Eating at Walt Disney World can be expensive. And, prices keep going up every year. But, when you’re on vacation and you see those delicious snacks and all-you-can-eat buffets, it’s easy to indulge and not realize how much you’re spending.
Dining at Disney World does not have to break the bank. There are easy ways to save money on food and drinks, so that you can shift your dining budget to fun splurges like Dole Whips, specialty cupcakes, and character meals, and still head home with more cash than you expected. We’ve tried all these tips ourselves to make sure they are easy and effective.
Here are 12 simple tips to help you save money on dining at Disney World.
Drink (Free) Water
One of the quickest ways to burn through your dining budget is to order sodas, juice, or milk at each meal. Milk costs about $2.00, juice around $3.00, and soda costs even more. If each person in your family orders one of these with each meal, it’s going to add up quickly. Unless it’s included in the meal, skip these and just drink water.
Water is free. Not bottled water, but a cup of water. You can order a free cup of water at any restaurant on Disney property. Just following this one tip will save you a lot of money.
Be sure to bring a refillable water bottle with you to the parks as well. You’ll get thirsty between meals, especially if you’re visiting during hot weather. Bottled water costs about $3.00 each. Fill your own bottle at one of the numerous water fountains around the parks and you’ll save a bundle and stay hydrated, too.
This tip is especially important for those with little ones, or growing kids, or voracious teenagers – well, for ANYONE with kids! Kids have an amazing ability to get desperately hungry at the worst possible times – on the monorail or ferry, in line for an attraction, while staking out the perfect spot for fireworks or a parade, and so on. Bring snacks with you to the parks so you are not wasting time and money on expensive snacks that may not even get finished.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t buy snacks at all. By all means, enjoy a Mickey pretzel, a carrot cake cookie, or a Nutella waffle. Trying some of the snacks is part of the fun of a Disney vacation. But, you’ll save money if you snack strategically, and not all throughout the day.
We usually carry cheese crackers, granola bars, lollipops, and squeezable fruit pouches. If you’re flying to the Orlando-area and want to pack light, you can always order snacks (and other items) ahead of time from Garden Grocer or Amazon Prime Now, to be delivered to your resort.
Children Under 3 Eat Free
If you have little ones under 3 years old, then be sure to plan your Walt Disney World vacation before they turn three. Not only do kids under 3 get into the theme parks for free, they also dine for free!
Children under 3 years old can eat off their parent’s plate at no extra charge. This is a big savings, especially if you splurge for an expensive character buffet or family-style meal. If you order a kids’ meal specifically for your child, you will pay the menu price for it.
Eat at Quick-Service Restaurants
Quick-service restaurants are generally the cheapest dining option at Walt Disney World. So, if you want to save money, stick with quick-service dining as much as possible.
Many of these restaurants serve basic fast food items, like burgers, fries, chicken nuggets, and so on. However, there are a few that offer unique dishes that are as good as what you’ll find at many Disney table-service restaurants. We love the quick-service restaurants in Animal Kingdom and also the World Showcase at the EPCOT theme park for quick, reasonably-priced meals that go beyond fast food.
Share a Meal
When dining at quick-service restaurants, another way to save even more money is to share a meal. Some of the menu items are huge and can be shared by two, or even three, people. You can always supplement the meal with one of the snacks you brought with you, or with a side item or dessert to share.
Here are some of the meals we often share to save money (that still fill us up):
- Combo Meal + Side of Fries at Flame Tree BBQ, Animal Kingdom
- 10-Piece Chicken Nuggets and Fries at Backlot Express, Hollywood Studios
- Chicken Shawarma Platter at Tangierine Cafe, Morocco Pavilion, EPCOT
- Trio Platter at Columbia Harbour House, Magic Kingdom
Don’t Pay For Sides You Don’t Want
Many quick-service meals come with one or two sides included. If you don’t want the side item, then order just the entree. Most restaurants will accommodate your request and charge you a bit less for your meal.
Order a Kid’s Meal
If you have a smaller appetite, or want to eat lighter to save room for a special treat or all-you-can-eat buffet later, then just order a kid’s meal. Adults can order a kid’s meal at quick-service restaurants. These meals often come with a drink (usually juice or milk), a choice of a side item or two, such as fries, yogurt, carrots, or applesauce, and a cookie for dessert. They also cost several dollars less than most of the regular entrees.
