Free Dining is Disney's most popular promotion and there's a lot of competition to get 1 of the rooms that are eligible for the discount. Today I have tips on increasing your chances of getting it for your trip.
I also have a quick tip about why I might suggest making two sets of dining reservations for each day of your vacation.
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.
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Increasing your chances of getting Free Dining
Free Dining is a package promotion (meaning you book a hotel and park tickets) that's been offered for the last several years. I recommend booking more than 180 days before your trip and putting down only a deposit when you book (explanation on why I recommend that is below).
People often ask if they should include the Disney Dining Plan when booking and I'd suggest that you include it if you'll get it regardless of the promotion. If you only want the DDP if it's free, I wouldn't book it ahead of time.
Some tips for getting Free Dining:
You need to travel during the promotion dates
Free Dining is usually a fall promotion that takes place from late August through mid-December (with some blackout dates during that time). As long as you check in by the last date the promotion is offered, you should be able to use it throughout your trip.
People checking in before the promotion dates will need to book a split stay in order to use it (so you'd essentially end up with the the first part of your trip booked without Free Dining and the last part would include it).
Stay in a participating hotel
Most Disney resorts participate in Free Dining, although Port Orleans French Quarter and the Art of Animation Little Mermaid rooms are rarely/never part of it.
However, there are a limited number of rooms available at each resort so I'd recommend staying flexible when planning your trip in case you end up needing to switch to a different resort.
Take advantage as soon as the promotion is announced
Since the promotion is so popular, you'll need to take advantage ASAP.
One way to do that is to have a Disney Visa card which allows cardholders to book a few days before the general public.
In order to be notified of new promotions, I recommend signing up for the email alert list on the monthly dashboard for the month you're traveling and I will send you a message anytime a promotion is announced for that month, including Free Dining.
If you booked your trip with a Disney travel agent, they should get the discount for you and apply it to your existing reservation.
If you're handling it yourself, I recommend that you book a new package online since changing your existing package to use the new promotion will require a phone call and the phones are always super busy when it's announced. Once the phone lines quiet down a few days later, you can call to cancel your old reservation.
This is why I recommend only putting down a deposit when you book your first reservation ahead of time: so that you don't have lots of money tied up in a package that you may end up canceling and having to wait for a refund on.
Doing that will not have a negative effect on your dining reservations or any other reservations you've booked.
Quick tip of the day
Although early morning breakfast reservations in the parks have long been a good idea, I'm hesitant to suggest them since Disney has been changing park hours so the parks (especially Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios) often open up at 8 a.m.
Instead, I'd suggest booking a later time or booking 2 sets of reservations: 1 at 8 a.m. and another around 10:30 a.m. and then you can cancel closer to your trip once you know what the schedule will be.
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