Best Disney World Resorts for Free Dining

Ah...how I wish I were relaxing at this pool right now. Coronado Springs Resort Review: http://www.disneytouristblog.com/disneys-coronado-springs-resort-review/


Free Dining was just released for Disney Visa cardholders, and will be available for the general public later this week. Free Dining is Walt Disney World’s most popular promotion of the year, and while we often caution guests to do the math because Free Dining isn’t always the best discount (there’s no such thing as a free lunch!). However, for many people, it is the best promotion that Walt Disney World offers.

The reason we encourage people to do the math when it comes to “Free” Dining is because with Free Dining, you have to pay full price for your hotel room and purchase a minimum 2-day non-discounted park ticket. This means you forfeit a potential room only discount and you can’t purchase discount Walt Disney World tickets. “Free” is an incredibly persuasive marketing term, and because of that many guests fail to realize that a room-only discount at a more expensive hotel might be a better discount for them. A couple of light eaters staying at the Grand Floridian, for example, are unquestionably much better off with a 30% off room-only discount than they are with Free Dining.

Conversely, a larger traveling party staying at a less expensive hotel is going to be much better off with the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion. This post will take a look at a few of our top picks for places to stay during the Free Dining promotion. Note that several hotels are blocked out of Free Dining this year, and since those aren’t options, they aren’t recommended here.

Let’s take a look at our top picks!

Pop Century

Bowling Pin Pool at Disney's Pop Century Resort with larger-than-life Lady in the foreground.Read our Pop Century Review: http://www.disneytouristblog.com/pop-century-review/

We’re not going to fixate on this one. We recently ranked the Walt Disney World Value Resorts, and Pop Century was second behind Art of Animation. With the Little Mermaid rooms blocked out at Art of Animation, the best non-suite Value Resort becomes Pop Century. That’s our sole basis for recommending it.

Note that guests booking Value Resorts only receive the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan during the Free Dining promotion. For that reason, we really only recommend Pop Century if you’re on a very tight budget and have only 2 people in your room. If that doesn’t apply to you, read the Coronado Springs section below for our highly recommended “upgrade.”

Coronado Springs

Some gorgeous lights provide great nighttime ambiance at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort. Our review of Coronado Springs: http://www.disneytouristblog.com/disneys-coronado-springs-resort-review/

Of course, the cheapest way to get Free Dining is to book one of the Value Resorts. In fact, with four people in a Value Resort, you’re basically getting the hotel room for free (depending upon how you allocate costs). However, you’re getting the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan as opposed to the standard Disney Dining Plan. We don’t recommend this lower tier plan, and paying ~$18/person per night to upgrade to the standard Disney Dining Plan isn’t always the best move. By the time you pay the upgrade costs, you might already be pretty close to the cost of a Moderate, which offers the standard Disney Dining Plan during the Free Dining promotion by default. Why not pay $10-20 more per night for a much nicer hotel?

In our full Coronado Springs review we described it as having the nicest rooms of the Moderate Resorts. Quality-wise, Coronado Springs’ rooms seem on par with many Deluxe Resorts. While this isn’t true resort-wide outside of the rooms, it’s definitely more upscale than other Moderates, likely because of the convention crowd to which it caters. Because of this, and because Port Orleans Resort Riverside (our favorite Moderate Resort) is excluded from Free Dining this year, Coronado Springs is our top pick.

In addition to the nicer rooms and overall quality, Coronado Springs is a good choice during the Free Dining promotion because of its counter service restaurant, Pepper Market. We love Pepper Market, which has become one of our favorite counter service restaurants at Walt Disney World. More importantly, it’s one of the best uses of counter service Disney Dining Plan credits. That means that it has the most expensive entrees, so you get the most bang for your buck out of those credits. Even if you aren’t directly paying for the Disney Dining Plan during Free Dining, you’re indirectly paying for it, and it’s good to get mileage out of those credits!  

Fort Wilderness Cabins

Fort Wilderness is really a beautiful resort, with some of the last vestiges of the

This one really only works if you have 5 or 6 people in your traveling party, or if you really like the theme at Fort Wilderness. Unlike the campsites, the cabins are eligible for Free Dining, and since they are technically considered Moderates, that means the standard Disney Dining Plan for up to 6 people. This is the same number of people that can sleep in an Art of Animation Suite at almost the exact same price point, but the Art of Animation suites only get the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan. Deluxes can sleep 5 people, but they’re all more expensive (and 5 is obviously less than 6).

