Free Disney Dining Plan is a special offer that’s a great Walt Disney World vacation package discount. This covers promo info, tips for booking, historical dates, predictions & rumors for 2023 Free Dining, and answers to frequently asked questions including whether Free Dining is “worth it.”
For starters, the bad news. As of January 2023, the Disney Dining Plan is still “temporarily” suspended at Walt Disney World. In When Will the Disney Dining Plan Return?we forecast timing for its comeback, as well as our rationale. It’s a good read that explains why the Dining Plan is integral to Walt Disney World and offers our prediction as to when it’ll return.
It should go without saying, but the return of the Disney Dining Plan is a necessary prerequisite to Free Dining returning. The deal adds another layer to that analysis, as the annual promotion is a huge driver of hotel bookings. If you want to be notified immediately when the return of the Disney Dining Plan or Free Dining is announced, sign up here for our FREE Walt Disney World newsletter.
The good news is that normalcy is returning to Walt Disney World. Most restaurants and resorts have now reopened, with only a handful of hotels and dining options still shuttered. Those that have yet to return likely will within the next few months, and we expect dining capacity to largely be restored by Spring 2023.
The bad news is that the pace of progress has stalled. This is driven by a variety of factors, all of which are covered in the aforementioned article about the return of the Disney Dining Plan. On that note, here are some predictions about the return of Free Dining at Walt Disney World…
2023 Free Dining Forecast & Rumors
While we’re reasonably optimistic about the return of the Disney Dining Plan sometime in the first half of 2023, our expectations are not the same for Free Dining. There are several reasons for this.
First, the Disney Dining Plan will likely only return in paid form for at least a few months, giving Walt Disney World time to test and adjust the program and manage restaurant capacity. Going from nothing to Free Dining is like having your first time driving being in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Accordingly, there’s likely to be a lag between the announcement of the Disney Dining Plan returning and Free Dining being offered again. If we had to guess, there will be a gap of at least a few months. That would put the return of Free Dining in around March 2023 at the absolute earliest if the Disney Dining Plan’s comeback were announced next week. Both of those things are unlikely to occur.
Whenever that announcement does happen, Walt Disney World will assess forward-looking booking trends and occupancy rates to determine what level of discounting is necessary and whether it’s feasible to offer the Disney Dining Plan. If that were to occur right now, it wouldn’t be good news for Free Dining in 2023.
Walt Disney World regulars have undoubtedly noticed that discounts have been weak for the last year. As we’ve said repeatedly, Walt Disney World does not offer discounts out of corporate generosity. Deals are used to incentivize on-site stays, fill unsold rooms, and increase hotel occupancy numbers. And that’s a problem right now.
Accordingly, it’s likely that Walt Disney World will offer “Free Dining Lite” or “Half-Free Dining” as we’ve come to call Walt Disney World’s other marketing gimmicks that trade on the name recognition of the Free Dining offer. Officially, these special offers go by various names, but the most common are “kids eat free” or “stay, play, dine & save.” Expect something with that language to be released by Walt Disney World in the coming weeks, potentially for travel dates in Summer and early Fall 2023. If that happens, we will not see the real Free Dining until at least 2024.
We’ve been tracking limited hotel availability at Walt Disney World, and this “issue” continues in 2023. Certain resorts and room categories are sold out entirely for select dates this spring. That’s partly a matter of pent-up demand and partly a result of most resorts not booking to capacity since they’re short-staffed.
Deals are weak because Walt Disney World does not need to discount in order to book-up available rooms. Right now, that means no room discounts for the general public, and limited ones for locals.
As we’ve written several times in the last few weeks, we’re optimistic that there will be better Walt Disney World discounts later in 2023. There’s a chance this past holiday season was the “last hurrah” for pent-up demand; as that starts to fizzle out, household savings decreases, inflation starts stinging more, and the economy slows down, it seems increasingly likely that Walt Disney World will experience its own slowdown.
Who knows if any of that will actually happen, though. I didn’t think “revenge travel” would run this hot for this long. It’ll be interesting to see how all of this actually plays out. The return of international guests in full force could sustain Walt Disney World’s strong demand even longer, as could special events.
It’s also likely that Walt Disney World will finally be able to hire enough housekeepers, bus drivers, cooks, and other understaffed positions in order to increase guest loads at the resorts. No one knows how many rooms are currently out of commission at the operational resorts, but at some of them, it’s a lot. In any case, less demand coupled with more supply is a recipe for greater discounting.
However, it’s highly unlikely that Walt Disney World will go from “zero to Free Dining.” It’ll be more incremental, with Disney trying to offer the least attractive deals as possible to full rooms. Again, Walt Disney World doesn’t offer deals out of generosity.
