Food is one of our all time most favourite topics. Make it Disney + food, and we are there! It’s no secret that the food at Disney Parks is one of the more talked about aspects of a Disney vacation, but can it be affordable? Since the popularity of media apps like Instagram and TikTok, the Parks have really upped their game when it comes to food offerings. Not only does it have to be delicious, if it’s not Instagrammable what is even the point, amirite? Good food and cost effective? Time for Operation Food Budget!
With so many food offerings, it’s hard to know where to begin, and easy to fall into the trap of buying one of every thing that looks good to eat. If you are like us, you like to have an idea of what you will spend on food BEFORE you get there, so that you don’t come home to a HUGE credit card bill after the trip.
We are self-proclaimed experts when it comes to Disneyland. It’s always 3-5 park days per trip for us, and we have it down to a science. We are able to spend what we want to spend AND enjoy all that Disneyland has to offer when it comes to food. For our Disneyland food ideas, head to our OG post Operation Food Budget: Disneyland. If you’re heading to Walt Disney World though, read on for our thoughts on how to eat well and not break your budget.
Disney Dining Plan
Walt Disney World is, in truth, a whole different beast. Between the 25+ on site resorts, Disney Springs shopping district, and the 6 WDW parks, you’ve got a whopping 500 PLUS places to choose from. That’s a lot of snacks and meals folks! How do you even BEGIN to budget for something like that?
Well, the easiest answer is, of course, the Disney Dining Plan. This is simply pre-budgeting for your food and paying it off before you arrive. You are assigned “credits” for snacks and meals, and can even bank points for more use on different days than on others. However, this doesn’t come at a cheap price (and as it stands currently, the Disney Dining Plan isn’t even available because of COVID restrictions). IF you are lucky though, you can book yourselves into a Walt Disney World Vacation with a FREE dining plan! (Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to an email list and informed if this deal comes out).
The Fine Details
The Disney Dining Plan (DDP) has several options (when it’s available) ranging from approx $55 USD a night per adult to $119 USD, or $26 USD a night per kid (ages 3-10) to approx $47.50 USD. You’ve got the Quick Service Dining Plan (if you’re mostly going to eat from grab and go places), the Standard Dining Plan, the Disney Dining Plan Plus, and the Deluxe Dining Plan.
Now here’s the thing. If you are BIG eaters, and you are wanting to dine your heart out and not have to really break down each meal by price, the Dining Plan is a great option for you. BUT you can’t pick and choose how many days you want it, or who in the party gets it. Gratuity is also NOT included for Table Service Restaurants. Some factors to consider when deciding if the Dining Plan is worth it for you include: how many character meals you are planning, how many buffets you want to eat at, how big the appetite of everyone in your party is… all of these things.
Let’s be real for a minute. My family of five would be $246 USD a DAY for just the Quick Service Dining Plan. We typically budget $50 to $100 USD a day for food, so for me that’s a big big stretch. But don’t get me wrong… I’m gonna do it one day. There is something really nice about knowing that you’ve already paid for your food; not having to pinch penny’s the whole time or weigh every meal decision to see whether it fits in your budget.
How to Eat Affordably in Walt Disney World
We aren’t called “Stress Free” for nothing. Even with ALLLLLLL of this information, we promise that you can save money, be full, be happy, AND try a bunch of the things when it comes to food on your WDW vacation! When we go to WDW, we plan to stick with a modest food budget, and try not to break the bank.
Here are our top tips for getting the most from your vacation food budget…
Tip #1: Do Your Research
Since you’re reading this, you are already one step ahead! For a list of WDW’s full list of food options, click here. It’s broken down by park and shows what’s open and the full menus with prices. You can take a look at what you like to eat, and decide on your budget beforehand so that you know where to go and where not to visit.
Once in the park, there are several options, such as only ordering the burger and not the side. There are times when things are bundled together, and I found in Disney World that you can ask for the individual items separately. For example, if there are fries that come with apple slices, ask how much just the fries are, and it sometimes knocks a dollar or two off. This also applies to meals that come with a beverage… you can ask what the price is without it! We usually eat so much on park days that I don’t always want or need my own fries, so this is a great way to not waste food and save some money!
Look at the menus, especially if you have food allergies in your family, as they list all of the allergy concerns for EVERY restaurant in the parks. You can also select “seasonal offerings” and choose items that are limited time. Another huge time saver is to mobile order… you can get in a line and order your food for the whole family, and have them look at what they want before they get so hungry that everyone is crying.
