Free Disney Dining Plan: the good, the bad and the hungry
It’s that time of year again. The time when rumors start to fly, speculations start to brew and tension runs high. Everyone and their brother in the Disney universe starts to wonder when will Walt Disney World release the free dining plan.We see it every year. The rumor mill gets going and before you know it, there is chatter in every direction regarding the free Disney Dining Plan promotion. Every spring, you will see full posts published with the sole purpose of predicting whether or not Walt Disney World will even run the Free Disney Dining promo. Posts are published with history regarding when in the past the Free Disney Dining has been released and what dates they typically offer the free dining plan.
Update: Free Disney Dining has been released! There are several changes this year so keep that in mind when booking.
Check out Disney’s Offer Page for details and keep reading the post to see what changes we have seen this year.
Here in the U.S., we wait for our Disney friends in the U.K. to get their Free Disney Dining promo and we make our speculations based off of that, because they always get the details of their offer before we do. Ok am I starting to sound a little crazy? That’s ok, we’re all mad here…..right??
If you’re new to the Disney bubble, or are simply curious about the free dining plan at Walt Disney World, this post is here to clear up some of the confusion.
So, what’s the big deal?
UMMMM FREE FOOD! And even better, free DISNEY food, which is phenomenal. That’s what! The Free Disney Dining plan promo is generally offered during slower times of the year for Walt Disney World when they need to fill rooms. We began taking advantage of this offer years ago when you really could call it “low attendance”; nowadays, that’s not really a thing as we’ve noticed crowds increasing every year since. Its usually offered in September/October and sometimes selected dates in November and December.
Ok, so what is it?
The Disney Dining Plan can always be purchased with any Walt Disney World vacation through the Magic Your Way package. But if you’re lucky enough to travel to WDW during the Free dining promotion, then its free! Depending on how big your party is and how many days you’re staying, you could potentially save big bucks by getting your food for free.
The Quick Service Dining Plan will allow you a refillable drink mug for use at the resorts, 2 quick service meals, and 2 snacks per person. The Disney Dining Plus Plan also allows you a refillable drink mug for use at the resorts, 1 quick service meal, 1 table service meal which includes dessert and 2 snacks per person. The Deluxe Disney Dining Plan allows you three meals, 2 snacks and again, the refillable mug. Honestly this is a LOT of food but if you have a big appetite or are just used to larger portion sizes, then this may be a good deal for you. Keep in mind, these meals are per person per night that you are staying on property.
This is important because its not based on how many days you are there, but rather how many nights. And you don’t have to use that allotment every day. Instead you get a total of meals and you use them according to your liking.
The dining plan has changed for 2017 since previous years as you used to get dessert with the quick service meal too and now you don’t, but rather another snack. I think I like this better because it gives you a little more flexibility with your credits, however it is important to note that if you’re only getting the Quick Service Dining Plan, you don’t get dessert with any of the meals. You can use a snack credit for dessert on eligible items, but it doesn’t automatically come with the meal like it used to.
For specific details on the 2017 Disney Dining plans, click here.
How do I get it for free?
Well there are two ways to get it and I will break them both down for you.
First, if you’re trying to snag some of the best ADRs, or advanced dining reservations, you will need to have your trip booked at least 6 months ahead of time. So if you’re anticipating that Free Disney Dining will be offered for travel dates in September, then you will need to have a reservation in March. Everyone can book ADRs 6 months ahead of time, but for those staying on WDW property, you get to book 6 months ahead of time from the beginning of your trip, which gives you a slight advantage over those not staying on WDW property or without trips yet planned.
So basically, book your trip. If and when the Free Disney Dining plan is offered, call WDW and request that the promo be added to your account and there ya go, Free Disney Dining for you! If you are working with a travel agent, they will take care of this for you, so that is a huge perk of working with one. And I can tell you, if you choose to go this route, its a HUGE perk.
