Free dining (isn't really free right?) so confused with what to do!

Can i just say UGH! I have been going further and further down the rabbit hole and now do not know what to do! I started off with planning our early Dec trip accommodations for fam of 5 (me, DH, DS14, DS11, DD7) with booking POR through MVT for great rate of $180 per night. I thought “well done, now that is checked of my list” but no. I continue to ponder what is best. I think we would love POR but that my family will be too cramped for 5 nights. Then a beacon of light shone down on the cabins at Fort Wilderness and I wondered why it had taken me so long to realize our one and only true choice for accommodations. On the Disney website, the cabins were available for our travel dates (no discount but not horribly priced, around $380 per night) so I booked them before they were gone and thought I would email my MVT travel agent to find out if she could rebook them herself to get the credit.
Then I began to think about the free dining offer. We really weren’t beholden to our dates (originally picked to coincide with MVT offer) and we were already planning to get 3DPH so if a 4DPH would give us free dining and we were already paying rack rate for our qualifying room, then we should get free dining!
So I called Disney and spoke with a very amazing CM who was able to book us a free dining package but a little later in Dec. The later Dec room rates cost more so now paying more. Also I wanted the DP (1 TS and 1QS per day)which is now an extra $21 per adult (we now have 4 adults) and $4 per child per day.
So this package is almost double of what I originally thought we would pay with our inexpensive POR room and 3DPH but free dining.
We are also planning to buy MVMCP tickets which I feel I should do soon before dates sell out. On our party day we were originally going to take the boat over to DS to do the VOID. Once the cabins came into the mix I thought of not going to DS. The CM I talked to though raved about the VOID as an avid SW fan. If I really consider what my fam would want, it is probably to go to the VOID during our trip. Which again POR would be very convenient for. See how this just keeps circling back on me?
Other than our party day we will likely have full park days so not a lot of time in the room.
With all of this in mind would you give up the free dining offer? When I do the math it just doesn’t seem to work out like a huge saving and we will be paying more overall.
Any advice on any of this is much appreciated. And I am really hoping some of this makes sense!

Might I suggest taking a different tack on this?

Rather than focus on whether it makes more sense to do one versus the other, which will be the greatest savings versus another, etc., think about what you HAVE to spend, and how you best wish to spend that amount.

If you have a budget of $4000 (for the sake of discussion), then figure out what things are most important about how that money is spent and then make your decision accordingly.

If, for example, you think having room to spread out in the room is going to be an important part of the trip, but that room costs most, then you sacrifice something else. If you’d rather “eat well”, but squeeze into the room when it is time to bunk down for the evening, then shuffle some of that money to food budget, etc.

Once you know your budget to work with, the what things you want to prioritize over other things, you can then start to play around with which option (DP versus no DP, POR versus FW, etc) makes the best financial sense to match up the MOST of your top priority items.

If you focus too heavily on whether it is a good idea to get a room with the DP included or not, etc., means you might end up not making the best overall decisions for this trip in the budget you want.


Very sage advice. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction to get out of my rabbit hole! You are right in that it really comes down to what we want to spend money on. The free dining would be great, but we end up paying more overall than I was planning on. Getting an extra park day was not a priority at all for me but is what I had to do to get free dining. Going later in Dec makes everything cost more (even the party tickets). It’s just that there is a big allure to the term “free” dining!

I think I need to talk to DH and see what his priorities are in all of this. I am used to planning the entire trip without any input which is usually fine. But the accommodations are what always seem to be the hardest for me to make decisions about, and now figuring out cost of extra park tickets!

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I think that “free” dining can definitely make sense if you have a family of 5 and were planning on a lot of expensive meals. You don’t quite mention what you were planning to eat if you were staying at POR with the 3DPH. Perhaps calculate those costs out and see if they are more/less than your “free” dining.

Another avenue, have you looked at renting DVC points for a 1 bedroom at OKW? That would get you more space plus boat access to DS! Unfortunately SSR 1-beds don’t sleep 5.

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If I were trying to decide, I’d first write up a budget for the POR room that included what I expect to spend on food (no DP) and add 10%, because, well, I’m usually wrong. Then you can compare that number with the total for the WCabin and DP. Is it still a huge difference? If not, that might be worth the extra comfort. If not, then you’ll know what you have to do, but it’ll be apples to apples.

