Best Disney World Resorts for Free Dining
Free Dining is often available to book for summer and fall at Walt Disney World. For this discount, you need to choose the best hotel to maximize your value and overall experience. This post covers the best hotels for Free Dining, both from quality and value-maximization perspectives.
Free Dining is Walt Disney World’s most popular promotion of the year, and for good reason. While we often caution guests to do the math because Free Dining isn’t always the best discount (there’s no such thing as a free lunch!), it can save families a lot of money. This is because you have to pay full price for your hotel room and purchase a non-discounted park ticket. This means you forfeit a potential room only discount and you can’t purchase discount Walt Disney World tickets.
Because of that, many guests fail to realize that a room-only discount at a more expensive hotel might be a better discount for them. For example, a couple of light eaters staying at the Grand Floridian are unquestionably much better off with a room-only discount than they are with Free Dining. In other words, it’s always smart to crunch the numbers.
To help you leverage the discount that Free Dining will offer, we’ve come up with this list of the best hotel options for maximizing the value of the Free Dining promotion. Note that Moderate Resorts only receive the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan, so you might want to upgrade to a Deluxe (or upgrade your Dining Plan at lower tier resorts) if you want the full Disney Dining Plan. Additionally, several hotels are likely to have very limited availability, so they aren’t recommended here.
Let’s take a look at our top picks!
This is our top overall pick across all resort categories because it offers the best value under the promotion. Pop Century’s Free Dining status has improved, which is due to Moderate Resorts now (also) only receiving the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan during the Free Dining promotion, which makes Value Resorts a better, well, value by comparison.
There are a couple of advantages Pop Century offers. First, Pop Century is a sentimental favorite of ours with fun accommodations and the price can’t be beat. Second, the newly-redesigned rooms are great, improving functionality with a space-saving (albeit slightly minimalist) design. Finally, Pop Century is the only “pure” Value Resort offering Skyliner access to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot.
Given all of these upsides, Pop Century is far and away our top pick for the Value Resort tier. While you’re getting the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan at Pop Century as opposed to the standard Disney Dining Plan by default, it’s still a good offer. We actually recommend paying to upgrade to the standard Disney Dining Plan.
The re-imagined Caribbean Beach Resort is finally construction-free now that the adjacent Skyliner and Disney’s Riviera Resort have both opened. Our full Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort Review details why we love the rooms, grounds, pool, and other amenities at this lush tropical hotel. Some of these “Poly-lite” rooms can officially accommodate 5 adults, making it a great option for leveraging the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion.
One of the other big reasons we love Caribbean Beach is its dining options (Spyglass Grill, Sebastian’s Bistro, Centertown Market, and Banana Cabana), which are much more ambitious than they were a couple of years ago. And naturally, dining is a big part of the Free Dining experience!
Dining at Caribbean Beach is even better, as you also have all of the superlative options at Disney’s Riviera Resort within a short walk. Add to that everything within a 15 minute Skyliner commute, and you have over a dozen restaurant options easily accessible to Caribbean Beach–and that’s just what’s outside the theme parks.
Oh, and did we mention the Skyliner? This gondola transportation to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot is a huge selling point. Non-bus transportation at a non-Deluxe Resort is rare, which is what makes Caribbean Beach and Pop Century such strong recommendations.
Coronado Springs & Gran Destino Tower
One of the best options this year is Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs, and the resort itself. In our full Gran Destino Tower Review, one of the things we praise is dining. (It’s also an upscale resort at the Moderate tier, so there are two things going for it.)
In our full Coronado Springs review we described it as having great rooms. In general, the amenities are Coronado Springs are nicer than other Moderates, likely because of the convention crowd to which it caters. In addition to the nicer rooms and overall quality, Coronado Springs is a good choice during the Free Dining promotion because of its dining options, including the food court, which is one of the best uses of counter service Disney Dining Plan credits.
That means that it has the most expensive entrees, so you get the most bang for your buck out of those credits. Even if you aren’t directly paying for the Disney Dining Plan during Free Dining, you’re indirectly paying for it, and it’s good to get mileage out of those credits.
Animal Kingdom Lodge/Wilderness Lodge
In terms of the best value for your money during Free Dining, you either want to choose Pop Century, Wilderness Lodge, or Animal Kingdom Lodge. Without question, these are your best choices for getting the most mileage out of the Free Dining discount.
