Disney Dining Plan versus Tables in Wonderland
One of the most frequently asked questions by Disney Vacation Club members is which is “better”, the Disney Dining Plan or Tables in Wonderland. The simplest answer to this is not an answer at all: it depends on how you want to work dining into your vacation. To help you figure out which method best fits the way your family visits Walt Disney World, we’ve done some math and found some explanations and have brought all the information together here to provide what we hope is a helpful guide to getting the most out of your dining dollars during your vacation.
First, a little bit of background. The Disney Dining Plan is a pre-paid meal plan that is available for purchase by guests staying at Walt Disney World resorts. Guests paying cash for their rooms must also have tickets to purchase any of the five Disney Dining Plan levels available while Disney Vacation Club members must only be staying on property on DVC points. Guests staying off property do not have access to the plan. Guests receive a certain number of meal credits (discussed more thoroughly below) per day to “spend” as they choose and as suits their dining style. Tables in Wonderland is a discount card that entitles the holder to 20% off food and beverage (including alcohol) for up to 10 guests of the cardholder at participating Walt Disney World restaurants. The card is available to Disney Vacation Club members, Florida residents, and Annual Passholders for $125 per 13 months. DVC members and Annual Passholders receive a discounted price of $100. The Disney dining plan must be purchased prior to travel (at least 48 hours in advance) while Tables in Wonderland (TIW) can be purchased any time at any Guest Relations location including Disney Springs. TIW members also have access to free valet parking at various restaurant locations and access to special dining events throughout the year.
**NOTE: Free dining, often offered as part of vacation package promotions at Walt Disney World, won’t be discussed in this article. Guests who opt into these packages pay higher room and ticket prices to absorb the cost of the “free” dining, negating some or all of the added value.
DISNEY DINING PLAN
The Disney Dining Plan has five tiers with different options as to how many dining credits are allocated per person per day. We’ll be discussion the three most used tiers, the Quick Service Plan, the Standard Plan, and the Deluxe Plan. The top two tiers of the plan, the Premium and Platinum plans, can be researched on Disney’s website. The three most popular plans in order of expense from least to greatest per person are the Quick Service Plan, the Standard Plan, and the Deluxe Plan. Prices change yearly at the beginning of the year. Currently, the plans look like this:
- Quick Service Plan – This plan costs around $40 per adult and $16 per child per day. Tips are not included in the cost of the plan but tax is. Included in this plan are two counter-service meals per day, one snack per day, and one refillable drink mug per stay per person.
- Standard Dining Plan – This plan costs around $60 per adult and $20 per child per day. Tips are not included in the cost of the plan but tax is. Included in this plan are one table service meal per day, one counter service meal per day, one snack per day, and one refillable drink mug per stay per person.
- Deluxe Dining Plan – This plan costs around $110 per adult and $30 per child per day. Tips are not included in the cost of the plan but tax is. Included in this plan are three counter service or table service meals per day, two snacks per day, and one refillable drink mug per person per stay.
Counter Service Meal – a combo meal from a location that does not employ servers or feature a buffet. The meal includes an entree, side, dessert, and a non-alcoholic beverage. The dessert in this meal can be subbed for another side or you may sub your meal credit for three snack credits in a single transaction.
Casey’s Corner is a popular Counter Service location in the Magic Kingdom.
Table Service Meal – an entree, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage from any restaurant that employs servers or that features a buffet. Desserts may be subbed for a side salad, cup of soup, or fruit plate. Some restaurants and shows like Cinderella’s Royal Table and Hoop De Doo Musical Revue require two table service credits per meal per person.
Snack – Any single-serving-sized item regardless of cost. Hand-scooped ice cream and ice cream sundaes cannot exceed two scoops. Souvenir containers are not included in snack credits.
The easiest way to explain the calculations that go into picking Disney Dining Plan over Tables in Wonderland is to walk through a couple of typical days for a family on vacation and look at how each plan or method shakes out. Most people consider cost first in their “is it worth it?” math, but at times convenience can also come into play in a big way at Walt Disney World. Let’s take a look.
We’re going to use a family of four with two adults, one child age 10 (adult prices) and one child under 10 (child prices) for our examples. First we’ll look at how the quick service plan stacks up against regular pricing for this family, and then we’ll look at how Tables in Wonderland measures up against the two table service-inclusive plans since Tables can rarely be used at quick service locations.
In our first example we’re going to run through a day with the Quick Service dining plan and talk about cost and convenience in the frame of reference of trip planning. The Quick Service plan is great for families who don’t want to spend tons of time dining and don’t eat big meals.
