Why is there a “Summer Free Dining”?
For dates from the end of May through mid-August (not including the 4th of July and surrounding days), Disney is offering a special “free dining” promotion that features one free quick service meal per person per night when you buy a “non-discounted 4-night / 5-day room and theme park ticket package at a Disney Value Resort.”
First, I don’t see this as impacting “traditional” free dining (the one where you actually get some variety of the Disney Dining Plan when you book a non-discounted stay at various resorts) at all. Here are the start dates for free dining in previous years:
- 2012 – September 30
- 2013 – September 29
- 2014 – August 31
- 2015 – August 28
As you can see, for the past 4 years, Disney has started its actual “Free Dining” promotion multiple weeks after this new “Summer” promotion is scheduled to end. I would imagine that if Disney does a free dining promotion this year, it will, as it has in the last several years, start in late August, after the traditional summer crowd (and this summer dining offer) has ended. I don’t think this summer free dining offer gives any real insight into Disney’s future “Free Dining” plans.
Secondly, I think this promotion is targeted at a very specific group of people, namely: Budget conscious travelers trying to decide between staying onsite or offsite for their summer visit. What leads me down this path is the offer’s limited applicability to only Value resorts. This suggests Disney World has a very specific market in mind.
In order to better evaluate this promotion, let’s look at a 4 night–5 day stay during the Summer Offer period for a family of 4 with two 5-year old children (specifically, staying Wednesday, June 15 through Sunday, June 19th). The non-discounted rate for a standard room during that time at Pop Century is $155 per night before tax (NOTE: Art of Animation Little Mermaid standard rooms are not an option for this Summer Offer). Comparatively, the same family could stay in the brand new SpringHill Suites at Flamingo Crossing for $99 per night before tax. Even if they rent a car for $20 a day plus pay parking for $20 a day (neither of which is absolutely necessary, depending on how they travel to Disney World and what their plans are while there) they have a comparable per night cost at the SpingHill Suites (and that’s before factoring in things like free in-hotel breakfast, money you could save by buying bottles of water at an off-site location, grabbing a lunch at Chick-Fil-A on your way back to the pool instead of at Casey’s Corner, etc…). They could also save over $180 on the price of 4 day Park Hopper tickets by buying from a reputable third party.
Even if it turns out that there is only $200 in monetary savings by staying offsite, that is $200 of real money the family is saving. When you’re talking about a total trip budget of around $2,000, that’s a pretty important amount of savings. I believe Disney’s “Summer Free Dining” is an attempt to eliminate some of that price difference between onsite and offsite stays for guests in an effort to appeal to extremely budget-conscious travelers. It’s Disney’s way of saying something like “if you stay with us, we’ll pick up your lunch bill.”
I understand all the arguments about why staying onsite is the only way to vacation at Disney World. I enjoy the “Disney Bubble” and I love being able to just walk out of my room and take a BOATRIDE, BAYBAY!! over to the Magic Kingdom. I like getting the extra 30 days to make my Fastpass+ selections and taking advantage of some night-time extra magic hours.
But, if my budget for a Disney World trip for my family were $2,000, then those things might not be as important, and saving $100 here or $100 there could mean a lot. I think this Summer Offer is Disney’s attempt to close that off-site v on-site price gap in the budget-conscious market. I’m interested to see how it works.