Skip to main content
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 2018 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 2018 Disney Free Dining discount, Walt Disney World requires you to stay a minimum of four 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 4 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 4 day ticket. If you are a Florida Resident and have access to cheaper tickets, still, you must purchase a 4 day ticket. If you have tickets left over from another trip or happened to purchase tickets elsewhere, everyone on the package must purchase a 4 day ticket. While this doesn’t sound like a huge deal, a 4 day base ticket is roughly $405 per person, so for a family of 4, you are talking a minimum ticket purchase of $1,620 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 4 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 $75 per person, so a family of four must pay an additional $300 whether they want park hopping or not.
  • Limited Resorts – As part of the 2018 Disney Free Dining discount, Disney did not include many of the popular resorts as part of the discount. Want to stay at Port Orleans Riverside or French Quarter or a Little Mermaid room at Art of Animation? Contemporary or Wilderness Lodge? All-Star Movies?You are out of luck. Plus, many of the resorts were included, but have zero availability? 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.

2016 Disney Free Dining

2016 Disney Free Dining Predictions – A Follow Up

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article with predictions about the hopefully upcoming 2016 Disney Free Dining Discount: 2016 Disney Free Dining – My Predictions

Since the 2016 Disney Free Dining discount was released this morning, I felt it was time to follow up on my predictions and see how I did.

Did I expect to see Disney Free Dining for 2016?

Original Prediction: Yes, I expected to see it, just like we have seen it for the last 10+ years.

Actual Results: Yes, 2016 Disney Free Dining has been released.

This was a fairly easy one, but one year, I do expect Disney to completely abandoned Free Dining. 2016 wasn’t the year though, but 2017 may be.

When do you expect to see 2016 Disney Free Dining Released?

Original Prediction: May 2, 2016

Actual Results: Today, April 25, 2016

I was a week off. I got the Monday part right, but I was expecting Disney to wait a bit longer until early May.

Available Free Dining Travel Dates

Original Prediction: August 26 – September 30, 2016

Actual Travel Dates: August 23 – October 1, November 15 – 21, November 26 – 28 and December 10 – 21, 2016

I did not expect to see Fall dates at all this year, and obviously, I was wrong. However, there is very little availability for any of the Fall dates, even less than last year. Disney made the dates available, but didn’t make very many rooms available. On the big set of dates in September, Disney added a few days at the beginning, and an extra day at the end, I was close, but not quite.

Disney Resorts Included and Excluded from 2016 Disney Free Dining

Original Prediction: I predicted that the list would be identical to 2016, no French Quarter, Little Mermaid rooms, limited Riverside.

Actual Results: Exactly the same list as 2015, no difference.

I nailed this one, no change at all. Riverside is available for the September dates, but nothing after, and the same resorts that were excluded in 2015 were excluded in 2016.

Requirements changes for 2016 Disney Free Dining

Original Prediction: I predicted that Disney World would extend the stay and ticket requirements to 4 nights and 3 day park passes.

Actual Results: Disney did not extend the requirements, and stuck with a minimum 3 night stay and a minimum 2 day park pass with hopping or water park options added.

I am a bit surprised by this one. I fully expected Disney to force people to stay a little bit longer and spend a little bit more money in order to qualify for Free Dining. Wrong.

Will the 2016 Disney Free Dining Discount change for 2016?

Original Prediction: I predicted that Disney would give away the quick-service dining plan at the value and moderate resorts and the Disney Dining Plan at the Deluxe and Deluxe Villa resorts.

Actual Results: No change at all for 2016, Value resort stays get the quick-service plan, Moderate, Deluxe and Deluxe Villa resorts get the Disney Dining Plan

I was expecting Disney to cut back the discount a little bit by giving away less unless you were to spend the cash and stay in a deluxe resort. Wrong again.

As you can see, I was very pessimistic in my predictions for 2016 Disney Free Dining. The predictions I missed were all changes I expected to see from the Disney Free Dining discount that were more harsh than in 2015 and earlier years. I expected Disney making fewer dates available with more requirements and giving away less. In fact, they barely changed the offer from 2015 other than shifting a few dates around. I would have been better off predicting no changes at all, but where is the fun in that?

