Is Disney World's Free Dining Plan a Good Deal?

Disney World Garden Grill Restaurant
••• Disney

Are you thinking about planning a visit to Disney World? Have you been hunting around for deals and discovered one from Disney offering "free dining?" That sounds pretty good, right? Maybe. Find out what the offer includes so you can help determine whether it is, in fact, a good deal for you and your vacation mates.

Sometimes, generally during off-peak times such as the fall, Disney World offers a "free dining" package to drum up business.

It typically includes accommodations at an on-property hotel, theme park tickets, and Disney's Dining Plan. The meal deal comes in two varieties: standard dining and quick-service dining. Usually, the resort throws in its quick-service dining plan for packages that include its value resorts and its standard dining plan for packages that include its moderate and deluxe resorts.

The quick-service dining plan includes two meals at a quick-service restaurants and one snack per person per night of your stay. The standard dining plan includes one meal at a table-service restaurant, one meal at a quick-service restaurant, and a snack per person per night of your stay. Note that not all restaurants at the resort participate in the program. Both plans also include a refillable beverage mug that can be used throughout the resort during your stay.

So, if It Is Free, It's a great Deal, Right?

I know. That sounds like a crazy question.

What could be bad about "free?" Here's the thing, though: At the same time that it offers the free dining deal, Disney World often offers a park tickets and hotel package (minus the dining plan) with reduced prices for its hotels. The offer with the free food usually includes hotels priced at their full rates.

In order to determine whether the deal would be good for you, you should price it out both ways, including the dates you want to visit, the hotel you want to book, and the number of guests in your party. That will give you an idea what the "free" meals would cost you, and should help you determine whether it's worth paying the extra money.

Keep in mind also that if Disney is discounting its hotels and throwing in complimentary food during slow times, you could probably find off-property hotels at a real steal. And off-property restaurants might offer some great deals as well.

Other Things to Consider

  • The dining plan meals typically include an entrée or combo meal, a dessert (for lunch and dinner), and a beverage. You can use as many of the meal vouchers as you wish each day until your allotment runs out.
  • The meal and snack vouchers are non-refundable and expire at the end of your stay. If you don't think you would be able to use all of them, or if you think the plan includes too much food for you, it might not make sense (or "cents") to purchase it.
  • The free dining offer is part of what Disney calls its Magic Your Way package and also includes a bunch of other perks ("Magical Extras" in Disney-speak), such as mini-golf passes, DisneyQuest passes, and discounts for boat rentals, spa treatments, and other offers. These help sweeten the deal, but may or may not be of interest or value to you.
  • Not all restaurants are part of the dining plan, and some of the ones you might like to visit could be excluded. To find out which restaurants are included and check the most current details, see Disney World's official dining plans info.
  • Even during off-peak times, reservations are recommended for Disney World's table-service restaurants. The dining plan does not guarantee available seating; you would still need to make reservations. Learn more about making advance Disney World dining reservations.
  • There are dozens of restaurants throughout the theme parks, hotels, Downtown Disney, and elsewhere in the resort. I've compiled a rundown of Disney World's best restaurants, most of which are included in the free dining offer and dining plans.
  • The table-service meals that are offered in the standard dining plan can be used for Disney World character dining meals. These are a particularly good value, since they typically cost more than a meal at an eatery without the characters.