Coming in to this trip, we’d decided to splurge a little and add the dining package to our stay. Having never purchased it before, we went back and forth on which of the options to choose, but ultimately decided to go with the quick service plan on this trip, not wanting to spend more than necessary on an unknown. We did a little research on the dining plan ahead of time and had selected a few places to eat and snacks to get based on recommendations from other blogs on how to get the best value out of it, but if we’d had more time to devote to it likely could have done even better. My wife’s favorite resource was the Disney Tourist Blog, while I also utilized the Disney Food Blog quite a bit.
Reading various reviews and blogs on whether or not the dining plan is worth it will show some pretty mixed results. To get the full monetary value out of it, you do really need to plan ahead and figure out what restaurants and snacks represent the best value. Even if you get it free as part of one of their annual promotions, it still appears that you have to work to ensure it’s worth it when you factor in the non-discounted cost of the room and park tickets, at least according to this blog. Jen did a pretty good job tracking the cost of all of our meals and snacks over the week we had the plan, and thanks to a little creativity in where we ate we managed to come out ahead, but that only tells part of the story, and certainly doesn’t mean I’d do it again. Why? Let’s take a look.
For those unfamiliar with the counter service dining plan, you get two counter service meals and one snack per day per person. We had three meal plans, as we hadn’t added Bayley’s boyfriend Joe since we didn’t know until the last minute that he’d be joining us. This meant that overall, we had 42 meal credits and 21 snack credits to use as we saw fit over our stay on property. We each also got the refillable “unlimited” soda mugs as part of the plan. We did get unlimited mugs one time before when we stayed at Pop Century in 2009, but that was before they introduced the RFID-enabled mugs they use now. I get why they did it since far too many people refused to play by the rules when we were on the honor system and would bring the same mugs back on subsequent stays (this is why we can’t have nice things), but it made the experience a bit annoying a couple of times. It seems that once the system feels your cup is full, it induces a two minute delay before it lets you get more soda. It was smart enough to know that I hadn’t completely filled when I was doing a half-and-half fill with Cherry Coke and Coke Zero, but those times when I was super thirsty and wanted to drink some and refill right away, I was denied and had to wait. A minor inconvenience, but an inconvenience all the same. If you need it, there’s a great read on how the RFID-enabled cups work up here. They work at other Disney resorts, too, and appear to work for several days after your stay ends, as ours showed they were active until May 30th, a full 7 days after we checked out. We also found that paper cups given as part of meals at some of the hotel counter service restaurants had RFID chips in them that only allowed 3 refills that evening, too.
Anyway, back to the food. I think I mentioned in my last post that in the 5-6 weeks leading up to the trip that my wife and I had been on a pretty strict diet. It’s one that the coach at my boxing gym had put together for me to get me back in to shape after I’d regained some weight last year due to injury. I was down 25lbs when we got there, and over the course of the week on the dining plan, felt like I gained half of it back (but didn’t, thanks in large part to the amount of walking we did).
