Updated for 2013 Pricing.

For those of you who prefer table service restaurants at Walt Disney World who are not using any Dining Plan, the Tables in Wonderland might be the discount plan you are looking for.  The Tables in Wonderland card has been around for a while, but used to be called the Disney Dining Experience program (DDE), it was available only to Florida residents. We had heard about it vaguely a few times when making phone reservations, but we never really understood what it was and why we should have it.  The Disney phone reservation agents had mentioned it cost $100 and it gets you a discount, but without really understanding what it was all about we never thought it would be worth spending $100 to get some discount on our meal.

I noticed the Tables in Wonderland program because it is advertised right on our current annual pass, usually there is a picture of Mickey, Minnie, et cetera, but this year it had Tables in Wonderland printed with their artwork.  I started wondering what that was so I googled it.  I found out what it was all about.

Currently, the 2013 Tables in Wonderland Card costs $100 or $125 (depends on your qualification method for getting the card – FL Residents pay $125 for membership, DVC or AP/SP holders can get the card for $100) and the card is good for 12 months, it is available to Florida residents, Annual Pass Holders, and DVC members.  If you are an Annual pass holder you can get the TiW card for $100, an instant savings of $25.  The card give you 20% off food AND alcohol at all the restaurants listed in the booklet.  These include  participating table service restaurants at the WDW theme parks, WDW resorts, and at Downtown Disney restaurants.

What’s the catch?

1) The card owner must be paying for the meal – loophole, if you are paying all cash, then it would not matter, everyone can chip in their share.

2) It is not valid for discounts on the major holidays as listed in the booklet, you can’t get around that, unfortunately; but there are only a handful of days you can’t use it.  Those holidays are: Mother’s Day, Easter, 4th of July, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day.  As you can see there are still some holidays not listed that you can use the card, St. Patrick’s Day and Father’s Day top that list.

3) If you lose your card, you do have to pay $50 to have it replaced. So be sure to check and make sure you get your card back each time you use it.

4) Once the discount is calculated, they will add a mandatory 18% gratuity for your server.  There is no way around this. For us this isn’t a problem, the only time it’s frustrating is if you had horrible service and don’t want to leave 18%, this is usually very rare.  But I have heard people mention that you can always take it up with the manager and see if you can resolve that if tipping becomes an issue.

5) Be sure to read the booklet closely, some dining events have exceptions or specific times where they would be valid, for instance the Spirit of Aloha Luau, the discount is good for the late show, but this can vary seasonally, so you have to keep up to date with the current seasonal discount scheduling for Hoop Dee Doo,etc.

6) Not every table service restaurant is on the list.  The one we came across that didn’t take it was Yak & Yeti in Animal Kingdom.  There may be other places that do not take the card, but this was the first one we came across.  We have found out that Yak & Yeti will give a 10% to Annual Passholders on entrees only.

What’s so great about it?

1) The card covers you and up to 9 other guests.  Potentially HUGE savings.  One meal for a large group of people can easily get very pricey, and maybe even get you to your break even point.

2) The card provides a discount on ALCOHOL.

3) You can valet park for free (saves $15 each time) if dining or drinking at the resort where you are valet parking.  You must bring your dining receipt back for your parking to be comped.  Only valid on one car (per valid TiW card).  Be sure to tip the valet.

4) You can get free theme park parking after 5pm if you show your TiW card at the parking toll booth.  And if you park before 5pm at the theme park, you can get refunded for parking if you take your valid dining or drinking receipt for that day and your parking receipt to guest relations. They will refund your parking fee ($14 for most vehicles).

5) It’s good for the dinner shows, just be sure to check if there are exceptions, usually the discount is good for only one show.  And as a bonus, the dinner shows are priced with gratuity and tax included, so when you do use your TiW card for a dinner show it’s a pure 20% savings, no gratuity or tax added back in.

6) Compared to the Disney Dining Plan, the TiW card is not a dining plan, it’s a discount card, meaning you don’t have to worry about wasted dining credits which is throwing money away.  You can order according to the needs of your group, which is nice.

Cost analysis.

It’s very simple to calculate the break even point.  If you are purchasing the card for $100 (annual pass holders and DVC members), you would have to spend at least $500 on table service dining at WDW to break even.  Anything over $500 in dining expenses will end up giving you savings.  If you are purchasing the card for $125 (FL Residents), you would have to spend at least $625 on table service dining at WDW to break even.  Anything over $625 in dining expenses will end up giving you savings.  Given the other factors to take into account, like free theme park parking ($14), free valet parking ($15 a pop), dinner show discounts (straight 20% off the top), you can potentially break even sooner than spending $500 or $625 as shown above.

Prices keep going up, if you know you are going to be dining on WDW property you will likely be spending enough to break even on your first vacation. It is a great card to have, we have used it countless times.  We have used it with friends and family, I am sure they appreciate the savings being passed on to them.  Because of the TiW card we have found out about all the other great dining options available on WDW property.  It has changed how we look at WDW, it is not just about cramming in rides and getting into crowded theme parks. It has allowed us to change pace and actually feel like we are vacationing, even if it is just a day trip – it is a choose your own adventure.  You can purchase the card directly from a cast member  at any of the Guest Relation desks located at any of the WDW theme parks or Downtown Disney.

For more about the card, visit http://www.tablesinwonderland.com