Disney Free Dining (and what it really means)

Our first trip to Disney together with the Free dining plan @50’s Prime Time- 2008

Disney released their yearly “free” dining promotion today. If you are planning a Disney trip soon or are a “Disney person” you have likely heard about this promotion in the last few years and will probably see some chatter about it in online communities.

This promotion has become mis-understood among the general public and I want to try to explain a little about what Disney IS and ISN’T doing so you can see if this promotion works for you.

Tusker House @Animal Kingdom – 2014

Disney is NOT:

  • Trying to make you happy– well, yes, they are but not because they just want to dole out the dole whips and smiles. They want you to feel like they are giving you something to make you happy but in reality, that’s not the purpose behind these promotions.
  • Losing money– the purpose of giving “free” dining is to bring in more money to Disney, not less. There are very specific dates and requirements that will strategically bring in more people and more money to Disney.
  • Offering the promotions for all resorts, room categories, and dates – they released very specific dates which have gotten shorter each year. The reason? Disney is doing really well and they don’t NEED to offer you something free in order to continue to make money.
Chef Mickey- 2016

Disney IS:

  • Trying to sell a specific inventory of rooms for specific dates– the check in dates for this promotion include 2 dates in June, 3 dates in July, and 11 dates at the end of August/beginning of September. The rooms available within these date ranges are also very limited.
Disney snack credit- Mickey Bar- 2017

What does this mean for you if you want to book a Disney trip?

  • Don’t base your trip around free dining or a promotion– If you know you want to go to Disney, book something that you can afford now, not something you can only afford IF a promotion comes out.
  • Book early– the best pricing has been booking early. Disney has continued to raise ticket and package prices each year. Often once a promotion drops, the pricing of booking early is less than the current promotion pricing.
  • If you have flexibility, let’s book– let me know if you are flexible during the summer and early fall and want to try to plan a Disney trip. I can check the specific dates offered and find the best free dining availability.
Whispering Canyon- 2018

A little more background on the “free” dining promotions:

I am unsure the year that Disney first began the free dining promotion but I first was aware of it in 2008. This was the year of the recession and Disney felt the effects, as did we all. Disney needed to sell it’s empty rooms and thus offered a “free” dining plan to anyone who booked a room on property at rack rate (no discount).

At the time, it didn’t matter which hotel you stayed in on Disney property, you received a free regular dining plan for all guests age 3+. This included a table service meal, a quick service meal, and a snack per person per night stay.

Each year as Disney and the economy have grown, Disney has been able to fill more of their hotel rooms without the help of offering dining for free. However, the guests have come to expect this promotion and Disney marketing understands this.

So every year we still see some version of this free dining promotion but it has evolved and changed over the years. Previously almost all of the fall- minus the holidays- were included. Every year the dates shrink and move more into the summer time frame as crowds have shifted from summer break to the fall. October has been completely excluded from all promotions for several years.

Garden Grill- 2019

Several years ago, Disney began only offering the regular free dining to guests at deluxe resorts. Only the quick service plan was free for guests staying at value and moderate resorts.

Package requirements for the free dining have been extended to be a minimum 4-night stay and require park hopper tickets.

Certain resorts have been excluded completely and that has evolved as well. Port Orleans French Quarter used to be excluded but is not included. Many resorts are included but only a couple of room types are available- like pirate rooms at Caribbean Beach.

This is all done to sell a very specific inventory that Disney is having trouble selling without this promotion. I expect we will continue to see a shrinking version of this promotion that shifts fully into summer dates and not the fall as Disney continues to spread out crowds with it’s various festivals, races, and special events throughout the year.