Booking Free Dining at Walt Disney World

Free Dining is the most popular Walt Disney World vacation package deal, year after year. Not only do people love getting FREE food, but it’s also a tremendous bargain for a large number of families. Because it’s so popular, however, it’s also one of the hardest discount offers to book. This page contains advice for maximizing your chances of booking this offer (and other popular discount offers), plus tips for choosing the best deal for your family and making the most of the benefits.

This page is primarily about the Free Dining offer, but the same basic advice can be used for any tough booking at Walt Disney World. If you want to get the Stay, Play and Dine offer (usually offered in the early Spring), or want to book the Beach Club during the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, you can use the same basic strategies.

Free Dining: The Basics

Free Dining is a package discount at Walt Disney World that has been offered most years since 2005. The exact details vary from year to year, but the basic offer is typically as follows:

Free Dining: World’s Toughest Offer to Book?

Every year when the Free Dining offer comes out, we see a massive number of people complain on various sites, such as Facebook, that “there’s nothing available.” And we always head over to Walt Disney World’s website, check a bunch of date ranges, and find that there are, in fact, rooms available for most dates. The selection is not great, especially on popular weekend days, but there’s usually something available.

The key to success is flexibility. If you are only looking at one date range, and a holiday falls on those dates, then yes, the selection is going to be pretty limited. It’s important to get creative. If you can’t find anything for the specific date range you most want, check shorter periods to try to figure out which day or days are unavailable. Take another look at your calendar and ask yourself if there’s any other dates when you could travel. If your district offers an unusual break that no other district does, that can be a great opportunity. If your kids don’t start school until the end of August or the beginning of September, you can probably find some availability in mid-to-late August, and that’s a fairly slow time. Yes, it’s going to be hot. Bring a hat, take a break in the middle of the day, and get a cooling towel for everyone. It’s hot, but everywhere you go at Disney World you’re only a few steps away from an air-conditioned space. Make good use of the early and late hours when the parks are most bearable.

If you’ve always stayed at Value resorts, maybe consider Moderates as well; sometimes they don’t cost that much more, and the amenities are nice. They also book up slightly slower than the Values, so availability will often be better, especially at Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs. And if you usually stay in a Moderate, take a hard look at the less expensive Deluxe resorts. The Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge have lower rates than the other Deluxe resorts, and typically don’t book up as quickly as the Moderates and Values.

If you don’t have kids in school, it probably should go without saying: take your trip when school is in session. Look up the vacation days for the school districts around you, and don’t go during those vacations if you can possibly help it. The non-holiday segments of September, November or December are often a great time to be at Walt Disney World – it’s less crowded and less hot. (October is also a good time, but is often blacked out for Free Dining.) Try to schedule as much of your trip as possible on weekdays. On weekends, locals and people within a half-day drive will come in and the parks will get much more crowded.

Check all of your possible date ranges for availability, as well as sub-ranges; if you can’t get all the dates you need, can you get some of them? If you can get the first or last part of your trip, you can book that to lock it in, then keep trying to add days. Often as people cancel bookings it’s possible to get a day here and a day there until you’ve got all of your days, or at least enough to be workable. At that point, you can call Disney (or transfer your booking to a travel agent) and get all the small bookings merged into one long one. If you can get every night but your arrival night, consider spending one night in an off-property hotel. If you’re going to be arriving at night anyway, you can check into an independent hotel just for that night, and check into your Disney resort first thing the next morning to activate your package.

A key factor is to jump on the discounts as soon as they come out. It’s a good idea to check our historical Walt Disney World discounts list so you have some idea of when a particular discount is likely to appear, and then check the MouseSavers home page every day, starting a few weeks before you think it’s likely to appear. When the discount actually goes live, you will want to get on the phone and/or online as soon as possible. When the offer comes out, the Disney’s phones will open up at 7 am Eastern, though sometimes the offers have been bookable online an hour earlier. It may take a long time to get through, and the web site may be flaky as it gets hammered by everyone trying to book at the same time. Be patient. If that sounds like torture to you, you’re not alone; we feel the same way, which is why we use a travel agent for these tough bookings.

If you can’t get what you want at first, it’s important to be persistent and keep checking. People cancel or adjust their hotel reservations every day, so rooms that were booked up solid can become available at any time. We recommend checking at least once a day. And again: be flexible. If you only check for your favorite resort and one set of dates, you’re far less likely to find something than if you have a list of three or four resorts and several sets of dates that will work.

We highly recommend booking a alternative reservation as soon as you can, preferably before Free Dining actually comes out. When the discounts come out, rooms will book up very quickly, so you should ask yourself a few key questions beforehand:

  1. If you can’t get Free Dining, will you go to Walt Disney World anyway? (If not, then don’t bother booking the alternative; just keep trying for Free Dining.)
  2. If you’re going to go anyway, where would you stay if you can’t get Free Dining? (Whatever that is, get that booking in place before Free Dining is announced, if possible.)

Here’s a workable plan of action:

The Travel Agent Advantage

If you’ve read MouseSavers for a while, you know that we recommend using a top-tier travel agency as a good option for booking Disney travel, especially Walt Disney World vacation packages. This is especially true when you’re booking hard-to-get rooms and offers like Free Dining, for a few reasons:

  • To book Free Dining, or just find the best possible option for your Disney vacation with the least effort, we definitely recommend filling out a quote request now with Small World Vacations. They are one of the largest Disney-specialist travel agencies in the world and have some of the most experienced agents in the industry. When you work with them, they assign you a personal agent. If you have a question or need a change made, you can email or call your agent, and it gets taken care of.
  • When you submit a quote form, if Free Dining is already out, your agent will use every trick in the book to try to get it for you. If it’s not yet out, your agent will immediately secure a booking for the best currently-available option for you, and once Free Dining comes out your agent will be on the phone bright and early to rebook with the discount, putting you first in line to snag a Free Dining reservation. No one can guarantee they’ll be able to get you Free Dining, but when you get a great agency in your corner, you can raise your odds considerably.