You’re Fat: Disney’s Gold Key Dining Plan Was the Trip of a Lifetime!


At least according to statistics you are.  If you are an American then chances are good that you can’t fit into those huge pants of yours and it’s all Disney’s fault.
Donald’s Lipitor prescription has not helped.
Disney is pushing the Disney Dining plan these days… hard.  It’s not because they are generous types who want guests to save money and have more convenience (regardless of what the promotional materials might say), no it is because they make more money that way.
Kobayashi knows how to work the system.
It has become a game of sorts for visitors who are on the dining plan to see just how much value they can squeeze out of the daily allotment of meals they have pre-purchased.  Can they order the most expensive item on the menu?  Can they score a reservation at the most desired (i.e.: expensive) restaurants? Can they somehow consume enough each day to validate the money they have already spent on meals?
Feel like a muffin?
Although the media may overly simplify the situation by showing stock slow motion montages of bloated bellies and muffin tops on the nightly news the truth is we are a nation of fat people.  Obesity rates are at an all time high and the United States is officially the fattest major nation in the world (a couple of tiny South Pacific island nations are even fatter, but they basically eat American diets now anyway).
Better get a bucket!
One might argue that creating a dining plan that rewards users for over consuming (and even challenges them to do so) is not very responsible, it is not really Disney’s fault.  We are a country of Mr. Creosotes cramming as much as we can fit down our gullets, hopefully stopping just before we burst.  Visit the Tokyo Disney Resort and you will find that “large” portions there (and in fact throughout Japan) would not pass for the smallest sizes we find here.  A “large” soft drink might be 12 ounces, not the 64-ounce monstrosities we commonly find in convenience stores and fast food joints.  You also will be hard pressed to find an obese person in Japan. Clearly this goes beyond the berms of Disney parks and is a cultural dilemma. 
More is NEVER enough.
Take a trip to the local strip of fast food chains and you will see some pretty incredible things.  KFC has the Double Down that does not even pretend to be anything more than it is: a fried chicken, mayo and bacon “sandwich” that might kill you before it hits your stomach.  Friendly’s now has a hamburger that replaces the bun with two full sized grilled cheese sandwiches!  What’s going on out there?  Have we all lost our minds? Of course we have the right to eat what we want and as long as I don’t get any second hand lard coming my way I’m OK with it, but I’m just saying…
NOT a joke!
But what about that dining plan?  Disney offers healthy alternatives… you could blow your dining credits on carrot sticks and apple slices, but you know you won’t.  And Disney does not exactly make the process easy to understand or simple in any way either.  Forget the idea of getting fat… your on vacation, but how do you know what is allowed and what is not?

Simple, easy and fun!
According to the current Disney Dining Plan you can choose either the regular “Dining Plan” or the more expensive and comprehensive “Deluxe Dining Plan” and then sweeten the deal with the “Wine and Dine” program if you choose.
Just follow these simple rules:
For the regular Dining Plan you’ll receive the following:
                2 Meals Per Day: For the regular Dining Plan you’ll receive one table service meal and one quick service meal each day of your stay. (At select restaurants)
                1 Snack Per Day: In addition to the 2 meals you’ll also receive 1 snack every day. A snack includes one of the following: frozen ice cream novelty, popsicle, fruit bar, popcorn scoop (single serving box), single serving grab bag of chips, single piece of whole fruit, 20-oz. bottle of Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite or Dasani water, medium fountain soft drink or juice, 12-oz. coffee, hot chocolate or hot tea.
DELUXE Dining Plan: This is a more flexible (and more expensive) option for diners where you’ll receive the following:
                3 Meals: On the Deluxe Dining Plan you’ll receive 3 meals each day of your stay. The 3 meals can be any combination of sit down or counter service so you have the choice of eating at any Disney restaurant on the list. If you choose a table service meal that will include one appetizer, one entree, one dessert (lunch and dinner only) and one non-alcoholic beverage OR one Full Buffet. If you choose a counter service meal that will include one entree (or complete combo meal), one dessert (lunch or dinner only), one juice (breakfast only) and one non-alcoholic beverage.
                2 Snacks: In addition to the 3 meals you’ll also receive 2 snacks every day. A snack includes one of the following: frozen ice cream novelty, popsicle, fruit bar, popcorn scoop (single serving box), single serving grab bag of chips, single piece of whole fruit, 20-oz. bottle of Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite or Dasani water, medium fountain soft drink or juice, 12-oz. coffee, hot chocolate or hot tea.
Wine and Dine Option: For an extra $39.99/day you can add a daily bottle of wine to your package. You know… because alcohol always makes things healthier.
Nothing says fine dining experience like charts and graphs.
Simple right?  Now remember a few simple restrictions:
• After 5:00 pm a snack is now considered a meal.
• Drinking from a water fountain between 10:00 am and 1:00 pm counts as your beverage for lunch. 
• Leftovers taken with you roll over to count as the following days meals. 
• If more than 4 adults are in your party and less then 3 children are present and one of those children is not under the age of 4 but over the age of 6 months and is either a Taurus, Leo or Gemini then additional “Goofy Giveaway” vouchers will be required in order to gain entrance to any Disney dining location. 
• Bacon is always extra and is not included in any Disney Dining plan unless the optional ©Disney premium smoked meats package has been selected.
And so on.
Still not joking.
The Disney restaurants are under incredible pressure to keep costs per meal down.  It is no longer about providing the best meal or the best guest experience, it is now about working the cost per meal down below the price of that paid on the dining plans.  If you happen to stroll in and pay out of pocket you are in many ways getting taken advantage of, often receiving a watered down product tailor made to meet the price point of the dining plan.
Warren Buffett chooses the Platinum Plan of course, and that bar he is eating is pure gold.
On top of all that Disney now offers both “Premium” and “Platinum” packages.  These include everything in the Deluxe Dining plan plus an assortment of recreational and luxury amenities that range from golf to spa treatments to backstage tours and horse back rides…. Oh I long for the days when you could just buy a meal where you wanted it and when you wanted it and did not need to be on any plan.
But lest you think that this type of plan is something new for Disney. In fact Disney has been offering all inclusive premium programs for decades though in the past it was like the Wild West, a no holds barred free for all of over consumption…

