Eating out tends to be a big part of our trips to Walt Disney World. Since we make frequent visits, we don’t really feel any strong pressure to see everything. We really enjoy taking a somewhat leisurely pace on our trip and including at least one sit-down meal during each day is something that we particularly enjoy.
In this post, I’m going to start with a brief discussion of the Disney Dining plan and then provide a day-by-day overview. I apologize that photos are a bit sparse in this report. I’ve never really gotten into the habit of taking a lot of photos at restaurants, other than family photos at character meals or other themed locations. In fact, even the pretty general photos (without my family) of the Sci-Fi Dine-In below are ones that I actually took several years ago. If I had thought ahead of time of focusing my main trip report on the meals, I probably would have made more of an effort to get at least exterior photos of more of the restaurants. I’ll try to think of this on my next trip.
Disney Dining Plan
During the last few trips, we have taken part in the Disney Dining Plan, which allows us to pre-pay a fixed per-day amount to cover the majority of our meals. The plan provides credits for 1 counter service meal, 1 table service meal, and 1 snack item per person for each day of the trip. The credits are pooled over the length of the trip (expiring at 11:59pm on the departure day), which does provide some flexibility for how they are used.
The dining plan has been somewhat controversial among Disney fans for some reasons that I do think have merit, particularly related to the increased difficulties getting into table service restaurants (at many locations, it is now pretty much mandatory to make reservations 6 months in advance) and it does also seem that some of the menus have been simplified somewhat since the dining plan began. Overall, the program does work very well for our family and it does save us a considerable amount of money as we tend to order meals that would cost quite a bit more if we were paying directly.
While we still find the plan to be worthwhile, it is unfortunate that some changes were made that reduced the value a bit since it first began. Originally, the table service meals included appetizer, entree, dessert, non-alcoholic beverage, and gratuity. A couple years ago, the appetizer and gratuity were removed. Including both the appetizer and dessert did make for a bit more food than we probably really wanted at some meals. I do think it would be much better, though, if they would change the plan to offer a choice between the appetizer or a dessert instead of only providing the dessert. There were a number of occasions where an appetizer (particularly soup or a salad) would definitely have been my preference over getting a dessert.
I’m definitely more torn on the elimination of the gratuity. On the one hand, I admit that I did notice that service was sometimes a bit lackluster back when the tip was included and, thus, guaranteed. On this trip, we didn’t really have any experiences where the service was less than good. On the other hand, though, having to pay the gratuity separately for each table-service meal definitely takes away from the “pay it and forget it” aspect of the dining plan. Since you calculate the tip based on the original menu prices, it does re-introduce a little bit of a tendency to want to look at the cost of each item ordered and a brings back a little bit of motivation for ordering the less expensive items.
I was also less than thrilled that an 18% gratuity was automatically added to our check at every location. I’m not sure if that was because of the dining plan or because we had 6 people in our party, but it isn’t a policy that I like very much in either case. At a few locations, the server did ask me first if I wanted to charge the gratuity to my room charge, but in most cases he/she just brought the charge slip without asking first or commenting.
My main reason for not really liking the automatic gratuity is that I prefer to be able to increase or decrease it a bit based on how the service was. I also tend to think that 18% is a bit high for buffet meals, but the amount was not lowered at those locations. I will note that, since the gratuity was charged automatically, I never added anything to it and I’m pretty sure I would have tipped a bit higher at a few locations had it been left up to me.