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disney free dining

Why Disney Free Dining isn’t really Free

Every year since 2006, Walt Disney World has released a Disney Free Dining discount, typically for Fall dates, though early on we did see some Spring dates included. The Disney Free Dining discount for 2017 was released earlier this week. Historically, this is the most popular and most looked forward to discount for regular Disney visitors. The basics are the Disney Free Dining discount is that you book a package at a Walt Disney World resort that includes your hotel and park passes, and Disney includes the dining plan for free. But, it really isn’t free.

One thing to note here, Disney DOES NOT love you, they are not giving you something free because you have been a great customer, or because they think you deserve it, Disney releases discounts, whether free dining or any other package or room discount, to fill rooms. If there is a time when they can’t fill up at full rate, they offer an incentive to get you to come to Disney. Disney Free Dining is just another marketing scheme to get you to come to Disney. Plus, Disney is smart, they know that when people hear “free” they go crazy and don’t even consider doing any math to see if it really is free, or even if it is a good deal.

Why Disney Free Dining isn’t really Free

  • Minimum Night Stays – As part of the Disney Free Dining discount, Walt Disney World requires you to stay a minimum of three nights, a maximum of 14. While this really does not affect many people, there are some that may want to visit Disney just for 1 or 2 nights, but must extend their vacation an extra day or two in order to get free dining.
  • Minimum Ticket Purchases – Disney requires the purchase of a minimum 2 day ticket with you Disney Free Dining package. This is a requirement regardless of the length of ticket you really want. If you are an annual passholder, you still must purchase a 2 day ticket. If you are a Florida Resident and have access to cheaper tickets, still, you must purchase a 2 day ticket. If you have tickets left over from another trip or happened to purchase tickets elsewhere, everyone on the package must purchase a 2 day ticket. While this doesn’t sound like a huge deal, a 2 day base ticket is roughly $212 per person, so for a family of 4, you are talking a minimum ticket purchase of $848 just for the right to get the free dining.
  • Park Hopping Add-on – Another requirement added in recent years, in addition to purchasing the minimum 2 day ticket, Disney also requires that you purchase the park hopping add-on for everyone in your room. The park hopping add-on runs about $80 per person, so a family of four must pay an additional $320 whether they want park hopping or not.
  • Limited Resorts – As part of the 2017 Disney Free Dining discount, Disney did not include many of the popular resorts as part of the discount. Want to stay at Port Orleans French Quarter or a Little Mermaid room at Art of Animation? You are out of luck. Plus, many of the resorts were included, but have zero availability? Wilderness Lodge was included, but good luck finding a room there with Disney Free Dining. Same goes for Polynesian Village and Port Orleans Riverside. While this doesn’t necessarily increase your cost, you may have to stay in a resort that you have no interest in staying in just to get a discount. Many of my clients have actually had to upgrade to a more expensive resort to get the Disney Free Dining, they want to stay in a Value resort, but because they are all sold out, they are forced to pay more and upgrade to a moderate resort just to get a discount.
  • More expensive rooms – Availability with Disney Free Dining is very tight. While you may find a room at Pop Century (your preferred resort), they may be sold out of the standard view rooms you normally stay in. So, you are forced to upgrade to a more expensive room just to get a discount.
  • Bypass other discounts – At Walt Disney Wold,  you are not allowed to use more than one discount. Even though Disney released two discounts the other day, the Disney Free Dining and the Late Summer discount, which overlap for many of the Disney Free Dining dates, you cannot use both discount. So, if you opt to take the Disney Free Dining discount, that means you exclude yourself from the Late Summer or any other discount that comes along.

I am not saying that the Disney Free Dining discount can’t be a great deal, but DO THE MATH! I have clients that can get a better deal with a different discount, they insist they still want free dining, because it was “free”, even though they end up paying more in the end. Sometimes it is hard to understand that free really isn’t free.

When booking your Disney vacation, I would strongly suggest to book your initial reservation at a price you are comfortable with, and do not expect to see any discounts. Then, if and when a discount does come along, consider that as a bonus and upgrade your resort or dining plan and have a better trip than what you were expecting.

my favorite moderate resort

My Favorite Disney World Moderate Resort

Port Orleans french quarter

Did I give it away? I have stayed at every single Walt Disney World Moderate Resort a few times, and while I think all four moderate resorts offer something to potential guests, one of the resorts sticks out as “the best”, Port Orleans French Quarter.

Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter opened in 1991, originally named “Disney’s Port Orleans Resort”. Dixie Landings, now known as Port Orleans Riverside, opened next door the following year. In the following years, the resorts were merged into one resort (Disney’s Port Orleans Resort), though you can book either Riverside or French Quarter, each side has their own lobby and your room will be in that side of the resort.

Port Orleans French Quarter now features 1,008 rooms, all of which are the same size and shape. The rooms feature two queen size beds, or a king bed for an extra fee. The only other room options at the resort is the view from the room or the bed options, though the view is poor, as the only window is next to the front door. The view options are standard view, garden view, river view and pool view. My opinion is to book the cheapest room available, as the rooms and locations are basically identical, though some of the river view and garden view rooms tend to be in more quiet locations.

best moderate hotel
Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter

What about the other Moderate Resorts?

