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It's almost free dining time again for Walt Disney World visitors

April 23, 2017, 9:15 PM · Travel agents are reporting that the Walt Disney World Resort is about to open reservations for its annual "free dining" promotion for Disney World hotel visitors. (Update: And now the offer is live.)

The promotion allows people staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel to add the Disney Dining Plan to their vacation package at no extra charge, when their arrival dates fall within valid dates in the late summer and fall. This year's dates are reported to be:

The free Disney Dining Plan is in lieu of other discounts, so if you're considering a stay during one of these periods, you'll need to consider whether the free dining plan or a room discount provides the better deal for you and your family. Look for the offer on Disney's Special Offers page, or call Disney at +1-407-939-5277. The level of the Dining Plan available with the package will depend upon the type of hotel booked. (Value and Moderate resorts get you the Quick Service Plan. Deluxe and Deluxe Villas get you the regular Dining Plan.) You will need to book park tickets along with your package, too. Just booking a room and using an AP or unexpired previously purchased tickets won't qualify for the free dining offer. Sometimes, Disney Visa card holders get first crack at the reservations, too.

In the meantime, if you'd like to find out more about the Disney Dining Plan, please read our guide, Learning about the Disney Dining Plan. And for general tips on saving money on a Walt Disney World or any other theme park vacation, check out our ultimate guide to saving time and money when visiting theme parks.

Replies (13)

April 23, 2017 at 11:54 PM · Why is all of October now blocked out of this promotion??
April 24, 2017 at 12:17 AM · A lot of schools in the south tends to have Vacation during October, and when kids are out of school parents will bring them, since its cheaper then the summer. Disney got smart and decided to exclude October due to the growing popularity of MNSSHP and those school breaks
April 24, 2017 at 1:00 AM · October is high season with Halloween and the EPCOT Food & Wine festival.

I'm ready for Disney to do away with the "free" Disney Dining Plan promotion. By the way, the term free is very misleading. You're paying for it in the hotel rate and the discounts you opt out of.

April 24, 2017 at 3:34 AM · I was wondering too! We're going in October!
April 24, 2017 at 6:05 AM · Because they have figured out that October is when everyone's fall break is and they can get heavy enough traffic without providing the promotion during those times.
April 24, 2017 at 8:43 AM · We've been traveling to WDW during the fall dining promotion period for the past 8-10 years (covering 4 trips), and the promo has steadily declined to this year's version, which is practically useless.

Firstly, it's clear Disney doesn't need to offer discounts any more to get guests to travel in October. The crowds in the parks during October have steadily increased year over year, and past year's promotions have trimmed back October dates to the point where it was only a few select weekdays to this year where October doesn't qualify at all. The bottom line is that with MNSSHP, EPCOT Food and Wine, and more school systems adopting holidays in the month of October (New Jersey has traditionally had an entire week off in October affectionately called "Jersey Week" for regulars visiting WDW, and many other school systems are bundling teacher work days with the traditional Columbus Day holiday). means Disney doesn't need to offer additional discounts to get guests to come during the month.

The details of the promotion that have really made it practically useless is that in order to qualify, guests now need to purchase park hoppers. As Robert has noted before, unless you're a savvy Disney visitor, park hoppers aren't really needed anymore as most parks have enough stuff to do to fill an entire day. With Rivers of Light, Pandora, and extended DAK hours, there's no need to treat DAK as a half-day park. As my family begins to piece together our itinerary for our fall trip, we were realizing that the only park that is a half-day park now is DHS, and even then, we'd have to book the MNSSHP and split a day between DHS and MK to provide adequate time to see all four park across 3.5 days.

The other huge tweak they've made to the promotion is to only offer the quick service dining plan to guests staying at the moderate resorts. When Disney first rolled out the fall dining promotion over a decade ago, guests got the standard DDP regardless of what hotel you stayed at. As the promo has gotten more popular, Disney has given the quick service dining plan to guests staying at value resorts, while moderate and deluxe resort guests got the standard dining plan (inclusive of a table service meal). This new promotion now forces guests to stay in a deluxe resort to get the free standard dining plan, while guests in moderate resorts, typically paying $50-100 more per night than value resorts, get the same level of free dining.

So in reality, unless you typically get the Disney Dining Plan as part of your vacation, or normally stay at a Deluxe resort, this promotion is pretty useless. An average value conscious guest would need to spend an extra $75 per person to add the park hopper to their tickets to qualify for the free dining. Then for guests wanting to get the standard dining plan over the quick service dining plan, they would need to spend another @$200/night to upgrade from a moderate ($300/night from a value) resort to a deluxe resort. So, for a typical family of 4 staying 4 nights, they would have to spend $300 extra to upgrade to park hoppers to get 32 quick service meals and 32 snacks (meaning each meal is costing @$8 and each snack @$1.50) or at least an extra $1,100 to qualify for the standard dining plan (meaning each table service meal is costing $50 in addition to the $8 for CS and $1.50 snacks). In the end Disney is trying to coax guests to spend an extra 20-30% on the typical vacation to simply save maybe 30-40%, assuming guests maximize the value on the dining plan. Simply to break even, guests would have to carefully track what they're getting on the dining plan, and use every credit available wisely.

