Free Dining Guide and How to Get It

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What is Disney’s Free Dining?

For those who might not be familiar with Free Dining, it is a Walt Disney World promotion that is offered during the slow months of the year which is typically the fall and winter months. You can get the Free Dining offer when you book a Walt Disney vacation package which includes a resort room and tickets. For each night that you stay, you will receive a virtual “food voucher” per person on the reservation for that day. Every time you purchase a meal using the Disney Dining plan, you will receive a receipt indicating how many credits you have left. At the end of your stay, if you did not use up all your dining or snack credits, it will expire at midnight on the day you check out of your resort.

Free Dining is very popular because it’s a free meal. Many Walt Disney guests like the Free Dining because they can try out restaurants they may not have eaten at without the Free Dining promotion. I like the Free Dining offer because it makes my vacation feel all-inclusive.  I also like not having to worry how much an entrée costs.

Typically, these are the options available during a Free Dining promotion:

Guests Staying At A:Type of Free Dining PromotionWhat Is Included
Value ResortQuick Service Dining Plan•2 Quick Service meal per person per day
•2 Snacks per person per day
•1 refillable mug per person for the length of the stay
Moderate ResortQuick Service Dining Plan•2 Quick Service meal per person per day
•2 Snacks per person per day
•1 refillable mug per person for the length of the stay
Deluxe or Deluxe Villa ResortRegular Dining Plan•1 Quick Service meal per person per day
•1 Table Service Meal per person per day
•2 Snacks per person per day
•1 refillable mug per person for the length of the stay

  • The Deluxe Dining Plan is never included in the promotion, but you can upgrade it and pay the difference.
  • If you are staying at a value or moderate resort, you can upgrade from the Quick Service plan to the regular Dining Plan or the Deluxe Dining Plan. You will just have to pay the difference.

Gratuity

Gratuity is not included with the Free Dining plan, so make sure you plan for that expense. Gratuity is only included at: Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue at Fort Wilderness, Spirit of Aloha Luau at the Polynesian Resort, Mickey’s Backyard BBQ at Fort Wilderness and Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom.

You cannot combine any other discount with the Free Dining promotion. Free Dining is available to guests who purchased a Magic Your Way Package or the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) guests. You can purchase the Disney Dining plan if you book a room only reservation.

Resorts

You must stay at one of the Walt Disney World’s accommodations in order to qualify for the promotion. However, not all of Disney World’s accommodations offer the Free Dining Plan. Once the promotion is announced, you will have to see which rooms don’t qualify for the promotion. In the past, might be different this year, the following Walt Disney World accommodations have been excluded from the Free Dining promotion:

The Free Dining promotion is also based on inventory. Due to the fact that this promotion is extremely popular, even though your desired resort is available, there may not be any rooms left that qualify for the Disney Free Dining promotion. I will give you some tips that will help you grab the Free Dining promotion a little later.

Length of Stay

To be eligible for the Free Dining, you must arrive by the last day of the promotion so that you can enjoy Free Dining during your whole stay. For example, if you are traveling to Disney World October 8th -12th  and the Free Dining promotion ends on October 8th, you will be eligible to enjoy the Free Dining promotion from October 8th -12th. If you arrive on October 9th and the Free Dining promotion ends on October 8th, you will not eligible for the Free Dining promotion.

If you are coming to Walt Disney World before the promotion starts and staying while the promotion begins, you will need to make two different reservations. Walt Disney will not allow you to start the Free Dining Plan before it officially starts. For example, if you are traveling to Walt Disney World on August 12th – 17th and the Free Disney Dining promotion start on August 15th, you will not be able to get the Free Dining promotion August 12th, 13th or the 14th. You will need to make reservations for those nights and tickets. Then you will need to make reservations for August 15th – 17th, when Free Dining starts (this is an example. It doesn’t mean that it actually starts on the August 15th ). Walt Disney World will require you to check out from your first reservation and check in for your second reservation. You can make a request to keep you in the same room. A lot of the times, they do honor that request.