Fort Wilderness definitely is not for everyone, but it is one of my favorite resorts at Walt Disney World, and has a unique character unlike any other resort. When I was growing up, we often stayed at Fort Wilderness on our family trips. It’s one of the few vestiges of the original “Vacation Kingdom of the World,” and really doesn’t feel like a hotel. For many people, that will be unappealing. However, while the theming is natural and Fort Wilderness is an undisturbed bastion of wilderness, Disney guests never are truly “roughing it,” as the Fort Wilderness Cabins are very nice. 

For parties of 5-6, we think Fort Wilderness is always a good value, but this is especially true during Free Dining with the Moderates that sleep 5 being blocked out. Unless you really dislike the theming at resorts like Wilderness Lodge, we highly recommend Free Dining. That’s doubly true if people in your party like rustic theming, or activity like fishing, boating, or camping without having to truly “camp.” If you are considering the Fort Wilderness Cabins during Free Dining, book early. The number of cabins are limited, and often book quickly.

Animal Kingdom Lodge/Wilderness Lodge

Kidani Village at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge is a great place to relax and soak up incredible ambiance. Plus, it's home to one of our FAVORITE Walt Disney Word restaurants: Sanaa!Sanaa Review: http://www.disneytouristblog.com/sanaa-review/

These two resorts are often lumped together in terms of theming, even though they are much more distinct from one another than, say, BoardWalk Inn and Beach Club. We aren’t lumping them together due to a misunderstanding of theming, but instead because they are Deluxe Resorts, each sleep 5, and are typically the cheapest of the Deluxe Resorts. In terms of value maximization when taking advantage of the promotion, that puts them in a special class.

Strictly speaking, they are not the cheapest options during Free Dining, even if you have a party of 5. However, there is a difference between “price” and “value.” Something might be the cheapest from an objective perspective, but subjectively, guests may not find that it offers the best value to them, because it doesn’t comport with their needs or preferences. There are plenty of deal-seeking guests to whom luxury is important, so staying in an Art of Animation family suite or the Fort Wilderness Cabins may not exactly be appealing. For those people, these are our Deluxe Resort picks for Free Dining.

So, which to choose? We love both, but that doesn’t help you much in deciding between the two. You might be restricted to what’s available. These are also popular choices during Free Dining, and in doing some random searches, we’ve already found that “Standard View” rooms for each are already sold out for many Free Dining dates. With that said, we would recommend Animal Kingdom Lodge if you’re visiting during earlier Free Dining dates because of its superior dining options (The Mara, Boma, and Sanaa are all highly recommended when on the Disney Dining Plan; we love Jiko, but since it’s a 2-credit Signature Restaurant, we don’t recommend it on the Disney Dining Plan). If you’re going during the December Free Dining dates, go for Wilderness Lodge, which you cannot beat at Christmas.

Tramp at Disney's Pop Century Resort. Review: http://www.disneytouristblog.com/pop-century-review/

Obviously, everyone is going to have their own favorites for the Free Dining promotion. This list is based entirely on our subjective determination of “best value,” and doesn’t take into account other variables that might come into play, like personal preference. We feel you can’t really go wrong with any of these choices, but if you prefer resorts like, for random example, Caribbean Beach and Yacht Club, don’t hesitate to book those on our account. Whatever you do, just make sure to do the math before you book, because Free Dining is not always the best deal!

Planning a Disney trip during the Free Dining promotion? Read our other Walt Disney World restaurant reviews and Disney Dining Plan resources.

For more dining news, discounts and special offers, and tips, subscribe to our newsletter

Your Thoughts…

What do you think? Which is your favorite hotel to book during the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion? Are you a fan of Free Dining or do you generally go for a room-only discount? If you have any questions or additional thoughts, please share them in the comments!

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46 Responses to “Best Disney World Resorts for Free Dining”

  1. Brianne A says:

    I love the Fort WIlderness Cabins! Them being included in the free dining plan is great, the cabins are more homey feeling to me than the other resorts especially the value resorts; they aren’t as flamboyant but have a great rustic charm that reminds me of camping when I was little. I would only get the value resorts if they had a package or room-ony deal, for the extra $18 you can pay to stay at the nicer resort AND get the better dining plan. Pepper Market is an awesome place to eat however so I think people will have a hard time choosing between the cabins or Coronado Springs!

