Is Free Dining At Disney Worth It?

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 6-night/7-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.

This offer is valid at select Disney Resort hotels for the following arrival dates:

  • August 28 – October 2, 2015
  • October 25 – October 31, 2015
  • November 8 – November 19, 2015
  • December 15 – December 21, 2015

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

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 also blocked out most of the month of October this year, which had historically been open for free dining. It’s a tough call on whether or not the value of the free dining is worth it anymore. The release dates for 2015 free dining caused the entire Disney reservation system to crash for hours on end because of the high demand, and there were lots of very unhappy guests who waited for hours to be told that their resorts had sold out of availability. It was not a good day for Disney.

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

PER ADULT, PER NIGHT
(adults are 10 years and older in Disney prices)
PER CHILD, PER NIGHT
(children are 3-9 years old in Disney prices)
Quick Service Dining

  • 2 quick-service meals
  • 1 snack
  • 1 refillable mug
$41.99 $16.03
Regular Dining

  • 1 table-service meal
  • 1 quick-service meal
  • 1 snack
  • 1 refillable mug
$60.04 $19.23
Deluxe Dining

  • 3 meals (any combination of table-service and quick-service)
  • 2 snacks
  • 1 refillable mug
$109.53 $29.86

Here is my personal experience:

We have an anniversary trip planned for December 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 are not doing park hopper passes on this trip.

When the free dining dates were released, 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. This is 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. 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 this trip – no free dining. I’m looking for a room discount to come out later this summer that I can apply in order to save a little money. I’m hoping that I’ll have a good chance at getting the restaurant reservations I really want with the lower crowd numbers. All that being said, I just booked travel to Disney for 2 clients during the free dining dates. They were thrilled with the free quick service package offered to them, and, since they were already wanting park hopper passes, they weren’t paying more for something they didn’t need or want. They were willing to pay out of pocket for the two sit down dining reservations they want to get. Win/Win!

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 this 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