We’ve received a lot of questions about the 2024 Free Dining deal that Walt Disney World released for select dates in Summer and Fall 2024. This FAQ answers those common inquiries about eligibility, value for money, whether it’s actually free food, how it compares to other room-only and dining discounts, and much more.
It’s understandable that there’s confusion, as nothing about the Disney Dining Plan is simple. The complexity is a feature, not a bug. The good news is that we first used ourselves Free Dining back in 2007 and have taken advantage of the promo just about every year that it’s been offered since. Ditto the Disney Dining Plan, which we last used in March 2020–the second to last week that it was available!
While a lot has changed over the decades (our 2007-2012 experiences are of no value…except street cred, I suppose), there actually is not much different about 2024 Free Dining vs. 2019 Free Dining. Based upon all of that, we have answers to frequently asked reader questions–and other ones we anticipate being common based on past inquiries. This is a long one, so let’s dig right into the FAQ…
What if I’m not a Disney+ subscriber?
Subscribe to it.
The cheapest tier of Disney+ costs ~$8 per month. If you’ve already done the math (see below) and determine that Free Dining is the right special offer for you, subscribe to the Disney+ streaming service. It’s a really low barrier to entry, and there’s no guarantee that a subsequent wave of 2024 Free Dining will be released to the general public.
How long do you have to keep the subscription?
That’s where things get tricky. According to the terms and conditions of the discount, “proof of Disney+ subscription required” for eligibility.
Does that mean just when booking? For the duration of the time from when you book until you checkout? For only the months of booking and check-in? No one is going to be able to give you a definitive answer to that. If you ask a Cast Member, they’re probably going to err on the side of “for the duration.”
Anecdotally, I can tell you that we know a “friend” who cancelled their Disney+ subscription shortly after booking under a past WDW promo and intended upon resubscribing before check-in…but forgot to do so. It did not matter. There was no verification of Disney+ subscription upon arrival. Again, this is anecdotal–whatever you do here is at your own risk.
What if the resort or room I want is sold out?
One of our biggest pieces of advice when it comes to booking Free Dining is to lock-in a reservation early even if you’re unsure of plans because availability goes often fast. We were doubly concerned of that with 2024 Free Dining due to pent-up demand for the promotion. (Based on early spot-checking, it actually appears our concerns were unfounded.)
Another piece of advice is to check back ~48 hours later if you couldn’t get what you wanted because that’s when courtesy holds expire. In the chaos and crunch of getting things booked, travel agents and others sometimes make reservations that fall through. Two to three days after the special offer goes live, that room inventory re-enters the system.
When it comes to promotions or literally anything Disney reserves that is refundable or not pre-paid in full, more availability always opens up later because people hoard reservations or make aspirational bookings. This is very common with Free Dining, but this same advice can be applied to just about any special offers or competitive reservations.
What’s the likelihood of more discounts between now and July 2024?
We try to never say never, so…highly unlikely.
Walt Disney World has now released a full slate of special offers between now and July 7, 2024. There’s a wide variety of discounts, with nothing that would normally be available “missing” from the slate.
A sudden recession or cataclysmic economic occurrence that results in Walt Disney World needing to act aggressively ASAP to shore up business is about the only scenario we could see a wave of Free Dining for dates before July 2024. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, as such a scenario would obviously have negative real world implications far beyond Free Dining.
What’s the likelihood of more discounts between September and December 2024?
We try to never say anything is 100% certain, so…it’s a near certainty.
Room-only discounts are all but a guarantee, and if we were betting people, we’d put considerable money on another unique dining-related discount for the holiday season. Personally, I think a second wave of 2024 Free Dining is more likely than not. I lay out my reasoning and likely dates in the ‘Forecast & Rumors’ section (near the top) of our Guide to 2024 Free Dining at Walt Disney World.
Is Free Dining actually free?
Of course not. Remember the old adage: there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Here, that is true both literally and figuratively. In order to qualify for Free Dining, you are required to book a vacation package with certain parameters–full priced Park Hopper tickets and a resort hotel. This means, more likely than not, you will be forfeiting an alternative room-only discount to qualify for this.
