By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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

By Dave Shute


When I first started this site, the Disney Dining Plan was a big money saver.

Nowadays, with price increases and and reductions in what it covers, not so much.

Families with many 3 to 9 year olds who are planning on a lot of character buffets can still save some money on the dining plan–but not nearly a much as five years ago. This because many of these meals exceed the entire ~$20 daily Dining Plan costs for kids this age.

But for families not aimed at these buffets, or not with younger kids, the dining plan commonly costs more than you would pay in cash for the same meals.

There is a comfort to it, though–by pre-paying, you remove anxiety about the cost of what it covers.

For this reasons, and becasue my itineraries are aimed at families  with kids at the lower price points and include lots of character buffets, I still recommend it. But just barely, and every year I get a little closer to not recommending it.

In other words, if you can’t get the dining plan–becasue you are staying off site, already have tickets, etc–don’t worry about it.

For more on the economics of the dining plan, see the second half of this post.



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


1 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.

2 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.

3 Dave { 09.04.12 at 8:59 am }

Hi Maggie!

Families following one of my itineraries (see ) 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:

4 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.

5 Dave { 09.04.12 at 11:01 am }

Thanks, Dawn!

6 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?

7 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…

8 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.

9 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 and scroll down to the participating venues..

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10 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.


11 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…

12 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.

13 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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14 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.

15 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…

16 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

17 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.

18 Dave { 11.05.13 at 7:32 am }

Hi MYS! For lodging, see my “personal favorites” material For dining, see the right column of this:

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19 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?

20 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.

21 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.

22 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:

23 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…

24 Dave { 05.18.14 at 10:23 am }

Thanks KE! All great suggestions…

25 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.

26 Ed { 03.05.15 at 7:05 pm }

Hi. Im planning a trip to WDW (2 adults, 4 kids) next year and can get tickets to Magic Kingdom hopper pass at a discounted rate through my employer. Unfortunately, it does not include a meal plan. Any suggestions?

27 Dave { 03.07.15 at 7:51 am }

Ed, your comment reminded me to completely rewrite this page as it was/is way out of date. Thanks!!

If your kids are 3-9, and you plan a lot of character buffets, you would indeed have saved a bit on the dining plan. But the savings are so low (or non-existent) these days that it doesn’t much matter.

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