The sky’s the limit.
Witness the fabled Gold Key Card offered by the now defunct Magic Kingdom Club.  Not unlike the mythical American Express Black card the Gold Key Card was something seldom seen, something few knew about and something that offered the holder exceptional status.
Black is the new gold.

Walt Disney World truly was your oyster with this card in your wallet. Throughout the 80’s, before the Eisner appointed MBAs weeded through a myriad of other issues they set their sights on, this small program represented a tremendous value and was a little known secret.  The Gold Key card was literally your key to the kingdom.
In order to get one you had to be a member of the Magic Kingdom Club, which at that time was mainly available to employees of larger corporations.  It was the deluxe plan, the fanciest and most all-inclusive plan they ever offered.
This meant that the program not only included your hotel room and unlimited park admission and transportation but also all meals, all snacks, all recreational facilities, all tours and all gratuities.
“I’m King of Disney World!”

Sure, there were some theoretical rules, printed right on the back of the card it says that it may not be used at arcades, the Empress Room (the most luxurious restaurant on the Empress Lily and therefore in all of Walt Disney World) or for alcoholic beverages.  However these rules were rarely enforced, especially in the early 80’s when seemingly no one on property had ever seen one of these cards or had any idea what it did or did not come with.
Rules are for losers.

Presenting it would often be met with confusion and discussion among managers and staff before ultimately being accepted (often after a mysterious call was made).  Once those gates opened you were royalty, King of Disney World. Feel like a lobster?  How about 4 of them?  Would you like dessert?  Try one of everything on the menu. Want to rent a water sprite (back when they really were fast)?  Just flash this card and take it for as long as you want… all day if you like.  Unlimited Golf, admission to River Country or snacks from anyplace on property was all there for the taking. Nothing was out of bounds and nothing was off limits.
Would you like a Sebastian with that sir?
I vividly recall not only using this with my family at the Empress Room circa1983 but my father’s utter amazement when he ordered several bottles of wine which were all included.  As we waddled out of the restaurant my entire family was amazed at how fast and loose Disney was playing with the rules.
“Ah yes, this Chateau d’Yquem will do just fine.
Now get it to Teevtee’s table, pronto!”
As the years went one the program became better known and by the late 80’s the rules were being more strictly enforced, even then few of the limitations or restrictions of today’s dining plans were in effect. Then sadly by the early 90’s Disney caught on.  The MBAs finally worked their way down to this program and I am sure were shocked to see what they found.  The door was slammed shut and the program terminated, of course eventually the entire Magic Kingdom Club was dismantled as well.
You don’t mess with Disney.

Disney was no longer a family run business or even an underdog go-getter of a company.  No, it was now a huge mega conglomerate and had no tolerance for gluttony.  You play by Disney’s rules now or you don’t play at all.
For those of us who were lucky enough to have held a Gold Key Card there was always room for one more mint, after all, it was wafer thin.

