Famille Du Pentium

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Disney Dining How-To

Having just experienced the Disney dining plan, I figured I would share some of what I learned about how it works, what it does, how to use it, etc.  This is not a post for folks looking for stories about our family’s recent trip to Disney – those will come later.

I won’t go into the sales schtick, but basically you can now pre-pay Disney for your meals.  You pay a dollar amount up front, and with your resort charge / room key / park ticket  card you can now use dining "entitlements" which basically pay for an entire meal.  Basically here’s how it works: under the standard plan, for each night that you stay at a Disney resort (not Day that you have a park ticket – this is important) you get one snack, one counter service meal, and one table service meal per person who is staying in your room.   Sounds simple, right?  Now, add to that, each "meal" includes various things like: appetizers (one each per person in your party, per meal, per day), non-alcoholic beverages with unlimited refills, desert, and tips – this is for the table service.  For counter service, you get a basic meal (sandwich and side [e.g. burger and fries], drink and desert) for each entitlement.  You can also use your counter service entitlements for things like a large pizza (pick-up only) at your resort counter-service canteen, including drinks and desert.  Lastly, you get one snack per day per person, which can be used for any snack-type treat (including bottled water) in the park, up to $4.00 value.  The "snacks" can also be used for many breakfast items (such as donuts, a bag of bagels, packets of cream cheese, etc.) at the resort gift shops.  So they are pretty flexible.

Now the big question is, what’s at stake?  Is Disney just giving away it’s food at a discount?  Well, there are some tricks, traps and gotchas of course.  First of all, your meals start the first day you check into your resort.  So start eating early.  Second, they are priced based on full meals – if you don’t normally eat (or don’t think you can force yourself to eat) appetizers, entrees, and desert every day, you might lose out versus just paying for small meals.  Third, your meal entitlements all expire at midnight the day that you check out of your resort – whether you’ve used them or not.  And they cannot be carried over, even with park tickets that have no-expire option (remember, the meal plan is tied to your resort stay, not your tickets).  So you have to do some planning in order to make it work out in your favor.  Here are the three basic planning strategies from which to choose:

1.  Plan each and every meal, and maximize your usage of dining entitlements.  If you are having a cheap meal one night, don’t use entitlements – save them for more expensive meals later, so you use the most entitlements on "expensive" food.  This requires a lot of planning, dedication and willpower, and is also subject to blow up on you if your meal plans change.  If you saved your meal entitlements for later in your visit for a visit to an expensive Disney restaurant, and then your plans change and you don’t eat there, you risk letting your entitlements expire because your vacation ends before your meal chits run out.

2.  Start using your entitlements immediately for each and every meal, and burn through them quickly  so as not to waste any.  The problem with this is, you might end up using chits for cheaper meals, then run out, and have to pay for more expensive meals. 

3.  Don’t worry about chits and per-meal costs and maximizing or even using everything up; just ensure that you eat more value over the course of your visit than you paid Disney up front.  This was our approach, and it worked out pretty well.  We did let some (counter service) entitlements expire, but we used our table service chits for expensive restaurants and character meals, and overall (I figured this out) we spent less on meals than if we didn’t use the dining plan.  The benefit here of course is that you don’t have to plan each and every meal, you just generally make sure that you’re getting your money’s worth and let things roll.

Now for some final details:

-Each person in your Disney resort reservation gets 1 snack, 1 counter, and 1 table-service meal entitlement per night that you are registered at a Disney resort.  These entitlements are pooled together, and you can use them for whoever you wish*

*With the caveat that Disney differentiates child meals and adult meals, and also differentiates child meal entitlements and adult meal entitlements.

-Table service entitlements cannot be used for counter service meals, and vice-versa.  Snacks can be used to buy water, cookies, desert treats, soft drinks, etc. almost anywhere (and a wide variety of breakfast foods from the resort gift shop – important point!)

-Not all Disney restaurants accept the Dining plan.  Most notables are: Rainforest Cafe at AK (and probably Downtown Disney), many of the Downtown Disney restaurants (notable exception is Planet Hollywood, which is a very expensive restaurant and good way to get your money’s worth on a table-service chit).  Disney publishes a guide to all the DD restaurants – I don’t have a link but you can go to Disney.com. 

-Disney meal chits don’t automatically get you into table service restaurants, without a priority seating reservation.  If you don’t make reservations (anywhere from 60-180 days in advance of your trip), in many cases you will not be able to get into a sit down / table service restaraunt, and your valuable table service chits will go to waste.  Make those Disney dining reservations early!

It remains to be seen whether this becomes a value add from Disney or not.  I think it is – even though I wasted a few counter-service meals, I paid about as much for a family of five for seven nights as I would have paid for seven table-service meals.  As such, the counter service and snacks were all just gravy (pardon the pun).  I came out ahead.  Disney, of course, constantly tweaks their programs and offers and prices, and will no doubt eventually move the break-even bar a little closer to what they make – meaning more planning will be required.  The big question is, is the additional planning and rigor on vacation worth the savings? 

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 8:02 pm  

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