Is Disney Free Dining worth it? This is probably one of the most popular promotions offered and one of the questions that people always ask when it’s offered. Actually, Free Dining is so popular that after it gets announced, the Disney phone lines have long waits and the website has a tendency to crash due to overload (PS, this is one of the best reasons to use a Travel Agent – they’ll deal with all of that for you. We’re here to give you the facts surrounding Disney’s Free Dining promotion and hopefully answer the question, “Is Disney World Free Dining Worth It?”
What is the Disney Dining Plan?
The Dining Plan is a prepaid meal package that you can purchase for your Disney vacation if you are staying in one of the Walt Disney World Resort hotels. Currently, there are three different plans. There’s the Quick Service Dining Plan, the Disney Dining Plan, and the Deluxe Dining Plan. Each plan contains meal credits that you can use to “pay” for your meals, and credits are based on how many nights you’re staying at your Disney World Resort. The amount of credits and type of credits depends on which plan you have. With the Quick Service Dining Plan, you get two quick service meal credits and two snack credits per day, per person. With the Disney Dining Plan, you get one table service meal credit, one quick service meal credit, and two snack credits.
And finally, with the Deluxe Dining Plan, you receive three meal credits that you can use for your choice of either a table service meal or quick service meal , and two snack credits. All three plans also include a refillable mug that you can use at any of the Disney World Resort hotels during your stay. The most popular dining plan is the standard plan (one table service, one quick service, and two snacks) as it is priced right in the middle and allows guests to enjoy all types of meals that Disney has to offer. Here is what you get with each type of meal on the Disney Dining Plan.
Quick Service Meal
One Quick Service meal and one beverage
Table Service Meal*
One entrée and dessert OR one buffet/family style meal and one beverage
*On the deluxe plan, guests will also receive an appetizer
One of the great things about the dining plan is the assortment of beverages that you can get with a meal. Not only can you get soda, coffee, or tea, but you can get smoothies, milkshakes, hot chocolate, or alcoholic beverages (for those over 21).
In 2018, Disney introduced the inclusion of alcohol (where served) as your beverage during lunch and dinner. In the past, if you wanted a drink with dinner, you had to pay out of pocket, but now one alcoholic beverage is included with your meal. Most restaurants on Disney World property (parks, resorts, and Disney Springs) take the Dining Plan. Signature restaurants, dinner shows, and private in-room dining will cost 2 meal credits. Those are some of the basics of the dining plan that Disney offers.
What is the Disney “Free Dining” promotion?
“Free dining” is a promotion that Disney releases periodically in which you receive the dining plan for “free.” In order to qualify for this offer, you need to travel during certain dates, stay at one of the designated onsite resorts for a minimum number of nights, and purchase park hopper tickets. Booking a stay at one of the value or moderate resorts currently offers the free Quick Service Dining Plan, and deluxe resorts offer the Disney Dining Plan. However, you do have the option to upgrade to the next plan level by paying the difference. That’s it in a nutshell. Is the Disney Free Dining Plan Worth it? We’ll go into more detail a little later on!
Why and When Did Disney Start the “Free Dining” Promotion?
The Walt Disney Company, and Disney World in particular, was on a roll in the 90’s. They were growing like crazy until the tourism industry took a big hit, especially in Florida, after the events of 9/11. For the next couple of years, Disney World was experiencing lower than normal crowd levels and were having a hard time filling the resorts during their typical slow months (August, September and November). To help fill this gap, Disney came out with this Free Dining offer. As tourism has picked up and Disney really does not have any “slow times” anymore, the dates where Free Dining are offered are becoming more and more limited. Disney has, in the last few years however, offered variations of the plan to help keep guests staying on Disney property happy.
Is Disney Free Dining Worth It?
To answer the question “Is Disney Free Dining Worth It?” this is where you would have to do some math to determine if it is worth it or not… Would you save more money getting a discounted room (which is generally offered as another option) or getting Free Dining and pay full rates for your resort? We’ll give you a couple of examples of the Free Disney Dining Plan 2019 special offer to help you figure out which scenario would be best for you.