Also, will you use all of the DP you’re considering? Add that to the cost.

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I did the same thing for our family of 5. Originally booked at POR through MVT for early Dec., then considered Free Dinning, and like you got myself all worked up over options.
After looking at where we wanted to eat and adding the costs we decided to spend more on a room with more space/convenience and moved to BC skipping the “free dinning” option. Still got a great deal through MVT for the room and this fits our travel needs much better than trying to squeeze all of those meals in to make the free dinning worth the expense.

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I strongly considered taking the DP, but after sitting down with my boyfriend and looking at the numbers, we realized some things:

  • You had to get park hopper tickets (we try to not park hop, just to enjoy each park more and be less stressed. It makes MK more difficult to visit during the party nights, but at the same time I need more * downtime than I plan for).
  • A few restaurants we wanted to go to were not in the DP
  • We like to do TS; that made it harder so we would have to pay out of pockets.
  • The room and resort we wanted were not part of it.

We calculated that by taking room+tickets through MVT (and no DP), it made more sense money-wise. I don’t think it would save us money to not take DP, but it allowed us to eat where we really wanted to eat. Food and Wine festival is on during our time and only some of the stuff is part of the DP.

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Have you looked into the Art of Animation Family Suites? I know it is a Value resort, which might not be what you are looking for but it would offer more space and 2 bathrooms. It is further away from many things though. Just a thought :slight_smile:


We have a family of 5 as well and I just worried too much about fitting with the pull down for son (DD17, DS12, DD9- DD’s share a bed son is tall and needs a full size twin at least). So I booked with MVT and did spreadsheets of the MVT package I booked with my own DP budgeted (1QS, mugs, two snacks, and 1TS per day paid for OOP). Then I took the free dining promotion and upgraded QS DP to DDP in the value room we would fit in and tickets and of course had to add parking fees for resort now charged and tips.

I knew exactly what and where we would eat bc my ADR’s came out before free dining. After comparing I only spent 1500 for 7 nights of food as a “Dining Plan” I paid for OOP. The DDP is acutally around 2100 for 7 nights for our family of 5. Not included tips. Then I saw i saved 1200 on room only rates (we are going on MVT’s labor day exclusive and staying at Poly Std room for 272 (tax incl and no parking fees) each night. Also, saved on convention rate tix through MVT. Can’t remember how much but I know it was over $500 total.

You should do the same. Figure out where and what you will eat during your trip and calculate the total cost and don’t forget tax (6.5%) and tips (I do 18-20%). If you can fit in POR it is definitely a good deal with free dining but again my family can’t fit there comfortably anymore. And I’m very happy I stayed with the MVT deal vs free dining. I saved alot of money this year doing it this way!! You will have to do your homework and see if OOP Dining that you know your family wants vs free dining with Disney is really saving you money.

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I think everyone has offered great advice to work out the actual cost of your accommodations, tickets and dining for each option so you can better compare your options and decide how to best spend what you have in your budget.

And remember - yes, “free” dining sounds great and in some situations it can be the best deal. But it’s not actually free. In a lot of cases taking a room discount and going out of pocket for your meals can be the best deal.


I think that when I put it all into apples for comparison, then it really comes down to what we want from our trip. The free dining will cost more than we will were originally planning but we get more in return. We should come out ahead looking at the cost and knowing that I have no problem booking us into ADRs and finding QS to use up all of our points. It would be fun to let my kids get all of the snacks they would like. It gives an extra day though that I wasn’t originally planning on which could also be great but again not what we were originally planning. So I need to sit DH down and make him listen to me talk Disney for a bit! I need his input on this one! We may stick with original plan and try to get room discount for cabins and pay OOP.

I am still slightly torn on giving up our MVT rate for POR. It seems like a great resort that get tons of love, but have said that they felt it is too small for fam of 5. My oldest is 5’7" and would likely be the one to sleep in the pull out. At 13 y.o. he does not want to sleep in a bed with mom, dad, or sibling!

Thanks for the thought! I do keep looking at this one because the 2 bathrooms is enticing. I just think my family would like the cabins better in general and they are about the same price.

