Thursday, January 4, 2024

Free Dining is BACK!


Disney recently announced that Free Dining (capitalized!) is returning to Walt Disney World in 2024.  In this post, we'll talk about the specifics, and discuss the timing and what it might mean for crowds late into next year.  Free Dining is a BIG promotion - consumers like the word "free" and it has typically been one of Disney's go-to discounts.

First, let's talk about the actual meat and potatoes (pun intended!) of the offer.  It is available to Disney+ subscribers and is valid for most arrivals between July 1 and September 30, 2024.  First thing first here - this is as close as you're going to get for a general public offer.  Disney offers plenty of things to just Florida residents, or Disney Vacation Club members, etc.  The only "condition" in this case is being a Disney+ subscriber, which technically means that it's not for EVERYONE.  But Disney is (wisely) pushing their streaming service, and this is a good way to hook people who might not otherwise have a subscription.

In case it wasn't clear from the above, you should have absolutely no qualms about signing up for Disney+ if you were planning on taking advantage of this offer.  The monthly price is negligible for a discount that could greatly benefit your family.  Don't cut off your nose to spite your face here, or lament that Disney is so focused on streaming that it even cuts into parks promotions (we can do that another day).  As I said, this is the "general" offer, and it doesn't take much to qualify.

Some of the other caveats here are the you have to book a Disney resort as well as the park hopper ticket option.  The blog post I linked to specifies that it has to be for four days and nights, but the fine print seems to indicate that this is only the minimum requirement (the Disney World offers page includes the line "packages may be available for longer lengths of stay")

The other important piece of information here is what exactly you are getting as part of this discount.  There are two tiers to the current version of the Disney Dining Plan, which are discussed at length in this post.  I don't want to rehash everything I said there, so please read that if you need a refresher on the terminology.  But essentially, deluxe resorts and villas will receive the standard Dining Plan (DDP) and the moderate and value resorts will receive the Quick Service Dining Plan (QSDP).

I believe this is how Free Dining used to work, though there was a third (higher) plan also available.  If it's anything like it used to be, you should be able to upgrade your dining plan (at the related cost) if you are only receiving the QSDP here (the one time we ever took advantage of Free Dining, this is exactly what we did, as we were staying at a moderate but upgraded to the DDP).

Ever since the dining plan made its triumphant return (which technically hasn't even happened yet - it starts next week), Free Dining seemed like an inevitability.  But there was always uncertainty, given that plenty of things that guests loved have disappeared over the last few years and have not returned.  Whether you love or hate Free Dining (and those are usually the only options), it's good to see that one of the more beloved promotions that Disney offers has returned.  This is low hanging fruit for them.

Why would someone "hate" Free Dining?  I think it's a matter of the hype exceeding the value, though I could be wrong.  That does lead us to ask whether Free Dining is the right choice for any individual, and as is often the case, there is no one correct answer.  This is the same question I posed when talking about the dining plan in general, but the reasons are different here.  In that case, it was largely about whether you would actually eat enough to get the value out of the plan that you were paying for out of pocket.

In the case of Free Dining, it's more about opportunity cost.  Free Dining isn't "free" - it comes with some built in costs, notably having to stay at a Disney resort and having to purchase the park hopper option.  If you were already going to do those things (or at least if you were on the fence about it), this might help push you over that edge.  But if you normally stay off site and don't purchase the hopper, suddenly the math required to get this "free" deal isn't so great (to say nothing of the cost to upgrade the plan if you wanted to).

You also can't combine discount offers, so choosing Free Dining takes you out of the running for other offers Disney is running for the same time frame.  And wouldn't you know it, Disney ALSO released a room only discount of up to 35% off for largely the same period of time. You have to run the numbers for yourself, but there is a possibility that the room only offer is more valuable to your traveling party than Free Dining would be (but it's not as catchy to sell it that way).


We've talked at length about how Disney doesn't offer discounts because they're magnanimous people who want only the best for guests.  They offer discounts to entice people to book.  When bookings are strong, there is no need for discounts.  But if things have been soft and continue to look that way, this is a "lever" (Disney's word) they can pull to move the needle.


The fact that this is being offered seven to nine months from now likely indicates that bookings are still light, compared to where they want them to be at least.  It might seem hard to believe given how busy the holiday season has been (post coming soon!), but this coming time frame is Disney's "slow season", which makes an offer make a lot more sense.  Hopefully it means that 2024 will be busy - but not TOO busy - for guests between now and then.  The is the recreation equivalent of a "buyers market", and 2024 should be a good year to visit while Disney continues to slowly right the ship.


Overall, I love Free Dining, even when I can't take advantage of it myself.  Disney releasing promotions, especially popular ones, is good for all guests. They're still trying to dig themselves out of the public relations hole they've found themselves in for the last couple of years (largely of their own making).  This is a good step into winning guests back.


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