This is a guest post courtesy of Valerie at Affording the Mou$e.
I started my website, Affording the Mou$e , to help families save money on their Walt Disney World vacations. But keeping a food budget in check during a stay on Disney property can be a challenge. There are, however, simple ways to keep costs down without sacrificing or starving. Here are my top food tips that offer big savings with little work:
- Eat breakfast in your hotel room. This is one of the easiest ways to save up to $10 or more per person. Most resorts have coffee makers in the rooms, so you can easily heat water for instant oatmeal, grits, or other hot cereals. (At Value resorts, you can get a free cup of hot water at the food court.) Granola bars, fresh fruit, and cold cereal also make quick, inexpensive breakfasts. An added bonus: many breakfast items you can prepare in your room are more healthful than the pastries that you might find in the parks.
- Bring your own snacks and beverages. We take at least one bottle of water per person, as well as an assortment of crackers, bars, peanuts, etc. We even packed Uncrustables for my kids when they were going through their “picky eater” stages. Packing snacks saves money, but it also saves time. You can munch while you’re waiting in line for an attraction, rather than waiting in line to purchase food!
- Pack instant drink mix packets. These come in every variety, from teas and lemonades to vitamin/health drinks. One of the biggest price gouges on Disney property is beverages. Ordering tap water seems like a good alternative…until you taste Central Florida’s tap water—ick. But mixing in a packet of your favorite instant beverage covers the offensive taste/smell.
- Make lunch your big meal of the day. This is especially true for buffets. For example: Dinner at the Crystal Palace is $28.99 per adult and $13.99 for a child 3-9. For a family of four, two adults and two kids, it will run a whopping $85.96. Lunch at the same restaurant is $20.99 per adult and $11.99 per child, for a grand total of $65.96 for that same family of four. You save $20 by eating earlier! Lunch prices are good through around 2:30 or 3:00 PM, so you can have a late lunch and get by with a light dinner. (It’s also easier to get a seating at off-peak times.)
- Want to try a character meal but aren’t picky about which one? Try one of the less expensive meals, such as the Crystal Palace (Pooh characters) or the Tusker House (Donald & friends). Cinderella’s Royal Table will set you back nearly 30% more per person!
- Avoid peak season (summer and any major holiday). Disney charges “seasonal pricing” at buffet meals during these times. This means an upcharge of around $4 per person per meal.
- Buy ala carte. If you don’t want the fries that come with the combo meal, order the sandwich only. You can get almost anything as a single item, even if it’s not listed on the menu as such.
- If you’re a big soda or coffee drinker (and your resort doesn’t have a coffee pot), buy one of the reusable mugs sold at food courts in the resorts. They cost less than $15, and you get refills for the length of your stay. (Does not include juice or milk.)
- Where you order matters. That dessert from Chefs de France will be less expensive at the bakery behind the restaurant. A cup of Kona coffee will cost you more at Ohana than at the coffee bar just feet away. When you eat at a table service restaurant, you pay for the atmosphere along with the fabulous food.
- If you have a car, eat some meals off-site. My family loves Sweet Tomatoes and Chevy’s, but we don’t have these in our area. Both are just a short car ride from Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We get large portions and great food at reasonable prices at both restaurants. Even better, sign up for their email list and receive coupons before you go.
Finally, here are what I consider to be the top 5 food “bargains” at Walt Disney World:
5. Sunshine Seasons in Epcot. While not everything in this counter service restaurant is cheap, there are definitely some bargains. Many of the fruits and veggies sold here are grown nearby in The Land attraction. Side salads, tuna pitas, and dozens of grab-n-go items are under $5. And this is THE place for healthful eating!
4. Condiment bars. Many of the counter service feature exceptional “dress your own” condiment bars. By adding enough toppings, you can turn a burger or potato into a meal. I’m especially fond of the taco bar at El Pirata y el Perico in the Magic Kingdom. For $5.99 you get two beef tacos, or for $7.29 you can have taco salad. Top with lettuce, tomato, cheese, and salsa as high as you can pile it!
3. Fresh produce. You can complement a less nutritious offering, such as a hot dog, with a healthy side, such as a banana, for as low as $1. Fruit cups are around $3, and many restaurants offer grapes or carrots as side dishes. Every park has at least one restaurant or cart with fresh produce choices.
2. The half rotisserie chicken with two sides. Most parks have some variation of this meal, large enough for two light eaters to share (certainly enough for a parent to share with a child). Sunshine Seasons (Epcot), Cosmic Ray’s (MK), and Flame Tree BBQ (AK) all have a similar meal for around $10.
1. I hesitate to divulge this best kept secret in WDW, tucked away in Epcot’s World Showcase, in the country known for its food: France. If you don’t care to indulge in the extravagance (and expense) that is Chefs de France, but still want to experience the taste sensations, try Boulangeri Patisserie. This cozy spot is in the rear of the pavilion is so subdued, you’d never realize that they serve some of the same foods as the other French restaurants–but at a fraction of the cost. Some items are as low as $1.95! My favorite value is the ham & cheese croissant. At just $3.25, it’s a perfect light lunch. But don’t stop there–you must try the chocolate mousse! And maybe the quiche. It’s OK…you can indulge…nothing on the menu is over $6!!! It’s a little out of the way, but definitely worth finding.
Valerie Gibbs is first and foremost a Disney enthusiast. She is passionate about helping families plan affordable Walt Disney World vacations. www.affordingthemouse.com
Disney World is the Most Magical Place On Earth. Be sure to learn how to make the most of your trip by reading the Disney World Training series. You can also browse all the articles I have written in an easy to use outline. And if you are ready to book your trip, be sure to read about the perks of using an authorized Disney vacation planner (plus it’s FREE!).