2020 Free Dining at Disney World Predictions
Last year, Walt Disney World surprised everyone by releasing Free Dining in January before releasing two subsequent waves of discount dates and hotel room inventory later in the year. The same happened again at the beginning of this year with the popular Disney Dining Plan promotion.
Prior to that, Walt Disney World historically dropped its Free Dining promotion at the beginning of the last or second to last week of April. With that ‘traditional’ date now in view and many Walt Disney World fans eager to book something for this Halloween or Christmas season, many are wondering whether that might come soon.
For our part, we’ve been discussing the prospects of a second wave of 2020 Free Dining since the very beginning of this year. Unsurprisingly, there have been a lot of reader questions about this, and our consistent answer about a subsequent release was that we felt it was highly likely. Perhaps it’s time to rethink that…
The first thing we want to do is once again reiterate that Walt Disney World does not offer any promotion out of corporate generosity. The Disney Dining Plan is given away for to incentivize guests to travel at times of year that have historically lower hotel occupancy rates.
Moreover, there’s no such thing as a free lunch–you receive the Disney Dining Plan for “free” because you pay full price for your hotel room and park tickets. (A bit tangential, but this is also why Free Dining is often not such a great deal. For many families, taking the room-only discount is superior. Always do the math, because the comparative value varies based upon resort, party size, and eating preferences.)
The main motivation behind Walt Disney World offering Free Dining for summer travel dates the last two years is to fill hotel rooms during what has become a less busy time of year. Once again, Summer Is No Longer Peak Season at Walt Disney World.
Last year, there was the added motivation of the “pre-Star Wars Land Lull,” which is basically the phenomenon of guests postponing trips until Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened. It’s for this same reason that the new land ended up debuting in two phases, with the first half opening during the early fall in an ineffectual attempt to buoy off-season occupancy rates.
This year, it’s not quite as clear why Walt Disney World released Free Dining so early. With both Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure set to open in advance of or during the summer season, it took us by surprise that Disney wouldn’t wait to see organic booking levels prior to discounting. Our best guess is that the discount release stemmed from Disney’s desire to best its year over year numbers.
Regardless, it has seemed relatively likely from the beginning that September, plus parts of November and December (at minimum) would also need a boost to their hotel occupancy numbers. Hence a second wave of 2020 Free Dining, just as was offered last year.
This was even before Walt Disney World closed indefinitely. We won’t rehash all of our predictions here–you can see “How Bad Will Crowds Be at Walt Disney World After Reopening?” and “Will Huge Discounts be Offered When WDW Reopens?” for that. In summary, we anticipate both lower crowds and more aggressive discounts this fall and holiday season.
In fact, when the 2020 Free Dining Recovery Deal was released to Walt Disney World guests whose trips were postponed or cancelled, we speculated that this same offer would eventually be made available to the general public. Suffice to say, we’ve been pretty vocal and consistent in predicting more 2020 Free Dining.
However, this was before it became abundantly clear that Walt Disney World would have to significantly change some of its practices upon reopening. (See our What Operational & Health Safety Changes Will Walt Disney World Make to Reopen?)
While we can quibble and speculate as to which of those altered operations will actually come to fruition, reduced restaurant capacity is pretty much an inevitability. Per the federal government’s Guidelines for Opening Up America Again, a three
That means increased spacing between tables, which in turn reduces restaurant capacity. We’ve already seen this play out in some places, where it has meant every other table going empty or significantly increased spacing between tables. Given that some tables are practically on top of one another at Walt Disney World, it’s safe to anticipate one-third to half of dining capacity removed at each restaurant.
In turn, this means that the limiting factor for a second wave of 2020 Free Dining could be table service restaurant capacity rather than hotel occupancy rates. In our view, there will be plenty of the latter, but perhaps not as much of the former–especially with seating potentially cut in half. (This doesn’t even taken into account buffets, bars, and lounges that might have to more radically adjust–or not operate at all.)
As we covered a few days ago, Walt Disney World has already reduced the FastPass+ inventory for summer travel dates. Right now, it appears that FastPass+ selections are being significantly limited until Disney cements a plan for operating attractions at reduced capacity and/or managing queues.