Comments (36)

  1. The gold key card aka magic kingdom clubs world vacation package was the best and it was great it was kept low key back then. It’s what turned me in kid days to loving DISNEY. As for current times I am a Dvc member annual pass holder and tables in wonderland holder. It’s the most comparable way to let my family now have and enjoy what we all did back then. I must say it’s hard for me to stay off the monorail loop when lodging in wdw. Once you had the top notch I try and keep it as similar as possible. But there will never ever be something like the gold key we all experienced. It great to know others out there that can reminisce about those great times. I hope you are all safe from this current crisis we are experiencing. God bless

  2. FINALLY! A few others that remember the Gold Key card! We traveled to WDW on this plan in 86, 88 & 89. In 92, we did the Grand Plan. I do remember feeling very special with this card as you did not see many others with it.

    I recall the special entrance they had for Gold Key holders in the MK.. they were at the very end of all the turnstiles. There was never anybody using those turnstiles! Occasionally too, you would get a strange look from a CM when you presented the card.

    I specifically remember as we got a little older, my sister and I would “compete” with my parents to see who could rack up the most expensive meals.. so, one night, we decided to check out the Gulf Coast Room. I remember calling that night (try doing that now) to make a reservation and the hostess telling us about the dress code, (probably thinking, “great, here come 2 kids sans parents!”) My sister and I were 14 & 17 at the time, we got all dressed up and away we went. We ordered the most expensive items on the menu, although the only item I recall ordering was the escargot as an appetizer and STRONGLY disliking it! Oh we thought we were soooo sophisticated! I look back at our photos and have a great laugh.

    The World truly was our oyster and the memories associated with those 3 specific trips on the Gold Key Plan will not be soon forgotten. The only other plan that came close was the Grand Plan, which we did in 92. We ate SO MUCH that week by the last day or so, I was weary of gourmet, I just wanted a burger. You know what is even more depressing, I don’t think we gained an ounce on those trips. To be young and have an awesome metabolism again!

    Thanks for all the memories here!

    • HA! It’s great to find someone else who recalls this… you shoudl also check out “Gulf Coast Disaster” a post we had about the Gult Coast room… If you have photos of the actual Gult Coast Room can you share them? They are hard to find!

      • Sadly, I don’t think we have any pictures from the Gulf Coast room, just the 2 of us “posing” on our marina view balcony room at the Polynesian afterwards, we must have been each been given a long stem rose at the end of the dinner too (like they do at Victoria & Alberts), because we have a couple of pics holding these roses… I am laughing out loud just thinking about it!! Now if you want a good laugh, I’ll post those pics when I dig them out!

        I will check out the Gulf Coast Disaster post.

        I am curious, do you know if there was any difference in the color of the cards? We always had green ones, but I distinctly remember meeting this other family that had blue ones, just like the one pictured above. Not sure if one color meant something specific? I thought maybe it was to distinguish which resort you were staying but perhaps it was something else?

        • Ours were always blue… I know that there were soem tiered levels but it sounds like we had the same experiences so it may be more tied to how they were purchased (ie: Magic Kingdom Club or through a business that offered the packages for sale to employees).

          When we used them (like you we did several and around the same time period) it was the wild west.. no one questioned anything, it was just eat and drink all you want, take boats out as long as you want, play as many arcade games as you want etc… it was NUTS.

          • We would ride the water sprites for HOURS and we would take them out at the Polynesian and the Contemporary… My parents would get a pontoon boat and be out all day.

            My Dad booked all the trips back then, I wish he were still around so I could ask him how he knew about the package. I vaguely recall seeing a confirmation (when they came in that business-sized envelope with carbon copies), I think for one of Polynesian stays, with the concierge level, King Kamehameha, we did 9 days/8 nights and it was around $3000.00 for 2 adults and 2 juniors (remember when Disney had that middle tier?!) WOW… what a bargain when you think about it, no wonder we never went anywhere else (and we weren’t complaining either!). Truly a golden era of WDW travel!

          • That was a special time.
            It was before Disney started messing with the bottom line at the parks and they really were great trips.

            I’m glad you had a chance to experience that. I think you and I are in a pretty small club.

          • I for one am heartened that in this day and age, when any sad slob from the lower classes can score reservations at Cinderella Castle, that the ultra-rich blue cards and green cards of the Gulf Coast Room can find each other among the riffraff. If you ever put your “members only” jackets out on ebay, let me know.

            I’m gonna issue red cards for anyone dining at Cosmic Rays. Who’s with me?

          • Awe Shane. Don’t be bitter. I have a rust card for you. It’s not rust colored but rather literally a rusty tetanus filled sharp sliver of steel. Good luck with it.

          • And in all seriousness one of the best things about the Gold Key cards were that they were incredible values.

