Disney Theme Park

Free Disney Dining Plan Basics

People who are in the midst of planning a Disney trip often hear this term thrown around, but what does it really mean? Can you really get free food at Disney? The answer is – yes, sort of. Let's begin with a quick overview of the Disney Dining Plan, because that’s really where this whole thing starts.

Disney Dining plan logo

Simplifying the Disney Dining Plan

With the Disney Dining Plan (or DDP), you are purchasing a certain number of meals ahead of time on a "voucher/credit system."  For each night of your stay, each guest on your resort reservation receives an allotment of quick service meals (similar to fast food), table service (sit-down) meals, and snacks; the number of which is dependent on which specific plan you choose as well as the number of nights you are spending at your resort.  Most, but not all, restaurants are included - here's a list of participating locations.

Min and Bill's

Disney offers a variety of Dining Plans. We have a great overview of each plan’s details here, but here’s a quick run-down of what's included with each plan:

Quick-Service Dining Plan:
  • 2 quick-service meals, per night of your resort stay
  • 2 snacks, per night of your resort stay
  • 1 refillable mug, per guest
Disney Dining Plan:
  • 1 table-service meal, per night of your resort stay
  • 1 counter service meal, per night of your resort stay
  • 2 snacks, per night of your resort stay
  • 1 refillable mug, per guest
Deluxe Dining Plan:
  • 3 meals (quick-service or table-service), per night of your resort stay
  • 2 snacks, per night of your resort stay
  • 1 refillable mug, per guest

A lot of people really like the Disney Dining Plans because they allow them to easily budget for their dining in advance. Instead of having to look through the menus and decide what they can afford to order at each restaurant, they know that they will pay XX amount per day with the Dining Plan. Others enjoy it because they may try out restaurants they may not have eaten at without the Plan. When you know your food is already paid for (or at least budgeted for), you feel you have more flexibility to try out a higher-priced meal.

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So, what is “Free Dining?”

Free Dining is a discount that Walt Disney World has offered in the fall for quite a few years as a way to fill up their hotels in the slower season. The time of year has been periodically changing, so be sure to keep an eye out if it's something you're interested in. When you book a package (which includes your hotel room and tickets) during the Free Dining discount period, you can take advantage of the Free Dining Promotion. Typically, these are the options available during a Free Dining promotion, but again, it's important to pay attention to the details because these can and do change:

  • Guests who stay at a Value Resort or Moderate will get the Quick-Service Dining Plan for free
  • Guests who stay at a Deluxe or Deluxe Villa resort will get the regular Disney Dining Plan for free.
  • The Deluxe Dining Plan is never included in the promotion, but you can upgrade to it at an additional cost. On that note, if you're at a Value resort, you can upgrade from the Quick-Service plan to either of the other plans as well, you'll just pay the difference in price between the plans.
When will the Free Dining Promotion be offered?

It’s never guaranteed to happen, but generally, the promotion begins in August or September and is for travel dates through the fall, sometimes even into December. In the past, the discount has been announced in March and May and has been available to book through the summer. However, the availability of the plan (both in when you can book AND when you can visit) has varied, so it’s hard to predict exact dates.

What are the requirements to be eligible for the discount?




You must stay at one of the hotels that is eligible for the discount. This promotion is also based on inventory, so even if your desired hotel is available, there may not be any rooms left that qualify for the discount.

Typically, there are some resorts that aren’t included in the promotion. In the past (this could obviously change), the following resorts have NOT been included in Free Dining:

Availability at the remaining resorts included in the promotion is often limited, so if you want to book this deal, you should do so as soon as it’s announced.

If you already have a resort reservation, your Dreams Unlimited Travel Agent will work to add the Free Dining Promotion if/when it’s announced.

You must arrive within the dates of the promotional period and stay for the required number of nights which has typically been a minimum of three nights.

  • Your whole stay does not have to fall within the promotional period dates, but you must start your stay within those dates. If you’re already going to be at Walt Disney World before the promotion starts, you can do a split stay (basically 2 reservations), allowing you to check out of your first reservation and check back in on the first date of the promotion. You may have to move rooms, but Disney will keep you in the same room if possible.

You must buy theme park tickets as part of your package (in the past Disney has required every guest to purchase a minimum 2-day base ticket and these may need to be Park Hopper or Park Hopper Plus tickets.)

  • NOTE: Buying tickets is a requirement, even if you already have tickets, such as an Annual Pass.
  • TIP: Buy the smallest ticket required and save it for a future trip, or use it later to put toward the cost of renewing your Annual Pass. (You’ll have to have Disney pull your ticket off your MagicBand in order to save it for a future visit).



Is it worth it?

Free Dining is generally a great deal. BUT - the catch is that to take advantage of this discount, you will pay “rack rate,” or full price, for your hotel room. So, you’ll have to do the math and see if it works out for you. How do you know if it’s a good deal for your family?

  • Check to see if there are any current room-only discounts (without needing to buy tickets or dining) available and if so, will booking one of those be a bigger savings than the cost of the dining plan? This is particularly true when staying at a deluxe resort with only 2 people or with 2 adults and 2 small children. The room discount is often a higher savings than getting the Dining Plan for free.
  • Free dining becomes more of a “deal” the more people you have in your room. So, if you are a family of 2, you won’t save as much money with Free Dining as a family of 4 or 5 will. That being said, depending on where you’re staying, you can still end up with a substantial savings.
  • An important factor will be the room category you choose. For example, if you stay in the lowest-priced category room (standard view), the Free Dining promotion does end up saving you money. However, if you stay in a Savannah view room, you would actually be paying more for your vacation using the Free Dining promotion than if you were to take advantage of a Room Only discount (typically 30% at a Deluxe Resort) and buy your seven-day tickets and food out of pocket.

Tortuga Tavern


Any other details you need to know?

  • Gratuities are not included with the dining plans, so make sure you plan for that.
  • To save money, don’t use a counter-service credit for breakfast – those meals are much cheaper than lunch or dinner, so you won’t get as much value for your credit.
  • The Dining Plan is based on number of nights you’re staying, not number of days.
  • Any unused credits will expire at midnight on the day you check out of your resort.
  • Meals and snacks may be redeemed in any order during your stay (if you want to go crazy in the Main Street Confectionery and use all 30 of your family’s snack credits in one stop, you can).
  • We have the menus from all across property available. Check them out to get an idea of whether or not the Dining Plan is worth it for your family/situation.
  • After your meal, your receipt will display the number of meals remaining for each room (not per guest), allowing you to keep track of your balance. The receipt below shows an example of this - you can see that there are 30 Quick Service Entitlements remaining.

 

Wrap-Up



Now that you understand all the ins and outs of how the Dining Plan and the Free Dining promotion work, make sure to bookmark this page and check back to see if the discount has been released. Or, if you have a resort reservation with Dreams Unlimited Travel, your travel agent will be watching your reservation and will be able to apply the Free Dining discount if they see that it will save you money.

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