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Dave Answers... Disney Dining Plan

by Dave Marx, Author of PassPorter Travel Guidebooks

Author Dave Marx is a veritable font of knowledge, information, and experience -- and he loves to share it with fellow vacationers. Here are common questions about the highly popular Disney Dining Plan at Walt Disney World, with answers provided by Dave. For a general introduction, read Dave's article, "Disney Dining Plan," as well as his follow-up article, "Disney Dining Plan Revisited."

Question: For the Disney Dining Plan, do you have to have a resort / park ticket package??
Dave Answers: Yes, it has to be part of a package that includes admission, but they'll allow you to buy just one day's worth of admission. You can then use the unused admission towards an upgrade/different pass at a later date.

Question: We are planning on paying for some meals, in order to save our dinner credits for "signature" restaurants. If we pay using our room charge card, how do we prevent from being charged one of our dining credits? Do we just tell the cast member ahead of time?
Dave Answers: Yes, tell your server that you want to pay "cash" (or charge to your room) rather than use a Dining Plan credit. However, I also caution you against using Dining Plan credits for Signature dining experiences. You rarely get as much value for your money as you would if you used those credits for single-credit meals. PassPorter Walt Disney World has extensive tools for evaluating the value of various meals on the dining plan. If you have it, I encourage you to take advantage of those features. If you don't... I'll bet the book will pay for itself on the value of the dining plan advice alone.

Question: I've heard so many conflicting reports about dining plan credits. Are all the credits pooled together, including children's?
Dave Answers: The 2006 adult and child credits were pooled. The 2007 and beyond credits are not be pooled -- kids and adult credits are in separate pools.

Question: Did free dining start at the beginning of August and run through September this year? We are thinking of going back next year and loved the dining plan. Does everyone think it will be offered again? This was the second year, right?
Dave Answers: Disney will do it if they feel the need to do it. It is a slow time of the year, and this year's promo was very, very successful. However, I wouldn't pin all my hopes on it. Disney does have a way of surprising us in all sorts of ways.

Question: Can we request that all the credits only go on one room key to make keeping track of them easier?
Dave Answers: There's no need. The credits are stored on Disney's central computers. Any card you use will show the same number of credits used/available. Any time you want to know how many credits you have remaining, just ask your dining server, or visit lobby concierge at your resort (you can also get a printout from lobby concierge of all credits used and where you used them). After a meal purchase, the receipt will also display the number of credits used and the number remaining on the account.

Question: I just heard that next year's list of participating eateries for the Disney Dining Plan has changed, and there are now fewer eateries participating. Can this be true?
Dave Answers: There was similar "excitement" when the preliminary list of 2006 restaurants was released. A bunch of restaurants seemed to have been "dropped." As it turned out, reality was very different. If my memory serves correctly, many of these same restaurants were on the "out" list last year, too. Note that nearly every restaurant "dropped" is not managed directly by Disney. In fact, it's a pretty good list of every restaurant that isn't Disney-managed. When the list is that comprehensive, it suggests something else to me. Simply, the brochure was prepared early (as it undoubtedly had to go through various layers of management approval before it could be released), and as a result, all these independently-run restaurants simply hadn't been in a position to say "Yes, we're in," or "No, we're out" before the brochure was prepared. One thing Disney cannot do is commit a restaurant to participation before it has agreed to participate. "See here, it's right on this list you printed!" is not something Disney ever wants to hear from an irate guest. They'll err on the side of caution every time. "Under-promise, over-deliver." It's also important to distinguish between inferring a change of policy by comparing two lists, and Disney actually announcing a change. Disney did not list the non-participating restaurants. They listed those restaurants that, as of this date, they knew for sure would be participating. Each year I'm fairly confident that as the new year approaches, the brochure will be updated, with more and more restaurants being added. And, so far, I've been right.

Question: Can my mom she can get her iced cappuccino's that she loves so much with her Disney Dining Plan snack credits?
Dave Answers: Generally, yes, non-alcoholic specialty drinks like iced cappucino are covered as snacks on the Disney Dining Plan. Every counter service and snack cart has a little "DDP" icon next to each menu item that qualifies as a snack. There is not 100% consistency from establishment to establishment, but generally anything worth about $3.50 or less seems to be covered. Above that price, it varies a bit.

Question: We normally have leftovers when just ordering an entree, but now with an appetizer, entree, and dessert, I really think that's enough food for two kids to eat! So, can five of us go to Le Cellier and NOT use five of our table service credits?
Dave Answers: No, you don't have to use the credits for everyone. Just be sure you have a plan for using the unused credits -- Signature dining, Hoop de Doo, eating at additional Table Service restaurants (and using the counter service for the third meal of the day), etc. A dining credit is a terrible thing to waste.

Question: Does the server get 18% tip on what our total dollar item would be, or just a flat amount for dining plan patrons?
Dave Answers: Severs get 18% of the calculated value of the meal. When you get the check, the house copy has the actual menu prices for all items ordered, and the tip is calculated. They give you a copy of the check with all zeros on it (maybe so you can't sit down after the trip and figure out if you came out ahead or behind). My experience is that all the servers are delighted to learn you're on the plan, and most have been extra-attentive. They know you're entitled to appetizer and dessert, so you're not going to skip either, and that you won't be cost-conscious when it comes to ordering the filet mignon. "Come on, it's included! Why not indulge? At least, have a bite!" Naturally, if you skipped dessert it wouldn't be on the check, and it wouldn't count towards their tip.