  2. Kacie says:

    We went in April with a 30% off Disney promo stacked on a 20% off Cheaptickets promo. Bought our discounted park tickets separately and paid for our meals as we ate them.

    For our party of 5 (me, husband, and 5yo, 3yo and baby) that was the best way for us. We only had 2 table service meals, and ate all breakfasts in the room with food we brought from home.

    But for our next trip in a few years, I can see how FD might be a better promo for us, especially if we add some character meals (none this time).

    ALWAYS RUN THE NUMBERS! :)

  3. Robyn says:

    I am heading to Disney for the first time with my daughter and husband this October and this site has been EXTREMELY helpful for me in planning just about everything.
    You seem to be spot on with recommendations from a “real world” person not trying to sell anything and I am so appreciative of that! Thanks for posting this as it really does help!!!!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Not trying to sell anything?! For the low introductory price of $99.95, I will sell you my patented Disney Vinylmation cleaner. Act now and get 3 bottles for the price of 4. Limited time offer–time is running out! ;)

  4. Bethani says:

    Tried to book at Coronado and they are booked soild except for the king suites! Caribbean Beach it has to be. Wish POR was part of it.

  5. Don Livingston says:

    My family doesn’t use free dining since my kids are 11 and 13 and not big eaters. We go the room only discount route. My last trip to Pop almost changed my mind though. I felt like we spent a fortune on food between the Pop and Art food courts. I may reconsider on the next trip.

  6. Jennifer B says:

    My husband and I have gone to WDW for the past 5 Septembers, but have always been on a really tight budget and stayed in a family timeshare with discount tickets for the week. Since this is the last September before our son starts school, we wanted to do it big. Through a room only discount might have been a bit more economical for us, we booked CSR with free dining within an hour after the offer went live for Visa holders. Though we are only moderate eaters, I’m excited to show my husband why I always talk about all these restaurants being so popular and getting to explore things we usually would NOT splurge on. I’m also excited that free dining will let us live like kings for the last trip we will be able to take as a family for a while. I grabbed ADR’s on our 180 day mark and I couldn’t be happier with what we have booked!

    Thanks for your help, Tom. This site is great!

  7. Kevin says:

    In the past ~1.5 years since we had free dining, but delta in cost between the QS and the regular plan has increased and the delta between Coronado and Pop seems to have gotten smaller. That makes the match much more interesting.

  8. Samantha says:

    We are heading to WDW in November for our honeymoon and planning to split our stay between Pop and either Beach Club Villas or Bay Lake Tower to take advantage of the free dining during the majority of our trip. We are thinking of getting a CAA membership to possibly get a room discount as well. Any idea if it is even possible to get both discounts?

    Love your blog! We tried to take your advice on renting DVC for the trip but unfortunately the resorts we wanted weren’t available.

  9. TC says:

    I was already with my argument as to why CS was NOT the best Moderate.. until I saw that POR is not included in the new FD deal. (blushing) That is a shame! We vacationed there last October w/ FD in a Royal room and LOVED it!! We personally feel that FD is the way to go.. but we also take major advantage of character meals!! hahaha

    Jealous of everyone planning trips this year.. enjoy the new Seven Dwarfs coaster!! So lucky!!!

  10. Kylie says:

    We were in WDW last September and booked for this September on a bounceback! It was SO nice to know we had Free Dining since last year and didn’t have to participate in the madness of watching out for it this year.
    We’re staying at the Wilderness Lodge. We stayed there last year and absolutely fell in love. It was our first time truly staying deluxe (I’d stayed at the Dolphin before, but I don’t really count that ;) ), and everything was perfect. The transportation, pool, the restaurants, our room, our view. There’s a very peaceful feeling in the WL that just really makes you feel like you’re on vacation in the middle of nowhere. Yet, it’s SO close to the MK and reasonably close to the other parks. We love taking the boat to the MK & CR. This trip we have a dinner booked at Trail’s End (a terrible value on the DDP, so we’ll be paying OOP with Disney Visa rewards) and I can’t wait to take the boat to FW!
    POR used to be our standby favorite, so I’m glad we were booked at the WL this year. A shame it’s excluded from FD.

  11. Kevin in Dallas says:

    I booked a room via Disney Travel for Art of Animation–we have a family of 6 and this is one of the only properties that we can all stay in and is in my price range. However, we usually go mid Dec and take advantage of the free meal plan. This year, we are going the week of Thanksgiving which is not included in the meal plan (ugh!)–what are the odds that I can find a discount.btw..I am holding the room with the 200.00 deposit. Just curious as I was counting on taking off at least $1500.00 off the total cost! Thanks for tips!

