Disney Dining Plan or Pay-As-You-Go – Which is better?

Most everyone making plans to vacation in Walt Disney World eventually gets to the point where they need to make decisions on dining, whether that’s making advanced seating arrangements or deciding on which dining plan is better.  I thought I would take some time and come up with a comparison as it’s a decision my family needs to make as well since we’ll be heading off to see the Mouse in September!

At this point we have a few options but what I want to compare are the following basic options:

1.  Head down with pockets full of cash to pay for our daily meals
2.  Opt for the Disney Dining Plan which will cost $38.99 per person per day

I know there are other discount plans (i.e. Annual Passholder discounts, etc.) however for the sake of arguement and to make a simple side by side comparison, I wanted to compare these two main options.  Not to mention, I think this is the dilemma that most vacationers have which is to pay cash or pay ahead of time with the Dining Plan.

Just as a quick recap of the Disney Dining Plan, this is what you’ll get on a daily basis:

1.  One Table Service meal which consists of an appetizer, entree, desert, non-alcoholic beverage and this includes tax/tip (or full buffet with beverage/tax/tip)
2.  One Counter Service meal which consists of an entree (or combo meal), desert and non-alcoholic beverage
3.  One Snack (i.e. ice cream bar, bottle of water/soda, popcorn, etc.)

In this scenario I figured I would draw up a schedule for the week based on using the Disney Dining Plan and then go back and compare that to what all of that food for the week would have cost me should I decide to pay cash.  That way we’ll really see how much we’re saving.

So, what I did is I came up with a list of random places to eat at while in WDW and I came up with a mock dining schedule for the week (mind you I did this for only one adult just to make the calculations easier.) How I did this is I went online to a few random websites (like Allearsnet.com and WDWInfo.com) and pulled up some menus and then asked myself what I might eat for that particular meal if I were using the Dining Plan. I’ve listed below each meal and what I ate also to give you an idea of the type of food you can eat over a 7-day period.  I didn’t want you thinking I was slamming down hamburgers and french fries all week but rather I was eating (or mock eating) some pretty good meals. Now, your list will most likely be different from mine but the idea of this comparison is to see which option is better using my made up scenario and I’m sure it will give you a good idea of which option is better for you.

Well, LET’S GET EATING then!  Here’s my schedule for the week and the costs associated with those meals:

Counter Meal: Pecos Bill (Lunch – Magic Kingdom)
—  Chicken Wrap ($7.59)
—  Peanut Butter Brownie Mousse ($3.59)
—  Beverage ($2.09)
—  Tax ($0.80)
Table Meal: Liberty Tree Tavern (Dinner – Magic Kingdom)
—  Family Style Meal ($27.99)
—  Dessert & Beverage (included in meal)
—  Tax/Tip ($5.88)
Snack: Mickey Bar (Ice Cream) ($2.50)

TOTAL SNACK:   $2.50
TOTAL CASH COST:    $50.44

Counter Meal:  ABC Commissary (Lunch – MGM Studios)
—  Fish and Chips ($6.89)
—  No Sugar Added Strawberry Parfait ($3.59)
—  Beverage ($2.09)
—  Tax ($0.75)
Table Meal:    Sci Fi Cafe (Dinner – MGM Studios)
—  Crispy Onion Rings ($5.99)
—  Butcher Steak ($19.99)
—  Hot Fudge Sundae ($4.99)
—  Beverage ($2.09)
—  Tax/Tip ($6.94)
Snack: Bottle of Water ($2.50)

TOTAL SNACK:   $2.50
TOTAL CASH COST:    $55.82

Counter Meal:  Cosmic Ray’s (Lunch – Magic Kingdom)
—  Fried Chicken Strips ($6.69)
—  Triple Chocolate Cake ($3.59)
—  Beverage ($2.09)
—  Tax ($0.74)
Table Meal:    Chef Mickey (Dinner – Contemporary Resort)
—  Buffet Meal including Beverage/Dessert ($27.99)
—  Tax/Tip ($5.88)
Snack:  Box of Popcorn ($2.50)

TOTAL SNACK:   $2.50
TOTAL CASH COST:    $49.48

Counter Meal:  Morocco (Lunch – EPCOT-World Showcase)
—  Shawarma Chicken and Lamb Platter ($13.95)
—  Baklava dessert ($2.50)
—  Beverage ($2.09)
—  Tax ($1.11)
Table Meal:    Le Cellier (Dinner – Canada-EPCOT)
—  Beefsteak Tomato Stack ($7.99)
—  7 oz Filet Mignon ($26.99)
—  Double-Berry Buckle ($6.99)
—  Beverage ($2.09)
—  Tax/Tip ($9.25)
Snack:  Mickey Bar (Ice Cream) ($2.50) — Did I mention I love these?!

