A dining plan fan goes totally OOP for the first time... here's the result

GillianP1301

DIS Veteran
Joined
Jun 22, 2012
I am just back from a 9 night stay at YC (was 10 nights, but came home 1 day early due to Dorian). I wanted to do a detailed analysis of my experiment to pay OOP for all meals (I'm a fan of the dining plan and have always used it, usually deluxe).

A bit of scenario setting info:
- We are a party of 2, 1 adult and one 11 year old (adult for the sake of dining at Disney).
- Room discount offer was cheaper than the free dining offer, so my options were to purchase a dining plan or to pay for all meals out of pocket.
- When I first booked/planned my trip, I had the deluxe dining plan (DxDP). We tend to eat 2 - 3 meals a day and prefer most to be table service (TS).
- I downgraded to the regular dining plan (DDP) and eventually to no dining plan at all and paying all meals out of pocket (OOP). Each time I changed the dining plan option, I did not change any of our meal plans. In other words, I planned for exactly the same number of meals and same restaurants paying OOP as I did when I was DxDP.
- My primary goal was not to eat as cheaply as possible. There are many ways to save money on dining while at Disney (eating grocery store snacks in room for breakfast, sharing meals,etc...) None of that was in my plan and my experience does not fall into that category.
- My trip was originally 10 nights, it got shortened to 9 nights due to hurricane, so all my math is based on a 9 night stay (since Disney refunded me the 10th night anyway).
- We had 1 meal that was OOP and would have been regardless since it's not on the dining plan (Shula's), so I'm excluding that from my numbers. For those curious, that meal cost us $151.23 + $28 tip.
- I am not including tips in my calculation since those are not covered by the dining plan and would have been the same whether on plan or not. For the total trip, we spent $255 on tips.
- I had 4 Early Morning Magic events booked outside of the dining plan and they each came with breakfast. That contributed to me needing less dining credits.
Now for the numbers:

Cost of DDP would have been $1358 and we would have had a total of 18 TS credits, 18 QS credits, 36 snacks, 2 refillable mugs
Cost of DxDP would have been $2092 and we would have had a total of 54 TS credits, 36 snacks, 2 refillable mugs
By the end of our trip we had spent a total of $1676.83 which was made up of 8 TS restaurants (5 of which were character meals), 5 signature restaurants, 4 QS restaurants, 24 snacks and 2 refillable mugs. Translated to credits that would be:
36 TS
8 QS
24 snacks
2 mugs

If I had used the DxDP, I would have had 10 TS credits and 12 snack credits left unused and I would've had no OOP expenses. Plan cost less the total of what I paid OOP = $140 savings by not buying the DxDP.

If I had used the DDP, I would have had to pay for 18 credits worth of TS meals OOP, had 10 unused QS and 12 snacks left over. Plan cost + cost of meals not covered by the plan less the total of what I paid OOP = $268 savings

What does this all mean? My experiment to pay all OOP showed me that I spend less on dining that way than I do when I pay for a dining plan. Even with several character meals and a lot of meals ordering one of the most expensive meals (we ate a lot of filet mignon!), I still spent less paying OOP. I did find that on the odd occasion I did skip dessert or ordered an appetizer instead of an entree, we even shared 1 meal. None of those things would have happened on a dining plan. I definitely did not need as many credits as I would have had on the DxDP.

Worth noting that I did not maximize the use of my credits, but I'm assuming that even if I had used up more credits, the ratio of savings for each meal would've averaged out to still have overall savings. My goal was to eat what and when I wanted regardless of being on the plan or not, so maximizing the credits was not my main goal.

Conclusion: Unless a free dining promo saves me more than a room discount, I will always pay OOP for all my dining now.
 

22Tink

BC, Canada
Joined
Apr 25, 2015
I completely agree! We’ve done the dining plan once (free dining promo which was a great savings for us) and OOP twice for our 3 most recent trips. Both times we paid OOP we came out way ahead of the dining plan. We didn’t limit what we ate at all and even had a few character meals thrown into the mix. I love the idea of having our food prepaid, and I know that’s one of the great things about the dining plan, so for our last 2 trips we just loaded gift cards prior to our trip so our meals were prepaid plus we saved money.

I totally get why people love the dining plan, and I think the numbers and ages of your party affect it’s value as well, but it’s just not for us. The free dining promo was great when we had it, and the discount worked out better for us than the room only for that trip, but I likely won’t ever pay for the dining plan. We ended up with a ton of snack credits left at the end of the trip that we were scrambling to use so if we had of paid for the dining plan that would have been money we wouldn’t have spent otherwise on those snacks. We’re Canadian so the exchange rate plays a role in that as well. A $200 USD difference works out to even more in CAD dollars.
 

