(What if You Can’t Do the Dining Plan?)

By Dave Shute

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How to Eat    Where to Eat    The Dining Plan    Guide to Disney Dining

OVERVIEW

The first section gives ways to reduce food spending on your Walt Disney World vacation; the second addresses those who can’t sign up for the Disney Magic Your Way Plus Dining plan.

YOU CAN’T AFFORD THIS AMOUNT OF MONEY ON FOOD

You can save about $750 compared to the recommended food budget, but at the cost of missing much of the best of Walt Disney World. Adding a little of the best back in lets you save $400 compared to the recommended food budget while still enjoying some of the most family-friendly meals.

The basic itinerary has you eating in Orlando 6 breakfasts, 8 lunches (including two brunches), and 8 dinners.

This includes the Disney “Magic Your Way Plus Dining” basic dining plan, 3 sit-down meals outside of the plan*, and 6 breakfasts in your room. Of all these meals, 4 are character meals,** one is a dinner show—the Hoop Dee Doo Revue—and one is a musical brunch—the Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues.

The total food cost for this in the budget is about $540 per person for people ten or older, and about $240 for those younger than ten. The modeled family, with 2 adults and 2 children, one younger than ten and one older, will spend about $1900 on food and snacks.

If you can’t afford this level of spending, you could save $750, without disrupting your itineraries, but at the loss of the best that Disney World has to offer.

You can bring the food budget down to from $540 to $320 per person 10 and older, and from $240 to $140 per kid younger than ten.

Tactically, the way this works is that

  • You don’t sign up for the basic dining plan, but rather the Quick Service Dining Plan, which saves (after taxes and tips) about $120 per adult and $40 per kid
  • You eliminate the three meals* that are off the Dining Plan, saving another $100 per adult and $60 per kid
  • As a result, you eat all of your 16 lunches and dinners at Walt Disney World counter service establishments
  • You eat all your breakfasts in your room, at an average of about $2.50 per meal per person
  • You still buy a refillable mug per person for about $15
  • You still spend an additional $5 per person per day on snacks

You could supplement this with two or three special events and still be below the modeled food budget, without losing so much of what Walt Disney World has to offer.

For example, you could attend Cinderella’s Royal Table lunch, breakfast at Chef Mickey’s, and the Hoop Dee Doo Revue dinner show, and still be below the recommended food budget by about $300.

YOU CAN’T GET ON THE MAGIC YOUR WAY PLUS DINING PLAN

If you can’t get on the dining plan (e.g., if you have chosen not to stay at a Walt Disney World resort), then take the basic approach above and fill out your itinerary with special meals. The difference is that you will be paying cash for the counter service meals, rather than using the Quick Service Dining Plan. See the itineraries themselves for suggested meals, and if needed revise based on this page.

If you do all the meals in the itinerary, but pay cash for them all, you will spend quite a bit more than if you were on the dining plan. An exact figure can’t be given as it depends on what you order. Expect for planning purposes to spend at least $50-75 more per day.

*Rainforest Café in Downtown Disney, Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort, and the Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues.

**Cinderella’s Royal Table Lunch, Chef Mickey’s, Akershus Banquet at Norway in Epcot, the Crystal Palace at the Magic Kingdom.

MORE ON WALT DISNEY WORLD DINING

LINKS FOR WHAT TO BUDGET FOR WALT DISNEY WORLD

For the basic December trip recommended by this site

For help getting to much lower budget numbers,

For Walt Disney World price seasons,

  • See this for resort price seasons
  • See this for Disney Dining Plan price seasons
  • See this for Walt Disney World theme park admission tickets

For the Tightwad’s Guide to Walt Disney World, see this

For the Comfortable Guide to Walt Disney World, see this

Home Donate Sitemap

If you can’t go the week this site recommends, see Estimating Budgets for Different Trips



38 comments

1 Sara { 06.13.08 at 1:18 pm }

Hi. Your website looks really amazing but I was disappointed to discover that you have no information on eating kosher in Disney. My family and I keep kosher, and it becomes rather difficult when on vacation. It would be greatly appreciated if you can get some information on keeping kosher in Disney up. Thank You!

