It’s ‘free dining’ day for Disney World fans

April 24, 2018, 7:20 AM · Today’s the day when Walt Disney World fans can start booking vacation packages that include the Disney Dining Plan at no extra charge.

“Free dining” is one of the most popular perks that Disney offers on its vacation packages, so many fans wait until this day to book their trips, meaning you should expect long waits to talk with Disney’s reps on the phone. But you can book online, too.

The free dining offer is valid for arrivals most nights August 20 through September 29, November 24 through November 27 and December 7 through December 23, 2018. You must buy a non-discounted 5-night/6-day Magic Your Way package that includes a room at a participating Disney Resort hotel and a ticket with the Park Hopper option. If you stay at a Deluxe hotel, you get the table service Dining Plan. Stays at Moderate and Value resorts get you the Quick Service Dining Plan.

Check the comments below for our readers' analysis.

Replies (8)

April 24, 2018 at 7:30 AM ·

This promotion gets worse and worse every year. The blackouts and limitations continue to get more restrictive, and the increase in on-site room rates and inability to secure desirable (read good value) ADRs make it practically worthless to even the most savvy, experienced guests.

April 24, 2018 at 7:51 AM ·

Here in the UK the offer has fewer restrictions and black-outs and is, frankly a no-brainer. My wife and I hope to be celebrating two major milestones next year by 'doing' Orlando in November 2019 and we'll be taking Disney up on this deal for sure as it made a massive difference to our budget last time and allowed us to eat at some of the better quality restaurants without breaking the bank.

April 24, 2018 at 9:48 AM ·

We arrive Sept 30....$@%!@

April 25, 2018 at 7:19 AM ·

I hear you Sarah!! They keep shortening the applicable dates every single year. The promo used to cover from mid-August through mid-December aside from Columbus Day weekend and Thanksgiving weekend, but has now pretty much been whittled to nothing. What's worse is they only have so many "rooms" in each resort that are applicable for the promo, meaning there may still be availability for an eligible time period, but the room does not get free dining because the resort doesn't have any more free dining rooms available. Disney also keeps upping the number of days you have to stay at the resort to qualify for the free dining, as well as requiring the purchase of park hoppers.

For those that are considering this promo, you can still get the standard DDP, instead of the QSDP, even if you're staying at a value or moderate resort. Disney will allow you to pay to upgrade your free QSDP to the standard DDP that is typically well worth the upcharge. However, I recommend that you work out the math before committing to the upcharge, because you typically need to plan at least 3 or 4 high level (not signature) TS meals in order to make the extra cost worth while. As a matter of fact, anyone considering this promo, should sit down with some spreadsheets to work it out, because while the DDP can be a significant savings if optimized, it can result in a lot of anguish and frustration if you don't plan things out ahead of time and know what you need to do to maximize your credits.

My advice for those thinking about this offer -
1. Don't shift your trip more than 2 weeks to qualify for this offer (unless you didn't have a trip already booked).
2. Don't extend your stay more than 1 day to qualify for this deal (i.e. if you were only planning to spend 3-nights/4 days, it's not worth it).
3. Make your ADRs BEFORE booking the promotion (assuming you're going in August/September and not November/December since the later is beyond the 180-day ADR window right now). You'd be surprised at how fast ADRs disappear after Disney announces this promotion. If you think you want to eat at CRT (a signature meal now, requiring 2 TS credits - not a good value IMHO), make sure you have that reservation before committing real money for the trip - Disney charges a $25 refundable deposit for ADRs, but once you buy theme park tickets, those are non-refundable.
4. Review all of the menus of restaurants where you think you might eat (including counter service). Do a quick "back of the napkin" calculation to see how much it would cost to pay out of pocket for the items that would be covered by the DDP. Also, ask yourself, "Would I eat dessert with every meal if I had to pay for it?" and "Would I get the most expensive item on the menu if I had to pay for it?" Be honest with yourself about the types of food you would typically eat - treating yourself here and there is fine, that's where the DDP can be fun, but you shouldn't assume that you will always get the most expensive thing on the menu just to make the deal work.
5. Don't forget about snacks!!!! The options for snacks on the DDP is one of the few things about the Dining Plan that has actually gotten better over time. When the DDP launched, you got 2 snack credits per day, but then Disney pulled it back to 1 per day. However, it's back up to 2 per day, and snacks are far more than the bottle of water or bag of popcorn advertised in the FAQ. If you're visiting during the EPCOT F&W Festival, all of the food items at the kiosks have been snack eligible items in the past, even the $8 lobster roll (aside from a few large cheese platters that cost over $10). If you've got 10 snack credits for each person in your family for your 5-night stay, you could have a full day smorgasbord at EPCOT with the snack credits alone, freeing up CS and/or TS credits for other days (or if you want to go to a signature restaurant). Outside of the F&W Festival items, snack credits can be used on sides and small plates at a number of regular counter service restaurants and carts now (look for the purple "DP" symbols on the menus). Eligible items are always changing though, so again, make sure you take a look at what you're most likely to want when in the parks and be conservative with your estimates.
6. Remember that Disney is going to start charging parking at resorts for any newly booked reservations. We always do a full calculus of staying on-site versus off-site when deciding on whether to do the free DDP promo. Parking can be a big cost if you're staying off-site, which would now be negated since they're now charging parking even if you're staying on-site.
7. Don't forget the DDP is based on the number of NIGHTS you stay in the resort, not the number of days of admission you have. Meaning, if you book a 5-night/6 day package, you will have 6 theme park days that have to be covered with 5 days of DDP credits (this is where using those snack credits can be HUGE). Again, planning is critical to make sure you have credits for that last day, and also so that you're not running around trying to use any extra credits as you're getting ready to go home.

