Purchasing your park tickets and booking your hotel and transportation are typically the first and most obvious major expenses to account for in your budget, but don't froget about food! If you don’t plan at all in advance, you could easily spend a small fortune on meals, snacks and drinks. (Psst, it’s toadally fine if you want to treat yourself when it comes to food … you’re on vacation, after all!) But eating at Disney World on a budget isn’t impossible, either. As frugal frogs, we’ve tried many dining hacks to save when necessary. Here are some of our favorite ways that you can dine at Disney without breaking the bank.
Our Frog Family’s Tips for Eating at Disney World on a Budget
1. Go grocery shopping upon arrival.
If you want to limit the amount of meals inside the parks right off the bat, consider grocery shopping once you arrive in Orlando. You can find plenty of local stores or grocery chains, such as Publix or Winn-Dixie, around the outskirts of Disney World property. It is especially useful to load up on groceries if you have a longer vacation or if you’re staying in a suite or villa that has a kitchenette. That way, you can prepare meals right at your hotel! Enjoy in the comforts of your room, or find on a nice spot outside and have a picnic.
2. Get groceries delivered to your hotel.
Understandably, grocery shopping is much easier if you have access to a car. You may also not want to take the extra time to go shopping yourself. Thanks to modern tech, there are tons of apps, such as Instacart, Shipt and Amazon Prime Now, that can deliver your groceries straight to your resort! Garden Grocer is another popular service that delivers to many Walt Disney World Resorts and can leave your order at Bell Services so you can pick it up later. Be sure to ask the front desk about any package holding fees!
3. Pack snacks … or meals.
Your grocery shopping will also allow you to pack snacks and even meals. Disney allows guests to bring in outside food items that do not require heating, as long as they’re not carried in glass containers. Coolers larger than 24” long x 15” wide x 18” high (and loose ice inside these containers) are not allowed, but reusable ice packs are permitted. PB&J sandwiches for the win! Tad and Lily love snacking on granola bars, trail mix, crackers and string cheese.
4. Eat breakfast in your room.
Not only will you cut back on money, but you’ll also save precious time in the morning! It can be as simple as a bowl of cereal and fruit, and you don’t have worry about long lines or snagging a table at the food court downstairs. You can get some extra sleep or an earlier start to your day at the parks. To cut down on even more time, eat in shifts. The tadpoles can munch on breakfast while you shower and get dressed, then switch off.
5. Bring refillable water bottles.
In order to beat the heat at Disney World, you’ll need to drink lots of water so you can stay hydrated. You can save a LOT of money by bringing your own refillable water bottles. A regular-sized bottled water costs about $3.50. For a family of four, that you would set you back $14 if everyone got their own bottled water — and that’s not nearly enough water for one day. There are drinking fountains throughout the parks where you can refill your water bottle.
6. Order water with your meals.
Instead of ordering a soda with your meal, opt for water. If you ask for “a cup of water” (as opposed to bottled water) at any quick-service restaurant, you’ll get it for free. We’ve even seen a large container of water already set up with cups by the pick-up window at some food counters. The same goes for table-service restaurants.
7. Opt for quick-service restaurants.
Generally, you’ll get a better bang for your buck at a quick-service restaurant than at a table-service restaurant. Similar menu items can have a drastically different price tag. For example, if you’re feelin’ in the mood for Fish & Chips at the UK pavilion in Epcot, go to Yorkshire County Fish Stop where the classic British dish is $11.49, compared to ordering Fish & Chips at Rose and Crown Dining Room for $23. Both versions are great, though! The ambiance surely plays a part since Yorkshire County Fish Shop is an outdoor walk-up counter with limited seating, while there’s plenty of indoor seating and air conditioning at Rose and Crown.
8. Frogs can order from the tadpoles’ menu at select restaurants.
At any quick-service restaurant, there’s nothing stopping a grown-up frog from ordering off the tadpoles’ menu! A kid's meal comes with an entree, a side and a drink. This is a great money-saving option, particularly for lighter eaters who would rather not waste any food (and money). However, table-service restaurants and buffet dining experiences are known to enforce the adult menu prices.
9. Skip the side.
The price you see on the menus at quick-service restaurants is typically factoring in a meal combo that includes the entree, a drink and a side. You can save a few bucks if you skip the side and tell the cashier that you only want the entree and a (free) cup of water. If you get hungry later on, just eat one of the snacks that you packed!
10. Share your meal, or order appetizers.
Portion sizes can actually be quite generous that there’s enough food for two. It's easy to split an entree and a side at quick-service restaurants. At Cosmic Ray's in Magic Kingdom, the 1/2 Rotisserie Chicken dinner specialty meal is served with macaroni and cheese and green beans for $15. It's plenty of food that a pair can share! Splitting a couple of appetizers can also be the way to go if you're ordering at a table-service restaurant.
11. Eat at table-service restaurants for lunch instead of dinner.
If you want the experience of a table-service restaurant, make an advanced dining reservation for lunch instead of dinner. Some of the table-service and buffet-style restaurants have separate menus for lunch and dinner, with dinner being more expensive. For instance, lunch at the Liberty Tree Tavern in Magic Kingdom is served a la carte, but dinner is only buffet dining. Plus, lunchtime is usually less crowded than dinnertime, and you’ll be able to escape the heat during the day.
12. If a character meal is a must, go for breakfast.
Character dining experiences can be pricey, but if it’s a must-do on your Disney bucket list, choose breakfast over lunch or dinner. Similar to table-service and buffet-style restaurants, dinner is generally the most expensive option and breakfast is the cheapest. If you’re already planning on eating at Disney World on a budget, then just think of it this way: the money you saved instead of eating out for every meal can be used to splurge on a character dining experience. If you fill up, then you won’t need a huge lunch.
13. Eat off-site.
This option really only works best if you have access to a car (or perhaps if you’re staying at an off-site hotel that’s within walking distance to other restaurants). You can pretty much find anything from fast food to chain restaurants, such as McDonald’s or Outback Steakhouse, just a short drive away. But if you need Uber or a taxi to get away, it’s not worth spending the extra transportation costs.
14. Load money on a Disney gift card to prevent overspending.
If you’re dead set on spending only a certain amount of money on food, we’d highly recommend loading up a Disney gift card with your maximum limit. This is the same strategy we use at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival because it’s so easy to go overboard. By putting an allotted amount on a gift card, you can better pace your spending on food over the length of your vacation.
15. Take advantage of discounts.
If you're an Annual Passholder, use your 10-20% discount at select restaurants. Florida residents, Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club members can sign up to become a member of Tables in Wonderland. These benefits include a 20% discount offered on food and beverage, including alcohol, at over 100 participating restaurants (valid for a party of up to 10 guests including the member), special dining offers, invitations to dining events and complementary resort valet and theme park parking for dining purposes. Chase Disney Visa members also receive a discount at select restaurants on-property.
We hope these dining hack tips will help you save money on food. Do you have any extra tips for eating at Disney World on a budget? Share in the comments below!