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If you're looking to save money while visiting Walt Disney World, packing a picnic lunch might just be the way to go. Not only is it cheaper than eating at Disney restaurants, but one could easily argue that it also saves you time from waiting in long food lines. To be honest, no matter our Disney budget or timeline, everyone in the Frog Family knows that packing a lunch and picnicking at Disney is always a ton of fun!
In this blog post, we're sharing our top 10 tips for packing the perfect picnic lunch for your next Disney trip. After taking on these tips, you'll be the ultimate Disney pro! You'll know which types of food make for a convenient and yummy picnic lunch, learn smart ways to store your cooler, and have privy to the best places in the parks to sit and enjoy your meal.
Are you ready? Here's how to enjoy an affordable and delicious meal in the middle of all the magic!
1. Know What You Can & Can't Bring Into the Parks
Some guests are surprised to learn that you are allowed to bring your own food and drinks into the parks. However, you'll want to know a few guidelines before shopping and packing all of your goodies. For example, we’d hate to see you pack up a beautiful lunch, only to be turned away at security because you didn't realize that glass bottles aren't permitted.
Here's what you need to know before you go:
Hop tip: If you’re planning on bringing plastic water bottles, throw those in the freezer the night before you go. In the morning, pop them into the bottom of your cooler in place of ice. The frozen bottles will keep your lunch and food items cool and provide icy cold drinking water throughout the day as it melts.
For a full list of policies, double check Disney’s property rules.
2. Pack a Cooler that You Can Easily Tote Around All-Day
When packing your lunch, we recommend using a cooler bag. These are typically lighter than a hardtop cooler and will keep your food nice and fresh, especially in the hot Florida sun.
We emphasize bringing a bag or soft cooler because it can be folded and put away after use. If you're bringing a stroller, consider one with a bottom storage compartment. This will make carrying your cooler around all day a breeze. Having your bag with you is super convenient, especially if you have tadpoles that require frequent meals throughout the day.
We love the backpack-style coolers. You can easily carry this on your back and use the other pockets to hold your park essentials such as sunscreen, umbrellas, cell phones, etc.
Unlike other theme parks, Disney's attractions allow you to keep your bag with you on almost all rides. This is nice and ensures you’ll never have to worry about storing your belongings or being too far from your essentials.
3. Utilize Disney's Locker System
If you’re the type that prefers to travel light, consider renting one of Disney's storage lockers for a day. This is a great option if you're planning on bringing more than one meal. The locker areas are shaded, and your food items will stay cooler in a dark locker versus being exposed to the Florida sunshine all day. Here's how it works:
You can find storage lockers at each theme park and water park entrance. Rates start at $10 per day for Small lockers and go up to $15 per day for Jumbo lockers. Here’s the breakdown of size options and prices:
Lockers can also be found at the two Disney water parks: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. The lockers are available in two sizes. The Standard locker is 12.5" x 10" x 17" for $10 per day, and the Large locker is 15.5" x 13" x 17" at $15 per day.
You can pay with cash or credit card. If you’re paying with either of these two options, you can head straight to the self-kiosk.
There’s also the option of using your MagicBand or a Disney Gift Card to purchase a locker. If this is the case, you’ll need to visit the closest merchandise location to the locker area. There, a cast member will process your locker rental and give you a code that you’ll type into the Self-Service kiosk.
That’s it! Once you're done for the day, simply stop by the locker rental office to retrieve your belongings. Keep in mind that locker rentals are subject to availability. We’ve personally never had trouble securing a locker. However, during peak travel seasons such as the winter holidays and spring break, we recommend that you arrive at the parks early in the day to ensure you don’t miss out.
Now that you know how to store your cooler, let's move on to what you should pack in it!
4. Include Enough Food for Everyone in Your Party
Before heading to Disney, you'll want to ensure you have enough food for everyone in your party. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's easy to underestimate how much food you'll need when dealing with hungry tadpoles (and adults)! Not to mention that you’ll be doing a ton of walking which we know firsthand can stir up an appetite! So, in addition to lunch, you might want to bring some snacks for the day, especially if you have little ones. Some of our favorite grab-and-go items are pieces of fruit such as bananas, apples and oranges. Of course, our tadpoles can’t resist granola bars, Lunchables and quick PB&Js. Keeping a variety of snacks that are easy to grab and eat on the go will help keep everyone hoppy (not HANGRY)!
5. Pack Food Items that Won't Melt or Spoil in the Orlando Heat
It’s no secret that Orlando has warm temperatures most days of the year. You'll want to think about the food you'll be packing. If you're walking around in the heat, avoid anything that will spoil or melt (no chocolate or anything with icing). Choose foods that won't spoil quickly, change texture or taste weird when warmed to room temperature.
