How To Get The Most Out Of Free Dining At Disney World

Written by Jeff Heimbuch. Posted in Disney Parks, Vacationeering, Walt Disney World

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Published on July 14, 2012 at 11:58 pm with 7 Comments

We always get tons of questions about the next round of free dining at Walt Disney World, and we’re glad to announce that the Fall Free Dining dates have been announced. There’s always the big question of whether free dining is really saving you money. Each vacation is different and there are lots of options.

So, is it worth it to take advantage of the Free Dining Packages that Disney offers?

Let’s take a look at the different packages that Disney offers and what is considered Free Dining

  • Value Resort Packages (Pop Century, All Star) include the Quick Service Plan. The Quick Service (or Base) is two counter service credits, one snack and one refillable mug per person, per night of the package. Think of Quick Service as slightly better than McDonald’s but not as good as Five Guys.
  • Moderate Resort Packages (Port Orleans, Caribbean Beach, etc.) and Deluxe Resort Packages (Contemporary, Boardwalk, etc.) include the Dining Plan. The Dining Plan offers one table service credit, one counter service credit, one snack and one refillable resort mug per person, per night of the package. Most buffets count as a single table service credit but there are some Signature Restaurants that cost two table service credits.
  • There are also the Deluxe, Premium and Platinum Plans, but we rarely recommend them since they are so much food.

If you do book a Value Resort Package with Free Dining, you can easily upgrade from the Quick Service Plan to the Dining Plan. The upgrade cost is $16.55 to $18.55 per night for adults (based on season) and $3.03 or $4.04 per night for children (based on season).

Let’s break it down into how much money you are actually saving with what this deal offers:

6 Nights/7 Days with FREE Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan
$69 per person, per day for a family of 4 at a select Disney Value Resort in a standard room (like Pop Century)
Total Package Price: $1,922
That’s a savings of $701.

6 Nights/7 Days with FREE Disney Dining Plan
$86 per person, per day for a family of 4 at a select Disney Moderate Resort in a standard room (like Port Orleans)
Total Package Price: $2,421
That’s a savings of $1,017.

Let’s face it, when meals are free, that can be a huge strain off of your wallet. An average family of four spends about $125 per sit down meal when at Walt Disney World. Over time, these add up, and the extra expense to your vacation may not be what you expected it to be. With the free dining, you’re still theoretically paying for the meal, but you’re paying much less. If you get the full Dining Plan, and use all of your meal credits (meaning snacks, Quick Service, and Table Service credits), you most definitely come out ahead of the game as opposed to doling out all that cash as you go.

This money savings usually transfers into spending it in some other way, though, like souvenirs or alcoholic beverages during your meals.

Also, a lot of people enjoy knowing that a majority of their meals have been pre-paid. This can take a lot of the stress of a family vacation, so you can focus on having some great times in the parks.

The Table Service reservations may also allow you to visit some of the higher end restaurants you may not be able to afford otherwise. Have you always wanted to see the fantastic Spirit of Aloha dinner show at the Polynesian or enjoy an evening meal at The California Grill while watching Wishes, but didn’t want to spend a lot of money on it? Just use two of your Table Service credits, per person, and you’ll be able to check out these unique dining experiences for the cost of the tip and drinks!

The CONS of Free Disney at Disney World:
While the free dining is fantastic, you may find yourself confined to a schedule with it that restricts your actions for the day. If you have a reservation at Sci-Fi Dine In for 2 PM, and you’re done with an attraction around 1, you really don’t have much leeway in what you can do until it’s time to go eat. You won’t be able to ride most attractions, because the lines will be too long, and your only option is to wander aimlessly until it’s time to go.

Sometimes planning your day around your Table Service reservations seems to be more of a burden than anything else, especially if you’re at a different park than where you’re eating. You would have to leave about 2 hours prior to your reservation, just to make sure you can make it there in time. For serious Disney Park-goers, that’s precious time that they could be spending on the attractions as opposed to transit.

Some of the Quick Service food may be wasted on the dining plan. Each Quick Service credit comes with a meal, drink, and a dessert of some sort. When dining at Disney, most people wouldn’t normally purchase the dessert with their meal. But because it comes with the dining plan, people always make use of it and order it. Most Quick Service meals are usually quite filling; there is a LOT of food on that plate for one person. More often than not, people don’t even finish their meals, let alone touch their dessert. These leads to wasting food, as a lot of it just gets thrown away.

No to mention the fact that the dessert is usually not the best part of the meal. We recommend that people ask for a bottled water instead of the featured dessert; then you can put the water in your backpack and enjoy it later.

What About the Refillable Mug and the Snack Credit?

Some of the other enticements that come with the regular dining plan are the snack credit and the refillable mug. Let’s get the mug out of the way first. Unless you are staying within a few minutes walk of the refillable mug station at your resort, you aren’t going to use it very often. The mug does not work in the parks (well, it does, you just can’t get free refills) and it is only good at your resort. A great tip is to take your refillable mug to breakfast and grab your favorite beverage before you head out. Both of us have nice collections of these mugs that sit on our shelves for us to admire (our respective families don’t like that too much).

