Walt Disney World has released their “Free Dining” Offer for 2018.
I’m often asked if this is a better deal than the Disney Armed Forces Salute.
Each year when Disney World announces their Free Dining Offer for the fall, readers will ask, “Is “Free Dining” better than using the Disney Armed Forces Salute for me?”
To this I always have to reply, Maybe…
I’m also asked, “Can I combine “Free Dining” with the Disney Armed Forces Salute room discount?”
Sorry, The Answer to that question is No You Can’t!
You will have to choose one or the other.
So Which Is Right For You?
Sorry, but there is no cut and dry, easy answer. Every family’s situation is different. There are many variables such as, the number in your party including the number of adults and kids (3-9), the length of your vacation, your Disney Resort level desired (value, moderate, deluxe), and your eating habits while on vacation (amount of food, quality of food , and time spent eating (i.e. counter vs table service).
The reason I can’t just give a straight and easy answer as to which is cheaper is that no two families and their Disney vacation plans are the same.
Everyone interested in which of these two offers would be best has to run the numbers based on their individual party and vacation plans.
In this post I’ll walk you through the process.
“Free Dining” Specifics
Free Dining is currently available for the following arrival dates:
- August 20 – September 29, 2018
- November 24 – 27, 2018
- December 7 – 23, 2018
You must book by 7 July to get the offer.
Guests booking at the Disney Value or Moderate Resorts get the Quick Service dining plan for free. You can upgrade to the standard or deluxe dining plans by paying the difference in cost per night.
Guests booking at the Disney Deluxe Resorts and DVC properties get the Standard dinning plan for free. You can upgrade to the deluxe dining plan by paying the difference in cost per night.
The available number of rooms for this promotion tends to go fast.
To get “Free Dining” you must book a minimum stay of 4 nights to a maximum stay of 14 nights at a Disney-owned resort at the Full Price Non-Discounted (military or otherwise) Rate!
You also need to purchase AT LEAST a 4-day Magic Your Way Disney World ticket with the Park Hopper Option!
You may upgrade to the Park Hopper Plus if desired.
- The number of rooms allocated for this offer is limited.
- Advance reservation required.
- Tickets and options must be used within 14 days of first use. First use must be on or before December 31, 2019.
- Children ages 3 to 9 must choose from the children’s menu, if available.
- Some table-service restaurants may have limited or no availability at time of package purchase.
- Cannot be combined with any other discount or promotion.
- Gratuities are not included.
- All Guests in the same room must be on the same package.
- Offer excludes the following room types: campsites, 3-bedroom villas and Little Mermaid Standard Rooms at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort.
So is “Free Dining” for you?
The Expert Says:
Amy at Ears of Experience my recommended Disney travel agent says:”
General speaking larger parties and or those staying for longer periods of time will save with the free dining deal. Those taking shorter trips are better off with the Disney Armed Forces Salute.”
So, is “Free Dining” a money saver or money pit for your family?
Run The Numbers
The only way to decide which offer is right for you is to run the numbers both ways and compare.
Armed Forces Salute Cost
First figure how much it will cost to use the Disney Armed Forces Salute. You’ll figure the cost of: Tickets, Room, and Food.
Tickets: Disney’s Disney Armed Forces Salute Tickets offer 4 & 5 day tickets at about half off the regular gate prices. You are allowed up to 6 of these tickets and they may be used back to back for longer stays. Longer stays or large parties may require additional (or switching entirely to) Regular Military Discounted Magic Your Way Tickets.
- Determine what type and how many Disney Armed Forces Salute tickets that you will need
- Determine if Regular Military Discounted Magic Your Way Tickets or Shades of Green Stars and Stripes Passes are needed.
- Enter the Total Cost of your tickets
Room: Disney’s Armed Forces Salute offers up to 30%-40% off their full price room rates for up to 3 rooms. First you’ll need to figure the full price cost of the room you are interested in.
- Go to WDW’s room reservation page
- Input your dates
- Select your resort
- Select the full price rate
- Get the total (write this number down, next you’ll do some math and the use it again later)
- Apply the discount based on the resort category
- Multiply the total by .6 for Deluxe Resorts
- Multiply the total by .65 for Moderate Resorts
- Multiply the total by .7 for Value Resorts
- Then add in the room tax
- Multiply by 1.125 (1.13 for the All-Stars)
You now have the maximum Disney Armed Forces Salute discounted rate that could be available for that room choice.
Note Salute rates are not always available for all room types as Disney only offers a certain amount per day at each resort. Also new for 2018 as rooms fill Disney decreases the discount amount before canceling it altogether. See our 2018 Salute Room Discount Availability post for more.
