How To Fix The Disney Dining Plan

Posted By Debbie on October 17, 2017

If you are considering a vacation at a Disney park, you might have a dining plan option thrown at you. I don’t get them as I find that for what I like the eat, the math doesn’t work in my favour. But if you are looking for something “easy,” many travel agents suggest it.

But how easy is it? Each time I go to Disney, I am stuck on food lines behind people who don’t understand what the plan gives them. Can I get that? Can I get this? How many of those can we get? Why can’t I get that with that?

Disney has put up signs and made all sorts of handouts even in multiple languages and people are still confused. They use an icon for a dining plan snack but that’s as far as current iconography goes.

You can click to enlarge this photo but even in the small version you can see that this is a lot to read and think about for people… especially those on vacation. Sorry about the rotation. It’s dining info in English, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and French.

I have a suggestion on how to fix this.

Who is old enough to remember Garanimals clothing? It was so little kids knew what to wear with what and could feel “independent” to put on their own matching outfits. How did someone who might not read know they matched? You match up animals. Monkey goes with monkey. Tiger goes with tiger.

I suggest that Disney do something similar. Let’s imagine a family is on a week vacation (6 nights, 7 days) and they are getting the “regular” (mid-level) dining plan. For each night they stay, they get 2 snacks a day, 1 quick service meal (cafeteria style), and 1 table service meal (sit down restaurant).

But within that, there are certain things you can and can’t get. So it gets more complicated. According to Disney’s dining plan explanations page, the quick service meal is an entree and non-alcoholic drink only (they used to include dessert, I guess that’s gone). A table service meal is an entree or a full buffet, a non-alcoholic drink, and if it’s lunch or dinner, a dessert.

Whew, that’s a lot to remember! So how do we do this. And how do we do it when many Disney visitors don’t speak English?

Beloved Disney characters to the rescue.

People know and love Disney characters. Doesn’t matter if you grew up calling him Mickey Mouse or Topolino, you know him by sight. So let’s build a language out of characters.

Tigger from Winnie the Pooh is a snack. You get 2 Tiggers a day! Look for the Tigger face (replacing the current snack icon) next to everything that is a dining plan “snack.”

Mickey Mouse is an entree or buffet. Look for the Mickey head next to meals you can order if your dining plan includes table service restaurants or buffets. You get one Mickey each day.

Some restaurants are TWO Mickey heads. Those are the nice ones. But you can burn your meals however you want during your stay.

Olaf the snowman is dessert. Does your dining plan give you desserts? Look for Olaf. You can have one at your table service meal.

Got a dining plan with quick service restaurants? Look for Donald Duck. Pick a Donald entree for your plan. You get one per day!

Non-alcoholic beverages. We might as well mark those too! How about Snow White for the beverages that go with the dining plan.

And that’s it. If you don’t see Tigger, Mickey, Olaf, Donald, or Snow White, it’s not on the dining plan. And how about we print menus without all these heads for anybody not on the dining plan!

What haven’t I solved for yet?

I haven’t solved for one key thing yet with this idea. A better way for people to keep track of how many meals they have used and how many they have left. This UX is especially ugly if you are there with a family of 4, 5, 10 and it’s “your job” to juggle everybody’s meals.

And not all families do everything or eat together. Maybe one kid had 2 snacks today and another kid had 1 snack and still has one left. We need a clear interface that says who used what, who has what.

Disney is pushing people to their app so I assume the app will be the answer on how this gets organised. But I have no wireframes yet. I’m still thinking about it and have been (more off than on) for months if not longer.

Also, since the app understands that you have dining reservations coming up and who in your party will be at that meal, there is probably a good way to message which dining plan pieces will be used, show people that, and help them count down what’s left.

I also imagine MagicBand kiosks just for dining reservations and understanding your dining plan. I can imagine waving your MagicBand at a kiosk and a computer screen walks you through a process of reviewing how many meals you and your party have used, how many you have left, do you want to make dining reservations. That way, some of those confused people can check things out (in their own language) before holding up a line because they don’t understand what they get.

Step 1 is Garanimals. Step 2 is probably kiosk and app stuff in every language Disney can stand to build in. Wireframes when I think I’ve figured it out. 🙂