Top 10 Budget Dining Tips for Walt Disney World
A Walt Disney World vacation can be an expensive proposition, even if you know all of the ways to get the best deals you probably still need to budget and plan. One of the more expensive portions of the trip will be your dining. If you are not on one of the Disney Dining plans and you are paying out of pocket for your food you will find that eating at Disney is much higher than dining in just about anywhere else in the country, except other theme parks and places like ball parks and stadiums (anywhere they have a captive audience). Here are few hints and tricks for ways to dine on a budget on your Walt Disney World vacation.
10. Know the Less Expensive Spots to Eat
There are some restaurants in the World, both table service and counter service, which are priced a little lower on average than others. Some good examples are found in Downtown Disney and some of the resorts. One of my go-to spots in Earl of Sandwich where you can score a delicious hot roast beef sandwich (The Original 1762) for only $5.99. Compare that to $9.39 for a roast beef and blue cheese sandwich at one of the resort food courts and it is quite a deal. At the Wolfgang Puck Express you can get a large plate of spaghetti for $12; that same plate will cost you $17.99 at Tony’s Town Square (although you do get meatballs there). Other lower cost restaurants include Boatwright’s at Port Orleans Riverside, The Grand Floridian Café, Olivia’s at Old Key West, and Captain’s Grille at the Yacht Club (among others).
9. Eat “Off-Site”
If you have a car, traveling a few miles outside the Disney Bubble can save you big on dining. There are many chain restaurants with familiar food and familiar prices in the Disney vicinity. If you don’t have transportation at your disposal, you still have some off-site options with pizza delivery. Flippers and Giordano’s are great options for a pizza delivery, along with the usual chains like Domino’s, and they will come to the Disney resorts. As a cautionary note, do not order from any fliers left under your door in the hotels. These are often phishing schemes to get your credit card information. Disney does not allow this, but it is often hard to monitor if people are just walking down the hall looking like tourists and putting fliers under the door when no one is looking. So, stick to what you know—you can always ask the front desk for recommendations. When you call to order don’t forget to ask if they have any coupons or specials.
8. Fill Up at One Meal
Often my family will have a buffet breakfast and we are good to go for the rest of the day. If you can fill up at one large meal that will allow you to skip another meal you could save money. Or maybe a large buffet breakfast, a mid-day snack, and the counter service dinner. Just make sure you get your money’s worth out of the buffet—they certainly charge enough for them.
7. Share a Meal
Since you are not on the Disney Dining Plan, you can share any meal that is not all you can eat. Often the portions at Disney are fairly large, and after being out in a warm theme park you may not want such a big portion. Or, you might have a picky or light eater in your family, and you don’t want to pay for a full entrée for them. My son and I like to share an entrée in order to leave room (and money) for dessert! Just let your server know that you would like to split your entrée and they will bring you a separate plate—sometimes they will even split it for you before they bring it out.
Although it is rare to find a freebie for food or drink at Disney they do exist. You can ask for a cup of ice water at any of the counter service restaurants and they will give that to you free of charge. You can improve the flavor of Florida water with a Crystal Light single serve packet or a squeeze of a Mio flavor. Another freebie can be found in Epcot at Club Cool. Here you can sample Coke products from around the world. This probably isn’t enough to really satisfy a big thirst, but it is a fun way to have a little something different to drink.
5. Eat Table Service Meals at Lunch Time
Although Disney has put a stop to the lunch time savings at some Table Service restaurants by going to all day menus, there are still a few that have a separate lunch and dinner menu. At those locations you can save a few dollars by eating in the middle of the day rather than in the evening. For instance, the Gratin de Macaroni at Les Chefs de France is $4 more expensive for dinner. Also, most character meals are least expensive at breakfast, followed by lunch. Dinner is the most expensive time to eat with the Mouse, so if you can schedule your character meal for lunch (or breakfast).
4. Bring Your Own Water
It is no fun to spend your dining budget on bottled water, especially when you can pay so much less for it outside of Disney! A few suggestions to save money and stay hydrated are to buy your water at a grocery store offsite if you have a car, order your water online with free shipping at Wal Mart or Staples and have it sent to your resort, or purchase a gallon of spring water in the resort gift shop and fill a reusable water bottle (like my favorite the Hydroflask). This way you can spend your money on more important things like Mickey Bars and Dole Whips.
3. Bring Disney Themed Snacks from Home
It is hard to say no to your kids when they want that cute bag of Goofy’s Candy Company gummy snacks. Head off these requests at the pass by stocking up on Disney themed treats at home. Your local grocery store or supercenter will have many options from fruit snacks to cereal to squeezable pouches of fruit (all are healthier than the Goofy’s Candy Company options). This way you have the treats the minute they say they are hungry (avoiding spending money and grumpy children), and they still get to have the fun of eating a something with Mickey on it in the parks.
2. Look for Alternative Restaurants
Throughout the parks you can often find a less expensive alternative to a pricey meal. This is especially true in Epcot’s World Showcase where many of the countries have counter service options that offer some of the same dishes as their table service restaurants. Is Les Chefs de France too expensive for your budget? Try Les Halles Bakery instead. You can eat counter service at Katsura Grill in Japan, La Cantina de San Angel in Mexico, Kringla Bakeri og Kafe in Norway, the Yorkshire County Fish Shop in the United Kingdom, or Sommerfest in Germany. Another example is Be Our Guest in New Fantasyland. Since it is a completely different set up at lunch as a counter service restaurant, it will save you a decent amount of money to go for lunch rather than the table service dinner.
1. Pack Your Cooler!
The ultimate way to save money eating in Disney parks is to bring your own food. Since Disney will allow you to bring in a cooler (with certain restrictions) you can make sandwiches or pack something you pick up from the deli at Publix. Even if you rent a locker for the day you will probably save money over eating two meals in restaurants. This also can be a good strategy for your resort room. All Disney resorts have mini refrigerators in the room—pick up some juice, milk and cereal for your breakfast, or keep deli meats for lunch. Every little bit will help if you are trying to stay on a dining budget on vacation.
What are your favorite ways to save money on food at Walt Disney World?