For my thoughts on the re-opening of Walt Disney World, see this.


By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

Available on Amazon here.

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Free Dining

By Dave Shute

Update 1/2: Free dining for 2020 is out!

Free Dining is the favorite deal of many Disney World fans, and I get questions about it all the time.

In an unusual attempt to actually provide good answers, a while ago I put heads together with DISboards.com legends Smitch425 (Sarah) and Black562 (Joe Black–Joe’s also on Facebook here; Sarah’s shy).

We–well, mostly they–came up with the following FAQ. I’ve updated it for 2020.

WHAT IS FREE DINING AND WHY SHOULD I CARE?

Q: What is free dining?
A: Free dining is a Disney World deal where, if you buy other stuff, you can get one of the Disney World dining plans for free. Most recently, eligible folk staying at an eligible value resort or moderate resort have gotten the quick service dining plan for free, and those staying at eligible deluxe resorts have gotten the regular dining plan for free.

Q: Is this a big deal?
A: For many families, it really is. The regular Disney Dining Plan costs $78.01 for people ten or over, and $30.50 for kids 3 to 9.

So a typical family of four with one younger kid and one older who would have otherwise paid cash for the dining plan will save more than $260 per night.

Recently, you have had to buy tickets and also the Park Hopper ticket add-on to be eligible for the deal. If you hadn’t planned on buying one of these add-ons, you have to deduct the extra costs from your free dining savings to see if it’s a good deal still. The hopper cost is $85.20 per person (not per night) extra, depending on the length of the ticket.

Savings are less but still substantial for the quick service plan that’s free for value and moderate resort stays —at $55/26, the same family would save ~$190/night.

Q:  Blah blah blah on that typical family–how much would my family save?
A: See the tables below, which EXCLUDE the cost of the Park Hopper

 

Q: Is it the best deal?
A: Not always.

The value of any deal is the difference between it and your next best option. A room rate deal is out that covers the same dates as free dining, and for some families—especially smaller families with younger kids staying in more expensive rooms who do not want hoppers—the room rate discount saves more money than free dining.

The least expensive Grand Floridian rooms during late August 2020 at 25% off generate savings of about $180-$190 a night. From Regular Plan part of the chart above, you can see some family types will do better here at 25% off than they would from free dining, especially if they had not been already planning to buy a hopper.

Moreover, Disney lately has seemed to offer for free dining largely the higher priced room options within a given resort–rooms with better views, closer access to the main services, or special theming. If you had not already planned on one of these higher-priced rooms, then their extra costs will also get in the way of your savings.

Q: What’s the Disney Dining Plan, anyway?
A: See this!

HOW TO GET FREE DINING

Q: OK, I’m sold. Now what?
A:  Until last year, the deal came out in late April, and a lot of resorts sold out almost immediately. In 2019 it came out in two parts, first released in early January for summer arrival dates into September, then in mid-July for additional November and December arrival dates.

In 2020, Free Dining for a total of 16 days in June, July, August and September was released on January 2. It remains to be seen whether any more free dining will be released for 2020.

You have to be willing to stay at an eligible resort, with an arrival date within the announced deal’s eligible dates, for likely a minimum of  four nights, and you likely will have to buy a minimum of three days of hopper tickets for all in the room 3 and older.

Q: I already have a reservation just like that! Will Disney automatically convert it to the deal?
A: Disney don’t do nothin’ automatically.

If you already have a reservation, to get the deal if/when it is offered you have to try to change your reservation online, or call and change your current reservation, or make a new free dining reservation online and then call when that’s set to cancel your old reservation.

Simpler is to make your reservation through Kelly B, the long-time travel agent partner of this site. Contact her using the form below.

Request a Quote

  • Date Format: MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • Date Format: MM slash DD slash YYYY

If you’ve booked with Kelly, once the deal comes out she’ll move heaven and earth to get you into it.

Q: Tickets? But I already bought tickets!
A: That’s a whine, not a question.

But yes, to be eligible for free dining, a new minimum 3 day hopper will be required for each person on the reservation age 3 and up.

Q: Are all resorts and rooms in the deal?
A: All recent Disney World deals have excluded some resorts and room types—mostly those for which demand is high enough that no deal is needed to get heads in beds at full prices.

