Free Disney Dining Plan is a special offer that’s a great Walt Disney World vacation package discount. Here, we’ll cover promo info, tips for booking, historical dates, predictions & rumors for 2021 Free Dining, and answers to frequently asked questions including whether Free Dining is “worth it.” (Updated January 3, 2021.)
For starters, the bad news. Walt Disney World temporarily suspended the Disney Dining Plan and cancelled Free Dining last year. Disney has not yet stated when the Dining Plan or Free Dining will return, which is dictated in part by restaurant capacity, which is presently reduced.
The good news is that normalcy is starting to return to Walt Disney World. As of January 2021, Park Hopping is now back. Restaurants have been gradually returning and hotels have been reopening, with more scheduled between now and Summer 2021. All of this bodes well for the Disney Dining Plan and Free Dining…
In When Will the Disney Dining Plan Return? we offer predictions as to when that 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 more optimism for those visiting later in 2021.
Free Dining adds another layer to that analysis, as the annual promotion is a huge driver of hotel bookings, which is something that Walt Disney World really needs right now. While attendance has picked up at the parks, resort occupancy is still fairly abysmal–to the point that the several resorts have had their reopenings delayed.
Accordingly, we’re still optimistic that Free Dining will return for 2021. If you want to be notified immediately when more dates are released, we highly recommend signing up here for our FREE Disney newsletter here. We’ve consistently notified our 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.
Now for some predictions about the return of Free Dining at Walt Disney World…
2021 Free Dining Predictions & Rumors
While we’re optimistic about the return of Free Dining for 2021, we do not believe that will happen on the same timeline that is has in the last few years. For one thing, the recent trend has been for Free Dining to be dropped in early January. There is almost zero chance of that happening.
Our expectation is that whenever the Disney Dining Plan does return, it’ll only be in paid form for at least a few months, giving Walt Disney World some time to test and adjust the program, restaurant capacity, etc. Going from nothing to Free Dining is like having your first time driving being in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Accordingly, we anticipate there being a lag between announcement of the Disney Dining Plan returning and Free Dining being offered again. At some point in the coming weeks or months, Walt Disney World will assess booking trends and occupancy rates for late Summer or Fall 2021 to determine what level of discounting is necessary and whether it’s feasible to offer the Disney Dining Plan.
Even on the most aggressive timeline with the Disney Dining Plan return in early 2021, it’s likely that the Free Dining promo wouldn’t be unveiled until April 2021, and would be for travel dates in August 2021 and beyond. That’s a totally reasonable timeframe, but it’s also perhaps a bit overzealous and assumes some best case scenarios. It’s equally as likely that the deal isn’t released until Summer 2021 for travel dates beginning in November 2021.
Suffice to say, it’s still too early to offer definitive predictions in terms of 2021 Free Dining dates. There are so many moving parts and variables at play, and it’s not as simple as flipping a switch. Restaurant capacity remains reduced, and that’s a potential limiting factor for the Disney Dining Plan/Free Dining.
Free Dining is 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 for Summer 2021 travel dates. Personally, we’d be surprised if Walt Disney World does not bring back Free Dining by Fall 2021, but it’s still too early to say for sure. We also want to emphasize that this is not a rumor–it’s simply us analyzing occupancy levels at the resorts and past precedent on discounts, and making an educated guess. Walt Disney World could go another direction entirely.
Either way, will be closely monitoring the 2021 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!
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!