Free Dining Promotion = "Free" Disney Dining Plan
You never know exactly when Disney will offer this promotion to guests but typically you can count on it being offered in the fall from August through September. You must be booking a Magic Your Way package. Which means you will need to pay rack rate for your resort room (obviously on property) and your tickets. You must book a certain amount of nights (this varies) so be aware of that if you're planning on a super short weekend trip.
Back in the day when Free Dining first started, you would get the "basic" Dining Plan no matter what level resort you chose. That included one snack, one counter service, and one table service meal a night per person. Since the popularity of FD has spiked Disney has caught on and realized they could make more money if they restricted guests who stay at Value resorts by giving them the "new" Quick Service Dining Plan. Also, when FD first started the Dining Plan included your gratuity. Well, Disney caught onto that too and cut that out. They also cut out the appetizer in the table service meal. Throw in the always rising room rates and you're starting to lose the "free" part of Free Dining. You get where I'm going with this, right? Paying more while getting less?
If you compare another popular discount, the "Room Only Discount," to Free Dining then you'll see where Free Dining truly isn't as amazing as Disney (and uneducated WDW guests) think that it is. I'm not gonna break down the math for you because it's sort of boring for most of you who don't enjoy the nerdy mathematical stuff like me. What I can tell you though is that if you're staying at a value resort and participate in FD then you are probably getting a good deal. Even if you upgrade your Free Dining Plan to the "Basic Dining Plan" for a small additional fee. Moderate resorts are sort of hazy but most of the time it's still a good deal as long as you can maximize the Basic Dining Plan fully.
If you're choosing to stay at a Deluxe resort then please think about discounts presented to you in THIS sense. When you opt for a "Room Only" discount you can often get 25%, 30%, even 40% off of your standard room rate. That's a HUGE savings if you're paying $450 a night for a room! I just helped my friend save $700 with a "Room Only" discount at Animal Kingdom Lodge. He will definitely not be paying $700 in food for his week long trip so the savings is pretty obvious. My point is clear. Pay out of pocket for food if you're staying at a Deluxe resort and use the "Room Only" discount. Don't be fooled by the Free Dining Plan.
I suppose it's relevant to touch on the fact that the actual value of the Disney Dining Plan is slowly becoming obsolete. I wish I could remember how much the DDP cost when it first premiered but I believe it was around the ballpark of $35 per night per adult. Back then the only DDP offered was what is now referred to as the Basic Dining Plan. And back then you were given an appetizer, entree, and dessert with a table service credit. On top of that your gratuity was included in the meal plan!
The Quick Service Dining Plan offered now is $35 per person per night while the Basic Disney Dining Plan now runs you $46 per person per night. Isn't that kind of sketchy that Disney is now offering a less bulky dining plan at the same cost as they used to offer a very full packed dining plan?
Disney has since removed the appetizer and the included gratuity in the Basic Dining Plan. After this change occurred I was among many folks that e-mailed Disney and inquired about what spiked the change. We were told by Disney that guests complained about having too much food. They also claimed that guests wanted to control their gratuity instead of having 18% chosen for them.
Around this time we started to notice that many restaurants menus became a little more pricey. Yet the menu items remained the same. Every year since then this trend has remained. Portions get smaller and prices get bigger. What I believe Disney is doing is making their menu items more pricey so people feel like they're getting their monies worth using the DDP. In actuality, guests are just paying more for their meals out of pocket or more for their DDP.
I'm a firm believer that the reason the appetizer was removed from the Basic DDP and not the dessert is because it's much easier to mass produce desserts than appetizers. Mass producing cuts costs for Disney. Most guests would never think of that so no harm no foul in Disney's eyes.
How far is Disney going to go with this? How many more years can they increase the price of the DDP and still keep guests hooked? When will guests begin cutting out or cutting back on out of pocket sit down meals? Eventually Disney will hit a wall and they will have to remain at a point that guests are still willing to overpay for food.
Next up... Maximizing the Disney Dining Plan.