Tip #2: Grocery Shop Before You Go
Thanks to technology it’s never been easier to get groceries. You can have a running list before you arrive so that you can make sure to have what’s important to your family. We recommend heading to a local grocery store, or placing on online food order, either on your first day or before you arrive.
Here is a list of things we most often buy for a big trip:
- fresh fruit (easy to grab fruits like bananas, apples, oranges)
- vegetables (baby carrots, mini cucumbers, mini carrots, pre-sliced celery)
- prepackaged salads (easy for grab and go)
- peanut butter to go
- pre-made PB&J sandwiches (freezer section)
- soda or sparkling water
- iced coffee
- whole grain bread
- english muffins or bagels
- cliff bars and granola bars
- oatmeal, either instant or overnight oats (my preference… mix it the night before and BAM!, breakfast)
Tip #3: Bring Food Into the Parks
This is our biggest money saving tip. There is a big misconception that you cannot bring your own food into the parks. Not true, just make sure that you aren’t bringing in any glass. This is also a fantastic way to sneak in some healthy foods, as well as fresh fruits and veggies. It’s so much fun eating whatever you want, and balancing treats with nutrition helps you and your kids have more energy to stay in the parks from open to close. (The sugar crash is real!) We find having real food to thrust at a melting child (or adult) is the best way to keep everyone happy.
Often we will pack a lunch and some snacks (and coffee), and then buy dinner and a treat. Of course there are exceptions to this. We will absolutely plan treat days where we pack minimal snacks and eat solely in the parks. Especially on Epcot days because there are just so many options. The trick is to find the balance between splurge and save. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but it is not worth it to go into debt for food! Yes, it’s wonderful to enjoy all the food but it’s also okay to have a budget. We don’t ever feel like we have missed out. For all that we pack for a day in a Disney Park, check out our packing day post here.
Tip #4: Eat Breakfast Before You Arrive at a Park
We are advocates for staying on property at Walt Disney World, as you have easy access to the free transportation, which makes getting around the Disney bubble more manageable. Unlike the Good Neighbour hotels at Disneyland though, there isn’t a continental breakfast option on site at WDW.
Buying breakfast for every person in your party in the parks, or at the restaurants in the resorts, is going to be expensive if you do it every day. That’s not to say that a breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table or Olivia’s at Old Key West isn’t going to be amazing… but it’s just not practical for (most) budgets on a long vacation.
Unpopular opinion: Breakfast in the parks is also a time waster. I know, I know, but hear me out! We are huge ride people. It is a fact that you can get a lot of big rides done first thing in the morning. Crowds are at the lowest for the entire day so take advantage.
Remember to factor in breakfast foods on that food order that you made before the trip / on the first day. Some of our staples include: instant oatmeal, cereal cups (don’t forget milk!), and peanut butter and jam sandwiches. There are communal toasters in the cafeteria if you want to toast some bread or a bagel, and you can use the microwave in your room if needed as well.
Overnight oats changed my life. Just use some regular oats, milk of choice, a little sugar and cinnamon (bring little containers from home), let sit in the fridge overnight and then dress up as wanted with nuts or anything you have. SO GOOD. And you can eat hot or cold. I brought oatmeal packets that I’d purchased at home as well as bowls and cutlery so that we could make our own breakfast every morning. Another option is to make a big zip top bag of your own instant oatmeal. I like quick oats, chia seeds, hemp hearts, cinnamon and pumpkin seeds. It may seem like a hassle, but if you are looking to save money on breakfast this is the easiest way to do it.
Tip #5: Share Meals
The more I read and learn about Walt Disney World, the more Table Service restaurants are on my list. But you don’t have to order one meal per person. You can totally share! Also a great plan to try WAY more food. We all know the best part of the parks is the options. Sometimes I’ll send my husband to one place, I’ll go to another, and then we meet up and do some sharing. The only exception to this is buffets or family style meals. Plan accordingly when budgeting for these places; ex. only eat snacks that day, share a light lunch, pack food, etc.
Tip #6: Refill Items
Get the popcorn bucket on your first day and take advantage of $2 refills for the whole time. We never knew this was a thing, what a shame. Popcorn is a great snack any time of day; at $2 that’s a steal.
