2018 Free Dining Predictions
As promised, we have some Free Disney Dining Plan promotion predictions for Fall/Winter 2018 at Walt Disney World. Up front we want to be clear: we do not yet know what exact dates will be (but we do have rumored 2018 Free Dining dates here). Rather, this post offers predictions about what you can expect in terms of availability so you can manage your expectations.
The first thing we want to do is–for like the thousandth time–reiterate that Walt Disney World does not offer any promotion out of corporate generosity. Free Dining exists to incentivize guests to travel at times of year that have historically lower hotel occupancy rates.
The problem (well, unless you’re Disney!) is that occupancy rates have steadily increased for the last several years. This has been true even for times that were low seasons in the past, and there are a number of explanations for this, from a rise in conventions to special events to consumer confidence. We’ve covered all of this in past posts, so we won’t rehash it here.
The salient point is that Walt Disney World has less of a need to offer discounts to fill hotel rooms. Those of you who follow the financial side of Disney might recall several years ago when then-chairman of Parks & Resorts Jay Rasulo stated Disney’s goal is to slowly wean guests off major discounts at the theme parks, but at the same time, “we don’t believe we’re dealing with an economy that allows us to cut off the discounting immediately.”
Well, that time is now. With a strong economy for the past few years, the weaning has already begun. We’ve witnessed Free Dining slowly scaled back at the Value and Moderate Resorts, and other promotions have not been nearly as aggressive as their counterparts in prior years.
Moreover, as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge prepares to open late next year, Disney fans should be bracing for a time when discount availability is incredibly limited–if not totally nonexistent. We don’t think it’s all that bold of a prediction to say that Free Dining, as we know it today, probably won’t exist come 2020.
We anticipate that Walt Disney World’s Free Dining dates will track fairly closely with last year’s Free Dining dates. (See this post for historical/rumored dates.) The most reliable set of dates will be in mid-August to late September, and those dates should also have the best availability in terms of hotels. Don’t expect a single day in October. A scattering of November dates should be available again, and there’s likely to be a stretch in December after (but not including) the first week and running until as late as December 22.
As compared to last year, the dates most likely to be scaled back are in November and December. While not as busy as October, the “off-season” dates in these months have increased in popularity. Expect the November and December dates that are offered to have more limited hotel availability than September.
We’d also anticipate that Walt Disney World will continue its recent trend of offering an extended date range for Disney Visa cardholders. This offer is somewhat akin to a bounce-back in that it is more restrictive than a general public offer, and makes it easier for Disney to offer certain “borderline” dates to a subset of the general public.
One tidbit we heard recently, and I had a difficult time believing this, is that Walt Disney World must offer 50% of its available room inventory for any date and room category that is included in any discount offered to the general public. Rather than doing the smart thing and, you know, asking follow-up questions when presented with this information, I just shook my head and said, “no way–no way.”
Most people who have experience with Free Dining the last couple of years has likely encountered firsthand–or heard stories of–people being denied on the morning the deal dropped, despite their resort choice and dates falling within the promo range.
However, if you take a step back from the above (supposed) requirement, a few things stand out. First, although I don’t know just “who” is mandating this 50% number, whether it be Disney internally or external. If the latter, an FTC mandate seems most plausible. There has been a growing crackdown on illusory discounts and phantom markdowns, and hotel room inventory in a discount could fall under the purview of an FTC rule. (For what it’s worth, I did some research and couldn’t find anything.)
Second, there’s the word available in room inventory. This could very well mean that if a resort is already at 80% occupancy for a certain time of year before Free Dining drops, Disney only is required to offer 10% of the rooms (half of 20%) for that resort. With occupancy rates inching up every year for the past several, that could explain the dearth of availability the last couple years.
Third, it’s also possible that Disney allocated more than 50% of its inventory to Free Dining in the past, and has reduced that to 50% as occupancy rates have been on the rise. This would compound the relative lack of inventory as compared to previous years.
Finally, Disney’s hotel room inventory has decreased over the last couple of years. In addition to the buildings that were demolished last year at Coronado Springs and Caribbean Beach, Wilderness Lodge had hotel rooms converted to Disney Vacation Club, and several resorts had large blocks of rooms taken out of inventory as large-scale refurbishments occurred. For Free Dining fans, the most notable of these has been Pop Century. Again, another compounding factor.