I did this during my last trip to Walt Disney World in August 2017 because we went before the Free Dining promotion started. We made two reservations.  It was a pain because I had to check out and go to the lobby to personally to check in when I had advance dining reservations early in the morning.


Tickets

You must buy tickets as part of your package in order to qualify for the Free Dining promotion. In the past, Disney has required every guest to purchase a minimum 2-day base ticket with a Park Hopper or Water Park Fun & More tickets.

If you purchase a Magic My Way package for 5 days, those 5 days of tickets have to be either a Park Hopper or Water Park Fun & More tickets. You cannot buy 2 base tickets with Park Hopper or Water Park Fun & More tickets and then just get 3 base tickets.

If you are an Annual Pass Holder or if you purchased tickets already, you will still have to purchase the required amount of tickets at the time of booking. My suggestion is to purchase the required amount of tickets and you can put it towards the cost of renewing the Annual Pass or saving it for later use.  If you do decided to do this, you will have to have Disney pull your tickets off your MagicBand or card to save it for future use.

When will the Free Dining Promotion be offered?

There is never a set date when the Free Dining promotion will be offered. Generally, the promotion begins in August or September and it is offered through the fall until December with some blackout dates. The availability of the plan of when you can book and when you can visit varies making it hard to predict exact dates.

In the past, the discount has been announced in March – May and has been available to book through the summer. To get a better idea of when the dates will be announced, look at the historical Free Dining dates:

I was at Walt Disney World this summer, August 2016, and I received a bounce back offer ranging from August to September. So I think it will it will definitely be offered this year.

Last year, you were required to book at least 3 night but not exceeding more than 14 night during the Free Dining promotion. You also had to buy at least 2 days of Walt Disney World tickets with Park Hopper or Water Park Fun and More. I think that this year, we should expect the same kind of deal.




How to book a Free Dining promotion

Since Free Dining is by far the most popular promotion that is offered. With that being said, it is also the most competitive offer to get once it is released. The phone lines will be jammed for hours and sometimes even days after the announcement for Free Dining is made. Disney chooses specific dates at specific resorts that are showing lower capacity to offer the Free Dining promotion. That is why Disney offers a limited number of rooms available during the Free Dining promotion.

Try to book your vacation ahead of time and around the time that Free Dining has historically been offered. By doing so, you can book your dining reservations before Free Dining is announced. That will ensure that you get reservations to the restaurants that you want. If you wait, the restaurants that you want might be all booked because they fill up quickly after the Free Dining is announced.

In order to have a good chance on getting the Free Dining promotion after it is announced, I suggest modifying your existing Walt Disney World reservations online or making a whole new Walt Disney World reservation online. However, please keep in mind that if you plan on modifying your online reservations when the Free Dining is announced, do not add Memory Maker to your reservations. If you add Memory Maker, you will not be able to edit your existing reservations. You will have to call Disney or your travel agent to make modifications to your reservations. So if you call when Free Dining is announced, the phone lines will be jammed and you might miss out on the promotion or the resort of your choice. Just add the Memory Maker a week 30 days before you arrive.




