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My Thoughts on Disney’s Dining Plans – Part Two

July 5, 2012

In my last post I talked about what was included and the costs of Disney’s dining plans. I also discussed the always popular “free” dining. While I said it can be a great value for families, it’s just not worth it for me anymore.

I do have free dining for my upcoming trip, but I think it’s going to be the last time I use any type of plan. Free dining is barely a value for me anymore, let alone paying for it. This trip it does kind of make sense, since I don’t have an annual pass this year, so would have to buy park tickets anyway, and the room discounts for me going solo are almost as much as the dining plan is worth one night. Plus next year I’m going look into renting Disney Vacation Club points, and if I do that, I wouldn’t be eligible for free dining anyway.

I do like having my meals paid for in advance, and having a sense of everything being all inclusive, (which for the way I’m using the plan this trip, is just about as all inclusive as it can get, except of course for alcohol,) but I do think for the way I eat, I could get a better value for my money with no plan.

Recapping from my first post, the basic dining plan, (which is what I’m booked with this year,) includes one snack, one table service meal, and one counter service meal per night, for the length of my stay. It also includes one refillable mug, which is only good at my resort, but it does save me some money, and I would end up buying it anyway, even if it weren’t included.

Since I’ve used the plan several times before, I know how use of my credits usually go. On most days breakfast will either be a pastry of some type, paid for with a snack credit, or if I get an actual breakfast sandwich or something, I’ll pay for it OOP, (out of pocket.) Breakfast is really the only meal I think about how I pay for it with. I don’t worry about getting the best deal for every credit, but it makes zero sense for me to use a CS credit for a $5 breakfast sandwich at my resort, when I can get a $15 dollar lunch for that same credit in the parks.

Unless I start not using a lot of CS credits earlier in my trip, which does happen sometimes, since some trips I’ll make extra TS reservations, and eat less CS, so will have an abundance of CS credits as a result, then I’ll use CS credits for breakfast. But with my plans for this trip, I’ll be sticking to one CS and one TS meal each days with few exceptions.

TS breakfasts make even less sense to use a dining credit on in my mind. I’m not talking about the $30 – $40 character meal buffet breakfasts. Those are a good use of a TS credit, and I have two of them booked myself. But for a la carte breakfasts, like Kona and Kouzzina, where entrees are in the $10 range, it’s just not a good use of a credit. And without dessert being included, (you don’t get dessert at either CS or TS for breakfast,) it’s taking even more value away. I obviously don’t need dessert at breakfast, but it makes using credits a crummy deal.

Lunches and dinners are less subjective. CS prices don’t change between the two, and while dinner is usually a little more expensive, it’s a couple dollars difference instead of the huge difference between breakfast and other meals.

Anyway, my point is I don’t use dining credits for breakfast unless it’s a snack credit on pastry or fruit, or it’s a character buffet, which is a good use of a TS credit.

And using snack credits for breakfast is probably one of the better values for the snack credits. Disney only advertises that you can get things like soda, popcorn, and ice cream with the snack credits, but there are way more options then that! Just with breakfast options alone, and using one of my favorite restaurants, Sunshine Seasons at Epcot, as an example, you can get any number of breakfast-type pastries, such as danishes, croissants or cinnamon rolls, bowls of chopped fresh fruit, fruit and yogurt parfaits, oatmeal, or since you’re on vacation, there is an entire bakery case with cupcakes, crème brulee, or other really yummy treats, which all also count as a snack credit.

Each resort has a CS location where snack credits can be used as well. Some resorts have much better options then others, and but you will find the breakfast pastries and fruit cups, and a selection of hot items, at basically any of the resorts. At Landscape of Flavors, which is at the Art of Animation resort, and where I’ll be staying this fall, you can even get freshly made smoothies for a snack credit.

Of course snack credits can be saved for later in the day, but I usually am not that hungry between lunch and dinner, and will either use mine for breakfast, or I’ll end up having a lot left at the end of my trip, and will end up raiding a bakery on my last day just to use them.

Another great use of snack credits is using them at the Food and Wine Festival Marketplace Booths. I’m sure I’ll be talking about the Food and Wine Festival a lot in later posts, but Epcot hosts it every year from late September until early November. There’s a lot of special dinners and events you can attend, but one of the best parts of the festival are the couple dozen food and wine (and a bunch of other alcohol,) booths set up around World Showcase. Each booth has a few food items from the country it’s representing, such as tacos at the Mexico booth and sushi at Japan’s. The food items are always available as a snack credit, and really are a great value depending on what you get.

