The Tables in Wonderland versus Dining Plan Conundrum

Friday, February 03, 2012

You may remember last time we talked about two programs that go hand-in-hand.  The Disney Vacation Club and annual pass combination can make it easy for you to visit Walt Disney World several times a year.  Those two programs are kissing cousins per se.  Now let’s look at two programs that kind of make us scratch our heads.  The Tables in Wonderland card/program and the Disney Dining Plan both give us options on how we choose to dine and save money on food at Walt Disney World.  With the cost of food at Disney World skyrocketing to no end saving a few bucks on food is certainly welcomed.  Ever since both of these programs were introduced to guests I’ve always been intrigued how one might be better than the other.  There have been times when I had to pull out my abacus to see what was better for my family.  Let’s take a brief look at how they work and what may be a better option for you. 

The Disney Dining Plan

Many of you probably know about the Disney Dining Plan (DDP).  Over the years this plan has been modified to include different variations like a basic dining plan, quick service dining plan, and even a deluxe dining plan.  The Disney Dining Plan is Disney’s way of allowing you to pre-pay for your meals in advance.  Disney says you can save up to 15% on your meals by purchasing the plan; however that percentage really depends on how you choose to dine during your vacation.  The basic dining plan gives you 1 table service, 1 quick service, and 1 snack per day for a set price per person.  It also includes 1 refillable mug for the length of your stay.  The quick service plan includes 2 quick service meals and 1 snack per vacation night.  It also includes 1 refillable mug to use during your stay.  To make a long story short both of these plans have a set price per day for adults and children.  You can find out more information about the dining plans here.  For the sake of our conversation just know that you have a couple of choices when it comes to the dining plan.  Both plans usually go up in price or have some modifications each year.  Be sure to look up the latest information before making a decision on which plan might be right for you.

The Tables in Wonderland Program

First things first!  Before you can participate in the Tables in Wonderland program you must be an annual passholder, Florida resident, or DVC member.  The cost for membership is $75 for annual passholders and $100 for Florida residents.  The Tables in Wonderland card allows you to save 20% on your table service dining at most Disney World table service locations.  It also allows you to save 20% at some quick service outlets, specifically at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the value resort food courts.  Also included with the card are some perks and benefits you can enjoy during your membership.  One of the best benefits I enjoy is free valet parking at the deluxe resorts when you dine at the table service restaurants (Don’t forget to tip your valet attendant).  On occasion, Tables in Wonderland will offer members special dining experiences inside the theme parks or at the resorts for a cost.  These meals are exclusive to members and sometimes are worth the price depending on the food and experience. 

What to Do?  What to Do? 

When it comes to saving on food at Walt Disney World you have 4 choices.  You can buy a Tables in Wonderland card, purchase the Disney Dining Plan, or go on your own with a rental car and dine offsite, or bring your own food into the theme parks.  For those of us who go on vacation we want to experience Disney restaurants and not venture off-property.  With the cost of food at Disney World I don’t blame anyone for driving off-property to eat.  But, let’s put that aside for a moment. 

If you were an annual passholder or a DVC member would you buy a Tables in Wonderland card or purchase a Disney Dining Plan?  That’s the real question here.  With the rise in prices between the Disney Dining Plan and restaurant menu items purchasing a Tables in Wonderland card seems like a solid choice.  But, there are some considerations.  If you plan on eating at table service restaurants during dinner when menu prices are inflated the dining plan maybe a better option.  This is where you have to pull out your abacus and start looking at menu prices to see if the dining plan makes more sense than the 20% Tables in Wonderland discount.  Other considerations are if you plan on eating character dinners or if your family prefers buffets instead of ordering from the menu.  I’ve found for our family of 3 we are better off, in most situations, sticking with the Tables in Wonderland discount and not purchasing the dining plan(s).

Some people have suggested purchasing the Quick Service Dining Plan and using your Tables in Wonderland card for table service meals.  This could work depending if you don’t plan to use your quick service credits in the Animal Kingdom or at value resort food courts where the Tables in Wonderland card is accepted.  Also keep in mind if you are on the dining plan and you purchase a food item or an alcoholic beverage outside the dining plan parameters your Tables in Wonderland card will give you 20% off those non-covered purchases. 

Basically, try and figure out where you are going to dine before making a decision on a TiW card or the DDP.  Take a close look at the menu prices in the restaurants you choose.  The higher the prices the more you should consider the dining plan.  If your family doesn’t like to eat at a table service restaurant each day of your vacation then a TiW card would be a better option.  Also figure out how many children and how many adults will be in your party.  The cost for the DDP for Children 9 and under is actually a pretty good value.  This should give you a good idea of what choice to make before your vacation.  Also, factor into your decision whether you will have a rental car.  The ability to dine off property can sway your decision towards a TiW card.  

Conclusion

The bottom line to figuring out whether a TiW card or DDP is right for you comes down to planning your meals ahead of time, understanding your family’s dining habits, and knowing other vacation factors like if you’ll purchase a rental car.  There’s so much to consider it can be a daunting task trying to figure out if a TiW card or the DDP is a better value for your family.  But, there is a reward at the end of the day.  If you can plan and figure out your dining situation before your vacation begins you’ll be able to save a few dollars along the way. 

Just remember, Disney is constantly tweaking menu prices, the Disney Dining Plan prices, and even the price for a Tables in Wonderland card.  They are the masters at manipulating our purchasing habits when it comes to a Disney World vacation; this includes how we choose to dine.  Every move, like price increases, are calculated to move or persuade guests into a certain direction or decision.  This has never been more true when it comes to Disney dining.  Before you decide how to save money on dining be sure to know what you are eating first.  The money you save can go towards other vacation extras like souvenirs or even some extra Mickey ice cream bars. 

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About this column

Aaron DelPrince looks at the various activities you and your family can experience at Walt Disney World


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