The Disney Dining plans are a fantastic way of experiencing much of the dining that Disney has to offer, without worrying about the cost, as you've pre-paid in advance. And if you make the most of it, you should save money in comparison to if you pay at the time. You can read more about the different dining plans here and if you are eligible to buy one.
So, given that we think they're great, in theory it should be an easy 'yes', the Disney Dining Plan is worth buying. But, in practise it is not the right decision for many UK visitors. There are three things to consider - how much you'll be in Disney to utilise the plan, if you'd normally purchase the amount of food available on the plans, and for the regular plan - if you would normally eat at that amount of table service restaurants.
Is the Disney Dining Plan worth it: will you be around?
Whichever Dining plan you are considering, it has to be bought for every person in your party, and for the entire length of your stay. Most US visitors to Disney are visiting for 2-5 nights - and with this length of stay, it is likely they will stay within Walt Disney World. From the UK, we tend to visit for 10-14 nights. Even if you are staying at a Walt Disney World hotel for the entirety of that time, if it is your first visit it is pretty likely that you won't spend every day in Disney - you probably also have the two Universal parks and some shopping on your itinerary, potentially Sea World, Legoland, Busch Gardens etc. Which means that even though you'll be paying for 10-14 days of dining, you won't physically be in Disney for a good proportion of that time, in order to utilise your dining credits, so it is definitely worth considering if the dining plan is worth the money. This doesn't automatically mean that you shouldn't get one - if you plan to have breakfast in your hotel each day, buy some snacks to take with you, and return in the evening for dinner, then it could well still be worth buying a dining plan. But we recommend doing a rough calculation of how often you won't be around, to see if you are better buying your meals and snack as you go, instead.
Is the Disney Dining Plan worth it: would you buy the same amount of food?
Also consider if you will eat the amount of food that comes with the plan - because if not, it may again be cheaper to pay as you go. Both the quick service and regular plan come with two meals (either counter or table service) plus two snacks for every night of your stay. Now here at Magic & Wishes, we LOVE our food - it is a big part of our trips to Disney World, and we stay in Disney the whole time. And yet by the end of the trip we always have a ton of snack credits left over to spend. It is just so much food. Thanks to the size of them, we could often split a counter service meal, especially with the kids - but we don't because we have a credit each to use. So we wouldn't necessarily be buying as many meals as we consume, if we were buying them at the time. And knowing that we've got another meal coming up soon often puts us off getting the snacks, or we choose to split them between us.
Is the Disney Dining Plan worth it: additional costs
And the final consideration for the regular Dining plan, is whether you would choose to eat at the same number of table service restaurants without the plan. Included in the plan is one drink - alcoholic or otherwise. Not included in the plan is any additional drinks or the tip - and the latter is a biggie. It is customary to tip 15-20% of the cost of the meal. Even if the service is appalling (which we have never experienced in Disney), you'd still be expected to leave around 10%. This adds up to be a significant amount if you are eating at a table service restaurant every day for 2 weeks - so make sure you are budgeting for this and take it into account when deciding which plan to purchase.
Note we have never recommended the Deluxe Dining plan. I'm sure there are some circumstances where you might make the most of it, but for it to be cheaper than paying as you go, you need to be eating at table service restaurants so often that you will have very little time left to actually enjoy the attractions and entertainment at the parks.
Having said all of that, it might surprise you to learn that we almost always buy the regular Dining plan (if we don't get it included in our stay). As I've already mentioned, we love our food and we love our food at Disney even more. Disney World has so many fantastic restaurants to choose from, and a huge array of snacks, and we don't want to be worrying about what we are spending while we are there. If we don't pre-pay using the plan, we subconsciously make different decisions. We decide against eating at the restaurants that we want to. We choose not to have the steak because it is more expensive than our second choice menu item. Does this mean that we possibly spend a bit more money than we would otherwise? Probably - even given the savings on the plans. But it allows us to budget for that in advance, and means we have the best holiday we possibly can. And the food and restaurants are generally fantastic - for us, it is absolutely worth it!
If you're getting a plan 'free' with your holiday, you may be deciding whether to upgrade - learn more about whether it is worth it here.