Disney World’s “Free Dining” offer is by far it’s most popular promotion. It is pretty clear why… FREE FOOD at Disney? Ummm, yes please!
In this post, I’ll answer the most common questions I get asked (e.g. Is it always the best deal? How much can I save?) and share everything you need to know about Free Dining in this post.
How Free Dining Works
First, let’s look at some basic details of how the free dining offer works.
Each year since 2009 Disney World has released a “Free Dining” package offer for select travel dates. Dates will likely be released for 2018 on Monday, April 23rd or Tuesday, April 24th, but I speculate on the dates it will be offered below.
For this offer, guests pay the regular, non-discounted rate for their hotel stay and park tickets, but get one of the Disney Dining Plans at no additional cost.
To get an idea of what the regular or “rack” rates are at Disney’s resorts, check out this excellent resource from MouseSavers.com. The free dining deal usually requires booking a minimum three-night stay (could potentially increase to four in 2018) and purchasing a minimum of two-day “Park Hopper” tickets (also could possibly increase to three-day in 2018) for everyone in your travel party.
Historically, not all Disney resorts are included in the free dining offer. Some resorts that are commonly excluded are Port Orleans French Quarter and the “Little Mermaid” rooms at Art of Animation.
If you’d rather listen to me explain Free Dining, you can check out this episode of The Budget Mouse podcast to hear all about it!
When Is Free Dining Offered?
The dates during which free dining is offered change each and every year. Disney uses this promotion to fill its resorts during off-peak travel times, so these dates inevitably change.
Here are the POSSIBLE Free Dining dates for 2018:
- August 21st through September 29th (may start as early as August 2nd)
- November 24th through November 27th
- December 7th through December 23rd
As long as your check-in day fell within the dates above, you stay would qualify for free dining for your stay.
That means you could have checked in for a ten-night stay on December 23rd and had a free dining plan all the way through the new year! The maximum number of days you can receive free dining is 14 days (in my dreams).
Last year (2017) Disney released the Free Dining package to the general public on April 24th and that (or the 23rd) is likely the day they will be released this year. I will share updates on when Free Dining is released here on the blog (you can sign up for my weekly newsletter here to get updates).
Last year, if you booked a stay at one of Disney’s Value OR Moderate resorts you’ll get the Quick Service Dining plan for free. If you booked a stay at a Deluxe resort, you’ll get the standard Disney Dining Plan for free.
If you aren’t familiar with the different dining plans and their features, check out this post all about the plans. You can upgrade from the Quick Service plan to the Disney Dining Plan by paying the difference between the plans.
You can only book a Free Dining package with a Disney authorized travel agent or directly through Disney. I strongly recommend using a travel agent who specializes in Disney travel to help you with booking any Disney package!
I personally recommend Destinations in Florida because their agents are the most experienced you will find to help planning your Disney vacation.
It won’t cost you anything extra, and you’ll have someone to handle all of the complicated details (trust me, there are A LOT), so you can just sit back and dream of your upcoming trip.
So those are the basics of how Free Dining works. Next, I’ll break down who stands to benefit most from the free dining package and who might save more with a different type of discount.
Is It The Best Deal?
The short answer to the question “Is Free Dining the best deal?” is not always. Whether or not Free Dining works out to be the best deal for your travel party depends on several factors.
First, you’ll get a dining plan at no additional cost for every person in your travel party, which means you’ll save more when there are more people in your room. A family of four will save MUCH more than a solo traveler with the free dining offer.
Next, where you stay will greatly impact whether or not Free Dining is the best deal for you.
Generally, you’ll save the most from Free Dining at Disney’s Value or Moderate resorts. If you want to stay in a Deluxe resort, you’ll almost always save more with a “room-only” discount.
Disney regularly offers discounts of 10 – 35% off room-only reservations, or those that don’t include park tickets or a dining plan. The best discounts are for the Deluxe resorts, with savings commonly in the 25-35% off range.
