Free Dining or No Free Dining, That is the Question

DISCLAIMER: Before I start, let me just say that I have NO inside information, and absolutely NO knowledge of when or if Free Dining will be offered this year. The following is not an official position of any company, but merely my own PERSONAL opinion, in response to the many questions that are circulating about this at the moment.…………Now that we have that out of the way, we now return you to your regularly scheduled blog post. 🙂  ~ Nancy

If you have spent any time at all online, whether you are planning your first Disney vacation or your 20th, you have probably heard about Disney’s awesome promotion, Free Dining. As in, you get your food as part of a Disney vacation package, for free. Many Disney veterans plan their trips around this promotion, often changing their dates if needed, in order to qualify. And even folks who have never been to Walt Disney World at all, have heard through the grapevine of this Holy Grail of Disney promotions. Because let’s face it: a Disney vacation can end up being pretty pricey, and who wouldn’t love Free Food?

With that in mind then, if you have also spent any amount of time online in the past month, whether it be Disney message boards, Facebook, Twitter, or other Disney blogs, you probably have also heard the recent discussions, the whispers, the wonderings, the questions……WHEN IS FREE DINING THIS YEAR?

Well then. Let’s discuss this question……(It will take a few minutes though, so go get a cup of coffee, and then come back and get comfy. And we’ll chat. 🙂   )

OK, so let’s start with a little Disney history first. Once upon a time, Disney offered few promotions, and certainly not ever during peak seasons like summer, holiday weeks etc. People were going to visit during those times no matter what, and let’s face it, the entire point of a promotion is to entice people to visit….if we know they are already coming no matter what, there really is no need to discount. This is an important point to keep in mind, and we are going to come back to it in a few minutes.

However, there was one time of year when Disney did find that attendance dipped, and that was during the late summer/early fall…specifically the month or so from mid-late August through mid-late September. So the Free Dining promotion was born, and folks soon learned that the combination of low crowds and Free Food was pretty terrific. Granted, it was also hurricane season in Florida, but a lot of people understandably felt that taking their chances with Mother Nature was worth saving all that money!

In other words, the promotion worked. Free Dining brought tons of people to Walt Disney World during this slow season. So after finding that it worked, Disney offered it again a second year. And a third.

Fast forward a few years, and the economy took a nosedive. All kinds of businesses suffered, and Disney was no different, as tourism in general faced huge challenges during the recession. While a Disney vacation is a dream for a lot of families, the reality was that many folks, worried about jobs, certainly could do nothing more than dream about Disney World.

Attendance dropped. And Disney knew that they had to do something to bring folks in, so they did what most businesses did….they offered promotions to help folks save money, enabling more people to travel, and so bring in the vacation dollars. Disney ran a number of different promotions: Kids Stay and Play for Free, Kids Stay, Play and Dine for Free, Buy 3 Get 1 Free, Room Discounts and of course, Free Dining. And while all the promotions did well, good ole Free Dining was the most popular by far. Because again, who doesn’t want Free Food? So those traditional fall dates for Free Dining got extended. First they started a bit earlier, and were extended a bit longer…into October, into November, and even into December. And then in 2011, we had Free Dining for nearly the entire year.

Did it work? You bet it did. It brought people to the Disney parks and made a Disney vacation affordable to many who would not have even dreamed of it otherwise. Make no doubt about it, Free Dining is a pretty darn successful promotion.

Why does all of this matter for this year? Let’s go back to what we agreed on a few minutes ago: if we know they are already coming no matter what, there really is no need to discount. As the economy has gradually improved, people are traveling more. And Disney is in the process of completing some huge projects…..New Fantasyland along with last year’s Art of Animation resort……that have done exactly what was expected: they have brought the people in. Attendance is up, profits are up, people are booking Disney vacations.

When you combine this information with published statements made as early as May 2011 that “Disney was still working on “weaning” theme park visitors from expecting discounts.”…..well…..

OK. So having said all of this, the question remains……will there be Free Dining this year?

My thoughts? Maybe yes. Maybe no. Maybe yes but with dates scaled back….perhaps closer to the “traditional” Free Dining dates of a few years ago. Or maybe there will be a different kind of promotion. No one really knows but Disney (possibly), and at the moment, they aren’t saying.

So if you are thinking about a trip for this fall, but haven’t booked yet because you’re waiting on Free Dining to be announced, I have a few suggestions.

First, go ahead and book your trip…but book the trip that you can afford NOW, not what you can afford if you get a hoped-for discount. Booking now will enable you to get the room category you want, and will enable you to start doing other planning for your trip.

Keep in mind that discounts that come out after you book can be applied to your trip. In fact, when a new discount comes out, that is the first thing that I do for my clients: I’m on the phone with Disney getting the discount applied to my Guests’ reservations. 🙂

Remember too that Free Dining is not the only discount promotion that Disney offers…..and in fact, room discounts are sometimes a better deal! So don’t pass up a promotion because you are hoping for something better. Again, for my clients that are booked on a discount, if something new comes out, I will check to see if it is a better deal. If so, I get it applied. Keep in mind too that when a discount comes out, the sooner you book the better: Disney reserves a certain number of rooms at each resort for every promotion, and when that number is booked, that’s it.

And what about if you are planning to visit at another time, say this summer or next winter? For this summer, there is currently a decent room discount that is saving folks money. I would not expect anything else. Go ahead and book your trip so that you can take advantage of the savings that are available. As for next year…again, we never really know, but unless the economy takes a nosedive again, my guess is that Disney is in the process of establishing a “new normal” for discounts that is going to look different from the past few years. So book your trip, and trust your travel agent to make sure that you get any subsequent savings.

Fortunately, no matter what happens, there are still great ways to have an affordable Disney vacation. As your friendly Disney travel agent 🙂 I am always happy to help you figure out the best way to get the most for your money. Our blog offers TONS of great ideas for saving money on your Disney vacation. Do a search for your topic. Or ask us your questions on our Facebook page.

We all hope that a great Free Dining promotion comes out…..but whether it does or not, there are lots of ways that you can save money and get the most value for your Disney vacation dollars. That’s what The Affordable Mouse is all about!!

Find out how the FREE services of a Disney World travel agent can make planning your Disney vacation simple and stress-free!

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One Response to Free Dining or No Free Dining, That is the Question

  1. Gaylin says:

    I have had the good luck to get free dining for 4 or 5 vacations! While it is wonderful to get, I would still go if I didn’t get it. I think I would probably eat less if I didn’t have free dining!

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