Why? Well a couple years ago, Disney decided to be slightly deceptive and kind of caught everyone off guard by not releasing a Free Disney Dining Plan to Disney Visa cardholders first, which is usually the norm for this promo. So basically, we all woke up and there was the promo with very little warning. I texted my aunt, who had already had hotel reservations and she was able to get through in about 20 minutes. My sister, on the other hand ended up waiting on hold for 2-3 hours. If you have a good travel agent, they will take care of the calling for you and you don’t have to worry about being stuck on hold.
Ok so what’s the other way? Wait until Disney releases free dining and book your trip then. Remember that story I just told you? That day, the Disney site CRASHED. I mean like, no one could access it. AT ALL. It was really odd because I woke up at 6 am for work, got on my phone, checked special offers and there was the promo. So I booked our trip and went to work without a single worry in my mind. Then when I went on Facebook, ummmmm, yea people were pretty mad. I mean like swearing at Disney on Facebook kind of mad. Apparently, as people started waking up and realizing free dining had been released at Walt Disney World, everyone tried to access the site all at once. So that is a risk you take if you choose to wait.
Another risk you take by waiting is that there are only a select number of rooms and select resorts available when they offer a promo so you could miss out on your resort of choice and even miss out on the promo itself. Disney doesn’t release the number of rooms available for the promo, but rather leaves it to your imagination by stating “limited availability”.
We obviously recommend just having your trip planned prior to release of the promo, but you can do it either way. Keep in mind, Disney is never obligated to release a discount or promotion, which means its always possible that they will not release free dining. From what we have seen so far, it looks like they will, but nothing is 100% certain until the discount is announced.
So, is it actually that good of a deal?!
Well its free! Of course! No, really I’m just kidding though. That’s not something I can really answer for you. Sad I know, but there are a lot of things to factor in. A few things to consider:
Not all Disney resorts are included. Usually Art of Animation Little Mermaid Rooms are excluded and sometimes All-Star Movies(random?), Fort Wilderness Campground and really any other resort that they don’t need help filling. So if you were really looking forward to staying in one of those exclusions, then Free Disney Dining is not for you.
You can’t use other discounts. Here is where it gets tricky. So the food is free, right?! Well yes and no. It is free, but by taking advantage of that promo, you are excluded from using other discounts that are usually available at that time, like room discounts or ticket discounts. Since its part of the Magic Your Way Package, you also can’t really use your Annual Passes(since tickets are part of MYW) and also can’t use DVC points in conjunction with free dining.
The Free Disney Dining plan that you receive depends on the tier of the resort you choose. Value resorts will always receive the Quick Service Dining Plan, but you can upgrade to the Plus Dining plan for an additional cost. We always do this if we are staying at a Value resort because we enjoy the table service meals a lot and its worth the cost. If you stay at a Moderate or higher, you generally receive the Plus Dining plan.*This has changed. Now all Moderates and Value Resorts will both be receiving Quick Service Disney Dining, which means you no longer get the table service meal for free when getting the free dining plan. This changes the value of the free dining discount, so plan accordingly.
Generally, there is a minimum stay required, although I have booked a shorter stay than it states and have still received the promo. Just know that if you’re only going for a long weekend, most likely you won’t be able to get free dining. Sorry Charlie.
The rules change every year. So basically, it’s a mystery until WDW announces the dates and exclusions. Once the details of the promo are released, I recommend seeing what is best for your family. Depending on where you want to stay and how many people are staying in your room, you might be better off taking advantage of a room discount. Or if you prefer the cheaper resorts, then the Free Disney Dining Plan would benefit your family.
For a price point reference, the Quick Service Dining Plan would usually cost you $20.18/per night for kids 3-9 and 46.34/night per adult 10 and older. The Disney Dining Plus Plan would normally cost 24.22/per night for kids 3-9 and 67.33/night per adult 10 and older. This may sound like a huge savings, but if you normally wouldn’t spend that much on food in a day, then the room discount may actually end up being a better deal.
Generally, we love the Disney Dining Plan. It can help you stay within budget and allow you to try more expensive items that you may have ignored if you were paying outright. We think the Disney Dining Plan is awesome if you use your credits wisely and we think its even more awesome when its free. Just keep in mind its not always the best deal!