The snack credit can be very confusing to people. Most snack items range from $2.79 to $4.00. If you want to get the best value for your credits, then you need to keep an eye out for the snacks that are closer to $4.00. Otherwise, you’re better off paying out-of-pocket. You may also find yourself with a lot of your snack credits left over on the last day of your vacation. It’s not uncommon for folks to purchase goodies at the Main Street Confectionery at the Magic Kingdom before saying goodbye to Mickey Mouse to use up their remaining snack credits. But, if you’re visiting during the hot summer months, getting a bottled water for your snack credit (much like using it for your dessert!) definitely comes in handy. Having that extra hydration on a blazing hot day is a welcome relief in the Florida sun.

What it all boils down to is what you and your family are looking for in a Disney vacation. There is no right or wrong way to spend it, especially with the dining plans; it all depends on your family’s needs. Having the free dining as part of your vacation is an extra perk, and can only add to its enjoyment, even if you only use it for Quick Service Restaurant credits and snacks.

Here are the technical details for obtaining free dining for fall 2012:
Magic Your Way Package with Free Disney Dining Plan
Booking Window: 7/12– 9/29/12
Travel Window: 9/30–10/4, 10/19–11/1, 11/9–11/15, 11/23–11/29 and 12/10–12/13/12
Buy a non-discounted 6-Night/7-Day Magic Your Way Package at select Disney Value Resorts and get a FREE Quick Service Dining Plan, or at select Disney Moderate, Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resorts and get a FREE Disney Dining Plan.

Well folks, that’s the long and short of it. Purchase the right length vacation during available dates and you’ll get free dining at Disney World. Who’s hungry?!

By Jeff Heimbuch and George Taylor

Jeff and George are both Authorized Disney Vacation Planners with Fairy Godmother Travel.

They are happy to provide free, no-obligation quotes to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Adventures By Disney and Aulani.

Feel free to email them or call them. If you are interested in a package with Free Dining, they will need the following information:

  • First and Last Name of each person in the party
  • Age of each child at time of travel
  • Resort preference
  • Telephone Number
  • Dates of Travel

Jeff can be reached at [email protected] or 723-278-7404
George can be reached at [email protected] or 336-287-8114

About Jeff Heimbuch

Jeff has been in love with all things Disney since a very early age. He writes From The Mouth Of The Mouse and The 626 every week for MiceChat. He also collaborates on The Disney Review every weekend. Aside from that, he is one half of the devastatingly good looking duo of the weekly vid/podcast Communicore Weekly (the other half being fellow MiceChat columnist George Taylor), which you can find at Jeff is also writing a book with former Imagineer and Disney Legend, Rolly Crump. You can find out more about the book at

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  • Dusty Sage

    ‘Free’ and ‘Dining’ are two of my favorite words.

  • Fairy Godmother Travel

    I LOVE free dining–I like to try different foods that I would not normally try without it :) Also for Diet Coke-aholics such as myself the refillable mug comes in VERY handy for that first one or two (or three or. . ) mugs of morning eye opener

  • SpectroMan

    Another point to mention is that Free Dining requires paying full rack rate on the hotel rooms which are sometimes as much as 40% off otherwise. So, it’s worthwhile to calculate the difference in that cost vs. how much you would expect to spend on food per day.

  • tofubeast

    Dining Plan does not include gratuity, so meals (table service restaurants) aren’t really all paid for in advance.

  • waymire01

    I adore the free dining option. Not only is it a good savings, but it takes a load off your mind, especially when traveling with a lot of kids. One less thing you have to worry about. No more of the constant budget checks, or nasty surprises at checkout.. we know that portion of our spending is fixed.

    We find the souvenir refillable cups to be fantastic.. not only are they an instant souvenir which gets used at home until it falls apart at our house (I still have some from four years ago), but whenever you are at the resort it’s free drinks on command- any idea how many drinks the average six to ten year old can go through at during an afternoon at the pool? Now multiply that by four… you get the idea. We always fill them up when we return at the end of the day and stash them in the fridge, to satisfy any evening “thirstys”.

    The last time we stayed with Deluxe dining, I would not do that again. It’s just too much food, and scheduling table service meals all day is too time consuming (even though you CAN use the credits for counter service if you like). The standard dining is just right, one really nice meal and the rest on the go. If you are worried about time schedule early breakfast or late dinner, there are a lot of options before the parks open and after they close. The dining in the world is really top notch, we would never consider a trip complete without experiencing the amazing food and the actual experience involved in the dining experience- some of our favorite memories and photo ops were during our meals.

    If you want to stretch your dining, be aware that for us anyway, most counter service meals are easily split between two people, especially on a hot afternoon when most of us are not looking for a huge meal to begin with. We would tend to use one counter service set of credits for two light meals during the day. Where you eat makes a big difference as well- some counter service are no better than a snack bar, while others, like the BBQ at Animal kingdom, are much nicer and more satisfying.

    Another huge tip that has helped us tremendously is to purchase a filtered water bottle for each member of the group, and/or a supply of those little flavored water/koolaid packs to take with you. Really cuts down on spur of the moment drink purchases in the parks and helps to keep everyone hydrated.

    • waymire01

      One other tip to go along with those water bottles… we pack a fanny pack for each person with a selection of snacks every morning. Goldfish crackers, granola bars, that type of thing… along with sunglasses, Kleenex, and any other items they might need. Very helpful during the day, easy to carry even on rides, and a lifesaver when you have a hungry kid who needs a little “pick me up” right in the middle of a long line.

    • George Taylor

      Thanks for the comments!

      Those are some great suggestions and ideas. I never thought about filling up the mugs at night and keeping them in the fridge.