Free Disney Dining Plans 2016 – Are They A Ripoff?

Free Disney Dining Plans - Are They A Ripoff?Free Disney dining plans are back!  It is that wonderful time of year that you visit your favorite blog or Disney group and all you hear about is the free Disney dining plan. (I highly recommend the above Disney group for all things Disney) But are they are they actually something we should be happy about?  It sounds fantastic doesn’t it?  You book your Disney room and low and behold, Disney is nice enough to give you free dinning for the entire stay.  Does it get any better then that?  Well it just may and you will want to see the numbers behind the marketing in order to fully understand the real magic of free Disney dining plans.

What Are The Free Disney Dining Plans For 2016?

At this point, you have heard of the free Disney dining plans and all of the awesome opportunities that it gives vacationers.  But just in case you have not, here are the details concerning it.  The free Disney dining plans are listed quite a few months ahead of time for people to plan around them.  This years calendar of events has free Disney dining during the following days that we have confirmed for 2016…

  • August 23 through October 1, 2016
  • November 15 through 21, 2016
  • November 26 through 28, 2016
  • December 10 through 21, 2016

When you book a package deal through Disney, which includes non-discounted room, park tickets, and dining, they allow the food to be on the house. There are a few resorts and rooms that are not included in this package deal though.  If you are planning to stay at All-Star Movies, Art of Animation-Little Mermaid Section, Bay Lake Tower, Fort Wilderness campsites, Grand Floridian, Polynesian Village Resort, Port Orleans-French Quarter, Port Orleans Resort Riverside, or a 3-bedroom Villa at any resort, you are out of luck for the free dining.  If it wasn’t listed above, you are in luck.  It means that you can book at that resort and get the free dining.  But is this the cheapest way to book for the same exact benefits?

If you are looking to feed you and your family with the free dining plan, you will need to pony up for at least a 2-day ticket per guest and that these tickets have the Park Hopper and/or Water Park Fun & More option.  In addition to these tickets, you will need to book at least 3 nights with a maximum of 14 nights.  With these conditions in mind, you will not be able to take advantage of some of the discounted ticket prices that I recommend here.  This may lead to some added costs that I will discuss later.   The question ultimately is if the additional prices for these tickets and lodging offset the free dining enough to make it a ripoff, which we will do the math for shortly.  But before that, let’s take a look at a delicious dessert to get you ready for your Disney dining experience.

Free Disney Dining Plans 2016 - Are They A Ripoff?

Continuing on with the free Disney Dining plans for 2016, if you are interested in booking, you need to get to it.  This is a very limited deal from Disney.  Some of the “better” resorts tend to fill up at a very rapid pace.  You can go to the Disney site here and check out the exact locations that are still available.  If you are wondering what resort is the best to take advantage of for this, may I suggest you read this article based on my own personal favorite.  Once you contact one of Disney’s Authorized Vacation Planners, you can get all your unanswered questions taken care of and see what resorts are still available.  I will tell you that based on my own research that this year seems to be very limited compared to prior years.  The deluxe resorts seem to be readily available, but they are bit higher priced then both the moderate and value resorts.  If you are able to be a bit fluid with when you take your Disney vacation, you should be able to take advantage of the free Disney dining plans for 2016.

If you are booking your vacation and taking advantage of the Disney free dining plans for 2016, you will want to make some advance dining reservations in order to ensure you get the most out of your free meals.  Here is a link to see what restaurants are available.  If you are not familiar with Disney’s reservation system, you will want to be.  The odds of walking in to a table service restaurant without reservations are very unlikely.  Keep in mind that many people book during this promotion and thus, some of the fan favorite restaurants will fill up very fast.  Please book your dining reservations as soon as possible to get the most out of your free dining.  If you want to get the most out of your free Disney dining, you will also want to review which places give you the most for your meal credits.  If you are a steak lover, you can check out some of my top 5 favorite steak restaurants here.

Differences Between Meal Plan Options For Free Disney Dining 2016

If you are staying at a moderate resort or above, such as Port Orleans Riverside, Caribbean Beach Resort, or Boardwalk Resort, then you will be able get the standard Disney Dining Plan for the period you are staying at the resort.  If you are going to stay at a value resort, you will get the quick service Disney Dining Plan.  If you are looking to take it to the next level, you are allowed to “upgrade” your free Disney Dining plan to the next option up for a fee.