  12. Jennie says:

    Far and away the best blog for all things Disney! Thanks for all your insight, your gorgeous pics, and great advice. Trip number one for me & DH in September!

  13. Jody says:

    Hi Tom, regarding options for parties of 5 and free dining for many dates from September through December, note that the deluxe studios at the Villas at Wilderness Lodge are included in the free dining deal and will now accommodate a party of 5. These units were completely renovated in early 2014, and a murphy bed was added to the studios to increase the max party size from 4 to 5. Though it is nice to have it as an option, it is a more expensive option than Riverside would have been a cheaper option for parties of 5, had they included that in the deal. The studio option at VWL is in the same price range as the cabins at Fort Wilderness.

  14. Robyn says:

    I am on the phone trying to get through for free dining as week speak. I have been redialing for over an hour. Does any one know if free dining is still open for those staying at pop?

  15. Lizzie says:

    Wow getting through is going to be hard. I already booked my room just need to modify. Not sure if I should just wait.

  16. Alisha says:

    I have a hotel only reservation that I made with my AA miles that I have been saving up forever. Its at Caribbean Beach resort for 2 adults and 2 infants and my dates are within the free dining windows. I called Disney to add my park passes & free dining today but they said I had to go through AA. It doesn’t look like AA can sell me park passes and they don’t know about the dining plan at all. Does anyone have any experience adding free dining to reservations made through 3rd parties like AAvacations? Its not really discounted tickets so I hope I can get the free dining added on – I worked hard to accumulate those miles!

  17. Amanda says:

    Your article had me intrigued so I looked into Coronado Springs and it’s at least $70 more a night for our dates 10/30-11/4.

    We’re staying at Pop. We’ve never purchased a dining plan, but decided to try the much anticipated Free Dining offer because it knocks 500 off our package. I agree, in a nicer hotel, a room discount is better, but for 116 a night, knocking $96 a day off our package price is a pretty good deal. And with a 4 year old and 18 month old, we’re not feeling too ambitious about sit down meals anyway. One character meal is probably about all we have in us. Our 4 year old doesn’t eat a ton, and we love finding a deal on a quick service meal (read lots of bang for your buck), so I’m sure we can feed the baby on our leftovers.

    How are people getting a moderate that cheap?

  18. Maria says:

    We are booked at Port Orleans Riverside in November. I was excited to hear about the free dining but now see our hotel is excluded. We need one room for 5 and another for 2. Not sure if we should switch resorts? A room for 5 seems to be the issue. Any suggestions?

    • Sherri says:

      Try the Boardwalk. We have 5 persons in our group, Since one is 12 years old, he get the pull out bed.

  19. Susan says:

    Took advantage of free dining last year. We had 5 people for seven days. It saved us a bundle, and we had a ton of snack credits left that we used to ‘purchase’ packaged Wdw treats as souvenirs for friends back home.

  20. Yvonne Paradise says:

    I need to confess, I tricked my dad into free dining…He wanted only 3 days in the park, and we eventually settled with 5 days w/ park hopper, but no fun restaurants. When the visa email came out, it said 6 nights 7 days, and I didn’t tell him it could be adjusted, I wanted fun food by golly. Now if we could only get him to get on the reservation bandwagon, and actually look at the menus to see if there’s something he would eat. I hold my head down in shame, but I am having to spend a day in LegoLand for this trip.

  21. Susan Hastings. says:

    Ok did the math even staying in two rooms at the Shads of Green the DVC key west two bedroom villa for 8 over 10 and one child was a better deal….with free dining. And that was eating dinner for 26 a person at shades of green…it was almost break even…now we can all stay in the same suite which is more fun for us and we don’t have to budget for dinner and lunch…time to plan what parks for which days. And make dinner reservations….we will upgrade our 3 day tickets for florida residents annual pass ( the upgrade has to be a more expensive ticket). And before they expire next year. We will go again with a room discount … Susan florida resident first disney visit 1972…. Remembering abcde tickets.