Some Walt Disney World fans think that their discovery of this not-so-secret detail is brilliant detective work, like they’ve unraveled a great mystery. That since Free Dining isn’t actually free, the exact opposite must be true: it’s a bad deal.
Is Free Dining a bad deal?
I’ll throw an even better adage at ya for this one: only a Sith deals in absolutes.
One of the most frustrating things for me around the Free Dining discourse was that it lacks nuance. Some Walt Disney World fans claim it’s the best deal ever and others deride Free Dining as being a complete scam or for suckers. Both are wrong. At the very least, they should’ve appended “for my family” to the end of their very-subjective assessments.
For the last 13 years, I’ve analyzed every single Walt Disney World discount that has been released. What I’ve discovered during that time is that every deal can be “good” or “bad.” All of them.
Even ones that I’ve criticized as being subpar by historical standards have been great for some planners who otherwise would’ve paid rack rates for their vacation. Conversely, some objectively exceptional promos don’t make subjective sense for some people because they don’t want or need what’s included.
This is especially true with special offers that are more circumstantial–varying based on party size, guest ages, resort/room category, travel dates, appetites, and so forth. On the spectrum, room-only discounts are the most straightforward; Free Dining is the least. That’s precisely why it’s so polarizing–because too many people extrapolate too much based on their own circumstances and fail to consider the (fairly obvious) fact that not everyone is them.
In short, you absolutely need to do the math on Free Dining based on your own party and preferences, versus the room-only discount that is also available for the same travel dates. Free Dining could be an awful or awesome deal; it all depends upon your circumstances, frame of reference, and available alternatives.
I hate math, can you do it for me?
I also hate math, so I can empathize. But because of that, I’m not doing it for you. If I did the math for everyone, I’d be doing math all day, slowly and poorly. What I will do is make some sweeping generalizations that may or may not be helpful. Free Dining is likely to work best for the following guest demographics:
Almost all families staying at Value Resorts
Most families in standard rooms at Moderate Resorts
Parties of 3 or more Disney Adults at Deluxe Resorts
Free Dining is likely to work worst for the following:
Parties of 3 or fewer that include kids at Deluxe Resorts
Couples or solo travelers at Moderate Resorts
Smaller parties in Family Suites at Value Resorts
From that, you should have a decent sense of who benefits most and least from Free Dining. Basically, you want to look at party size (the larger, the better!), guest ages (the older, the better!), and room cost (the lower, the better!). That’s pretty much it…but it sounds simpler than it actually is.
My generalizations are no substitute for actual math. I can almost guarantee there will be “well, actually…” comments from those in the best/worst demographics above with firsthand experiences that contradict the categorizations. And they’re right! That’s the thing about sweeping generalizations–they’re often wrong.
Is Free Dining better than the other dining discounts currently available?
If you’ve read the above answers, you already know where this is going: it depends.
But let’s just say you’re flexible on dates and willing to comparison shop all three. It still depends! The dining card deal is much more straightforward, and can work better for smaller parties. Personally, it’s not my favorite–but some people love it.
I think the real sleeper here is the 50% off for kids, which has been a bit overlooked. Probably because 50% off is 50% less than free (technically true). The underrated part of that, though, is that it also applies to tickets. So if your party is kid-heavy, you could win on that. You’ve really gotta do the math for your own family, though.
Are there any other options for comparison shopping?
They’ll assist you with the planning process, help you choose the most economical dates, best add-ons, etc. Notably, they also monitor reservations and can retroactively apply new discounts if a better deal is released to save you more money. (A big thing right now, since better deals keep coming out and supplanting the old ones!)
Equally as important, they’ll help you with discount comparison shopping. There are a ton of different discounts currently available for Walt Disney World in 2024, and that number is only going to grow! So what you see now isn’t necessarily everything that’ll be available for your travel dates.
Walt Disney World makes these special offers confusing on purpose so that comparison shopping is more difficult. This is done in a bunch of little ways, which I assume is for marketing purposes or to appeal to different consumer psychologies. I really don’t know. Regardless, we highly recommend using a travel agent–even if it’s not Be Our Guest Vacations. (Just don’t use a Big Box or MLM–see Why You Should Use A Disney Travel Agent for more.)
