How Much Can You Really Save? FREE Dining Plan at Walt Disney World 2017

Every year, Disney World releases a variety of Special Offers for reservations made through their website or phone. One of the best offers by far is the annual Free Disney Dining Plan, especially for families who plan to visit the table service or character dining restaurants when they head to Disney World. Free Disney Dining Plan is a promotion Walt Disney World offers every year for select dates in the fall and winter. It is now available for select dates between August and December 2017 – as long as you book before July 7, 2017!

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One of the most expensive things you’ll likely spend on when you visit WDW is the food. Each character buffet lunch/dinner will run you about $45-$60 (before gratuity) per adult and a quick/counter service meal will run you between $15-$25 depending on what you order for drink/dessert.

For guests who stay on property and book through Disney, the Dining Plan is an option you can add to your reservation. The condition is that ALL members of your party MUST purchase a Dining Plan.* Here is a highlight of the 2017 Dining Plan prices you’d be paying WITHOUT the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion.

* PRO TIP: If you have a family member who is only coming for 1-2 nights, you can add them as a “day guest” to avoid booking and paying for a Dining Plan for the entire trip. 




Quick Service Dining Plan

2 quick-service meals
2 snacks
1 refillable mug

$48.19 $20.88

Regular Dining Plan

1 table-service meal
1 quick-service meal
2 snacks
1 refillable mug

$69.35 $24.95

Deluxe Dining Plan

3 table service meals (can be applied to quick service, but you’d be losing money)
2 snacks
1 refillable mug

$106.68 $38.75



August 21* – September 30, 2017
November 14 – 20, 2017
November 25 – 27, 2017
December 8 – 23, 2017

*Disney Visa Cardholders can book the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion for arrival dates beginning August 13, 2017.

This promotion is valid for booking through July 7, 2017.



Guests booking the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion for Value or Moderate Resorts will receive the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan (a $48.19/$20.88 value per night), with guests staying at Deluxe or Deluxe Villa Resorts receiving the Regular Disney Dining Plan (a $69.35/$24.95 value per night). You can, however, choose to book a Value resort and pay the difference to upgrade from the FREE Quick Service Dining Plan to the Regular Dining Plan which upgrades 1 quick service meal per day to a table service/buffet/character dining meal.

Minimum Stay: 3-night/4-day “for domestic markets” according to phone reservation CM, 5-night/6-day according to website*
Minimum Ticket: 2-day Park Hopper per guest ages 3+

* I was able to search and apply the offer to search for a 3 night stay in September.

Get a FREE dining plan when you purchase a minimum of 3-night/4-day Magic Your Way room and a minimum of 2-day Park Hopper tickets per person. I spoke to a Cast Member about not needing a ticket due to being an annual passholder, and they told me that EVERY guest staying at the hotel would need a minimum of a 2-day Park Hopper ticket regardless but that if I purchased one, I could apply the amount spent on it towards the cost of my annual pass when I renew my Premier pass through Disney World OR exchange it for another ticket that would be used on a future visit. Mitchell, a CM from the Ticket Services/Ticket Research department of WDW, told me it would be no problem to exchange & upgrade the 2-day Park Hopper for myself with a 10-day Park Hopper for my daughter to use on a future trip.



With the chosen dates of the special offer, Disney allows you to apply your snack credits to the many delicious offerings at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival (Aug 31-Nov 13), one of my favorite times to go to Disney World. It also happens to be one of the least crowded times of the year to go – September. BUT, how do you pass on Christmas at Disney World? (Seriously, it’s MAGIC.) Christmas decorations go up in early November, so you’d have plenty of time to take advantage of this offer while enjoying the magic of the holidays at Disney World. Keep in mind that some of these dates also mean more expensive resort rates.



When booking special offers like these through Disney World online or by phone, they typically don’t break down the cost of the trip for you.

I did a brief search to see a comparison of what my package total would be for a 7 night trip:

Date: September 17 – 24, 2017
Resort: Value, All-Star Sports
Room Type: Standard Room
Tickets: 6-day Park Hoppers for 1 adult & 1 child
Dining Plan: Regular Dining Plan*

*The Regular Dining Plan is a small upgrade from the free/included Quick Service Dining Plan for Value resorts.

