July 22, 2024

Disney Dining Plan Returns to Disney World in 2024!

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The wait is almost over. Walt Disney World has finally officially announced that the Disney Dining Plan will return in 2024. Here's everything we know so far, including changes, pricing, tiers, booking dates, what's included &

The wait is almost over. Walt Disney World has finally officially announced that the Disney Dining Plan will return in 2024. Here’s everything we know so far, including changes, pricing, tiers, booking dates, what’s included & still missing, and more. Plus, our commentary about why the DDP is finally coming back, speculation about the future of “Free Dining” and more.

For those who haven’t been paying attention to the multi-year saga of the Disney Dining Plan’s potential return, it started three years ago while the parks were still closed. At that time, there was still a lot of uncertainty about reopening, but one thing was clear: cancellations. Not just in the near-term, but for months into the future. In an effort to reverse this, a new Free Dining recovery deal was released for June through September. A couple of months later–and almost 3 years to the day of this announcement–the recovery deal was quietly cancelled.

That was the first sign that major changes and cutbacks were on the horizon when the parks reopened. Only a couple weeks later, Walt Disney World temporarily suspended the Disney Dining Plan, Extra Magic Hours, FastPass+, and many other things. In the time since, Walt Disney World has resort or permanently eliminated everything else…except the DDP. At this point, the Disney Dining Plan is one of the last major things that’s still temporarily unavailable. Virtually everything else has been officially ended/cancelled or brought back by 2023.

For its part, Walt Disney World has not been totally silent about the Disney Dining Plan’s future. The DisneyWorld.com pages for the DDP haven’t been pulled, instead displaying a “temporarily unavailable” message. In-park menus, even at new restaurants and EPCOT festivals, have continued to display the DDP logo or “qualifies as a snack.” It’s as if Walt Disney World has put the DDP into hibernation, but wants it ready to roll as soon as the deep sleep is over.

As far as announcements go, the last one came way back in 2021 when Walt Disney World announced theme park early entry and extended evening hours on-site guest perks. That stated the Disney Dining Plan would return, but that the company is “not quite ready to share an update on timing.”

It’s been radio silence since then…until today. Here’s the official announcement that Walt Disney World just shared about the Disney Dining Plan’s belated return:

Time to eat! Disney Dining Plans will be coming back as an option for those staying at Disney Resort hotels who purchase a vacation package with us starting with stays beginning January 9, 2024, which will also open for bookings on May 31, 2023.

Walt Disney World knows that guests – and families in particular – have missed the Disney Dining Plans, which offer guests the convenience and peace of mind of pre-paying for their meals and snacks. Guests will be able to choose from two popular options: Packages that include either the Disney Quick Service Dining Plan or the standard Disney Dining Plan. According to the company, both plans will be a great value for families with young children with access to many spectacular food and beverage offerings across Walt Disney World.

Unsurprisingly, this is missing major details about the 2024 Disney Dining Plans, and those will probably trickle out over time. This was not standalone news–it was contained within the announcement of 2024 Walt Disney World vacation packages, which go on sale starting May 31, 2023.

With that said, the official Disney Dining Plan pages remain unchanged, frozen in time since February 2020. Well, minus the little banner at the top that says that they’re “temporarily unavailable.” Point being, this is the type of thing that typically receives a stealth edit prior to or shortly after announcements like this are made.

UPDATE – Walt Disney World has added the following message on its DDP pages: “While some dining plan information is currently available on the Walt Disney World website and on the My Disney Experience app, complete details and participating locations will be shared beginning May 31, 2023. Please check back on May 31 to learn more.

In any case, here’s what each tier of the Disney Dining Plan offers:

Quick-Service Disney Dining Plan (RETURNS IN 2024):

  • two counter-service meals (per night)
  • two one snack (per night)
  • a refillable drink mug (per stay)

Disney Dining Plan (RETURNS IN 2024):

  • one counter-service meal (per night)
  • one sit-down meal (per night)
  • two one snack (per night)
  • a refillable drink mug (per stay)

As indicated by the strikethroughs, both tiers of the Disney Dining Plan that’ll be available in 2024 will offer everyone in the travel party (ages 3 and up) 1 snack or nonalcoholic drink per night of their package stay. Previously, that was 2 snacks. Thus far, that’s the only change we’ve spotted.

