99 per person, per night
$179.97 x 4 nights = $719.88
STEP TWO: Who is your traveling party?
1) Is your family the type that likes to sit-down for a meal every single day? You treasure the time to sit and relax and have a server at your table?
2) Or, is your family more the quick type - where you would rather grab what you'd like, whenever you'd like, eat, and move on? Maybe with a few sit-down meals sprinkled in there...but not everyday?
We are currently, with a young child, in the Choice #2 Camp. Hands down. However, I know many families-with young children-that are in the first choice. They use that sit-down meal as a time to get out of the sun and re-charge, re-apply sunscreen and relax -or, as a finale to a wonderful day in Disney.
What choice are you? This will help you determine which plan is best for you.
Wow, that's a really large picture of my face. It was a good pretzel though!
STEP THREE: Where to eat?
This is sometimes difficult even for a Disney World Veteran. There are a TON of choices. So research, read reviews and ask opinions of those you know.
If you are a first time Disney-goer, this is VERY difficult, and my recommendation to you would be, if you think you might like the Dining Plan - buy it. Buy whichever plan you think will fit your family best, try it and see if you like it. The best way to learn is by experience. Every family is different! If you don't, next trip you will know what not to do!
For the Table Service meals you want to try:
-Are most character meals? (they are usually expensive)
-Are there any Signature dining places? (they take 2 Table Credits)
-Are there any dinner shows? (takes 2 Table Credits)
All these affect the credit usage if you are on the Dining Plan, and the out-of-pocket costs should you not buy a Plan.
Looking at the quick-service meals I need to evaluate where I *think* we might stop based on previous trips and what we like to eat.
-Are we wanting to eat at the most expensive of the choices: Wolfgang Puck's Express, Sunshine Seasons, Starring Rolls, or La Cantina de San Angel? How about Cosmic Rays, Fairfax Fare, or Flame Tree BBQ-which also can be expensive?
-Are we going to really eat that many desserts? (sometimes you can get fruit, or a bottle of water instead of dessert too-so keep that in mind!)
-Are we just going to opt for the free ice water instead of a soda at our meals because of the heat?
-Are we going during the Food & Wine Festival and can use those snack credits during the festival for the expensive little-plates they sell?
Only YOU can answer these questions for your family. And they aren't easy to answer! Only from experience have I found that my family doesn't eat as much in the hot summer months as in the cooler winter/fall months. My husband's stomach sometimes disagrees with the fountain sodas in the heat. And I'm not a big dessert eater-unless it's very specific desserts. My little man will eat and eat like no tomorrow one day, and eat a crumb the next.
Picky much?!! :-)
STEP FOUR: Do the math.
Now, open up: http://allears.net/menu/menus.htm
(AllEars.net>Walt Disney World>Dining>The Menus!)
Look at the menus and prices of your choice restaurants, and COMPLETELY IGNORE the links to their Travel Agency sponsor. Book with me instead. ;-)
Now, let's do the math.
Here is how I do it.
I take the total dollar amount from the dining plan above and plug it into my calculator.
We are mostly a Quick Service family, so let's tackle the Quick Service Dining Plan.
I then go through the list of restaurants, picking which ones I think we will eat at (based on our favorites and past experiences and reviews I have read online). I guess what each person will eat at the meal.
That, again, is not an easy task!
How is someone supposed to know what they are going to eat days-even MONTHS in advance???
However, everyone has their habits and favorites. So, I go with this - and if I'm not certain what we will order, I average the prices.
I ONLY add in the things we would order if we were paying out of pocket; meaning if we normally probably wouldn't order a dessert or a drink here, I don't add it in (even though the Dining Plan includes it, it's not really a value unless you would normally eat it, right?)
So, let's look at a favorite of mine, Casey's Corner in the Magic Kingdom:
I know I will order Corn Dog Nuggets $4.19 and either apples or fries on the side: $2.49 and a Diet Coke: $2.19
Joe will order Hot Dog Meal - served with apples or french fries $6.59, maybe a drink-let's not add it in, but I know he'll get Cracker Jacks! $1.49
Henry will order Hot Dog Meal - served with apples or french fries $6.59 (they do not have a Kids menu at Casey's) and a milk $1.99
And I go on with the other meals, remembering to just subtract what I think we will eat, being a bit more on the conservative side. I include a snack or two, just thinking about our eating habits, like we might crave ice cream more during the hot months, and that we like to bring a few bags of candy home with us.
This step of the process really is to know your family / traveling party and what they might order. I know Joe cannot go to Casey's and not order Cracker Jacks. I also know if we eat at Sunshine Seasons in Epcot, we ALL get a piece of the $3.99 strawberry shortcake!
We also eat most breakfasts in our room - bringing a few options from home, or purchasing them in the resort's gift shop. We are sloooooow movers in the morning and I like to sip my coffee. It's rare that we make it out of the room in time for breakfast unless we have a reservation!
Okay - so that step is done. Your calculator is smoking and you might be a tad grayer after all the "Will we do this, or this?" thinking.
STEP FIVE: Is it worth it?
What is the total left on your calculator?
Is there a LOT of money left? If so, the Dining Plan is not for you! Pay out of pocket and save the money! Some people take the total cost of what the Dining Plan would have cost and put it on a Gift Card to use for the meals - then they still don't have to think about the costs of the meals, and will likely be able to splurge on a few gifts at the end of the trip!
Is the number on the calculator negative? Then the plan IS for you! Buy, buy, buy! And enjoy!
If there is only a small amount left on your calculator - you are on the fence. This is where we most often land. And usually I say - buy the plan. That way we don't have to think about the costs, and since I was conservative in my calculations above, we will be splurging on vacation with desserts and snacks, and that is always fun!!
What is a "lot" and a "small amount" of money is your determination. Sometimes the ease of being all-inclusive is enough of a lure for some families to just buy the plan and be done with it. Only YOU can truly decide.
It all can be a toss up! And really, even if you choose wrong and we end up spending a bit more than you might have, it's probably not going to be THAT much more. It's vacation....relax and just let it roll...or try to at least!
So, to DDP or not?
THE ANSWER: "It depends."
Helpful, aren't I? LOL!
Oh, and of course there are a few other options beyond these 3 Dining Plans, maybe I'll cover the Premium and Platinum plan in a future note! :-) And if you are looking at 2012, it's a whole new ball-game. New prices, slightly altered plans!! Yippee!