Updated for 2016!
Through the years, I have found a lot of cheapskating ways to save money on Disney World trips, but food is one area where we struggle. Anything nicer than a counter service meal is going to cost a pretty penny, not to say that the meal won’t be worth that price. Driving off property for meals is often time consuming. We have tips to help you save some cash on your next vacation, because a little savings here and there can eventually add up to a character meal when you really want a vacation extravagance.
1. Eat breakfast in your room
While this may not be all that exciting, eating breakfast in the room has saved my family a lot of money through the years. Many people are not big breakfast eaters, so they simply fix a bowl of cereal, some fruit, Pop Tarts, or some oatmeal in their hotel room. Boo-coodles of companies these days offer high energy breakfast bars.
So even if it’s not as magical, eating a bar on a bus headed for a theme park is faster and way cheaper than “eating out.” This gets you to rope drop faster as well.
2. Travel, thus eat, in the “off-season”
I have a good friend that is like a walking Disney-price encyclopedia. She rattles off prices of meals and ticket prices like I can quote Disney Dooney & Bourke handbag prices. Heather told me she noticed that Disney raised the price of meals at two character meal restaurants and a buffet when they went for Christmas last year. I checked with a couple of Travel Agent friends at Destinations in Florida, and they confirmed this often occurs during the peak travel times. You know when this is – when school is out and everybody is having a stroke to get to Orlando. They said you can pay $2 to $4 more for the exact same meal during these busy times, so go off-season to save a little cash.
Apparently this will not affect those of you on a Disney Dining Plan, whether you paid for it or got it for free.
3. Speaking of character meals… go during breakfast
Character meals are very expensive. I could feed my entire family of five at McDonald’s almost TWICE for the cost of one adult dinner buffet at Chef Mickey’s. But unlike Mickey D’s or eating cereal in the hotel room, character meals are a Disney experience, so go enjoy that character meal during breakfast rather than lunch. Prices are lower in the morning, even if the menu is different from lunch or dinner.
Are you eating for specific foods on the menu or for the seeing-characters experience? If the answer is characters, then I see waffles, eggs, and bacon in your future. And if you wake up early enough for a reservation before 8 a.m., think of the head start you’ll get to the parks.
4. Character meal and then skip lunch
Anyone that has eaten at an all-you-care-to-eat meal knows how full you will be when you finish. If you make your reservations for “brunch time,” like somewhere between 10 and 11 a.m., you may eat enough to skip lunch all together. Lots of families I know do this – hey, including mine!
If the kids get hungry, pick up a counter service kids’ meal, or plan ahead and bring a sandwich if you know they’ll be hungry even after the buffet.
5. Bring in your own snacks
Cast Members do bag checks to make sure there are no weapons or glass containers going into the theme parks. They are not checking to see if you smuggled in food. It’s 100% A.O.K. to bring your own snacks with you into Disney them parks.
There are some restrictions about glass containers, cooler sizes, etc. Check it out here:
6. Bring in your own meal
If you have ever walked the back trails of the Disney parks, the little pathways off the crowded sidewalks, you will frequently see many families having picnics on the park benches. Coolers open, sandwiches in plastic bags, juice boxes, and packs of animal crackers are consumed by group after group. I nod my head to them in cheapskate agreement. A picnic may not be as glamorous and fun as a character meal, but it’s WAY less expensive. The kids will not be scarred for life if they don’t eat every meal in a restaurant – ask me how I know! And eating meals you bring yourself can save you enough to splurge for a character meal later on.
See the link above for restrictions on containers and ice chests, etc.
7. Bring in your own water.
I don’t have many negative Disney issues, although I am not a fan of these new Fastpass+ changes, but one of my huge complaints with Walt Disney World is the taste of the water. Bleh!! I frequently joke that their fountain water is spiked with yukiness so I will have to pay retail for their bottled water. I think you get somewhat used to it after several days, sort of, but it really tastes awful to most people.
Bring your own bottles of water to the parks with you, no matter how you have to get them there. Refill them frequently, or bring reusable, BPA-free water bottles, which cuts down on garbage when you throw away those plastic bottles.
8. Bring a water filter or enhancer
More eco-friendly than throwing away 64 bottles of water in a week’s stay? Get one of those reusable bottles that filters your water. A company called Berkey makes a water filter that removes bacteria and parasites, heavy metals like lead and mercury, VOCs and toxic chemicals like benzene, chlorine and chromium-6 to levels higher than 99.99%.
Still taste yucky? Bring along those small bottles or flavoring. Mio, Dasani, Propel, Skinny Girl, Aquafina, Crystal Light, and Nestea all make water enhancers.
9. Freeze it
Have you ever tried this? We freeze our bottles of water in the summer. Perhaps it’s all in our heads, but we think the water tastes better while it’s melting, and I can always put that cold water bottle on my neck or in the crook of my arm when it reaches 107 degrees outside at noon. I like to wrap this frozen bottle up with a wash cloth, which we occasionally use throughout the day to keep our travel backpack dry.
If a rain shower pops up, you now have a cool drink as well as a wash cloth to wipe your face. That’s a cheapskate win-win.
10. Two people split an entree
Food is really pricey at Disney World, but most people will readily admit you get what you pay for. You might pay a lot, but you most likely will not walk away hungry. Not a big eater? Then you should consider splitting an entrée.
Don’t think that will be enough food? Order an appetizer or an extra side to share, because the price of an appetizer is still less than ordering a full meal. Just ask for an extra plate.
These ideas sound too familiar? Then you must be a regular in Orlando, been there and done that. Most of our readers are new to Disney trip planning, so leave a comment and tell us some of your other tips to save money on Disney food. We’re already working on “Saving Money on Food” part two, so maybe we’ll add your quote in using just your first name, to protect the cheapskates!
Thanks for stopping by, and we’ll see you in the water isle at Wal-mart, looking for flavoring to take the sting out of that free Florida water.
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