Now that we’ve gone back to the parks and heard from our agents, it’s time to take a hard look at the “new Disney.” Every one of our agents had at least one, if not multiple, of their favorite experiences either modified or temporarily halted due to COVID-19 reasons. Over the next several weeks, we will still hear from our expert agents but the focus will now shift towards those experiences.
Welcome to Believe Vacations’ Weekly Post where today, we begin a new series called “Did You Miss Me?” In this series, we will look at several experiences that have either been modified or temporarily halted during the reopening months at Disney. One of those is our first experience which is a Dining Plan. Did you know that the Dining plan does not exist these days? Do you want it back? Let’s look a little closer…
What was the dining plan?
Starting in 2005 and lasting in many different versions until March 2020, the Disney Dining Plan was as big of a part of Disney vacation planning as resort selection and Fast passes. Families would decide to have their food pre-paid during their visit or pay-as-you-go. If pre-paid, did you want to do all over-the-counter or add some sit-down restaurants. Certain packages would allow you to save up to 30% on all dining which would take much of the planning and cost burden off the minds of guests. Eventually reaching outside of the parks and into the resorts and Disney Springs, the dining plan had well over 100 places on Disney property where guests could redeem their credits. 180 days pre-arrival was a huge milestone for guests as it was the day the dining reservation window opened for the sit-down (table service) restaurants at Disney. For many of the more popular restaurants, if you missed the 180 day mark, you may not have gotten that coveted dining reservation, especially character dining experiences. Once you had a table reservation, you and your party were required to keep that reservation if you did not give a proper cancellation notice and with many guests trying to dine in those prime eating hours, you may have found yourself eating much later or earlier than planned. For major events like the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival, you could use the snack options to stock up on many delicious dishes from all over the world.
What is the option now?
There is no meal plan. Everything now is pay as you go. Snacks, quick service, and table service all require payment via mobile ordering or having a card on file linked to your reservation. There is no 180 prior to arrival window for reservations but rather, now a 60-day window. Character dining experiences are either temporarily closed or modified where the characters make appearances but do not approach your table. Certain food items are still allowed to be brought into the park from the outside.
What do the Believe Vacation Agents think?
One of the complimentary services the agents of Believe Vacations provide is booking those dining reservations for our clients. Whether it was that coveted restaurant 180 days out or finding a slow spot in the middle of a busy schedule, we would look for those restaurants that our families would love. While you would think no dining plan would reduce planning, the truth is dining reservations still require the same planning from your agent. Increased attendance while still having reduced restaurant options means tighter reservation windows. So rely on the services of our agents to help you.
For some of us, the freedom to go about the parks and not have to dedicate an hour to sitting down gave us more time to play. We loved being able to bounce around the park without having to stay in a certain area and stick to the reservation time. With the policy that we could still bring in our own food, many of us saving a large amount of money we would’ve spent on a buffet or nicer restaurant. And when it comes to saving time, there is no better route to go than the Mobile Ordering through My Disney Experience.
The other side of our team missed the dining plan for the little perks that came with it. You can still go to the restaurants and still enjoy the meals but paying out of pocket adds up if you attended the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival. Those snack credits that each member of the party accrued and were cashed in at the festival were gone and dishes at $5-$12 a pop would not be as justified to try.
Why is it OK that it’s different?
Again, while some of the food options are closed, you still have the chance to dine at your favorites. You’ll just have more charges to your account when your trip has concluded. Without having time dedicated to sit-down meals, you will regain time to appreciate the aura of the parks, more attractions, shopping and other experiences you never had time for.
What options do I have if I wanted a dining plan?
Several actually. Bring in snacks like Uncrustables, Cheez-Its, Lunchables, trail mix, Capri Suns, bottled waters, and other items your young ones may snack on at home. If you want to save money yet still get a Disney Dining Experience, may we recommend you bring in breakfast and snack items, do a quick-service meal for lunch and then find a table-service reservation as close to park closing as possible or at a resort after park hours. Just remember to have your credit card linked to your My Disney Experience account for a smoother experience.
What we think will happen in 2021?
When January 1 hits, we predict that the Disney Dining will return to form but with exceptions. Snack and Quick-Service credits will be options to purchase but Table Service credits will come back only when park capacity increases to pre-COVID levels. With many of the more popular dining experiences still closed both in the parks and outside the parks (like character meals), Disney may actually lose money opening up those restaurants and not having booked reservations from open to close. Table Service restaurants will still be out of pocket and still preferring guests to have a reservation.