2024 Free Dining at Disney World FAQ

We’ve received a lot of questions about the 2024 Free Dining deal at Walt Disney World for select dates in July through December 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. (Updated April 8, 2024.)

The latest development is that the ‘second wave’ of this year’s Free Dining discount is bookable beginning April 9, 2024. Starting then, Disney Visa Cardmembers can get a Free Disney Dining Plan when purchasing a non-discounted 4-night, 4-day Walt Disney Travel Company package that includes a room at a select Walt Disney World Resort hotel and theme park ticket with a Park Hopper option. Free Dining will be offered for select travel dates in July, September, and December 2024.

Full details will be released on the morning of April 9, 2024. It’s our expectation that the second wave will follow the normal rules of Free Dining, consistent with the first wave released back in January (see our Guide to 2024 Free Dining at Walt Disney World). Additionally, it’s likely you’ll need to use a Disney Visa Card or Disney Rewards Redemption Card to pay the deposit, and that the Disney Visa Cardmember must stay in the room. Other than that, there are still some unknowns and plenty of confusion, and that’s what this FAQ aims to address…

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 time will Free Dining go live on April 9, 2024?

Officially, that’s unknown.

Discounts go live online at random times very early in the morning–not at a set time like midnight, 6 a.m. or 8 a.m. The first wave of Free Dining this year went live around 4:45 a.m. Eastern.

Even when we began searching for availability at that hour, the “We’re Almost into Orbit” virtual queue was already in use to access the discount page and search. But it was immediate access until around 6 a.m., if I recall correctly. Accordingly, we’d recommend aiming for around 5:30 a.m. if you want to be there around when the deal drops, but not so early that you’re wasting time and losing sleep. That’s about the best balance.

What are arrival dates for the second wave of Free Dining?

Walt Disney World has stated that Free Dining will be available during select dates in July, September and December 2024. For reference, the first wave of 2024 Free Dining was available for travel dates from July 1 through September 30, 2024, with no blockouts.

UPDATE: Walt Disney World has now released the official full set of arrival dates for the second wave of 2024 Free Dining:

  • July 1-31, 2024
  • September 1-7, 2024
  • December 9-21, 2024

Full details will be released on the morning of April 9, 2024.

What if my entire trip doesn’t fall within the eligible date ranges for Free Dining?

Note that the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion is always based upon arrival dates. For example, if you arrive on December 21 and stay until December 29, you are eligible for Free Dining–even though the vast majority of your trip is outside the arrival eligibility window.

However, if you arrive on December 8 and stay until December 16, you are not eligible for Free Dining, even though more of your stay falls during an “eligible” period than the first example. This specific example, or a variation thereof, could actually end up being incredibly common.

That overlaps with our favorite week of the year at Walt Disney World and one we’ve been recommending to readers for the last decade-plus. Judging by the number of people we always meet in the parks that week, a disproportionate number of you actually follow our advice when it comes to Christmas-time visits.

Is there any workaround to get Free Dining in the second scenario?

The obvious one would be adjusting your travel dates. We’d recommend that if you have the flexibility and won’t be out any money as a result of change or cancellation fees.

The other option is doing a split stay. Book the ineligible arrival days as part of one vacation and a second vacation starting at the first valid “arrival” date and continuing thereafter. The main problem with this is tickets. With Free Dining, you’re required to purchase a minimum duration Park Hopper ticket, and doing two separate ticket transactions (instead of a single longer duration ticket) will likely end up costing you more.

Nevertheless, this can be a viable option if you’re only off by a day or two, in which case you can start with a non-parks day or one of the hard ticket events (After Hours, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, depending upon the month.) It might take the stars aligning to get this to work, so modifying travel dates is really the best bet.

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.

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 if I already booked a reservation and didn’t use a Disney Visa for the deposit?

I’m only answering this one because it was asked a couple of times in the comments to the announcement, not because I have a definitive answer. My expectation is that you’ll need to either modify in such a way that allows you to change the method of deposit (likely calling) or cancel and rebook.

A lot of Walt Disney World fans seem to have trepidations about going the cancel and rebook route–not wanting to lose out on what they already have. In which case, consider booking a new reservation under the Free Dining promo and then canceling the old one.

What’s the likelihood of more discounts for travel dates 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.

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 special offers for some of those dates will be released alongside this second wave of Free Dining.

As for forward-looking predictions about subsequent waves of Free Dining for 2024 at Walt Disney World, it’s possible but not probable. With this offer including travel dates in December–the 12th month of the year–this deal is already at the end of the calendar.

However, that doesn’t mean a third wave of Free Dining is unlikely. If you look back to the 2019 playbook, there were three waves of the discount released–to different groups (general public vs. Disney Visa) and different date ranges. The only reason I could see a third wave this year is if Walt Disney World occupancy targets end up falling well short of expectations for August through November, and they need to scramble to offer something last minute. They’ve been playing games with discount releases all year, so it’s definitely possible–I just wouldn’t bank on it happening.

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. 

Are room and ticket discounts better than Free Dining? 

It depends.

Again, it’s likely that room-only discounts will be released for July 8 through December 25, 2024 (or thereabouts) at some point. If following the precedent of last year, room-only discounts for July through late September 2024 travel dates will come out alongside the second wave of Free Dining, and offer 10% to 30% off rack rates, depending upon the resort. Following that, room discounts on early October through late December 2024 travel dates are likely to be released in mid-June. It’s also entirely possible all of these dates are released at once, with another ‘early booking’ extended savings offer.

In addition to this, there’s currently the Multi-Day Magic Tickets for Spring to Fall 2024 at Walt Disney World. If these make sense for your trip, this paired with a room-only rate can be a fantastic discount. The math is going to vary based on party size, resort tier, travel dates, vacation duration and personal preferences, but I’d go with this ticket plus a room-only rate for a 4-5 day Walt Disney World vacation in most borderline scenarios.

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.

Are there any other options for comparison shopping? 

If you’re overwhelmed or want someone else to do the homework for you, use a travel agent. Any travel agent! We recommend requesting a FREE no obligation quote from Be Our Guest Vacations, an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner and having them book for you.

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, 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.

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.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. 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!


Have any questions about the Free Dining special offer 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!

18 Responses to “2024 Free Dining at Disney World FAQ”
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