Disney World Dining on a Budget

Posted By Katie on Feb 5, 2014

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With 7 mouths to feed when I travel, I am often looking for ways to reduce my vacation food budget.  When we go to a Disney park, our  goal is to eat economically, minimize our time waiting in lines to eat, and enjoy one character meal.  We like staying on Disney property and taking advantage of the Disney bus system, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat every meal at Disney prices.

Here are some tips to help you save money on food at Disney parks.

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1.  Go grocery shopping when you arrive

If you fly, consider either taking a taxi to Walmart or Target the day you arrive, or arranging for grocery delivery to your resort or hotel.  Disney World hotels are used to accepting grocery deliveries so you can arrange in advance to have your groceries delivered. Plan a few weeks in advance if you have a certain time window you would like them delivered.

Make sure to include paper bowls, plates, utensils, and cups on your shopping list.  You will also want sandwich bags and gallon-sized bags.

On our most recent trip we drove.  We saved money by having a car to grocery shop and also to grab dinners at restaurants off Disney property a few evenings.

2.  Plan for the size of a hotel room mini fridge

Disney World has installed mini fridges in the rooms of all their value resorts.  We were able to fit a surprising amount of food into our mini fridge, but be aware that a gallon of milk will not fit. A 1/2 gallon would fit fine. Since I wanted plenty of milk for cereal for my kids all week, we brought a small cooler that would hold two gallons of milk and filled it with ice from the hotel ice maker. With our cooler and the mini fridge in our room, we only had to grocery shop once.

disney world dining

Mini Fridge at Disney World value resorts.

3.  Eat breakfasts in your room

When you want to get out the door and beat the rush into the parks, the best time saver is eating breakfast in your hotel room. We fed the kids in shifts while getting everyone ready for the day and it worked like a charm.

Here are some easy hotel breakfast ideas:

  • granola, yogurt, and berries
  • cereal
  • bagels and cream cheese
  • muffins, fruit, and juice

Stock up on plenty of fresh fruit to supplement your breakfasts. Disney World resort food courts have toasters and microwaves available to their guests if you want to make toast, Pop Tarts, or oatmeal.

4.  Pack your lunch

Disney allows you to bring food into the park, so save money by packing a lunch! Bring a small soft-sided cooler or backpack. Stow it under a stroller or if you don’t want to carry it, rent a locker at the entrance of the park and store your lunch for the day.

disney world dining

Disney World has plenty of tables and chairs throughout the park where you can stop and eat a picnic lunch.

The first year we tried bringing our own food, we packed bagels and cream cheese for lunch nearly every day. This is hands down the easiest lunch to prepare. Grab a bag of bagels, a tub of cream cheese, and a plastic knife and you are done. We quickly learned how easy it is to get tired of the same food every day.

Add variety to your lunches, and consider a small, quick touch to make a sandwich interesting. My husband loves hot peppers, so adding them to his meat and cheese sandwich really spiced up the flavor. Use good quality bread or rolls so you don’t tire as quickly of sandwiches.

Finally, to save time in the morning, pack your lunch bag the night before. I loaded drinks, snacks, chips, napkins, fruit, etc. the night before so in the morning all I had to do was slap together seven sandwiches, grab some string cheese and walk out the door. It saved me at least ten minutes each morning by prepping the night before.

To keep your perishables cold, freeze water bottles or fill a Ziploc bag with ice from your hotel. You may want to double-bag it to reduce leaks.

Great foods to prepare in your hotel and pack in your lunches:

  • peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • tuna sandwiches
  • meat and cheese sandwiches
  • bagels and cream cheese
  • string cheese
  • apples, grapes, oranges, clementines
  • carrot sticks, cucumbers, sweet peas
  • crackers or chips
  • juice boxes

5.  Plan for snacks

Eating a funnel cake at a Disney park is a delightful splurge, but since sodas, popcorn, and snacks add up quickly, we chose to bring most of our own snacks into the parks. Here are some easy-to-pack snack ideas:

  • beef jerky
  • string cheese
  • crackers
  • granola bars
  • apple slices
  • fruit snacks
  • candy
  • individual cookie packs, such as Oreos or Chips Ahoy

For a free treat at Epcot, don’t miss Club Cool.  It is a self-serve soda station offering sodas from around the world.

disney world dining

Free soda at Club Cool in Epcot.

6.  Book a character meal

Finally, after working so hard to save money, remember that you are on vacation! We splurged on a late breakfast at Chef Mickey’s and were so glad we did. The meal cost $220 after tax and tip, but I felt good about it after packing lunches all week.

We booked our breakfast for our fourth day in the parks, and it was a welcome change to have an all-you-can-eat buffet after cold breakfasts and sandwich lunches. The food was delicious, the characters visited our tables frequently, and the wait staff kept our juices and chocolate milk coming.

You can certainly meet characters throughout the parks without booking a character meal, but this is a slam-dunk. You get delicious food while your children are entertained, and you don’t have to wait in line.disney world dining

7.  Eat dinner outside of Disney resorts

Our goal was to eat only one meal out per day, and it was easy to accomplish.  Since we were traveling in January, some of the parks closed early enough to leave and get dinner somewhere affordable.  We ordered pizza delivered to our hotel one night.  We picked up Pei Wei and ate out at Macaroni Grill once.

Disney World dining does not have to break your bank account, since food is one of the few price points you can control on a vacation. Here are 20 more ways to save money on your Disney vacation.