There is a silver lining, at least. Pop Century’s rooms should all be back into inventory by the start of Free Dining. Really, the only large-scale refurbishment we can think of that will impact room inventory will be Old Key West, and that’s hardly a hotspot for Free Dining.
With all of that said, we don’t doubt that Disney has ways of manipulating its available room inventory. Rooms could be blocked off as “out of service” so as to avoid inclusion in the promotion, only to be brought back at a later date. This could explain why availability has suddenly appeared a week or so after the promotion has kicked off in the past.
Even with all of these caveats, it’s still very hard to believe that some of the resorts had anything more than a minimal amount of availability. Some resorts were “sold out” almost instantly the first morning last year, and although many of these ended up having availability open up later, it was disconcerting to such limited options on day one.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that you should really temper your expectations, and plan on being flexible with your hotel choice, room category, and even travel dates if Free Dining is a must-have for you. With each year, Free Dining gains in popularity, and more people try to score the deal, and every year for the last several, availability has been lower. Free Dining is more competitive, more stress-inducing, and just plain more difficult than it was only a few years ago. For many people, Free Dining release is like Christmas morning. Unlike Christmas, though, this is a day on which many of you will just get lumps of coal.
Want more dining recommendations? Check out our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. For info on whether the DDP is right for you, read our Ultimate Guide to the Disney Dining Plan. For comprehensive vacation advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Have any predictions for Free Dining this year? If you’re trying for Free Dining, what travel dates are you aiming for? Are you ‘sitting out’ Free Dining this year, not wanting to deal with the headache and stress? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!
We have been going to Disney world for over 30years and as of this year will be 14 years in a row!I was not offered free dinning this year as the date start I go are in November.It I start getting to cost so much to go now and it seems that the Corp does for families. I still have a ticket from the 70’s and was only $ 3.I am going to ask on this blog to Disney to give back those dinning dates and help families enjoy their stay .I am really thinking of not going their if they don’t help out.With this comment I would hope that Disney would contact me and work something out
Anyone know what time the dining promo has traditionally been released online for booking once announced? Trying to decide what time to set that alarm. Thanks!
It varies every year as there is no “official” time the promo goes live (it’s usually a random time–I think it was like 5:28 a.m. last year), but I usually set my alarm for 5 a.m.
The important thing is really just to modify or book before 8 a.m., as that’s when the vast majority of people get up and check for it, and the system slows to a crawl.
Do we know yet if tomorrow is the definite day?
Hi Tom, I am currently as Disneyland and have set my alarm for 3:30am this morning….after a late night. At DCA today and will need to set alarm again for tomorrow. but my airport shuttle arrives at 8am. Last year I set my alarm and had a hard time with the system modifying my existing reservation online to free dining. I then called reservations beginning at 7:12 ESTand after several disconnects, the only way to get the free dining was to upgrade my room. Are the times you are referring to in this article and the Free Dining dates article EST?
I logged on at 5:15 am this morning and it was available!
We were going to shoot for free dining the weekend after Thanksgiving, but bought into DVC this year instead. We’ll skip that whole headache thanks.
For arrivals between January 1 — April 7, 2019 and April 26 — November 30, 2019, guests at participating Moderate Resorts will receive the Quick Service Dining Plan for free.
Your saying Disney wants to wean us off discounts and promotions, Yet, the Brits get free dining for the whole year! Not buying it!
So….question…… Staying Sept 10- 17….at art of animation because we have twin 7 year old boys and an 11 year old.. Ive read conflicting stories on Dining plan this year..
First that ONLY mermaid rooms were excluded and now that ALL of Art of animation will be excluded….any ideas???.
We are booked for Polynesian Sept 6 -11. Does anyone know if the standard rooms have been exempt from free dining?
This is the exact reason we bought a timeshare off property. I am literally 5 minutes away, my unit sleeps 10 people and to boot I only paid $1.00 for it on Ebay and have used it several times already. I’m getting Disney tickets ate discounted prices through my employer and it also makes it much easier to get to Universal to visit with Harry Potter. We did bite the bullet and stayed at PC last year, with upgraded dining (we got the lowest deal for free) and had a wonderful time, however the money isn’t worth it any longer. The kids enjoy my time share pools more than the crowded Disney pool. So don’t lose all hope, there are still discounts to be found other than “free” dining.