First example – A family of four is staying at Coronado Springs in a standard room August 20th through August 25th (5 nights, 6 days) with a four-day park hopper and qualify for the Free Quick Service Dining Plan. Their stay will cost approximately $3,152.00. On the other hand, with the same family, same dates, same resort, but instead they opt for the Enchanted Escape room only discount, their stay now costs $2,839.00, a savings of approx. $300, plus the cost of meals. For this family, adding the Disney Dining Plan would cost them $906.40. In this case, Free Dining would make sense.
Second example – Two adults staying at Saratoga Springs in a one-bedroom villa September 10th through September 14th (4 nights, 5 days) with four-day park hopper tickets and qualify for the Free Disney Dining Plan offer. Their stay will cost approximately $3,100.00. Same couple, same dates, same resort, but instead they opt for the Enchanted Escape room only discount, their stay now costs them $2,480.00, a savings of approximately $700, plus the cost of food. For this couple, adding the Disney Dining Plan would cost them $754.90. So, for this example, it is almost a wash in the end. And, if you weren’t going to take advantage of each and every meal and snack included, the room discount would probably be best.
With all that being said, it really depends on how you do Disney. Some people like not have to worry about the cost of food. Some people would rather splurge on experiences. You could run these scenarios 100 different ways and sometimes it will make sense to get the dining plan, and other times, it will not. As you saw, in each of the scenarios above, it really matters on where you are staying and how big your traveling party is.
Benefits to having the Dining Plan?
A big one for some people is having your meals prepaid for so you don’t have to worry about the cost of food once you are there. Certainly a valid reason. Especially if you are traveling with teenagers or if your family isn’t going to be together at all times. You don’t have to worry about giving anyone cash or “here’s my credit card”; instead your meal credits are right there on your Magic Band.
Another pro is that you’ll probably never be hungry on the dining plan – Disney gives you a ton of food. If you and your family are big eaters, then you won’t be disappointed. For some people, this is a con because it might be too much food, or if you have little kids who don’t eat much in the first place, they aren’t going to eat enough to justify the price.
What we think is a big benefit if you’re on the dining plan, and maybe more so with Free Dining, is the ability try different restaurants or different foods than you normally would if you were paying out of pocket. You can try that international dish and not worry because you already paid for it and didn’t just waste money. Now we’re not very adventurous eaters, so that factor doesn’t appeal to us much, but if you like trying new foods and new restaurants, we can totally see how this aspect could appeal you.
And lastly, Free Dining will generally be a great option for those with large families. If you have a family of five, the price of the room is going to be the same no matter how many people are sleeping there. But a family of five is going to spend more money on food than just a couple. In the end, you could end up saving money at Disney World on the dining plan.
As you can see, there are definitely some pros to Free Dining and the Disney Dining Plan, in general.
Dining Plan Drawbacks?
The dining plan limits you as to where you can eat during your vacation – credits are only good at valid restaurants on Disney property. For some people, that is fine – you weren’t planning on leaving the Disney bubble and you were only going to eat at Disney restaurants anyway. However, if you were planning on taking a day in the middle of your trip to visit other places in Orlando, you will need to pay out of pocket for any of those meals off property. And even if you are eating on property, not every restaurant takes the dining plan. There are quite a few restaurants at Disney Springs that do not take the dining plan. So, if you want to try a new restaurant in Disney Springs, you need to find out ahead of time if they take the dining plan because the last thing you want is to do is find out they don’t accept it after you have already sat down.
Another drawback for some people is that it is too much food. Mostly you will see people at the end of their trip with a bunch of snack credits left over. You can always tell when someone is at the end of their vacation and they are trying to use up all their snack credits – they are the ones standing in line at the candy section of one of the shops buying a bunch of Mickey-shaped rice krispie treats to take back home on the plane with them. Use your dining plan credits wisely. Some snack credits are a really good value; some are not. There are some food items that qualify as a snack credit and you could legitimately eat it as a meal. For example, a cinnamon bun from Gaston’s Tavern. Other items, like a banana or a bottle of water are not the best fiscal use of a snack credit. Make sure you are utilizing the snack credits wisely if you are on the dining plan to make sure it is worth it!
