Free Dining or room-only discount?

by Shannon Albert · 31 comments · Like the Facebook page

Free Dining or room only discount? from WDWPrepSchool.comLots of people are looking to save money on their Disney World trip which is smart. You should.

But too many people hope and pray and cross their fingers that the Free Disney Dining promo will be available during their dates.

Free food is awesome, no doubt. But you may be missing out on larger discounts.

Let’s take a look…

When you book a Disney World package, it consists of up to 3 things: hotel room, park tickets and an optional dining plan.

Two of those three things have discounts that are offered periodically – hotel room and dining plan.

The important thing when evaluating promotions is to view your package as an overall total and not the price of each component. So…you might get free dining, but how much is the hotel portion of your package?

The room-only discount often looks like this:

  • Save 20% at All-Star Music, All-Star Sports, Pop Century
  • Save 30% at Disney Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans Riverside, Coronado Springs, Animal Kingdom Lodge (standard view), Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, Beach Club, Yacht Club, Polynesian, Contemporary (not Theme Park view rooms), Disney’s Fort Wilderness, Old Key West and Saratoga Springs Resorts
  • Other resorts at 5%

For the Free Dining promotion, guests staying at Value resorts get the Quick Service Dining Plan for free. Everybody else gets the Regular Dining Plan.

Let’s look at how this works out when we break it down.

We’ll assume that the trip dates fall when both promotions are offered.

discount savings
Free Dining
Polynesian 2 adults $937.50 $721.56 Room-only
2 adults, 2 kids $937.50 $931.84 Room-only (barely!)
Coronado Springs 2 adults $374.40 $721.56 Free Dining
2 adults, 2 kids $374.40 $931.84 Free Dining
Pop Century 2 adults $146 $489.86 Free Dining
2 adults, 2 kids $146 $657.72 Free Dining

Obviously, Free Dining works out a lot of the time but not always.

People who should use room-only discounts

In general, people who should use room-only discounts fall into 1 or both of these categories:

  • People staying in Deluxe resorts
  • Guests whose eating habits won’t see the value in the Dining Plan (even if it’s free). If your style of dining doesn’t include using the credits that you get with the Disney Dining Plan, it may not make sense to use it. However, if you’re saving a substantial amount by booking Free Dining, even using just some of the credits can still work out to be a good deal.

People who should use Free Dining promotion

  • People staying in Value and Moderate resorts. In fact, I’d suggest a Moderate if you can swing it as the savings can be pretty substantial when you get the Regular Dining Plan for free (compared to the Quick Service Dining Plan at a Value).
  • Large groups – the more people staying in your resort room, the more you will save on Free Dining.
  • People who just like the convenience. The ease of not having to worry about dining costs during your trip might make it super appealing to visitors, whether it’s free or not. It does give you the feeling that you’re on an all-inclusive vacation when you’re paying with credits instead of dollars (don’t forget that tip isn’t included so you will need to pay for that).

There are lots of variables when determining the best option for booking a Disney World trip. Just be sure to do the math and figure out what makes the most sense for you.

Free Dining or room only discount? from WDWPrepSchool.comFree Dining or room only discount? from WDWPrepSchool.comFree Dining or room only discount? from WDWPrepSchool.comFree Dining or room only discount? from
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{ 31 comments (add yours) }

Lara January 20, 2015 at 9:12 pm

We have only been 2x to the world and have rented DVC points both times -paid for DDP, still way cheaper given how inexpensive a villa is compared with paying regular price through disney … however, when we go again next it will likely be at the time of the rundisney wine and dine half (and will be participating) and one of our kids will be considered an adult as 10 years old + so the dining plan is going to cost a LOT more money over the course of 8-9 days. do you think it might be better to stay in a moderate through disney booking and get the free dining plan? Related to that, when you register with rundisney for a race you get access to hotel discounts. If i was to take those, would it make me ineligible for the free DDP? thanks!


Megan Barnard January 20, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Is the free dining plan available (quick service) if you are staying at the Fort Wilderness Campground (camping- not in a cabin)? We have used the free dining promotion in the past at a moderate resort and loved it!
Thank you!


