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