Saving money on food at Disneyland isn’t impossible with a little planning. I find one of the hardest expenses to plan for is food. Even when we eat fast food, it is easy to drop $35 for a meal for our family of 6. But this is also one expense I can have a little control over. I can’t change ticket prices or what hotels charge, but I can make some choices that will impact our food budget.
Once again, planning early is the key. I grocery shop every 2 weeks when my husband gets his paycheck. About 3 months before we left for our trip to Disneyland, I started adding a couple of items to my grocery shopping list every time I went shopping, so that when we left for our trip, we already had a stockpile of granola bars, pudding cups, chips, pretzels, and drinks. By not having to stop and load up on treats every time we stopped to fill up on gas, we saved money as well as time. We were also able to provide healthier snacks like grapes, carrots, celery with peanut butter, and frozen Gogurts. We took a cooler as well as a copy box full of goodies for the two 12-hour long car rides.
I also spent the day before we left doing some last-minute prep work. I baked cookies and muffins as well as putting together deli sandwiches for our picnic lunch on the road. We left early on a Saturday morning, loading the kids up in the car while it was still dark. It was too early to eat, so we loaded up and hit the road. An hour or so later, we handed out muffins and juice boxes.
I am not sure why, but when we travel, it seems that we munch constantly. I am not sure why sitting in a car makes you so hungry, but it is a common problem for us! We were fully stocked with snacks from our previous grocery shopping trips which helped keep our budget low.
For our 12 hour day of travel, we had breakfast and lunch made from home. Snacks came from our stockpile from our grocery shopping. Dinner was a different story. After a day in the car, we were all ready for a break. But I wasn’t willing to blow our tight budget.
I am a fan of Subway, especially their $5 footlongs. I have a Subway loyalty card and have been using the card for a year without redeeming any of my points. We were able to make a dinner stop during our drive at a Subway and score dinner for our family for free. One less vacation expense.
Because we booked at Homewood Suites, we were able to score continental breakfast and a manager’s reception (dinner) for free each day. That just left us to deal with lunch. Eating in the parks can be pretty spendy. It is pretty common for our family of six to spend $60 on a meal in the park. This was another thing we did to spread expenses out over time. We purchased several $25 Disney cards over the course of a year and used those to eat lunch on the parks. We also have a Disney Visa card and were able to earn Disney Dollars. We used those Disney Dollars to pay for food in the park which helped our budget tremendously.
Where do you eat in the parks or can you leave the parks to eat?
This is an individual choice. I know some families who skip lunch and just snack. But with hot weather, long lines, and lots of walking, I know that this solution would not work for our family. Generally the best time to eat at Disneyland or California Adventure for lunch is right at 11 or after 2. Anytime between that and you will probably face long lines and have trouble finding a place to sit down and eat.
There is an IHOP just across the street from the entrances to the Disneyland and California Adventure as well as a McDonald’s up the street a little way. You can also hop on the monorail and head to Downtown Disney for the Rainforest Café or the ESPN Zone restaurants. There is also a LaBrea Bakery where you can grab a sandwich or a salad.
We ate at the Stage Door Café in Frontierland on our first day and ordered corn dogs and fries. The menu was seriously limited-chicken, fish, and corn dogs. But as long as you are OK with that menu (and we were), it should work out for you. The corn dogs were huge! I wasn’t willing to spend money on sodas and they did not come with the meals, so we stuck with ice water. Ice water at the restaurants is free. We ate early and enjoyed watching the canoes and the pirate ship on the river while we ate and planned out the rest of our afternoon.
We have also eaten at the Royal Street Veranda before and really enjoyed their soup in bread bowls. The Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country also has a nice variety of wraps and sandwiches. A favorite treat for us is getting the Mickey shaped ice cream treats. Just be aware that many of the carts only take cash. If you want to use a credit card or a Disney gift card, you need to check and see if the cart has a register. If it has a register, they will take gift cards or credit cards. If not, it is a cash only one.
One of my favorite things to do is grab a huge muffin from the bakery on Main Street and eat it as we sit and wait for the parade to come. The muffins are huge and they are usually a pretty good deal.
As far as California Adventure, you can spot many of the same carts with items like frozen lemonade just like in Disneyland. One of the unique things to California Adventure is the cones from Cars. In Carsland, there are 5 Cozy Cone kiosks for food from churros to Popcone to Cone-Coctions. You can score cone- shaped drink holders, but only at these Cozy Cone food kiosks. The small souvenir cup filled with soda is $9 and the large is $12.
We ate at Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta in California Adventure. I found this restaurant a little confusing. The difference between the toddler meal and the kids meal was an extra side for the kids meal. We had our kids just get a larger pizza since the price difference was nominal. There are several pizza choices like cheese and pepperoni as well as some specialty ones like BBQ chicken and one with mushrooms and spinach. We enjoyed eating outside and listening to the sounds of a Scottish band as we ate.
You can bring food into the parks. We carried a backpack with water bottles and some snacks like pretzels, goldfish, crackers, and cookies. You can also rent a locker if you want to bring a full picnic. There are lots of choices to fit every family’s needs from eating in the parks, outside of the parks, and just snacking to hold you over until the next meal.
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Learn more about Disneyland Dining.
My name is Julie and I am a stay-at-home mom with 4 kids. With four kids ages 6, 9, 11, and 14 we have to be careful how we spend money to make vacations like this possible. Check out how we were able to make our magical vacation a reality!