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Free dining plans return to Disney World, save up to $200 per night

Jan. 08, 2020
9 min read
Disney Christmas
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In a move that might surprise some, free Disney Dining Plans have returned to Disney World this year -- even after the successful opening of the newest ride at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge and all the other upcoming 2020 new rides and attractions.

This round of free Disney dining is valid for eligible trips booked through Jan. 16, 2020, for arrivals most nights June 27–28, July 5–7, and Aug. 29–Sept. 8, 2020. Free Disney dining plans are a huge deal for those who like to keep Disney World costs down but also enjoy lots of the best food at Disney (and there really is good food at Disney). Normally, Disney dining plans cost about $55–$78 per adult and $26–$30 per child, per night. That means that for a family of four, a regular Disney Dining Plan can normally cost more than $200 per night. Free is obviously a much better price.

There are some caveats to the free dining that Disney World offers, including that it isn't valid with stays at every single resort, and you must stay at least five nights on a non-discounted rate with a Park Hopper or Park Hopper Plus ticket included. In other words, these trips with "free" dining are still going to be pricey, likely to the tune of $4,253+ for a family of two adults and two kids staying for five nights at a moderate resort.

Keep in mind that Disney charges anyone aged 10 and up the adult price, meaning you could be paying $78 a day for your 10-year-old to eat chicken nuggets and macaroni. To put this another way, free dining is a good offer, but only if you were already going to meet the other criteria of the offer.

Related: How much does a Walt Disney World vacation cost?

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Those booking eligible trips at Deluxe Resorts and Deluxe Villas will enjoy the full Disney Dining Plan, while those booking trips to the Value and Moderate Resorts will get the Quick-Service Dining Plan.

What's included in a Disney Dining plan?

The full Disney Dining Plan includes one quick-service meal, one table-service meal and two snacks per person, per night of your stay. Honestly, it's a lot of food -- you could easily feed a friend or grandparents who didn't have a plan a few times. You can even use the table-service meals for character dining, though note that some of those meals require more than one table-service credit. You also get one resort refillable drink mug per person, per package. Parents may appreciate that both levels of the dining plan now include adult beverages (though sadly not in that refillable mug).

Dining in Cinderella Castle will require two dining credits. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Those enjoying the Disney Quick-Service Dining plans will get two quick-service meals (including entrée or combo meal and beverage, including alcoholic drinks) and two snacks per night. You also get one resort refillable drink mug per person, per package.

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You get access to all of your credits beginning on the first day of your trip, so you can use them as fast or slow as you want, with any unused credits expiring after the last day of your trip.

Disney Riviera Resort (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Disney World's definition of a "snack" is pretty liberal. We've seen our fair share of parents buying a half-dozen Mickey ear rice krispie treats from a resort gift shop on the last day of a trip to use up their remaining snack credits. Not a course we'd necessarily recommend, but know that you should have plenty of opportunities to use up those snack credits.

What Disney World resorts are eligible?

Eligible Disney Deluxe Resort Hotels

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
Disney's Beach Club Resort
Disney's BoardWalk Inn
Disney's Contemporary Resort
Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Disney's Polynesian Village Resort
Disney's Wilderness Lodge
Disney's Yacht Club Resort

Eligible Disney Deluxe Villa Resort Hotels

Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort
Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge
Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney's Wilderness Lodge
Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas - Jambo House
Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas - Kidani Village
Disney's Beach Club Villas
Disney's BoardWalk Villas
Disney's Old Key West Resort
Disney's Polynesian Villas
Disney's Riviera Resort
Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa

Eligible Disney Moderate Resort Hotels

Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort
Disney's Coronado Springs Resort
Disney's Port Orleans Resort - Riverside and French Quarter

Eligible Disney Value Resort Hotels

Disney's All-Star Music Resort
Disney's All-Star Sports Resort
Disney's Art of Animation Resort - Family Suites only
Disney's Pop Century Resort

There are exclusions to resorts offering the free dining offer including three-bedroom villas, campsites, cabins at Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney's Wilderness Lodge, bungalows at Polynesian and Little Mermaid standard rooms at Disney's Art of Animation Resort.

Dine free when staying in family-friendly Art of Animation suites (Edward Pizzarello/The Points Guy)

Tips for maximizing free Disney Dining

If you want in on the free dining offer, you must book by Jan. 16, valid for arrivals select nights from June 27–Sept. 8, 2020. You can book advance Disney dining reservations 180 days prior to arrival, which puts all of these days in range. Note that some of the best Disney Dining experiences will sell out of reservations (which is true even without free dining days).

Some of our favorite one-credit dining experiences are: 'Ohana, Chef Mickey's, Via Napoli, Storybook Dining at Artist Point, Boma Flavors of Africa and 1900 Park Fare. 'Ohana offers solid all-you-care-to-enjoy meals, with characters joining at breakfast. Crystal Palace offers a surprisingly good (by Disney World standards) buffet in the Magic Kingdom and gives kids the chance to greet Winnie The Pooh and his friends while parents relax in air-conditioning. Chef Mickey's is a good buffet with characters at the Contemporary. And while we generally don't love the food at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, it is a pretty good value with a full dining plan as it only costs one credit to dine with princesses while Cinderella's Royal Table costs two credits.

Use a dining credit to dine with the Evil Queen (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Many of the seating options for the fun Hoop Dee Doo dinner show are only one dining credit, as is the new character breakfast at the Riviera Resort's Topolino restaurant. And as mentioned, it can be a good strategy with some of the plans to share some of the credits and items with those traveling with you who did not book the dining plan with their room. Otherwise, it really is just a lot of food.

How to save even more

To save a little money on the free Disney dining offers, you can pay for the packages with discounted Disney gift cards. As these vacation packages should code as travel, we recommend paying with the credit card you have that awards the largest bonus in the travel category such as 3 points per dollar via the Chase Sapphire Reserve or 2 points per dollar with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Your annual $300 travel credit that comes with the Chase Sapphire Reserve should also count toward this charge, potentially saving you $300 if you haven't yet used this year's credit.

Do note that since this offer went live, Disney's reservation system has been inundated. Don't be surprised if you are placed in a virtual waiting room for a few moments before being able to access the reservation system. In addition, value resort dates are selling out quickly.

Related: Best credit cards for Disney and other theme parks

Free isn't a word you hear frequently at Disney World, but if you want your meals to be free (or rather, included) make a booking by Jan. 16.

Disney's Ohana (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Here's some more Disney World dining advice:

Additional reporting by Dia Adams

Featured image by (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.