  • If you are on the regular Dining Plan, you can order some groceries to your room. Eat a quick breakfast like cereal and milk. Use a Quick Service for Lunch and a Table service for dinner if you are on the regular dining plan. If you are on the Quick Service Dining plan, you could do the same but instead of the Table Service you would use the Counter Service for dinner.
  • If you are staying at a value or moderate resort, you can upgrade from the Quick Service plan to the regular Dining Plan or the Deluxe Dining Plan. You will just have to pay the difference.
  • You can use up all your credits until they run out. For example, if you are on the regular Disney Dining Plan, which gives you 1 Table Service credit, 1 Counter Service credit and 2 Snack credits per day, you can use 2 Table Service credits to Cinderella’s Royal Table (takes 2 Table Service credits), 1 Counter Service credit and 1 Snack credit. Then the next day you want to use 1 Counter Service credit and 3 Snack credits. You can only use as many credits as you have. Once you have used them all up, you cannot use any more. How you use your credits is up to you.
  • To maximize your dining credits, don’t use a counter-service credit for breakfast is breakfast because breakfast tends to be cheaper.
  • If you still have snacks or dining credits the day that you leave and you have too many for you to use that day, stock up on snacks. This can make a nice souvenir gift for people back home or you can save them all for yourself.
  • Don’t add Memory Maker until 30 days before arrival. If you have Memory Maker and need to make changes, you will not be able to do so. At that point, you will need to call Disney or your travel agent to make any modifications to your reservation.
  • Try to book your vacation ahead of time and around the time that Free Dining has historically been offered. By doing so, you can book your dining reservations before Free Dining is announced. That will ensure that you get reservations to the restaurants that you want. If you wait, the restaurants that you want might be all booked because they fill up quickly after the Free Dining is announced.
  • Children ages of 3 and under can eat off an adult’s plate for free.
  • Be flexible. If the resort you really want is sold out for the Free Dining promotion, try another resort or you can adjust your vacation dates.

Is it worth it?

The Disney Dining Plan is not for everyone. Free Dining sounds like a great deal and it all depends on the person, their budget and where they are planning on staying. You will have to do the math and calculate if the Free Dining promotion is right for you.

Usually when the Free Dining promotion is running, Disney runs a room-only discount promotion. Depending on where you are staying, the room rate discount is sometimes better than a Free Dining promotion. Staying at a Deluxe resort using the room-only discount promotion (typically 25% – 30 % discount) is often a higher savings than getting the Free Dining promotion. Depending on where you’re staying, you can still end up with a substantial savings.

If you are staying at a Value resort, the Free Dining promotion is a higher value than the room-only discount promotion (typically a 15% discount). Also, the more people that stay in the resort rooms the better value the Free Dining promotion becomes. With a family of 2, you won’t see a big savings but with a family of 4 in one room, you will see a big savings.





List what restaurants you would like to eat at. Then, look at the menu to get an idea of the restaurant prices. Calculate what you and the people in your party would eat per day plus gratuity. Make sure you separate it by day. Add it up. Then look at the Disney Dining Plan cost below, calculate the price per day and per person plus gratuity if you are dining at a table service restaurant. Finally, subtract the difference. See if the Free Dining promotion is better than a room-only discount.

For me, I have four children, all a year apart, and I like to prepay everything so that I don’t have to worry about one more thing while I am there. I do a lot of planning on where we are going to eat and what restaurant we will be eating at including the Counter Service. The only thing that I do not plan is the snacks because I know for sure that we will be snacking in between meals. I have paid out of pocket for some character dining because I did not have enough Table Service credits and/or the character dining is cheaper than using a Table Service credit. I do not like to carry cash on me during vacation except to tip the maid, so I put everything on my credit card. I feel that it is best to prepay all my vacation expenses then having to pay for it after my vacation.

I have also used the Disney gift cards to pay for dining and merchandise for the children, but then I have to keep track of the gift cards. I know I am complicated. I don’t even take a purse or a book bag to Disney. My husband carries a book bag for all of use. I just keep my cell phone and my driver’s license in my pocket.

Ok going back to the topic, everyone has a different situation. So you have to examine what works best for you. My advice is to sit down and write your “must go to” restaurants. Then calculate how much it will cost if you paid out of pocket. If you are on the Disney Dining Plan be sure to calcite 18% gratuity.

I usually take the Free Dining promotion and I do pay out of pocket for some character breakfast because they are cheaper. Then I use my Table Service on more expensive restaurants.

 

What are your thoughts?

Will you go for the Free Dining promotion or the room-only discount? What works best for you and your family? We really appreciate our reader’s feedback and comments. Please share in the comments!