Wednesday, February 24, 2010

DDP – Heaven or Hell?

The Disney Dining Plan is one of the most hotly debated options available to Walt Disney World resort guests. People seem to either love it or hate it. I’m going to give you a brief run-down on it, as well as my take on its pros and cons to help you decide for yourself.

What it is: The Disney Dining Plan (DDP) s a prepaid Meal Plan available with the purchase of a Magic Your Way Plus Dining Package includes a resort room plus at least a one-day base ticket. Per Disney, everyone in the room must be utilizing the same package and ticket options. Packages and package components, including dining entitlements, are nontransferable. All dining entitlements expire at midnight on day of checkout.

Walt Disney World offers three different dining plans, as outlined below:

The Quick Service Dining Plan (QSDDP) entitles each guest to receive 2 Quick Service or Counter Service (think food courts or cafeteria style) credits and 2 Snack credits per nights stay. This plan also includes one Resort Refillable Mug per person good for unlimited refills of beverages at resorts only for the length of stay. Beverages usually include soft drinks, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate.

The Regular Disney Dining Plan (DDP) entitles each guest to receive 1 Table Service (regular sit-down restaurant or buffet) credit, 1 Counter Service (CS) credit, and 1 Snack credit (Mickey Bar, small popcorn, etc.) per night’s stay. This plan does not include a Resort Refillable Mug.

The Deluxe Disney Dining Plan (DXDP) entitles each guest to receive 3 meal credits and 2 snack credits per night’s stay. Deluxe meal credits can be used for either table service or counter service. This plan also includes one Resort Refillable Mug per person good for unlimited refills of beverages at resorts only for the length of stay.

*On each of these plans, adult credits are assigned to guests age 10 and older. Child credits are for guests age 3-9. Children age 2 and under do not receive dining credits. Adult and child credits are not interchangeable. Children must order from a child’s menu at restaurants where one is available. However, generally speaking an adult is allowed to use an adult entitlement to order a children's meal from the child's menu.

*Credits are not limited to your daily allotment, and you may use multiple credits per day (as long as there are enough remaining credits of course). Those on the Regular Dining Plan or Deluxe Dining Plan can even choose to exchange two table service credits for a show or signature dining experience if they desire.
Most of Disney’s higher-end restaurants (Artist Point, California Grill, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Flying Fish Café, Hollywood Brown Derby, Jiko, etc) as well as Disney’s Dinner shows (Disney's Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show, Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, and Mickey's Backyard Barbecue) require that you forfeit two dining service credits for one meal. Many, but not all, restaurants in WDW participate in the DDP.

*The price for the regular Dining Plan (by far the most popular plan) is $41.99-$47.99 per guest 10 years old and over depending on the 'season'. The price for children, 3-9 years old, is $11.99-$12.99. The price for the Quick Service Dining Plan is $31.99 per guest 10 and older and $9.99 per child 3-9 years old. The price for the Deluxe Dining Plan is $71.99 per guest 10 and older and $20.99 per child 3-9 years old. This is the cost per night of stay and is required for each night of your stay. The Dining Plan must be purchased for everyone registered on the reservation. The price of the plan includes tax but does not include gratuities in most cases. You need to tip on the price the food you ordered would have been (Disney provides this on your receipt).

*To qualify to use the dining plan, you must book a package reservation at any Disney resort, or stay at a Disney resort using DVC points. It is not available to guests of the Swan/Dolphin or Shades of Green.

*With the exception of DVC members staying on points and Walt Disney World Annual Pass holders, you must purchase at least a one-day base theme park admission ticket for every person on your reservation age 3 and over, but you do not have to purchase a ticket that matches the number of nights you are staying. Everyone on the reservation must purchase the same type and length of ticket.

*The plans do not include side dishes, appetizers, specialty drinks (smoothies), or alcoholic beverages.

Pros of the plan:

• You can pay for the cost of your meals in advance. A lot of people like knowing this figure going into their vacation, as opposed to making an educated guess what their food budget will be.
• Cost savings. The price is cheaper than if you’d bought the items separately. It basically works out that you’re getting the snacks and desserts for free. If those are things you typically order, then you are saving money. If not, well, I guess you got a free Mickey Bar each day out of the deal.
• It encourages you to try some Disney restaurants you may not have otherwise experienced.

DDP Cons:

• Unless you are a BIG eater, it’s way too much food. You end up either gorging yourself or feel like you are wasting it.
• For many people, the cost of the plan is more than they would have spent. Side note here: my family and I often split meals at WDW. This saves us A LOT more money then the dining plan, and gives us the opportunity to sample some fun foods without gorging ourselves.
• It puts a lot of pressure on you. In order to get your money’s worth out of the plan, you need to make sure that you are getting reservations for all of your table service meals, so that your credits don’t go to waste. Say good-bye to spontaneity in planning your day! You end up working your entire vacation around your dining reservations to make sure you don’t forfeit your credits. I’ve even see it pressure people into ordering foods they don’t want – i.e. they feel they have to order the most expensive item on the menu to get the most out of the plan.
• The popularity of the DDP has made dining reservations throughout WDW much harder to get.
• Many feel that the DDP has caused Disney to “dumb down” their restaurants – offering the same menu items at restaurants across property. How many times in one vacation do you want to eat strip steak and chicken fingers?

What about Free Dining, you ask? Free Dining is a promotion Disney runs during slower times (usually hurricane season) when the DDP can be added can be added to your Magic Your Way package for free. A good deal, yes. But not perfect. To take advantage of this offer, you forgo any other discounts Disney may be offering for that time (room-only, AP discounts, etc). You’ll need to sit down and do the math to see which offer works the best for you.

I’ve actually participated in the DDP three times, all during Free Dining. My thoughts? It was okay as a promo deal, but I would never pay for it. And now that I’m a DVC member and will no longer participate in Free Dining, I’m really looking forward to the spontaneity that being off the DDP will return to my vacations!

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