Monday, April 25, 2016

Disney Decisions: Free Dining vs. Other Promotions

Every year at this time, Walt Disney World releases their annual "Free Dining" promotion for late Summer through Fall.  With this promo, guests who purchase a non-discounted room and ticket package can receive a Disney Dining Plan for FREE.  And every year, potential Disney guests find themselves asking the same question: "Is Free Dining worth it?" 

Disney fans have this very weird habit of asking if things are "worth it".  You will find these questions all over fan pages and forums.  I can understand asking this question when there is actual money involved.  But there are "worth it" questions for just about everything from Fastpass choices to character meet and greets.  

But back to the question at hand.  Is Free Dining worth it?  The answer to this question depends on several factors.  To help you decide if a Disney vacation package with "Free Dining" is worth purchasing, let's review some important things to consider.

RESORT CATEGORY
The actual resort you stay at plays a big role in determining whether the Free Dining package is the best value for you and your travel party.  Under the "Free Dining" promotion, guests staying at a Disney Value Resort get the Quick Service Dining Plan.  This plan includes two quick service meals and one snack per day of your visit, based on the number of hotel nights.  Guests staying at a Moderate or Deluxe resort get the Disney Dining Plan, which includes one quick service and one table service meal, plus one snack each day.  

PARTY SIZE
How many people are going to be in your room?  The more people, the better value the Free Dining element will be.  Again, the resort category plays a role here.  Another important factor in party size is number of adults vs number of kids.  The dining plans are more expensive for adults, so if you have a room with four adults, the Free Dining plan is probably a great option.  If you have a minimum of two adults in your party, you will come out ahead when you use the Free Dining option.   

EATING HABITS
Eating habits of the members of your party is a consideration.  Big eaters will enjoy the variety offered by the Disney Dining Plan because all of Disney's buffets are available as table service meals.  Light eaters and those who don't want to spend much time sitting down to eat will appreciate the Quick Service Plan because you can eat more "on the go".  That doesn't mean the Quick Service Plan is the best value.  

TYPICAL MEAL SPENDING
Consider how much you normally spend on meals when you eat out.  Keep in mind Disney meals are a little more expensive than your local Chili's Restaurant.  The Quick Service Dining Plan costs adults about $44 per day, while the Dining Plan costs about $64 daily.  With the latter plan, think $5 for a snack, $15 for a quick service meal, and about $45 for dinner.  Several websites, including Disney have menus that you can browse through to get an idea of how much you will spend. 

EXAMPLES
Let's look at a few vacation packages to see how "Free Dining" compares to other offers.  We'll look at packages at three different resorts (Value, Moderate and Deluxe).  Each room will have two adults and two kids (ages 7 and 11, which means the older kid is considered an adult where the dining plan is concerned). Our example family will be staying five nights, with six day Park Hopper tickets.

Disney's Pop Century Resort (Value) - Preferred Room
Regular, non-discounted package cost: $2482
Discounted room and ticket (promotional offer): $2344
Package savings: $138
Regular, non-discounted package cost with Free Quick Service Dining Plan: $2482
Value of Dining Plan: $757.  This is also the potential savings available.

Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort (Moderate) - Pirate Room with Water View
Regular, non-discounted package cost: $3258
Discounted room and ticket (promotional offer): $2832
Package savings: $426
Regular, non-discounted package cost with Free Disney Dining Plan: $3258
Value of Dining Plan: $1070.  This is also the potential savings available.

Disney's Yacht Club Resort (Deluxe) - Standard View Room
Regular, non-discounted package cost: $3793
Discounted room and ticket (promotional offer): $3192
Package savings: $601
Regular, non-discounted package cost with Free Disney Dining Plan: $3793
Value of Dining Plan: $1070.  This is also the potential savings available.


VALUE OF SAVINGS
Unless you plan to go on a hunger strike when you are at Walt Disney World, you are going to have to eat.  Now think about your typical meal spending from above.  If your family would consume up to the amount of the Dining Plans as shown in the three examples, the value of the dining plan represents your total savings.  To maximize your dining plan's value, you must use all your meal and snack credits, and the adults in your group should order higher-end items.  

DINING PLAN STRATEGY
To maximize your dining plan, think of each meal like a per diem.  If you use the formula of $5/$15/$45 for the Dining Plan, you will "spend" $65 with your available credits each day.  Be sure to use all of your entitlements.  Also make regular use of your Refillable Drink Mug (may be used at food courts and fountain locations only at Disney resorts).  This alone has a value of around $19.  With drinks costing up to $3 each, your mug will easily pay for itself.  But if you use your Quick Service dining credits at your hotel, be sure to get a bottled beverage to take with you, while you enjoy a "free" beverage in your mug.  It's almost impossible to "break even" with the Quick Service Dining Plan because you would be hard-pressed to find two, $20 counter service meals each day, to go along with one snack.

WHEN TO USE ROOM DISCOUNTS
Since the Free Dining plan is only available with non-discounted (full price) packages, room discounts are only available as an alternative promotion.  This is where party size comes in.  Two or more adults will probably want to take advantage of Free Dining.  Solo travelers would benefit more from the room discounts (especially at Deluxe resorts).  If the savings from your room discount will cover your meals, this discount is probably best for you.  

For many people, investing in the Disney Dining Plan is a complicated decision that requires a great deal of thought.  For others, the dining plan provides peace of mind and brings the guest closer to something like an all-inclusive vacation.  When used to its maximum potential, and in combination with the many other features and benefits of staying at Walt Disney World, your vacation can feel a little more magical.  

Jerry Vargas is an Authorized Disney Travel Specialist and Vacation Planner, specializing exclusively in Disney vacations.  For more information about any Disney destination or a free quote, please visit http://jvptravels.com.  You can email specific travel related questions to info@jvptravels.com, or you can call or text Jerry at (714) 486-9485.






1 comment: