“To use the DDP, or not to use the DDP–that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous food prices
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by budgeting meals without them.”
The Disney Dining plan was introduced in 2005, and as anything added to Disney it was not without controversy. Love it or hate it, the meal plan is here to stay. I will attempt to provide a basic guide to making the big decision to go on the meal plan.
First and Foremost the Disney Dining plan is available only to people staying is Disney Resorts. This does not include the Swan and Dolphin, or any number of good neighbor hotels in the area. If you are not staying in a Disney Hotel then you can completely ignore this article.
As the name suggests the Disney Dining plan (or DDP for short) is a prepaid food food plan that allows you to eat at select restaurants on Disney Property. The restaurants you can eat at, the amounts of food you get, and even the types of food you can get vary greatly depending on which meal plan you pick.
You will find people who feel pretty strongly pro-meal plan, and people who are strongly anti-meal plan. Ultimately getting the meal plan, or not getting the meal plan boild down to personal preference. When deciding weather or not to get the meal plan, the most important thing you have to ask yourself is this question. Would you rather have everything paid up front and worry about weather or not you got a good deal, or would you rather go through your vacation checking prices on every menu and planning the budget yourself. The answer really depends on how you like to budget, and which meal strategy you prefer.
Reasons not to do the meal plan.
The simple fact of the matter is that you can probably eat cheaper if you don’t get the meal plan. WDWinfo.com does a fantastic job of breaking down the prices of meals and how much you would pay out of pocket to eat the same things price breakdown here Usually there is a small savings, even if you eat every meal in the park.
You could really save a lot of money if you bring some food with you to resort and do at least one meal a day on your own. There are a million budget friendly suggestions for packing meals that travel well in the Florida heat. If you are looking to save money sharing meals is another great option. The serving sizes at the park are huge and two people can easily split a meal and still feel full.Here is a great resource for eating on a budget
It is also worth considering that there are several great things at Disney which do not fall under the Disney Dining plan. Turkey legs, the delicious waffle sandwiches at Sleepy Hollow in Magic Kingdom, The House of Blues, and meals at the nicest restaurant in Disney Victoria and Albert’s; cannot be purchased using the Disney Dining plan. The popular Dessert Parties hosted in Epcot and the Magic Kingdom are also not part of the meal plan. Alcoholic beverages, and specialty drinks that come with souvenir mugs and glow cubes are also not part of the meal plan.
Another issue that opponents of the meal plan bring up is the stress of scheduling meals. If you are on a meal plan that includes sit down meals (Regular dining plan, and deluxe meal plan) then you really do have to sit down and schedule your meals as many as 180 days in advance. For a lot of people booking meals this far ahead is stressful and takes away some of the fun and spontaneity of a vacation.
Reasons to use the Disney Dining plan.
Having the meal plan adds a bit of luxury to your vacation. You can order without ever looking at the prices listed on the menu, and personally I find that thrilling. Lets face it food at Disney World is expensive. I know that if I were to go without the meal plan I would end up ordering the cheapest things on the menu, and eating mostly at Quick Service restaurants. Frankly I know I would end up cheating myself out of a lot of very enjoyable meals and experiences that way.
If you have the meal plan you are a lot more likely to take advantage of the great restaurants around Disney property. Having a nice sit down meal in a beautifully themed and air conditioned restaurant provides a great way to relax after a hectic day in the parks.
Character restaurants are the best way to get pictures with characters. There is no standing in line in unbearable heat, you just sit there and the characters make their rounds to visit your table. Characters seem less rushed in their meetings at character restaurants. They have a little more time to strike up conversations or play around with you when you are at a sit down meal then when they have a massive line of people staring at them. In the real world if I saw a buffet for $40 I would turn around and walk away. With the meal plan you can feel free to eat at a different character restaurant every day and feel a lot less stressed out by the prices.
Another advantage of the meal plans is that with the Regular and Deluxe dining plans, you can combine two table service points to get an exceptional dining experience at one of Disney’s Signature restaurants, or one of the dinner shows. The Signature restaurants offer world class gourmet meals, in an atmosphere that is typically a lot more quiet then that of the usual restaurants at Disney world. The shows are offer tremendous family fun. And yes, you can still use good old cash to pay for any of these meals but the question is would you?
So this brings us back to the original question should you get the meal plan or not?
If you get the meal plan will you feel pressured to order the most expensive things, never skip a meal, and eat beyond the point of being full in the name of getting your moneys worth? Well then the meal plan is not for you.
If you do not get the meal plan will you still go out and get foods you really enjoy instead of the cheapest ones on the menu. Would you go all out and have a fancy dinner at a theme park, or attend a show if you see the price tag on the menu? Well then if you can afford it I say go on the meal plan.
Do you have a lot of picky eaters who will probably be happier with PB&J packed at the hotel room, and the occasonal meal of hot dogs and chicken fingers? Don’t get the meal plan.
Do you love to try new foods and experience other cultures cuisines(don’t worry they will still have a kids menu for the picky eaters), and unusual dishes? Do you want an excuse to get dessert with every meal that isn’t breakfast? Get the meal plan.
Next week I will delve deeper into the different types of meal plans, and selecting which one is right for you. As well as some strategies on how to spend your meal points and how to schedule things.