The limitations on this year's promotion are pushing us to stay off-site this year.

April 24, 2017 at 10:40 AM · Reservation lines have been so swamped that many callers cannot even get through...those that have are claiming 1-2.5 hour hold times before getting connected to someone. As of 11am, almost all rooms reserved for this promotion have sold out.
April 24, 2017 at 11:32 AM · If you like getting the meal plan it seems like it would be better to just go when they offer 20 to 30% off specials on the hotels. Then just add the meal plan. At a minimum it seems like it would be about the same price as this deal. Even less if you did not do park hopper. Any opinions on that?
April 24, 2017 at 12:39 PM · Exactly Jason. I think repeat visitors have gotten accustomed to this fall promotion, and Disney has slowly pulled the reigns back on it to where we're at this year. The fall free dining promo used to be one of the best deals Disney offered throughout the year, but considering the additional money guests have to outlay just to qualify for the minimum promotion (Disney will let guests upgrade from the free quick serve DP to the standard DP for an additional cost without having to upgrade rooms), it's really not all that it's cracked up to be anymore. Ultimately, the applicability of this promotion comes down to how you like to visit the parks. Some people don't mind twisting their plans to take advantage of a promotion they find valuable and can extract maximum value from. We've done this same promo the last 4 trips to WDW, including when I calculated that we got over $500 of "free" food on a trip in October 2010, making our effective room rate $14/night (Free Dining Debate October 2010).

Over the years, I have seen it go further and further downhill to where it is this year where we are now resigned to staying off-site because we will only twist our itinerary so far. We do the calculations every time we go, and have always made a bit of a sacrifice to get our trip to fit into the fall free dining promo, because we knew we would end the trip ahead due to smart meal choices and savvy ADR planning. This year, the cost to qualify for the promo is just too great. It may work for some, but you've got to be a very special case. I highly recommend anyone thinking about this to take some time to do the math. Compare the costs of staying on site at the rack rate with park hoppers and free dining versus staying off-site (usually at a place that will have free breakfast), paying for parking and admissions that better match how you will tour the parks, and see which way costs more. There are always intangibles (like Magic Hours, early access to FP+, direct transit access between your hotel and parks, especially on those late nights you spend Drinking Around the World Showcase during EPCOT F&W, and non-expiring WDW passes that were bought and paid for years ago sitting in your safe waiting to be used) that are difficult to quantify and compare, but I think most guests will see that trying to get a trip to qualify for the free dining promo under these new limitations can be pretty costly.

@Brian - There are always long waits and limited packages available for this particular fall free dining promo. People wait for this deal to be announced every year as a Rite of Spring, so long waits and limited availability are nothing new. I checked online just a few minutes ago, and was able to get a number of different options through September and November to work for various different level resorts, so while some higher demand dates (late August/early September and mid-December) may have sold out, there's plenty of inventory available during other periods of the promotion. Disney is also deliberately holding back inventory at all resorts as evidenced by numerous guest rooms popping up in searches during the qualifying time frame that are not eligible for the free dining promotion (appears that almost all of Port Orleans is not eligible as well as some of Pop Century and all of the DVC inventory).

April 24, 2017 at 1:52 PM · "just add the meal plan"

That's what I just do when I swap timeshare resort points and stay at DVC. I might just skip it next time since I felt I eaten around the parks enough times.

April 24, 2017 at 11:16 PM · They're not offering room discounts for October, either. If we don't get a discount, we'll definitely be forced to skip the Halloween party. And probably stay off-site. The greed of this company is even starting to turn off hard core fans like me. Thanks for nothing, Disney.
April 25, 2017 at 5:44 AM · "The greed of this company is even starting to turn off hard core fans like me."

Why is it considered "greed" for a company to NOT offer discounts to its customers? The fact of the matter is that Disney does not need to offer any sort of discount during October, and the resorts will still fill to optimal occupancy. If enough guests to fill the resorts will come without a discount, Disney would be STUPID to offer discounts. It has nothing to do with greed or poor customer service, it has to do with supply and demand.

If you are a "hard core" fan Still a fan, you'll find other times of the year to visit when discounts are offered or deal with the crowds during October as if it were the heat of summer.

April 25, 2017 at 10:38 AM · Russell, Jersey Week is the first full week in November. A teacher convention is the Thursday and Friday of the week, a bunch of schools are closed that Tuesday for Election Day, and some districts, like ours, have half days on that Monday and Wednesday for teacher conferences. That's why the offer isn't available at the beginning of November.

I agree with the offer becoming useless, as Value Resort guests have to pay the difference to get the regular dining plan, and the ticket purchase minimum has increased and now includes a park hopper. I believe the minimum number of nights has now increased too. The room discount has made more sense for our family of four, especially as our boys are now considered adults.

I don't think anyone here has mentioned, but Disney Visa card holders can book the offer for arrivals beginning August 13.

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