We consider ourselves simple frogs and don’t mind munching on turkey sandwiches (sans the mayo) and peanut butter sandwiches. The tadpoles never seem to finish a whole sandwich, so we cut the sandwiches into squares and pop them in an airtight container or a gallon-size sandwich bag. This makes them easy to grab but leaves little waste for those that can’t or won’t eat an entire sandwich.
If you’re feeling creative, use cookie cutters to cut your sandwiches into fun shapes. We may be slightly biased, but a Mickey-shaped sandwich just tastes better!
Freshly sliced fruits and veggies seem to be our other go-to items. They add an extra dose of hydration and nutrition to power us through the parks. They’re easy to store and serve. Sliced red and green peppers are a family favorite, especially when a tub of hummus is brought along for dipping. Grapes, apples and sliced strawberries are also great additions.
We can’t call it a picnic if we don’t include something salty and sweet. We like to toss in a bag of pretzels or goldfish crackers to round out the meal. Breakfast/granola bars, or non-melty cookies such as Animal Crackers or shortbread cookies, end the picnic on a sweet note. Rarely do we ever finish the entire bag of pretzels or cookies, so we use these as snacks later in the day!
If you’re driving to the parks, you’ll want to schedule enough time to swing into a grocery store before arriving at your hotel. However, if you’re flying or prefer the convenience, you can order your groceries via a grocery delivery app such as Instacart, Kroger or Shipt. These services will deliver your groceries to the lobby of your resort.
6. Don't Froget the Drinks
Be sure to pack enough water (or other drinks) for everyone. Again, you'll want to avoid anything that will melt quickly in the heat. We recommend packing water bottles, sports drinks or juice boxes to keep everyone hydrated throughout the day. Try loading some unsweetened iced tea or lemonade if you want something refreshing. Bringing along a few flavor packets such as MiO or Crystal Light is an easy way to jazz up your water without adding a lot of bulk in your cooler.
Consider bringing your refillable water bottle into the parks to keep things super simple. You'll save some major dough this way as water can cost upwards of four dollars at the parks! In addition, you can ask for free cups of ice water at any quick-service locations that offer soft drinks. There are also refillable water stations in all four theme parks.
7. Pack all the Necessary Utensils and Supplies
You'll want to ensure you have all the necessary utensils and supplies. This includes things such as napkins, paper plates (if needed), plasticware, disinfecting hand wipes and hand sanitizer. You might also want to pack a small picnic blanket/table cloth that you can use to cover the ground so you can sit if needed to relax and enjoy your lunch.
8. Choose a Spot That's Away From the Crowds
While there are no designated picnic areas, there are many wonderful spots to enjoy a picnic lunch at Walt Disney World. Some of these come with pretty spectacular views! We recommend picking an area that is in the shade and away from the crowds. This will give you more space to spread out and relax. You'll also enjoy some quiet downtime from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks. Once their bellies are full, the tadpoles (or even adults) might grab a cat nap on the picnic blanket before heading out for more Disney fun.
If it’s a blazing hot day, feel free to pop into a quick-service dining location to eat your lunch in the cool AC. As long as a table is available, you’re welcome to nosh there! Other ideas include a shady park bench or any outdoor seating area. Look out for tables and chairs with umbrellas or under awnings to get a reprieve from the sun.
Here’s a list of our favorite picnic spots:
9. Picnic Along the Parade Route
I know we already recommended finding a picnic spot away from the crowds. But, if watching the Festival of Fantasy Parade is a must-do for your family, you’ll want to stake out a prime seating/viewing area about 30 to 60 minutes before the parade begins. If you’re going to be sitting along the curb for a while, why not enjoy your picnic lunch while you wait?
Remember that small picnic blanket we recommended that you tote along? You’ll want to bust that out, have your family sit and claim their parade spots along the curb, and then eat your lunch to help pass the time. This is such a brilliant way to keep the tadpoles entertained, save precious park time, and ensure an awesome viewing location for the parade! We know from experience that filling bellies will help keep the crankiness away during the wait.
10. Have Fun!
A picnic lunch is a great way to take a break from the theme parks’ hustle and bustle and enjoy quality time with your family and friends. It’s also a great way to save some dough! But here’s our biggest tip — don’t let packing a picnic to Disney stress you out! Use our tips above, but make them work for you. You can keep your picnic as fancy or simple as you’d like. Have fun and ENJOY!
If you’re planning a Disney trip, have you considered bringing a picnic to the parks? What questions do you still have? If you’ve found success bringing your goodies to Disney, let us know what works for you. Your expertise helps our other readers, too!
Related: 14 Easy Tips for Eating at Disney World on a Budget
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