Recently, most commonly excluded have been Little Mermaid standard rooms at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, All-Star Movies, the Villas at the Grand Floridian, and one or the other of the Port Orleans resorts, most commonly French Quarter. For 2020, both Port Orleans resorts are in the deal.

Moreover, even when not excluded, it seems that a limited inventory of rooms at resorts is made available for the deal–with a particularly limited inventory of the least expensive view types.

It’s always best to have a backup resort and room type in mind should your desired location be excluded or sold out.

Q: When should I book?
A: As soon as you hear about the deal.

Since there are a limited number of rooms in the free dining inventory at each included resort, the sooner you book once a deal goes live, the better your chances are of getting your preferred location.

The easiest way to do this is to turn over your visit to my travel agent friend Kelly B, and let her take care of booking the best deals for you. See the form above.

Q: My arrival date is before free dining but part of my stay is during it! Boo!
A: If you check in prior to a free dining promotion, you can do what is referred to as a “split stay.”

For example, if you check in the day before free dining begins, you can book a room only stay for the first night, and a free dining package to begin the following day.

This would require you to check out and check back in, and it is possible that you would have to switch rooms. However, Disney can link the two reservations, and they will do everything possible to avoid a room switch.

Q: When is free dining offered?
A: The most common time for free dining is September, but recently arrival dates  both earlier and later in the year have been eligible as well.

For 2020, eligible arrival dates (so far) are

  • 6/27 and 6/28/2020
  • 7/5 – 7/8/20
  • 8/29 – 9/8/20

More arrival dates may be released later.

Q: When is it announced?
A: See this for the variety of recent announcement dates.

Q. I’m a proud DVC point owner! Can I get free dining?
A: Sorry—DVC rooms booked using points (either by the point owner, or for someone who is getting DVC rooms by renting points) aren’t eligible. However, DVC rooms paid for by cash are eligible.

Q: Can I upgrade from the quick service to the regular plan, or to the deluxe plan?
A: Yes, you may. Simply pay the difference between the plans and you can upgrade all you wish.

Q: Should I book in advance for free dining?
A: Don’t book early in the hope of getting free dining later.

Rather, book only if you are committed to a certain resort and set of dates, whether or not free dining emerges.

  • First, if bookings are up, Disney has no reason to offer a discount at all.
  • Second, if people book up certain resorts, they are more likely to be excluded.

Having an advance reservation has no benefit in any way over a new booking on release day. It doesn’t hurt you—but it doesn’t help.

Q: Can I have a puppy?
A: Perhaps. Our puppy, Belle, is below.

Our New Puppy Belle

WHAT’S THE DISNEY DINING PLAN, ANYWAY?

The full scoop on the Disney Dining Plans is here.

 

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10 comments

1 Kelly B - Destinations in Florida { 01.09.18 at 3:15 pm }

Discounts can be a bit tricky. But I’m here to help you get the best pricing available. Not sure exactly how the whole discount thing works? Take a minute to read this article: https://yourfirstvisit.net/2017/04/06/free-dining-and-other-disney-world-deals/

Want to know when the next discount is released? Send me an email at KellyB@DestinationsInFlorida.com and I’ll add you to my discount release list. Be sure to tell me that Dave sent you!!!

2 Arlene { 02.09.18 at 9:41 pm }

Hi, I have been anticipating the rush for free dining, so I am just looking at costs and deals now. When on the website, it looks like they have a modified deal on for the next couple of days. For the value resorts they have one quick service meal available for free in the Stay Dine and Delight good until August 25th. Do you think this means that Free Dining won’t be available until August 26th? I need the free dining to start the week before…..should I take a chance and wait for free dining or book this one quick service (better than nothing!)
What are thoughts? Our trip this year hinges on Free Dining.
Thanks Dave….

3 Dave { 02.10.18 at 10:44 am }

Hi Arlene, it started 8/21 last year.