It is possible to put together your own “package” by purchasing a room-only reservation then adding the tickets and meals separately. This will always be more work than purchasing a package deal, but the extra savings may end up being worth it to you.
Let’s look at how much you can expect to save with a Free Dining package next!
How Much Can You Expect to Save?
Now let’s crunch some numbers to see how much you can actually expect to save. Don’t worry, I’ll do the heavy lifting (I was a middle school math teacher in the not-so-distant past!)
Here is a chart showing the cost of the three different dining plans if you were to purchase them out of pocket. It is helpful to know the cost of the plans when figuring your potential savings with Free Dining.
Next, I’ll give some examples for a five-night stay during the last week of November.
First let’s take a family of four, with kids ages 7 and 10, staying in a standard view room at Disney’s Pop Century resort (you can read my full review of the resort here).
They want to visit more than one park in a day so they’ve already planned on purchasing five-day Park Hopper tickets. They are interested in the Quick Service dining plan so they aren’t tied down to reservations.
If you purchase your park tickets separately (i.e. not as part of a package) I always suggest getting them at a discount through Undercover Tourist. I’ve included their discounted prices here for the room-only discount comparison, which in this case will save over $100 compared to Disney prices.
Since Disney hasn’t leased a room-only discount for these travel dates yet, I’ll use a 15% discount since that’s often what you can expect to save at the value resorts, and I’ve included the hefty 12.5% resort tax.
Here’s a chart comparing the cost of the trip with a room-only discount versus one with a Free Dining package.
The trip costs roughly $3,200 with the room-only discount and discounted tickets and roughly $2,600 with the Free Dining Package. That’s savings of $600 for the five-night trip, or almost a 20% discount.
While it isn’t outrageous savings, most folks would like to keep $600 in their pockets, I’m sure. So in this situation, Free Dining looks like the best deal.
Now let’s look at a different situation. A couple wants to stay in a Savannah view room at Animal Kingdom Lodge the same week to visit the Epcot Food & Wine Festival.
They want the standard Disney Dining Plan for all of the those amazing snack credits and to eat at a table service restaurant most nights. Plus, they don’t really need a Park Hopper ticket and only want to spend three days in the parks (remember that you are required to add the Park Hopper option to get a Free Dining package).
Here’s a comparison of what they’d pay with a 30% room-only discount versus a Free Dining package.
In this scenario, they’d save $330 by NOT booking free dining and going with the room-only discount instead. So clearly Free Dining isn’t always the best choice!
Should You Get a Free Dining Package?
In general, the best value from Free Dining comes from parties of three or more staying in a Value or Moderate resort. But even then there are other considerations, such as whether or not you’d really use the required Park Hopper tickets.
Because deciding if Free Dining is the best fit is pretty complicated, I strongly suggest working with a travel agency that specializes in Disney travel.
I recommend Destinations in Florida, an award-winning agency with many Authorized Disney Vacation Planners who can help you decide if Free Dining is a good fit. Their agents can crunch all of the numbers for you, and find the resort and offer that is the best fit at the best price!
A Few Other Thoughts
Here are a few other things you should know about Free Dining:
- Packages are bound by different cancellation policies than room-only reservations. You can change or cancel a room-only reservation up to five days before check-in without any penalty. You can cancel or change a package reservation with no penalty up until 30 days before check-in, making them less flexible for last minute changes.
- Free Dining is a wildly popular promotion. You will need to book as soon as it is released because availability is limited. You only need a $200 deposit to book and it is refundable up to 30 days before your trip, so it makes sense to book even if you aren’t 100% sure you’ll go. The agents at Destinations in Florida can help you through this whole process.
- I will share updates on Free Dining for 2018 as soon as they come available here on the blog. The best way to stay up-to-date is to like The Frugal South on Facebook or subscribe to my weekly email newsletter.
I hope this post answered all of your burning questions about Free Dining at Walt Disney World. I’ve taken advantage of this offer MANY times and love using the Dining Plan at Disney World.
If you have any questions, just leave a comment below or send me a message on The Frugal South’s Facebook page!