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The No Pixie Dust Zone - Dining Plans

 The No Pixie-Dust Zone 

In the "No Pixie-Dust" Zone we will get down to the true value of the plan and let you decide if you should splurge for the dining plan or "Dine As-You-Go". Disney claims that you can save up to 40% of your dining by using their plans. We will see if that claim holds water or they are just sprinkling pixie dust. For the basis of comparison, I will be using our family as the example family, 2 adults and one child that is 5 years old staying 5 nights.

The "Dine As-You-Go Plan
This not an official "Dining Plan" but the way EVERYONE did before the plans came out in early 2000, including yours truly. If you are really on a tight budget or just simply don't want all the "extras", then this is the plan for you. You will only pay for for what you eat and you wont feel "required" to eat on property as to get the most from your dining plan. Here is what we do on typical vacation even when using the Standard dining plan. We would go to wal-mart and bring all kinds of dry breakfast type food among other things. Once we got to the resort, we would get a gallon of milk and we would eat breakfast before going out into the parks. This not only saves us money but time as well. Spend the day out in the parks and eat "quick service" type meals in the evening for dinner. Through out the day, we would get bottled water. From a cost perspective, we only spent about $40.00 a day for all 3 of us. Multiple that times 5 and your looking at about $200.00 for the 5 nights.

So, the bottom line is if you are looking for an inexpensive way to go, just eating once in the parks will save you the most money.

The Quick Service Dining Plan
The most "cost-effective" dining plan available is the quick service plan, you get 2 quick service and 2 snack credits per night per person. This comes to a total cost, for the 5 nights of $369.85 (73.97 per day). This is already starting $170.00 more than our "Pay As-You-Go" plan. So lets see if we are saving money, if we were in epcot for the day, we would probably eat at the electric umbrella. The main reason to eat over here is that you get free refills on your soft drinks. With the plan, you get an entree, drink and dessert. So we would order the most expensive food that we liked. So we would order a Bacon Double Cheeseburger, soft drink and Cheesecake with Strawberry Sauce for the 2 adults and a kids hamburger meal for the child. All together, this totaled approximately $36.02 with tax.

For sake of conversation, we are going to simple double that total as we receive 2 quick service credits per day. This gives us a total of 72.04. Now, we still get 2 snacks per day per person. With snack, you can "spend" up to $4.00 for a qualifying snack. With are experience, we typically averaged about $3.00 per snack. So on average, 6 snack options times $3.00 would give us $18.00 for a grand total for the day of about $90.04 for all three of us to eat.

So...the bottom line is that you are technically paying for your quick service meals up front and getting your snacks for free. This works out to be a real world savings of around 18%.

The Standard Dining Plan
This is by far the most popular plan, and the plan we have always used when we do one of the disney dining plans. You get 1 table service, 1 quick service and 1 snack credits per night per person. For our family, this comes to a total cost, for the 5 nights of $479.85 (95.97 per day) for "non-peak" checkins. For "peak" checkins, the cost would jump to a total cost of $544.85 (108.97 per day). This is already starting at more than double (almost triple in peak season) our "Pay As-You-Go" plan. Be aware, that the cost of the food doesnt go up during the peak season, just the cost of the plan. So the "peak" season doesn't affect the "Pay As-You-Go" plan. One other thing to note, with the table service locations, you are responsible for the tip. 18% is average but wont be calculated in the comparison because you have to pay it either way. To try keep the comparison, we will use the electric umbrella above for our quick service location. On to the table service determination. What we do alot of the time is go to character buffets, our favorite buffet is Chef Mickey's. Chef Mickey's cost about $29.99 per adult and $14.99 per child. This one of the most expensive character buffet that only require 1 table service credit. So the total cost dining here, if we paid for it would be $81.96 with tax. Using the same formula above, we get 1 snack per person, we will add $9.00 to the total. So for the day, that gives us $126.98. So we get 127.00 worth of food for 96.00 ($109.00 peak). This works out to be a real world savings of around 25% (14% peak).
NOTE: the comparison here only used a dining location that only required 1 table service credit. Many locations require 2, the value would be considerably less and may lose money.

The Deluxe Dining Plan
This is the most expensive "dining" only plan. You get 1 breakfast, 1 lunch and 1 dinner credit (3 table service if you choose to use them that way) and 2 snack credits per night per person. For our family, this comes to a total cost, for the 5 nights of $824.85 (164.97 per day). Using the same calculations from previous dining plans, 3 table service credits per night per person plus 2 snack credits per day totals $245.88. This works out to be a real world savings of around 33%.
NOTE: with the versatility of this plan, you may choose to eat quick service with one of your credits and will drastically decrease the value of the plan. To get the maximum value from this plan, you will need to eat at table service locations.