QUICK SERVICE PLAN
Our family is staying at the Villas at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and is up early to rope drop Magic Kingdom. Being savvy planners, they know that breakfast is generally the least expensive meal at Walt Disney World, so they’re going to pay cash for breakfast at Main Street Bakery and use their meal credits later in the day. The family’s cash total comes to just under $30.00 for two coffees, two milks, two breakfast sandwiches, and two muffins. The plan is to spend the entire day in the Kingdom and the family breaks for lunch around noon at Pinocchio Village Haus. Both parents opt for the spicy chicken sandwich with side salads, soft drinks, and greek yogurt while the 10-year-old picks chicken nuggets and fries, chocolate cake and a soft drink and the youngest selects the uncrustables meal with milk and chocolate gelato. Total for lunch in cash would come to about $63 with tax. Mom notes that if the family had not had the included desserts, they likely would not have purchased them in cash as they typically don’t eat such a large lunch. Adjusted cost without desserts would be around $46.00 with tax. The family moves through their day and takes a snack break just before the 3:00 parade. Both children select fresh fruit, Mom has trail mix, and Dad gets a lemonade slush. Snack cost comes to around $13 with tax and the family uses their snack credits. After the parade and a few more rides, the family chooses Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe for dinner. Dad has the Angus Bacon Cheeseburger with fries, carrot cake, and iced tea; Mom gets the Grilled Chicken Sandwich, a side salad, and water, the 10-year-old selects the hot dog, yogurt, and a soda, and the youngest picks the turkey sandwich, chocolate milk, and yogurt. Cash cost for this meal would have been around $55 with tax.
For day 1, the cost for the Quick Service Dining Plan would have been about $136. Adding in the cash cost of breakfast, the family breaks even between cash and the QS dining plan for this day.
CONCLUSION: For families focused on experiencing the parks rather than dining, the Quick Service Plan can save money, sometimes in significant ways. If, for example, this family had chosen more expensive snacks (funnel cakes, ice cream) and eaten breakfast at Be Our Guest and skipped lunch, the savings could have been even more substantial. The plan also allows for a great deal of flexibility as no reservations need to be made or attended to. Ultimately when choosing this plan, families should use restaurant menus online to research possible costs and the best ways to get the most value out of the plan itself, taking into account regular eating habits and factoring in any table service meals including character dining that you don’t want to miss.
STANDARD and DELUXE DINING PLANS v. TABLES IN WONDERLAND
Now we’ll run through a day comparing cost and planning with the standard and deluxe dining plans and Tables in Wonderland. The biggest difference between the standard and deluxe plans are the number of meals and snacks per person per day. The most common commentary on the Deluxe plan is that it’s a LOT of food. It can also be difficult to make three sit-down meals per day if you’re trying to experience all a park has to offer, and certainly if you plan on going to more than one park. We’ll run through a day in and around Epcot for our example.
The family chooses an early character breakfast at ‘Ohana. This is included with both the standard and deluxe plans, though it does take your only table service credit for the day on the standard plan. Cash cost for this meal at $30 per adult and $18 per child would be about $130 for our family of four with a 20% tip. Tables in Wonderland cost would be $105.84 with the automatic 18% gratuity that using the card triggers.
The family goes to Epcot planning to spend the entire day in the park. They choose to experience Garden Grill for lunch as it’s a new service and they’ve never been to the restaurant before. This is where the break in plans occurs. If using the standard plan, the family will need to pay cash for this meal. The Deluxe plan will cover it and TIW will give them a discount. Cash cost for lunch (it’s served family style) for our family is about $150 with a 20% tip. Tables in Wonderland cost comes to $122.50.
The family continues their day and at about 7 p.m. decides to go for dinner at Via Napoli before catching the fireworks. The Deluxe Dining Plan covers this meal as well giving each member of the family an entree, dessert, and drink. Mom and Dad split a pitcher of Sangria, which is not covered by any plan but is discounted with TIW. The standard plan does not cover this meal. Cash cost for the meal is approximately $225 with a 20% tip. Tables in Wonderland cost is about $170.00.
The standard dining plan would cost this family $200 for this day in addition to the $150 for lunch and $225 for dinner, bringing them in at a whopping $575 in food for the day without adding any snacks they might grab. Deluxe Dining Plan cost would be $360.00 for this day for this family including snacks, whereas their cash layout in total would be about $550 including sangria and two snacks per family member. Total Tables in Wonderland cost would be about $400.
CONCLUSION: Those who want to experience a ton of amazing food that Walt Disney World can offer – and perhaps get their money’s worth out of several shows or two-credit restaurants like Hoop De Doo and Cinderella’s Royal Table – are well-served by the Disney Dining Plan. People who wish to experience these same restaurants fewer times per trip (i.e. NOT three sit-downs a day) and maybe share a meal or have a small plate and an alcoholic beverage or two are better suited to Tables in Wonderland, especially if they’re planning to travel to Walt Disney World more than once in a 13-month span. Those wishing to have one big meal per day and snack or use counter service the rest of the day are most likely to find value in the standard dining plan.
The best advice that can come to anyone planning to experience Walt Disney World dining is to sit down with the menus and do a little math. Once you know how your family wants to highlight dining within your vacation, picking the option best for you becomes easy.