  22. Amber says:

    Hi. We are visiting WDW for the first time in September. We were recently booked to be staying at the moderate Port Orleans Riverside resort in the princess theme room. However when the free dining plan was released and available on our travel dates I decided to upgrade resorts. The Port Orleans was not included in free dining. The wilderness lodge was one of my top picks but out of my price range when we originally booked. The free dining let me upgrade with no extra charge. I think the quick boat ride to Magic Kingdom will make the trip a little easier since we have 2 girls and will spend most of our time here. I’m not sure I did the math to get the most bang for our buck though? I am now left wondering if we should have moved our reservations to the moderate Caribbean beach resort since it was included in FD. I may have got a little money back.

    • Sherri says:

      We were booked for Port Orleans riverside when this came up. I changed to the Boardwalk. Figured the money I was saving on food I could afford the upgrade. Plus boardwalk is only a 10 min walk to Epcot and a 15 min walk to Hollywood. I sold the idea to my husband when I told him the hotel is so close, we can return mid day for naps.

  23. Traci says:

    I would love some help. This is my first time to WDW, I have a 4 year old, 7 year old and a 15 month old when we travel Late Sept. to early Oct. We are doing the free dining, but deciding weather to do Pop Century or for a little moe All Star family suite, for the cheapest and upgrading the dining since we have to have Character meals, or going with a moderate at Coronado or Wilderness or the deluxe Animal Kingdom or Wilderness Lodge… What would you suggest?? Really not sure how any of the hotels are, but would love some guidance. Thank you.

  24. Tricia says:

    We are taking our first CHRISTMAS trip to WDW. We are DVC members and trying to decide if I want to change my 6 days at Wilderness Lodge to 4 days Bay Lake and 2 days Animal Kingdom??? any thoughts. Also, any suggestions on hopper pass discounts??? We are traveling Dec 20 for 6 nights, does the Free Dining work for me??

  25. Lianne says:

    you can get the regular dinning plan at the Pop Century (or another value thats participating in the offer) all you have to do is pay a small fee which ends up being cheaper than staying at a moderate and getting the dinning plan.

  26. theresa says:

    We tried to book a WDW vacation for Nov 9th all hotels offering free dining are booked. Will they be opening more rooms for this free dining offer.

  27. Becky says:

    I was looking into booking a free dining offer in Early November, but all the value resorts are full. Does anyone know if more rooms become available if people cancel or something along those lines?

    Thanks!

  28. Margaret says:

    I booked a two week Animal Kingdom Lodge as an add on to a month long trip taking in Miami, a Caribbean cruise and then Disney. I purchased at my own expense the quick service dining. I arrive 22 October and depart 5 November. If I ask to upgrade my dining would I qualify for free from 26 October or do I just pay difference in cost. Might add my entire month’s holiday with premium flights, transfers etc is costing less than Disney now quoting for AKL so I’m not to worried about free but want to change my dining plan as I have reservatios for restaurants I planned to pay for anyway.

  29. MeganC says:

    Hi Tom!!

    First off, I’m a huge fan of your blog. I was just in Disney World at the end of May and I used your site extensively to plan my trip – which was awesome :)

    My question for you is this: do you have any special credit cards that you use to get points at Disney or for travel in general? Travel is a top priority for me while I’m young, so I want to stretch my travel budget as far as possible. Thanks for all your tips, tricks, and dining recommendations (Sanaa was OUTSTANDING)!

    Cheers,
    Megan

    • Tom Bricker says:

      We have a litany of credit cards–all of which we pay in full each month. From hotels to airlines to general purpose cards like Chase Sapphire and others. We each have ~5 credit cards we use on a regular basis depending upon the circumstances.

  30. Jackie says:

    We stayed at French Quarter 3 weeks ago. Bedspreads at French Quarter have been upgraded to a swath of fabric across the bottom of the queen size beds.

  31. Christina says:

    I booked my trip before FD was announced. I was a bit annoyed because I was hoping for low crowds while I was there. But was relieved that the resort I booked (Port Orleans-Riverside) was excluded. I’m hoping this means the resort isn’t completely overcrowded.

    For me (and my situation), Free Dining just doesn’t make sense. I couldn’t see giving up a discounted room for it. I booked at about 35% off room rate for Port Orleans Riverside and was happy with that. I can see the draw for others, but if you keep an eye out, Disney does do quite a few discounts throughout the year.

    I wonder if POR is going to continue to be excluded in the future. We are doing MNSSHP this year, and I was hoping to return next year for Christmas for MVMCP and wouldn’t mind being at a less crowded resort if my trip falls during Free Dining.

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