Another aspect of the free Disney dining plans is that it is only available to guests from the United States.  This is one thing that can change at any time, so make sure you are signed up for the Slick Mouse newsletter here in order to get all the major changes from Disney, including the 2017 Free Disney Dining dates.  With our Slick Mouse connections all through the Disney universe, we often hear rumors and other information well before the rest of the world is told.  The newsletter is our way of getting that information to our readers.  As for this 2016 dining rule, there are loopholes around this, but that is for another article and another day.

There are a few things that we are asked about when it comes to the free Disney dining plan for 2016 that we are going to address…

  1. You have to buy the tickets even if you already have an annual pass.
  2. Disney Vacation Club members cannot use their points towards this deal.
  3. There are no percentage off opportunities out there that will work in tangent with this package.
  4. All dates for this promotion are the check in dates.  In other words, if you get a 14 day package deal and you arrive on the last day of this promotion, you will still have free dining for the entire 14 days.
  5. If you arrive during a period that is before the free dining, do a split stay and have the second part of the vacation “check in” during the first possible day that the promotion is running.  For example, You get to Disney on August 21st and stay for 10 days.  You would not be able to utilize the promotion unless you split the stay like this…1st vacation is August 20th (arrival date) to August 23rd (check out date) and the 2nd vacation is August 23rd (arrival date) to August 30th (check out date).  Doing this gives you seven days with the promotion and three without.  This is much better then missing the entire promotion.
  6. Guests that are utilizing this promotion can upgrade to a higher level meal plan for a fee.  It does not matter what resort you are staying at. (Value, Moderate, or Deluxe)  These fees are as follows: Quick Service Disney Dining Plan to the normal Disney Dining Plan is only $19.57 for each adult guest per day.  Upgrading children is only $3.81 for each child per day. To go to the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan, it cost $70.95 for each adult per day and $16.45 for each child per day.  If you have the standard Disney Dining Plan, you can upgrade that to the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan for 51.38 for each adult per day and only $12.64 for each child per day.  You can see what is all included with the different meal plans here.

Are The Free Disney Dining Plans A Ripoff Though?

While everyone and their brother loves free food, we have to sit back and wonder about the old saying of…if it sounds to good to be true, then it probably isn’t.  Is this dining plan really that awesome that people plan their vacations around it?  Well at least the latter part of that is.  People book their  package deals because of this free dining in troves.  It fills up at a lightening pace, which makes me wonder if I am missing out on something.  The only way to figure that out, is to get to the real numbers behind the free Disney dining plans.

I am going to check the prices between two different options:  Booking a week with the free Disney Dining plan at the Saratoga Springs and one with just doing it by booking and paying individually with other discounts.  This vacation will be for 2 adults and 2 children aged 13 and 15.

The package deal price is very simple to come up with.  This price is for a 1 bedroom villa at Saratoga Springs with the free dining plan.  I used August 23rd to August 30th as the check in and departure dates.  The price is $5477.86 in total.  Here is what you get with the package deal:

  • Park tickets with park hopper for the entire stay plus one day.
  • The maximum amount of park days for the tickets are limited to 10.
  • All the tickets have to be used within a 14 day period of first use.
  • Free Disney Dining Plans for each guest for the length of stay.

The total cost of the above is simply $5477.86.  But now comes the fun part of seeing how we can book the same exact vacation with very little effort at a totally different price.  By buying all the pieces of this Disney vacation package separately, you will have basically three costs…

  1. The one bedroom villa for a week at Saratoga Springs can be quite different depending on how you book it.  The cheapest way through Disney that you could book is $2,491.65 using the “Back to School Savings” option.  There are ways to get it even cheaper through redweek or Ebay, which I have written about here.
  2. The tickets will be for four people for seven days.  These can be had for $1756.00 through Disney.
  3. The dining is $63.70 per person per day.  So this comes to $1783.60 for the week for the entire group.

The above calculations total $2,491.65 + $1756.00 + $1783.60 = $6031.25

So you are going to save $6031.25 – $5477.86 = $553.39 by booking the package deal over using other discounts that Disney offers.  But remember that this is through Disney’s website, so they are going to make sure that they squeeze as much out of vacationers as possible.  Let’s take a look below at booking this same vacation through means outside of Disney.

