Tonga Toast, a national treasure, available at Kona Cafe.
A few days ago, the Disney community lost their collective minds when Free Dining 2019 was released. Here’s why: in recent memory, Free Dining has NEVER been announced before March. It’s January, fam. Secondly, Free Dining is usually offered during the “slow” periods at the parks, never during the summer, where there are usually peak crowds. Guess when the Free Dining window opens up? July. July! That is peak summer. What even is the world.
But if everything I just said is leaving your head spinning, if these terms mean nothing, than this post is for you. Opening up the offer window means many people who haven’t had the option of Free Dining now have access to it. But those folks are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Free Dining because, duh, they’ve never had the option of taking advantage of it.
So let’s get back to the basics of Free Dining.
Dinner at Ohana. That’s for the table, but I could have eaten it all myself.
What is Free Dining?
Free Dining is a promotion developed to entice more onsite guests during the “slower” seasons. While the Free Dining promotion is easily the most popular discount Disney offers, it has requirements you must meet in order to be eligible.
Requirement #1: You must stay on site in a Disney Resort to quality for Free Dining.
While you must stay in a Disney resort to be eligible, not all Disney resorts are eligible for Free Dining. For 2019, the excluded resorts are All Star Movies, Port Orleans French Quarter, Fort Wilderness Campsite. Some resorts are part of the promotion, with specific rooms excluded. The rooms that are not eligible for Free Dining are Art of Animation-Little Mermaid rooms, the Villas at the Grand Floridian, the cabins at Copper Creek Villas, the cabins at Wilderness Lodge, Bungalows at Polynesian Villas & Bungalows, and all three bedroom villas.
Tip on Rooms
There are limited rooms at each resort that are Free dining eligible. The more cost effective options, standard rooms or value and moderate resorts, tend to go quickly. To take the greatest advantage of this promotion, book early.
The S’mores Shake at D*Luxe Burger. I want “s’more” right now.
Requirement #2: You must do Park Hopper Tickets.
The two most popular ticket options at Disney are Base and Park Hopper. Base allows you to visit one park per day, however many times you wish. For example, you can go to Magic Kingdom in the morning, leave around lunch, and come back to the Magic Kingdom in the evening.
Park Hopper allows you to visit any combination of the four parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios) in one day. You can start the day at Magic Kingdom, go back to your resort for lunch, and visit Epcot in the evening.
For the 2019 Free Dining Promotion, you must also have a minimum of four day tickets. So, to access Free Dining, the tickets you purchase must be Park Hoppers and must be four days or more.
Tip on Tickets
Just because you have Park Hoppers doesn’t mean you need to use them. You can still do one park per day, but just know there is a price up charge for Park Hoppers. Or, take advantage of the Park Hopper ticket to spend most of your time in one park, but visit another for a hard to get dining reservation.
More thoughts on whether Park Hopper is worth it can be found here.
Chips and guac at hidden gem Maya Grill.
Requirement #3: You must book your room and tickets as a package.
When you opt for the Free Dining promotion, you opt OUT of any other discounts or promotions. This means you are paying rack, or full price, rates for rooms AND tickets. Free Dining can only be booked with a package, which means you book food, room, and tickets together, forgoing any discounted tickets from licensed places like Undercover Tourist.
Tip on Packages
Disney usually releases a room discount alongside Free Dining. So if you decide that the Free Dining promotion isn’t for you, you can still save with a room discount and have the option of purchasing discounted tickets.
Combo plate at Columbia Harbor House.
Requirement #4: Your Free Dining Plan Credits will Depend on Which Resort You Stay In
There are different tiers of the Free Dining promotion.Value and Moderate resorts get the Quick Service dining plan, which includes two quick service meals and two snacks a day. If you’re staying at a Deluxe resort you’ll have the Disney Dining Plan, which includes one table service, one quick service, and two snacks. Both plans receive a refillable mug for each person on the dining plan. These mugs can be used at any resort on property, but not in the theme parks themselves.
Tip on Resort
It is possible to book Free Dining at a Value or Moderate resort and upgrade for a fee to the Disney Dining Plan. Depending on the resort, this can be more cost effective option if you want to do sit down or character meals and have them covered by the plan.
Tip on Tips
While Free Dining can provide some great savings, make sure you are looking at all the discount options and chatting with your TA about which way you can save the most.
Have you done Free Dining? Are you hoping to do it this year? Tell me your thoughts in the comments!
Kristen B. is wife to the best Prince around, mama to the spunkiest little princesses, and lover of all things Disney. She started her savings journey three years ago and is now dedicated to making her family’s wishes come true one coupon at a time. She is so excited to take her love of saving to the next level and share her journey with you! Click here to catch up on Kristen’s Savings and join in on your own savings adventure!