The Impact of Free Dining on Crowds at Walt Disney World
Pretty much every time Disney World announces a free dining deal (like this one), I get a bunch of comments like this:
“Dave–with free dining now announced for my week, should I move my dates to avoid the crowds it draws?”–Perplexed
My short answer is always something like “No, don’t change. It’s mathematically impossible for free dining to much change park crowds.”
For the longer answer–and why the short answer is true–keep reading!
FREE DINING CAN PACK THE DISNEY WORLD HOTELS AND RESTAURANTS, BUT NOT THE PARKS
Here’s the basics:
- The vast majority of people in the parks are NOT staying in a Walt Disney World hotel
- Free dining only affects the number of people staying in Disney World hotels
- Some people who take advantage of free dining arrival dates would have been in Walt Disney World hotels then anyway, so don’t incrementally add to park crowds
- Some people are simply pulled into Disney World hotels from off-site hotels by free dining, so have no incremental impact on park crowds
- Some people would not have gone during one of the eligible arrival dates at all except for free dining
Only this last group has an incremental impact on park crowds, and it is so small that it can’t affect park crowding much.
The last bucket–people who would not have come but for free dining–is going to book at most 20% of these rooms, or about 5500 rooms.
At 3 people per room, that’s about 16,000 incremental people.
Divided across 4 theme parks, two water parks, off-days, Universal and SeaWorld, etc., the incremental effect on any given park is de minimis.
For example, on a slow day (and basically free dining is only offered during the slow periods–that’s why they offer it…), the Magic Kingdom will have 20,000-25,000 people in it; adding another 5,000 or even 10,000 people will have only a trivial impact on park crowding, as this will still put the crowd level well below the point where the park lines start going crazy.
Free dining does make the park crowds higher than they would be on the same exact dates without free dining, but not enough to change the nature of the parks or their lines.
It does crowd the hotels–that’s the point–and crowd the restaurants–that’s the tool.
But in general, you should view the presence of free dining during your week as an indicator that it’s a pretty low crowd week to attend!