I have read that usually free dining dose work out to a savings when you have a group of 5 in one room. So I do think we would actually come out ahead financially looking at that package. But to qualify for it I have to pay for some things I wasn’t originally going to like and extra day of PH tickets and the upgraded room. So I just have to decide do we want to pay for the room upgrade and extra day. I will need to make DH give input on this one! Up until now it has just been you and me liners planning this trip!

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I didn’t know you can get convention rate tickets through MVT. I need to check on this! I probably need to check back with my MVT TA anyway and let her know I am considering the cabins instead of POR and see if she can give any discounts. I assumed that there would be none available because there were not a few months ago when I originally book POR with her.

Yes! When I got a quote I told her I was only interested in the room rate bc I was going to get tickets from a Undercover Tourist or Park Savers and Darcy, my MVT agent, said let me at least quote you our tickets prices because many times we beat those prices. She was right!

Here was my breakdown for Poly with MVT Labor Day exclusive & convention rate Park Hopper Plus 1 (water park or mini golf day):

$292/ni for 7 nights= 2022
$2310 (for 4 PH+1 for 4 Disney adults and 1 Disney Child)
estimated food budget (tips and taxes included):
7 QS-463 (doing Satuli, YFC, Sunshine Seasons, Caseys, Sleepy Hollow, Les Halles & Capt Cooks)
7 TS- 534 after Disney Visa Rewards points and reimbursing myself on my statement with my credit card points as I describe below. The real balance was $1159.
( paid for CRT-$375 with Amex points- highley recommend the blue cash rewards for 6% cash back
on groceries-
Yak & Yeti & T-Rex paid for with discounted gift cards, Amazon Prime points (bought a
Landry’s GC and reimbursed myself as a statement credit) and joined Landry’s and $50 credit on
card for new member gift and made my birthday August for our trip to get another $25 reward)
Other TS - 'Ohana, Via Napoli, and Kona Cafe for breakfast which I may or may not cancel).

I also budgeted for 2 snack per day at maximum $5/snack/person. That is $350. And I budgeted for the refillable mugs for 5 with is a little over 100 with tax included.

My total with point redemption for my entire trip is: $5505.34 vs if Poly had been included I figured went on WDW site prior to free dining and got this package amount:

$6341.60 for Free Dining with a STD view room costing over 500/night. Also, bc I had to make a new ressie I had to include parking- $168 and tips that I estimated at $200. The new total was $6709.60.

I saved $342.26 going with Darcy/MVT. If I had done POR Free Dining (even with parking and upgrade would have saved me over 1K vs Poly- but this is DD’s graduation celebration and she requested Poly. Plus didn’t know if we would fit.)

I think it’s highly unlikely our family will use all the snacks and food money I budgeted for by the Dining Plan through Disney for 7 nights for us was around 2300. Even without my credit card point redemptions I still saved $300 by paying OOP and I think it’s clear from all I wrote above we will not notice any difference.

I also just want to say that the Cabins sound nice too. One day I want to try them! Unfortunately POR we outgrew before we had a chance to stay! It’s hard finding affordable places with 3 kiddos! Especially as they get older and they are mix of boy and girl! My oldest DD doesn’t want to sleep with her brother and is pushing it with little sis! But little DD is a kicker so can’t say I blame her. :rofl:

The ticket prices for MVT are great. The only downside is you cannot bridge to an AP at a discounted rate and the most days they sell is 8. We ended up getting a late flight and wanted 9 days this year so we bought elsewhere, but MVT was the cheapest 8 day PH option…

Wow that Poly rate is incredible!
Thank you so much for the MVT ticket prices. I can get ours for almost $300 less than official ticket center!
So now I have that to throw into the mix!

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If an extra day is in your budget in either scenario you may be glad to have it. Last trip I cut back a day to meet our budget without compromising anything else and at the end of the trip I was wishing for that day.

This has been my biggest hurdle in picking a resort! With DD8 & DS11, sharing a bed doesn’t work. Ended up in the pricy WL bunk bed rooms. Did get the free dining last year so that helped. Booked again for December on a BB offer with FD again. Apparently WL was excluded this year so we lucked out.

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