Which WDW Offer is Better? Free Dining, or Room Discounts?

With the two competing promotions at Walt Disney World this Fall/early Winter, it’s worth comparing them to see which is the better deal.  It’s easy to automatically think “Well, free dining. Right?”  After all, you get your food taken care of, you’re good to go!  Right?

Well, there is more to consider than just cost; there’s also timing, and resort choice, and it’s worth at least briefly considering whether or not you want to spend the time needed to invest in the Disney Dining Plan.  Even if it’s free, there is a time deficit involved in having a table service meal each and every day.  Don’t get me wrong, if the dining is a big part of the experience for you, it’s a no-brainer!  But if it’s not…

So let’s cover that first.  Let’s say that you really want to have one character dining experience in the course of your meal.  Let’s say you want to eat at Cinderella Castle.  (Aim high! Dream big!  Get your ADRs early! LOL!)  You’re going to be staying for four nights, and other than that one meal, you don’t really care where you eat and you want to see as much of the parks as possible.  In that case, what do you do?  Do you get the full Dining Plan for free, or do you go for a room discount and pay out of pocket on the Cinderella meal (which, btw, takes 2 table service credits so that is your TS for two nights, not just one; for a meal with two adults the out-of-pocket cost would be approximately $120).

In this case, a free DDP would actually make sense in most cases. If you’re not interested in where else you go, using up two table service credits on Cinderella makes sense. That leaves you with two other table service restaurants to pick out, and still with four quick service credits.  However, if your tastes are a bit lower – let’s say you love Sci-Fi Dine-In and eat there every year, but that’s the only place you feel like sitting down and being waited on… well if you’re staying at a moderate or a deluxe, skip the DDP, pay out of pocket on meals, and get a discounted room.  If you’re staying at a Value, getting the Quick Service DP for free is probably a good idea.

The other biggest consideration is your resort choice.  Determining whether or not the DDP is the best value for you has a lot to do with what resort you are choosing to stay at, vs. what your savings are for meals.  Looking SPECIFICALLY at cost-savings for two adults, it goes like this:

For Value resorts the free Quick Service dining is better than you’d get on room-only.  Period, hands-down.  A 4-night, 4-day package with park-hopper tickets at Pop Century on the free dining promo might cost you $1232; the same dates with the 15% room discount and 4-day park-hoppers would cost $1155, and if you add Quick Service dining, it’s $1491.  It’s clear that the Free Dining is the winning promo here, unless you absolutely don’t intend to eat inside the parks at all (good luck with that).

For Moderate resorts it’s a bit trickier, but still tips in the Free Dining’s favour.  The same package as above, with free base dining instead of quick-service dining, might cost $1532 at Caribbean Beach, and the same dates with the 20% room discount and park-hoppers is $1369.  Add the base Dining Plan to this and it’s $1749; add the Quick Service Dining Plan instead, and it’s $1687.  So obviously this leans towards the Free Dining plan again, since you’d save over $200 vs adding on the DDP to the room discount and ticket combo.  BUT… buying just the room-and-ticket combo with the discounted room saves you over $150, and if you’re looking for the best price and willing to budget on your food, you want to really consider the room discount.  Keep in mind that even with the dining plans, if you want to eat 3 meals a day you will still pay out of pocket on one of them.  But be prepared, bring some extra food, and you can keep your dining costs down.  On the other hand, if you want to put it all on red and have a table service dinner each night, well, you know what to do. 😉

Last, let’s look at Deluxe resorts. This is where the lines blur.  The 4-night/4-day package with free dining could cost $2187 at Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Not bad.  Take the same length of stay and tickets, with the 30% discount on the room, and you pay $1748.  Add the base Dining Plan to that and your cost is $2217… only $30 more than the free DDP offer.  Change the base Dining Plan into a Quick Service Dining Plan and your total drops to $2065, $120 *less* than the free DDP.  That means you can get the quick service dining plan and lunch at Cinderella Castle for the same price as the free base DDP offer. Or you can drop the Cinderella lunch and just save money!

Of course, dates and availabilities and resorts are going to vary.  The point is that you want to know what your options are, and what your needs are, before you say “Oooh, a Deluxe Resort AND Free Dining? How can I lose!?” or the like.  Consider all your options to know what’s going to meet your requirements and desires the best, because one vacation doesn’t fit all!

Contact Fairytale Journeys By Rebecca Kelly for lots of help and advice planning your Disney World vacation this fall… or next winter, spring, summer, etc!  Also specializing in Disneyland, Disney Cruises, and more. 🙂  Also on Facebook!

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