Free Disney Dining Plan is a promotion Walt Disney World offers every year for select dates in the fall and winter. If you’re wondering about 2017 dates, we now have some (predictive) insight thanks to the Free Dining “bounceback” offer that was released for Summer & Fall 2017 dates (see below for details).
As of March 28, 2017 (the date this post was last updated–see the bold update section below), Free Dining had not yet been released for the general public. Last year, the promotion was released on April 25. However, we anticipate rumored dates around late March 2017, with the promotion becoming available by mid-April 2017. At this point, we expect booking for dates August through December 2017.
Sign up for our newsletter to be alerted as soon as we hear anything about 2017 Free Dining dates at Walt Disney World. Jumping on this promo early is important so you take advantage before room categories/hotels sell out. We generally receive info about Free Dining before it’s announced and immediately pass that along to our newsletter readers so you can get a jumpstart on preparing for Free Dining.
As of right now, the only announcement for Free Dining concerns the bounceback offers. These are offers available guests can only book while they are on a trip. Bounceback offers are not available for the general public to book. The Free Dining bounceback for 2017 includes the following check-in dates:
- May 30 through June 6, 2017
- June 30 through July 5, 2017
- August 11 through September 9, 2017
- December 8-20, 2017
These dates are…uh…interesting? Let’s go with interesting. Historically, Free Dining has been a fall/early winter promotion, and these dates would see to show a marked shift towards summer travel dates, which makes sense given observed trends. However, I don’t think that tells the whole story. Rather, I think this is aggressive discounting (which we recently predicted) for early summer, and a wait and see approach for the remainder of the year.
We anticipate significantly more dates will be added to the public offer once it becomes available in Spring 2017. The big takeaway here should be the unprecedented early start date, not the lack of September-November dates. These dates should be construed as a good sign for Walt Disney World bargain hunters, not a bad sign.
While our predictions are obviously just that, and all of this is subject to change based on occupancy trends and projections, we expect to see the public offer include more dates in September and November, with October being a wildcard. (October has slowly become a busier month at Walt Disney World, and Free Dining dates in October may be a thing of the past.)
March 28, 2017 Update: Yesterday, new room-only discounts were released for this summer at Walt Disney World (travel dates: May 28 to August 31, 2017). Last year, this room-only discount was released almost two weeks earlier, which has some readers questioning whether Free Dining will be similarly delayed.
It’s possible. Prior to this, Disney had moved up discount release dates almost across the board since last fall’s promos. We were told by reliable sources that the rationale for this was because hotel occupancy rates were down for the beginning of this year. We were also told that occupancy numbers are/were low for the summer and much of the fall (with a few exceptions), but this intel is now a couple of months old.
Our guess as to the reason for the delay with this summer room-only discount is that Walt Disney World wanted to see what bookings looked like after its media blitz on ABC with Good Morning America, The View, The Chew, and Nightline all doing extensive promo for Pandora – World of Avatar in early March. This is just speculation–we have no source–but it would certainly make sense. Walt Disney World has taken similar ‘wait and see’ approaches in the past, so there’s certainly precedent.
We are uncertain of how all of the marketing for Pandora has impacted summer, fall, and winter occupancy numbers. We are also uncertain of what other marketing plans Disney has up its sleeves for Pandora in the next month or so that might cause it to further delay a release of additional discounts. Based upon timing, it seems like the early March blitz was probably the last push for Pandora prior to it opening (those programs “coincidentally” happened to air about the average amount of time before the start of the summer season that the average guest would book a trip to Walt Disney World).
By now, Walt Disney World has probably seen the bulk of the promotional value out of marketing the new land that it will see until Pandora – World of Avatar opens officially on May 27, 2017. A significant media buzz will follow that, and likely help with bookings to some degree. However, we would be downright shocked if Disney waited until then (essentially mid-June) to release Free Dining. What seems more likely is a Free Dining release around the normal time, but possibly in two waves with late-summer dates first followed by fall and winter dates in mid-June. Alternatively, it all might be released at once, but with a lot of room inventory held back for the fall dates.
For now, consider all of this update (marginally) informed speculation. We’ll try to figure out whether it has any basis beyond speculation, and keep you posted as we hear more…
On a separate point, a reader sent me a message they received from a travel agent who heard from Disney (how’s that for a game of telephone?!) that Free Dining will be released April 17, 2017. While I cannot definitely disprove this, I will call BS on it. Travel agents are not given advance notice of promotions by Disney (not even district managers at Disney Destinations receive more than a 1-2 day heads up) and even if they somehow managed to hear something through the grapevine, it would not be so far in advance.