Of note, when the discount was released early this morning, availability was basically zero if you were traveling after September 15. Value and Moderate resorts are nearly impossible to find for any dates, and very few Deluxe resorts can be found. While Free Dining was technically released, so few rooms are available that very few people will be able to take advantage. Look for 2016 to be the last year of Free Dining.

Well, Disney Free Dining is out, I hope you all were able to get in on the deal, it really is a fantastic offer. If you haven’t yet, feel free to contact Mouseketrips to check on pricing for your next Disney vacation.


2016 Disney Free Dining

2016 Disney Free Dining – My Predictions

Yesterday, I wrote an article entitled Is Disney Free Dining the best Disney Discount? To save you a little time, the answer is “not always, but for most people, it is by a long shot”. To follow that up, I thought I would provide what I am expecting to see as far as the 2016 Disney Free Dining discount.

Please understand: I know nothing at all about Disney’s plans, no one does other than  few people inside of Disney. I do not have any source, leak or any other information, so please take my predictions as just an educated guess. This is not in any way news or information you should use to plan your vacation. Please wait until the actual discount is released before booking flights and other non-refundable portions of your Disney vacation.

Do you expect to see 2016 Disney Free Dining?

Yes, definitely, but for September dates only (more on that below). Please note, at some point, Disney is going to stop this madness and no longer offer Free Dining. Just try to book a restaurant right now for September, you can’t. Plus, many resort rooms are already booked up at full rate, so eventually, Disney is just going to assume they no longer need to release a discount for September since everything is booked up, and will stop. I don’t think that is this year though, maybe in 2017.

When do you expect to see 2016 Disney Free Dining released?

Let’s look at some clues:

  • 2015 Disney Free Dining was released on Monday, April 27, 2015
  • 2014 Disney Free Dining was released to Disney VISA cardholders on Friday, May 2, 2014 and then released to everyone on Wednesday, May 7, 2014
  • The current 2016 Walt Disney World Summer discount is currently available, and will be available to book through June 10, 2016.

Disney has moved away from offering Disney VISA cardholders first shot at discounts, we haven’t seen that in some time, so I do not think we will see that happen this year. I do expect Free Dining to be announced on a Monday, similar to 2015, though Monday, April 25 is too early and they will push it into the first week of May, similar to 2013 and 2014.

My prediction for when to expect to see 2016 Disney Free Dining released: May 2, 2016

What travel dates do you see 2016 Disney Free Dining available?

This is a tough one. For 2015, Walt Disney World made very few resorts and rooms available for the dates after October 2, if you didn’t book in the first few hours on the first day, you couldn’t find a Value or Moderate resort at all. After a few days of booking, most of the Deluxe resort were gone too. Many people blasted Disney for releasing a discount but not making anything available. I don’t see Disney making this mistake again. While they may release free dining for dates after the end of September, it will probably be in a later discount once the dust settles on Fall bookings, so I don’t see them being included in the original discount.

The current Summer discount runs through August 25, so I would expect to see Disney Free Dining to start on August 26, 2016.

In 2015, the first block of dates ran from August 28 – Friday, October 2, 2015. Again, I see it ending on a Friday again for 2016, which would mean September 30 or October 7, 2016. October is a very busy month for Disney with the Food and Wine Festival and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, so I don’t see Disney going into October. Historically, they have gone into October in 2014 and 2015, but only a few days.

Please note, with Disney Free Dining, you qualify for Free Dining for your entire stay, up to 14 nights, as long as you check in on one of the available travel dates. So in 2015, you could check in on October 2 and stay for up to 14 nights with Free Dining for your entire stay, if you could find anything available.

My prediction for 2016 Disney Free Dining travel dates: August 26 – September 30, 2016

Do you expect to see any Disney Resort excluded from 2016 Disney Free Dining?

