The Pros and Cons of Free Dining.

This post brought to you by Christina Wood of Pixie Vacations, the preferred Disney vacation travel planner of The Disney Blog.


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As you probably know by now, Disney has announced free dining for the fall of 2014. As usual, Disney fans are in a complete frenzy over the possibility of saving so much money. After all, food is really expensive at Disney! But is it the best bargain for you? A lot of guests automatically assume it is and don’t pursue any other discounts, but occasionally, a room discount might be a better option, so don’t be distracted by the big flashy “FREE DINING” sign when the better discount is elsewhere.

Briefly, free dining gives you exactly what it’s called: Free dining for each night of your stay. It’s pretty simple, except you’ll usually be offered free quick-service dining at a value resort and free base (also known as the plus) dining at moderate and deluxe resorts.  There’s usually a requirement that you purchase a two-day ticket as well. You may upgrade these dining plans and pay the difference; most value guests upgrade to the base plan since it includes the table-service option. Disney only allows you to have one discount at a time, so you can’t get a room discount and free dining.

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So how do you tell if free dining is the best deal for you?  First, look at this latest round of discounts. You’ve got free dining for select days for fall. That’s great. And then you have a room discount that runs into early October. Probably doesn’t look as good, right? But make sure you run the numbers before you decide. If you’re staying at a deluxe resort or a Disney Vacation Club villa or if you’re traveling as a couple, you may find that the room discount saves you more.  As a general rule of thumb, I find the following:

  • Military room discounts, combined with a lower priced military ticket, quite often beat free dining, even at a value resort.
  • Most often, free dining is the best discount at value resorts, but keep in mind that if you add the dining upgrade, you may find yourself closer to a moderate resort total. Again, do the numbers. Sometimes the difference between a value free dining package and a moderate free dining package can be less than $100.
  • A couple staying in a deluxe resort will usually do better with the room discount.
  • At moderate resorts, be especially careful.  Most often a family will do better with free dining, but don’t assume that it’s the better deal before you

Next, look at the how you eat while on vacation and the make up of your group to determine if the dining plan is a good deal for you in the first place:

  • Do you plan on eating at any character meals? These are usually the most expensive restaurants on property, so if you’re doing more than two on a six night trip, the dining plan is a good deal for you.
  • Do you have children in the 3 to 9 age group? You can’t feed a child for less than $20 a day, which is what you’ll pay for the base dining plan for kids in this age group. The more kids in this age group, the better the dining plan is for you.
  • Do you tour the parks “commando-style” without stopping or do you mind having a daily sit-down meal? If you don’t want to take time out of your park touring, the dining plan might not be a good option.
  • Finally, how much do you eat? If you’re a light eater, the dining plan may be a waste for you even if it is free.

One last thing: Always book the first discount that comes out because it’s most often the best deal, but keep your eyes open for upcoming offers. Remember, the fall room discount is only out through early October.  Expect more room-only discounts for the rest of the year to be announced sometime this summer. So even though you got free dining for your stay in December, make sure you run the numbers when those discounts come out, especially if you’re at a deluxe resort.

What about you? Have you ever gotten free dining? How did it work for you? Is this something that makes or breaks your decision to travel? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.


Christina Wood of pixie-logo-line2 is the preferred travel partner of The Disney Blog. Request a free quote for your next Disney vacation and receive expert travel planning service at no additional cost to you.

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About Christina Wood

For more travel planning articles by Chris, check out her Disney travel blog, Everything Walt Disney World. Chris is also a member of the Mouse Chat podcast team and an authorized Disney travel planner with Pixie Vacations, and visits the parks about 55 days each year. To get free planning and assistance with your next Disney vacation, please call her at 919-889-5281 or email at ChrisW@PixieVacations.com. You may also fill out a quick Disney Vacation Quote form here.
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5 Responses to The Pros and Cons of Free Dining.

  1. Drew says:

    Christina,

    I rented points from a dvc member and am staying in a studio at BWV with my wife this September. Am I eligible for free dining? We love to eat and it will definitely be a cornerstone of our trip. That being said, if eligible, would the free dinin option be a good choice for us?

    Thanks,
    Drew

  2. Pingback: The Pros and Cons of Free Dining. | WasOut

  3. Pingback: Free Dining Returns Select Weeks This Fall at Walt Disney World | The Disney Blog

  4. Josh S. says:

    My family did a big trip last fall, with 16 people. Ten of us stayed on property, at the Beach Club (our first time doing a deluxe resort–we’ve always been All Star Sports people before!). That decision was largely due to the impetus of the trip, which was my grandfather, at his 86th b-day last year, saying he thought he had one more Disney trip in him. We wanted it to be special for him, so splurged on the resort (plus we love to eat at World Showcase and the ability to walk to the International Gateway was really helpful). For us, the dining plan turned out to be the better deal, since (a) everyone going was college-aged or older and therefore eats a lot more, and (b) we do many buffets and character meals (Biergarten in Germany, Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and Crystal Palace character breakfast with Pooh and friends are our favorites). We also cut down on room costs by having (for our family) five adults in one room.

    So, for our big-meal-eating family, it was a better deal for the dining plan and would’ve been even more so if we were staying at a moderate or value hotel.

    Another quick note, in my opinion, BEST DEAL for dining plan quick service has got to be the new Be Our Guest restaurant in Fantasyland, particularly for those who want healthier options. It’s one of the only places I’m aware of on property that you can get non-hamburger/hotdog/chicken strips meals for quick service. They have a magnificent tuna nicoise salad and some healthy sandwiches in an atmosphere that still feels very much like a table service. We ended up going there twice, we enjoyed the experience so much.

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