The official site also states “meals and snacks are nontransferable between party members,” which I believe is new. However, that’s unlikely to be unenforceable–what, are the cupcake police going to jump out of a bush and smack a snack out of your kid’s hands if you used your credit and gave the dessert to them?!

For reference, here’s what was offered by the two tiers of the Disney Dining Plan that are NOT coming back in 2024…

Disney Dining Plan Plus (NOT RETURNING IN 2024):

  • two meals at your choice of table service or counter service restaurants (per night)
  • two snacks (per night)
  • a refillable drink mug (per stay)

Deluxe Disney Dining Plan (NOT RETURNING IN 2024):

  • three meals at your choice of counter service restaurants or table service restaurants (per night)
  • two snacks (per night)
  • one refillable drink mug (per stay)

In terms of commentary, our first thought is that it’s about time. If you’ve been following the literal years-long saga in When Will the Disney Dining Plan Return?, that reaction is probably unsurprising. We’ve been expecting the Disney Dining Plan to come back for a while now. (Understatement of the post-reopening period!)

As for why that hasn’t happened before now, the reason has evolved over time. When Walt Disney World reopened, there were significant constraints, physical distancing rules, and many restaurants remained closed. Early on, only a small fraction of Walt Disney World’s total table service capacity was available for us. We estimated this as being under 20% at the time. Frankly, I’m not sure how that number was arrived upon (and any calculations performed by me should be questioned), but it sounds about right.

Capacity has remained the key impediment to bringing back the Disney Dining Plan, but the underlying causes of that have evolved. By the time Walt Disney World made the announcement in Summer 2021 that the DDP would be back soon, physical distancing was a thing of the past and tables were not going unfilled due to health safety protocol.

Instead, there were supply constraints and pent-up demand as consumers sought to make up for lost time and spend more money on travel and other experiences. This was a significant problem–at least as it relates to bringing back the Disney Dining Plan–for much of the last 2 years. Of course, “too much demand” is a good problem to have from the company’s perspective!

On the other hand, staffing shortages were not such a “good problem” for anyone. There were many causes for this, from Walt Disney World being slow to reopen and recall Cast Members to the suspension of the International and College Programs to many older employees retiring early. And that’s just a partial list! It’s probably not worth fixating on this since we’ve already done that in many prior posts, and it’s also been documented extensively in mainstream media.

Regardless, the staffing shortages unique to Walt Disney World are largely resolved. Culinary job fairs are happening less frequently and hiring bonuses are less common aside from specialized roles. It’s our understanding that Cast Member turnover has decreased and morale has improved, too. Walt Disney World reaching an agreement with the Cast Member unions resulting in significant pay increases probably helped with those. (And for those wondering, no frontline Cast Members at Walt Disney World are among the company’s thousands of planned layoffs–the parks are actively hiring, not firing!)

Almost all restaurants have reopened as of Summer 2023, to the point that the number of locations that are unavailable is fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of Walt Disney World’s dining capacity (See Open & Closed Restaurants at Walt Disney World). The few locations that aren’t open now likely will be by January 2024.

Additionally, restaurants that have been open for months have continued to scale up operations, bringing back breakfast, buffets, or other missing meal services. This has already happened with several restaurants since the start of the last fiscal year in October, and continues this month and in June 2023.

Given ongoing Disney Springs redevelopment, resort expansion, and projects like Roundup Rodeo BBQ and Space 220, it’s entirely possible that there will be more dining capacity at Walt Disney World in early 2024 than there was in late 2019. Our hope is that this also means some of the unique culinary offerings that enhanced the experience also return. The Disney Dining Plan returning could signal a shift that goes beyond its credit system.

This improvement is visible if you open the My Disney Experience app and browse Advance Dining Reservation availability. We’ve been able to book restaurants that have eluded us since reopening and in spot-checking ADRs for June and July 2023, even the peak summer months don’t look as competitive as either of the last 2 years.

ADR availability has been improving for over a full year, minus certain peak season dates (which had the same problem even pre-closure). It hasn’t been this good, though, not even last August and September. Restaurants like Chef Mickey’s, Story Book Dining at Artist Point, Akershus, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Topolino’s Terrace, California Grill, and others all have availability throughout the month.