Absolutely. In 2015, Disney excluded quite a few resorts, some where quite a surprise:

Suites at the Walt Disney World® Resort’s Deluxe resorts, the Little Mermaid rooms at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s Port Orleans – French Quarter Resort, Disney’s All-Star Movies ResortVillas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Disney’s Polynesian Villas and Bungalows, Campgrounds and 3 bedroom villas have been excluded from this offer.

In addition to the regular exclusions we see all the time, All-Star Movies and French Quarter were both completely excluded, leaving just 3 moderate resorts and 3 1/2 value resorts to choose from.

The French Quarter exclusion does not surprise me, as it seems to be excluded from more and more discounts. The Little Mermaid rooms at Art of Animation are excluded from EVERYTHING. The All-Star Movies exclusion however was a surprise, as we have seen it excluded from some discounts in the past, but it has been a while.

My prediction for 2016 Disney Free Dining resort exclusions: The exact same list as 2015, though it would not surprise me if they opted to include All-Star Movies for some or all of the dates

Do you see any requirement changes to qualify for 2016 Disney Free Dining?

Absolutely. In 2015, Walt Disney World required a minimum 3 night stay and a minimum 2 day park pass package in order to receive Free Dining. Do not be surprised if this is increased to a longer stay and longer park passes as Disney tries to reduce the number of people that qualify for free dining, or make those who want to travel during the Free Dining discount to spend more money in order to qualify.

My prediction for 2016 Disney Free Dining requirements: Disney will require a minimum 4 night stay and a minimum 3 day park pass package

Will the 2016 Disney Free Dining discount change this year?

For the last several years, guests staying at a Walt Disney World Value resort received the Disney Quick-Service discount for free, with the option to pay the difference to upgrade to one of the other Disney Dining plans. If you stayed in a Walt Disney World Moderate, Deluxe or Deluxe Villa resort, you received the Disney Dining Plan for free, again, with the option to pay the difference and upgrade to a more expensive plan. For 2016, rather than reducing the number of resorts and rooms available, Disney could change the discount so that in order to get the Disney Dining Plan included for free you have to stay at a Deluxe or Deluxe Villa resort, while Value and Moderate stays only get you the Quick-Service plan. In 2015, it was nearly impossible to find a moderate resort for our clients for most dates. For many guests, it is cheaper for them to stay at a Moderate resort and get the Disney Dining Plan for free than it is to stay at a Value Resort and upgrade to the Disney Dining Plan or at least in the ballpark, so they opt for the Moderate Resort. That, with the fact that French Quarter is excluded, put tremendous pressure on the Moderate Resorts, which sold out almost immediately for most nights.

My prediction for 2016 Disney Free Dining changes: Disney will include the Quick-Service Dining Plan for Value and Moderate Resort stays, and the Disney Dining Plan at Deluxe and Deluxe Villa stays

How should I prepare for 2016 Disney Free Dining?

At Mouseketrips, we have always stressed booking your vacation as early as possible, there really isn’t any reason to wait. With that said, you need to remain flexible in order to take advantage of discounts. Don’t book flights or anything non-refundable until the discount is released and your reservation is set. I have had many clients assume their dates were ok for Free Dining, and miss out by one or two days, costing them thousands in lost discounts or airline change fees.

  • Get your reservations booked now, we would be happy to help you at Mouseketrips
  • Get your dining reservations booked now, most restaurants are already booked up in September
  • Wait to do anything else until your dates are set and discount applied. At Mouseketrips, we will automatically apply any discount for you so you know you get the best rate possible.
  • Any money you pay now is fully refundable up until 30 days before travel, and dining reservations are easy to cancel, so there really isn’t any reason to wait to see if the discount is released. If you had done that in 2015, chances are you either couldn’t find anything, you had to take your 3 or 4th choice on resort or were insanely lucky and found something.

Well, there you go, complete and utter nonsense. Who knows, maybe we won’t see Disney Free Dining at all for 2016, or maybe we will see it for October – December dates again similar to 2015. I could be completely wrong, but then again, I could be completely right.