Lisa October 11, 2014 at 2:47 pm

I’m so glad that I’m not the only person that loves to do Mickey Math to ensure I’m getting the best value for our Disney vacation! Your posts have been a great saver today!!


Kathy September 19, 2014 at 11:53 pm

If we stay at the Holiday Inn in Disneyworld can we still get the dining plan?


Shannon Albert September 20, 2014 at 5:02 am

No, you can’t as that’s considered an off-site resort.


Randi Guire May 4, 2014 at 11:21 am

This is one thing I love about your site. I spent hours the other day pricing this out and you had all the work already calculated and clear for anyone to read. You have it all covered!! Thank-you for being my double check :)


mandi April 8, 2014 at 11:45 pm

Hi! Thanks so much for all the advice. It has been so helpful. I would like to ask…I have already booked the dining plan & ADRs…if the free dining plan is offered during the date of our stay will I be able to change to the free dining plan but keep my ADRs in place? How would I go about doing that if so.


melanie April 8, 2014 at 2:08 pm

I much prefer the free dining. My family have always been trying to get me stay off resort for our trips but no way for us. my reasoning is that we are die hard Disney fanatics. WE like to be there for first thing when doors open to when they close. I do not want to go back to a house to have to cook meals, hello I am on vacation. So with the convenience of the dining plan it is great. I have to say the food was good and we had a lot to chose from.


Scott March 18, 2014 at 6:42 pm

We are a family of 6 and did free dining last year and had a lot of credits left over when we left to go home. Would it work out cheaper to get 2 value rooms with the room discounts then add quick service dining to only one room? That way we just share meals and credits.


Julia March 18, 2014 at 7:14 am

Hi! Im wondering if I should book my Oct 2014 trip now with a room only reservation? Can i do ADR’s still? Id want to add tickets and dining later (hopefully free dining), but dont want to lose my POR preferred room? Would they need to release my room only reservation then rebook or can they just add on?


Shannon Albert March 18, 2014 at 8:39 am

When you book a discount, they are technically releasing and rebooking your room. You’d want to tell them that you’d want to keep the same room and hope there’s still availability.


Melissa April 14, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Hi Shannon! Sort of in line with this question above – do I need to have purchased park tickets through a package in order to qualify for free dining, or is the room-only reservation enough? I ask because we are coming with a conference, but NOT using the conference rate for rooms (in hopes of free dining for our mid-November trip – I know using the group rate would preclude us from the free dining offer), but we DO want to get the conference rate park tickets… not a huge savings, but a savings nonetheless.


Krista February 28, 2014 at 4:55 pm

I am a first time disney planner and am finding this all a bit overwhelming. If they offer free dining or 30% off of rooms after I book our December trip, can those discounts be applied? Thanks!


Cathy March 5, 2014 at 3:02 am

Yes they can :)


Lynn January 3, 2014 at 8:50 pm

First time staying on Disney Resorts and just wondering if there is free dining offered between Mar 2-9,2014? Or where I could find this out. Thanks


Karen October 7, 2013 at 5:27 am

I just joined AAA. Do they really save you money booking through them? I can save significant money on rooms by renting DVC points. We can stay at Animal Kingdom Villas in a studio for less than a value resort. Of course this doesn’t allow free dining if it’s offered. But the money saved on the room is huge.


Julius January 2, 2014 at 12:04 pm

If you aren’t going the DVC route, CAA/AAA discounts are pretty decent (in our case, they were superseded anyway by free dining). But, booking through CAA/AAA gets you a bonus package with your booking – free mini-golf, a discount card for the giant Disney store at Downtown Disney and free DisneyQuest tickets. Plus, if you drive down, you get a free TripTik which we found pretty valuable on our drive down from Southern Ontario.


Tina September 8, 2013 at 5:49 pm

We’re planning on going May 4-11, 2014 and I’m wondering if I should go ahead and book the AAA room only rate and then upgrade to a package later on? Do I have anything to lose doing it this way? We’re looking to stay at a moderate. Thanks Shannon your site is GREAT!!