2 Dave { 06.16.08 at 7:52 am }

Sara–I will research this more shortly, but here’s what I have so far:

From the official Walt Disney World site, at http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/wdw/common/helpFAQ?id=HelpFAQDiningPage&bhcp=1#q7

“Q. Will I be able to find kosher products at Walt Disney World® Resort?
A. Kosher dietary needs can be accommodated at most table-service restaurants. Request this service 24 hours in advance at (407) WDW-DINE†. In addition, kosher food products are available at select merchandise locations throughout Walt Disney World® Resort”

See also Allearsnet.com, at
http://www.allearsnet.com/din/guestkosher.htm for much more detail, including a list of counter service establishments with Kosher offerings.

3 Deanna { 02.01.11 at 12:52 am }

The last time we went to WDW we stayed at All Star Movies. We drove from NJ and brought most of our fod with us including a coffee pot, bottled water, iced tea, soda, cereal, PB&j and snacks. We made breakfast in our room every AM except our last day. Every day we made sandwiches and packed bags of drinks, snacks and sandwiches to get us thru each day in the parks. We ate only one meal per day in the parks. We spent less than $1000 all week including gas and tolls to get us to and from WDW and all of our food!

4 Dave { 02.01.11 at 6:54 am }

What a great story! Thanks, Deanna!

5 Cindy { 02.25.11 at 2:11 pm }

I love your site and have already recommended it to some of my friends who are going to WDW this summer, as are we. I really want the dining plan, but am trying to book the individual components of our trip in order to save money. I have found a room at the Wilderness Lodge on Expedia (and other travel sites) for $222/night (before tax, of course) for our June 2 trip. I have found discounted tickets on the Undercover Tourist. But, I can’t seem to find a way to get the dining plan unless I book a package trip, either through Disney or a travel agent. Do you know any other way I can get the dining plan?

6 Dave { 02.25.11 at 7:06 pm }

Hi Cindy!–I believe you can only get it as a part of a package (there are irrelevant exceptions, like for DVC owners using their points.) But to double check, you could call WDW reservations or a travel agent.

Thanks for the love! Dave

7 Kathy Kummer { 10.16.11 at 6:08 pm }

We brought a suitcase full of bread, peanut butter and other quick breakfast foods. We stayed at Port Orleans and used the cafeteria for drinks and fruit. At the end of the trip we had the empty suitcase to bring home souvenirs. If we wanted to do a sit down or character meal (and we only did two) we did at late lunch instead of dinner because it was cheaper and ate lighter fare later. This saved us a lot of money!

8 Dave { 10.16.11 at 6:46 pm }

Great ideas, Kathy! See this page and let me know what you think: http://yourfirstvisit.net/2010/08/30/the-tightwads-guide-to-how-to-eat-at-walt-disney-world/

9 Tom { 06.26.12 at 2:54 pm }

Dave, I have been on the dining plan three times already (two for free) and I got to say that using the Deluxe plan, I could never finish my meals! I ended up exchanging my remaining meals the last day for bottles of Minute Maid juice, fruits and similar stuff. However we went two times to Chef Mickey’s, once to Cinderella’s and one to Winnie Pooh’s place and the kids loved it.
We got the Quick Service meal plan for free and if you plan to eat healthy this may not be your choice since most of the available places are for pizza, hamburgers, fried chicken and hot dogs.

10 Dave { 06.26.12 at 3:08 pm }

Thanks Tom!

11 Anonymous { 07.01.12 at 9:23 pm }

How we do Disney without the dining plan… On the way to the hotel from the airport, we stop and get supplies. (Breakfast items such as milk, cereal, bread, snacks and bottled water/drinks) Of course you have to have a frig in your room. Then we eat our breakfast in the room, take snacks and water along with us to the park(backpack of course) so when we get hungry we can just have a power bar etc.. and drink our water instead of high sugar soda. Then in the evening we have a great dinner somewhere.. You save a ton of money and eat and drink alot healthier.

12 Dave { 07.02.12 at 6:51 am }
13 Janis { 07.05.12 at 3:10 pm }

We’re going four days before Thanksgiving. If we don’t have the dining plan & want to go to a restaurant for a sit down meal will they seat people with the plan before us? What would be the best time to eat the dinner meal with or without the plan?