It stands to reason that the same would happen with Advance Dining Reservations for table service restaurants. However, in over a dozen searches for Advance Dining Reservations on a variety of dates, I don’t see any red flags.
There are plenty of options at most restaurants, including some you might not expect under normal circumstances. For many dates, only a few restaurants aren’t options. Perhaps I just got lucky, but with how “unlucky” I got with FastPasses over the same period, I’m guessing not.
To me, this suggests a couple of possibilities. First, that Walt Disney World has not yet reduced table inventory for restaurants in the online reservation system. Alternatively, they have but restaurant reservations are already so low that it hasn’t made any difference. (For the sake of everyone using the Disney Dining Plan, here’s hoping it’s the latter!)
From the outside looking in, it’s impossible to know which is the case. What we do know is that Free Dining normally distorts ADR availability. In a normal year, it’s common for there to be slim pickings for ADRs in late August or September. This inevitably leads to questions from readers about whether crowds will actually be heavy during a time that’s predicted to be off-season.
Our answer is always that the crowds will not be heavy. “Restaurant crowds” operate at a disconnect from overall crowd levels during Free Dining “season.” While we don’t know what percentage of guests at any table service restaurant in the months of August or September are normally taking advantage of Free Dining, my educated guess would be “more than half.”
If that’s true (or close to it), and if Walt Disney World reduces table service capacity by around half, that could preclude another wave of 2020 Free Dining. Conversely, there’s also the possibility that Walt Disney World will be so eager to fill hotel rooms and sell tickets at full price that they will offer another wave Free Dining, and figure out the capacity details later (or not at all). Finally, if across-the-board demand plummets (and we anticipate that being especially true for sit-down dining), this potential problem may naturally work itself out and not become an actual issue at all.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that we really don’t know what will happen at this point. A month or so ago, we would have (and did!) confidently predicted more Free Disney Dining Plan deals in 2020. In fact, probably a couple of waves. Now, there are more variables at play, and while Free Dining remains a lucrative discount that Walt Disney World offers for its own selfish reasons, how its restaurants operate could be a limiting factor that prevents another round from being released.
While we stand behind our prediction that Walt Disney World will run aggressive discounts for this summer and beyond, Free Dining might not be among them. Regardless of what ends up being released, we don’t expect any deals to drop until Walt Disney World leadership has concrete plans for how it’ll operate the parks, resorts, restaurants, and more. That’s probably not happening by the end of this month. In other words, you should temper your expectations and be patient if you’re waiting on a great deal before booking your next trip.
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What do you think will happen–will there be a second wave of 2020 Free Dining for the general public, or will Walt Disney World stick to other discounts that don’t unduly burden restaurants? Think a reduction of table service capacity will pose problems for Disney Dining Plan users? Are you apprehensive about doing sit-down dining at this point? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!
UK free dining was due to be released first week in April (a cast member confirmed this when I rescheduled even recommended u hold off re booking by a week to wait for the free dining offer) however it didnt happen and there is still no sign of the offer being released. I have heard it is officially on hold with Disney because they dont have the staff to deal with the uplift in calls it would cause. On that basis I dont think USA offers will also be released for the time being.
Well, unless I am mistaken, it seems Disney announced last night, or this morning, that they are done until 2021. So that puts to rest all of the speculation about deals and how that many people can gather while we are still going through this. I think they see this isn’t going to be over anytime soon, and consumer confidence about being out and about, particularly in places that draw large crowds will lag even farther behind the reasonable end of this. With uncertainty about whether there will be another outbreak in the fall, I think they have made the prudent, although costly, decision to pack it in until this once in a lifetime event, inflicted upon us by the communist Chinese regime, is hopefully one day completely in our rear view mirror (i.e. after a successfully tested vaccine is available), and they can hope to attract the crowds that make the parks worth being open for. I guess we’ve got some time to save and plan for a 2021 desperately needed fix of Disney in a brave new world! Keep the excitement coming at least to our inboxes though Tom!
Disney has made no such announcement.
