The Free Dining Offer has been a staple offering from Disney World fairly regularly since it first debuted in 2005.
With the complex situation that is the current global health crisis (including the suspension of the Disney Dining Plan), we’re wondering if there will be a Free Dining deal at ALL in 2021? Let’s break down what could happen.
What is Free Dining?
The Disney World Free Dining Offer is a special offer that Disney typically releases each year, often during times that crowds are expected to be lower. Free Dining grants guests free Disney Dining Plans when they book a Disney Resort hotel stay and Disney theme park tickets. This means free meals and snacks per guest for the length of their stay. Typically, it’s a very exciting deal that some guests even plan their vacations around. After all, going to Disney World and not paying for most of your food costs can seem quite tempting!
In the past, guests have needed to book a minimum stay in a Disney resort (in recent offers, the minimum has been three nights). Guests must also purchase at least a 2-day Magic Your Way Disney World ticket with Park Hopper. So basically, you need to plan to book a full vacation with Disney. No picking and choosing here.
Normally, if you stay at a Value or Moderate Resort, you’ll receive the Quick Service Dining Plan for FREE, meaning you’ll get two fast-food type meals and two snacks per night per person. If you reserve a Deluxe or Deluxe Villa Resort, you will receive the Standard Dining Plan for FREE. This grants each guest a fast food meal, two snacks, and a sit-down meal of their choice per day. All of the Dining Plans come with a complimentary refillable resort mug per guest for non-alcoholic beverages the length of their stay as well.
Usually, we see the offer one to two times each year. In the past, Free Dining has been offered during late Summer and early Fall, as well as during mid-Winter after the holidays have wrapped up.
In 2019 (We’re looking at 2019 since 2020 was so irregular.), Free Dining was offered two times, once for dates July 5 – September 30, 2019 (bookable January through February), and once for dates September 1 through September 18, 2019, November 17 through November 27, 2019, and December 8 through December 23, 2019 (bookable July through September).
We’re now midway through January and have yet to see a Free Dining offer or even the return of the Disney Dining Plan.
What needs to happen for Free Dining to return?
Well, first of all, the functionality of the Disney Dining Plan needs to return. Can’t have FREE Dining Plans if there’s no Dining Plan to give away in the first place, right? This offering has been unavailable since the reopening of Disney World last July. We have seen tiny glimmers of the Dining Plan still around Disney World though.
Since Disney World reopened, we’ve noticed the Disney Dining Plan symbol pop up on festival menus at EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival, EPCOT Festival of the Holidays, and EPCOT Festival of the Arts. So, they appear to be somewhat prepared for if/when they decide to bring back the Dining Plan. Still, there has been no word of its return.
Disney could be waiting to confirm once availability for their restaurants has increased or waiting until restaurant closures and limited capacity are no longer heavily affecting dining. Disney will need to reopen enough locations and increase capacity that the full value of the Dining Plans is achievable. At this time, the restaurants continue to operate at a limited capacity although Disney has not released the exact numbers. If Disney offered a Free Dining Plan to guests again, they’d need to be sure they could pay out on the promise of guests having fair access to enough dining options to make the plans worthwhile for guests
They also may need to adjust the way that the Dining Plan is sold to account for the lower capacities and still-closed locations across Disney World restaurants. This could come in the form of modifications to the plans themselves, fewer plans being sold, and even price changes.
Now, we should note that the full spectrum of the Dining Plan does not NECESSARILY need to return for Free Dining to be offered again. It’s not completely implausible that Free Dining could be offered as the ONLY application of the Dining Plan (meaning you couldn’t choose to buy it for your trip — you could only book a Free Dining offer) as a draw for guests, but more on that in a sec.
What reasons does Disney have to bring back the Free Dining offer?
We’ve discussed before the far-reaching consequences of the global health crisis. As the country falls into a recession and consumers’ desire to travel is low due to health concerns, Disney World has and will continue to be affected.
After similar situations in the past such as the 2008 recession and the low travel levels following 9/11, Disney ramped up special offers to bring in guests during the multi-year low demand periods — especially in the year immediately following the given crisis.
Free Dining, as we mentioned, is a very popular deal and could easily act as a catalyst for bringing in guests if Disney chose to offer it. We’ve already seen some pretty aggressive offers for Florida Residents and with hotel savings. If Disney continues to see a need to draw in guests, Free Dining is a tool in Disney’s toolbox that we could see them use to encourage demand.
So, will there be Free Dining in 2021?
The long and short of it is that we’re not ruling it out, but it’s still too soon to say for sure. Even though things are far from back to normal in Disney World, it’s possible that offerings will start to return as soon as global conditions show significant improvement. We’ve already seen one big return this year — Park Hopping is back (albeit slightly modified)! If Disney decides that Free Dining is the appropriate move to draw guests in again or if the Disney Dining Plan returns (or both), we might have a Free Dining offer this year.
We’ll be keeping a close eye to see if signs point to this happening. Indicators could include increases in restaurant capacity, more restaurants reopening, the return of more character dining, or the appearance of other MAJOR discounts and incentives that show that Disney is ready to turn on the works when it comes to bringing in guests.
As for WHEN Free Dining could return is largely dependant on the crowds. If conditions improve by summer, guests may return in larger numbers, meaning Free Dining isn’t needed to boost interest until fall or winter, when we’ve often seen it in the past. BUT, if summer rolls around and people just aren’t visiting in the numbers Disney expects, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. We’ll keep you updated on all of these indicators and more! Stay tuned to DFB to keep up with all the news about Free Dining and the DDP.
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Do you think we’ll see a Free Dining offer this year? Tell us in the comments!