14 Dave { 07.05.12 at 4:48 pm }

Janis, sit-down meal reservations begin being taken 6 months before and the more popular restaurants book up months ahead–especially for an incredibly busy week like Thanksgiving week. People without reservations–whether they have the dining plan or not–aren’t seated unless there are tables available that aren’t reserved. This will be rare except for the least popular restaurants that week. See this: http://yourfirstvisit.net/planning-your-first-family-trip/when-your-plans-need-to-be-firm/

15 Maggie { 09.04.12 at 8:30 am }

I don’t think the dining plan necessarily saves so much money unless you really do eat all of the food on it. I do not get desserts at CS meals, and at TS meals, I usually prefer to share an appetizer with my husband rather than each get our own dessert. Some days, particularly at Epcot, we prefer to nosh with a snack at a few different pavilionscountries rather than sit down to a CS or TS meal during the day. After pricing it out, I just didn’t find that I saved any money (and lost a small amount, actually) if I chose to buy the dining plan.

16 Dave { 09.04.12 at 8:59 am }

Hi Maggie!

Families following one of my itineraries (see http://yourfirstvisit.net/planning-your-first-family-trip/basic-itinerary/alternative-itineraries/ ) will use all their meal credits. They will also save a bit of money, but not nearly as much as when I first started this site 4.5 years ago, with all the price increases since then…See this: http://yourfirstvisit.net/2012/08/07/prices-value-disney-world-2013/

17 Dawn Caitano from Destinations in Florida { 09.04.12 at 9:51 am }

I am one person who loves the Disney Dining Plan. I wish they would include the tip in the sit down plan like they did the first year the Dining Plan was out. It was great because you really did not need cash. Even so, I always do the Plus Dining Plan, with that plan I am always satisfied. We eat our breakfast in the room and head off to the parks for the day – utilize out Quick Service for Lunch and then the Table Service for Dinner. Definitely works for my family! Now that it includes the Resort Refillable Mug helps also for that Morning Coffee.

18 Dave { 09.04.12 at 11:01 am }

Thanks, Dawn!

19 Brian { 11.17.12 at 3:25 pm }

We are planning on getting in late our first day, is there any way you don’t have to pay for the dining plan everyday? It doesn’t seem worth it if you have to pay for a day in which you will not even visit the parks. What are your thoughts?

20 Dave { 11.19.12 at 6:51 am }

Brian, if you want the dining plan, you have to take it for every night of your stay. Note you don’t pay by the dya–just the night. Most people have one more day than night…

21 Stacey J. { 02.17.13 at 2:18 pm }

Hi Dave!
Reading all you have to offer plus other sites we have found a great option of renting point through the DVC hopefully at Boardwalk. What do you think of the Tables in Wonderland card? We will be in Orlando about 20 days. I thought this would save and be more flexible than the dining plan. We want to go off in to the city as well and then we aren’t tide down to only eating on property.

22 Dave { 02.18.13 at 6:34 am }

Hi Stacey, as many days as you’ll be there, I think Tables in Wonderland is a great idea!! I’m sure you already know this, but it’s only valid at a subset of Disney locations–so it still “ties you down” to eating on property–at least to get its savings! See http://tablesinwonderland.com/ and scroll down to the participating venues..

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23 Tom { 02.19.13 at 11:47 am }

Dave, being this my first time at WDW without holding a dining alternative included, I’d like to share my experience.

1) Paying from your own pocket food at Disney’s is expensive.
Yeah, I guess you already knew this but I’d like to mention it again

2) Some places that used to be good choices when you had the quick service plan, are no longer that attractive without one.
First to come in mind is Wolfgang Puck Express at the Marketplace (Downtown Disney). When we had the dining plan this used to be one of our choices but when we had to pay it from our own pocket it looked terribly expensive in comparison to other alternatives. For a meal of 4 (2 adults and 2 kids) we ended up paying 55 dollars for a basic plate of spaghetti with meatballs, when with that money (or even less) you could eat a full-size meal at Friday’s, for instance. And neither the place nor the food served justify the premium paid, in my opinion.

3) Rely on supermarkets.
I used to buy groceries (such as chocolate milk or bananas for breakfast) at Target (10 minute ride on road 182) and saved lots of money. Compare a Nesquik small chocolate milk bottle at $1.10 vs $2.49 at the food court of the hotel.

Summing up. Living without the dining plan at WDW is difficult but not impossible. You can easily make it, considering there are good replacement alternatives nearby.

Cheers!

24 Dave { 02.19.13 at 12:50 pm }

Thanks, Tom! And I used your second comment to fix this one, and so just deleted the second one…

25 Mike { 02.28.13 at 7:12 pm }

Hello Dave, my question is can a party of 4 adults on the dining plan plus 1 three year old not on any plan at all order from the children’s menu and pay out of pocket for the 3 year old with no problems for the 4 adults who will be using the dining plan for themselves.