Everyone is different, and your idea of value may be different from someone else's. However, I've found that this promo has significantly declined in value over the past 5 years or so for my family. Just make sure to make an informed decision, and don't just jump on something because it's advertised as a "sale".

April 24, 2018 at 11:13 AM ·

The offer for the UK started last Thursday, and from what I hear from travel agents will run until late September but possibly late October. We had heard about it a couple of days before so this year I decided to do some research to see whether the did king plan actually is free, to cut a long story short- it is. But if you're interested and have nothing better to be doing like I didn't have at the time then I will break the prices down for you.
So, I first looked on Wednesday 19th on virgin holidays website as I was looking to book for September 2019 and wanted to get flights in the package. I looked at a range of hotels varying from low to high price and different dining plans given. Prices are based on 3 adults sharing one room, for 14 nights, with economy flights from LGW to MCO, with dining plan and 14 day ticket. Baring in mind the dining plan to buy alone costs £2309 for 3 and tickets at £1,197.
All star music resort - £4,498
Disney AOA "cars suite"- £6729
DAK Lodge "Savanah View"- £7938
Disney Coronado springs- £5065
Disney Beach club- £7540
Disney wilderness lodge- £7070

Now onto when I booked them on the day after, so when the dining plan was out, I will also show what dining plans are included.
All star music resort - £4,504 - breakfast only
Disney AOA "cars suite"- £6740 - breakfast only
DAK Lodge "Savanah View"- £7946 - disney dining plan
Disney Coronado springs- £5080 - quick service dining plan
Disney Beach club- £7548 - disney dining plan
Disney wilderness lodge- £7078 - disney dining plan.

So as you can see, the prices are practically the same, only fluctuating by a couple of pounds for the free dining, but this could be because of traffic on the website on the Thursday or just normal price fluctuations. I feel this gives quite a nice representation of how much extra you would be spending for different levels of dining and whether staying at Coronado springs compares to beach club is worth £2469 for the room and dining upgrade.
I personally have really enjoyed having the dining plan the last two times I have visited and felt it has been a lot easier to plan out our days knowing we don't have to leave the "disney" parks to eat, it does become a slight pain though when at universal or sea world, as we normally have to leave early to get to our hotel or park for dinner reservation. Hopefully, if you have read all of this it has been somewhat interesting, and have a good day. : )

April 24, 2018 at 4:31 PM ·

It's time for this stupid promotion to stop. If I remember right it was one of those big promotions they started during the recession to lure people in and now it's outlived its useful life. The posts above illustrate why...because of how much demand it has and how difficult it is to get all it does is make people angry.

April 25, 2018 at 8:45 AM ·

My family of 3 (Mom, Dad, teenage son) took advantage of this promotion a few years ago, and if I had to do it all over we wouldn't do it again. First, we made several questionable booking choices in order to qualify for the free meal plan promotion, and then once there, we spent entirely too much time and effort trying to 'game' the meal plan to make the deal worth it. From what I've read here this offer has only gotten less attractive since we did it. I'd think long and hard about the opportunity costs of this promotion, what would you do differently if you didn't have it? You might have a better time and spend no more money.

April 25, 2018 at 12:58 PM ·

As others have stated, this deal has definitely changed over the years. The minimum number of nights has been about the same, but the number and type of tickets, plus the type of dining plan has changed drastically. We purchased this deal when it first came out, and we've had pre-purchased tickets with the old no-expiration option, so we purchased the minimum one ticket, even with 4 nights/5 days. As our boys grew older, they were no longer free, then no longer "children", so the price of the room discount totally outweighed the price of free dining. We had even paid for the dining upgrade, since we've always stayed at a Value Resort. Then the minimum number of tickets plus adding the Park Hopper didn't work for us. My recommendation is to look at all the offers and be realistic, by comparing the offers to how much you'd pay if there was no offer.

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