The final impediment to the Disney Dining Plan returning was actually unrelated to capacity and supply vs. demand. It was guest spending. If you’ve listened to any of the company’s earnings calls or read about price increases, you’ve probably seen that Walt Disney World has “enjoyed” record-breaking per guest spending in the last couple years.

There was a lengthy stretch of quarterly earnings calls on which Disney reported per guest spending numbers that were roughly 40% higher than 2019. Part of that was unquestionably higher prices, fewer discounts on resorts, and the replacement of free FastPass+ with paid Genie+ and Lightning Lanes. However, it’s also likely that, at least to some extent, guests paying out of pocket had been spending more on average for their meals than they would have with the Disney Dining Plan.

At some point, those record-breaking numbers were bound to come back to reality. Not because guests would grow disillusioned with Walt Disney World (although that has certainly happened with some longtime fans), but because that has been the broader trend. This began with retailers last year, which reported a slowdown as spending shifted from goods to services. It was only a matter of time before travel–which has been surprisingly resilient–experienced its own return to earth.

That’s a good segue into why the Disney Dining Plan is returning at all. It’s worth briefly addressing the all-too-common misconception that Walt Disney World eliminated the DDP to cut costs. To the contrary, the Disney Dining Plan is actually incredibly lucrative and advantageous for Walt Disney World in normal times.

The Disney Dining Plan is a primarily a revenue engine, but one that’s also perceived as a perk by guests. It was truly a win-win for company and consumer. Lots of visitors enjoy the convenience, budgeting, and potential savings of the Disney Dining Plan. The company enjoys the guaranteed spending, unused or underused credits, and quasi-captive audience of the Disney Dining Plan.

When it comes to why the Disney Dining Plan is “good” for guests (or at least perceived favorably by them), the money-saving angle is overrated by blogs like this one and diehard Walt Disney World fans. As with so many things, our opinions are skewed by our own bubble, and we assume everyone does or views things like this. (Opinions about FastPass+ among planners versus the general public are another good example of this gap.)

The percentage of actual guests who save money on the Disney Dining Plan is relatively low. The vast majority of the park-going public is not reading blogs or doing meticulous menu scouting to make spreadsheets of everything their family will order over the course of a week-long trip. Even though this type of planning is popular, it’s still only a small sliver of guests. Most people want the simplicity of an “all-inclusive” meal plan and costs known up front. They don’t care or realize that they’re potentially wasting money or credits.

Walt Disney World’s reasons for wanting the Disney Dining Plan are multifaceted. If guests are already locked-into all of their meals at Walt Disney World, they’re less likely to venture to Universal, SeaWorld, and so on. With Disney’s Magical Express now gone and rideshare services reducing barriers and poking holes in the “Disney Bubble,” the DDP is one way to maintain a quasi-captive audience. If guests who buy the Disney Dining Plan do venture off-site to eat or visit other parks, Disney still has their money for the on-site meals missed.

Historically, this has been quantifiable. Walt Disney World saw higher per guest spending on food & beverage among guests who bought the Disney Dining Plan. Consider how many guests on the DDP end up stockpiling stuff from Goofy’s Candy Company at the end of their trips because they have so many unused snack credits. (An objectively poor use of credits and a high-margin item for Disney, anyway.) Now think of how many guests do not do that, and instead just let snack–or even table service–credits go to waste.

Not only does Walt Disney World maximize revenue from guests using the Disney Dining Plan, but also with operating participants that accept the DDP. Walt Disney World sets a reimbursement rate for the many third party restaurants operating in the parks and at Disney Springs.

If a third-party table restaurant accepts the Dining Plan, they’re repaid at a set rate–often below the cost of the meal. For example, the third party might be paid $30 by Walt Disney World for each table service credit that’s redeemed, even though the guest is ordering $50 worth of food. Those third parties could opt against accepting the Disney Dining Plan, but its popularity and widespread use made that difficult–they’d lose bookings or have problems with complaints from guests who didn’t realize the DDP wasn’t accepted.

Against this backdrop, it makes sense that Walt Disney World would announce the return of the Disney Dining Plan in 2024. The circumstances have changed, as more restaurants have reopened, additional tables are being filled, meal services have been restored, staffing has reached sufficient levels, and there isn’t a supply and demand imbalance.