Getting back to how I personally plan on using the dining plan this trip, most of my TS meals are dinners, and most of my lunches will be CS. There will be a few exceptions, where I have a TS meal for lunch and a CS meal for dinner, or some days when I have TS meals for lunch and dinner, and other days when I eat only CS, but that is generally how my days pan out.

There are some restaurants that are better value then others on the DDP, but generally all CS meals for lunch and dinner have about the same value. I think the one exception is Wolfgang Puck Express, which is probably easily the best value of a CS credit in Disney. I could eat there every day, and each day I could order the most expensive items, and have a $27 meal for a CS credit, but not only would that be extremely boring to eat the same thing every day, I also wouldn’t want to devote the time getting to Wolfgang Puck everyday, though I do plan on trying to get there a couple of times, but that’s because on top of it being a good value, the food is always amazing, and it’s well worth going to at least once.

But all of my choices of where I like to eat my CS meals are based on my likes, and not on value. With the exception of Epcot, I generally don’t like CS in the parks, and would much rather eat at the resorts. I go every year, for about two weeks each time, so I don’t mind leaving the parks for an hour to go get something to eat elsewhere. At Magic Kingdom the only CS I really like is Columbia Harbor House, but that gets boring after awhile, so some days when I’m at MK, I’ll take the monorail to the Contemporary or Polynesian resort and eat at one of their CS restaurants. MK also doesn’t serve any alcohol at all, and one of the best bars on property, Tambu Lounge, is at the Polynesian, so being able to have a drink with my meal adds to my justification for leaving the park, At AK there are some good CS options, but none that I’ll really eat, so I’ll usually take a short bus ride to the AK Lodge, and eat at the Mara, which is the wonderful CS restaurant there. At MGM I usually bypass all CS offerings, though it has gotten better in recent years, and hop over to Epcot, which is within walking distance, for lunch. Epcot I like the food at. There are a lot of different and unique CS options in World Showcase, and Sunshine Seasons in Future World in wonderful as well.

TS restaurants I basically feel the same way about. They’re adequate in the parks, and better at Epcot, but the best TS restaurants are at the resorts. Aside from Crystal Palace at MK, Tusker House and Yak and Yeti at AK, and Brown Derby at the Studios, there are really none I care about that much at those three parks. Epcot has much better options, I love La Hacienda, Tokyo Dining, and Via Napoli just to name a few, but everything’s pretty good at Epcot. The one TS restaurant I wouldn’t bother returning to there is Nine Dragons in China, but that’s only because I can get basically the same food at any Chinese restaurant at home, and has nothing to do with quality.

But CS or TS, it really doesn’t make a difference what I eat when as far as value on the dining plan goes. There are some meals that are only worth about $20, and some that top out at close to $50, but generally all TS meals are in the $30 – $40 range. CS restaurants don’t change prices between lunch and dinner, and are usually in the $15 – $20 range.

So on average, say your meals on any given day is a $4 snack for breakfast, a $15 lunch, and a $35 dinner. The basic plan costs about $50 a day, so it does work out pretty evenly. But, and this is a big but, at least for me, would you eat what was included on the plan if you weren’t on the plan?

I would still be getting at least one snack credit worth of food in the morning, but I know I wouldn’t be getting dessert with my CS meals. With few exceptions, the CS restaurants I like the food at, I don’t like the desserts at, especially in the parks. I get it, they’re mass produced, and need to serve as many people as efficiently as possible, but the “cake in a cup” desserts are crap. So I wouldn’t be ordering those. And at TS meals I usually want an appetizer, (not included,) or sometimes I’d rather just make a meal out of a couple different appetizers, which isn’t possible on the plan. I also don’t want dessert with every TS meal. Though they’re not crap, I just don’t always want dessert.

Entrees can even be pretty subjective for me. I’ll eat a side item at a CS restaurant and call it a meal. Granted then I’ll be snacking all day probably, but then I’d be using up all my snack credits too quickly, and not enough of my CS credits. Same deal with TS restaurants, like I said, sometimes I just want an appetizer or two as my meal. And signature restaurants, that use two credits? They’re great, and I have no problem paying those prices, but damn if they don’t use up all of my TS credits way too fast.

Plus for personal reasons, I’ve gone completely vegetarian now, which makes the plan even less of a value from a financial sense. I still get the entrée and dessert, but I’m now almost always getting the cheapest entrée by default, and that is usually a pasta dish. So not only is it not the best value, it also gets pretty boring after a couple of days if I’m not careful about choosing where to eat.

So for a variety of reasons, after this trip I won’t be using the dining plan anymore. It’s just not worth it anymore for me personally.


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