Free Disney
Dining Plan
Separate Bookings (w/Dining Plan) Separate Bookings (No Dining Plan) Price Difference
(w/Dining Plan)
Standard Room  Included $985.19 $985.19  –
6-Day PH Tickets  Included $971.94 $971.94  –
Regular Disney Dining Plan  Included $660.16  –
TOTAL $2132.98 $2617.29 $1,957.13 $484.31

You may actually save more when you’re applying this promotion to something other than the Value resort.

To calculate whether or not the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion is really worth it for your family, feel free to use the following guide:



RESORT TYPE 3N/4D 4N/5D 5N/6D 6N/7D 7N/8D 8N/9D 9N/10D
Quick Service Dining Plan $144.57/10+
Regular Dining Plan $208.05/10+


3N/4D 4N/5D 5N/6D 6N/7D 7N/8D 8N/9D 9N/10D
Quick Service Dining Plan $289.14 $385.52 $481.90 $578.28 $674.66 $771.04 $867.42
Regular Dining Plan $416.10 $554.80 $693.50 $832.20 $970.90 $1,109.60 $1,248.30


RESORT TYPE 3N/4D 4N/5D 5N/6D 6N/7D 7N/8D 8N/9D 9N/10D
Quick Service Dining Plan $351.78 $469.04 $586.30 $703.56 $820.82 $938.08 $1,055.34
Regular Dining Plan $490.95 $654.60 $818.25 $981.90 $1,145.55 $1,309.20 $1,472.85


RESORT TYPE 3N/4D 4N/5D 5N/6D 6N/7D 7N/8D 8N/9D 9N/10D
Quick Service Dining Plan $207.21 $276.28 $345.35 $414.42 $483.49 $552.56 $621.63

Regular Dining Plan

$282.90 $377.20 $471.50 $565.80 $660.10 $754.40 $848.70



Planning Your First Trip to Disney World

Are you planning your first trip to Disney World? Or possibly your first trip there since you were a kid yourself? When I finally went back for an actual trip in 2015 over 15 years after the previous trip, I couldn’t believe how much Disney World had changed. I went for a week and probably managed to see under 15% of it.

1. Decide Which Time of Year To Go & Decide On A Budget

If you have flexibility, check the crowd calendar. If you don’t, make sure you book your plane tickets and figure out hotel reservations AT LEAST 8 months in advance to avoid paying exorbitant prices. Personally, my favorite time of year at WDW is Halloween, Christmas, and the Food & Wine Festival; so I go annually at the end of October/early November. My daughter is 4 so it’s still an option, but it’s probably not going to be possible once she’s in elementary school.

2. Decide Which Park You’ll Be Visiting Every Day

Figure out which day you’ll be spending at which park. Keep in mind the fact that Disney World is 40 square miles, about the size of San Francisco. I generally use TouringPlans to gauge the expected crowds by day and plan my trip around that.

3. Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR)

ADRs are hard to come by, especially for locations that offer character dining. You can start to book dining reservations 6 months before your trip, which by 2 months before your trip can help you figure out which Fastpasses you’d like to book. Booking dining reservations that far in advance may sound nuts to you if you’ve never been to WDW, but trust me – I learned this the hard way. If you intend to go to two of the toughest places to get a table at – Be Our Guest or Cinderella’s Royal Table, you will need to figure out what precise day you will be able to book ADRs for the first day of your trip and reserve your table at 7am EST that day. And then you’ll need to repeat the process daily until the last day of your trip.