TOTAL SNACK:   $2.50
TOTAL CASH COST:    $75.46

Counter Meal:  Flame Tree Barbeque (Lunch – Animal Kingdom)
—  Smoked BBQ Chicken Salad ($6.99)
—  Key Lime Pie ($3.59)
—  Beverage ($2.09)
—  Tax ($0.76)
Table Meal:    Kona Cafe (Dinner – Polynesian Resort)
—  Pot Stickers ($6.99)
—  Shrimp and Scallops ($20.49)
—  Caramel-banana Creme Brulee ($5.99)
—  Beverage ($2.09)
—  Tax/Tip ($7.47)
Snack:         Bottle of Water ($2.50)

TOTAL SNACK:   $2.50
TOTAL CASH COST:    $58.96

Counter Meal:  Liberty Inn America (Lunch – EPCOT-World Showcase)
—  Chicken Caesar Salad ($6.99)
—  Apple Cobbler ($3.49)
—  Beverage ($2.09)
—  Tax ($0.75)
Table Meal:    Crystal Palace (Dinner Buffet – Magic Kingdom)
—  Buffet Meal including Beverage/Dessert ($27.99)
—  Tax/Tip ($5.88)
Snack:         Mickey Bar (Ice Cream) ($2.50) — I swear this is the last one this week! 🙂

TOTAL SNACK:   $2.50
TOTAL CASH COST:    $49.69

Counter Meal:  The Land (Lunch – EPCOT-Future World)
—  Rotisserie Chicken Flatbread ($9.09)
—  Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie ($1.59)
—  Beverage ($2.09)
—  Tax ($0.77)
Table Meal:    BOMA (Dinner Buffet – Animal Kingdom Lodge)
—  Buffet Meal including Beverage/Dessert ($25.99)
—  Tax/Tip ($5.46)
Snack:         Box of Popcorn ($2.50)

TOTAL SNACK:   $2.50
TOTAL CASH COST:    $47.49

What’s the Verdict?  At the end of the week, if you had paid cash for all of these meals, it would have cost $387.34 (including tax/tip.)  If you would have opted for the Disney Dining Plan it would have cost you $272.93 ($38.99 x 7-days) for the same meals.  The result is that you would have saved $114.41 by choosing the Disney Dining Plan which is nothing to sneeze at.

You could always argue that “I wouldn’t eat that much” or “I could skip a meal here or there” but the bottom line is that most people who vacation in Disney want to experience the great themed dining as much as the characters and parks.  If that’s what you plan on doing then by all means go with the Disney Dining Plan.  It’s a value that can’t be matched.

Stay tuned to this blog for more information related to the Disney Dining Plan.  We’ve got some ideas cooked up to show you how to maximize the value of the plan so watch for future posts!

Be Sociable, Share!

2 thoughts on “Disney Dining Plan or Pay-As-You-Go – Which is better?

  1. Mandi
    January 19, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Why did you only include a tip when paying cash? Wouldn’t you do that in both scenarios? Those charges are close to $50… Making the two options much more comparable.

    1. Admin
      January 24, 2014 at 6:50 pm

      Hi Mandi: I should have dated this post. It was written back in 2007 when times were different and tips were included in the Dining Plan. This scenario would be WAY different now since paying tips has to be factored in now. We’re planning a trip for June and we’re still going back and forth on how best to plan and pay for our dining….paying cash, going with the Dining Plan, going half cash and half Dining Plan (we’re staying two weeks with two different reservations), etc. This post could use some updating for sure considering how things have changed over the years. Appreciate the question. -Brian

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *