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 2024 Free Dining, and answers to frequently asked questions including whether Free Dining is “worth it.” (Updated May 16, 2023.)
Let’s start with the bad news, which is that the Disney Dining Plan is not available for booking with 2023 Walt Disney World vacation packages. That means there is no Free Dining–at least in the traditional sense of the term–this year. The good news is that we finally have official confirmation that Walt Disney World is bringing back the Disney Dining Plan in 2024!
As we’ll discuss in our predictions & rumors section below, a lot is changing and fast at Walt Disney World in terms of pent-up demand, discounting, and promotions. Free Dining has not yet been announced for 2024, but the once-annual promotion was a huge driver of hotel bookings. If you want read more speculation about its return, continue reading. If you’re just looking for confirmed or official news and want to be notified immediately when 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 late 2023.
This is all relevant to the return of Free Dining in 2024 because the deal is not offered out of corporate benevolence, but as an aggressive move to help boost resort occupancy numbers. A big part of the reason why Walt Disney World didn’t bring back the DDP (and by extension, Free Dining) in the last couple of years was because it wasn’t necessary. Pent-up demand was fueling record guest spending, and numbers were incredibly strong even without incentives.
On that note, here are some predictions about the return of Free Dining at Walt Disney World…
2023-2024 Free Dining Forecast & Rumors
Let’s start with 2023 Free Dining. As indicated above, the promotion won’t be brought back in the traditional sense until the Disney Dining Plan returns, which isn’t happening until January 2024. It thus stands to reason that there will not be Free Dining this year–it would take a small miracle or something going terribly wrong, depending upon your perspective, for Walt Disney World to bring back Free Dining in 2023 at this point!
With that in mind, Walt Disney World has already released the “Free” Disney Dining Card Deal, with travel dates from the late summer through September 2023. Unfortunately, that special offer is no longer available–booking concluded on March 27. That actually ended atypically early, and there was no good explanation for why the Free Dining Card Promo was cut short. There was plenty of resort and room availability, so it wasn’t that.
All of this previously led us to speculate that Walt Disney World would extend or re-release the Dining Card Promo. Exactly that happened 4 years ago when there were three “waves” of Free Dining. It’s possible Walt Disney World ended booking early to create a false sense of scarcity and encourage people to book promptly, and will release more or different dates for the Dining Card Promo in the coming months.
It’s also possible that Walt Disney World will stick to room-only discounts for the remainder of 2023. Since the Dining Card Deal ended, there have been a few resort room discounts released for overlapping travel dates in late summer and early fall. One possibility here is that Walt Disney World didn’t want to strain restaurant capacity, and that is actually why the Free Dining Card Deal was dropped early–that it has nothing to do with artificial scarcity or creating a sense of urgency.
Regardless, that discount is not the “real” Free Dining. For many Walt Disney World vacation planners, it was/is a better offer than percentage savings on a room, but it was inferior to the full Free Dining in every sense. So a step in the right direction, but not still more like “Diet” Free Dining than the original formula.
Looking forward to 2024 Free Dining, we could truly see it going either way. Assuming, for the sake of discussion, that Free Dining does come back next year, it probably will not follow the normal first week of January release pattern established in the last several years of its existence.
For one thing, even though the Disney Dining Plan will be bookable starting in Summer 2023, no one will actually be using it until January 2024 travel dates. So on the one hand, Walt Disney World will be able to glean a lot from forward-looking bookings over the next several months. They’ll know utilization rates and ADR availability, among other things.
On the other hand, booking data is not the same as actual implementation and guest usage. It’s hard to imagine Walt Disney World rolling out the Disney Dining Plan for guest usage and launching Free Dining for future dates during the same stretch of early 2024. It’s more likely that the DDP will 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 Disney Dining Plan actually 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 release of Free Dining around March 2024 at the earliest given that the Disney Dining Plan is coming back in the second week of January.
Even then, Walt Disney World will want to offer the least favorable special offers possible to meet occupancy targets. Again, the company offers discounts not out of generosity, but out of necessity. If occupancy projections are strong or Walt Disney World thinks it can “get away with” releasing a less attractive discount, they will.
Accordingly, it’s possible that Walt Disney World will bring back the aforementioned Free Dining Card Deal in 2024 or 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.”
However, as discussed above, Walt Disney World is already seeing a significant slowdown for Summer 2024. This is happening against a backdrop of pent-up demand continuing to exhaust itself (first with domestic travelers, next with international visitors), household savings decreasing and debt loads increasing, inflation stinging more, and a potential economic slowdown.
As this happens, consumers will return to being more cost-conscious and price sensitive, and not as free-spending as they were during the period of “revenge travel.” No longer making up for lost time or financially able to afford breaking the bank splurging on travel, Walt Disney World will continue returning to its 2019 “normal” to at least some degree.
Given all of that, it seems increasingly likely that Walt Disney World will continue to see even weaker forward-looking demand in the months to come. That’s especially true if the “levers” being pulled don’t do enough to buoy bookings.
In such a scenario, Walt Disney World may be forced to get aggressive and release Free Dining in early 2024 for travel dates later in the year to boost bookings. For the reasons identified above, this would not be viewed as ideal internally, and we aren’t suggesting this is what will happen.
To the contrary, we think it’s more likely that a watered-down version of Free Dining will be offered early in the year, with the Free Dining ‘classic formula’ coming out later in the spring or summer. It just seems highly unlikely that Walt Disney World would 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. For like the third or fourth time, Walt Disney World doesn’t offer deals out of generosity.
However, the environment has already changed fast in the last few months. Although there were signs earlier this year that summer bookings might be weak, attendance was strong for spring break–and then it was like flipping a switch at the start of May 2023. Already this month, Walt Disney World has done a ton to try to shore up demand…and there’s not yet any indication whether all of that will work. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.
With that said, there are a couple of dates you might want to pencil in on your calendar. The first is January 2, 2024 and the second is April 16, 2024. Based on historical data, these two very specific dates are when Walt Disney World’s first round of deals are mostly likely to be released. To the extent that it’s possible to predict when Free Dining (or other discounts) will be released next year this far out, those are the most likely dates.
Past precedent is a strong indicator of Walt Disney World special offer releases, making those dates the most likely for the release of Free Dining in 2024. Of the two dates, we view April as far more likely, which would also be consistent with the release pattern of Free Dining up until 2018.
No matter when released, we’re likely looking at travel dates in Late 2024. Likely August through December 2024, with normal blockout dates and exclusions (see below) if released in April. If released in January, it’s also possible that there are June and July 2024 travel dates included.
All of this depends upon what bookings and occupancy are like for later in 2024–and that’s unknown and unknowable right now. There’s a chance that Walt Disney World will need to act fast in January 2024 to increase bookings, but there’s absolutely no recent precedent to suggest that’ll happen. They’ve been very slow to react and not the least bit proactive in the last few years.
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 2024 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.
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 be released in January or April 2024, or will it take longer 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!