4. Fastpass+

Regardless of what time of year you go, there are a number of rides that will ALWAYS command a long wait time. Enter the FASTPASS+. These will be useful, but you will need to do the same thing I recommended with the ADRs and figure out what precise day you will be able to book your first set of Fastpasses for the first day of the trip and secure the hardest ones to get.
              MAGIC KINGDOM
              Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
              Space Mountain
              Peter Pan’s Flight
              Frozen Ever After
              Test Track
              Toy Story Midway Mania!
              Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
              ANIMAL KINGDOM
              Expedition Everest
              Kilimanjaro Safaris

5. Study the Maps

The parks are pretty huge. It can take you 20mins to get from one side of a park to the other, and more when there’s a lot of people traffic. It’ll be much easier for you (and on your little ones’ feet) to plan your day around your fastpasses and ADRs. There are apps and websites like my personal favorite, TouringPlans, that will help you plan out your day by breaking down your trek between rides and wait times into minutes. It’ll maximize the use of your limited time at Disney World and cost only a small fee of under $15 for a year of access.

Zee is 4: Kids’ Moana Birthday Party Ideas

Zee is FOUR. I guess I should get some kind of prize for every single day that I managed not to totally screw up this whole parenting deal. It’s a good thing I don’t do to kids what I do to plants.

AND HEY, guess what? I did win! I won the love of my life.

This party had it’s bumps, honestly. We had to switch dates one day before the party, lost our original picnic spot, and half the guests were no longer able to make it because of the last minute change. Also, the cake fell apart and they completely forgot about the cupcakes. However, in the end, we made it all work and it came together pretty nicely. Just look at my kid’s face. I mean, that’s the whole point, isn’t it?


We made sure the kids and parents had enough to do to keep them entertained.

Aside from the leis that we handed to everyone that came, we provided the materials for anyone interested to make their own floral necklaces and bracelets.

We also filled a wooden planter with sand and seashells for kids to find their own “treasures” and take them home. The planter was a handmade gift from my father-in-law.


I found some Moana-themed temporary tattoos online and the ever prepared Moana brought her own blue colored water and a sponge to apply them onto the kids’ wrists.


Obviously, the star of the party was Moana herself.


Moana was able to do so much in 1.5 hours. She chatted with the kids, told a story, did some magic,

put the temporary tattoos on the kids, played some simple toddler games like “Maui Says,”

and then guided everyone (parents included) in a group hula dance. There was definitely a lot of giggling.

Party Favors

We found these great beach buckets with shovels at the Dollar Tree and decided they would make great party favors. We also bought bubbles and blow-outs then stuck homemade Moana stickers on them to have them match with our basic theme.


My daughter’s birthday party is the one day per year that she gets to eat a bunch of sweet treats without some sort of compromise or extensive negotiation. And we had plenty of options for her.


For food, my visiting mother-in-law bought teriyaki chicken and Kalua pulled pork from Ono Hawaiian BBQ, cooked Jasmine rice at home, and bought 3 pizzas. I also made a pineapple cole slaw to go with the pulled pork and Hawaiian rolls. The chicken teriyaki was a favorite so we ran out of it quickly. There were also rainbow fruit skewers (not pictured).

We made jello “boats” with graham cracker sand (not pictured).

And upside-down pineapple cupcakes.

After a bit of a mix-up and a 40min delay at Safeway, lesson learned: pick up this kind of stuff the day before.


BUUUUUT, look at these awesome Kokomora cake pops!


A lot of the themed decoration was printed at home on cardboard paper or on full sized label paper, including the banner. However, we also did the standard balloons, plastic table covers, raffia table skirts, and a tiki bar.

My personal favorite purchase was the teepee. It’s $95 on Amazon but I managed to get it in practically new condition from a Dad on Craigslist for $30. And yes, I am completely aware that teepees have nothing to do with Moana or Polynesia, but hey, they’re awesome.

Personal Thoughts

It’s been 5 days and she’s still talking about her party multiple times a day. I meaaaan, she was talking about her 3rd birthday party until the day of her 4th. Parties like these are a ton of work for everyone involved, but I was lucky to have had assistance with set-up from my Mom, her husband, their friends Ernie & Connie, and for the first birthday ever, my in laws. I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off without help. Zee’s genuine appreciation and joy makes it all worthwhile though. Plus, I’m going to be milking this period of her life where she’s still so enchanted by the sheer magic of themed birthday parties for as long as I possibly can.

You know, just in case she goes through that phase where she decides she’s too cool for everything in a few years.

Yep, bugs are pretty darn magical too.


Photos taken by Ross Marlowe.