  1. The one bedroom villa for a week at Saratoga Springs through Ebay or Redweek can be had easily for about $1250.  This is a savings of $1241.65 for taking a few minutes and booking through the secondary market.
  2. The seven day tickets can be purchased through the Undercovertourist website for $449.95 a piece with park hopper option added on.  This gives us a total of $1799.80.   This is going to cost us about $44 more for the tickets.  But, most people would be good to buy the single park per day tickets for $383.20 a piece for a total of $1532.80 and a savings of $223.20.  You always have the opportunity to upgrade these at any given time for a very small fee, which you can read about here.
  3. fastfoodThe dining option is still the hardest way to put a financial number to.  Everyone will eat differently, and thus not using the Disney Dining Plan will end differently for each family of four.  What I have done is basically found the average meal cost at Disney World and multiplied that out to come up with a total of out of pocket costs.  You can see this down below to get an idea of what each meal is worth when you get the Disney Dining Plan.  The question becomes, does it cost more to use the Disney Dining Plan or less?  This all depends on your family will eat.  There are many places that you can order a standard cheeseburger/fries/soda for $8.95 per meal.  You will see that guests are paying much more for the “Plan” then they are actually using.  This is a huge profit maker for Disney.  Most restaurants are priced below what you get in the plan.  There are a few exceptions, but they are quickly being changed to 2 credit meals to keep the profits flowing to Disney.  (For example 2 table service credits to eat at Le Cellier for a plate that cost $45, when you are paying about $70 for the plan)  What you find is that you are able to purchase your meals for about 37% less than what the Disney Dining Plan charges you.  You can save even more with the Table In Wonderland’s card, which gives you an additional 20% off of your dining.  (That is another article for another day)  The actual cost of dining I came up with by paying cash is $1783.60 x .63 =  $1123.67.  This is a savings of $659.93 by just paying cash.  The prices below reflect how much each meal is worth in the Disney Dining Plan:
    1. Each counter service meal is worth $16 to $17.40
    2. Each table service meal is worth $34 to $35.25
    3. Every snack is worth about $4.35
    4. The refillable mug is worth $4 to $8

The total of of the above options allows us the very same vacation at quite a different price.  The total comes to $1250.00 (room) + $1799.80 (7 day park hopper tickets) + $1123.67 (paying cash for meals) = $4173.47.  This gives us a savings of $5477.86$4173.47 = $1304.39 over the “FREE” Disney Dining Plan package deal.  This gets even better when you buy the single park per day tickets.  That takes the overall cost down to the following $5477.86 – $3950.27 = $1527.59. 

So after hours of research and number crunching, we are able to see that the cost benefit of buying the Free Disney Dining Plan package is not a deal at all.  It is only considered a deal when you compare it to Disney rack rates and food purchases that an average family would not buy.  Feel free to let me know what you think of these calculations and with your own personal experiences when it comes to buy food at Disney World.

Free Disney Dining Plans 2016 – Are They A Ripoff?


  1. Billdee says:

    The numbers crunch differently depending which resort you stay, how many people in your room & what your family’s eating habits are, but most of the time it is cheaper to do separately. For us, if the difference is just $200, it seems better to get it thru WDW and avoid all the extra steps and head aches.
    Another valid point is that most would never actually need to purchase the amount of food you get thru the plan, free or paid.
    We 3 ate very well and still ran around like crazy on our last night trying to use up the last 4 QS & 7 snack credits (after we’d already eaten dinner). We basically wasted a credit at Casey’s just to take a pic of the stupidly huge hotdog, when we don’t even eat hotdogs, lol. (At almost 60grams of fat in the big dog, you might as well shove a snowball of lard into your arteries).

    • Mickey Moe says:

      The amount of food that you get was another variable that has to be considered. We did the meal plan once…once. It was just way too much food. We got 5 apps, 5 meals, 5 desserts…it was crazy. Our fridge was packed over at Boardwalk and we ended up throwing it all away at the end of the trip. You will save a ton of cash just using a Disney credit card or TIW to get a discount.

  2. Remember, when you have the meal plan, you are paying tip on foods you may not even eat. That is a LOT of money…especially when you use the deluxe plan.

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