Planning a Disney trip?

We recommend Get Away Today Vacations to help you plan your Walt Disney World trip. Disney experts can help you choose the best hotel, buy discount tickets, book air travel and more. They stay on top of Disney’s current promotions and discounts to help you get the best price for your trip.

You can buy individual tickets too. Get Away Today sells Walt Disney World tickets for less than Disney’s official site!

Learn more about our partnership with Get Away Today HERE.

Katie is a busy mom living in Northern Virginia with her husband and five children ranging in age from toddlers to teens. When she isn't traveling, she is planning her next trip. Katie loves all types of travel, but she especially loves beach vacations. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a favorite family destination.


  1. How did we miss Club Cool at Epcot?! That’s a new one for me. We have also had success with several of these tips. To make the peanut butter sandwiches even easier, I have purchased the frozen Uncrustables several times on trips like these. Crackers, sliced cheese and deli meat with carrots, grapes and cookies on the side make a lunch that can go straight from the grocery store to the park with no prep time in between. Freeze water bottles in your in-room fridge, or fill a water bottle with hotel ice to keep the perishables cold until lunchtime.

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  2. These are great tips. We’ll be staying in a vacation rental home, so that will help with breakfast and some dinners, but it’s great to know we can bring our home food into the parks. Also, Club Cool is a great tip!

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    • Yes, Club Cool is easy to miss but I was so glad to discover it this time. We stopped by twice it was so fun! Enjoy your trip!

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  3. One trick We found on my honeymoon, go to downtown disney, go across the parkinglot next to the McDonald’s (which charges normal prices not elevated Disney prices) and just across the street is a convenience store where we were able to get bread, milk, cereal and sandwich fixings. We had no off park transportation, so this helped us save a quite a bit.

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  4. Might I suggest a tip you left off? If you are dining outside the park, be sure to pick up the local tourist guides that are EVERYWHERE outside the park (and many can be found online now….but the better deals are in FL). You will find them crammed with high value off coupons. And since the competition is massive in Orlando, my friends who live there often eat out, finding it far cheaper with coupons then the cost of cooking! And if you have a car and a Costco, or similar, membership, you can save a ton by going there and paying real world prices, not inflated convenience store prices! Honesty, for a large family I would suggest renting an house site house, with pool, which would be a fraction of the cost of on property accomodations, and using the saved $$$ towards more meals in Disney. (While I much prefer staying in the parks, IMHO anyone considering a Value resort should realize how much nicer houses & condo rentals are in comparison). Of course, so much depends on what is important to each family. Hope this helped a bit, for some folks 🙂

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    • Using site like VRBO or HomeAway have been a huge cost savings in recent years – especially now that I have children. Right now, hotel accommodations are just a bit too cramped for any length of time (for us). Plus, I really don’t like to feed the kids so much of the restaurant food and I apparently don’t mind cooking when I’m on vacay – it’s daily cooking at home that I could do without. LOL! So for health and price reasons, I’m with you.

      Alison or Katie, I would like to know what’s the minimum age you would take children to Disney?

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      • Toni, I am so sorry I missed this question earlier! For me, I think 3 is the magical age for a child’s first visit to Disney. I think they are old enough to appreciate the Disney magic at at that age and can handle the excitement of the park. I have definitly seen people successfully take younger kids, but for me, I like 3 years old.

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  5. This was so awesome! I actually get really sick of eating out and my stomach ends up not liking me. 🙂 I was researching how/if we could bring our own lunches into the parks and found your awesome tips. Thank you so much for writing this, it will help my family on our first trip to Disney both financially and in health!

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  6. We bake pepperoni rolls at home and freeze them. Keep them in the fridge at the hotel. Also you can get free water at the parks–if you ask. We also packed some fresh fruit – sliced apples and nutella ( I bought very,very small disposable tupperware type cups at my local dollar store to pack dip), and we were all happy and full. This was lunch at least twice during the week. Also if your kids are a fan of lunchables, make your own. Pack diced ham, sliced cheese and packs of crackers, add some grapes..instant kid friendly lunch.

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    • Thanks for the great tips, Robin!

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  7. I placed the order with Orlando Grocery Express, an online shopping website. They were great!!!! We have used them a coupe of times. The food was delivered to our room. We had also ordered for some dairy products, Shampoo, snacks, fresh fruits, etc all items were exactly as ordered. so u can also try http://www.orlandogroceryexpress.com

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  8. Are you allowed to bring coolers into the park? I was thinking of bringing a rolling cooler with lunches and snacks and drinks. Then we would have to store it while we were in the park. Do they have storage for that?

    Thanks…leaving in July

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    • Disney World does NOT allow “Suitcases, backpacks or coolers, with or without wheels, larger than 24″ long x 15″ wide x 18 inches high.” Large lockers are available for storage for $10 per day, plus $5 key deposit. These lockers are 17x12x16. Other than the lockers, there is no place inside the park to store a cooler, and the park will “deal with any unattended object in such way that we deem appropriate.”

      I prefer to store snacks, sandwiches and drinks in a backpack or stroller so we have them with us whenever and wherever we want them. Frozen water bottles help keep everything else cool, and are nice for a cold drink later in the day. Hope you have a great trip!

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  9. Getting some groceries delivered to your room for quick snacks and breakfast to keep in the room is a great idea too. The Grocery Stork offers delivery to resorts around Disney. They delivered it right to our resort and it was waiting for us when we checked in. Made the trip get off to a nice start.

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