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.
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.
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
- 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.
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
- granola bars
- apple slices
- fruit snacks
- 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.
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.
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.
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