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 2021-2022 Free Dining, and answers to frequently asked questions including whether Free Dining is “worth it.” (Updated September 18, 2021.)
For starters, the bad news. As of September 2021, the Disney Dining Plan is still temporarily suspended at Walt Disney World. In When Will the Disney Dining Plan Return? we predict when it will return, as well as our rationale. It’s a good read that explains why the Dining Plan is integral to Walt Disney World and offers optimism for those visiting in late 2021.
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. Restaurants and resorts have been gradually reopening, with the the majority of restaurants now open and the remainder of hotels scheduled to reopen between now and December 2021.
By October 2021 when Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary kicks off, things will be mostly normal once again. This bodes well for the Disney Dining Plan. However, the outlook is not as optimistic for Free Dining. On that note, here are some predictions about the return of Free Dining at Walt Disney World…
2021-2022 Free Dining Forecast & Rumors
While we’re optimistic about the return of the Disney Dining Plan sometime in late 2021, 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. Given that it’s already late September 2021, that would put the return of Free Dining towards the end of this year at the earliest if the Disney Dining Plan’s comeback were announced next week.
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 later in 2021.
Regular readers might’ve noticed that Walt Disney World’s recently-released holiday room discounts are weak and skip October and November 2021 entirely. This is because there’s very little room availability for the last 3 months of the year due to the start of the World’s Most Magical Celebration. (See What’s Up with Sold Out Hotels at WDW? for more on that.)
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. Right now, bookings are incredibly high through the end of 2021. Certain resorts and room categories are sold out entirely for select dates. That’s partly a matter of pent-up demand and partly a result of countless hotels still being closed.
Deals are weak because Walt Disney World does not need to discount in order to fill hotels. That means scarce room discounts and absolutely no chance that Walt Disney World offers Free Dining in 2021. Zero, zip, zilch, nada.
That brings us to the prospects for Free Dining in 2022. At this point, our expectation is that pent-up demand will fizzle out, the initial rush of the World’s Most Magical Celebration will subside, and more resort capacity will be restored shortly after the holiday season in January 2022.
All of that is good news for the potential of Free Dining in 2022.
However, it’s way too early to offer any sort of predictions for 2022 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 blockbuster new attractions and when Walt Disney World will debut 50th Anniversary entertainment.
With that said, there are a couple of dates you might want to pencil in on your calendar. The first is January 4, 2022 and the second is April 19, 2022. Based on historical data, these two very specific dates are when 2022 Free Dining is mostly likely to be released.
Now, there’s nothing to say that an announcement will come on either of these dates. Walt Disney World has defied past precedent time and time again in the last year since reopening. And of course, even if those general timeframes are correct, the release could be off by days or even weeks.
All we’re saying is that those two dates have history on their side. There are zero rumors whatsoever behind either, they’re intended to be illustrative rather than informative. (Personally, I’d be surprised if Free Dining is released that early in January–I think April 2022 is much more plausible.)
In any case, we do expect Free Dining to return in 2022. 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 early in the year for Summer 2022 travel dates, or by spring for Fall 2022 travel dates. We’d be surprised if Walt Disney World does not bring back Free Dining before mid-2022, but it’s still too early to say for sure.
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. To that point, Disney has already released its big 2022 promo for the United Kingdom; this is normally Free Dining, but not next year. However, that’s also not determinative when it comes to 2022 Free Dining for guests from the United States.
Either way, will be closely monitoring the 2022 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.
We always recommend that Walt Disney World first-timers (or regulars who just don’t want to deal with the hassle) request a FREE quote from Be Our Guest Vacations, an Authorized Disney Travel Planner. No legit travel agents charge for booking Walt Disney World vacations (and you don’t pay a premium for them–Disney pays them commission), so that’s really the easiest way to go.
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.
This means you can’t purchase discounted Walt Disney World tickets from an authorized reseller, which we normally highly recommend in our Walt Disney World trip planning advice. This is something to keep in mind when doing the math to determine if “Free Dining” is a good value for you.
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.
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 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 Offers post 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 (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. 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:
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? If you booked Free Dining, which resort and travel dates were you able to secure? 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!