The Free Disney Dining Plan at Walt Disney World is the most popular promotion of the year, and its popularity is based upon the tremendous value that it offers to guests, particularly those who plan well. While Free Dining has not yet been released for 2018, we anticipate Free Dining at Walt Disney World being offered for fall and winter travel dates starting in late April 2018.
To maximize your savings, you are going to need Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs), which can be made 180 days in advance, at the most popular restaurants far in advance. This post covers tips for making the best ADRs to get the most bang for your buck (so to speak) out of Free Dining.
For step one, make your ADRs as far in advance as possible. Seriously, we cannot stress this enough: you will need ADRs if you’re visiting during Free Dining. This is because Free Dining veterans who book the promotion year in and year out make ADRs as early as possible, meaning that once your travel dates arrive, most of the best restaurants will already be fully booked.
You should at least make reservations for the restaurants you really want, and that are good choices from a value perspective during the Free Dining promo. Not sure which restaurants you really want that are good values?
Here’s our list, based on a slew of factors including value-for-credits, cuisine quality, theme, demand, and “other” (in one case)…
10. Crystal Palace (Dinner)
This one is all Sarah. It’s been a long time since we’ve done dinner at Crystal Palace and while I remember it being awesome, I think that opinion is partially clouded by the fact that we were on the high of just getting engaged the last time we did dinner there. At that time, I was young and had a wonder wife-to-be, so everything was magical.
Now I’m old and cynical (albeit with a wonderful wife!), and more skeptical of Crystal Palace. I can’t vouch for Crystal Palace at dinner aside from saying it’s an objectively good value (I do enjoy it at breakfast, and the lesser value is made up for by early morning Magic Kingdom time), but I’ll put it here at Sarah’s behest.
9. San Angel Inn
The #5 restaurant on our Best Themed Restaurants at Walt Disney World list, we consider San Angel Inn to be Walt Disney World’s Blue Bayou, with an experience here is every bit as good. I can’t say that we were overwhelmed by our last meal here as fans of Mexican cuisine, but the food skewing towards the Tex-Mex might be a good thing if you’re not used to authentic Mexican food.
We think San Angel Inn has improved in recent years, and the overall experience is excellent. If this doesn’t appeal to you, just about any of the 1-credit table service restaurants in World Showcase offer about the same level of value.
8. Whispering Canyon Cafe
I’m intentionally trying to limit the number of restaurants on this list outside the parks (surprisingly not that difficult given the best options at resorts are Signature Restaurants that require 2 credits, and are typically poor value as a result), but there are a couple that are worth diverting park time to try.
With its rambunctious and fun atmosphere and the glorious Canyon Skillet, Whispering Canyon Cafe is an easy pick here. That’s doubly true if your Free Dining dates fall over the holiday season when Wilderness Lodge is decked out for Christmas.
7. Via Napoli
This can be a brilliant use of a credit or a terrible one depending upon how you play it, and it’s on this list to break that down, more than anything else. If you’re wanting pizza (as you should!) skip it. If you want one of the more expensive menu options and the “Ugly but Good” Sundae, it’s one of the best values on the Disney Dining Plan. If you use a credit on an individual pizza and lower-priced dessert, it’s not so good.
The larger pizzas require multiple credits (2 for Large, 4 for Metro), so don’t think you can beat the system here. It’s a great restaurant no matter how you slice it, but that pizza is tough to resist. If the traditional entrees don’t sound as appealing, we recommend Tokyo Dining or Biergarten, instead. Totally different cuisine, but comparable value and quality.
6. Minnie’s Seasonal Hollywood & Vine
I wanted each park to be represented on this list, and for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, that was a challenge. This is the easy pick, which might come as a surprise to some of you who experienced Hollywood & Vine during the “dark years” when this was one of the worst buffets at Walt Disney World. Now, the food is better than expected, and the character interactions are fantastic. We are especially big fans of Minnie’s Holiday Dine, and would even consider paying the high out of pocket cost to do this meal again! We also really enjoyed the Star Wars meals, and it’d be great to see those return when “Minnie’s meals” are not taking place.