You’ll need to call Disney or have your Travel Agent do so in order to determine the actual Military Salute discount that is available to you.
Food: Here is the hard part… You’ll need to figure what it would cost you to eat on your vacation if you did not have the Free Dining Offer.
You can do this one of two ways. Which depends on whether you would use the Paid Disney Dining Plan or pay a la carte.
Be sure to include any tips at table service locations that you would use, whether figuring a la carte or Disney Dining Plan. Tips are not included in the Dining Plan.
– Those staying at a Value or Moderate Resort would receive the Quick Service Dining Plan under the “Free Dining” Offer. Compare this plan at $52.49 per night (ages 10+) and $21.75 per night (ages 3-9).
– Those staying at other resorts would receive the Regular Dining Plan under the Free Dining Offer. Compare this plan at $75.40 per night (ages 10+) and $25.80 per night (ages 3-9).
– If you think you’d purchase any meals, snacks, or extra alcoholic beverages on top of what is included in the Dining Plan add these in too (hint you will have too). See the a la carte section next for how to do this.
A La Carte
To figure your cost this way you will need to figure the daily cost for how you think your family will actually eat while at Disney World.
I recommend using the menus at AllEars.net as I do. Just select the items your family would eat at each meal at the restaurants you think you’d like to eat at and total it up. Remember to include drinks, snacks, alcoholic beverages, special meals/dining experiences, and tips at Table Service restaurants.
Disney Armed Forces Salute Total – Combine the cost for Tickets, Room, and Food, this is your Armed Forces Salute total cost that you’ll use to compare to the Free Dining Offer price.
Free Dining Cost
A minimum of 4-Day Magic Your Way Hopper ticket is required for each person on the reservation age 3 and up in order to qualify for Free Dining.
4-Day Magic Your Way Park Hopper Ticket Cost (with tax):
- Adult (10+) – $484.58
- Child (3-9) -$463.28
4-Day Magic Your Way Park Hopper Plus Ticket Cost (with tax):
- Adult (10+) – $511.20
- Child (3-9) -$489.90
So you have to buy these full price 4-day tickets, now what?
You have several Options depending on the length of your trip:
- You can just do 4 park days with the hoppers,
- Or you can do 4 park days and ahve the 4 water park or other extras if you upgrade
- You can go all in and buy full price tickets for your entire stay
- This is the most expensive option
- You can use your Disney Armed Forces Salute Tickets instead
- The 4-day full price tickets can be used on another visit in 2018 and be used with the Disney Armed Forces Saluteroom discount
- Can be used towards annual/seasonal passes later
- Though technically not allowed, some have used them towards the purchase of their Armed Forces Salute tickets direct from Disney after arrival (this could fall through)
- You can mix your full price 4-day tickets with Disney Armed Forces Salute tickets, Regular Military Discounted Magic Your Way Tickets, or Stars and Stripes Passes. Price out all options, combining tickets is often more expensive
Remember the full price room rate I said to write down?
That is what you’ll pay for your room to get “Free Dining”.
Included in the offer
- Value and Moderate Resorts – Quick Service Dining Plan Included
- Deluxe and DVC Resorts – Standard Dining Plan Included
Tips are not included in the Dining Plan, be sure to include any Tips at table service locations.
DDP Food Extras
The Disney Dining Plan will not cover all of your eating needs while on vacation! Remember to figure in the cost of extra drinks, snacks, alcoholic beverages, as well as special meals/dining experiences that go over and beyond what is included in the DDP.
Compare The Totals
Now that you have your two totals, you can compare to see which option, Walt Disney World “Free Dining” or the Disney Armed Forces Salute would be best for your party.
Well, we sure covered a lot of ground here, let me know if I missed anything or if you have questions or comments in the comment section below!
Would you rather have someone else worry about all of this for you?
If you need help on how to save the most with these various discounts, I recommend Ears of Experience.
Ears of Experience is a military family owned small business that only makes Disney reservations so they truly are experts. You’ll pay no more through them than you would direct with Disney.
Use this link to request assistance from Ears of Experience with your vacation.
Planning a Disney Trip? Want to get the best military discounts that are available? Feeling a little confused? See our:
Learn about the Disney Armed Forces Salute the best military discount that there is for Disney. For where to stay see our Resorts/Hotel Overview Page. Disney doesn’t discount dining for the military, but there are a few places on property that do, see the Dining Overview Page to learn where plus more dining info. You can also learn about Transportation Options. Be sure to check out our Technology Overview to learn about Magic Bands and My Disney Experience to see how they work with military tickets. Walt Disney World visitors might be interested in staying at Shades of Green, WDW’s Military Only Resort.