Arriving before free dining, using split stay to get free dining

I’m doing some pondering for a potential fall trip and I’ve got a strategy question regarding free dining. I took a look at some prior years for free dining around Thanksgiving and wondering how I might account for this scenario if it happens to us.

I’m considering taking a trip arriving 11/24 (the day after Thanksgiving), leaving 11/29. In years past, I’ve seen that the free dining promotion has had some blackout dates around Thanksgiving, starting back up on the Saturday following Thanksgiving in some cases. If we assume that happens this year, and I arrive the day before that (Friday), I’ll miss out on Free Dining since it’s based on the arrival date falling within the dates offered for free dining.

So… if that’s the case, what is the right approach for getting around this, assuming I only want to stay at 1 resort? Book a 1 day (room only) stay at that resort for arrival day, then book the remainder of the trip separately so it looks like the “arrival date” is the start date of free dining?

For park tickets, would I add all the park tickets onto the 2nd reservation? If I do this, can I use those tickets on the date I arrive (a day before the reservation that includes free dining and the park admission)?
Magic Express should be OK, right? I believe I’ve read in the past that Magic Express works fine doing a “split stay”. This would essentially be a “split stay” at a single resort.

I know this is sort of rambling, but if anyone has advice I’d appreciate it. This could easily become a moot point depending on what the details are for free dining if/when it’s released. We’ve never gone in the fall before and we’ve never experienced free dining, so it’s unfamiliar territory.


Magical Express is fine in either of our cases. As far as the split stay, yes you would want to do a split stay so that you can check in on the date of the free dining to get it for most of your stay.
The park tickets, well I know that in the last stay, we had to have park tickets and park hopper with that free dining package. We actually flew in a day early and had to get a one night stay in a room with 2 double beds. We would not have been able to use the park tickets or any of the meals with this first day.
So in a nutshell, your first night would be room only and not able to go into the parks (unless you paid for a 1 day park ticket) and the 2nd part of your stay would be with the free dining, room and park tickets - also anticipate having to get the park hopper, as that is what I have seen with free dining in the past few years.

That part would be a bummer. Let me make sure I’m explaining myself correctly. We’re thinking of being there for a total of 5 nights, 6 days and we’d plan to get 6 day park hopper tickets.

We’d for sure want to go to the parks on day 1, but for our family of 4 buying 4x single day tickets plus 4x 5 day tickets would be way more expensive than just buying 4x 6 day tickets. The latter is what I was hoping to do: Add 6 day park hopper tickets onto the 2nd reservation, but begin using the tickets on our actual arrival date (not the date that we “check in” to get free dining).


Yes. That is correct, from everything I know and was told at the front desk when we got there. Something to consider is instead of doing a 1 day ticket that first day, check out your resort, even go check out other resorts and also go to Disney Springs. We took a bus to Disney Springs, then after eating, snacks and looking around, took a LYFT to the Character Warehouse at the Premium Outlet Mall in Orlando, then headed back to the resort.
I understand how it is a bummer but there is always some catches in all of the promotions that Disney offers. I know that coming in one day early to get the free dining, for me is worth it, others may not agree.
We have a return trip already booked from 12/21 to 12/31 (it was done as a bounce back offer) and it is a discount on the room but we are waiting to see if there is free dining in the future and if it is and we have to change the arrival date, then that is what we plan on doing. Good luck.

One year we did the Poly on a split stay as they had a room special of stay X days get Y days free but it started the day after our vacation was too start. We booked a 1 day at the Poly and then the package starting the next. They had to do some juggling when we checked in at the Poly front desk to get it where our Tix started day 1, but they were able to do it. This was 2011, pre-Magic Band etc. so I’m not sure how relevant it is, but we were able to get into the parks day 1 on a split stay room only booking. It took them so long at the front desk to get it right they paid for our cab to Epcot to make our Le Cellier reservation though, but it all worked out…

This is not quite true. You can’t get the tickets at your resort, but you can get them up to 3 days early at Guest services at the parks/Disney springs. Many liners have done this over the years. It is not an advertised perk, but it is totally doable. No need to buy 1 day tickets, just head to Guest services and have your tickets activated.
Book a room only reservation for whatever days are not included in free dining. Book a second package for free dining in the same type room, your tickets and dining will be on this reservation. You cannot use dining early. Call and have the room only reservation linked to your package reservation. When you arrive, make sure to remind the front desk that you have a reservation in the same type room and they will try to make sure you do not have to move.
Magic Express will be fine. You will get magic bands for both stays. When we did free dining after Thanksgiving in 2011, check in day had to be Sunday. Not sure what day has been required the past few years. Hope this is helpful!


I only gave the information base on my experience this past visit and what I have read. Thank you for that tip, I will have to remember it for in the future.

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Thanks for the pointers, folks! Good to know that it might be possible to activate the tickets early.

I forgot to mention - we’d be expecting to pay for meals out of pocket on our actual arrival day, not trying to get the meal plan activated early. Not that it’s been implied, but I realized I didn’t specifically say that.


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Many people don’t know about that trick, but now you can use it to your advantage! :grinning:

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I will for the future, well that is if Disney doesn’t change the policy, since we know how Disney can be.

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I missed something. Why do you have to buy the park tickets with your room? Why can’t you buy the 6 day ticket and just begin using it? Why does it have to be attached to room stay?

Maybe I’m misunderstanding something, but from what you’ve said, this is what I thought you should do. This is all on your one Disney account

  1. book your 1 day room only
  2. book your 5 day + dining
  3. buy a 6 day ticket separately, so it’s added to your account but not attached to a stay (as it would be if you were buying room and tickets together.)

Why wouldn’t this work?

@Ariadne, because you have to buy a package including tickets to be eligible for the Free Dining promotion.

Ah! Yeah, that sucks then.