Wondering if Disney free dining is the best promotion for your trip to Disney World on a budget? Here are all the details you need to decide whether free dining or a room discount is the best deal for your family vacation.
In my opinion, YES…Disney free dining is the best promotion for our Disney World vacations!
I think it’s so wonderful that we’ve just booked our third Disney World vacation during the Disney free dining promotion…fingers crossed now that Disney will actually have that promotion again this year! More on that below 😉
What is the Disney Dining Plan?
The Disney Dining Plan basically turns your Disney World vacation into a Disney World all inclusive vacation package! By prepaying for all of your meals, snacks, and beverages at a discounted cost, you’ll get to truly enjoy the magic of Disney without going hungry to save on expenses.
There are a few different dining plans to choose from – Quick-Service, Regular, and Deluxe.
New for 2018 vacation packages! You now have several new beverage options available including non-alcoholic specialty beverages (Artisanal Milkshakes, Fresh Smoothies, Premium Hot Chocolate, Soda, Coffee or Tea) and, for Guests 21 and older, Beer or Cider, Wine or Sangria, Mixed Drinks and Specialty Cocktails.
Is the Disney Free Dining Promotion Worth It? What About a Room Discount?
If you are planning a trip to Disney World on a budget, then I would say yes, it’s worth getting the dining plan at Disney World.
Not only did we save over $1,000 right off the bat since the dining plan was free, but we also hardly spent a penny on food during our stay since we were eating quality meals that satisfied us.
Historically around the same time the Disney dining plan promotion is released, there is also a great room discount released – up to 30% off rooms. The room discount is divided into categories though – typically you’ll get 30% off deluxe resorts and 15% off value resorts, with moderate resorts being a percentage somewhere in between.
A quick calculation for the room discount tells you that…
- 30% off a deluxe resort room (from $345/night) would be about $103.50 off bringing your stay at a deluxe resort to $241.50/night
- 15% off a value resort room (from $110/night) would be about $16.50 off bringing your stay at a value resort to $93.50/night
As you can see in the table below, you’ll find the value of dining credits with the Disney dining plan. You can see that the value of free dining will add up very quickly…
Remember, from the room discount promotion above, you will save about $103.50/night PER ROOM if staying at a Deluxe Resort and about $16.50/night PER ROOM if staying at a Value Resort.
With the free dining promotion you’ll save a minimum of $52.50/night PER ADULT and $21.74/night PER CHILD if staying at a Value Resort. That means an average family with two adults and two children will save $148.48 PER NIGHT with the free dining promotion while staying at a Value Resort. Those savings increase to $202.48 PER NIGHT if staying at a Deluxe Resort.
So for a 7-day, 6-night vacation at a Value Resort your savings would be about…
Room Discount – $99.00
Free Dining Promotion – $890.99
For a 7-day, 6-night vacation at a Deluxe Resort your savings would be about…
Room Discount – $621.00
Free Dining Promotion – $1,214.88
As you can see, the value of the free dining promotion is much greater than a room discount!
Another thing to consider is if you would like to upgrade to the Regular Dining Plan from the Quick-Service Dining Plan when staying at a Value Resort.
To me, it’s really not worth it to stay at a Moderate Resort for the free dining deal since you’ll be paying more for your room and will still only be getting the Quick-Service Dining Plan.
Although I think you would have plenty of food with the Quick-Service Dining Plan, we have always upgraded to the Regular Disney Dining Plan to take advantage of character meals, other more expensive table-service restaurants, and dining events.
With character meals you are pretty much guaranteed amazing access to your family’s favorite Disney characters since they walk around the entire restaurant, stopping at each table for photos and autographs! This is an added bonus since you won’t need to wait in long lines at the parks to meet them 😉
This is where the true value of the free dining promotion is reinforced. We were able to enjoy character meals throughout our stay which would have cost between $100 and $200 each along with counter-service meals that also ended up costing a pretty penny for a family of five.
Over the years we have enjoyed table service meals at Chef Mickey’s, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Be Our Guest, T-Rex, Whispering Canyon Cafe, Sanaa, Cape May Cafe, Le Cellier Steakhouse, and Tusker House along with many delicious quick service meals too.
You can upgrade to the Regular Dining Plan by simply paying the difference between the two plans. So if you get Quick-Service Dining for free, you’ll need to pay $23.40/night per adult and $4.01/night per child to upgrade.
Keep in mind gratuity is not included for table-service meals with your dining plan so that’s something you’ll need to budget for.
Using the same example as above (2 adults, 2 children), here is what your savings would look like after paying to upgrade to the Regular Dining Plan when staying at a Value Resort…
Room Discount – $99.00
Free Dining Promotion upgraded – ($890.99 – $328.92 for upgrade) – $562.07
You can request a personalized free, no obligation quote from Melissa at Mickey Adventures HERE. Just tell her Kara from Saving by Design sent you 😉
How Do You Get the Disney Free Dining Promotion?
Because it really is a great promotion, free dining books up fast! You have to be on your toes to make sure you not only get the free dining promotion when it becomes available, but also that you book early enough so you can grab all the great restaurants to use your free dining credits on on.
Here’s how we book our Disney free dining each year with the help of our amazing Disney travel agent, Melissa…
- Figure out if free dining is the best promotion for your vacation (use the examples above or request a personalized quote)
- Book your vacation NOW with travel dates that fall during the historical free dining window at an eligible resort – you only need $200 to make your reservation
- Make your dining reservations 180 days before your travel dates for the best selection (even if the free dining promotion hasn’t been released yet)
- When free dining is released (fingers crossed it is again this year!) be sure your travel dates are eligible and adjust if necessary…this is where the help of a Disney travel agent comes in SUPER handy!
Here is the Disney free dining historical information so you can decide if free dining is the right promotion for you if and when it is released this year 😉
The following rooms are historically not eligible for the Disney free dining promotion:
- All-Star Movies
- Art of Animation Little Mermaid Rooms
- Port Orleans Resort French Quarter
- Bay Lake Tower
- Fort Wilderness campsites
- All 3-bedroom Villas
- Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian
- Standard rooms & bungalows at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
- Port Orleans Resort Riverside – eligible for Free Dining, but historically only for selected dates in September
To take advantage of free dining, guests will also need to purchase tickets that include either a 2-day (or longer) Park Hopper or Park Hopper Plus option as part of their vacation package. A 3-night minimum stay is also required with a maximum stay of fourteen nights. Children 2 and under are free.
As you can see below, there is a clear pattern of when you can expect Disney free dining to be eligible this year if the promotion is released…
The 2017 Disney Free Dining dates were:
- August 21 – September 30
- November 14 – November 20
- November 25 – November 27
- December 8 – December 23
The 2016 Disney Free Dining dates were:
- August 23 – October 1
- November 15 – November 21
- November 26 – November 28
- December 10 – December 21
The 2015 Disney Free Dining dates were:
- August 28 – October 2
- October 25 – October 31
- November 8 – November 19
- December 15 – December 21
The Free Disney Dining promotion is always based upon arrival dates.
For example, if the free dining promotion runs August 21 to September 30, and you arrive on September 30 and stay until October 9, you are eligible for free dining…even though you stay after the promotion ends. It does not work the other way around though…if you arrive before the promotion starts and leave during it, you are not eligible for free dining.
Even if the sad day comes when free dining is no longer offered as a promotion, I truly don’t see us ever going to Disney World without purchasing a dining plan. It’s so much easier knowing that our meals are taken care of and we’ll be well fed on our busy days trekking through the park.
Request a personalized free, no obligation quote from Melissa at Mickey Adventures HERE.