Beyond that, there are already early signs of pent-up demand slowing down. Walt Disney World already has released 14 different discounts for 2023, which is more than were available for the entirety of last year. Most of these discounts have been released earlier than normal by historical standards, and offer better savings than their counterparts from the last two years. Some are superior to 2018 or 2019, but baseline prices and perks have also changed since then.

This is relevant to the current conversation because the Disney Dining Plan is both a way to incentivize bookings and prop up per-guest revenue numbers. If consumers are no longer spending freely on travel & leisure, the Disney Dining Plan returning could function as an offset to all of that, giving a boost or second-wind to spending, so to speak, when it otherwise might slow down.

As with the release of vacation packages themselves, bringing back the Disney Dining Plan in 2024 is financially advantageous for the company. Locking consumers into spending several months to a year in advance is a lot better than giving them the option down the road. How much you’re willing to budget towards meals next year might be higher today than it’d be in January 2024 or whenever you travel.

If you’re Walt Disney World, you take the sure thing and commit consumers to next year’s vacation budgets before household savings have been further depleted and people make tough choices and become more discerning with their spending. This would be a savvy move amidst a travel slowdown, and is a way to capture vacation reservations for 2024 and secure a commitment of future revenue. (It’s not a guarantee, but it’s better than nothing.)

If it’s true that Walt Disney World is already seeing a softness in bookings for Summer 2023 and beyond, you might wonder why the company is not bringing back the Disney Dining Plan ASAP. After all, if demand is weakening and the DDP is viewed as a perk by some guests, it stands to reason that it could help buoy bookings in the near term, too. That’s a fair point.

We think that if things were truly dire and Disney didn’t have any levers to pull, they’d do everything possible to bring back the Disney Dining Plan in the next few months. For one thing, they’re almost certainly not “truly dire.” A slowdown from unprecedented demand is not a catastrophe, it’s more like a normalization–not a five alarm fire. Of course, Walt Disney World would’ve loved to maintain record-breaking numbers or that growth trajectory, but even internally, they knew a slowdown was on the horizon.

The reality is that there are a ton of levers that Walt Disney World can pull if or when there’s a sharper slowdown. One lever we’ve already seen pulled is new Annual Pass sales resuming. Another is the aforementioned increase in resort discounts. It wouldn’t surprise me if more summer ticket deals are released for Floridians or DVC members, and perhaps more targeted room deals. One outside possibility is a summer celebration or surprise entertainment. (We’ll know things are bad if Disney plays the MSEP card!) All of these levers would probably be easier to pull in the near-term than bringing back the Disney Dining Plan this summer or fall.

The Disney Dining Plan returning in January 2024 also gives Walt Disney World the ability to make a clean break and manage bookings accordingly. It also allows gets past the Christmas season, which is always a popular time for dining demand. (Even when there have been summer or early fall slowdowns in the past, the months of October through December have been strong.) To address whatever summer slowdown may happen, the company can pull other levers while saving the DDP as a way to bolster 2024 bookings.

Another big part of why this probably is not happening is because nothing with Walt Disney World is as easy as flipping a switch. The Disney Dining Plan has its own complicating factors. Remember those aforementioned third party operating participant restaurants at Disney Springs, EPCOT, and elsewhere? Disney needs to hammer out the contractual details with dozens of them before they’ll accept the DDP.

In other words, even if it makes sense for Walt Disney World to bring back the DDP ASAP, it simply may not be possible to accomplish that. Bringing back the Disney Dining Plan is such a significant change that it seems unlikely that it’s something Walt Disney World would do while scrambling to buoy bookings for this summer, unless they were really bad–or unless the company has been concerned about this slowdown for months.

Now that the Disney Dining Plan is confirmed as returning in 2024, many fans will turn their attention to Free Dining. Personally, I’m hesitant to draw any conclusions or speculation as to what this means in terms of whether Free Dining is offered to the United States general public for 2024 (it was not released for the UK, but that’s not conclusive). We could dedicate extensive commentary to arguing both in favor of and against the return of Free Dining, it’s simply too early for that.

