10 lessons learned from Free Dining – PREP127

Free Dining is a crazy popular promotion, but things don't always go the way people think the will.

Today, I have 10 lessons we can learn from Free Dining, along with lots of news and a quick tip of the day.


These are notes from this episode. There's much more info included in the audio so be sure to listen to the episode for a better explanation.

10 lessons learned

  1. Existing hotel reservations don’t help you when promotions are announced. Promotions have certain availability. New vs. existing reservations have the same chance. Might want to make a reservation beforehand to make ADRs, but only pay the deposit.
  2. Promotions are created for less busy times and many dates in fall aren’t unbusy anymore. Supply and demand.
  3. Compare apples to apples. Upgraded rooms and tickets might end up costing too much. (And, no, Disney didn’t increase prices just before releasing Free Dining.)
  4. Room-only discounts might save more money. You'll have to do the math.
  5. Online is usually better than phone. Free Dining was released online at 4 a.m. eastern/3 a.m. central. Phone lines open at 7 a.m. eastern and had long wait times and disconnected calls. Website has some issues, but you can always try to book a new reservation online and cancel the old one later.
  6. If booking a new reservation while also having an old reservation, use a different browser or clear cookies/cache in your existing one.
  7. If modifying an existing reservation, click the “change reservation” link, then try to change all elements of your reservation to find the promotion. Don’t see the change reservation link? Hit refresh.
  8. However, you can’t change package reservations online if you have Memory Maker. Might wait to add it after promotions are released. Travel insurance and Magical Express can cause issues online as well.
  9. Flexibility with resorts, rooms, and dates will help. Don’t book flights until after a promotion is released. Have backup resorts in mind. As long as you check in during promotion dates, you can get it for your whole trip.
  10. Be careful when choosing an agent. They need to be up early, and make sure they’re following promotion rules. No guarantee they’ll get you Free Dining or any other promotion though.

News

  • Toy Story Mania third track opens Memorial Day weekend. That just means that the ride will have more capacity, and therefore shorter lines.
  • Soarin' Around the World at Epcot opens June 17. FastPass+ is now available.
  • Frozen Ever After and the new Anna/Elsa meet-and-greet at Epcot are also opening in June, but no specific date was announced.
  • New Star Wars fireworks at Hollywood Studios are coming in June.
  • Finding Dory characters are coming to Turtle Talk with Crush at Epcot in May.
  • Tiffins restaurant at Animal Kingdom opens Memorial Weekend.
  • Mickey's Royal Friendship Faire, a stage show at Magic Kingdom, begins in June.
  • Though Rivers of Light at Animal Kingdom has been delayed, "The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic" has been confirmed to begin Memorial Weekend while they continue to work on Rivers of Light.
  • Updated park hours for May, September, October, and November were released this week (here's what changed). AK extended until 11pm starting May 27. Some FP+ for later AK hours have recently opened up.
  • TheDIBB’s FastPass+ link is no longer active.

Quick tip of the day

Jedi Training Academy signups have recently been allowed before Hollywood Studios opening time. Look for the separate line for that at the entrance.

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Jules

Why only pay a deposit?

Kristen Darbonne

After my experience with the free dining promotion I get the distinct feeling disney opens free dining in tiers. Here is my experience:

Before free dining came out I booked a finding Nemo suite at AOA. Once free dining was announced I immediately got on the phone, but by the time I was able to get someone they only suites available for free dining was Cars. I didn’t want Cats, but I took it. We also have family traveling with us who are staying at pop century, they also had no availability there. I checked each day…for days only cars was available for free dining. After about 4 days there was suddenly availability for free dining in lion King suites. So I switched to that. For another several days it said only these two suites. Also nothing at our family’s resort choice. Finally, Nemo suites came available for free dining. And also at my family’s resort pop century. I get the feeling disney releases in tiers in order to fill their less popular hotel rooms first.

Patty

I had memory maker added to my reservation and was still able to change my reservation and add the free Disney Dining.

Virginia Irvine

Thank you for all the work you put in to this site. I’ve been following along, doing the research, following release trends, and was able to catch the Disney dining for the dates and resort I wanted. When I called to cancel my previous reservations, the Disney agent said she was just happy she could help someone that day. The availability was running out quickly and she already had to disappoint people. If it weren’t for all the information I found here, planning this trip would be much more stressful. I have to agree though that booking the resort early didn’t help as I had to upgrade to a better room to qualify for the promotion.

Alison

Does Disney unblock additional rooms? We got free dining but not at a resort we wanted (all star music) for the week before the dates we wanted. We were originally booked at CBR but moved resort and dates get free dining. With a family of 5 including a teen it seemed like free dining was worth it. Now I kind of regret it but can’t get my dates back at CBR. Will more rooms open back up? I ended up moving everything after being on hold for hours. I felt like I had to get some kind of discount at that point!

Kelly Reinhart

I was able to book free dining at CBR for the last week of September just this past weekend. I have checked everyday for a deal since it was released and one finally showed up for my dates at a moderate that sleeps 5. We had to upgrade to preferred but still saved a ton.

Carla

Keep checking back online and calling! I had to switch to a resort I didn’t want either just to get the free dining. I called back every day and on the 4th day, a room at Pop Century had opened back up! So I ended up with free dining at the resort we wanted!

Nicole Wright

Amazing podcast, Shannon! And thanks for the quick tip! Jedi Training Academy is an obligatory item for my little Star Wars fans – especially with the new villains to battle! I’m going to book a breakfast ADR and hope this early sign up is still available for our trip in November.

Michael Quimby

Concerning the Jedi training signups, does that mean my Disney Jr. Play ‘n Dine Character breakfast no longer gives me an advantage by gaining early entry to HS? How early should we get there to sign my boys up for it? We have pretty much dedicated the whole day to HS in hope that we can do the training and we are going in July. Thanks for the membership options by the way! We are gold level members and the tools are so helpful!

Christina Jarrett

This Jedi Training Academy change is great for me. I have been stressing out about not being able to get an 805 rez for at least the adult and three kids who want to do it. I will be there in June, so here’s hoping they keep that up for about… oh six weeks! 😀 I hope to see you there at the start of your awesome month long Disney extravaganza! Thanks for all you do Shannon, your site has been invaluable to my planning and I love the new members site and planning tools.

Tara

Last year when we booked our package early in the year, your info was invaluable as promotions were released over time. We followed your advice & only paid deposits on our multiple packages (large family group). We were flexible with our resort and our dates to an extent. Initially we didn’t get the free dining, but after a couple of weeks from when it was released, I called back and GOT LUCKY, and was able to take advantage. I think the key to success is really about being flexible and rolling with it. Your lessons are spot on and saved us a bundle over the group of reservations! Thanks, as always!

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