One of the biggest debates among Walt Disney World travelers is whether or not the Disney Dining Plan is worth the cost. Some argue that it has become too expensive
What our research says: Disney World's target price point for menu items is $18 for dinner. However, to maximize the Dining Plan, you need to exceed a $30 threshold at each table service meal to come close to breaking even. As an alternative, there are number of table service restaurants where the majority of items are in excess of $20. While you might not break even with menu items in the $20 range, you can at least take comfort in knowing that you're making the most of the Dining Plan. But the real value comes when you visit buffets and character meals - they are downright expensive.
What it costs: The 2012 adult price, ages 10 and up, for the Disney Dining Plan is $51.54, kids, ages 3-9, pay $15.02. Prices increase slightly during peak times of the year. The regular Dining Plan, known as the Disney Dining Plan entitles each guest to 1 refillable resort mug, 1 snack, 1 counter service meal,
Avoid these Dining Plan Mistakes. Don't use table service entitlements for breakfast or lunch because menu prices are typically lower than dinner. Also, dessert is excluded from breakfast but included at lunch or dinner. Avoid using your snack entitlement for water or soft drinks, as they typically cost less than the component cost of the snack credit -- about $4. Hotel food courts might have snack items that slightly exceed $4, so stock up on snacks there rather than the theme parks.
Best Values for the Disney Dining Plan
A buffet of German classics in a festive old-world atmosphere. Live music and dancers provide authentic entertainment. Seating is at long community tables. Adult price for the dinner buffet is $39.50.
An African inspired buffet that scores high among readers. Prices change with the season, but dinner is seldom less than $35 per person - just about at the break even point.
Coral Reef Restaurant | Epcot Menu
Tucked away in the corner of The Seas Pavilion, Coral Reef has become one of the most popular restaurants in all of Walt Disney World. Serving seafood with 6 of the 9 menu items over $20.
Grand Floridian Cafe | Disney's Grand Floridian Resort Menu
One of our favorites for a table service restaurant near the Magic Kingdom. Interestingly, Disney's own website refers to the menu as "moderately priced" but that might be compared to the other dining options at the Grand Floridian. Compared to other table service restaurants on property, it's pricey! 5 of 7 dinner entrees are over $20.
Kona Cafe | Disney's Polynesian Resort Menu
Many think of the Kona Cafe as the classic Disney breakfast spot, but it's dinner menu rivals the best steak and fish houses on property. 5 of 8 menu items over $20.
Teppan Edo | Epcot Menu
This Japanese steakhouse offers a great menu for the steak lover and the vegetarian. Meals are prepared before your eyes by a well-disciplined hibachi chef. 7 of 9 menu items over $20.
Tusker House | Disney's Animal Kingdom Park Menu
American and African buffet that is wildly popular with park fans. The offerings are similar to Boma which also gets very high marks. Adult price for dinner is $28.99
Tutto Italia | Epcot Menu
We liked this restaurant so much better when it was Alfredo's but in 2007 it closed. Tutto Italia meals are decent but won't exceed your expectations. As one survey response put it, "that was the most expensive pasta I've ever eaten." The overall experience won't disappoint unless you're paying cash. 8 of 9 menu items over $20.
Character Dining Values on the Disney Dining Plan
Dining with Disney characters is very popular and require reservations months in advance. Expect a buffet, usually divided into separate sections for kids and adults. The adult price for a character breakfast begins at about $20 and dinner about $41. Kids (ages 3-9) pay about $12 for breakfast and about $22 for dinner.
A character dinner for two adults and two kids would be about $126.00 before tax and tip. That's about the break even point for the per-day cost of the Disney Dining Plan. Click here for the best character dining restaurants in Walt Disney World.
Check with your Disney Travel Specialist for full details and current information on the Disney Dining Plans, as information is subject to change. Darren Wittko is a Disney Travel Specialist with Magical Vacations Travel and Creator of The Best of Walt Disney World.
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Published February 2012