In other words, even the “best case scenario” is that it’s going to take a decent amount of time before Free Dining is released. In fact, it’s entirely possible that Walt Disney World won’t offer 2023 Free Dining at all. If a smaller offer is sufficient to fill hotels during the late summer and early fall off-season, Disney will have no incentive to offer the full Free Dining. October through December are busy as-is, so barring a recession, Free Dining is highly unlikely to debut during those months.
In short, it’s way too early to offer any sort of predictions for 2023 Free Dining dates. There are so many moving parts and variables at play. In addition to demand and resort capacity, there are questions about opening dates for TRON Lightcycle Run, Moana’s Journey of Water, and more. There’s also new and returning entertainment, with Happily Ever After coming back to Magic Kingdom and a new nighttime spectacular replacing Harmonious at EPCOT. All of that will help drive bookings.
With that said, there are a couple of dates you might want to pencil in on your calendar. The first is January 5, 2023 and the second is April 18, 2023. Based on historical data, these two very specific dates are when Walt Disney World’s next round of deals are mostly likely to be released.
There is almost no chance whatsoever of Free Dining being released on January 5, 2023. I’d put it at less than a 1% chance of happening. Nevertheless, the first discount release of 2023 will provide a window into occupancy numbers, and insight into Disney’s thinking with regard to discounting for the year.
Another positive development that could occur that same week is an announcement about the future of the paid Disney Dining Plan. I don’t think this is likely, either, but it has a better than 1% chance of happening, at least!
As for an announcement of Free Dining on April 18, 2023…that also feels relatively implausible at this point. It really depends upon what happens with occupancy and demand in the next few months.
There’s an outside chance that Walt Disney World will need to act fast to increase bookings, but there’s absolutely no recent precedent to suggest that’ll happen. Note that this is most definitely not a rumor. It’s more like (very) wishful thinking.
If nothing happens by April 2023, the next likely timeframe for Free Dining to be released is mid-July.
At that point, we’d be looking at travel dates in Fall 2023. Likely August through December 2023, with normal blockout dates and exclusions (see below). It should go without saying, but it’s way too early to offer concrete predictions about Walt Disney World discounts almost a year into the future.
In any case, we do expect Free Dining to return by Fall 2023 or early 2024. It’s an incredibly attractive discount from Walt Disney World’s perspective. Not only do guests love it, but Disney also loves it because it guarantees hotel stays and ticket purchases while also decreasing the likelihood that guests venture off-site. It’s truly a win-win discount and one that Disney will undoubtedly bring back as soon as it’s practical.
That could mean Free Dining returns by late spring of next year for Fall 2023 travel dates, or by late 2023 for mid-2024 travel dates. We’d be surprised if Walt Disney World does not bring back Free Dining before mid-2024, but we’ve been surprised a lot since reopening. These are unprecedented times and Disney has defied past precedent on countless occasions.
Again, we want to emphasize that this is not a rumor–it’s simply us analyzing resort bookings and past precedent on discounts, and making an educated guess. Walt Disney World could go another direction entirely, as the company has stated repeatedly that they want to reduce discounting.
However, Disney also likes the current high level of per guest spending numbers, and no other special offer helps achieve these high per caps like Free Dining. Despite “free” being in the name, it’s an advantageous promo from Disney’s perspective because it locks guests into full-price hotels and tickets. It also keeps guests on-site for the most part, since they have “free” meals at Walt Disney World. No other discount accomplishes all of these important goals for the company.
Either way, will be closely monitoring the 2023 Free Dining situation, keeping our ears open for more news about a return of Free Dining. Should something–anything–be released or rumored, we’ll send you an alert if you sign up for our FREE Walt Disney World newsletter.
We’ve consistently notified email subscribers when Free Dining and other deals on the day they go live at ~6 or 7 a.m., which is a 2+ hour head start on Disney’s official announcement at 9 am. That makes a huge difference when booking Free Dining–you won’t have to wait on hold for hours on the phone.
Free Dining FAQ
Free Dining is Walt Disney World’s most complicated promotion, and can be a huge headache to book. Between limited availability and navigating a seas of rules and restrictions, it’s easy to make mistakes. This section of the post covers the rules, terms and conditions, and policies that generally govern the Free Dining promotion.
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.
Guests booking the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion for Value or Moderate Resorts will receive the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan, with guests staying at Deluxe or Deluxe Villa Resorts receiving the standard Disney Dining Plan. Upgrading is possible to the standard Disney Dining Plan or Deluxe Disney Dining Plan by paying the difference in cost.
