We just got back from our first family vacation to Walt Disney World. There were 7 members in our party (4 adults, 1 child, and 2 infants). We purchased the Disney Dining Plan as part of our vacation package.
We had purchased the basic Disney Dining Plan. In the basic plan you get a counter service meal, a table service meal, and 1 snack per day, per person. Children must buy from a children's menu when available. Infants/children under 3 are unable to purchase/participate in the dining plan but they can share a meal with an adult. For each meal, you get a drink, an entree and a dessert. However, if you use your dining plan to buy breakfast, you don't get dessert. You can also use the Dining Plan at buffet restaurants. If you do that, you don't get a dessert since it is included in the buffet.
Disney Dining Plan has a huge variety of restaurants to pick from. It was certainly hard to decide on which restaurants to go to. Dining Plan reservations can be made 180 days in advance and reservations fill up quickly. We made our reservations right at the 180 days. One of the best perks is that you can use the Disney Dining Plan for Character Meals. We had two Character Meals - once for breakfast and once for dinner.
There is no cash limit on the price of the meal you buy. You can get a meal that costs $11.99 or you can get the meal that costs $39.99. Either way, you pay the flat fee of the dining plan. I think this is the area in which we saved the most money. My husband usually purchases the cheapest meal at a restaurant. With the Dining Plan, he was able to purchase whatever he wanted.
Gratuity is not include in the price of the dining plan. For parties of 6 or more, an 18% gratuity is added to your check. We had to pay the automatic 18% gratuity even though there were only technically 5 people on the plan but we had 7 total (the two infants).
I have to say that you do get a large amount of food with the Disney Dining Plan. Most days we didn't even use our snack option. Snacks include such items as a box of popcorn, ice cream, pop, candy, etc. I wish we wouldn't have been so stingy with our snack credits when at the parks because we ended up with an extra 16 snack credits on our last day. We ended up purchasing 16 snacks to bring home: Disney gummies, Mickey cookies, cotton candy, etc.
Of course there is some fine print to the dining plan. At few restaurants (the more upscale ones), each meal costs two dining plan meal credits. Also a pizza purchase for your room costs two dining plan credits. I can't really comment too much on this part since we didn't use it.
The only real complaint I have about the Disney Dining Plan is that you are not given the option of either an appetizer or dessert. I really got sick of having dessert by the end of the trip. I would rather have a salad or soup with dinner than have dessert.
Overall, I was very pleased with the Disney Dining Plan. While I didn't figure out the total, I am sure we saved money. I think we saved money even though we purchased food, we normally wouldn't have purchased - such as dessert or the more expensive meals. I would use the Disney Dining Plan again if I went.