It’s that time of year again, the whispers begin about free dining for fall travel dates. The latest rumor is that free dining for September will be coming out before the end of April due to low DVC (Disney Vacation Club) bookings for that time of year. Great news for those that want to save a few bucks at Disney World this year! Free dining sounds like a great deal, and for most families it really is, but you really need to do the math to see what the best option is; typically Disney also offers a room only discount at the same time.
Free Dining is offered at most Disney World resort hotels. Value resorts come with the quick service dining plan. Moderate, deluxe, and deluxe villas come with the full dining plan. At any of the four resort classes, you are able to upgrade your plan (quick service to full dining plan or full dining plan to deluxe) at minimal cost. The cost of upgrade is based on the number of guests in each room, their ages, and how many nights you are staying
The Dining Plans
Quick Service dining plan: This plan provides 2 quick service credit and one snack per person for each night stayed.
Disney Dining Plan (the “full” dining plan): This plan provides 1 table service credit, 1 quick service credit, and one snack credit per person for each night stayed.
Deluxe Dining Plan: This plan provides 3 credits (which can be quick service or table service) and 2 snacks per person for each night stayed. This is A LOT of food!
Each plan also includes a refillable mug for each member of your party. This can be used at any resort, but not refillable at the parks. A great suggestion is to bring them with to use them in the parks and make it easier to split a drink at quick service locations.
Quick service meals (also called counter service meals) are those that do not accept reservations. You order of a menu board in front of cashier and then wait for your food to be prepared. Think of McDonalds, Burger King, or Hardee’s but with better food and better variety! Quick service credits cannot be combined to convert to a table service credit (nice try though!) Feel free to share meals at any time!
Table Service meals are sit down restaurants in which you order off a menu with a server. This also could be a buffet meal. Some table service meals are 2 credits (signature meals, Cinderella’s Royal Table, and dinner shows). Most meals can be shared with the exception of buffets for obvious reasons.
Snacks are everything from an apple, bottle of water, all the way up to a giant filled soft pretzel or cupcake. During the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot, there are countless options considered snack credits that can make a meal.
You receive all of your credits upon check in to your resort. Children ages 3-9 will receive child credits for quick service and table service meals. If there happens to be no children’s menu, they are able to choose items off the full menu.There is no difference in snack credits for children or adults.
A favorite argument of Disney fans is that “free dining isn’t free”. I will always disagree with them. Yes the dining plan is FREE, however you pay full price for your hotel room stay. In order to accurately compare the two discounts, you will need to price out free dining and then the room only discount PLUS tickets and the dining plan added. Free dining is a better deal at value and moderate resorts 99 out of 100 times (the exception is a family of two staying for a short period of time).
That math really becomes important at deluxe resorts and deluxe villas where discounts are typically 30% or more in the fall. Typically a 5-6 night stay makes for a $500 discount with room only. This deal would be greater for a family of 1 adult and 1 child or 2 adults during a short stay. For a group larger than two or three, the discount typically comes close or free dining is a better deal. Remember, if it saves you more money on a room discount, you can always pay for the dining plan and still save a few bucks along the way.
Making the dining plan work for you!
Even though the dining plan is free, it’s still good to know general dining plan strategy: choosing characters meals when available (these are all buffet but great if you’ve got kids), planning your table service meals ahead of time. You are able to book dining reservations up to 180 days in advance whether you have a resort reservation or not. Make sure you make enough reservations to use up all of your table service credits. These reservations are best made for lunch or dinner as these are typically the most expensive meals. A late lunch or early are my favorites – you can likely get away with meals each day plus a snack.
Depending on your arrival and departure times, you may need to plan carefully to use all of your credits. If you have an early departure on your last day, don’t be afraid to use all but one of your credits for a filling breakfast on your way back home. On the contrary, if you have a late departure, save at least one table service credit for a great lunch before you head home.
The Fine Print
Not all resorts are included in free dining. Typically Disney chooses resorts based on how many guests are booked in that resort at the time of the promotion (as a way to entice guests to fill specific resorts). Excluded for almost every promotion are all 3-bedroom villas, the Little Mermaid Rooms at Art of Animation, the campsites at Fort Wilderness, and the Villas at Grand Floridian. No specific information on what will be included this time around. The more flexible you are able to be, the better your chances of getting the dining plan for free!
Free dining requires a package stay (Disney resort stay PLUS park tickets). You are required to to have a 2 day base ticket if you are interested in adding free dining. This includes those that are Annual Passholders. You are able to put the cost of your 2 day base ticket toward next year’s annual pass if you wish to take part in free dining. You are also required a minimum of 2 night’s stay (while Disney’s promotional materials say 6 days, 5 nights, it’s not a requirement!)
Children under 3 are free at Disney World and therefore do not need park tickets or the dining plan. If you choose to eat at buffet locations, they are able to have their own plate of food. At table service and quick service restaurants, they can share with an adult or another child.
Ready to get started planning your 2015 Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free cruise opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!