These two resorts are often lumped together in terms of theming, even though they are much more distinct from one another than, say, BoardWalk Inn and Beach Club. We aren’t lumping them together due to a misunderstanding of theming, but instead because they are the cheapest of the Deluxe Resorts and two of the best-themed resorts at Walt Disney World. In terms of value maximization when taking advantage of the promotion, that puts them in a special class.
Due to Moderate Resorts only receiving the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan, these two lodges offer some of the best per person value during Free Dining if you have a party of 4. Even though these hotels will cost more than a Value or Moderate Resort, they come close to recouping the cost difference by virtue of the per person value of the standard Disney Dining Plan (as compared to the Quick Service DDP). On top of that, you enjoy the luxury of staying in two of the best-themed resorts at Walt Disney World.
So, which to choose? We love both, but that doesn’t help you much in deciding between the two. Take a look at our Animal Kingdom v. Wilderness Lodge head-to-head to help you determine which is right for you. We’re huge fans of Wilderness Lodge–it’s my #1 resort at Walt Disney World–but that’s in large part during the Christmas season, which is not pertinent for Free Dining.
Beyond that, we would recommend Animal Kingdom Lodge if you want to take advantage of its superior dining options (The Mara, Boma, and Sanaa are all highly recommended when on the Disney Dining Plan; we love Jiko, but since it’s a 2-credit Signature Restaurant, we don’t recommend it on the Disney Dining Plan). Additionally, there are Awesome New Rooms at Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Everyone is going to have their own favorites for the Free Dining promotion. This list is based entirely on our determination of “best value,” taking our preferences into account, as well. We feel you can’t really go wrong with any of these choices, but if you prefer other eligible resorts, don’t hesitate to book those on our account.
If you need personalized help with planning any aspect of your vacation, or want someone to watch for the Free Dining promotion for you and book it once it’s available—we recommend contacting a no fee “Authorized Disney Vacation Planner” (Disney’s term for a travel agent) to get a quote and to help you plan. They get their commission from Disney, so none of the authorized (key word) planners will charge you for booking their trip and helping. Here’s one such recommended Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.
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. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
What do you think? Which is your favorite hotel to book during the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion? Are you a fan of Free Dining or do you generally go for a room-only discount? If you have any questions or additional thoughts, please share them in the comments!
Are you sure the Pop received the QSDP ? I tought it was the Free Breakfast… But, if it’s the case, it will help me to save a lot !
(Sorry if I make mistakes, I’m French ^^’)
Is there a particular room type at Pop Century resort that is needed historically for Free Dining (hopefully in November 2020)? Thanks!
It doesn’t matter who she’s responding to. Calling people names isn’t kosher. Especially when it’s Disney related.
In our research for our upcoming trip, we did not think that Caribbean Beach and Pop Century were a part of the free dining offer. Are they normally included or are they new to the lineup this year?
My first trip to Disney in November 2018 we received the free dining plan offer and stayed at the Caribbean resort so it isn’t new.
Where do we find the 2019 free dining information and dates?
Pop Century free dining is breakfast only so how is that a good choice the cost of upgrading the dining package does not make it cheaper to stay there ? You’re better off upgrading hotel !
You seem to not understand the dining plan. You will get 2 quick service meals plus 2 snack credits if there is free dining. You can upgrade to the next tier if you want a table service and just pay the difference.
Please read up on Free Dining so you don’t sound like an idiot.
I think Jen’s comment was directed at Kiki and not OP.
WDW now offers different dining plans, some are ‘lite’ and only include 1 meal or so. The other Full DDP offers 2meal/2snack.
I was responding to Natalie’s. I just can’t stand when people post their opinion’s and obviously don’t understand what the hell they are talking about.
The days of free dining in nov are almost non existent such a shame went last yr end of movie and no free dining
Thank you soo much for the work and great info you put into this! We booked our 3 rd trip 11-23-12-6, 2019. Just me and the hubby! I’m booked at All-Star music but was reading what you wrote about pop century. We had free quick service & upgraded last year. It was perfect for us because my husband eats a lot & it gave us time to sit and catch up. We really haven’t spent much time at the hotel but I am desperate for a kurig in room!
I’m reading lots of great info about updating the booking to get the free dining.
How do you find out about these offers?
How do you update your booking to apply the offer?
Many thanks in advance.
Working on my backup plan. If free Dining isn’t offered in December, what is the easiest way to plan, budget and pay for meals at disney. We are staying at all star sports so limited amount of food we can do in the hotel. Plus, I am on vacation and I don’t want to be cooking. I like the free dining cause I don’t have to worry about cost and all I have to do is tap my bracelet and it is paid for. Love the convience.