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Confessions of a Disney Dining Plan Convert

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From the time I started to plan my first trip to WDW, I was convinced that the Disney Dining Plan would not be on our agenda. The idea of the plan overwhelmed me. I was concerned that I would be obsessed with getting my money's worth, panicking about getting my ADR's lined up, overwhelmed by trying to coordinate where we would be when and confused by two-credit/Signature restaurant restrictions.

Gradually, things changed.

First, I assembled my preliminary list of must-do/cannot miss table service restaurants:

Raglan Road
Artist Point
Kona Cafe

Looking at my schedule, I added Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater to the list because it was just too empty for our 11-day trip. In addition, some friends who will be there at the same time convinced me that we had to join them at Whispering Canyon.

At this point, I had plans which would use 8 out of 11 Table Service Disney Dining Credits, already.

The next concern I crossed off my list was the Signature restaurants/Double Credit issue. Somehow I had convinced myself that most of the restaurants that I would want to add to our schedule would be Signature restaurants. Urged by friends to take a second look, I realized that I was mistaken. At this point I started to look at what restaurants I would add to my schedule if I could:

Marrakesh, a Character Breakfast and maybe, even Le Cellier. We want to try to get a Grand Gathering Experience, which is currently sold out for the only date we can fit it in, and I found out that while it would require two credits, at least we could use credits to pay for it.

Third, I made my ADRs without actually hyperventilating once. I have to thank the friend who introduced me to her spreadsheet system. Swanie put together a wonderful spreadsheet. It shows me at a glance which parks have Magic Hours available and when, the parks' operating hours, when MNSSHP is scheduled, when I actually have tickets for MNSSHP, which day I blocked out for Kennedy Space Center and so forth. At a glance I started plugging in which table service restaurants I might visit on which days.

I realized that I did not need to commit to the Disney Dining Plan but I could book my ADRs as if I would use the Dining Plan and release some of my ADRs later if I changed my mind.

Lastly, I crunched the numbers.

I made my own spreadsheet. First, I looked up the cost of the must-do restaurants and calculated the minimum amount I would spend on Table Service meals with beverages. Next I looked at four or five of the counter service restaurants that my family would most likely enjoy and I predicted the cost for my family to eat one meal at those locations. At minimum, each restaurant bill came to $50 for our family of five, most were higher. Calculating conservatively, I estimated one counter meal at $50 into the various holes in our schedule (not one per day, but one per "hole".) I also added in the cost of five refillable cups that I had planned to purchase even if we had not purchased the plan.

The numbers started adding up fast. Without calculating the value of the snacks we were already approaching the cost of adding the plan to our schedule.

I looked at the schedule again and added in the value of the extra ADRs. Without the cost of the snacks, and leaving at least five adult Table Service and six child table service credits unused, we would... break even. We actually come out a little bit more ahead than that.

For the cost of the Disney Dining Plan, all of our snacks and several meals will be free, even with scheduling one Signature Restaurant. Although the children will not be joining us at that meal, we would still have five unused credits if they had. It will actually cost us a little more to not use the Dining Plan that night as the Kids Clubs do not accept Disney Dining Plan credits, unfortunately, but we're set on that adult-only opportunity for a special birthday celebration as well as giving our kids the chance to have a night of fun without us.

I see a bit of flexibility in the schedule. I have accepted that I can adjust the plans slightly if I need to. I was up at 4 am to make the Artist Point ADR because it was the most important ADR on my list. Several hours later, at the spur of the moment when we called to try to adjust another ADR, we asked if Le Cellier was available for the last night of our stay, and it was. So yes, I have a coveted Le Cellier ADR without even trying. Please don't hate me.

I still understand why the Disney Dining Plan would not be the perfect fit for every vacation. By not planning my vacation around the plan but by working backwards to see how the Plan would fit into the vacation, I spared myself quite a bit of anxiety and I will actually be saving myself quite a bit of money.