The Premium Dining Plan
This plan is far more than a dining plan, you get so many more "perks" that it is hard to determine its true value, but you know we are going to break it down for you to decide. For our family, this comes to a total cost, for the 5 nights of $2210.00 (442.00 per day). Yes, that is not a typo. I about passed out myself. You do get the same dining credits as the deluxe plan so our daily total is 245.88 per day. The hard part of this calculation is determining how many and which of the perks you would actually do. Do you want to play a round of golf every morning or do any other outdoor activity/sport? Unless specified, you can do any activity as often as you would like. Which sound really good, but the problem is trying to get your moneys worth from the plan AND still have time to visit the theme parks. If don't plan on spending much time in the parks and plan on doing more activities, then this might be a good choice as it includes just about every activity. To fully determine the true value of this plan, we have listed the prices of the activities individually:

  • Golfing: $59 - $180
  • Guided Fishing: $150-$250
  • Parasailing: $95-$185
  • Water-skiing: $80-$155
  • Wakeboarding: $80-$155
  • Tubing: $80-$155
  • Bicycles: $20+
  • Horseback Trail Rides: $42
  • Tennis: free-$50
  • Pony Rides: $9
  • Carriage Rides: $35
  • Miniature Golf: $12
  • Archery: $25
  • Various Tours: $25-$219
  • Pole Fishing: $3-$9

So you can see, that the saving can be significant but you would need to spend about $200.00 a day in the list above to break even. To determine the true value, you will need to determine what you want to do on vacation. If you want to play golf in the morning and fish in the afternoon with some disney parks sprinkled in, you could be saving nearly 40%.

The Platinum Dining Plan
This is by far the most Expensive and most all-inclusive plan, This is the truly the "Key to the Kingdom", this is your golden ticket! There is about nothing you cant do as often as you want with this plan. You get the same credits as the premium plan with even more perks. For our family, this comes to a total cost, for the 5 nights of $2970.00 ($594.00 per day). This doesnt include tickets or resort reservations...this is "In addition" too. In addition to the perks list in the premium plan, you will get these additional perks:

  • Fireworks Cruise: $266 - $344
  • Fantasmic!–Reserved Seating: $???
  • Spa Treatments: $75-$325
  • Disney’s PhotoCD: $149
  • Disney’s PhotoPass Professional
    Portraits Service: $???
  • Richard Petty Ride Along Experience: $120

Honestly...if you are considering this plan, money is not the issue here. With that being said I dont know if I could EVER convince myself that this is a good value but it would make for one helluva trip.

 Final Thoughts... 

Our goal here was to determine the true value of the different dining plans. There are 3 true "Dining Plans" and 2 "All-Inclusive" plans. One of our biggest attractions to the dining plans, other than saving money, is the convience of not worrying about the cost of the meal as I have prepaid for them. Simply pull out your resort key and your done. We dont have to worry about breaking the budget because the cost of dining becomes fixed cost instead of a variable cost that I need to keep track of. There is a few down sides, are forced to eat on disney property as the credits are useless off property. second, starting in 2010, disney has cut most of the excellent restaurants in downtown disney (and others) from the dining plan. Third, the better table service restaurants now cost 2 table service credits. Finally, due to the popularity of the dining plans, getting reservations has become an art form of its own where you are planning dining your dining 180 days out to get what you want. This even affects non-Dining Plan guests as well.

Deluxe Dining Plan...
saves you the most money but it costs the most and requires the most planning. To get the maximum value, you must plan out each day down to the time when you want to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. The reason is because you need to make reservations for each table service location you want to experience. If you don't you risk trying to find dining location to use your credits at as most table service location are full. For some people, that is simply to much planning not to mention money. One of the other downside to this plan is that you are required to pay the tip. Typical tip is 18% of the final bill, for a family of 3 it is typically 18.00 for sitting. 3 times a day and that's an extra 60.00 per day or $300 for the 5 nights. That just kills me to think that I paid over $800.00 for the plan and I still have nearly $300.00 more to pay for tips. To be fair, there are some locations that the tip is included in the plan but they usually take 2 credits.

Quick Service Dining Plan...
is the most cost effective plan and requires the least amount of planning because you dont make reservations to eat at quick service locations. There are more quick service locations than table service locations. The biggest issue with this plan is eating typical quick service fare twice a day gets old quick. There are a few locations, like the land in epcot, where you can use your quick service and get really good food outside the typical hamburger, hot dog and chicken nuggets. Use our restaurant database to determine all of the locations that are quick service location and check the menu to get around the typical fare.

Standard Dining Plan...
is the most popular plan as it blends a nice balance between cost and dining varity. While some planning is needed for daily table service reservations, it allows for a more flexable vacation as you are not constantly racing across the park/resort to get to your reservations on time. It takes the best of the two other plans and discards the downsides and is our choice as the plan for value, variety and flexibility of all of the offered plans.

Premium and Platinum Dining Plan...
These "All-Inclusinve" plans are much more than dining plans but they are cost prohibitive for the average joe (as well as myself) as I could not comprehend spending nearly $3000.00 for one these plans muchless for the entire vacation. With that being said, I would LOVE to try one of these plans as it would make me feel if I actually owned "the world" and it would probably be the most memorable vacation I would have every taken in Disney World.

 2012 Quick Facts 

Quick Service Plan
AD: $34.99/Nite
CH: $11.99/Nite
2 QS and 1 SNK credits

Standard Plan
AD: $51.54/Nite
CH: $11.99-12.99/Nite
1 TS, 1 QS and 1 SNK credits

Deluxe Plan
AD: $85.52/Nite
CH: $23.79/Nite
3 TS and 2 SNK credits

Premium Plan
AD: $179.00/Nite
CH: $129.00/Nite
3 TS and 2 SNK credits plus perks

Platinum Plan
AD: $239.00/Nite
CH: $170.00/Nite
3 TS and 2 SNK credits plus perks and personalization's

Wine & Dine Add-On
AD: $39.99/Nite