Satu'li Canteen Restaurant at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Credit: David Roark/Disney

With Toy Story Land, Star Wars rides and Marvel attractions on the way, Disney parks are only getting more expensive — but if you’re smart about booking your next trip, you can save nearly one thousand dollars.

Walt Disney World’s current Free Dining promotion, which must be booked by July 7, lets families eat for free when booking a five-night vacation package at a Walt Disney World Hotel that starts on specific dates in August, September and December, with limited dates in late November.

Typically an add-on cost, Disney’s “Free Dining” promotion simply adds a Disney Dining Plan feature onto a trip for each guest for no cost, letting families enjoy princess character lunches, stellar views of nearby sights and even some of Magic Kingdom’s most popular restaurants for no cost.

The stipulations of booking Free Dining, Disney Dining Plans and Magic Your Way packages can become incredibly confusing, so we’ve broken down every element you’ll need to know about the annual Walt Disney World promotion and if it’s right for you.

Don’t miss out on saving hundreds of dollars by getting lost in the details.

What is the Disney Dining Plan?

The Disney Dining Plan is a pre-paid meal plan for use on vacations at Walt Disney World. It can be purchased exclusively by guests staying at Disney-operated hotels, and converts money into meal “credits” that can be used at different food & beverage locations throughout Walt Disney World resort.

What — and where — can I eat on the Disney Dining Plan?

It depends. There are three different Disney Dining Plans available — Quick-Service, Dining and Deluxe Dining plans. Each comes with a refillable drink mug for use at any resort hotel and two snacks (like popcorn, Mickey ice cream bars or a 20oz Coca-Cola) per person per day. Quick-Service plans allow for 2 meals per day per person at cafeteria-style eateries like Sunshine Seasons or Satu’li Canteen. The standard Disney Dining plan allows for 1 meal at a quick-service restaurant and 1 at a table-service restaurant each day per person — at locations including ‘50s Prime Time Café and Be Our Guest — while the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan allows for 3 meals per day at table- or quick-service eateries per person. Every meal on every plan includes and entree and beverage, and table-service lunches and dinners include an appetizer, entree, dessert and drink per guest or buffet entitlements (applicable for any meal). All Disney Dining Plans are compatible with mobile ordering, but note: higher-end table service restaurants may require “double” credits.

What is Free Dining?

Free dining is a special seasonal and annual promotion wherein participating Disney Resort Hotels offer complimentary Disney Dining Plans when booking a full-price Walt Disney World vacation package with tickets and lodging.

Which hotels offer Free Dining?

Only Disney-operated hotels are eligible for the Free Dining promotion, and select locations and availability varies. Free dining is offered among multiple hotel pricing tiers but the program varies; eligible Disney Deluxe Villa and Deluxe Resort Hotels offer a free Disney Dining Plan, while eligible Disney Moderate and Value Resort Hotels come with a free Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan. (Guests can pay to upgrade to the Disney Deluxe Dining Plan.)

What’s the catch?

Disney’s Free Dining promotion is only available by booking a full-price, non-discounted “Magic Your Way” package, locking every member of your family into a minimum day Park Hopper ticket. If you buy tickets elsewhere, plan to visit a single park each day, or have an annual pass, you won’t be eligible for Free Dining.

How do I know if it’s right for me?

Do the math. If your dates are flexible, there may be other promotions that suit your needs best, but if you were planning on visiting over Thanksgiving or Christmas — two of the busiest times of year — a Free Dining booking could save you hundreds of dollars.

How do I book Free Dining?

As fast as humanly possible, either on the Walt Disney World website or over the phone. There are famously a limited amount of eligible rooms and they fill up quickly. Missed the boat this time? Consider working with a travel agent for your next trip who will be ready and willing to wait on the phone to assist in booking your vacation the next time around.

Do people actually save money with the Disney Dining Plan?

With “Free Dining”, absolutely; on a regular visit, it depends. A major benefit of choosing to prepay for meals with a Disney Dining Plan is that it frees one up to enjoy vacation without worrying about the nickel-and-diming, but larger plans can be too much food for light eaters. As of 2018, all three Disney Dining Plans now includes alcoholic drinks, which could save loads of money for guests who would otherwise hit the bars, but if you’re a teetotaler or prefer snacking your way across the parks instead of sitting down to eat, lower-tier plans or no plan at all may be a better choice.