Lastly, free can sometimes be relative. You may actually end up paying more for your trip just because you want Free Dining. You could be saving more money on the room only discount. Plus, in order to get Free Dining, you need to travel on specific dates, stay for a minimum amount of nights (that might be longer than what you originally planned) at a certain resort and/or room type (which might not have been your first choice financially), and you need to valid have park hopper tickets (which cost extra and you may not even use them to park hop). And of course, you have to stay on property, which is usually more expensive than staying off – if that was originally what you were going to do. Also, everyone in your reservation party must have the dining plan – you can’t have just one or two people on it. Exception being children under three, since they are considered free and not included in your resort reservation for these purposes.
On the Free Dining side, it can be hard to get. Disney has very few travel dates and a limited amount of rooms available for Free Dining and they go fast. Also, not all resorts or room types are part of the promotion. For example, resorts like Wilderness Lodge, Art of Animation, and Port Orleans Riverside are generally not part of the promotion. So, if your travel dates don’t match up, or Wilderness Lodge, Art of Animation or Port Orleans Riverside are a must stay Disney resort, you will not be able to take advantage of the Free Disney Dining offer.
Another Free Dining drawback is that in order to get the promotion you have to buy a full price Magic Your Way package which includes park tickets and your resort room. This means you cannot get a discount on anything else – just dining. You will need to pay full price for your room, and it might be a bit of sticker shock to you when you see that your room is $700 a night – but hey, I get Free Dining at Disney World! Is that still worth it? It would just depend!
Is The Disney World Dining Plan Worth It For Us?
For just the two of us, the dining plan does not make sense, even if “free”. Even with our daughter now 3, she doesn’t eat that much, so paying for her just isn’t worth it for us. What we like to do is buy some groceries, eat breakfast in our room, bring snacks to the park, and maybe eat out like once a day. It saves us money and we’re sticking to what we would typically eat on a normal day – for the most part. It really depends on your nutritional lifestyle.
Another thing we do is get a ballpark figure on how much we think we would spend on food for our trip, then purchase a Disney gift card just for dining. It’s another way of having your food prepaid for, and you may even be able to get a discount on the gift card when you purchase it.
Now, if we traveled during the dates available and wanted to stay at a Value or Moderate resort, it might make sense financially to take advantage of the Disney World Free Dining special offer.
It really comes down to this – do the math. There are plenty of Disney Dining websites out there that have calculators where you can plug in what meals you would eat and if it would make financial sense to get the dining plan. Also, if you have a travel agent, they will be able to help you out also. There are just so many variables; what works for one family may not work for another.
Will Disney Eventually Get Rid of the Free Dining Promotion?
Probably not totally. They definitely don’t need to offer it like they used to, and the Walt Disney Company is not looking to lose money. However, it is still worth it for them to offer it during certain dates. Even though it is becoming more restrictive in terms of when it is offered, how many days you have to stay, etc., it doesn’t seem to be keeping people away. Just look at the amount of people bombarding the Disney website and phone lines after Free Dining is announced.
Back when Disney first started the Free Dining offer, it really was a perk. The amount of food you got for the amount of money you paid, it was a pretty big discount. Nowadays, they still call it Free Dining, but is it really? You’re just paying for it in a different way, like in the price of your room. But as long as there is a demand for the Free Dining promotion, then we will probably still see it around every year, perhaps just with more restrictions. Of course, this could all change once all of the changes to all the Disney parks are completed.
Everyone’s situation is different; everyone vacations their own way. You do you and what is best for your family.
Were you not able to travel on the dates that Free Disney Dining 2019 was offered? Are you planning a trip in 2020 and want to take advantage of Free Dining? Well, for the latest news, including when the Disney Free Dining 2020 offer will come out and what dates they will be available, listen to the Capture the Magic podcast and follow us on social media.
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