4 Emma { 06.21.19 at 12:52 am }

Hi Dave,
I have two questions:
1)We can get a Free Dining package in our country and are looking at staying at Caribbean Beach hotel which comes with Free Quick Service plan but is it worth upgrading from that to the Regular Dining Plan – for the five of us (2 adults and 3 kids 11,13 and 14) this would be US$648 extra for our stay?
2)Or we can stay at the Beach Club and get the Regular Plan included for free. The difference in price between staying at the Carribean Beach (and paying the upgrade to Regular Plan) and the Beach Club (with Regular Plan included free) is US$754 more for our stay. Is the Beach Club much nicer than the Carribean Beach for an extra US$754?
Thanks so much for your help!

5 Dave { 06.21.19 at 9:58 am }

Emma, yes on free dining. Sometimes a room rate deal is the better option, but this applies only to smaller families. And yes, I would pay the difference to upgrade to the regular dining plan if you end up at CB IF you contemplate you will use all the credits on single credit table service lunch or dinner meals–which may well be too many given the length of your stay. If on even a couple of days you might skip such meals, and the necessary reservations for them that can clutter up your schedule, then I would not upgrade–you will be financially better off paying out of pocket.

The Beach Club vs CB is a tougher decision, as I find it difficult to spend other people’s money! A complete review of CB starts here. Note that the Disney Skyliner gondola system will be open by your visit. And a complete review of the Beach Club starts here.

At BC you will find a better pool (though CB’s is good), better access to Epcot and HS, (although with the Skyliner, CB’s access is good too), and balconies, though some are uselessly small. CB will give you better dining (this is heresy in some quarters) and of course the better price…

6 Emma { 06.23.19 at 6:35 am }

Hi Dave, Thanks for this great advice! We are thinking of a 6 night stay and given we have been a couple of times before to WDW and our kids are tweens now (and we have ticked off all your favourite picks for restaurants before) we would probably just want to do one character meal this time. Also we have in the past done the Hollywood Vine Fantasmic package but given we have seen it twice now perhaps not so crucial this time to get the dining package. So you are right, not worth upgrading to regular dining unless we have lots of table restaurants we want to do.

If we do a character meal do you recommend Minnie’s Beach bash at Cape May cafe or Tusker House at AK as a favourite? We have done Chef Mickey twice.

Also in terms of number of days I would love to get your advice before we book! Given our priority will be to tick off the things we haven’t done before (our last visit was end of 2016) eg Avatar, Rivers of Light, Toy Story Land, Galaxy the Edge….etc and also tick off the favourites we are thinking:
Epcot 1/2 day (on arrival)
Magic Kingdom 1 day
Blizzard Beach 1 day
Animal Kingdom 1 day
Hollywood Studios 2 days

We only ever used to do 1 day at HS but am thinking will need 2 days do you think to do Galaxy Edge, Toy Story land..etc along with the other favourites there? Or can we do it all in 1 day?

Thanks again
Emma

7 Dave { 06.23.19 at 8:24 am }

Hey Emma, there’s no Mickey at the Beach Club, and you can set Tusker House up as a ROL dining package (and it has great food) so I would do Tusker House.

I suspect that 2 days will be needed at HS, and frankly (unless you want to skip a lot) you might want 1.5 days at AK. The best way to add that (in my judgment) is to think of BB as a half day, and add another theme park ticket day so that you can do AK that day as well.

8 Emma { 06.23.19 at 4:13 pm }

Wonderful advice again thanks Dave. ROL Dining package great idea for us. And that’s great re number of days at HS and AK – good advice re BB half day and AK half day. Oh you are so helpful!!! Thank you!!!!

9 Emma { 06.23.19 at 6:48 pm }

Hey Dave I priced up for the five of us to pay for ROL Dining Package for lunch/dinner and it works out at US$60 per person (given my kids are all adult prices now) so US$300 for the five of us! Even if we don’t do the ROL package and just go there for dinner (and we really want to do a character dinner) its hard to find out prices but I think it looks like it would be US$210 for the five of us for dinner.
However to upgrade from our Free Quick Service Dining plan to the Regular Dining plan option will cost us US$108 per night for our family of five for the 6 nights (US$648 in total). At those restaurant prices we will have pretty much made our money back if we just went out for two or three Table Service dinners in our 6 nights!!! What do you reckon?

10 Dave { 06.24.19 at 10:08 am }

Emma, GREAT point. If there are a few more TS you want to do, then it is indeed worth it!

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