AP1209

Mouseketeer
Joined
Apr 28, 2015
Great write up. We will be going without the dining plan for the first time in March. On our previous 3 trips we got the dining plan for "free". We almost bought the regular dining plan but decided against it because my disney adult daughter (15) is a picky eater and will most likely eat off the kids menu so it seemed a waste to pay for an adult dining plan for her. Looks like we will save a ton on this trip. It will hurt to see those bills at the restaurant though!
 
  • Joined
    May 12, 2018
    Thank you so much for this analysis! I was just trying to figure out whether the DDP would be worth it for my husband and myself for our upcoming trip! Lol I have pages of numbers and restaurant names and food items!
    Thanks again! I’m thinking we'll be going OOP!
     

    Disney Frenhines

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 28, 2013
    Excellent post. As someone who likes to wing it I don't want the DxDP or DDP because of the TS credits and booking of ADRs that would be involved, so I would have the QSDP, but, I would never pay full price for it, I only had it in March because of the offer of free breakfast cutting the cost down, something I'm not doing this trip I'm going on soon. I will be keeping a tab on what I eat this trip (adding any discounts because I'm an AP holder) and then deciding whether or not to keep the discounted QSDP I've added to next years reservation or just go for the free breakfast option, which is basically a free dining credit that can be used at any meal (and presumably exchanged for 3 snack credits) per day. I often have kids meals as I'm not a huge eater and that could bring the overall cost down.
    The DDP was excellent value when they initially introduced it, but, they have pared it down so much that it doesn't represent the great bargain it used to at full price.
     

    Trinity88

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    May 17, 2010
    Great analysis! We've done both and our last trip we went OOP (5 of us - 4 disney adults, 1 disney child) and we definitely saved money (probably $400 US which amounts to more in CDN dollars). We ate what and when we wanted, didn't limit anything, including character meals.
     

    Minniemoo15

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jan 27, 2016
    Great post! The dining plan saves us a lot of money because I have two young children - so their daily cost is a steal. We do a lot of character dining, buffets, etc. Once my kids reach Disney adult age though, I can't see us getting the dining plan anymore.
     
  • sharona

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 7, 2008
    Great post! The dining plan saves us a lot of money because I have two young children - so their daily cost is a steal. We do a lot of character dining, buffets, etc. Once my kids reach Disney adult age though, I can't see us getting the dining plan anymore.
    This for sure.
     

    GillianP1301

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jun 22, 2012
    Great post! The dining plan saves us a lot of money because I have two young children - so their daily cost is a steal. We do a lot of character dining, buffets, etc. Once my kids reach Disney adult age though, I can't see us getting the dining plan anymore.
    I totally agree with this, when my son was under 10 it was a no brainer to get the dining plan. You will always come out ahead with children and character dining. And when we did deluxe dining and he was ordering $55 filets for dinner (since kids can order off of the adult menu on deluxe), we were really doing great. When he turned 10, that's when I started to crunch numbers more and it became a harder decision.
     

    babesboo99

    Veteren Disney Vacationer
    Joined
    Mar 16, 2009
    We have done both and our twins are now 12 and we have the DxDP because we still do character meals. more them and my husband will eat 3 meals a day last time we came out way ahead between 5 and 600 i think between snacks, appetizers, the mugs and signature restaurants we saved money and we also liked the feeling of not worrying should we get this or should we get that. So for now we will keep doing the DP until i see it not working for us. i know it doesnt work for everybody.
     

    Nolcrest

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Mar 1, 2000
    Thanks for the write up. I just came on here because I am thinking about cancelling our dining plan. It's just DH and myself plus we're staying in the cabin so I think we'd do better without it. This post confirmed how I've felt.
     
  • ofcabbagesandkings

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 16, 2014
    Great post! The dining plan saves us a lot of money because I have two young children - so their daily cost is a steal. We do a lot of character dining, buffets, etc. Once my kids reach Disney adult age though, I can't see us getting the dining plan anymore.
    Agree with this, and also would add that FD can be a better discount than RO if you have 4 or 5 people in your room, as we do. We’ve paid OOP once (with a RO discount), had FD once, and paid for the regular DDP once (but we gave ourselves the “discount” of not getting park hoppers). Upcoming trip is FD again. With kids at buffets/character meals, the DDP will usually put you on top. Now that alcohol is included, FD is an even better deal for us with 2 adults who will drink. But once my kids are Disney adults we won’t be paying for the DDP.
     

