This post probably contains affiliate links. You can read the full legal mumbo-jumbo explaining all that here.
Every year since 2009, Walt Disney World has offered a “Free Dining” package for specific dates in the fall and early winter. It is always a very popular promotion that my family has taken advantage of in the past and plan to do again in the future (although our next experience with it will be a little different; more about that later.)
When is Free Dining Available?
If you haven’t already, you can book Free Dining now through July 7, 2018.
The promo is available for the following dates. Note that these are the arrival dates. So, for example, that if your family’s vacation is from September 28-October 4, yes, you can get free dining for your entire vacation. But if your vacation is from August 19-25, you are not get free dining. Make sense?
2018 Free Dining Dates (arrival)
August 20* – September 29
November 24 – 27
December 7 – 23
Other Requirements to Qualify for Free Dining:
In addition to arriving during the specific dates when the promo is offered, you must also:
1) Stay for a minimum of 4 nights and a maximum stay of 14 nights (seriously, are their people who stay at Disney World for more than 14 nights? Because I would like to know who exactly these people are.)
2) Purchase a minimum 4-day Park Hopper or Park Hopper Plus tickets. (Also, you cannot use existing tickets, Disney Vacation Club points, or an Annual Pass.)
3) Stay at a Disney Resort that qualifies for Free Dining.
There are actually quite a few resorts and/or rooms that don’t qualify for Free Dining this year, in a variety of different price ranges.
Rooms that Do NOT Qualify for Free Dining in 2018:
All Star Movies
Art of Animation Little Mermaid Rooms
Bay Lake Tower
Port Orleans Resorts (both Riverside and French Quarter)
Polynesian Village Resort (villas & standard rooms)
Fort Wilderness campsites
Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian
All 3-bedroom Villas
It’s interesting to see how Free Dining has been evolving over the years, as it’s definitely been getting more narrow and more difficult to get. Take a look:
Our first year with Free Dining (which I believe was in 2009):
1) We stayed at Port Orleans Riverside;
2) We had Base tickets (ie, not Park Hopper tickets);
3) I don’t particularly remember having to scramble or stress out to get it.
Now, with 2018 Free Dining:
1) Port Orleans does not offer Free Dining;
2) You must get Park Hopper tickets;
3) My understanding was that it was incredibly stressful day for travel agents everywhere when Free Dining was announced, and that many people who wanted the Free Dining promotion were not able to get it.
I Want Free Dining, But Nothing’s Available!
Don’t give up hope just yet.
One option is to modify your plans. Yeah, I know that’s always a drag, but do you really have your heart set on that one resort, or would you consider something else? Can you change your arrival date? Maybe the answer to both these is “no,” but it’s worth asking yourself how badly you want Free Dining.
Also, cancellations happen all the time. Be persistent and keep checking back, and maybe something will open up for you. I would highly recommend doing everything online and not over the phone. Better yet, contact a travel agent to help you. We booked with Michelle at
So what exactly is included in the Free Dining Plan?
Of course nothing is simple and straightforward when it comes to Disney, and there arethree different tiers of Dining Plans. Which one you get during the free promotion depends on where you’re staying and whether or not you want to pay extra to upgrade it.
If you’re staying at a Walt Disney World Value or Moderate Resort, you’ll receive the Quick Service Dining Plan during the free promotion.
If you’re staying at Deluxe or Deluxe Villa Resorts, you’ll receive the Standard Disney Dining Plan
This actually threw us for a loop this year, because we will be staying at Caribbean Beach Resort (a moderate resort) and I had no idea until after the booking was made that we would not be getting the “Standard Dining Plan” that we were used to getting in the past. (I’m sure somebody told me and I just wasn’t paying close enough attention.)
I debated upgrading to the Standard Plan Dining Plan. But at $22.99 per adult and $4.00 per child (ages 3-9) per night, that would come to $115 per night for our family. That seems a little ridiculous for something that we originally chose to get because it was “free.” (Especially considering that price doesn’t even include tipping.)
So we will stay with the Quick Service Plan. I definitely do not want to eat counter service at the parks the entire time, so this will be a nice opportunity to hop on the monorail and try places like Captain Cook’s at the Polynesian, Contempo Café at the Contemporary Resort, or the Gasparilla Island Grill at the Grand Floridian Resort, none of which I’ve tried before and all of which I have heard good things about.
So we’ll make it work, and it will be fun. And I’ll have plenty of new restaurants to report back to you about. Everybody wins!
By the way, if you’re staying at Deluxe Resort and, therefore, getting the Standard Dining Plan, you can pay extra to upgrade to the Deluxe Dining Plan. I have no idea why you would want to do that, since it’s way more food than I can imagine anybody needing, but hey, the option is there and I’m sure there are some people who take it.
Is Free Dining “Worth It”? What’s the Catch?
The short answer is that it depends on your personal situation and priorities.
First let me say that our family is very pro-Free Dining. We have done it twice and totally loved it. Part of the appeal for us — a big part of it, actually — is emotional rather than logical. It feels like we’re being showered with riches and treated like royalty. (“We get dessert, too? And we don’t have to pay for any of it?”)
My husband Robert especially loves the fact that we don’t have to act financially responsible during the actual trip. We just eat what we want, when we want it. We don’t have to shudder at the thought of our vacation bill steadily climbing with each cream cheese pretzel we purchase — or worse, ruin half our vacation debating things like whether it’s in our budget to get yet another Dole Whip.
But while Free Dining is a great deal, it’s not quite the amazing, “Wow, constant free food!” situation that we like to pretend it is.
If you are really on a tight budget and concerned about saving money, then ironically, the Free Dining Promo might not be your best option.
How is that possible?
Well, for one thing, if you choose the Free Dining Promo, you are almost always forfeiting some sort of room discount promo that you could have opted for instead.
So now you might be wondering: What’s the better deal, the room discount or Free Dining?
Ha ha ha … you didn’t actually think there would be a simple answer to that, did you?
It depends on several different factors, like where you’re staying and how many people are in your party. You’d have to crunch some numbers and do calculations for different scenarios to really know for sure.
Fortunately, you don’t need to do that (and more importantly, I don’t need to do that) because someone else has already done it for us.
Leah Althiser at The Frugal South has some helpful charts here that compares the prices in different scenarios.
Tom Bricker at the Disney Tourist Blog has an in-depth discussion of the free-dining-versus-room-discount discussion that involves more numbers than you may even care to know. )
But there’s a third option that might even be better: Not getting Free Dining or the room discount.
After all, hink of all the other potential ways to save money that you’re forfeiting by getting Free Dining.
What if, instead, you stayed off-site, bought discounted Base tickets from from Undercover Tourist, ate most of your meals off-site, and brought your own snacks into the parks?
True, that would be a different type of vacation than staying at a Walt Disney resort and getting the Free Dining Plan. But it would probably be a cheaper vacation than it would be if you opted for “Free Dining.”
Just something to think about it. As for me and my family, we’re opting for Free Dining yet again — and were lucky enough to get it.
I hope this post answered all of your questions about Free Dining at Walt Disney World. Like I said, we’ve taken advantage of it multiple times and love it.
If you have any questions, or have your own experience to share, just leave a comment below!