There’s a been a widely circulating story about a Wall Street analyst who **thinks** Disney won’t reopen until 2021. The story has been circulated on many news sites. Here’s USA Today’s version: https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/experience/america/theme-parks/2020/04/21/coronavirus-stock-analyst-predicts-disney-parks-wont-reopen-in-2020/2998426001/
Disney Blogs and YouTube channels are desperate for content right now. The more dire the prediction, the more views and clicks they get. Until there’s an announcement from Disney itself, we just don’t know.
Here comes $20.00 Mickey Bars!
I’m booked with my husband for mid-September. I keep hoping with everything that I am that we will have a treatment or a vaccine by then. I still want to believe in magic (though, my reasonable, adult brain kicks in and I hear, “good luck with that.”) We always book ahead with hope to receive the free dining. It’s how I make the trip financially manageable. Make payments through the year, incorporate free-dining and boom – we’re going. If they are not going to roll it out to the rest of us, I really hope I know soon to know how to plan.
Disney is losing millions upon millions of dollars every day and they’re very aware of the confidence they’re losing with the public for lack of information. I see many comments from Disney Parks fans here wanting to know why Disney won’t communicate their plan, release dates, tell people what’s going to happen, etc. I’m in senior management in a large government agency and I have daily conference calls and webinars with local, state and federal officials. Plans are changing on a weekly basis for those “in the know” because nobody really is “in the know”. I’m a Disney Parks fan myself, and my family and I have made many trips to Walt Disney World. I totally understand how you feel, because I would feel the same way. I’m just telling you, Disney doesn’t yet know what they’re going to do. But I’ll bet they’re trying really hard to figure it all out.
Well said Dave. Disney, just like everyone else, really has no idea what sort of a time frame is reasonable. Therefore, I think they put that to rest finally, by announcing they are done until 2021. It is disappointing, but prudent, and it addresses all of the issues you so correctly point out. Now that the speculation is over, they can go about the business of speeding up construction on projects underway, address things that they want to in a much easier fashion than they would ever be able to while the parks are open, and live to fight another day with hopefully no controversy about their plans, intentions, and how to put all those people in the parks safely. And they won’t be enticing folks who may be willing to throw caution to the wind to do just that. Disney is the master of PR, even when it may seem they’re not, which isn’t very often, and it seems they are heading off problems again with this apparent decision.
Stop it with the bs. Disney had made
No such announcement that they are done until 2021. If they have then I suggest you prove it because it has been covered NOWHERE except in your deluded mind.
How is this ever going to work??? Disney will not tolerate 50% or more reduced capacity since it is a profit driven corporation Currently Disney going back into operation is a Pipe Dream!!!!
Tom, Thanks for your insights. As a Brewery owner who has had to lay off 297 team members / close friends, finding an email in my inbox from you brightens my day more than you know. I know how you love to travel and this must be a difficult time for you, (as it is with all Americans right now) but we all appreciate you keeping our spirits up, and keeping us informed about the place that makes us all smile. I just read you lovely descriptions on Takumi Tei to my husband for something different to do, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t wait to make an ADR ASAP.
This was super informative. Thank you. Would you say for a family of five (2 kids over 13 and 1 kid is 8) that free dining is Smarter than a hotel discount? We’ve done two trips with free dining. I didn’t consider that a hotel discount could be a better option.
If you’re all staying in the same room, Free Dining is absolutely better for your family–at all resort tiers. If split between two rooms, it depends.
We have 9 going in Nov. 5 adults, 4 kids 16 and under. How do you feel about free dining vs room discount (2 rooms at Beach Club)
Two thoughts: (1) I suspect the fall version of free dining won’t be as generous as that offered to cancelled guests–it’ll probably revert to 4-day hoppers rather than 2-day base ticket, and won’t be offered on every room category. I think Disney recognizes a lot of guests were nervous to book this summer and more comfortable booking this fall, which is why they gave a “special” form of free dining only until Sept. 30. (2) Our summer restaurant lineup, booked well after 180 days, is shockingly good. Even Cinderella’s Royal Table is still available at peak dining times on most days of our trip. I’ve candidly never had an easier time booking reservations just a few months in advance. I think the only explanation is that bookings for this summer are very, very, very low. People have been scared away by the disease and/or operational changes. It’s going to be a quiet summer at WDW.
Agreed on both points.
What “Special” form are you referring to in your blog?