I don’t really have a problem with the other moderate resorts, but they just aren’t as good as Port Orleans French Quarter. I actually really like two of the moderates almost as much as French Quarter, both Riverside and Coronado Springs are awesome resorts, but they do have a few downsides (or not as many upsides) as French Quarter. Port Orleans Riverside is the other side of the Port Orleans Resort, and features two distinct areas (Alligator Bayou and Magnolia Bend) as well as new Royal Guest Rooms (all located in the Magnolia Bend area). The swimming pool is on Ol’ Man Island, and is small, but quite fun. My only problem with Riverside is the size, it is quite large, with 2,048 rooms, it is more than double the size of Port Orleans French Quarter.

Coronado Springs is also a great resort. Currently, Coronado Springs has 1,951 rooms spread out between 13 buildings, though Disney is currently in process of building a new 15 story tower which will add 500 rooms to the resort once completed. The tower will feature standard rooms, suites and concierge services, similar to a deluxe resort. Again, it is a very large resort, but it should be a great place to stay once the construction is done.

Caribbean Beach is Disney World’s final moderate option. Currently, the resort is going through a major rehab, with the main building and pools being completely rebuilt. I have always considered Caribbean Beach to be the last option as a moderate resort, it is large, very spread out and the bus system is slow. Until the construction is completed, I would avoid Caribbean Beach. Maybe once all the facilities are updated, it may become a much better place to stay.

French Quarter Pool
Doubloon Lagoon at Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter

What makes Port Orleans French Quarter Special?

Small Resort – Port Orleans French Quarter is very small and manageable. About half the size of the other three moderate resorts, it just feels much more welcoming. The resort is also built in a very small area, so walking from even the furthest room is a fairly short walk to the bus stop or lobby.

Disney Springs Water Taxi – While Disney buses may be efficient, there just isn’t anything quite like going somewhere by boat. Head out to the Sassagoula River boat launch, and grab a seat for the relaxing 10 minute ride to Disney Springs. The boats run from Riverside to French Quarter to Disney Springs and back, and you can ride as many times as you like for free!

Pools! – French Quarter features the huge Doubloon Lagoon Pool which has an incredible Blue Serpent water slide. Sick of sliding down a blue serpent? Take the short walk to Ol’ Man Island at Port Orleans Riverside and take a step back in the Ol’ Swimmin Hole.

French Quarter Room
Standard Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter room with 2 queen beds.

What are the downsides of Port Orleans French Quarter?

Not every Disney resort is perfect, and the French Quarter has a few drawbacks:

Few discounts – Due to the popularity, French Quarter is often excluded from many Disney World discounts, so it sometimes is more expensive staying here than at the other moderates. If excluded from a deal, look at Port Orleans Riverside, which is usually included and is a very similar resort.

Rooms sleep 4 – Unfortunately, there is not an option at French Quarter to have a room that sleeps more than 4 people. Both Riverside and Caribbean Beach offer rooms that will sleep 5, while Coronado Springs has a few suite options for larger families. Hopefully in the future Disney will add different room types to French Quarter, or even better yet, build a moderate family suite hotel, similar to Art of Animation but a step up in quality.

Have you stayed at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter?

best adult restaurant animal kingdom

Best Restaurant for Adults in Animal Kingdom

When Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1988, the restaurant choices were very, very limited, and there was only one sit down restaurant in the entire park (two if you count the Rainforest Cafe, but it is technically outside the park, located near the entrance). That really was not a big deal as the park typically closed around the time that the sun went down, so most people just went elsewhere for dinner. With the extension of the park hours in the last year, and the new night time show (Rivers of Light), there is an increased need for additional sit down restaurants in the park. Disney recently added Tiffins, a signature restaurant located near the Tree of Life. Unfortunately, Disney will not be adding another table service restaurant once the new Pandora (Avatar) section of the park opens. there will only be once new restaurant there, Satu’li Canteen, which will be a fast/casual restaurant. Hopefully at some point they will make dinner a table service restaurant at some point in the future.

Best Restaurant for Adults in Animal Kingdom

Best Restaurant for Adults in Animal Kingdom

  • Yak & Yeti Restaurant – Trust me, at this point, it isn’t even close. Yak & Yeti features asian inspired meals in a fantastic, beautiful setting. Some of my favorites are the Pork Pop Stickers, the Ahi Tuna Nachos, the Crispy Honey Chicken and the Seared Miso Salmon. Yum! Yak & Yeti serves both lunch and dinner as a table service meal, both meals offer the same menu and the same prices. Yak & Yeti is also on the dinning plan, and counts as one table service credit. Also, please do not be confused. In Animal Kingdom, there is also a quick service restaurant that goes by the name Yak & Yeti Local Foods Cafe, and while the food is quite good there, it isn’t the same thing.

While Yak & Yeti won’t make my top 10 list of Disney World restaurants, it is head and shoulders above the other Anima Kingdom options. Tiffins launched last year, and looked very promising, but to this point, the restaurant has had really poor reviews for both food and service. Maybe someday this will be a decent option for adults, but for now, just stop by the Nomad Lounge and enjoy a cool drink. Tusker House is a fun restaurant, but the food is served family/buffet style, and it tends to be pretty loud and busy, not relaxing at all. While the food is decent, it just isn’t on par with Yak & Yeti. Rainforest Cafe is Rainforest Cafe, you pay for the atmosphere and not the food. If you idea of a nice dinner includes gorillas and elephants along with a lot of thunder and lightening, the feel free to stop by.

Want to enjoy something outside the park, but close by? Animal Kingdom Lodge has three great restaurants, Boma, Jiko and Sanaa. Both Jiko and Saana are better than Yak & Yeti, and Boma is quite good, if you like buffets. Animal Kingdom is only a 5 minute bus ride away, and a nice break from the park.

What is your favorite restaurants for adults in the Animal Kingdom theme park?