Oh, and I’d like to add that if anyone’s looking for a solid boxing gym in Charlotte, NC, be sure to give Dyme Boxing a try. I’ve been going 4 years now and have lost and kept off a lot of weight, and enjoy the workouts 🙂
Back on topic; with the dining plan, meals at counter service restaurants include an entree, dessert and drink. At most places I probably could have eaten a little healthier, but I’m pretty picky with my food, and many of the healthier options just didn’t appeal to me. My biggest example of why I didn’t like the dining plan centers around the desserts. Sure, I could have skipped them, but then I’m wasting money. That, and they looked awesome. For the most part, they tasted pretty good, too. Some examples of desserts we had, including a shot of the inside of Darth Cupcake (that’s delicious peanut butter in the frosting):
We expected cupcakes with dry cake and cheap frosting, but were pleasantly surprised by all of them. Moist delicious cake with some pretty good frosting. By day three, however, I was tired of anything cake-based and was doing my best to find other options, like the frozen lemonade at Yak and Yeti, which was perfect on a super humid day at Animal Kingdom. By the time day five hit I’d had my fill of park food, too. Maybe it would have been different if we’d had the next plan up, where we could have gotten one table service meal, but still, I wanted something that didn’t taste like mass produced food. Thankfully the counter service options aren’t limited to the parks. The plan works at a small handful of restaurants at Downtown Disney as well, so a few days in to our stay, the kids headed out for a date night (Joe took her to dinner at Sanaa, which we all love), and Jen and I took the water taxi over to Downtown Disney and ate at Wolfgang Puck Express on the dining plan. Honestly, this place was easily the best bang for your buck that we found with any of our counter service meals. For the two of us, the total that night was over $50 before tip (tips aren’t covered by the plan), and our entrees were much better quality food than what we’d eaten in the parks. I had the bacon-wrapped meatloaf on garlic mashed potatoes with creme brulee for dessert, and loved it. We all agreed that their vanilla bean cheesecake shown in the picture below was better than the creme brulee, though, and all got that on our two subsequent visits. Here are pics of my meals here. I had the meatloaf twice 🙂
Due to our character meals falling on day one of the meal plan and having small meals at other places we didn’t want to use the meal plan, we were able to use our credits to cover Joe’s counter service meals several times. We also ended the last day with 4 snack credits, and let the kids go pick out whatever they wanted before we left Hollywood Studios on the last night. Your credits expire at midnight on the day you check out, and you don’t get a refund on any that go unused. For snacks, we generally tried to ensure we used those credits on things over $4.50 in cost. My favorite was easily the school bread found at the bakery in Epcot’s Norway pavilion, although we had some pretty good sweets at the bakery in Germany, too. I don’t have a list of all the places we got snacks at, but I do have a list of the counter service locations we ate:
- Wolfgang Puck Express at Downtown Disney (three visits)
- Cosmic Ray’s at Magic Kingdom (two visits)
- Contempo Cafe at Disney’s Contemporary Resort (two visits)
- Toy Story Pizza Planet at Hollywood Studios (two visits)
- Riverside Mill Food Court at Port Orleans Riverside
- Yak and Yeti Local Food Cafes at Animal Kingdom
- Sunshine Seasons at Epcot
- ABC Commissary at Hollywood studios
- Be Our Guest at Magic Kingdom
Be Our Guest was an interesting one. After checking the Disney Dining site multiple times each day to see if any space had opened up, we finally managed to get a reservation on one of our last park days. It’s an interesting (albeit slow) experience in the way you order, with kiosks available for your group to customize your meals. Once you order you go find a place to sit, and they bring your food to you on real plates, locating you by the RFID chip in your Magic Band (or the magic rose they give you if you don’t have a Magic Band). The food itself was some of the better in-park counter service food we had too, although the roast beef in my sandwich was slightly overcooked for my tastes. Regardless, it’s a neat experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Oh, one additional tip when eating at any counter service restaurant with a dining plan: if you want a large drink, just ask. They generally default to giving you a regular size one, but will give you a large at no additional cost if you ask for it in our experience.
We did get value out of the plan, having consumed $142 more in food and snacks than the dining plan cost, but I can honestly say I wouldn’t have eaten half the sweets I did if it didn’t come with the meal or purchased the unlimited soda mugs, and as such, we likely would have spent noticeably less on park food, although to be fair we might have made up for it elsewhere. For me, the only reasons I’d have for getting a dining plan would be convenience and lack of sticker shock. Even those counter service meals are pricy, and the cost of a single meal adds up quick for a family. Not having to fork over a bunch of actual money with each meal would probably keep stress levels down. It’s a lot easier to just swipe a Magic Band, and Disney knows it.
Final verdict: While I wouldn’t jump on the chance to get the dining plan again, I think I’d get outvoted. They both want to try the plan with one table service meal at some point. We’ll see…