July 1, 2009

Yes, the Disney Dining Plan is a Deal!

I always advise my clients to purchase the dining plan when visiting Walt Disney World, as it’s widely known that it is a great value. But I experienced firsthand not only how much a family can save, but some additional benefits as well, when we spent 5 days at the resort for a family reunion.

For a family of four with children ages 9 and 11, the plan cost about $650 (3 adults and 1 child), or $130 per day. The basic plan includes one table service (sit down) meal, one counter service meal, and one snack per person per day. Meals include entrée, beverage, dessert, and taxes, though for breakfast diners get an extra beverage instead of dessert. (Upgrades are available which include additional table service meals and wine.)

If there is only one reason to purchase the dining plan, it’s to save money, and I now have the receipts to prove it. All the restaurants, whether buffet or ala carte, would have cost us at least $100-150 including taxes. Add in a counter service meal for lunch or breakfast, and there’s another $25-40. Snacks vary greatly in cost, from <$2 for fresh fruit or candy to $3-5 for ice cream sundaes and smoothies, so that was another $15-20 per day. Adding it all up, our food bill would have been at least $140 per day without the dining plan, but usually it was closer to $180. So that was a savings of as much as $50 per day!

We sometimes found we had so much food, we couldn’t eat it all. Desserts were often ordered “to go” and kept in our room refrigerator for snacking another time. Unused beverages (20 oz bottles) were also saved for later in the day. If an adult opted for wine or beer at dinner (not included on the plan), then my daughter could order a milkshake or smoothie, which was allowed on the adult plan but not the child’s. On the day of our departure, we had an extra counter service meal to use up, so we got sandwiches to go and took them on the plane.

In addition to saving money, there are other great benefits with the dining plan:

* Less mealtime conflict - When we dine out, two issues almost always come up. The first is whether or not my son can order off the adult menu (“Trust me, the hamburger on the kids’ menu is the same size, it just costs less. I promise I’ll get you more food if you’re still hungry.”) And whether or not the kids can order dessert. With the dining plan, my son had free reign to order whatever he wanted, which turned out to be filet mignon with bleu cheese sauce on the first night. I didn’t cringe a bit when he ordered! And dessert was always included, so no problem there, either.

* Less stress – At some point during our vacations, I start to feel the financial pinch as we eat out meal after meal. I look at prices on the menu rather than ordering what I want, even though I have budgeted for food. I think part of the problem is not knowing exactly how much we have spent, since I am not organized enough to keep a running tally as we go. At Disney World, though I knew the food wasn’t “free,” it was much more relaxing to go into the restaurant knowing it was prepaid, and the amount was set. And I loved receiving a bill which showed a big fat 0 for the total!

* Less junk food – Because we weren’t so concerned about watching our meal expenses, we ate much less fast food than we would have otherwise. So that meant fewer French fries and burgers, and more fresh fish and poultry. Even the buffets offered a variety of healthy choices, and also allowed the kids to try foods that they normally would not have ordered.

For families visiting Walt Disney World this fall, dining is even more affordable, as it’s free! For more information about this offer and other great family vacation values, contact Suzette Mack at suzette@family-treks.com.

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