Is booking the Free Disney Dining Plan Promotion Right for You?

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If you’re new to Disney, or you’re a more carefree Seconds-to-Go type traveler, you may have never heard of the Disney free dining promotion. In that case, you’re wondering what all the hoopla is about and if you’re missing anything by not booking this special offer.

Stick with us, and we’ll take you through the ins and outs of Disney’s Dining Plan and whether free dining is a good deal for you. But before we get started, if you’re new to dining at Disney World, you may want to take a look at our complete guide to Disney World Dining.

Here is what you’ll find in this article:

First Step, Understanding the Disney Dining Plan

When booking an onsite resort at Disney World (see list below), you’ll be presented with the option to book a room-only or package reservation.

A room-only reservation is just what it implies. You book a hotel room at the resort of your choice and pay for anything else related to your vacation separately.

Booking a package allows you to include the cost of park tickets with your room reservation and to opt for a Disney dining plan.

The dining plan differs depending upon the resort you book. For value and moderate resorts, such as All Stars or Carribean Beach, you’ll be offered the Quick-Service plan. This plan typically includes:

  • 2 quick service dining meals (carry-out service)
  • 2 snacks per day
  • 1 drink per person for each meal
  • Refillable drink mug (can only be filled at the resort where you are staying)

Each item above is included for each person on your reservation. Starting in 2018, several new specialty drinks, such as artisanal milkshakes and some alcoholic options, are also being offered.

If you’re booking a deluxe resort, such as the Beach Club or Grand Floridian, you can expect to be offered the Disney Dining Plan. Per day, this option features:

  • 1 quick service meal
  • 1 table service meal
  • 2 snacks
  • 1 drink per person at each meal
  • Refillable drink mug (can only be filled at the resort where you are staying)

Disney doesn’t readily publish the cost of the different plans, but according to Mousesavers, the Quick Service option will run you $52.50 for an adult and $21.75 for children under 10 per day. Cost for the Disney Dining Plan is $75.49 per adult and  $25.75 per child under 10 per day. For this plan, you can expect to fund gratuities for table service meals out of pocket.

The Good the Bad or the Not-So_Either of Free Disney Dining

Performers at Biergarten Restaurant, one choice on the Free Disney Dining plan
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One of the advantages to any of the Disney dining plans is the simplicity and convenience. Meals are tracked automatically, so paying requires only a swipe of your magic band. You don’t need to worry about carrying cash and doling out change at the register. For table service meals, your server will even come to your table to swipe your band for payment.

We’ve used the Disney Dining Plan (1 quick service, 1 table service) twice, once with free dining and once without. In the first instance, there were two adults and four children, three of them being under ten. We regrettably left for home with four quick service and several snack credits unused.

Many of Disney’s table-service restaurants are offered buffet-style. The food is usually tasty and options are plentiful. Since we often ate this meal for breakfast or lunch, consuming an additional snack during the day was sometimes enough to satisfy us, without the need for the additional quick-service meal. Other days, we ate both meals to avoid wasting the credits, and still others, we shared quick-service entrees, leaving credits still on our tab at the end of the trip.

So, You’re Saying Disney Free Dining Isn’t Worth it?

Not necessarily. To determine whether Disney’s free dining offer is worth booking during your trip, you have to know a few things up front. The first is which on-property resort you plan to inhabit and how set you are on staying there. Not all resorts are available with free dining for all dates, so you might have to be flexible in your choice of accommodations to remain eligible.

You’ll also need to understand what restaurants you plan to visit, what you’re going to eat there, and how much it will cost you for each day of your trip. This is what you’d be saving with free dining, if you book your room at regular rack rates and pay full price for your park passes.

The tricky part is, you may not have to pay full price for either. Disney usually comes out with a room-only discount within a few months of issuing free dining, roughly covering the same dates. It used to be, the discount was enough to make it worth your while to opt out of the free Disney dining plan if you weren’t a big eater.

Lately, that room discount has only been between 10%-15% for value and moderate resorts and 20%-25% for deluxe resorts. At those rates, opting for the free Disney dining plan turns out to be a less expensive option for many people. You’ll need to figure up what the cost of your room with discount would be, add it to the cost of the food you plan to eat and what you’ll need to pay for park passes.  Then, see if it’s more or less than the cost of your Disney free dining package.

Where and what you eat will determine whether you get your money’s worth out of free dining. A single quick-service breakfast entrée at Be Our Guest now rings in at $25.00 a plate, while you can grab a breakfast platter at Sunshine Seasons (EPCOT) for ten and change.

Here are some calculations that will give you a feel:

Disney Dining plan sample cost
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What’s Right for You?

The only way to know if the free dining offer is advantageous for you, is to add up the cost of your hotel, park passes and meals and compare it to the cost of the room and passes alone.

You can find menus for Disney World restaurants, with pricing, at the following sources:

WDW Info

The Walt Disney World Website also offers menus with pricing, but will sometimes provide a range instead of exact costs.

As you can see, free dining could save you a few hundred dollars based on these sample calculations. If you’re getting the Disney Dining Plan, the advantage of free dining improves or declines depending upon the number of buffet meals you eat or the entrees you select from a regular menu. If you plan to eat dinner buffets over breakfast and order high-cost menu items, the Disney Dining Plan could turn out to be the better option.

What if I Don’t Want to Do the Prep?

For the Seconds-to-Go traveler who enjoys more of the spontaneity and less of the worry, calculating out every meal in advance may not be your thing. If that’s the case, you probably won’t want to bother with the trouble of setting up advanced dining reservations either, an absolute necessity if you plan to eat at table-service locations.

If you really want to wing it and not have to worry about making a dinner reservation at a certain time, then we recommend you forego the Disney free dining offer, at least for deluxe resorts where table service meals are part of the plan. Just be advised that it will be difficult to get a table at any sit-down restaurants during a free dining promotion as they will be booked well in advance by those enjoying the special offer.

On the other hand, if you don’t mind setting up some reservations 120 days before you leave, free dining could save you some money, while not having to worry about meal costs during your trip.

It’s up to you, and what’s important when you travel the World.

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Kathleen Hesketh and Ali Patton, mother daughter travel bloggers

We're Kat and Ali, a pair of mother daughter travel bloggers sharing our knowledge and experience from multiple years of Disney travel with other Disney lovers and first-time visitors, hoping to simplify your vacation experience and help you enjoy all of the magic of a visit to Disney World. As Disney vacation planners, we can now book vacations through Mickey World travel, at no additional charge, and help you realize all of the magic of a trip to Disney.

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Kathleen Hesketh

Kathleen is a travel agent with Mickey World Travel, a platinum level Authorized Disney vacation planner, where she helps people discover the magic of a Disney vacation and other travel destinations. She is also the chief author and editor for Seconds to Go - a travel blog where she shares experiences from traveling the U.S. with her daughter, Ali.

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