The thing I keep coming back to is how on Earth will they be able to hold the Food&Wine Festival? The crowds that generates even just from locals is pretty high. How the heck can you social distance AT ALL during an Epcot Festival? And no one is even thinking like I am, that they will have to cancel it. You can remove tables and control crowds in restaurants, even counter service, but not at a festival. Guess we shall all see!
If it does happen, I think Food & Wine crowds will ‘self-regulate’ to a large degree. (Honestly, I’m expecting a lot of the problems to simply resolve themselves.)
Central Florida’s economy is going to be decimated by this. How many locals who just lost their jobs are going to show up and spend $50 on food samples?
Tom, I’m unclear what you mean by crowds self-regulating. From what I’m seeing in my community in the northeast is people not distancing themselves like they are supposed to. Sometimes it is because of physical space limitations but also it is because people are just wired to be close to one another to communicate, to do money/credit cars transactions etc. I just don’t see how a theme park can operate under current restrictions. I see maybe a third wearing masks and they push them down to speak. It’s kind of a joke the whole thing with the exception of actually staying at home.
What I mean is that with 20+ million people unemployed and plummeting consumer confidence, there’s going to be significantly less demand for a vacation destination that costs several thousands of dollars to visit.
Love WDW & travel to go visit every year but won’t risk going there or anywhere in the USA this year. Not even for free. Health risk too great.
Do you think the parks will be open in August? More specifically the Halloween parties? Thinking of visiting one of the party dates and wondering if it’s worth booking or wait it out till next year. Thanks!
Hi Tom – any thoughts on UK free dining for 2021? It’s usually announced by now and would go live in a week or two – seems like it’s been delayed by everything that’s happening, but do you know if it’s coming or outright cancelled?
Last year we booked for this May with free dining and also $300 worth of gift cards for booking early in the promotion. We were hoping for a similar promotion to go live before we have to reschedule for next year.
I should also say – it’s not like other discounts are replacing free dining. We looked at our equivalent dates (2nd Saturday in May for 14 nights) in the same hotel (Coronado Springs) year on year and it was over Â£400 more expensive, and that’s before including the dining plan we had free for 2020. Right now, for us at least, Disney are doing the opposite of agressive discounts!
I wouldn’t expect any aggressive discounts (or many deals at all for that matter) to be released until there’s a reopening plan and date.
More likely, discounts won’t be released until shortly thereafter. It’ll take WDW a bit of time to get an idea of what demand actually looks like, and do some internal occupancy forecasting.
I’m just wondering, if Disney indeed has to limit the amount of seating at restaurants, what is going to happen to all those table reservations already made for the fall? Are they going to be cancel last minute or force to be rescheduled? We have a trip planned for end of August/beginning of September (taking advantage of the free dining plan) and still waiting to see if it’s going to be worth it to spend all that money with so many restrictions probably coming to the parks
That’s the question. There’s going to be a lot of changes and restrictions to the guest experience and Disney needs to explain their intentions. Especially those who are considering trips during summer months- especially June. Disney is going to be dealing with a lot of miserable guests if they get there and the trips they’ve paid thousands for aren’t honored as planned…. I think all guests want is an honest answer so they know how to plan or not plan…
The restrictions will be temporary and gone by September but the fear is real not to mention the number of people that were financially devastated by this, socthey will be offering deep discounts to get people in.
I don’t think anyone knows what the restrictions will be in September. You might be right, but then again we might have a bad resurgence and WDW is shut down again, or somewhere in between. I know everyone wants to believe it’s going to be over soon, but past pandemics have had multiple peaks. Would love for us to get lucky with this one, but . . .
I do agree that the financial damage is going to be severe for visitors, cast and Disney. How awful we don’t know, but tens of millions of people out of work in just a few weeks isn’t something our country has ever dealt with before. So restarting everything would be a challenge even if C-19 magically disappeared tomorrow.
“…if Disney indeed has to limit the amount of seating at restaurants, what is going to happen to all those table reservations already made for the fall?”
Hopefully, Disney already has limited ADR capacity going forward. (I have my doubts about that.) For the few restaurants that would already be filled above 50% for summer and fall travel…hopefully (again) there are enough cancellations to get them below the threshold?
