There are several reasons to purchase one of the dining plan options when visiting Walt Disney World. For some, it may be due to a promotional free dining package offered by Disney, for others it may be because you prefer to pre-pay for your dining. My family almost always purchases the deluxe dining plan because we are foodies and we feel the deluxe plan not only enables us to explore all of the dining options Disney has to offer, it also allows us to do so without the guilt we would normally feel spending over $100 on a breakfast for two or double that for dinner. I learned after many attempts at using the deluxe plan that despite our best efforts we aren’t saving money by purchasing it. The truth is that the best my family can normally do is come close to breaking even on the deal. Keeping in mind that you will most likely not be saving money by purchasing the deluxe dining plan, here are a few reasons to get it and a few tips for making the most of it.
Reasons to purchase the Deluxe Dining Plan
We have already established that saving money is not a great reason to purchase the deluxe dining plan. It is possible, I’m sure, to save money with the plan but I’ll show you why that’s not a great reason to buy it. The 2020 deluxe dining plan costs $111.74 per adult and $44.60 per child per night. The plan entitles the guest to 3 table service meals each night, 2 snacks each night, and a refillable soda mug to be used at your resort. Each table service meal, typically, but can vary in different places, entitles you to an appetizer, entree, dessert and beverage including certain alcoholic beverages. To save money on the deluxe dining plan one would have to eat 3 full table service meals a day and still have the ability to eat the higher cost snacks. For most people this ends up being way too much food and you may find yourself eating more than you want or need. If your only goal is to save money you also lose the flexibility to skip meals or try quick service options and still get your money’s worth.
I find the best reasons to buy the deluxe plan are because you love to try different dining experiences, have a taste for high end restaurants, and like to see the check at the end of your meals with only a gratuity to be paid. My wife and I enjoy character breakfasts but they can be pricey. We also love the dining experiences at the more expensive double dining credit restaurants like Le Cellier, STK, and Flying Fish. Having the deluxe plan allows us to order whatever we like without a thought to how much it will cost. It also allows us to not resort to dining options we aren’t crazy about just to stay within our budget. I also can’t overstate the wonderful feeling you get when a $200 plus dinner bill arrives at the table and you scan your magic band and see the $0.00 on the final tab you sign for. That’s not to say you’re eating for free, it just feels great while you’re on vacation to not be worried about money. One of the reasons my family loves the dining plan is because we pay for it a little at time over the months leading up to our vacation. We much prefer that to paying as we go or coming home with a credit card bill to be paid.
The Deluxe Dining Plan isn’t right for Everyone
The deluxe dining plan forces you to make advanced reservations which I see mostly as a positive because it allows you to put lots of thought into where you’d like to go. Your advanced planning helps you to get into that hard to get reservation, or try new experiences you’re craving and, of course, guarantee your trip to the old favorites you want to return to. Most people I speak to, however, find the process of making reservations too tedious or time consuming. If making the reservations is a too much hassle, you could enlist the aid of your travel agent. Many others find that having reservations limits their flexibility on their vacation. They find that they are always planning their days around their meals or running from one reservation to the next and are not able to relax and enjoy themselves. You should also keep in mind that cancelling dining reservations last minute can result in a charge to your credit card for each person expected to attend the meal. If you are going to purchase a dining plan that includes table service meals it is an absolute must to make advanced reservations. If any of these issues with reservations are unacceptable to you, the deluxe dining plan probably isn’t right for you.
Another main objection to the deluxe dining plan is that it is simply too much food. If your normal diet consists of a small breakfast, a light lunch and an entree-only dinner you might be more suited with the standard dining plan, quick service dining plan, or no dining plan at all. Walking around the parks stuffed from eating too much can be very uncomfortable. This can make you sit out on rides you’d normally go on or not have room for your favorite park snacks. You may also feel the need to take a nap or skip your next meal. If you find yourself forcing down appetizers and desserts just to get your money’s worth, the deluxe plan isn’t for you. I would also say that if your family has small children the deluxe dining plan probably isn’t for you. Having small children can make your schedule unpredictable. This unpredictability means your family has to be flexible and able rethink dining choices at the last minute. You also might be concerned about the children’s ability to tolerate the atmosphere at The California Grill or Citricos and thus not able to spend your dining credits wisely.
Tips for making the most of the Deluxe Dining Plan
In order for your family to get the most of the deluxe dining plan there are a few things you must do. The first thing to do is make your reservations in advance. Some restaurants require reservations months in advance, so do your homework on which those are. If you want to eat at the California Grill during the fireworks show you need to make that reservation months in advance. Any reservation at Cinderella’s royal table must typically be made months in advance. Another way to get the most of your dining plan is to calculate the credits you will have and schedule your meals accordingly. If you are staying 7 nights you will have 21 table service credits per person on the plan. Plan on using anywhere from 2 through 4 credits each day and keeping track as you go so you don’t run out days early or worse leave with credits not spent.
Scheduling also requires important timing considerations. Please make sure to build into your schedule time for you to get to your reservation no more than 15 minutes late. If you are late some restaurants will not hold your table and will charge your credit card if you do not reschedule for another day in the near future. Rescheduling can usually get you out of the charges and you can cancel that rescheduled reservation, as long as its 24 hours in the future, with no charge. The other important time consideration is time between meals. Keep in mind you will be most likely eating an appetizer, entree and dessert at each meal. Don’t schedule breakfast for 9am, lunch for 11am and dinner for 3pm. You’ll never be able to keep that schedule. Spread them out. If you know you are going to 1900 Park Fare for the character breakfast buffet you might want to consider scheduling a double credit dinner at Citricos and skipping lunch because you may be too full from breakfast to enjoy 2 more meals that day.
My final tip for making the most of your deluxe dining plan is to enjoy yourself! Once you’ve paid for your plan, made all of your reservations and built a dining schedule that won’t interfere with your family’s vacation, the last thing to do is have some fun. There are so many fantastic restaurants, special experiences, and unique dishes for you to enjoy. If your’e on the deluxe dining plan I encourage you to try everything you’ve always wanted to try. Get yourself reservations at some character dining locations. They are usually some great meals and are probably the best way to meet and spend time with your favorite characters. Eat at the most expensive places, order your favorites and don’t worry about the check.