One the major perks sold when booking a Disney Hotel is the ability to prepay for your meals via the Disney Dining Plan. In America, the Dining Plan is a huge pull for guests shown by the unbelievable popularity of their Free Dining offers run each year. People predict in advance when these deals will be released causing every blog and podcast to get out their magic balls.
However, the Disneyland Paris dining plan goes under the radar. Very rarely do I see a tweet or a blog mentioning this service. So why does the Dining Plan in Europe not have the same almost cult following as in Florida.
Firstly, the DLP plan is overly complicated. Different levels come with different restaurants you can visit. The choice of restuarant available in each plan has also changed over the years, with Walts and Cafe Mickey recently jumping a band. Without spending hours researching the options it is hard to know where you can eat.
To use the Dining plan, guests recieved cheque sized vouchers to redeem your meals. The sheer size of them made them akward to carry as they never quite fitted into a wallet or purse without extensive folding. Also the sheer volume of paper waste created must have been immense. The new Magic Plus card is a huge improvement and will really help cut costs and save the environment in the future.
Once in the restaurant you are restricted to a set menu when using the Dining Plan. This can be very restrictive and particularly difficult if anyone in your party has dietary requirements.
The work-around for avoiding the set menus is you can order other items from the menu and simply redeem the voucher for its value. However, finding out the value of each voucher in advance seems to be an impossible task as it is not listed anywhere on the Disneyland Paris website.
The plan meal often only comes with one drink, usually a 330ml can of pop. This is not big enough for a 3 course meal and often forces you to end up paying cash which is what you are hoping to avoid by getting the plan.
I am a Disney fan but as you can see it is far too easy to spot flaws with the current system. Sadly, I could have given even more reasons and I am sure twitter is full of less than positive Dining plan experiences.
With the expanison of the Studios Park perhaps now is the time that Disney should revamp the Dining Plan. Florida proves that it can work. Given the number of changes Disney have made to this plan over the years, they clearly feel it is not fulfilling its potential.
The main improvement needed is to simplify the whole process. Rather than restrict guests to certain restaurants depening on the level of plan, DLP needs a system that encourages you to book any establishment.
A simple change would be for Disney to state how many vouchers are needed to pay for each Set Menu in all of their restaurants. Plaza Gardens at dinner could be one voucher per person but to dine at Inventions could cost you two vouchers per person due to the Character Interactions.
Rather than guests being confused about where they are allowed to eat, they could simply plan how to use their vouchers. Each level of the dining plan could come with a different number of vouchers.
I would propose simply having 2 tiers of dining plan – Quick Service and Table Service. When booking your holiday, guests could choose the number of vouchers they wish to buy and could even top these up during their stay at the hotel reception.
Quick Service would apply to the Set Menu meals at any of the counter service establishments across the parks and in the village. This is currently not an option on the Dining plan but would be a more affordable option for many familes.
Table service would apply to any sit down meal and the vouchers required would depend on the experiences offered at each restaurant.
Even if Disney were to make these changes, the final piece of the puzzle is online reservations. A lot of the fun of a Disney trip is the planning your trip in advance, thinking where to eat and when.
The Dining Plan had so much potential, I am excited to see how this develops in the future but in my opinion change is needed if Disneyland Paris are ever going to recreate the same buzz as their American cousins.