Ready for some good news?! Free Dining is once again available at Walt Disney World, but there’s a catch: it’s as a summer recovery vacation package for guests who have had to cancel their trips during the months during the closure. (Updated May 11, 2020.)
This new Walt Disney World discount should start to answer that. Even if you’re not eligible to take advantage of the summer recovery dine package, this bodes well for a second wave of the Free Disney Dining Plan Discount for fall and winter travel dates–or potentially even a “reissued release” of the first batch of Free Dining dates. We’ll cover the promo details and offer some speculation here…
May 11, 2020 Update: Over the weekend, Walt Disney World pushed back the booking window until July 1, 2020. We covered this change at length here. There were a lot of changes and cancellations as part of that, so some news got lost in the shuffle.
One such detail was the early ending of the Summer Recovery Free Dining package, as discussed in more detail below in this post. The deal was cut short, and is thus no longer available for booking–it’s also not available for rebooking or modifications.
This means that if you previously took advantage of the Free Dining summer recovery offer and booked June travel dates, you now would not be able to change your travel dates to July and retain Free Dining. (However, some readers in the comments have reported success at doing this over the phone. Best of luck–please report back if you try this and it works for you.)
This might come as a surprise, given that we’ve continually stressed that Walt Disney World will likely be offering more aggressive discounts to lure guests back once the parks and resorts reopen. We maintain that this is likely to be the case, especially later this fall and in 2021, as travel will likely slump for over a year. The economic recovery could take a while, as could assuaging fears that it’s safe to travel.
However, things may be different in the short term. In our Will Walt Disney World Offer 2020 Free Dining Again?we noted that capacity restrictions at restaurants may be a limiting factor on the extent to which Free Dining can be offered. The same may be true with resort limitations. (It’s probably not with regard to the parks–even if the parks are operating at 25% capacity, that still would allow all resort guests to access the parks, even if the hotels are near capacity.)
Right now, cutting the promo short could be a matter of Walt Disney World leadership not having a full or clear picture of what modified operations will look like once the parks and resorts do reopen. It’s likely they do not want to tie their own hands by committing to a discount that (more or less) requires restaurants to operate at a certain capacity. In other words, we’re still expecting more discounts, but Walt Disney World itself is likely in “wait and see” mode before releasing anything else.
For those curious (or who missed it before), below are the full details of Walt Disney World summer recovery dine package. To reiterate, this is no longer being offered, and we’re just keeping it here for posterity…
Eligible Guests can take advantage of a vacation package offer that includes accommodations at a select Disney Resort hotel, park admission and a Disney dining plan–valid for arrivals most nights June 1, 2020 through September 30, 2020 when you book through May 31, 2020.
This offer is valid only for Guests who booked a vacation package or room reservation to stay at a Disney Resort hotel during the dates Walt Disney World Resort is closed. Offer not valid for reservations cancelled before March 1, 2020.
Note that if you’re eligible for the Walt Disney World summer recovery dine package, you should receive an email directly from Disney. However, these don’t always go out, get caught in spam filters, etc. Calling Walt Disney World (this deal can only be booked over the phone) or having your Authorized Disney Vacation Planner do it for you should yield success.
Again, we cannot emphasize enough that this Free Dining deal is only available to guests who have had their trips cancelled by Disney, or proactively cancelled. New bookings are not eligible at this time. There are no exceptions to that. (In other words: don’t bother calling and clogging up the phone lines if you’re not eligible!)
This means that Value and Moderate Resort guests receive the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan, while Deluxe and Deluxe Villa guests receive the standard Disney Dining Plan. Beyond that, it follows all of the normal “rules” of Free Dining, which is to say that you’re required to purchase non-discounted tickets and pay full price for the hotel.
Walt Disney World offering this discount isn’t a huge surprise. It will leave guests feeling better about having to cancel, especially after many have had to deal with long waits on hold and some reported difficulties in receiving a refund.
Moreover, this is also almost certainly a better discount than anyone with a Spring Break or Easter trip had booked. Conversely, some guests with bookings for May might find this to be a worse deal than what they’d previously booked. As always with Free Dining, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” It’s essential to do the math.
From Walt Disney World’s perspective, it’s an even savvier move. Disney will need to find a way to fill hotel rooms and get occupancy to a respectable number once the parks & resorts resume operations. No matter what your perspective on whether or not the parks will be packed when Walt Disney World reopens, it’s safe to assume that the resorts will not be busy in at least the first month or two after the parks reopen.
A lot of guests will cancel preemptively, meaning bookings will be getting lighter for June through September 2020. Beyond that, most people cannot book a vacation on a moment’s notice for only a few days or even a few weeks later. That’s presumably the turnaround time between the announcement that the parks are reopening and the date of said reopening, whenever that may be.
When the parks do reopen, they’ll be heavily dependent–at least initially–on locals and nearby Annual Passholders. By and large, this is not the demographic that’s booking hotel stays.
Free Dining will help buoy bookings for June through September 2020, which are months that will presumably otherwise be fairly light on hotel reservations. This is a big part of why we’re expecting a slew of additional deals to be released once Disney has a more certain idea of when the parks and hotels will likely be able to resume operations.
Don’t be too upset if you’re ineligible to book Free Dining for June through September 2020 right now. It would be more surprising to us if this discount is not reissued to the general public in the near future. Beyond that, we’d expect aggressive room only discounts and aggressive offers for Annual Passholders and Florida residents.
Even then, we still wouldn’t be surprised to see some resorts consolidated, like Port Orleans or Art of Animation/Pop Century. Given the likelihood that convention business will be slow to recover, a delayed reopening of Coronado Springs Resort also seems possible. (All of this is totally uninformed speculation on my part.)
Walt Disney World has significantly increased its hotel room inventory in the last decade. That was great when business was booming and people were willing to pay a significant premium for on-site accommodations. It remains to be seen whether that’ll be a liability going forward. (I already wrote ~2,000 words on the topic in Will Walt Disney World Offer Huge Discounts After Reopening? My answer to the titular question was an emphatic yes–so now you know where I stand on that.)
One thing that should be emphasized is that this does not mean the Walt Disney World parks & resorts will reopen on or before June 1, 2020. It’s a signal that Disney has that intent, but it’s not conclusive. As we’ve noted in several other posts about the current situation, so much remains to be seen between now and then. Even with this deal, the parks could reopen earlier or later than June.
Rather, this should be viewed as Walt Disney World acknowledging the above–that having vacation packages and resort reservations booked is a necessary prerequisite for operating the parks and resorts. If hotel occupancy numbers aren’t at a certain level, it’s not practicable to operate them. In order to hit said number, Disney needs to start accepting reservations for future travel dates…even if those end up having to be cancelled as travel dates draw nearer.
Have you been able to book this Walt Disney World summer recovery dine package? Was it the full Free Dining or Free Dining Lite? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Any questions we can help you answer? 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!