Question: What if you get really bad service and the server doen't deserve a tip, but the server gets that automatic gratuity provided by the Disney Dining Plan anyway?
Dave Answers: Speak to a manager. Since the Disney Dining Plan is non-refundable, there's no way to save money by choosing to tip less -- Disney has to offer satisfaction in some other way, and would certainly want to address a problem of this sort. The automatic tip is something Disney does to ensure that package guests are treated well (Disney could have short-changed servers by placing an artificially low value on the meals, but the servers are tipped based on the actual menu prices of the items ordered -- certainly a square deal). However, in my experience, service is generally better under the Disney Dining Plan. The servers are very happy to get that automatic 18%, and tend to coddle you to make sure you order everything you're entitled to (if you don't order dessert, they don't get the tip for dessert). Anyone who wants to tip more is certainly welcome to do so. If 18% is less than you'd customarily tip, why feel restricted by Disney's procedure? Leave some extra cash. However, if you're really delighted by the service, also put in a good word with a manager, or with Disney Guest Communications ( A couple of bucks extra is always nice, but Disney keeps track of guest compliments and rewards cast members for that extra performance.

Question: Is the Disney Dining Experience (DDE) better than the Disney Dining Plan?
Dave Answers: Without running the numbers and your specific choices, it's hard to say. However, consider that DDE only helps with the table service establishments, while the dining plan also covers counter service and snacks. You'd have to eat mostly table service at both lunch and dinner to get a really good value out of DDE as compared to the dining plan. If you don't want to create your own spreadsheet (we've got our own, and it's a whopper), the average meal price figures we provide in PassPorter are calculated the very same way Disney's dining plan works (appetizer, entree, dessert, soft drink, tax and tip for table service; entree, dessert, soft drink and tax for counter service). It's a very handy tool for figuring the real value on the dining plan. We just got back from a research trip where we used the dining plan for 10 days (we use DDE extensively on our other trips). We fed two adults and two teenaged girls. The dining plan was definately way too much food for the girls, and it was also more than Jennifer and I prefer to eat. IF you normally all eat appetizer and dessert with your meals *and* you select your restaurants with care, and you'd normally buy snacks in the park, you'll probably come out well ahead with the dining plan. However, when we dine normally, we get either dessert or appetizer (or split an appetizer and split a dessert) at table service, we almost never get desserts at counter service, and we don't buy a lot of snacks in the park. I suspect we paid a bit more more for food than we would have under normal circumstances. DDE will still leave you very conscious of the cost of what you're ordering. The dining plan is a lot like eating on a cruise ship - you can get the most lavish items on the menu, nibble at appetizers and/or desserts, feel royally cared-for (the servers seem to love that automatic 18% tip), and, since it's already paid for (and non-refundable), you're beyond worrying about the cost. So, dollars and pounds (waistline, not sterling) aside, it's lots of fun! When reviewing restaurants we often order appetizers and desserts for all so we have more items to sample, so for this trip, the dining plan was a "professional" help. But like they say in TV commercials, "professional driver on a closed course." So... we got a lot of food for the money, but we'd never have gotten it all if we were paying cash and/or using DDE. And of course, if you're in the habit of ordering fine wines with your nicer dinners, DDE is definitely going to save you some real bucks. So, the answer is a definite maybe.

Question: Can I exchange two counter service (CS) credits for one table service (TS) credit? If not now, do you think Disney will allow this one day?
Dave Answers: I think it's incredibly unlikely that Disney policy would permit two CS credits to be exchanged for one TS credit. While folks may hope they get lucky, please don't plan your vacation around it. It's basic arithmetic. The meal cost averages we list for each restaurant in PassPorter Walt Disney World show the typical counter service meal as costing in the $11 - $13 dollar range (same as a CS credit - entree, dessert, soft drink, tax). The typical full service dinner is far more than double that, especially because you have to factor-in something that's not present in CS - the 18% gratuity. Again, our full-service average dinner price calculation is identical to the meal plan - appetizer, entree, dessert, soft drink, tax and 18% tip. You can get a meal worth $45 or more for a single TS credit - four times the value of a single CS credit. Yes, there are some TS meals that are worth far less than $45 (which is why it's often wise to use cash to pay for your typical character breakfast). However, our lunch today at Le Cellier was valued at over $46/person on Disney's print-out (we're "experimenting" with the Dining Plan on this research trip). Overall, if guests could trade in two CS credits for lunch or dinner at Le Cellier, it would be a hotter reservation than Cindy's, don'tcha think?

About the Author: Dave Marx is the co-author of PassPorter Walt Disney World, as well as several other PassPorter titles. He's also a "foodie" in the first degree who loves anything relating to eating!

Related Articles:

  • Disney Dining Plan
  • Disney Dining Plan (or Dave Does Disney Dining)
  • Dave Answers Dining Plan Questions
  • Making the Most of the Disney Dining Plan


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    Updated 02/22/07 

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