Dining is an important part of a Disney vacation. You can certainly include all the fun restaurants and character dining experiences into part of your entertainment for the day, at a cost of course. But if you’d rather spend your money on something else, keep reading. Eating inside the Disney parks can be expensive! So how can you save money on food at Disney parks? Check out my expert tips how budgeting food, packing your own and even what to order that will help you save a lot!
Save Money on Food at Disney
These are my 7 top tips for how to save money on food at Disney. Try one or try them all, you will be shocked to know you could save hundreds off the cost of your vacation implementing just a few of these ideas.
Stay Off the Dining Plan
Contrary to what Disney will have you believe, the Dining Plan isn’t the best bargain. True, it’s convenient to pay for meals upfront and not have to worry about paying the bill each time you eat. But unless you are eating at the most expensive locations and ordering the most expensive dishes every time, you won’t be getting the best value. You’ll also be receiving a lot of food, including dessert so depending upon your appetite it might be too much food. Also, everyone in your group has to be included in the Plan so there’s not opportunity to share. There’s more about why to skip on the Disney Dining Plan on TravelingMom.
Skip a Meal
I know, sounds odd that I would suggest that you DON’T EAT as a way to save money! But hear me out…here are several ways you can opt out of purchasing another meal and save yourself a chunk of money.
Instead of buying a restaurant breakfast, have your family eat a meal to go that you prepare in your hotel room. Run hot water through the coffee maker to make oatmeal with store-bought packs. Nibble fresh fruit while waiting for the bus. Tote crunchy granola bars or trail mix to munch on while you walk to the parks. Provide just enough breakfast to fill tummies before you purchase an early lunch in the parks.
Or consider this second way of meal skipping; Eat a large breakfast (perhaps indulging in a buffet at a character experience) that will stave you off until late afternoon. Enjoy a snack or two mid-day (something that you pack in), skip lunch completely and then eat dinner early.
We’ve also done this: Early breakfast that we packed in, eaten while waiting for rope drop. Several decent snacks throughout the day that you brought with you. Big lunch purchased in the park, something hearty that will fill you up, eaten past your usual lunch time (this is a great way to avoid the usual crowds during the lunch rush too). Then when you get hungry late in the evening for your usual dinner meal, enjoy a special treat instead like ice cream! Ice cream for dinner is one of our favorite ways to celebrate at Disney.
Dine for Breakfast
If you really want to enjoy a Character Dining Experience, consider booking one for breakfast instead of lunch or dinner. The breakfasts are considerable less pricey and no less enjoyable. Sure you won’t get freshly carved meats but you’ll still get a hearty breakfast buffet and the same fun character interactions you’d find at dinner. We’ve enjoyed the Surf’s Up! Breakfast with Mickey and Friends at the Paradise Pier Hotel and Minnie and Friends – Breakfast in the Park at the Plaza Inn. At Walt Disney World you can even find a character breakfast at a non-Disney resort hotel (the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista) near Disney Springs for half the price of Disney parks character meals – Check out this review on Traveling Mom, Save Half the Cost on Disney Character Meal.
Skip the soda and ditch the juice. Water is your budget-friendly beverage option! Feel free to bring in your own bottled water or an empty bottle that you can refill at the fountains. Ask for complimentary ice water at any quick service restaurant. That’s a savings of at least $2 per person, per meal to just drink water.
Share a Plate
If each person in your group orders their own dish, you’ll not only be stuck with a large bill you also may be stuck with leftovers! Since leftover food is unpractical (and depending upon the food, it could require refrigeration to keep it safe to eat), so it’s better to order just enough to enjoy fresh. Many of the platters in the Disney parks are large enough to share between two or more people.
You can find large platters at full-service and quick-service dining locations. Full-service restaurants may charge a plate-splitting fee. If you’re eating quick-service, request extra plates to divvy up the meal. One place you will be unable to share is at the buffet (unless you have a child 2 and under).
Be sure to read this post for exact recommendations on what to order at the Disneyland resort:
Sharing is a great idea when it comes to park purchased snacks and treats as well. Did you know that if you buy one of those enormous candied apples, they will slice it up for you to make it easier to share? And buying the Kitchen Sink dessert sundae is less expensive than purchasing individual ice creams. You can even buy cones separately if you want to take some of the sundae and put it in a cone (which is what I did for my kid!)
Getting groceries is a practical way of stretching the food budget while at the Disney parks. This will allow you to keep food in the hotel fridge. Things like milk with cereal for breakfast, fresh fruits and veggies for snacking or even frozen dinners that can be microwaved (if you hotel room has one) are all great ways to save on the cost of restaurant dining. If you’re visiting Disneyland, a grocery store or Target is just a few miles away so you can easily drive your rental car or take Uber to the store to supply whatever you need. At Walt Disney World, there are many grocers that can deliver foods directly to your resort hotel. Local places like Garden Grocer and WeGoShop will deliver for a relatively low fee. You could also use Amazon or Amazon Prime Pantry for your grocery needs and have them delivered to your resort.
Pack Snacks (or a Full Meal)
Yes, you can take in your own food to the Disney parks, just use common sense when packing in snacks or meals. Certain foods will require they be kept cool, like lunch meat so pack them in a soft sided cooler with a chill pack. We packed in a full tray of sandwiches from Costco on our last trip; we kept it in a cool bag underneath the stroller and it was good until lunchtime! Bag up precut veggies or fruit. Pack items that won’t get crushed or broken in your bag (nobody wants that mushy banana, do they?) Crunchy granola bars, sturdy crackers, nuts and dried fruit are also good choices that will keep in your bag all day. That’s my kid, eating the Costco sandwiches and carrots we toted in!
A photo posted by Julie Bigboy (@juliebutterfly2000) on