If you book at a Disney hotel, you might be offered the credit-based Disney Dining Plan, which pre-purchases meals. (It was suspended during the pandemic, when capacity was limited.) Like everything else at Walt Disney World, it’s unnecessarily complicated, choked with rules, exclusions, and premium versions.

Lots of people think it will make touring easier, but if you are a casual Disney visitor and not using it for things like character meals, it has other opportunity costs.

The biggest problem is that with so many guests subscribing to it, making reservations for table-service meals is a a true headache. Restaurants routinely book up weeks ahead, and booking places to eat becomes something you'll have to sit down and arrange long before your trip. Figuring out your restaurants will become more advance homework. Yes, last-minute walk-up wait list slots are sometimes avaiable on the day of your visit through the Disney World app (go to the page of the restaurant you want, and be near its entrance), but you'll be turned away much more often than you'll snag the table you want.

It’s not cheap enough. In 2020, the least expensive plan, Quick Service, had a per-day cost of $55 adults, $26 kids 3–9, and included two counter meals (not all three meals) and one snack (like popcorn or ice cream), plus one drink (it can be alcoholic), and a refillable soft drink mug you can only use at a Disney hotel. Most adult Quick Service meals cost $12 to $15 per meal using cash. Even if you spent $15, remedial math proves that if you stick to two counter-service meals with no plan, plus one $4 snack, you’d spend about $34 versus $55 using the plan.

It’s inflexible. You must buy the plan for every night you stay at the hotel even though you may be exploring away from Disney on some days. You are not permitted to buy fewer days than your stay. And everyone in your room must be on it, plus, some menu items and food locations are excluded.

It costs time. Many of the plans expect the use of sit-down restaurants. This requires reservations months ahead, and you lose a lot of touring time.

It’s impractical. The Standard plan (2020: $78 adults/$31 kids, per night) buys the equivalent of one sit-down meal, one Quick Service meal, and two snacks. If you want the plan with all three meals whether they’re table or counter, you’re looking at $119 adults/$48 kids per night in 2020. It starts to be of value only if you have a sit-down meal every single day. Few first-time visitors do that.

It’s incomplete. The plan doesn’t include tips (unless your party is six or more, in which case there’s a mandatory 18% added).

It’s wasteful. Because it begins on the day you arrive, you’re bound to leave with some unused credits, resulting in a loss. Most people compensate for this by booking a character meal or fireworks package, which require more credits. If you plan on character meals, the math may—borderline—work out.

It drags down quality. To make the program pay off, since its 2005 introduction Disney has noticeably reduced the caliber and quantity of food.

The Dining Plan is worthwhile if you are offered it for free as part of a package, which happens during some special sale periods. Free is always delicious!

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.