Refillable resort mugs are another great value. They cost $19.99 each or free if you are on the Disney Dining Plan. These are only refillable at your resort, and do not work in the parks, water parks or at Disney Springs. We would fill them up in the morning before heading to the parks. My husband and I would have coffee in the morning and then the kids would use them for soda the rest of the day. Once empty I just rinsed them and threw them in our backpack. We bought 2 for our family of 4. You get unlimited soda and coffee at the resort for one price, plus the bonus of the mugs being a take home souvenir to remember your trip!
Tip #7: BYOB
One area that can swallow a lot of the budget is beverages. You’ve got your AM coffee, your PM coffee, and maybe a soda or two throughout the day. It adds up pretty quickly. We bring our own water bottles and stock up on Crystal Lights or other water flavour enhancers to help mask the flavour of the tap water. If you don’t want to carry a water bottle with you, ask any counter service for a cup of water.
I also like to bring my Starbucks Via with me rather than buying two or three coffees a day. Again, any counter service will give you a cup of hot or cold water for free, and there is one Starbucks and a Joffrey’s in each park. When we do get a coffee in the park, we split a venti or even a trenta. We get quad shot (max caffeine, min liquid), double cup, and split it. This will save you $3-4 every time you order! If you’re getting an iced beverage, ask for light ice.
Tip #8: Budget in Treats
We aren’t ones to ever turn down trying a treat now and then! My family rule is usually one treat per trip that the kids can choose on their own (usually provided by grandparents), and then we do shared treats the rest of the time. 2 Dole Whips for the 5 of us… 1 ice cream flight for the 5 of us… that sort of thing.
Our favourite treats at Walt Disney World are:
- Dole Whip, hands down! This treat is only $5.99 and perfect for sharing. It’s not a Disney vacation without this delicious pineapple treat. Pro Tip: We recommend getting it and then enjoying it inside the Enchanted Tiki Room. (We have checked to see if this is “allowed” during COVID and the cast members are allowing it for now.)
- Churro Ice Cream Sandwich at Sleepy Hollow in Magic Kingdom.
- Beignets at Port Orleans French Quarter. We are devastated to say that the resort is currently CLOSED due to COVID, so these pillowy treats are unavailable. We are waiting for the day that they open! For now, you can enjoy them from home with our copycat recipe!
- We have always been a sucker for Ghiradelli Ice Cream. You can find this deliciousness at Disney Springs! Alternatively, Beaches and Cream at the Beach Club Resort for the “Kitchen Sink,” which serves 4 people (!)… an ice cream flight or ice cream sundae is also delicious!
There are countless snacks and treats at just about every snack stand in all of the parks. Check out the handy app for seasonal treats, and keep an eye out for a Mickey Pretzel. Heads up (unpopular opinion!), churros in WDW just aren’t the same as in Disneyland. We recommend getting this treat at the OG Park only.
Table Service Restaurant Tips
It’s hard to go to Walt Disney World and not want to eat at a FEW of the Table Service Restaurants. There are SO many great choices! If we are going to do table service, we pre-buy gift cards, save them up, and give them as gifts leading up to the trip. We did Ohana last time (a Polynesian themed all-you-care-to-enjoy restaurant) for our anniversary dinner and it was great. (To read all of those details head to the blog post Ohana: An Honest Review). Sanaa’s bread service was SO good, and we got out of there for around $30 USD for the two of us. We shared a burger and the bread service (it was SO much food guys), and drank water.
Share when it’s not a buffet. Pre-budget/plan for these meals, and factor that in when you are purchasing or ordering food for the rest of the day. It’s totally okay to pack a meal for the day so that you can really enjoy the “big” meal!
The one Table Service meal we all did when we went together was at Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom. We went for dinner and it was a wonderful memory! We even got to meet the Beast himself! (Please note, this experience is currently modified due to COVID.)
There is no lack of resources when it comes to the researching the offerings for Table Service meals both in and out of the parks. Unfortunately, we had to cancel our big trip for May 2020, and we had 13 Table Service Restaurants planned. I was really looking forward to them… hopefully we will be able to experience all of them when we (eventually) get to go back!
We hope that this post has been helpful for you, and gives you a little more peace of mind in knowing how food at Walt Disney World works!
We love hearing from you, so drop your favourite food tips in the comments!
Have a magical day!
Erica, Heidi, Elisia and Danielle