    TigerlilyAJ

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jul 19, 2011
    - I had 4 Early Morning Magic events booked outside of the dining plan and they each came with breakfast. That contributed to me needing less dining credits.
    Now for the numbers:

    Cost of DDP would have been $1358 and we would have had a total of 18 TS credits, 18 QS credits, 36 snacks, 2 refillable mugs
    Cost of DxDP would have been $2092 and we would have had a total of 54 TS credits, 36 snacks, 2 refillable mugs
    By the end of our trip we had spent a total of $1676.83 which was made up of 8 TS restaurants (5 of which were character meals), 5 signature restaurants, 4 QS restaurants, 24 snacks and 2 refillable mugs. Translated to credits that would be:
    36 TS
    8 QS
    24 snacks
    2 mugs

    If I had used the DxDP, I would have had 10 TS credits and 12 snack credits left unused and I would've had no OOP expenses. Plan cost less the total of what I paid OOP = $140 savings by not buying the DxDP.

    If I had used the DDP, I would have had to pay for 18 credits worth of TS meals OOP, had 10 unused QS and 12 snacks left over. Plan cost + cost of meals not covered by the plan less the total of what I paid OOP = $268 savings
    What I take away is how highly individual the decision is. Some families, like mine, would be much happier with the extra snack credits the DDP would have provided you and would have no interest in the signature restaurants (which are a bad value at 2 credits on the DDP and probably should be OOP or DxDP purchases). They love snacking so much that we skipped QS meals by turning them into snacks. (When you're a party of six, it's really easy to turn one QS meal into three snacks, even if they're ice cream or something that has to be consumed right away.)
    All that before the issues like Room Discount vs. Free Dining come up, where the number in one's party and the number of kids/adults can really tilt the balance one way or the other.

    DxDP vs. OOP question: Did you always each order an appetizer? Like, both when on the DxDP on previous trips, or on this OOP trip? I'm wondering because it's one way that makes it hard to do apple-to-apple comparisons, as DDP doesn't have appies, DxDP does (but some people might not want one for every person at the table!), and OOP it's wide open for you to decide at each meal (an in-the-moment decision to spend or not that is definitely a feature of going OOP). Like, if someone was considering the DxDP, the three questions I would have would be 1) Are you doing character meals? 2) Are you doing Signature meals? and 3) Do you like to eat appetizers on top of Disney-size meals?

    Hmm, maybe I will need to have a similar question regarding alcohol, as that's included in the plans, but you might not imbibe or might not at every meal. I couldn't tell if you ordered alcoholic drinks as part of your trips on a plan or this one without.
    Maybe now alcohol is to all the plans what I view as the appetizer and Signature questions to considering the DxDP. The wrinkle for alcohol is that, like in your party of 2, some members of a party do not get to choose whether or not to consume the plans' included alcohol because they're minors. (Of course, they do have other, pricey specialty drinks they can choose, but do they want one at every meal?)

    Your $1676.83 total is not complete as part of the cost of the four EMMs you attended includes the breakfasts, whether guests eat them or not. I totally get that we have no breakdown of the EMMs costs to know how much should be counted as a food purchase, but nonetheless, you had four meals that you paid for that are not included in the $1676 figure. Given that you had four buffets provided outside any OOP/dining plan choice, it's no wonder it would make sense to skip plans that dole out credits based on how many nights you stay. Things like EMMs and Club Level provisions are just another thing each traveler has to figure into what their other actual food needs will be.
    Thanks! I always enjoy reading people trying to work out all the ins and outs, especially if, unlike most of my party's meals, they're ordering a la carte off a menu instead of eating at a buffet or other prix fixe situation, as it makes it a more complicated set of questions to answer and requires more prognostication for what will you actually order.
    Good to hear everything worked out for you!
     

    GillianP1301

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jun 22, 2012
    What I take away is how highly individual the decision is. Some families, like mine, would be much happier with the extra snack credits the DDP would have provided you and would have no interest in the signature restaurants (which are a bad value at 2 credits on the DDP and probably should be OOP or DxDP purchases). They love snacking so much that we skipped QS meals by turning them into snacks. (When you're a party of six, it's really easy to turn one QS meal into three snacks, even if they're ice cream or something that has to be consumed right away.)
    All that before the issues like Room Discount vs. Free Dining come up, where the number in one's party and the number of kids/adults can really tilt the balance one way or the other.