Whether Free Dining is offered in 2024 will ultimately come down to occupancy projections and demand at a later date. If discounts are necessary, Walt Disney World will try to determine whether lesser special offers will sufficiently move the needle. If at all possible, they’ll try to get away with only offering the free dining card discount, but that may not be enough. (It doesn’t seem like there was much buzz around that, and resort availability for that promo was pretty good for the entire time it was available.)

As for why only two tiers–the Quick-Service DDP and standard Disney Dining Plan–are returning in 2024, the answer is likely addressed indirectly above. Although the supply and demand imbalance is largely addressed and Walt Disney World is likely on the precipice of a slowdown, this isn’t going to impact everything equally all at once.

In particular, demand for character dining experiences has remained surprisingly strong and that’ll likely continue to be the case going forward. It’s entirely possible that there’s a degree of lagging pent-up demand for those meals, as so many of them were missing or modified long after the parks reopened.

These really started returning to normal last year, with that accelerating between October and now. This means that many Walt Disney World regulars likely postponed character dining experiences. (At least, to the extent possible…kids do grow up quickly!) Some character meals have always been incredibly popular, but we’re seeing unprecedented demand for Akershus, Garden Grill, Tusker House, and several other restaurants that used to be much easier–and that was with the Disney Dining Plan boosting their popularity!

That’s relevant here because the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan and Disney Dining Plan Plus were particularly popular with character dining enthusiasts. Even though the DDP+ had only been available for a couple of weeks pre-closure, it was quickly identified by planners as being best for those planning on booking a large number of character meals.

There are undoubtedly other explanations as to why the DxDDP and DDP+ are the two tiers to get the cut for 2024. Other theories are already swirling in my head, but with this post already several thousand words deep, I’ve probably already lost most of you, so perhaps that speculation is best saved for a separate post.

In any case, just because these tiers aren’t being offered at the start of 2024 Walt Disney World vacation package booking does not mean they’re gone for good–or even all of next year. After all, Walt Disney World did introduce the Disney Dining Plan Plus in February 2020, so it’s not like they’re afraid to release or restore options after the calendar year is underway!

Ultimately, it’s nice to finally have confirmation that the Disney Dining Plan is coming back to Walt Disney World in 2024. If you told me back in July 2021 that the DDP’s return wouldn’t be announced until now and released next year, I never would’ve believed it. In retrospect, it now makes complete sense that the Disney Dining Plan wasn’t brought back last year–although it annoyed fans, that was a savvy move both from the perspective of pent-up demand and the slow pace of restoring dining capacity and resolving staffing shortages.

Conversely, I think what we’ve seen over the first several months of the year–minus about 3 weeks–demonstrates why the Disney Dining Plan probably could have been brought back at the start of 2023. Of course, that’s with the benefit of hindsight, and circumstances were very different when such a decision might’ve needed to be made. It’ll be interesting to see just how much more changes in the second half of this year, as the return of the Disney Dining Plan changes the calculus for a lot of other things and will itself have ripple effects.

For many Walt Disney World fans and DDP detractors, this will be non-news or perhaps even construed as bad news. (Although…if you’ve read this post through to this point, you are probably not in that camp!) We are far from the biggest Disney Dining Plan cheerleaders, but we’re nevertheless optimistic and excited.

There are still a lot of little ways that menus and restaurants still aren’t back to normal at Walt Disney World, and it’s possible that the return of the DDP could be the catalyst for fixing some of those remaining shortcomings. Things like breakfast & lunch at Be Our Guest, pre-park opening breakfasts, Restaurantosaurus Burgers & Sundaes (the one great version of that Dinoland dining spot!), breakfast at counter service locations throughout Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and more.

There are a lot of little fun things that are insignificant in isolation, but really add up. Perhaps this won’t move the needle and those are gone for good regardless of the Disney Dining Plan, but it’s at least worth a shot after 3+ years and nothing else being the difference-maker.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

What do you think of Walt Disney World bringing back the Disney Dining Plan in 2024? Disappointed that it has taken so long, or isn’t happening in time for your trip this year? Disappointed that the Disney Dining Plan Plus and Deluxe Disney Dining Plan are remaining unavailable? Will the Disney Dining Plan’s reinstatement make you more likely to book a trip? Other thoughts or comments in response to this news? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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