            You did not need to be rich to buy them. They were like an undiscovered secret…

    • We used it in 81,82,86,88,90,94. You felt on top of the world the minute guest services handed it to you. You would simply sign for your meals and keep your yellow receipts as souvenirs. Due to technology DISNEY was able to start tracking meals. The plans didn’t terminate in the 1990s it was known as the deluxe magic however meals started being tracked and done on a nightly basis instead of a daily basis. This ran until 2008 when Disney decided tips were no longer included and after 2017 the premium and platinum plans were no longer available. But us few who had the pleasure of using it I’ll just say you know if you know.

      • We know that it technically continued in various forms but the TRUE “this can’t be real” version was the original in the ’80s and very early ’90s. By the time they started understanding the ramifications and placed restrictions on much of it… well it was game over at that point.

        • It’s was always great seeing cast members not knowing what to do with the card. I have most of my card the last one being 1994. We were able to dine at empress room but not v and a only grand plan would accept that. I’m 43 now I can eat still but no how we did on that plan as a youth I still wonder how the hell I ate that much. It’s great we have these memories I would say 98 percent of people who visit have no idea what we are talking about.

  3. The times really were different then… You can still do something kind of like the Gold Key at Dinsey but the costs are just insane. In addition the restaurants have all been watered down to cater to the flood of DIning Plan patrons. In toher words they need the food to be cheap so that people can’t get more value than what they have pre-paid for. In the early days fo the Gold Plan and to a slightly lesser extent even at the end of its run the sky was the limit. Those with the key were the kings and queens of the land (on in this case world). I doubt we will ever see anything like it again.

  4. We did the Gold Key for our honeymoon and for an anniversary trip before it was phased out. Talk about lobster – I think I had it every night! And Victoria and Albert’s had just opened and was booked solid, but somehow when we showed the Gold Key, we got a reservation. It was like we were royalty. My husband’s dad always went Gold Key when they were growing up, so he gave our honeymoon to us that way, too. It was amazing.

  5. We vacationed every year to Disney on the Goldkey. My children refused Hawaii to visit their beloved Disney World. They loved the freedom of doing what they pleased.

    Gone are those days now Disney World represents, “give me your money or else”.
    People tend to be irritable instead of happy.

  6. We vacationed every year on the Goldkey my kids refused Hawaii. It was the freedom and pure fun of Disney they desired. Gone are those days when Disney rewarded their loyal customers.

    Today its all about, “give me your money or else”. Not very Disney but we still visit occasionally.

    • Your totally right about rewarding the loyal guests. Back in the 80s and early 90s we always went gold key as the trips went on the longer they were usually 10 nights. I do remember our record was 12 nights in 1990. We always stayed at the contemporary in the tower on the 12th floor looking towards bay lake. That trip was so long that we had to book 2 six night vacations. Btw that was before the 12th floor became club level. My dad polled us when booking and would say 7-8 days we would stay on 14th floor or 10-12 days 12th floor. My
      Point being seeing the electronic boards in contemporary lobby that says family of the week it’s kind of bitter thinking we should be recognized as thru my life I have stayed in that building more than 125 nights of my life as a kid and now with my family. The pricing has also gotten ridiculous. It’s sad that most have to save 4-5 years to be able to stay there. If Disney family still had control the whole resort would be more about the guest experience and less about pay me now or you don’t get to enjoy which I mean by the prices.

  7. To me, the Dining Plans sales pitches that are EVERYWHERE the parks are advertised are as much a part of Florida as timeshare salespeople, timeshare resellers, and people who wish they had never bought that damn timeshare.

  8. I must admit Shane… us Gold Key holders do look down on the lowly fry eaters… we used to call them the “greasers” as we sipped our fine champagne.

    OK, seriously, my parents were and are really into food so we ran the gamut, good food does not need to be expensive by any means… like Zanna I LOVE a killer burger. But man, I really have fond memories of the Empress Room and also the Gulf Coast Room. Victoria and Albert’s as well though that came after the program ended.

    Zanna… the Gulf Coast Room was in fact exactly where you recall it, basically where the convention space and banquet rooms now are. There was no real sign even and you entered through a closed door… like you had no idea a restaurant was even there. It’s claim to fame was a strolling musician playing a guitar, I think his name was Carlos or something like that. There is precious little out there about the Gulf Coast room, I have looked. I do have a few things though and I bet we see it in some future entry.

    Maybe we can create some columns, like I will do “Fine Dining around Walt Disney World” and Shane can do “Frozen Burgers and Dogs”.

    BTW… remember the handwich?

