Like any location where you are a captive audience (a movie theater, concert, ballpark, zoo, etc.), food in Walt Disney World can be an expensive proposition. I do have a few tips for you that will help you save money when eating on your Disney vacation. Please note that these tips don’t necessarily apply if you are using the Disney Dining Plan—some ideas you can use, but some are not options on the Dining Plan.
1. Ice Water
All counter service locations (and some pick up counters) offer a cup of ice water for FREE. Order this instead of a drink with your meal, or if you just need a drink. You can go in and ask for a cup. It will be small, but it won’t cost you a dime. And you can bring those flavor drops like MIO to enhance the flavor (or take away from that Florida water taste).
2. Ask for just the entrée at Quick Service restaurants
Many of the quick service restaurants offer a “meal” that includes a side item like fries. Did you know that you can ask for just the entrée without the side? And it will be less expensive? So next time you’re at Pecos Bill’s ask for your cheeseburger without the fries.
3. Get your dessert somewhere else
WDW offers so many delicious dessert options, and you can get them in so many places. Rather than ordering a dessert with you meal at a Table Service restaurants, wait a bit and choose something separate a different location. Instead of the Crème Brulee at Les Chefs de France for dinner, go over to Les Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie and order the Crème Brulee (and take it over to a spot to watch Illuminations).
4. Share a Meal
As long as you are not on the Disney Dining Plan, or dining at a buffet or All-You-Care-To-Eat restaurant, you may share a meal. My family does this all of the time so we have money (and space) for dessert. Most of the meals at Disney are a generous serving, and there are so many good things we want to try we don’t want to fill up at one location.
5. Know the bargains
There are some places in the world where you can get at a good deal. One of the best bargains is the Croissant Jambon Fromage at Les Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie. Good choices for Table Service restaurants on a budget are the Plaza at Magic Kingdom, Trail’s End at Fort Wilderness (especially the breakfast & dinner buffets), and several of the non-signature resort restaurants. For Quick Service Earl of Sandwich at Disney Springs is my favorite bargain.
6. Have a “snack” for breakfast
If you didn’t bring breakfast foods with you, you don’t have to order a meal or entrée in your resort food court. Most of them offer bakery items like a muffin or cinnamon roll, fresh fruit, or grab & go items that will save you money. Instead of $6-$8 for a meal, you can spend $3 on a muffin.
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7. Refillable Resort Mugs (Rapid Fill Mug)
You don’t have to do any math on this one! Your mug will be good for the length of your stay. If you were there for 7 day then figure you will have 2 drinks at the resort food court each day (conservatively) for breakfast and just a refreshment. That’s 14 servings during your stay. With the refillable mug your cost is going to be about half what it would be if you ordered each beverage at a time. And I bet you get more than 2 drinks per day. Don’t let the initial investment in the mug scare you off—it could be a savings.
8. Take full advantage of buffets
If you are investing in a buffet, be sure to fill up. My family likes to have a breakfast buffet partly because we prefer the breakfast food on buffets and it is less expensive, and partly because we can really fill up and skip lunch. This gives us more time to spend on attractions during the day, and saves us money by having a snack instead of full lunch. This is contrary to #4, but if you are paying a set price for the buffet anyway you might as well eat up!
9. Look for a lower price alternative
If the price of a meal at Cinderella’s Royal Table scares you off try Akershus. You will have a very similar experience (you just won’t be in Cinderella’s Castle), at a much lower price. Currently Aksershus prices about $20 less expensive per adult than Cinderella’s Royal Table for dinners. 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian also features Cinderella at dinner and is slightly less than Akershus. Or you could look at having a less expensive meal at the same restaurant. Cinderella’s Table is currently almost $15 less per adult for breakfast than dinner—same experience, different food.
10. Bring your own drink
If you don’t want the free ice water but you still don’t want to pay for a drink, bring your own. This is especially easy at Quick Service, but can be done at table service too. You can bring a bottle of water and some of the flavor drops to sweeten it up a bit, or bring a beverage in an insulated bottle (my favorite is the Hydroflask—keeps drinks cold all day or hot for several hours if you prefer, and the company has great business practices including donating a portion of each sale to charity).
11. Order an appetizer instead of an entrée
Many restaurants have appetizers just as tempting as their entrees at half the price or less. If you are a light eater and don’t have someone to share an entrée with, or just don’t want to pay that much for food you can still experience the great theming of the restaurants, but pay a little less to dine there. Places like Sci Fi Dine In Theater or 50s Prime Time Café, both at Hollywood Studios, are a great way to do this. Or maybe this is the way to try a signature dining experience. You can also order only dessert if you would like.
12. Ask for a discount
Always ask! WDW restaurants offer discounts to Annual Passholders, Disney Vacation Club Members and Disney Visa Cardholders. Some restaurants (like Earl of Sandwich) even offer a AAA discount. There are restrictions as far as the time of day you can use the discounts and where they can be used, but it never hurts to ask. And if you are an Annual Passholder I recommend investing in a Tables in Wonderland membership card. You will save 20% on food and beverages (including alcohol) at nearly all Table Service restaurants and several counter service locations as well (those in Animal Kingdom, and at resorts where there isn’t a table service restaurant option). Not to mention free valet parking.
What are you favorite money saving tips for dining at Walt Disney World?