Free Dining at Disney – Is It Right For Me?

In case you haven’t heard, Disney has released free dining dates for this fall. Guests are eligible for free dining plans when they purchase a non-discounted 5-night/6-day Magic Your Way package that includes a room at a select Disney Resort hotel and tickets with Park Hopper or Water Park Fun & More Option.

  • August 23 – October 1, 2016
  • November 15 – November 21, 2016
  • November 26 – November 28, 2016
  • December 10 – December 21, 2016

The dining plan offer depends on which resort level you are staying at.

The following resorts are excluded from the free dining offer: Campsites, 3-bedroom villas, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort—The Little Mermaid Standard Rooms, the Bungalows at Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows, The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort and Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter. Disney’s Port Orleans – Riverside is excluded during the following dates: November 15 to 21, November 26 to 28 and December 10 to 21, 2016.

So what’s the catch you ask? Why wouldn’t someone want free dining? As someone who has traveled to Disney twice with free dining offers, I personally know the value this offers to a family traveling on a budget. We have eaten like kings at Disney with the free dining, and I know that I would have been pinching pennies if we were paying out of pocket.

BUT…

Many people have come to expect free dining offers in the fall at Disney and with that comes larger crowds. Larger crowds mean more time waiting in lines and it’s harder to obtain reservations at your first choice restaurants. Disney has also blocked out most of the month of October this year, which had historically been open for free dining. It seems as though Disney has caught on to the high number of school systems that have fall breaks now, and they have no reason to discount that season anymore. Many people spent hours and hours on hold with Disney on Monday only to find out that due to limited availability at each resort, they couldn’t have the discount applied.

It’s a tough call on whether or not the value of the free dining is worth it anymore. For many it is….for others, it would mean changing travel dates, choosing a different resort with availability or adding park hoppers which could make the overall cost of the trip more expensive.

For reference on the value of free dining, here is a breakdown of the prices for the 2016 dining packages at Disney.

Untitled pictureWe had an anniversary trip planned for December 2015 to Disney. I had already booked our reservations prior to the release date for free dining, and added the regular dining plan to our reservation. I figured that if free dining was released for our dates, then that would be wonderful. If not, at least I knew that our meals were already budgeted for, and it was one less thing I had to worry about paying out of pocket for. Our reservation totaled a little over $1600 for our vacation, including the dining plan. Our dining plan was $480.32 of our total. We were not doing park hopper passes on this trip. Here is my personal experience:

When the free dining dates were released for last year, I found out that our reservation was outside the booking window. Out of sheer curiosity, I played around with our reservation dates and checked out the prices. That year was the first time that Disney has had the caveat that in order to qualify for free dining, guests must purchase either a Park Hopper pass or a Water Park Fun and more option. They did the same thing for 2016 free dining qualifications. We are staying at a value resort, and I would have had to upgrade to the regular dining plan (personal preference here) and pay the difference, as well as upgrade our tickets to a Park Hopper pass. Because of this, I was actually going to end up paying more out of pocket, just for the “perk” of free dining. It took our $1600 vacation to just under $1800, so I would have ended up paying almost $200 more for free food.

It was an easy decision for me for that trip – no free dining. However, when free dining isn’t an option, you can always look for a room discount to come out to save a little money.  All things considered, I just added the free dining to a package for a client of mine and saved her family close to $1300!

So, when considering the value of free dining at Disney, ask yourself if the discount is worth it to your family. In our case for our last trip it wasn’t, but it might be perfect for your family! What are your thoughts on free dining at Disney? Let’s chat in the comments. ~A ºoº