    • The Gulf Coast room was on the 2nd floor it’s entrance was right where the escalators to the 4th floor are it’s currently a random convention room is there. The restaurant was a true DISNEY fine dining. I remember they gave you raspberry sherbet prior to your main meal. When we were on our trip in 1988 actually 4/18/88 to 4/28/88 staying at the contemporary, we dined there the gentleman who played the guitar and drifted from table to table broke the news that we just made it and that the gulf coast room would close sat may 14 1988 permanently due to the opening of the grand Floridian 2 months later. It was understandable but as guests who always used the gold key card we were sad to see it go happy to have been able to dine there 81, 82, 86, 88.

    • Being on the gold key did make most of us feel higher than others. The treatment we received was over the top. At restaurants when you told the server you were on the gold key there eyes light up and they brought you whatever you wanted even if it was 5 different entrees. They knew by doing that their tip would be higher. Yes back in the days before they could realistically track meals and gratuity was fully included never ate fast food unless it was a late night snack from the fiesta fun center on floor 1 of contemporary now the wave restaurant.

        • Yes a late night snack on the first floor of contemporary. Where wave is now

        • Btw thanks for sharing your experiences it only took me 10 years to find people who experienced it like my family did. This guy Shane is just a bitter and mistaken on how we enjoyed this. He’s a sad individual. Hope all is well during these times teevtee.

          • Chris: Thanks, I appreciate it. Shane is just joking around, he originally created this blog even before I was writing for it and is totally kidding around!

  9. btw, are you guys on twitter??

  10. Shane you make us sound like Francis from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. HAHA. Actually…no, I kid. I guess my initial Disney trips were spoiled ones, but my dad was a former Maitre D’ in 5 star restaurants, so he wanted to experience what Disney had to offer I guess. He was also raised in Ocala and could eat a burger with the best of ’em. 😉

    I often think of the Gulf Coast Room (clearly forgetting its name, however) when I ride the escalators up to the monorail. It was on the 2nd floor if I remember correctly? Nothing fancy at all, pretty much just one of the banquet halls with white table cloths…dark lighting and I think I remember plants being around. Am I making this up?

  11. I am now picturing Teev and Zanna strolling through WDW like they owned the place, demanding to be waited on hand and foot while the rest of us cowered in the corners, feeding off the scraps. My family literally subsisted on fries and chocolate milk while in the parks, because those were the cheapest food items. I’m not joking.

    We once tried to walk onto the Empress Lilly to look around, and were promptly kicked off by a nice, but rather firm CM. I was not even aware that there was such a thing as a Gulf Coast Room, but it definitely needs to be parkeologized. Teev will have to do it, as I only own one jacket, and a ratty one at best.

  12. GULF!! I knew I was getting it wrong when I attempted to google to confirm and couldn’t find anything. I remember when we went we were the only ones there except for this other family. Please do post about it! Most of my memories are so hazy and it’s thanks to you guys and others that I remember half of this stuff anyway.

    Not sure why our cards were green. If it was 87…this might’ve been the 2nd time we used it. I don’t remember the first cards. I know our Magic Kingdom Club membership wasn’t thru a company or anything, my parents had just joined. (I keep meaning to take a picture of the one bag we have left from what must’ve been one of the last years we renewed. I also have the god awful “Christopher Columbus” themed MKC vacation planning video from 1992.)

    I do distinctly remember my dad having to explain the Gold Key Club program to most waiters…it’s so funny and does give you a bit of an entitlement feeling since you *know* you are right and get everything. Ahh, the good old days…before the internet when a program like that would be pounced on and turn into the DDP as you discussed.

    • Green cards were the plan on step down from gold key

  13. Wow!

    You are the only other person I have ever found who knows what the Gold Key card is. I searched all over the internet and found nothing.

    I wonder why yours is green?

    We also did it twice, once in 1983 and again near the end of the program, probably in 1990 or maybe 1989. The differences was notable. In 83 no one knew what it was. It was quite funny to go into a place and cause all this confusion as we told them we could have anything we wanted. I think on some level I knew that there should be some limits but we just ate and ate and ate… like you said, to the point of just not being able to eat any more. The Second time we did it they were MUCH more prepared. We still could have pretty much anything but it was much more regimented in how often you could eat and so on.

    BTW, it is the GULF Coast Room, not the Gold Coast room. I remember it very well and may blog about it some day. They had very good fried ice cream for dessert and jackets were required.

  14. We had a Gold Key vacation as well: I think we may have done it twice, but I could be mis-remembering. But yes, we did the Empress Room – and the Gold Coast Room (remember that?) in the Contemporary (that was at the end of the week and the place that I only wanted a salad in).

    Do the Food & Fun cards next!

    Mr. Creosote ftw!

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