2018 Free Dining at Disney World: Everything You Need to Know!

on April 19, 2018

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Free Dining dates for 2018 have been released and you can book them now – get a free quote here!

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

Flame Tree Barbecue, Disney’s Animal Kingdom

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. Here are the dates for 2018 (you must check-in on one of these dates):

  • August 20 – Septemeber 29
  • November 24 – November 27
  • December 7 – December 23

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.

The free dining deal requires booking a minimum four-night stay and purchasing a minimum four-day “Park Hopper” tickets for everyone in your travel party.

Not all Disney resorts are included in the free dining offer. The following resorts are excluded: campsites, Little Mermaid Rooms at Art of Animation, and three-bedroom villas. Though it isn’t mentioned in the offer, I could NOT find any availability at All-Star Movies, Port Orleans French Quarter, and Port Orleans Riverside for free dining, either.

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! I was making predictions in the show but everything turned out to be as predicted!

When Is Free Dining Offered?

House-made gelato at Disney’s Art of Animation

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 Free Dining dates for 2018:

  • August 20th through September 29th
  • 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).

If you book a stay at one of Disney’s Value OR Moderate resorts you’ll get the Quick Service Dining plan for free. If you book 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?

Sanna, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village

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. To get an idea of what the regular or “rack” rates are at Disney’s resorts, check out this excellent resource from MouseSavers.com.

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?

Disney’s California Grill

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 recent 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.

Disney’s Pop Century Resort

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.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

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?


As you can see, it is complicated to determine whether or not a Free Dining package is the best choice for you.

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

Enjoy a Dole Whip

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.
  • The best way to stay up-to-date on offers like this 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!

Free Dining 2018 at Walt Disney World! Get the dates, cost, resorts, dining plans and more in this detailed post. Get more Disney World planning tips & tricks, and learn how to do Disney on a budget at The Frugal South! #disneyworld #disneyplanning #disneyworldfood #disneydiningplan

Everything you need to know about the popular Free Dining Plan offer at Walt Disney World! #disneyworld #freedining #disneydining

15 Comments

  • KIM

    Yes, we just looked into renting points for this trip. We tried Mousesavers and when we looked into the person trying to rent us points we were about 90% sure it was a scam b/c names were different on DVC rental name and who we were supposed to make the check out to. Plus, “references” made same grammatical errors that the “renter” made. Thank goodness we never followed through with it. So now my husband is very leary about trying that route. Hoping for a pin code. When we went a few years ago… I think I got 4-5 pin codes about 4 months before we went. I think we got so many probably b/c we are new customers to Disney.

    May 7, 2018 at 11:02 am Reply
    • Leah

      Yikes! Sorry you had a bad experience trying to rent points. We rent them often and I’ve luckily never had a problem. If it turns out that free dining doesn’t pan out, you might consider renting points from a broker who handles everything for you. You can even get travel insurance if you go through a broker. Here’s my review: https://www.thefrugalsouth.com/rent-dvc-points-broker-save-thousands-disney-world/

      May 7, 2018 at 8:20 pm Reply
  • KIM

    Hi, My husband and 2 kids under 9 were planning our 2nd ever Disney trip for the week after Thanksgiving. So even though I woke up before the sun even rose on the morning Free Dining was offered, I was not able to get one [could’ve gotten Caribbean Beach- but didn’t want all the construction] . Then 3 days later, one popped up for 1 bedroom at Boardwalk Villas. After considering it, my husband and I ended up canceling it a few days later it b/c it was more than we wanted to spend [which I was very bummed about b/c we wanted to be close to EPCOT]. We ended up booking POFQ- Garden View and hoping to get Free Dining thru a Unique Offer Code. We would change resorts if needed.
    My questions are…
    Does Disney ever add more rooms for Free Dining if there seem to be a lot of rooms left?
    What are my chances of scoring Free Dining now or closer to our dates?
    Does Disney still give Unique Offer Codes?
    Thank you in advance!
    Kim

    May 7, 2018 at 7:23 am Reply
    • Leah

      Hi Kim – a quick answer is yes and yes! People cancel free dining packages all the time so keep checking back and you might get something! Or you can book the dates you want with a travel agent and he/she will check for you so you don’t have to do it every day. I have been getting quite a few PIN codes via email lately (the unique offer codes you mentioned) but none have been for Free Dining – just room-only discounts that are slightly higher than the public offer. Have you looked into renting DVC points? It will be a much better deal than Free Dining at a Deluxe. Here’s more info (you can add a Dining Plan, too, if you want): https://www.thefrugalsouth.com/rent-dvc-points-save-70-disney-deluxe-resorts/

      May 7, 2018 at 8:49 am Reply
  • Katy

    I have never gone during a time when Free Dining was offered. For our family to afford Disney we needing this promotion and got it. Now certain sites have me worried saying crowds are crazy crowded during Free Dining. Is this true? Any insight is helpful. Thank you!

    April 24, 2018 at 1:24 pm Reply
    • Leah

      Hi Katy! I don’t think this is true. One thing that is true – dining reservations are MUCH harder to score during times when free dining is offered, but I don’t think the overall park attendance is affected much. You just have to be ready to make your ADRs on the 180-day mark if you want to get into any popular restaurants.

      April 24, 2018 at 3:34 pm Reply
  • Heather Spruill

    Hi Leah! If tickets and room were both already purchased through Undercover Tourist, is there a way to add the Free Dining Promotion? We do not have Park Hopper Tickets. Thanks!

    April 24, 2018 at 9:38 am Reply
    • Leah

      Hi Heather! Unfortunately, no. You can only get the Free Dining package thru a Disney travel agent or direct from Disney. However, you may be able to cancel with Undercover Tourist and then get a Free Dining package. Have you linked your tickets to My Disney Experience yet? If you have NOT, then you can return them for a refund minus a small restocking fee. You shouldn’t have any problem canceling your hotel. Hope that helps!

      April 24, 2018 at 10:12 am Reply
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  • Jacqueline

    I went to the destinations in fl website and they are not updated for 2018. And still featuring packages for 2016. How reliable is this company if I book with them?

    January 9, 2018 at 1:54 pm Reply
    • Leah

      Hi Jacqueline! Free Dining packages haven’t been released for 2018 yet. In years past, they have been released in April. So that’s why there’s no info on 2018 Free Dining Packages on the Destinations in Florida site yet. I checked and saw that they do still have info for 2017 packages up and I’m sure they will get that updated for 2018 very soon. As far as how reliable they are, I have referred hundreds of readers to their Disney agents and have only heard glowing reviews! They are a well-respected travel agency, particularly for Disney travel. Hope that helps!

      January 9, 2018 at 3:56 pm Reply
  • Jen

    In addition to the dates listed, Free Dining is also available for Disney Visa Card Holders from 8/13 – 8/20/2017!

    April 24, 2017 at 1:21 pm Reply
  • LauraB

    Thanks Leah! Disney dining plans have always been confusing to me, and this post does a great job explaining them. The price comparisons with and without the plans are especially helpful!

    March 25, 2017 at 6:58 am Reply
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