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  1. Drince88's Avatar
    Just want to make sure that you know that the refillable mugs are not included as part of the 'basic' (regular) dining plan, right.
  2. adriennek's Avatar
    Yep, I just figured that out a bit ago. Thanks!

    Fortunately, I forgot to mention that I only calculated in 9 counter service meals so we actually have 2 more unbudgeted for counter service meals plus all the Table Service PLUS the snacks, so we'll have some budget wiggle room for the cups.
  3. Drince88's Avatar
    And I would NOT be shocked if you found you could do SOME sharing of the CS meals. Especially since all non-breakfast CS meals come with dessert.

    If some of your CS meals are in the food court - you can get bottled water for your drink, save THAT for later, and use your mugs - thus saving another snack credit! (Since I have a sneaking suspicion you're going to want to use a number of snack credits at the F&W festival!!)
  4. olegc's Avatar
    Our family visited in 2007 with only 4 days - and we thought that we spent way more than we could haev without the plan. I guess we did not plan on visiting that many places: we had Sci Fi, Boma, Poppins breakfast, and a Fantasmic! dinner (bummer we had to take it at 3:30). that was it - and the remainder we could not eat any of the food (they MADE us take most of it). Then, when we had credits left, we felt guilty and tried to take food home with us. I think if you stay longer, and plan to visit many more sit-downs, then the plan makes sense. If you plan more counter service and fewer sit downs it may not make sense.
  5. janell's Avatar
    We used the re-fillable mugs a lot, at Pop, which I was sort of shocked. lol One way we cut down cost of drinks was a cooler back pack. No not Vera(darn) Igloo. :-) Got it at Target, Im sure they will be on sale soon, but it wasn't all that much.

    We order sodas and water from an online store which delivered. It worked great and saved a lot of money, my husbands really likes his Coke Zero. lol

    I have heard people say they had a lot left over food. Not sure if they were talking about a meal and desert or what. On our trip I had a small tupperware with me and I placed left over cake, cookies, anything that wouldn't melt in it and put in the cooler. Worked great.
  6. adriennek's Avatar
    Oooh, thanks for the tips, Janell!
  7. Klutch's Avatar
    Mrs. Klutch and I did the Dining Plan for our last visit. We thought it was great! A few points...

    - We burned extra credits for California Grill and Yachtsman Steakhouse. The atmosphere and watching the MK fireworks from California Grill was awesome. The food was just OK. Yachtsman Steakhouse was well worth the extra credit. I had the best ribeye ever there. There's no view, but the atmosphere is nice.

    - Boma, the buffet at Animal Kingdom Lodge is well worth a visit. I have visited mulitple, high end buffets in Las Vegas and Boma spanks them all. Boma is also very kid friendly. And try the Kenyan coffee served in a French press. I think it's better than Kona.

    - The Sunshine Seasons Food Fair at Epcot is a good place for counter service lunch. You will find lots of fresh fruits and veggies there; often missing at other counter service eateries.

    - Another good counter service place is Flame Tree BBQ at Animal Kingdom.

    - Book Rose & Crown at Epcot just before Illuminations. Request a seat on the patio. It's a great place to watch the show. Even if you're seated inside, you can walk out onto the patio to watch Illuminations. The food is also quite good.
  8. TinaMouse's Avatar
    You can use your snack credits for breakfast if you're careful. We were at POFQ and we got an order of 6 beignets ($3.99) and a fruit cup ($2.99). With our refillable mugs, we split the food and had breakfast for free! It worked out well for us because with the large TS meals each day and another CS, we didn't snack much. Glad you're a convert!
  9. thymeandplace's Avatar
    When we last went to DW we ended up carrying our food with us in our backpack that was full of ice-cold water bottles. The water bottles slowly melted but kept our food cool until we could get back to the hotel. It worked out extremely well for us and allowed us to not only save our food, but save space as well.