    DxDP vs. OOP question: Did you always each order an appetizer? Like, both when on the DxDP on previous trips, or on this OOP trip? I'm wondering because it's one way that makes it hard to do apple-to-apple comparisons, as DDP doesn't have appies, DxDP does (but some people might not want one for every person at the table!), and OOP it's wide open for you to decide at each meal (an in-the-moment decision to spend or not that is definitely a feature of going OOP). Like, if someone was considering the DxDP, the three questions I would have would be 1) Are you doing character meals? 2) Are you doing Signature meals? and 3) Do you like to eat appetizers on top of Disney-size meals?

    Hmm, maybe I will need to have a similar question regarding alcohol, as that's included in the plans, but you might not imbibe or might not at every meal. I couldn't tell if you ordered alcoholic drinks as part of your trips on a plan or this one without.
    Maybe now alcohol is to all the plans what I view as the appetizer and Signature questions to considering the DxDP. The wrinkle for alcohol is that, like in your party of 2, some members of a party do not get to choose whether or not to consume the plans' included alcohol because they're minors. (Of course, they do have other, pricey specialty drinks they can choose, but do they want one at every meal?)

    Your $1676.83 total is not complete as part of the cost of the four EMMs you attended includes the breakfasts, whether guests eat them or not. I totally get that we have no breakdown of the EMMs costs to know how much should be counted as a food purchase, but nonetheless, you had four meals that you paid for that are not included in the $1676 figure. Given that you had four buffets provided outside any OOP/dining plan choice, it's no wonder it would make sense to skip plans that dole out credits based on how many nights you stay. Things like EMMs and Club Level provisions are just another thing each traveler has to figure into what their other actual food needs will be.
    Thanks! I always enjoy reading people trying to work out all the ins and outs, especially if, unlike most of my party's meals, they're ordering a la carte off a menu instead of eating at a buffet or other prix fixe situation, as it makes it a more complicated set of questions to answer and requires more prognostication for what will you actually order.
    Good to hear everything worked out for you!
    100% agree that dining plan or not or which one is a very individual decision and one that can change for the same family, depending on the trip. That's why the question of "is the dining plan worth" impossible to answer generically.

    To try and answer some of your questions.... on DxDP we would not always order an appetizer, but we would still come out ahead when my son was under 10. We did 7 character meals (out of 22 meals) and that's our usual count. We had 4 signature meals as well. When I'm on the regular DDP, I don't use credits on the signatures because our 1 credit meals are almost always the better use of the credit and we always use more than 1 TS per day so will always have OOP costs on the regular DDP.

    As for alcohol, I only ordered a glass of wine with our steak dinners and drank non alcoholic otherwise.

    And finally, you are corrrect and that some portion of the EMM would need to count for total food budget. As would my Shula's dinner, which I also excluded. In both cases, they were excluded because I was comparing only what would have been including on the dining plan. Those excluded costs would've been the same with dining plan or not, but muddy the waters when trying to compare dining plan to what that same dining plan food would cost without it.

    In my case, I liked the OOP experience because I could order exactly what I wanted. The key for me though, was not worrying about how much I was spending on food. I did not price watch on menus. I figured out the cost of what I would order most likely order on the DxDP ahead of time (assuming all 3 courses at all meals) and set that aside as my food budget. That way I knew I would have everything covered and would have some left over for the times that I did not go 3 courses (many times) or the odd time we shared a QS.

    I booked a free dining on the bounce back, we'll see if I keep that or switch to a room discount. If I do keep it, I'll just use my TS credits for our character meals and use a few of the QS credits and the rest of my meals will be a similar OOP experience as I just had.
     

    DadofChristaSonofRay

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jul 15, 2001
    We normally drive and stay a little longer (6-7 days) so the DDP wouldn't come out ahead as we have a vehicle to go offsite a couple of those nights for a decent dinner. This trip we are flying and only staying five nights. I have calculated we will come out about $100 ahead this time using the DDP. We missed the latest fall free dining window by one day but had already booked airfare so just had to apply the resort discount.
     

    Rich M

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Apr 18, 2016
    This is a great write up and shows once again the DDP only really works for those that plan to eat the way it is designed. As you stated you had Early Morning events that included breakfast and choose to eat apps instead of entrees and skip desserts. I believe that if you are someone who does not want to be forced to eat something then OOP will always be better for you. If your someone who wants everything the DDP has to over at every meal then you will come out ahead and stuft. One day I will try OOP so that I won't allow myself to over eat for once.
     

    Markal

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Aug 1, 2013
    This is great information. We are fans of the DDP, whether we get it for free or pay for it. It works well for the way we eat. Thanks for putting this together.
     

    Heather07438

    WDW Apprentice
    Joined
    Oct 20, 2015
    There should be a discount to park admission with the DxDP because it takes so long to eat all the courses and meals that only 4 hours is left to walk the park. Just kidding :D
     

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