Update 1/2: Free dining for 2019 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 2018.
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 $75.49 for people ten or over, and $25.80 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 $250 per night.
Recently, you have had to buy tickets and also the Park Hopper or Park Hopper Plus 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 $64 to $80 per person (not per night) extra, depending on the length of the ticket. (Expect ticket prices to go up ~5% before the deal is released.)
Savings are less but still substantial for the quick service plan that’s free for value and moderate resort stays —at $52.49/21.75, the same family would save $180/night.
Q: Blah blah blah on that typical family–how much would my family save?
A: See the tables below (as always on this site, click them to enlarge them):
The value of any deal is the difference between it and your next best option. Room rate deals are usually out for the same dates as free dining, and for some families—especially smaller families with younger kids staying at more expensive deluxe resorts—the room rate discount saves more money than free dining.
The least expensive Grand Floridian rooms during September 2018 at 30% off generate savings of about $195-$230 a night. From Regular Plan part of the chart above, you can see many family types will do better here at 30% 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: The past few years, the deal came out in late April, and a lot of resorts sold out almost immediately.
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 three (or four) nights, and you likely will have to buy a minimum of two days of 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 at 980-429-4499 or KellyB@DestinationsInFlorida.com, or use the form below.
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 2 day Magic Your Way hopper or hopper-plus likely will be required for each person on the reservation age 3 and up.
However, you can save your tickets for a future trip–multi-day Magic Your Way tickets bought in 2018 which have not been activated by first use will remain valid until 12/31/2019, and even after that can have their value credited to new tickets. Annual Pass holders can use the un-activated extra 2 day ticket toward renewal costs when it is time to renew.
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, Bay Lake Tower, the Villas at the Grand Floridian, and one or the other of the Port Orleans resorts, most commonly French Quarter.
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. She’s at 980-429-4499 or KellyB@DestinationsInFlorida.com.
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 later in the year have been eligible as well.
For 2015, eligible arrival dates were
- 8/28 – 10/2/2015
- 10/25 – 10/31/15
- 11/8 – 11/19/15
- 12/15 – 12/21/15
In 2016, eligible arrival dates were
- 8/23 to 10/1/2016
- 11/15 to 11/21/16
- 11/26 to 11/28/16
- 12/10 to 12/21/16
In 2017, eligible arrival dates were
- 8/21 to 9/30/2017
- 11/14 to 11/20/17
- 11/25 to 11/27/17
- 12/8 to 12/23/17
Based on the recent patterns, I’m expecting eligible arrival dates in 2018 to look something like
- 8/20 to 9/30/2018
- 11/13 to 11/19/2018
- 11/24 to 11/26/2018
- 12/8 to 12/22/2018
Note that rumors about Free Dining from early April suggest (if accurate) an earlier August start, and no pre-Thanksgiving November dates.
Q: When is it announced?
A: See this for the variety of recent announcement dates. It’s widely expected that free dining for 2018 will be announced sometime in late April, e.g. around April 23.
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 now 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 new puppy, Belle, is below.
WHAT’S THE DISNEY DINING PLAN, ANYWAY?
The full scoop on the Disney Dining Plans is here.