You paid $1.00 for a timeshare??? How does this work….please explain LOL
People just trying to get out from under the yearly fees and costs will sometimes give them away ($1.00) to just be done with it.
I have 3 children and have been taking them to WDW at least once a year for the last 7 or 8 years. My oldest two are now in college and I’ve told them that this year’s December trip may not happen. They are pricing the average person out. The people who supported the place while the economy was bad are now not able to afford it. They are not looking for me anymore. We don’t buy there $40 t-shirts anymore. We know what we want to see and how and when to get there. They can’t make as much money off us as they can new patrons. I love WDW but I’ve been there 21 times and if they keep raising the prices I’m done. I’m in business so I understand why they do it but I will take one trip a year somewhere where I feel appreciated.
We can’t agree more!! We are so disappointed by all that is going on, that my husband wrote to the CEO—stating your points of view–that the average family can no longer afford to go to our favorite place Like you we have taken kids, grandkids and just the 2 of us 12-15 times but it’s outragious!! $40 t-shirt, be damned!!. We don’t believe Walt would be happy with the state of things now. It no longer is a “Happy Place” for all!! Just the wealthy. When it costs $7-10 thousand dollars for a family of 5—-we don’t condone or accept. We did the comparison to Universal and it’s much less. They said they do the comparisons, but—–
So we will cruise or find another venue that is a better value for our $
Paula & Steve
Absolutely agree with you!
Years ago, maybe 2012, we booked a WDW magic pkg for a week at the first week of September with free dining & park hopper plus passes with a room at Pop Century & it was $1300 total for 2 people. It was a great deal and the reason we started staying on WDW property instead of as previously renting a nearby comfortable & spacious condo where we could buy some groceries, prepare our own meals and eat in for a good portion of our meals in order to cut costs. When you’re a middle class family travelling with your kids it can be difficult to budget for a week of eating out every day for every meal, that can be quite costly. With free dining in our pkg It was nice to have meals included and not have to go shopping or cook or do dishes. We had the quick service free and paid additional money out of pocket for some full service restaurant meals occasionally just as we would have when we stayed in a condo rental. The money saved by not having to bother with a car rental we then spent at the parks. Now the same pkg around the same week for 2 people staying at Pop Century prices out at approx $2200. Thats almost a thousand dollar increase in price. Without free dining I’m not sure it would be worth it for me to stay on property anymore. For four people we needed 2 rooms. The music all star suites wouldn’t work for us with the fold out beds made for small children. Our grown sons will not share a bed. I do like staying on property. In fact, we’ve been going back every year for a week up to 12 days, usually in November to escape the cold up north here for a bit at the same time, however, with rising prices and the parks getting more and more crowded and the long wait lines, we might put off going back indefinitely. For us, We’ve done all the old stuff at DW repeatedly, still enjoyable but, some of it is getting tired, and I’d love to experience all the new attractions coming soon but, during our last trip even with booking them in advance it was hard to get fastpasses for Pandora and when there we did the flight ride and not the river ride because you had to pick one, you cant book both attractions on fastpass! No way any of us would wait in the standby lines for 90 to 160 minutes to ride the other. Not worth it. Sad but… between price increases, crowd increases equalling longer than bearable lines and now perhaps no more free dining deals it Might be time to replace Disney with a new vacation plan.
If you stay Nov 15-25 is that through the block out because of Thanksgiving for free dining. I know that usually if it falls on at least one of the dates they usually let you have it.
If it’s offered on the day you arrive, you get it for your entire stay. If you arrive before or after it’s offered, you don’t get it.
Well, my family wouldn’t be able to afford another trip anytime soon without free dining. It saved us quite a bit and made the difference of going or not going when we did. It makes me depressed to think about the total loss of this opportunity.They still get their money from us thru Memory Maker, Park Hopper, 2 extra days stay, etc…I wouldn’t go without a decent length stay or either of the two add-ons…we don’t HAVE to have souvenirs, but they are nice to have and budget determines that…*sigh*
Same here. Love staying on property, so much more convenient, great perks, but without free dining we may just stay off property. First time we went, we stayed in a beautiful condo ten minutes away with enough room for 5 of us and the in-laws for less than half the cost of a room. We’ll see. I hope we can get the deal, we did the last two time we went in 14 and 15.
Any news about room discounts for the end of August?