Eat Breakfast in Your Room
We often eat breakfast in our room when we stay at a Disney resort. It’s definitely not as fun as eating at a Disney restaurant, but you are rewarded twice for it. Not only does it save you a lot of money, but it also saves you time. So, skip the food court, sleep a few extra minutes, and dine in your room.
Our favorite quick and easy in-room breakfast is instant oatmeal (made in the microwave) with fruit (sliced banana or a mixed fruit bowl). You could also do cereal with milk, or nut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Please note that a few of the Disney World Value Resorts do not have in-room microwaves (or coffee makers), so check with your resort before you go.
When to Choose Table-Service Restaurants or Buffets
If you do want to enjoy one of Disney World’s great table-service restaurants or buffets, then choose to eat there for breakfast or lunch, not dinner. At many of the restaurants, the lunch and dinner menus are similar, but dinner often costs more. And, breakfast is usually the least expensive meal of them all.
Plus, if you eat your larger meals for breakfast and/or lunch, then you can have a lighter dinner. You can share a quick-service meal or even just have a snack or two.
Character Meals at Breakfast
Character meals are a must-do for many families with kids visiting Disney World. We’ve done our fair share over the years. But, there’s no way of getting around it – character meals are expensive. That’s why I recommend sticking to breakfast for character meals. They are the least expensive, but you still get great food and fun character interaction.
Each character dining experience has different pricing. The breakfast character meals that are priced in the lower range are:
- The Crystal Palace – Magic Kingdom (Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyeore, Piglet – characters may vary)
- Donald’s Dining Safari at Tusker House – Animal Kingdom (Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck – characters may vary)
- Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Harvest Feast at Garden Grill – EPCOT (Chip & Dale, Mickey Mouse, Pluto – characters may vary)
- Supercalifragilistic Breakfast at 1900 Park Fare – Grand Floridian Resort (Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, Mad Hatter, Winnie the Pooh – characters may vary)
- Beach Club Breakfast at Cape May Cafe – Beach Club Resort (Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck – characters may vary)
- Bon Voyage Adventure at Trattoria al Forno – Boardwalk Resort (Ariel, Prince Eric, Rapunzel, Flynn Rider – characters may vary)
Character meals are very popular, so try to make your Disney World Dining reservations well in advance of your visit.
If you find that your desired restaurant is already booked up, don’t panic. It is possible to get reservations at the last minute if another party cancels. Keep checking back about 24-48 hours before you want to dine there. Disney Dining requires at least 24 hours notice to cancel your reservation without penalty. A lot of visitors change their reservations a day or two before, so you might luck out.
Eat at Disney Springs
Disney Springs, a shopping, dining, and entertainment complex, is just a short bus or boat ride away from the theme parks and resorts. It offers a wide variety of restaurants to fit any taste and budget, some of which are cheaper and tastier than some of the options in the theme parks.
Stick with the quick-service and food truck options at Disney Springs to keep your costs down. Some of our favorites are:
- Earl of Sandwich – sandwiches
- Cooke’s of Dublin – Irish
- Morimoto Asia Street Food – Pan-Asian
- Blaze Pizza – pizza
There are also yummy snacks that are filling enough to be a meal for lighter eaters. Check out The Daily Poutine (gourmet fries) and AristoCrepes (sweet and savory crepes). And, for dessert, we love sharing a sundae at Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop.
If you are a Disney World Annual Passholder, one of your benefits is discounts on dining at certain restaurants on property. Check this list of Passholder Dining Discounts often, as it regularly changes. Don’t forget to ask for the Annual Passholder discount whenever you dine at one of these restaurants. The savings really add up.
All these simple tips have really helped us keep our dining budget in check when we’re at Disney World. Ordering a free cup of water and sharing meals are second nature now. And, with the money we save, we are able to splurge on something special once in awhile (like our anniversary dinner at California Grill), or save up for our next staycation.
By making a few small changes to the way you dine at Disney World, you can still have a magical vacation and a fatter wallet, too.
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