The Disney Dining Plan will now includes alcoholic and specialty drinks! If you enjoy beer, wine, or cocktails, this adds a ton of potential value to the Disney Dining Plan and, by extension, Free Dining. Even if you don’t drink, having the ability to order these specialty drinks is nice.
There are some room exclusions for the Free Dining promo: 3-bedroom villas, campsites, Cabins at Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Wilderness Lodge, Bungalows at Polynesian Villas & Bungalows, and Little Mermaid Rooms at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort.
These resorts and room tiers are all not eligible for Free Dining. Additionally, room inventory is limited across all resorts. In practice, this means that when you go to book, a particular category (standard view, garden view, etc.) may not be available for your travel dates–or your travel dates may not be available at a specific resort at all.
To take advantage of Free Dining, there’s also the requirement that guests purchase tickets that include either a minimum 4-day Park Hopper or the Park Hopper Plus option. Additionally, a 4-night minimum stay is required with a maximum stay of fourteen nights.
When it comes to Free Dining, doing the math is incredibly important. Other discounts (such as a room-only discount) might be better for your family. Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch; you have forfeit an alternate discount to qualify for Free Dining. We break down some of the math in our “Is Free Dining Worth It?” post.
If you have already booked a vacation package with an arrival date that qualifies for Free Dining, we recommend using the “modify reservation” link in your booking to apply the promotion to your package. This is the quickest and easiest way to apply the promotion.
You might see other advice that recommends calling to book Free Dining. This is outdated. If you call Walt Disney World’s reservation line, you will likely wait on hold for an hour (or hours) until you’re able to speak to an agent. Booking or modifying your reservation online is far quicker and easier.
Even if the online system crashes (which has happened) or moves slowly due to all the traffic, it’s easier to just keep trying online. Unfortunately, booking online isn’t always possible and technical errors do happen…so you might have to call and wait on hold.
With this Free Dining offer, Value and Moderate Resort guests receive the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan during the promotion. Guests at Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resorts receive the standard Disney Dining Plan. Upgrading to higher tiers is possible for an additional charge.
We highly recommend making Advance Dining Reservations as soon as possible. Yes, even before Free Dining is offered, if you can. 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.). For those wondering about other Walt Disney World discounts, check out our Current Walt Disney World Discount Offerspost for what’s presently available.
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.
Note that the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion is always based upon arrival dates. For example, if Free Dining runs June 27 to June 28 and you arrive on June 28 and stay until July 5, you are eligible for Free Dining–even though it’s blocked out for July 5 arrivals. (You didn’t arrive on July 5 in that scenario–you arrived in June.)
However, if it’s offered those same dates and you arrive on June 26 and stay for the same dates, 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. Again, arrival dates are what matters with Free Dining.
Guests staying at a Walt Disney World Value and Moderate Resorts 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 Deluxe or Deluxe Villa Resorts receive the standard Disney Dining Plan and may upgrade 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 for Free Dining is $23.01 per adult and $4.51 per child per night. The upgrade cost from the standard Disney Dining Plan to the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan is $40.99 per adult and $16.99 per child per night. To upgrade from the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan to the Deluxe one, add the two upgrade costs together.
In the section below, we have historical Free Dining dates for the last few years. The rest of what follows is historical information about the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion…
The following is not pertinent to current bookings, 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, 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. The last couple of years, there was no early window for Disney Visa cardholders.
Here are the Walt Disney World Free Dining dates that were available from 2013-2020 for historical reference…
2020 Free Dining Dates (Cancelled):
June 27 through June 28
July 5 through July 7
August 29 through September 8
2019 Free Dining Dates:
July 5 – September 30*
September 1 through September 18**
November 17 through November 27**
December 8 through December 23**
*First and second wave of Free Dining **Third wave of Free Dining
2018 Free Dining Dates:
August 20* — September 29
November 24 — 27
December 7 — 23
*Disney Visa Cardholders could book for arrival dates beginning August 2.
2017 Free Dining Dates:
August 21* – September 30
November 14 – 20
November 25 – 27
December 8 – 23
*Disney Visa Cardholders could book for arrival dates beginning August 13.
2016 Free Dining Dates:
August 23* through October 1
November 15 through 21
November 26 through 28
December 10 through 21
*Disney Visa Cardholders 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:
Do you think Free Dining will return in 2023, or will it take until 2024 before Walt Disney World “needs” to get that aggressive with deals? Are you a fan of the “free” dining promotion? Have any tips for free dining rookies? If you’ve booked Free Dining, what did you think about your experience with the deal? If you were unable to get it, where/when were you unsuccessful? Let us know what you think of the promotion and whether you’re planning on taking advantage of it in the comments!