Would it not be counter productive to make a reservation now for anticipated free dining? That would lead Disney to view the resort at “full” and not in need of discounts.
In a perfect world, everyone would make a pact to not make reservations to give the appearance that occupancy is low. The problem with this is that everyone acts in their own self-interest, and makes a reservation now since it’s often easier to modify than it is to make a new reservation.
In reality, I think Disney is sophisticated enough to know that many bookings now exist in the anticipation of Free Dining, and they see a lot of cancellations and modifications once the actual dates are released. They’ve been doing this long enough to have some understanding of the occupancy trends of Free Dining itself, too.
Well, in all reality, the two times we went during Free Dining, we were going to go anyway. FD was just a bonus. I’m the kind of person who will make my plans (and budget what it actually costs), and then any discounts we get are a bonus. They either mean actual savings for us or the freedom to do extras. So some are going to be there with or without Free Dining… it’s just hard to know how many there actually are.
When the dates drop is it like fast passes, you get online at 5 am ready to go? Will they announce it via email or you check the website daily as we get closer to April? Do we call and find out?
It’s worse than Fast Passes – expect to be on hold for three hours…
Our last trip in September 2017 I waited until our last to call for the free dining bounce back. At 7am the hold time was 2 hours. Needless to stay I didn’t hold nor did we book a free dining bounceback for this year. Our time is valuable as well. I do love the free dining idea but not the non discounted stay or being forced into park hopper tickets.
Couldn’t you just modify and add the free dining through your MDE? Tom said in another one of his blog posts that you can do that and it’s much easier.
Doing art of animation in September of tjis year… Nemo family suites… Travel agent will not let me pay anymore in case dining plan comes out free… Our dates are Sept 7 till 17… Think we will be ok?????
Do you have to have tickets included in your reservation in order to get free dining?
Yes. You have to have a Magic your way package.
Not necessarily. If you book a room and have an annual pass, you can call and get the free dining added on if available. I’ve had friends do it.
Maria, can I ask how they had free dining added to a room only reservation that was booked with an annual pass? Normally, there is a 3 day park hopper ticket stipulation for the free dining, and the reservation needs to be applied to everyone. If one person booked the room with an annual pass discount, they wouldn’t need hopper tickets? So the free dining would only apply to the other people in the room that would be buying tickets separately? And the AP holder would have to pay for the dining package on their own? My TA told me that there wasn’t a way to make an AP reservation work with free dining…..
There is a catch, if the requirements is 2 nights or up for hoppers for the free dining, YOU MUST buy those and then customer service will adjust or add to your annual passes. This was on the disboards forum a week or so ago.
I, for one, welcome the death of free dining. She’s been bleeding slowly the last few years, do the humane thing and put her down.
What is the best plan of action for December free dinning?? We are getting ready to make reservations at Riverside and add the dinning plan. When the dates drop is it better to already have reservations and dinning on your plan? Just curious.
Nina, I am wondering the same thing. We already have reservations Dec 16-22 at Pop Century. We do not have a dining plan. I have never used the dining plan before and was thinking about it this time but then read that it is many times offered during this time of year. I wonder if i just call when we hear about a release of free dining and ask to have it added to our reservation? Does anyone know? Nina and I would love suggestions. Thanks
You actually have to call and “modify” your reservation, which actually cancels your current reservation and makes a new one. So choosing the dinning plan now really doesn’t do you any good or makes any difference.
When you modify/cancel then you have to pay the new rates right?
I believe Tom said in another blog that you can also modify it through your MDE. He actually said it’s much easier to do it that way.
I have already booked, I plan to change my reservation and modify this way, much easier and the reservation doesn’t need to be cancelled and then rebooked.
Have you done this before with a free dining promo? Some modifications I wanted to make to my booking last year could not be done online, when I tried I was instructed to phone them. I didnt think this, adding free dining, could likely be modified online?
I’m think so because Tom mentioned it in one of his blogs that you can and he highly recccomends it.
Have you done it this way before? Are you sure you can do this particular modification, add the free dining promo to your booking, online?
Cool! That’s what I thought you can do, thanks!
I’m booked for 9-18-2018 and I staying at Disney all star movie do you think they will do free Dining there and if so what all would I have to do to get it
I am relatively sure All Star movies is not usually included in the free dining promotion. Perhaps look at All Star music or sports?