Written by Sue Nowicki
A short rant if you will indulge me…
Any Disney planner worth their salt knows some of the best times to visit Walt Disney World are the two weeks before Thanksgiving and the weeks after Thanksgiving through the week before Christmas. This is not only a time of historically low crowd levels but the parks are also decorated in their holiday finest. Last year we visited December 2 – 7 and it was magical.
That’s why we chose to visit November 16-21 this year. I have always loved visiting this time of year. Resort rooms are plentiful, Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) are easy to get and the parks are oh so easy to navigate. Until this year where Advanced Dining Reservations were non-existent, FastPass+ selections were either gone or at undesirable times and resort rooms hard to come by… unless you are willing to pay crazy amounts of money. (I saw one post on Facebook where a family’s change in plans was going to cost them $12,000. Um, NO!)
In what has become known as the “180th Day Massacre”, I was only able to get ONE Advanced Dining Reservations of the six we wanted on the morning of our 180th day. Yes, you read it right… ONE. That included having two computers and two cellphones actively seeking reservations beginning at 5:55 am as well as calling beginning at 6:55 am. After I was done wiping the tears from my eyes due to my complete and utter failure. I thought I would check other weeks to see what the availability was because surely this was some type of glitch. Sure enough, even on Thanksgiving Day there were plenty of Advanced Dining Reservations available at the restaurants we wanted including Cinderella’s Royal Table. Why is that you ask? That’s because Thanksgiving Week is mostly blacked out from the free dining promotion! Our week wasn’t. This means every Tom, Dick and Free Diner was making ADRs to be sure they take full advantage of their dining plan.
When it came to making FastPass+ selections things weren’t much different. When the 60th day came (or the 61st night to be exact), computer and cellphone at the ready, I was forced to ‘settle’ for quite a few FastPass+ selections I probably won’t even use because either there was no availability on the attraction we wanted or the times were horrible. (No, I am not riding an attraction smack dab in the middle of the Main Street Electrical Parade, Celebrate the Magic & Wishes.) This included those days at the end of our trip. I figured surely the last day of our trip when we are planning to visiting the Magic Kingdom at least Seven Dwarfs Mine Train would have openings since it was over 60 days in advance. NOPE! The reason for the FastPass+ drought is easy to figure out: Free Dining brings more guests on property giving them the advantage of making their FastPass+ selections at 60 days for the length of their stay instead of the 30 days afforded to offsite guests.
To be honest I am not quite sure why this year is so different. It’s not like this is the first year the Free Dining promotion has been offered. Could it be that people have finally figured out the systems (ie. Advanced Dining Reservation, FastPass+, etc.), is it because there were so many blackout dates this year that the free diners were shoved into a few select weeks throughout the fall and I chose the wrong week? The current free dining offer was for check-ins August 28 – October 2, October 25 – 31, November 8 – 19 and December 15 -19. This is great for those traveling at the beginning of the promotion but for those of us wanting to enjoy some of the holiday merriment it pushes everyone into about three weeks.
Yes, I realize that I could have traveled at a different time during the holiday season. However, as I discussed in my Disney by Land & Disney by Sea series, there were many factors which went into choosing this week:
- We wanted to go to Disney during the holidays.
- We wanted to either begin or end our trip with a Disney Cruise and booking a cruise during a holiday period was crazy expense (one would have been almost $1,000 more expensive).
- We wanted to stay as far away from my daughter’s finals week as possible.
- The trip couldn’t interfere with my daughter’s school or travel sports season (school ball ends Nov 7, travel ball begins Dec. 1).
- We had our own blackout dates to deal with for the type of package we booked (Thanksgiving week and Christmas week).
I have heard many say, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. This may be true but I am not going to book free dining just to have free dining which, sorry to burst your bubble, isn’t necessarily free. You can usually get a better deal by booking a room only and paying out of pocket for your meals. Since Free Dining was first announced several years ago I have crunched the numbers every way possible. For my family of three and it never works out in favor of Free Dining given the restaurants we enjoy. Yes, I do understand there is an unmeasurable advantage to the convenience. Trust me, I LOVE convenience as much as the next gal but obsessively counting entitlements and rushing to the hotel gift shop at the end of your trip to use your last few precious snack credits doesn’t seem very convenient when I can either scan my MagicBand or whip out my Disney Gift Card to pay for my meal.
I guess the bottom line is: If you don’t care where you stay, where you eat or what FastPass+ selections you are left with then, by all means, Free Dining is for you. However, if not, I suggest staying away from Walt Disney World during these weeks… I sure will be.
Sue Nowicki splits her time between planning her next Walt Disney World vacation and being team mom to ten high-energy volleyball players where she fills the roles of secretary, navigator, head cheerleader, treasurer, athletic trainer and team psychologist. You can follow her on Twitter @JazzinDisneyMom.
Other posts by this author:
Disney Movie Scorecard
”The Descendants” Movie Review
Disney by Land, Disney by Sea: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 & Part 4, Part 5 & Part 6
”Tomorrowland” Movie Review
Best Walt Disney World Smartphone Apps
Restaurant Review – Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room
Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa – The Way Life Should Be
A Day in the Life of Disney’s FastPass+ Service