Otherwise, I don’t know what the solution will be. I suspect it’ll be one that makes a lot of planners unhappy, though.
The issues here are if they cut capacity in restaurants that only makes crowding more of a reality. If they cut the number of restaurants that will be open the same. If they cut the functionality and capacity of parks as well that creates crowding in those areas that are open and thus creates more problems. If they do all of the above, many will probably stay home leaving Disney with a numbers problem and money flow problem. I can’t see Disney making money on a very limited park opening. They either open up everything with limited numbers of people capping it to only a certain amount of people that have booked for their opening and beyond with no further RSVP or not at all.
Beyond the seating issues, kitchens are not known for having lots of free space. How the cooking staff, and the wait staff picking up orders, can maintain separation is yet another tough issue for Disney. Add to that the heat in most kitchens making protective equipment miserable to wear . . .
We’ve just booked beachclub for Feb 2021 and was hoping to get free dining. Do they ever have dining options in mid/,late Feb.
I could see it going either way.
With reduced availability at the restaurants with less tables why would Disney add to the problem by doing free dining? You have many who had to reschedule their trips and that will cause an upswing of sorts for those going there the rest of the year who rebooked. They deserve the free dining for rescheduling, but there will be greater than normal crowds due to the rebookings.
On the other side, I personally will not be returning to any amusement park until a vaccine is proven and widely available. I will need medicines for prevention and treatment, too. About the only enticement for me to return would be free dining under these circumstances. However, restaurant reservations would have to be available. If everything gets booked up quickly then free dining may not matter if it’s too hard to get a reservation.
do you think Disney will extend the free dining offer to those affected by the cancellation. Currently, you can get free dining from June to September if your trip was cancelled due to COVID. That offer was made several weeks ago. Now that it looks like opening the parks will take longer, do you think they will extend this offer through October (or longer)? Just curious, I had to re-book a trip but could not do so till October.
THIS. We’ve got ADRs and FPs for a June 12-19 and we’re waiting to see if they give us some sort of incentive to reschedule or if we’re just going to cancel and reschedule when Disney gets real about what guest experiences will be like post pandemic. I LOVE Disney and the magic of Disney but I can’t see how with a furlough of their employees which just started that they believe it’s possible to reopen all of Disney as before on June 1. It’s completely implausible and everyone knows it. I think Disney needs to offer a compensation to people who have paid out for trips and Disney intends to use as guinea pigs in their less magical now somewhat weirdly apocalyptic version of Disney or at least be honest on what they can expect when they get there…everyone knows there’s going to be a weird non magical version of reopening, it’s the elephant in the room. I wish Disney would address it. Til then we’re just sitting here waiting, hoping we’ll get some honest direction.
Our trip is planned for about the same period as yours. If for some miracle they do open fully we intend on going.(we don’t think the risk is as bad since the numbers don’t show it) Regardless, we also aren’t going to waste our money or time if Disney isn’t fully functional. Given that this will take time Disney needs a plan quickly in order to inform guests of what they can expect from their trips. As yet we haven’t gotten any response from Disney regarding our trip or Dining reservations and made all Fastpass+ reservations about a week ago no problems. I don’t think Disney is opening by June 1 as most indicators point to. And to be honest the ideas most people have speculated on are near impossible for Disney to accomplish without being a complete waste of money for vacationers aside from the logistical impracticalities they pose. Disney would have to open fully or not all IMO
It would almost be worse for Disney to open in a partial way. Fully closed, they can have the rides in a maintenance only mode, and keep their employees furloughed. Opening, even half opening, means bringing back lots of CMs and operating whichever rides are open at full capacity. While this would be great for the CMs, both actions create greater expenses than staying closed. At the same time, you could have massively less crowds of people coming to the Parks, either fearful of the virus or (more likely) not wanting to pay full price for half the experience. Disney actually could lose more money by opening partially.
I’ve read elsewhere that Disney thinks it’ll take at least 2 weeks to get the Parks ready to reopen. The rides have never been idle for this long. Sitting idle is not a good thing for machines. Every ride will have to be to be inspected and checked out to make it sure it is safe. The first thing you’ll need to hear is the maintenance crews going back and starting that process.