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How Much Does Free Dining Actually Cost You? (In depth analysis)

I was excited to hear that Disney’s Free Dining Promotion was going to be offered for our upcoming Labor Day weekend trip to Disney World, but when I actually compared it to other offers available–and how our family with young children tours Disney World–I realized I would be spending more money than I needed to. We’ve used the regular dining plan (one table service meal and one quick service meal) before, but often feel like we are trading valuable park time for time at a restaurant. And the best ways we’ve saved money on the dining plan are by not having it for our whole trip or splitting it with family in another room (see Joe’s post for more details on that, although we’ve heard rumors Disney might be trying to curb this). But I wanted to know if getting Disney’s free dining cost more overall or whether it actually would save us money for our upcoming trip.

Ice Cream at Ample Hills Creamery
We prefer snacking our way around Disney to table service meals

Disney is running a great Sun and Fun promotion this summer that discounts room rates by 30 percent and overlaps with the dates of the Free Dining promotion. I took the price for a four-night stay (the minimum for free dining this year) using that promotion and added the cost of the Dining Plan plus discounted four-day park hopper tickets from Undercover Tourist. While the Free Dining package always came out cheaper using basic math, it was actually going to cost us more money once I considered that we wouldn’t eat at all of the most expensive meals or need four-day park hopper tickets.

Note that the below table assumes you plan to buy the dining plan anyway. So the “savings” is only compared to a planned purchase of the dining plan.

Table 1. Comparison of free dining costs with buying the regular dining plan

Resort NameSun and Fun Rate (four nights)Dining Plan CostUndercover Tourist Four Day Park Hopper Cost"Package" CostFree Dining Package CostDifference
Coronado Springs$762.75$610.24$1,798.80$3,171.79$2,940.10Free Dining saves $231.69
Animal Kingdom Lodge$1,228.51$827.76$1,798.80$3,855.07$3,678.10Free Dining saves $176.97
Beach Club$1,650.38$827.76$1,798.80$4,276.94$4,121.36Free Dining saves $155.58
Boardwalk Inn$1,538.78$827.76$1,798.80$4,165.34$4,121.36Free Dining saves $43.98
Polynesian Village$2,067.41$827.76$1,798.80$4,693.97$4,355.36Free Dining saves $338.61
Wilderness Lodge$1,797.76$827.76$1,798.80$4,424.32$4,038.10Free Dining saves $386.22 (this is for a courtyard view for both rates)
Yacht Club$1,451.36$827.76$1,798.80$4,077.92$3,996.48Free Dining saves $81.44

Note: Coronado Springs only receives the quick service dining plan, which offers two quick service meals per day rather than the regular dining plan that includes one table service meal and one quick service meal.

Woody’s Lunch Box is one of our favorite quick service options (Photo Credit | Steven Diaz, wdwnews.com)

Park Hopper Tickets Required

The Free Dining promotion requires that you purchase park hopper tickets. While my family enjoys park hopping, most of our trips have been plenty busy (and exhausting!) without it. While it is not more time consuming to go to a second park if you’re already taking a mid-day break, park hopper tickets aren’t a requirement to having a great Disney vacation.

Four-day base tickets from Undercover Tourist are about $70 more per person than four-day park hopper tickets from Undercover Tourist. We have two adults and two children (in Disney’s 3-9 year old child range) meaning we’d spend $67.97 more per adult and $73.91 more per child to have park hopping privileges, totaling $283.76 altogether. That means only the Polynesian and the Wilderness Lodge would actually be cheaper (for us) with Free Dining.

Table 2. Cost of buying Park Hopper tickets through Undercover Tourist

Ticket TypeAdult PriceChild PriceTotal for 2 Adults and 2 Children
3-Day Base$312.20$299.95$1,224.30
3-Day Hopper $382.31$368.24$1,501.10
4-Day Base$387.08$370.44$1,515.04
4-Day Hopper$455.05$444.35$1,798.80
5 Day Base$396.45$380.04$1,552.98
5 Day Hopper$460.53$450.41$1,821.88

Additionally, since our trip is only four nights, we could get by with three-day base tickets, an even greater savings of $574.50 by purchasing tickets through Undercover Tourist. For comparison, three-day park hopper tickets from Undercover Tourist would be $297.70 cheaper than four-day park hopper tickets, again making only the Polynesian and the Wilderness Lodge better deals with Free Dining. Remember, you have to buy a park hopper for your entire stay when buying the free dining package.

TIP: If you’re considering going to Mickey’s Not-so-Scary Halloween Party, you can easily get by with one less park day on your regular tickets since party tickets allow you to enter Magic Kingdom at 4 p.m.

(Photo Credit | Gary Bogdon, wdwnews.com)

Agency Exclusive Offers

We also got a quote from Magical Vacations Travel, which offers discounted Disney rates by booking group room blocks. (See our analysis of their Labor Day discounts in this post). Their packages also include discounted tickets, which are even cheaper than those from Undercover Tourist. You can’t actually add the dining plan to the Labor Day discount rate as part of the offer’s terms, but I added it into my numbers to have a true comparison of the package costs.

Table 3. Comparing Magical Vacations Travel Labor Day special packages with Disney’s Free Dining packages

Resort NameMVT Nightly RateDining Plan CostMVT Ticket Four Day Park Hopper CostMVT "Package" Cost (Hotel, Ticket, Dining*)Disney's Free Dining Package CostDifference
Coronado Springs$192.38$610.24$1,706.14$3,085.90$2,940.10Free Dining Saves $145.80
Animal Kingdom Lodge$262.13$827.76$1,706.14$3,582.42$3,678.10Free Dining Costs $95.68 more
Beach Club$327.38$827.76$1,706.14$3,843.42$4,121.36Free Dining Costs $277.94 more
Boardwalk Inn$327.38$827.76$1,706.14$3,843.42$4,121.36Free Dining Costs $277.94 more
Polynesian Village$418.50$827.76$1,706.14$4,207.90$4,355.36Free Dining Costs $147.46 more
Wilderness Lodge$270.00$827.76$1,706.14$3,613.90$4,038.10Free Dining would be in a courtyard view room rather than standard room, which makes the cost $424.20 more
Yacht Club$327.38$827.76$1,706.14$3,843.42$3,996.48Free Dining Costs $153.06 more

* – reminder, you can’t book a dining plan with Magical Vacations Travel, we’re just using the price of a dining plan for comparison sake

What I Booked

Ultimately, we decided to stay at the Beach Club and since we want to enjoy Stormalong Bay, we don’t need four-day park tickets. We decided to swap a park day for the Halloween Party so we’re actually only buying two-day base tickets and a room through Magical Vacations Travel. Our total package is $2,087.84. I have $2,000 to spend on food before we lose money by not doing free dining. Even if I bought four day park hoppers from Magical Vacations Travel, I’d have over $1000 to spend on food.

We recognize that the value in a dining plan can often be prepaying for your food and not worrying about it. Still, I don’t think my family can spend $2000 on food on a four night trip, so I’m happy with my final decision.

Are you planning to take advantage of Disney’s free dining offer? Or do you find that you can save more by doing it a la carte? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

If you don’t want to miss any of the magic, please subscribe below. Any questions or comments? Other great ideas for how to save on Disney using miles and points? Comment below or e-mail us at milestothemagic@gmail.com! And remember, be sure to check out our beginner’s guide for using miles and points for Disney vacations!

Featured image courtesy of Disney

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How much money do you save with Disney World's free dining plan? The free dining cost might surprise you. #DisneyWorld #FreeDining #FamilyTravel

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