Other sure-fire alternatives in Disney’s Hollywood Studios are Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater (the ambiance there is unparalleled), but it’s only a strong value if you get the steak, and 50’s Prime Time Cafe. We are big fans of both of those restaurants.
5. Tusker House
With the new Tiffins being a Signature Restaurant, it cannot be recommended on the Disney Dining Plan (even though Tiffins is amazing!). In terms of value maximization, there aren’t really any table service restaurants at Disney’s Animal Kingdom fit the bill. The excellent Yak & Yeti is also relatively moderate on the menu front.
Still, this list isn’t all about value maximization, so we’re going to go with Tusker House here (Yak & Yeti would be a fine alternative). It’s not the greatest for character encounters, but the best food of any character dining location (and right up there with Boma as the best buffet at Walt Disney World) and incredible ambiance more than make up for that.
4. Coral Reef
So there are three Epcot restaurants on this list, and none of them are Tutto Italia, objectively one of the top restaurants on our Best Values on the Disney Dining Plan list. What gives? Well, that list is objective, and this also takes subjective factors into consideration.
Subjectively, we aren’t huge fans of Tutto Italia, and think maximizing value without consideration is pointless without taking quality into account. At Coral Reef, you get excellent value for your money, incredible ambiance, and a good meal.
3. ‘Ohana (Dinner)
‘Ohana has great food, nice ambiance, and just this certain energy about it. I have difficulty articulating what makes ‘Ohana special, but it is, and I view it as a quintessential Walt Disney World experience. I can’t be the only one who feels that way, as ‘Ohana is one of the most difficult ADRs to score.
Cape May Cafe is potential alternative here in that it’s somewhat similar in nature to ‘Ohana at dinner (albeit not menu) and an objectively better value on the Disney Dining Plan. However, we prefer the experience at ‘Ohana.
2. Be Our Guest Restaurant (Dinner)
This is going to be the toughest ADR to score for Free Dining. From a value perspective, only the Strip Steak and Lamb Rack really pass muster, but the popularity and fun Disney ambiance make this a restaurant that should be near the top of your list, especially if you have kids. We really love dinner at Be Our Guest Restaurant, so do what you can to score this coveted ADR!
If you can’t score this elusive ADR, a good alternative in Magic Kingdom is Skipper Canteen, which is a lot less popular, but almost as good. It just makes this list on its own merit because of that lower popularity and due to lower price points.
We could see choosing dinner or breakfast at Akershus? Dinner is ~20% more expensive and one of the top restaurants on our Best Values on the Disney Dining Plan list, but the “secret” value to breakfast is getting into Epcot before the park opens for an awesome, empty-park stroll and rope drop access to Frozen Ever After.
We tested this plan with doing breakfast at Akershus before Epcot opening last summer, and while we felt the breakfast was not worth the money, the access was great. If you’re unable to score a coveted FastPass+ for Frozen Ever After, pre-opening breakfast at Akershus is a veritable Golden Ticket. It’s much better than waiting 2 hours in standby!
Obviously, there is a lot of “your mileage may vary” to this list. This list tries to balance value (even though you’re not paying for the Disney Dining Plan, you still want to squeeze as much value out of your credits as possible–otherwise why not just eat cheaply and go for a resort discount?), food-quality, and theme. In so doing, it features a lot of restaurants that wouldn’t make an objectively “best value” list (and skips ones that would). Hopefully, that makes it a good resource as you plan ADRs for Free Dining!
Now…wondering where to stay during Free Dining? Check out our Best Hotels at Walt Disney World for Free Dining post. 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.
Planning other aspects of a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. 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!
Do you agree with our list of the top ADRs for Free Dining at Walt Disney World? Do you have any favorites that didn’t make our list? Any other spots you’re considering? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments!