Is the Free Dining Offer at Walt Disney World Really a Deal?
Disney just announced its perennially popular Free Dining Offer for Walt Disney World. The Free Dining offer generates lots of headlines – and why not? – it’s free food! But, is it really the best deal for you? Let’s take a deeper dive to determine the pros and cons of this attention-grabbing deal.
Free Dining has always been used by Disney to bolster business during its “slow” season in the early fall. This year is no exception, but dates have been added that extend well into the fall season.
The first thing to be aware of is that with free dining, you’ll be paying full price for your room and tickets in order to be eligible for the offer. The offer is valid for stays within the following arrival dates with a minimum three-night stay:
- August 21 – September 30, 2017
- November 14 – November 20, 2017
- November 25 – November 27, 2017
- December 8 – December 23, 2017
There are also differences in the dining plan you receive based on the category of Walt Disney World Resort:
Value Resorts – All-Star Resorts, Pop Century, Art of Animation – receive the Quick-Service Dining Plan
Moderate Resorts – Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, Port Orleans – Riverside, Port Orleans – French Quarter, The Cabins at Fort Wilderness – receive the Quick Service Dining Plan. This is a change from previous years, typically the Moderate Resorts receive the regular Disney Dining Plan.
Deluxe hotels and Deluxe Villas – Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge, Beach and Yacht Club, etc – receive the regular Disney Dining Plan
Certain room types are completely excluded from the offer: Fort Wilderness campsites, any 3-bedroom villa at Disney’s Deluxe Villa Resorts, Little Mermaid standard rooms at Art of Animation and the Bungalows at the Polynesian.
And finally, you must book a package in order to receive Free Dining. A package is simply a Disney resort hotel stay combined with theme park tickets. New this year is the requirement that your theme park tickets must include the Park Hopper or Park Hopper Plus option. Base tickets (one theme park per day of your visit) are no longer eligible.
So, with all these restrictions, is this offer really going to save you money? The short answer is yes, but. If you compare apples to apples, meaning that you are comparing non-discounted vs free dining package with the same hotel, same room category, same ticket type, etc., the free dining offer will save you money.
What’s the drawback then? The short answer is flexibility, or lack thereof, of the Free Dining Offer. If you can travel when Disney wants you to, use the Park Hopper ticket and get the most out of the dining plan that’s being offered, then Free Dining is the deal for you. If you say “no” to any of the above, then Free Dining won’t get you the vacation you want.
How else can you save money at Disney, then?
- Use a travel agent. AAA agents are graduates of the College of Disney Knowledge and can help you decide what resort, ticket-type and everything else suits your family’s unique needs and budget. We’ll also help with advanced dining reservations, FastPass+ reservations and navigating the ins and outs of My Disney Experience.
- Ask about discounts. Over the past several years, Disney has almost continuously offered a discount on Disney Resort hotel rooms of up to 25%. The room discount can almost cover the cost of a Disney dining plan and there is usually more flexibility on dates and ticket types.
- Buy Disney gift cards. Disney gift cards are available almost everywhere, including everyone’s favorite shopping spot, Target. You can use these cards to pay for your trip, to pay for dining when at Walt Disney World, to pay for souvenirs and other merchandise at retailers within Walt Disney World’s boundaries. It’s a great way to “save” for that Disney vacation. And, if you have a Target RedCard, that gives you 5% off your purchases, you can save 5% on that Gift Card!
Confused about how to make your family’s Disney vacation magical? Then give AAA a call at 800-444-8691 or visit your nearest AAA Travel office. Let us introduce you to our Stress-Less vacation planning. You’ll be amazed at just how easy planning a vacation is!