Why do some WDW fans love Free Dining so much?
If we’re being honest, I think a big part of it is marketing. They say that no phrase is as beautiful sounding as cellar door. Well, I guess those folks never heard the words free food. Seriously, it’s as simple as that. “Free” is powerful marketing.
There’s also the reality that Free Dining has a longstanding reputation, much of which was forged over a decade ago when the special offer offered superior savings. Some of us remember the days of cramming four friends into Caribbean Beach for $100 per night, buying single day tickets (and upgrading those to APs), and everyone getting the full Disney Dining Plan–which included appetizers and tips! It was almost like Walt Disney World was paying us to visit.
Those days are long gone, but even now, what so many Walt Disney World fans love about the Dining Plan and Free Dining is the thrill of the chase and challenge of hacking it. They (we) are the in-group who knows how to leverage the DDP to full advantage and can actually come out ahead. We have voluminous resources about ‘best uses’ of Disney Dining Plan credits, and it’s still possible to get more bang for your buck with the DDP than its face value.
The minority of Disney Dining Plan power users are outweighed by those who came out behind–not using all of their credits, not eating steak for every meal, or otherwise the DDP for low-value redemptions. Think of the Disney Dining Plan almost like credit cards–some people leverage them to their advantage and get tremendous benefits at low or no cost. But that’s subsidized by the overwhelming majority of people who pay far more in interest than they get in rewards. Visa is not losing money, on the whole. Same idea with Disney, different circumstances.
Better yet, think of the Disney Dining Plan like FastPass or Lightning Lanes. For every single line-skipping system Walt Disney World has offered ever, there has been a base of power users who figures out how to get way more mileage out of it than the average guest. (Due to complexity, so much of Walt Disney World is gameable–there are always winners and losers.)
Is it possible to eat cheaper than ‘Free’ Dining?
Yes. Since it’s not really free and a lot of people come out behind on the Disney Dining Plan, it should follow that there are more efficient ways to eat at Walt Disney World than Free Dining…for some parties.
For years, there has been fierce debate about whether the Disney Dining Plan offers advantages in budgeting and convenience. For our part, we have strongly argued against this, contending that nothing is more convenient than simply paying as you go; if you don’t want to worry about budgeting, purchase (discounted!) Disney Gift Cards before the trip.
Why is my previously-booked vacation package more expensive with Free Dining?
Well for one thing, you might’ve switched from a room-only discount to a full-priced room. We won’t rehash all of the above commentary about Free Dining not actually being free.
Beyond that, all special offers require paying current prices for the package components and it’s possible that, if you booked in the past, your reservations were made before something increased in price. That’s a general rule, but I don’t think it actually applies here as ticket prices (usually the biggest offender) have not increased since December 2022. (With that said, they probably will in February 2024, so lock-in whatever you want before then and don’t modify after!)
Another wrinkle to this is that some fans claim that Walt Disney World raises room rates right before releasing discounts. I’ve never seen any firsthand evidence of this; rack rates are set months in advance and they shouldn’t change. I’m not denying it happens, but I personally think the far more common scenario is the above (ticket increases) or a mismatch of room categories. It’s not uncommon for standard rooms to book up fast with Free Dining, forcing people to upgrade to different premium-priced view or location categories that maybe they didn’t want in the first place.
Where can the Disney Dining Plan be used?
The Disney Dining Plan can be used to purchase meals, snacks, treats and beverages at “select participating dining locations” according to Walt Disney World. See the Full List of Restaurants on 2024 Disney Dining Plans, which covers the ~230 spots that accept some form of the DDP.
The only problem with that is it doesn’t specify which is snack, quick-service, table service–and what’s 1 versus 2 table service credits. You’ll have to go restaurant-by-restaurant to figure that out. Also, our Guide to the 2024 Disney Dining Plan covers the basics, what each meal type on the DDP includes, various quirks, and much more. Nothing with the DDP is “simple,” but that will help give you a better understanding of how it works–and how not to use it.