It doesn’t matter if the travel agent is Earmarked or what kind of “status” they have. That’s not where reliable info leaks out from–and it would be completely unprecedented for it to leak out this far in advance. This April 17 date is almost certainly an educated guess (and as far as those go, it’s a pretty decent one based on historical data), but the likelihood that is based in fact rather than supposition is extremely low. Then again…that’s just my opinion. 🙂
March 20, 2017 Update: This serves as an update to the March 1 update below…
The $75 gift card is not being offered to new bookings as of March 19, 2017. Existing bookings made prior to that date will still receive it, but it’s unclear as to whether those existing bookings that have Free Dining applied to them will receive both. We don’t really know what to expect with this, but think there are three possibilities…
First, Free Dining is not offered for Caribbean Beach at all because so many people took advantage of the gift card offer. Second, Free Dining is offered, but there’s no ‘double-dipping’ with gift cards–as soon as the reservation is modified to obtain Free Dining, the gift card is forfeited. Finally, Free Dining is offered, and double-dipping is allowed with existing reservations.
All of these are possible. The problem the first two pose for Disney is mass cancellations at Caribbean Beach. Many guests booked Caribbean Beach under the gift card offer in anticipation of receiving both Free Dining and the gift card. If that doesn’t happen, there will be a ton of cancellations, and Disney is back to square one trying to fill the resort during construction.
These problems don’t mean Disney will choose option #3. In fact, at this point, we think it’s a toss-up as to how Disney will deal with Caribbean Beach during Free Dining. As such, we are recommending a ‘wait and see’ approach if you already have a Caribbean Beach reservation. Once Free Dining is officially announced, cancel and book elsewhere if option #1 or #2 occurs.
March 1, 2017 Update: Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort is currently undergoing extensive construction through late 2017 (more details here) and as such, is offering guests $75 per night (per room) in Disney gift cards for booking there. What does this have to do with Free Dining? We have heard multiple reports of Cast Members indicating to guests that they would be eligible for both Free Dining and the $75 discount if their reservation falls within the Free Dining dates.
These reports are very much anecdotal, and those Cast Members could be wrong. Or, Cast Members on Disney’s reservations line could have been given an FAQ script about Caribbean Beach Resort’s construction, and that FAQ could include an answer to this question. At this point, we do not know for sure.
If what these Cast Members have told guests is true, this makes Caribbean Beach Resort the most cost-effective option for Free Dining. When you factor in the value of the gift card and Disney Dining Plan, the nightly rate is close to $0 for a party of 2 adults. Add more people, and your party is literally being paid to stay at Caribbean Beach.
Because of this, we’d highly recommend booking (or having your travel agent book) a reservation for Caribbean Beach Resort now if you’re traveling during the anticipated Free Dining dates above, and modifying your reservation online once the promo goes live. If (and this is still a very big if) guests are allowed to double-dip, Caribbean Beach Resort will sell out quickly.
Free Dining FAQ
With this special offer, Walt Disney World guests booking vacation packages with non-discounted resort hotels and park tickets receive the Disney Dining Plan for each member of their party for no additional charge. For obvious reasons (who doesn’t love free food?!), the promotion is incredibly popular and some resorts that offer free dining tend to sell out quickly.
Typically, there are the room exclusions for the Free Dining promo; most commonly, the following are exempt: All-Star Movies, Bay Lake Tower, Port Orleans Resort Riverside (except the first set of dates), Port Orleans Resort French Quarter, Fort Wilderness campsites, Art of Animation Little Mermaid Rooms, all 3-bedroom Villas, Villas at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort (except Studios), and the Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, are all not eligible for Free Dining.
To take advantage of Free Dining, there’s also the requirement that guests purchase at least 2-day tickets that include either Park Hopper or the Water Park Fun & More option, or both. Additionally, a 3-night minimum stay is required with a maximum stay of fourteen nights. This means you can’t purchase discounted Walt Disney World tickets from an authorized reseller, which is something to keep in mind when doing the math to determine if “Free Dining” is a good value for you.
When Free Dining becomes available, we recommend booking online (or contacting your travel agent) as soon as possible, as some popular/low capacity resorts book up fast. If you need personalized help with planning any aspect of your vacation, or want someone to book the Free Dining promotion for you and provide other assistance along the way–we recommend contacting a no fee “Authorized Disney Vacation Planner” (Disney’s term for a travel agent) to get a quote and to help you plan.
Here’s why we recommend using vacation planners. They get their commission from Disney, so none of the authorized (key word) planners will charge you for booking their trip and helping. Here’s one such recommended Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. They will help you get the most out of the Free Dining promotion!
