Planning a trip to Walt Disney World? Food is one of the easiest places to save money. With a family of seven, I have lots of tips for dining at Walt Disney World on a budget.
When we go to a Disney park, our goal is to eat economically, avoid long food lines and enjoy one character meal. We like staying on Disney property and taking advantage of the Disney bus system, but that doesn't mean we have to eat every meal at Disney prices.
Here are some tips to help you save money on food at Walt Disney World.
Many hotels near Walt Disney World make grocery delivery easy, and will hold your food in refrigerated storage until you pick it up. We've heard that the Swan and Dolphin do not accept grocery delivery, so it's smart to check with your hotel before you schedule a delivery.
AmazonFresh, Walmart and other major chains and services offer grocery delivery in Orlando, so you have lots of options. Watch for fees and minimum order requirements. Expect to pay a tip. These extras should still be a lot less expensive than buying all your food in the parks.
Driving your own car can make grocery shopping and eating off-site easier. Uber and Lyft also work well in Orlando.
Don't forget to add items like these on your shopping list:
- Ziploc bags, sandwich and gallon size
- paper bowls and plates
Plan for a Mini Fridge
Disney World has in-room refrigerators at all their value resorts. Mini fridges are standard at many hotels, and you can probably just check the website to make sure you have one.
Consider foods that don't need refrigeration like bagels, beef jerky and bananas. Save limited fridge space for deli meat and dairy. Our refrigerator was large enough for a half-gallon of milk, but not a full gallon.
Our mini fridge didn't have a freezer, and if your hotel's mini fridge has one, it's probably tiny. Avoid buying anything that needs to stay frozen.
I wanted plenty of milk for cereal, so we brought a small cooler that would hold two gallons of milk and filled it with ice at the hotel. With our cooler and the mini fridge, we only had to grocery shop once.
Eat Breakfast in Your Room
Eating breakfast in your room will save you money and time. You'll want to arrive in the parks as early as possible for the shortest lines. 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:
- yogurt with granola and fruit
- cereal and milk
- bagels and cream cheese
- fresh fruit, like bananas or berries
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 heat up breakfast sandwiches, toast, Pop Tarts, or oatmeal.
Pack Your Lunch
Walt Disney World allows you to bring food into the park, so save money by packing a lunch. Stow it in a day pack or stroller. Fill Ziploc bags with hotel ice to keep it cold. Locker rentals are available if you don't want to carry it around.
For my family, bagels and cream is the easiest lunch to prepare. Get a bag of bagels, a tub of cream cheese, and a plastic knife and you are done. Cheese and crackers, hummus, beef jerky or leftover pizza are other easy lunches that you can toss in a day pack or stroller with minimal preparation.
Plan variety in your lunches, and consider a small, quick add-on 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 of sandwiches too quickly.
Prep as much of your lunch as possible the night before. The parks are less crowded in the morning, so every minute is precious.
Great foods to prepare in your hotel and pack in your lunches include:
- cheese and crackers
- peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
- tuna sandwiches
- deli meat and cheese sandwiches
- bagels and cream cheese
- hummus with crackers or veggies
- beef jerky
- leftover pizza from a previous night's dinner
- string cheese
- apples, grapes, oranges, clementines
- carrot sticks, cucumbers, sweet peas
- crackers or chips
- juice boxes, water bottles or soda
Buying a hearty restaurant lunch in the park and eating sandwiches for dinner in your room is an alternative to packing sandwiches into the park.
Eating a funnel cake at a Disney park is a delightful splurge, but we save a lot of money by bringing most of our own snacks into the parks.
It's smart to pack healthy snacks like apples and carrots, but be sure to buy other favorite snacks and drinks too. You won't crave a $5 bottle of soda in the park if you have the same soda in your day pack.
Here are some easy-to-pack snack ideas:
- string cheese
- granola bars
- apple slices
- fruit snacks
- sodas and other drinks
Do your kids love microwave popcorn? Mine do. Disney hotels have access to microwaves, and popcorn can be a fun in-room snack.
Set a Snack Budget
There are so many great snacks at Walt Disney World! Churros, Dole Whip, Mickey ice cream bars, international treats at Epcot and cold sodas will be calling your name, and you'll probably want to try a few of them. Set a budget for each family member before you go.
One approach is to set a total budget for each person for the trip – such as $20-50 for snacks and souvenirs. Another option is to set a limit – like 2-3 snacks per person. Either way, it can take the stress out of buying snacks and give your kids a little practice in budgeting.
Some Disney treats are pretty big, and I'm not squeamish about sharing food with my family. Why buy seven churros when we can all sample one or two, and save $30 for other treats?
You can often do the same with meals. Portions can be generous and you won't want leftovers.
Buy one or two less entrees than the number of people in your family and eat family style. Just ask for extra plates. Supplement with a less expensive appetizer or dessert, if needed.
Eat Dinner Outside of Disney Resorts
Our goal was to eat only one restaurant meal per day, and it was easy to accomplish. We often finished our day in the parks around dinner time, and were able to find more affordable fare outside the parks.
We had pizza delivered one night. Pei Wei and Macaroni Grill were our picks for dinner on other nights. Orlando has lots of dining options.
Don't order too much food, unless it's pizza. My family likes cold pizza for breakfast or lunch. Otherwise, we rarely eat leftovers on vacation. You probably won't have space in the mini-fridge for takeout boxes.
Book a Character Meal
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. At the time of our trip, the meal cost $220. It was a worthwhile reward for packing lunches all week.
Make reservations for character dining up to 6 months before your trip. Character meals are popular, and frequently sell out. See all your character dining options at https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/
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.
Booking a big breakfast buffet in the late morning meant that we didn't need to pack a lunch into the park that day. That helped us save a little more on food.
Consider taking an “off-day” from the parks on the day of your character meal – if it's at one of the Disney Resort hotels and not inside the parks. Sleep in, enjoy a late and leisurely breakfast, then hang out at the pool or spend some time in Disney Springs. You'll get your daily dose of Disney magic and save money on park tickets.
Consider the Disney Dining Plan
A Disney Dining Plan will allow your family to enjoy the delicious restaurants and snacks at Walt Disney World for a set price. These plans are available to guests who purchase a Disney Resort Hotel Package.
Basic Disney Dining Plans include 2 meals with specialty beverages and 2 snacks. We haven't tried it because buying groceries is less expensive. However, if enjoying Disney fare is a priority for your family, these plans will allow you to enjoy restaurants and snacks without wondering about your final bill.
Learn more about the Disney Dining Plans at https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/plans/.
Walt Disney World dining does not have to drain your bank account. Buying your own groceries and planning simple meals will bring your food budget way down. It will probably save you from long food and ride lines and be healthier too.
Use some of the money you save to splurge on a character meal or other special experience, if possible. I hope that our experience helps your family plan a great trip to Walt Disney World.
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