As a general matter, all Disney-owned venues that are focused on food and most third parties accept the Disney Dining Plan in some capacity. Every EPCOT festival booth, counter service restaurant, table service restaurant, etc. The biggest exception to this is restaurants with prix fixe menus.
Where are the best places to use the Disney Dining Plan?
Pretty simple: any restaurants that offer the worst value when paying out of pocket…but that are not Signature Restaurants. Making a couple of generalizations, counter service restaurants that serve ribs or other fancy entrees, character lunches & dinners (and sometimes breakfast), and EPCOT festival kiosks are all usually good uses of credits. More specifically, check out these lists:
Why can’t Disney Vacation Club Members get Free Dining?
They can! So long as DVC Members qualify with the parameters of the promotion, they are eligible to book this special offer. Same goes for Annual Passholders, Florida residents, members of D23, Hell’s Angels, and so forth–anyone is eligible.
However, it seems like those wondering this are actually asking: Why can’t I get free food with no strings attached? The answer to that is, as intimated above, that no one gets Free Dining with no strings attached. Again, no such thing as a free lunch. Free Dining requires the purchase of full priced tickets and accommodations.
Disney Vacation Club members already save 40% or more (in some cases, 70% or more, depending upon when they joined and how they purchased their membership interest) on accommodations. Without question, DVC Members are getting a better deal than Free Dining. For whatever reason, DVC owners seem to think they’re entitled to double-dip on discounts despite having locked-in theirs up-front.
As DVC Members ourselves, we’re sympathetic to a lot of complaints about the program–especially in the last few years. Availability, Member Services, call-center wait times, etc. are all legitimate gripes. This is not.
What about guests from the United Kingdom or Europe?
Okay, so I might stand corrected with the line that “anyone is eligible.”
Although I’ve never seen Walt Disney World directly address this, there have been regular and repeated reports from guests in the United Kingdom and Europe that they are unable to book this (or past) Disney+ subscriber discounts. Disney doesn’t mention anything in the terms & conditions about this.
I have a U.S. Disney+ subscription, so I can’t replicate either this problem or potential solutions. What I do know is that in the past, planners from the UK/EU have been able to book by using a VPN and accessing the U.S. DisneyWorld.com site. From what I understand, that usually works. (Please leave a comment if you have firsthand experience, success or failure, trying this.)
As for the why of this, it’s probably not because Walt Disney World hates international guests. Although it might seem that way, Walt Disney World actually loves guests from outside the United States. They’re more of a captive audience, have higher per guest spending metrics, and typically do longer stays. This is why we routinely refer to British guests as Walt Disney World’s “whales” (non-derogatory). There are typically boring legal explanations for why Disney “blocks” these types of bookings.
This is all confusing?
Not really a question, but I’ll roll with it since this type of sentiment–punctuated by a question mark–is quite common.
I don’t care what any longtime Walt Disney World fans claim, the Disney Dining Plan is confusing. It just isn’t to them because they’ve learned the ins and outs over the course of years. As a general matter, if you are confused or overwhelmed by Free Dining, it probably isn’t for you.
It’s entirely possible you’ll spend a ton of time doing research between now and your trip, and end up wishing you’d done Free Dining. More likely, though, is that you’d be better suited with a more straightforward room-only discount.The convoluted nature of the Disney Dining Plan is a feature, not a bug. (See above comparison to credit cards.)
Free Dining has better “breakage” than other discounts because the vast majority of guests will not use it to full advantage. Not all guests drink alcohol, eat steak, love snacking, etc. For most, the various Disney Dining Plans offer way too much food. Very few people eat in ways that maximize the DDP’s value. By contrast, a room-only discount takes the full amount of money off up front–it’s more of a known quantity. So if you’ve done the math and it seems like a close call on paper but you’re kinda confused by Free Dining/Disney Dining Plan, I’d recommend taking the sure thing and booking the room-only discount. To each their own, though.
Have any questions about the Free Dining special offer for Disney+ subscribers in Summer & Fall 2024 that this FAQ did not answer? Other thoughts or points to address? Will your family be booking or sitting out this Walt Disney World discount? How does this compare to room-only or other discounts for you–is it better or worse? Do you agree or disagree with our perspective on this? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!