Monday, July 22, 2013

Disney Dining Plan vs. Tables in Wonderland (Our Experience)

I've been lucky enough to travel to Disney World three times since 2011. After not traveling to Disney since I was a kid, on New Years Eve in 2010, we started talking about where to go for our family vacation the next year. Surprisingly, my mom said she had always wanted to visit Disney as an adult. After much discussion and research, we booked a trip and ended up with Free Dining, which we upgraded to the Deluxe Dining Plan.
We used 2 dining plan credits to attend the Spirit of Aloha
Luau in 2011 (and my hair was brown).
Well, that trip only served to spark my Disney obsession and somehow I convinced my parents we needed to return in 2012.
Both trips were in November, over my birthday, and during Epcot's Food & Wine Festival.
Pork Slider from the Hawaii booth at F&W (snack credit)
We had a great time on both trips, and when I had the opportunity to attend a conference in my field being held in Disney at the Yacht Club Resort, I signed right up and convinced my mom to tag along. After having the dining plan for the first two trips, we weren't quite sure how we'd like not having it. In addition to not having the dining plan, we decided to just make a couple ADRs (advanced dining reservations), and just wing the rest. This trip was totally different than our previous ones! Since it was so different, I thought I'd write a little bit about our thoughts.

First- we loved the deluxe dining plan on our past two trips. As three adults, it was nice to have breaks in our day and to be able to leisurely enjoy meals. We had no problem using our 3 credits a day by booking either a table-service breakfast or early lunch each day and a Signature dinner every night. We also loved ordering whatever we wanted without looking at prices. Both years, we had free dining, so we only paid the upgrade price to upgrade from regular to Deluxe dining. This meant that each of us ate for less than $40 a day (not including gratuity)- which can't be beat! We also traveled during the Food and Wine Festival, and had no problems using our snack credits to snack around World Showcase. Was it a lot food, and in some cases too much?
Oak Grilled Filet from California Grill (2012)
Absolutely! But to us, it was totally worth it to try new things and for the convenience factor, especially since we were eating Deluxe for less than $40 per day. (For reference, in the years we went, the Deluxe Plan included 3 meals and 2 snacks per person, per night of stay. Each meal could be used as table or counter service, and included an appetizer, entree, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage per person. Also included was a resort refillable mug.)

Since this trip involved booking the room at the conference rate and me attending the conference all day each day, we couldn't add the dining plan. Instead, I purchased the Tables in Wonderland card, which is one of my Annual Pass benefits. The card costs $100, but can be used at most table-service restaurants to receive 20% your bill (including alcohol). I knew that it wouldn't actually save money for us on this trip, but I have a trip booked with a signature dinner every night of the stay in October, so I knew between the two it would save money.

Here's a line-up of where we ended up eating over the course of our 5 night trip:

  • Beach Club Marketplace
  • Be Our Guest (dinner- used TIW discount)
  • Tomorrowland Terrace Wishes Dessert Party
  • Boma (breakfast- used TIW discount)
  • Beaches & Cream (lunch- used TIW discount)
  • Boardwalk Bakery (dinner)
  • Coral Reef (dinner- used TIW discount)
  • Yachtsman Steakhouse (dinner- used TIW discount)
  • Rose & Crown (dinner- used TIW discount)
As I mentioned earlier, we only had a couple of set in stone ADR's for this trip. These were the Wishes Dessert Party, Boma breakfast, and dinner at Yachtsman Steakhouse. The week before we left, I saw an opening for Be Our Guest, so we also booked dinner there. Another difference between this trip and our Deluxe Dining trips was that instead of us each getting our own appetizer, entree, and dessert we knew that we'd order what looked good and most likely split some things. We actually ended up splitting entrees at every meal, and didn't order dessert or appetizers at every meal. Of course, by splitting entrees and not always ordering appetizers or dessert, we were able to eat much more cheaply than our previous trips. I must admit though, that at times, we ordered the way we did (or chose not to order) was because we were watching our budget. 
Grilled Strip Steak from Be Our Guest

That would be considered one negative of not having a dining plan- even though it is a lot of food, when everything is paid before you go you don't have to think about your budget at all once actually on your trip. I've seen it advised several times that you can budget and have everything paid for even when not on the dining plan by buying Disney gift cards before the trip or just setting the money aside. We actually did this- and even though it was great because everything was paid for before the trip, it just wasn't quite the same, because when the bill came, we still had to look at the price.

So, which works out better? The Deluxe Dining Plan or using the Tables in Wonderland discount card? Well honestly, I think it just depends. We loved the Deluxe Dining Plan both times we used it, and as long as we were paying to upgrade to it during free dining and not paying the full price, it is a fantastic deal. However, for the type of trips I had this time (a conference being the main reason) and that I have scheduled next (going down for the Tower of Terror 10 Miler), I think the Tables in Wonderland card will be the best fit. This has as much to do with tickets as food....I now have an annual pass, and I can purchase discount tickets for my traveling partners thanks to the conference and runDisney, so wouldn't be eligible for free dining.

I really think that which is the best deal is a personal decision and depends on a multitude of factors such as your touring style, your restaurant preferences, and whether or not you have children. So for us, we do like the dining plan, but will stick with Tables in Wonderland for now.


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