A trip to Walt Disney World is full of a lot of choices, but none can be as difficult as deciding when and where to eat. Do you take the dining plan, get reservations at sit-down restaurants every day, or just eat where you at when it’s time for a meal? It can be expensive too, the Disney Dining Plan has caused prices for menu options to rise across the board in recent years (Disney wants guests to feel they’re getting a value). For instance, you can expect to pay $19 for Macaroni and Cheese lunch portion at Chefs de France in EPCOT. Want a steak at Le Cellier? That’s going to cost you at least $50.
So what are some tips and tricks that will make your Disney vacation more affordable and enjoyable? We’ve assembled some of our favorites here:
Start with an early breakfast in your hotel room. Even if your room doesn’t have a refrigerator, you can buy breakfast protein bars or shakes that don’t require refrigeration. If you can’t stop at a store before you check in to your hotel room, you can order via Amazon or a similar food delivery service and have it waiting for you at the front desk when you check in.
Eat lunch early. Lines for quick service locations are longest during prime lunch times. By arriving early you can avoid waiting in those lines and maximize your time out in the parks enjoying the attractions
Skip sodas and drink water. Any location at Walt Disney World that has a soda fountain will also provide free water for drinking. We bring our own water bottles and refill them with the water from quick service counters. Orlando water can taste little funny to some, so consider bringing drink powders and mixing them with the water you get at quick service locations.
If seeing characters is on your list, you can get two birds with one stone by going to at least one character breakfast buffet. We’re fans of the Crystal Palace buffet at the Magic Kingdom. It’s the most affordable and has the hard to find Pooh Characters.
The Disney Dining Plan can work for you, but only if you really think you can eat all that food. Everyone I talk to who uses it always ends up with extra snack credits and often table service. Disney has changed the benefits so much that you really have to do your own calculations to see if its worth it to you.
If you do get the Dining plan, take advantage of the snack credits. Some snack items are nearly entree in portion size. First, avoid using those credits on items that only cost $2-$3. Some of our favorites are the $5.29 Macaron ice cream sandwich at L’Artisan de Glaces in the France pavilion at EPCOT. The Dole Whip float ($4.99) at Sunshine Tree Terrace at the Magic Kingdom or the Pineapple Lanai at the Polynesian Resort. Specialty cupcakes are often priced more than $5 and some are big enough to split (although you wont want to). The waffle cone sundaes at the Main Street Ice Cream Parlor are delicious and at $5.39 are a great snack value. Any of the gluten-free or vegan desserts from Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC in Disney Springs (and in many resort locations).
Split meals. Often entree portions at Disney are large enough to split, especially if you get a salad to go with them. If your kids have smaller appetites, you might consider splitting a sandwich or burger between them and following up with a snack later on. If you can make it to Disney Springs, we found the new Blaze Pizza large enough to split with a salad too.
We used to love eating at Disney, but as locals we just don’t get the chance to do sit-down dining any more. The Disney Dining Plan has just made it too expensive. But if you are a local or an annual passholder, that brings us to our last tip. Take advantage of the Tables in Wonderland Card. It gives you 20% off food and beverages at a long list of restaurants. It’s a good alternative to the DDP, but you have to be a Florida resident, DVC Member or Annual Passholder to get it. The price is $175 (APs and DVC members save $25). If you’re going to eat out just a few times, that will quickly pay for itself. It even includes valet parking on nights when you’re dining at a Disney Resort.
If you’re traveling to Orlando soon, what are you planning to do about dining while at Disney?
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I have used leftover snack credits to buy the prepackaged Mickey Rice Krispie treats and they make great gifts for people you need to bring something back for!
Tables in Wonderland – at 20%, you would have to spend more than $875 to start seeing a reason to get it. Not all restaurants take it, some do dinner but not lunch, and there are black out dates. Also, it is tied to 1 person, so if you party is split that day, make sure the correct person is in attendance. Really do your homework to know if this is worth it for your family.