26 Dave { 03.01.13 at 6:54 am }

Mike, yes you can. Anyone can order off the children menu, and if you have dining plan credits, use them for that…you are making me curious as to why you would want to do that, though…

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27 Mike { 03.01.13 at 10:36 am }

We will use the adults credit for their meals. We will have a 1 1/2 year with us. She will be eating people food but some of the menus we are looking for dinner we know a child will not eat. 4 adults = 4 credits on ddp, 1 child under 3 we want to buy a child’s meal for her and not use a credit for her.

28 Mike { 03.01.13 at 12:18 pm }

I did err on the age of the child on post 25. She will only be 1 1/2 not 3 when we go in Oct. Sorry

29 Dave { 03.02.13 at 9:30 am }

OK Mike, I thought you were saying the adults were gonna buy off the child menu…just use cash for the little one…

30 MYS { 11.04.13 at 11:50 am }

Any suggestions for meals and lodging for adults only. We don’t care about meals with princesses, just nutritious food that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Thanks.

31 Dave { 11.05.13 at 7:32 am }

Hi MYS! For lodging, see my “personal favorites” material http://yourfirstvisit.net/x-personal-favorites/ For dining, see the right column of this: http://yourfirstvisit.net/planning-your-first-family-trip/where-to-eat/dining-alternatives/the-comprehensive-guide-to-walt-disney-world-dining/

Was this even remotely helpful?

Well then mosey on over to the home page, and like it on Facebook or pin it on Pinterest!

32 Adrianne { 03.01.14 at 11:25 am }

I’m stressing about the Magic Your Way tickets a little. We want to do a dining plan, but the Magic Your Way tickets are substantially more expensive than if you bought regular park tickets (4-days= $73/ticket vs. $132/ticket) and they include stuff that we don’t care about (mini golf, arcade credits, souvenir cups, etc). Is it really worth paying extra for stuff we don’t want just to get the dining package?

33 Dave { 03.01.14 at 12:59 pm }

Adrianne, the prices are the same either way, so something is happening.

Either one version excludes tax, or in your MYW version either Disney has added a ticket day or an option–e.g. hoppers. You can click around to get the right number of days and options.

34 John D S { 05.16.14 at 10:45 pm }

We have a family of 5, with the eldest of the 3 children turning 11- a finicky eater who prefers kids meals. The other two children are in the 3-9 range.

I cannot seem to find the answer to this question: Can we purchase the dining plan for the 2 adults and 2 children and pay for the 11 y/o in cash if needed? Or is it all or nothing. At now the adult rate, she certainly will not eat enough to come close to her cost on the plan.

Thanks for any advice.

35 Dave { 05.17.14 at 7:05 am }

John, all on the reservations must be on the same plan–see the second half of this: http://yourfirstvisit.net/2014/04/16/the-best-ever-free-dining-faq-in-the-history-of-the-world/

36 KE { 05.17.14 at 11:04 am }

I have a suggestion or thought for John and those with picky/finicky eaters that my in-laws use:

In this case, it is best to look at buffet meals because everyone has access to all the foods, including the kids’ section. At Disney, most buffets = character meals, which can be worth the cost for the interaction and entertainment alone! This is how my in-laws avoid dealing with their very picky princess (who is now a teenager and still only enjoys eating the standard kid options).

Another tip is to look at the menus online a few weeks before you go and talk to your picky eater about the menu at each of the restaurants you will be going to. This may help in preparing a selection instead of hashing it out upon arrival, which can be a struggle if she’s really picky. It may also be beneficial to review menus before making dining selections in order to ensure that everyone is a happy camper when meal time rolls around. This has also been done with our picky eater and it has worked to help her make decisions beforehand and it leaves us much less stressed about the whole thing.

Just some things to think about…

37 John DS { 05.17.14 at 2:08 pm }

Thank you. Now I see it: “All guests on a single reservation (except children under three—not covered on any plan) must opt for the same Dining Plan if you elect to purchase it. There’s no such thing as having four people on a room reservation and only three people on the Deluxe Plan”.

KE, thanks for the tips.

38 Dave { 05.18.14 at 10:23 am }

Thanks KE! All great suggestions…

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