Disney Free Dining 2018 – What You Need to Know
I am a Disney Dining Plan evangelist. On this site, I’ve previously discussed the pros of this program as well as the changes for 2018. I’m a fervent believer that purchasing a Disney Dining Plan is the most liberating way to vacation at Walt Disney World. Honestly, only one thing could make it better…and that one thing is about to happen! Here’s what you need to know about the Disney Free Dining package!
The Basics of Disney Free Dining
Ask any Mickey Traveler about the Disney Free Dining package and a goofy smile will cross their face. Most frequent guests to Walt Disney World are familiar with the program and many have even taken advantage of it at some point. In case you’re not one of them, here’s what you need to know.
The Disney Free Dining package is exactly what it sounds like. You book a room at an official Walt Disney World resort. As part of the deal, Disney throws in a Disney Dining Plan (DDP) as part of the deal. Your eyes have probably gone wide at the thought of this. Yes, you can book an entire Disney vacation while receiving free meals as a happy bonus!
The Rules of the Disney Dining Plan
You may not realize this, but there are three different versions of the Disney Dining Plan. The Deluxe Disney Dining Plan is actually my favorite, but it’s never available as part of Free Disney Dining. The primary two options for this offer are the Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan and the Disney Dining Plan.
Both of these plans are wonderful. The one that works best for your family depends on your eating habits and your designated resort of choice. The Quick-Service Dining Plan is the offer you’re most likely to take.
With this free dining deal, you’ll receive two Quick-Service Meals and two Snacks per day. Each member of your traveling party that stays in your hotel room will receive these meal credits, something I’ll explain in a moment. The only catch is that the hotel guest must be at least three years old. Your baby won’t get extra entitlements. Other than that, everyone in your room can eat two meals a day for free! Plus, they’ll get two snacks each! Everyone will eat like royalty when they use the Disney Dining Plan.
The way that the system works is that Disney attaches a set number of entitlements to your room. The exact number depends on two factors: the length of your stay and the size of your party. Let’s say that you’re a couple spending five nights at a Disney resort. You’ll receive two Quick Service entitlements each for every day of your trip. That’s a total of 20 entitlements (four total entitlements per day for five days) that you can spend however you want.
For example, you can spend six entitlements on a day when you want breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On the last day of your trip, you may run out of entitlements before dinner. That’s totally fine! You’ll just pay for that meal. Since you may want to eat at a Table Service restaurant at some point, the problem usually solves itself.
Table Service vs. Quick Service Explained
At this point, you’re probably wondering what a Table Service restaurant is. Well, Disney has two primary types of restaurant designations. One is Quick Service, and the other is Table Service. There’s also one called Signature Dining, but it’s only for a handful of restaurants at Walt Disney World. We’ll ignore it for now.
A Quick Service restaurant is what you’d usually describe as a counter service eatery. It’s a place where you would buy a burger and fries or maybe a sandwich. At Disney, many of the counter service menus have elevated foods that will blow away your expectations for theme park cuisine. At each one, your dining plan entitles you to an entrée, a side, and a beverage. Note that the beverage can be non-alcoholic (like lemonade, tea, or a Coke) or alcoholic (a beer or glass of wine).
Should you want to eat more Table Service meals, you’ll want the Disney Dining Plan, the original and most straightforward. With this plan, you’ll get one Quick Service and one Table Service restaurant entitlement each day plus two snacks.
What’s a Table Service restaurant? These are the nicer sit-down establishments that offer more refined menus and sometimes also character meet-and-greets. You can check Disney’s website to see whether a restaurant is Quick Service or Table Service.
While you’ll eat better at a Table Service restaurant, Quick Service has a brilliant new feature. Disney’s added Mobile Ordering functionality at these eateries. You can order your food through the My Disney Experience app on your phone. You can also use your Disney Free Dining entitlements to pay for it.
Then, you will walk to the designated restaurant and skip the line. Your food will be waiting for you at a special counter location. It’s the fastest, most convenient way to eat at Walt Disney World, and it allows you to maximize your park time. For this reason, the Quick-Service Dining Plan is now preferable for many vacationers.
The Changes to Free Disney Dining
Up until 2017, anyone staying at a Moderate or Deluxe Disney resort received the Disney Dining Plan as their Disney Free Dining deal. Yes, the place where you stay determines the type of plan that you’ll get. Disney wants to incentivize travelers to stay at nicer, more expensive resorts, and they do this by giving away a great dining package for free.
In 2017, Disney altered the terms. Now, the only guests who get a full Disney Dining Plan are the ones who stay at Deluxe resorts, places like Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and Disney’s Contemporary Resort. In other words, you’ll get the better dining plan, the one that includes Table Service meals, but it’ll cost you. These resorts are the most expensive ones at Walt Disney World. They’re also the best ones, meaning that you’ll definitely get what you pay for.
Presuming that your budget precludes you from a Deluxe resort or you just aren’t interested in staying at one of these, your Disney Free Dining deal is the Quick-Service Dining Plan. As mentioned above, that’s actually better one for folks who don’t want to spend a lot of time at a restaurant.
I eat at Table Service places most of the time, and it’s rare when a meal takes less than 90 minutes. That’s a LOT of downtime that you could spend at wonderful Disney attractions. In a way, the recent changes to the Free Disney Dining offer save you from yourself.
Also, Mobile Ordering wasn’t available at this time last year. In truth, the Quick-Service Dining Plan is even BETTER this year because of that future. You simply cannot go wrong either version of the Free Disney Dining offer, though. It’s free food and lowers the price of your Disney vacation! What’s not to love?
The Timing of Free Disney Dining
Recently, Disney has offered the Disney Free Dining deal during the fall. The idea is that this timeframe is still the offseason at Walt Disney World, even though their new tiered admission price system has balanced overall park traffic. In other words, fall is still “slow” compared to more popular park periods like major holidays, spring break, and the summer.
Regular park guests know that the fall has evolved into one of the best visitation periods, though. Special events like Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Part and the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival begin in August and last into November. Yes, the Disney Free Dining plan is conveniently available during one of the optimal times to visit Walt Disney World!
Given all of this information, you naturally want to book a room with the Free Disney Dining package. The one caveat I must point out is that this offer is unquestionably the most popular one. Demand for it dwarfs any other deal, and these packages sell out quickly.
The prevailing wisdom with many unofficial Disney blogs is that this year’s offer could begin in the next couple of days (April 23 or 24 range possibly). You HAVE to contact a MickeyTravels agent as soon as possible. These experts provide a free service setting up your vacation reservations for you, and they’ll know the moment that the booking window opens. Since they’re experienced with this program, they give you the best chance of getting the hotel room that you want with the Free Disney Dining plan included.
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