If you are wondering which hotel to book for the Free Dining promotion, check out our new Best Walt Disney World Hotels for Free Dining post. It gives our preferred option for each resort tier! Oh, and don’t forget to make some ADRs for the best and most popular Walt Disney World restaurants.
With this Free Dining offer, Value Resort guests receive the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan during the promotion. Guests at Moderate and Deluxe Resorts receive the standard Disney Dining Plan. Upgrading to higher tiers is possible for an additional charge.
If you have–or are considering–booking Free Dining, we highly recommend making Advance Dining Reservations as soon as possible. Yes, even before Free Dining goes live. Everyone gobbles up the good ADRs quickly for Free Dining dates, so if you don’t book early, you will be stuck eating counter service or unpopular restaurants for the duration of your trip.
To answer some other common questions: yes, you must purchase tickets with the offer even if you already have them (or an Annual Pass). No, bookings made with Disney Vacation Club points are not eligible for the offer. No, you cannot “stack” this offer with a percentage-off room discount (at least not in the U.S.).
Note that the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion is always based upon arrival dates. For example, if Free Dining runs August 23 to October 1, and you arrive on October 1 and stay until October 13, you are eligible for Free Dining. However, if it’s offered November 15 to 21 & 26-28 and you arrive on November 22 and stay until November 29, you are not eligible for Free Dining, even though more of your stay falls during an “eligible” period than the first example’s. The work around for this is doing a “split stay,” with the ineligible arrival nights part of one vacation and a second vacation starting at the first valid “arrival” date and continuing thereafter.
Guests staying at a Walt Disney World Value Resort receive the Quick Service Dining Plan during the Free Dining promotion, but are able to upgrade to the (standard) Disney Dining Plan or the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan if they pay the difference. Guests staying at Moderate or Deluxe Resorts may upgrade from the standard Disney Dining Plan to the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan by paying the difference, too.
The upgrade cost to go from the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan to the standard Disney Dining Plan is $19.57 per adult and $3.81 per child per night. The Deluxe Disney Dining Plan upgrade cost from the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan is $70.95 per adult and $16.45 per child per night. Guests at Moderate, Deluxe and Deluxe Villa resorts could upgrade to the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan for $51.38 per adult and $12.64 per child per night.
For details about which tier of the Disney Dining Plan includes or for recommendations about which restaurants to book to maximize your use of the Disney Dining Plan, please see our comprehensive Disney Dining Plan Overview Page!
In the section below, we have historical dates for the last few years. The rest of what follows is info about the promotion from last year…
The following is not pertinent to 2017 or any years beyond, but we have found that readers find it useful to have details about past Free Dining promos when planning for the future and what to expect. Note that the dates are pretty consistent from year to year, with slight shifts for holidays, weekends, and special events (like Pop Warner), or other things that may be excluded from the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion.
Last year, there was no early booking window for Disney Visa cardholders, but there was an expanded date range (see below). The two years before, Disney Visa cardholders did have an early booking window. Exact dates are listed below. Most years, the general public is able to book Free Dining packages 5 days after Disney Visa cardholders can book.
In years past, Free Dining has been announced in late April, with booking opening first for Disney Visa credit card holders and the general public a few days later. Last year, there was no early window for Disney Visa cardholders. However, that August 14 start date is arguably a better perk.
Here are the Walt Disney World Free Dining dates that were available for 2013-16 for historical reference…
2016 Free Dining Dates:
- August 23* through October 1
- November 15 through 21
- November 26 through 28
- December 10 through 21
*Disney Visa Cardholders and Canadians could book for arrival dates beginning August 14.
2015 Free Dining Dates:
- August 28 through October 2
- October 25 through October 31
- November 8 through November 19
- December 15 through December 21
2014 Free Dining Dates:
- August 31 – October 3
- October 26 – November 1
- November 9 – November 20
- December 12 – December 23
2013 Free Dining Dates
- September 2 to September 25
- September 29 to October 2
- October 18 to November 2
- November 11 to November 23
- December 12 to December 22
Other Free Dining Posts & Resources
If you plan on getting the Disney Dining Plan check out these other Walt Disney World posts:
Want more dining tips? Check out our 101 Delicious Walt Disney World Dining Tips. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews.
Planning other aspects of a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help.
For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know! Now, let’s hear from you. Are you a fan of the “free” dining promotion? Have any tips for free dining rookies? Let us know what you think of the promotion and whether you’re planning on taking advantage of it in the comments!