Genette September 7, 2013 at 5:25 pm

I feel better now! :) I worried that I’d really messed up by jumping on Free Dining since we’re staying at Poly, but with 4 of us I just barely came out worse. :)


jay strauss March 20, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Planning on going to disney the first week of November, is this a time where free dining might be available? Thank you Jay


Jenny January 8, 2013 at 1:36 pm

I’m planning a trip more than 6 months out, and I have a few questions about the dining plan and ADR. I’m planning my trip during a time when there has traditionally been free dining promotions. Do I need to wait to book my package until the promotion begins, or can I book my park/hotel reservations early and then add on the free dining when it becomes available? Next, can I make my ADRs if I haven’t reserved a park ticket? I’m worried that we’ll move our trip dates around a bit to get the right hotel and free dining if we need to wait to book that together, but by then the ADRs might not be available. Thanks for putting this site together, it has given me SO MUCH information about my upcoming trip. It is exactly what I was looking for and more!


Shannon Albert January 8, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Hi, Jenny –
You should go ahead and book your package ASAP. You can always change it for the Free Dining promo later when/if that is available. Park tickets are part of the package so you’ll need to choose some when you book it. You could pick the cheapest tickets (base tickets) when you book and you can always upgrade later as necessary.

Hope that helps!


Jenny October 30, 2012 at 12:59 pm

I love the free dinning! But not for the food. I’m lazy and HATE standing in line to get autographs. So character dinning is the way to go. I mean seriously, they come to your table. I can sit, eat and the kid still gets her autographs. Now when she gets older, who knows.


Jodi Comm October 18, 2012 at 9:20 am

As a Mom who usually does all the cooking on vacation I welcome the DDP. With anything though it has it’s pros and cons. While I like the idea of sitting down in the air conditioning and relaxing while I am served:) it can sometimes be a little constricting in that with ADR’s you are on somewhat of a schedule. There have been times that we have had to walk away from an attraction that the kids were enjoying so that we weren’t late for our reservation. At the ages of 6 and 3 the more spontaneous we can be on vacation the better since the boys are all scheduled out the rest of the year with school and after-school care. Should I be selfish and go with the luxury that I enjoy in the DDP or go with the flow while there and grab a hot dog and popcorn the ENTIRE time:/ ?


Shannon October 18, 2012 at 9:27 am

Even if you don’t do the DDP, you can still eat at restaurants. And even if Free Dining isn’t available, you can always pay for the Disney Dining Plan. I’ll be getting a Tips in Wonderland card which gives food discounts and doing it that way. Lots of ways to go about it.


Tina Jenkins October 18, 2012 at 10:53 am

Also consider doing the quick-service plan or booking your “planned” (with the Dining Plus) meals for breakfast or the first thing after your afternoon nap.


Tina Jenkins October 18, 2012 at 7:27 am

Be prepared to have extra credits, as you probably will. With that being said I plan to use my snack credit to purchase items that can go back with me as gifts bags of Disney candy and bagged popcorn. If you have extra meal credits don’t be afraid to ask if you can use them for snacks, you can’t always but it is worth asking.

We will be going for a long trip with Deluxe Dining so I planned for two signature meals (Castle and Hoopty Doo) might as well enjoy the dining options instead of wasting credits.


Reddy October 18, 2012 at 7:22 am

how many people & what ages did you use on the example??
my boys are teens so they count as adults so I think I’ll save even more


Shannon October 18, 2012 at 7:32 am

The example shows that I used a group with 2 adults and then 2 adults with 2 kids. The kid prices I used were for kids under 10. You’re right that you will save even more.


Elizabeth Kyle October 17, 2012 at 11:37 pm

We are a family of 6 and have found that the dining plan, whether free or not, works best for us. We usually go for the Dining Plus so that we can try out different restaurants arou d WDW. Of course we always book our favorites as well. Also, we have found that having a dining reservation most days kept us from snacking a lot during the day because we were looking forward to a great meal. We do however end up with extra snacks and sometimes a couple of counter service meals to use up on our last day. Once, we went all the way around The World Showcase (EPCOT) stopping in each country and trying a little snack, to use our extras on our last day. That was really fun for the kids! (And us too)


Shannon October 18, 2012 at 11:36 am

That’s really fun – snacking around the World.


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