On a budget but want a Disney vacation? Try these 8 tips for dining at Disney on a budget!
Ever dream of dining your way through Disney?
If you’ve never been to Walt Disney World before, you may wonder what the quality of food is like. I’ll spoil the surprise for you – it’s delicious.
But if you’re budget-conscious, you may also wonder if you can afford the food at Walt Disney World.
The great news is the food is priced to fit all different budgets. And the restaurants are as themed as the rest of the park, making every dining experience a special one.
If you’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World, dining options are an important aspect to consider. Disney dining plans are one choice, but what if you need to stick to a frugal budget?
On my family’s recent trip to Walt Disney World, we used these 8 tips and enjoyed dining at Disney on a budget.
Tip #1: Don’t feel like you have to eat every meal at Disney.
Since Walt Disney World opens at 9 a.m., make sure you get your family up early enough to eat a big breakfast before you enter the park. Make your own, if you can, or stay at a hotel that offers free breakfast.
Tip #2: Bring food to the park.
Disney is extremely visitor-friendly, especially when it comes to allowing outside food and beverages to be brought into the park.
If you’re on a tight budget, plan on packing your meals for the day. Snack on granola bars and fresh fruit, or pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
If you don’t feel like lugging around a bunch of food all day long, drive to the park and keep a cooler stored in your vehicle. At mealtime, head back to the parking lot and have a quick, hearty picnic. Although I’ll warn you … getting back and forth to the parking lot from the middle of a Disney park can take a long time.
Tip #3: Take advantage of Disney’s free water.
At Walt Disney World, you can order ice water – for free. When ordering meals, just ask for a glass of water. Some restaurants even have dispensers of complimentary ice water for passing tourists.
Not ordering fountain drinks is a quick and easy way to save a lot of money at each meal.
While you could bring water bottles into the park, it’s a lot easier to drink the free water as you go. (Plus, the ice water is so much more refreshing than a water bottle that’s been warming in your backpack all day.)
Tip #4: Know what you want to eat.
Disney has an incredibly informative website that includes menus to all of their restaurants. (Find Magic Kingdom restaurants here. Find Epcot restaurants here. Find Hollywood Studios restaurants here. Find Animal Kingdom restaurants here.)
By checking out the restaurants of each theme park you’ll visit, you’ll know the kind of food your family would prefer. You’ll also be able to look at prices ahead of time. As you click on a particular restaurant, simply choose the “view menu” option. This is a super handy way to decide how much you’re willing to spend – and what options are in your budget.
Tip #5: Stick to your budget with counter service.
Disney’s counter service restaurants are fast food options for under $14.99. The great thing about counter service meals are that the portions are typically huge – and can be shared. Because it’s counter service, sharing meals is completely welcome.
While two people could easily share one entree, another way to save money is buying kids’ meals for everyone in your entire family. A kids’ meal is well under $10 and comes with a main dish, side dish, and drink – plus the portions are generous. (A chicken fingers kids’ meal was almost the same size as the entrée.)
Aside from the meal sharing and huge portions, I also really appreciated how most counter service restaurants included extensive fixings bars. When my family ordered a nacho entrée for four of us to split at dinner, I loaded up on complimentary guacamole, salsa, black beans and corn – and went back for seconds – that helped to stretch our meal.
While counter service restaurants means you’ll miss out on character dining, make sure you visit characters around the park (check the Disney website for options) and watch parades if meeting characters is a priority for your family. (Check out the restaurant menus to see if the price of character dining really is worth it for your family.)
Tip #6: Strategically choose your times to dine.
If you’d like to experience some of Disney’s moderately priced restaurants, plan on visiting at lunchtime. Lunches are more affordable than dinner, but often the meal selections are the same. Stick to counter service for dinner. (If you snack around the park and have a hearty breakfast and lunch, you may not be hungry for much by dinner time.)
Hilary Bernstein photo
A separate tip about the moderately priced restaurants: If you know you want to go to one and they accept reservations, make your reservation as soon as you know the date you’ll visit. Popular restaurants begin taking reservations six months in advance, and fill up quickly. My family was able to enjoy lunch at the uber-popular (and uber-amazing) Be Our Guest Restaurant by making reservations four months ahead of time.
Tip #7: Don’t forget about snacks.
While you may pack snacks to munch on throughout your day, don’t forget to stop for Disney snacks throughout the day. Take a break in the middle of the afternoon by sharing a snack. My family’s favorite? A Dole Whip (a frozen pineapple slush) at Aloha Isle in the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland.
Tip #8: Meal planning ahead of time is essential.
Whether or not you’re on a budget, meal planning before your Disney trip is a must. Know your family’s food budget. Know your family’s tastes. Then plan meals – or restaurant stops – that fit into your budget.
The great thing about Disney is that your experience – including dining – can be one of a kind. And still incredibly memorable.
For more tips on how to enjoy Walt Disney World on a budget, check out Disney on the Cheap: Planning a Disney Vacation for Less Than $2,500.