Archive for the ‘WDW Dining’ Category

Disney Detours – Budgeting Disney, Part Five: Dining

August 21, 2009

Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Planning out a Disney vacation filled with bargain meals.

By Blake

Originally posted August 21, 2009.

Eating at Walt Disney World can often be a hassle. There’s the Disney Dining Plan to consider, reservations to make months in advance, and dozens of eateries to choose from within Disney’s property.

So, how do you budget your food while at Walt Disney World? If you watch your money, it can be easier than you might think.

First of all, let’s go ahead and get the Disney Dining Plan out of the way. The DDP is an optional program that, for one solid price a day (which usually begins in the $45 range), includes one counter-service meal, one table-service meal, and one snack per person, per day. (That’s the basic DDP – other options just get more expensive from there.) Although the DDP is a bargain if you’re already planning on eating at one table-service restaurant a day, it’s not that great of a value if you’re intending to stick to counter-service venues. When the DDP is offered for free (which is generally in the fall), it’s an entire different story. Definitely go for it if it’s free, but otherwise if you’re conscious about where your money is going, don’t use it.

Going without any table-service restaurants in Walt Disney World can be tough, and usually during my family’s trips we do tend to squeeze in a few sit-down meals. I really do enjoy them, but they get a bit expensive to be eating at one EVERY day of vacation. Generally during a week-long stay, my family dines at three table-service restaurants over the course of our trip.

Except for the days when you might have a breakfast reservation (like a character meal), plan on eating some breakfast brought from home. Although it’s certainly the most important meal of the day, when you add it up it’s a whole lot cheaper to bring some snacky breakfast foods along with you than to purchase breakfast every day in Disney. Peanuts, protein bars, muffins, and crackers are ideal for eating in your resort room or taking on the go to eat later in the parks.

So, you have your food to eat for breakfast at your resort, but what are you going to drink? Disney resorts sell refillable mugs, which are a great value whether you plan on being at your resort a lot or not. With a refillable mug, guests can help themselves to unlimited free refills for any drink at their resort’s “beverage island” through the end of their Disney vacation. The mugs sell for about $14 and have a special Disney design on them featuring favorite characters.

Although refillable mugs are only valid for free refills in your resort, once you get to the parks, there’s another super value for your drinks. In fact, it’s such a value that’s it’s free! Guests that head to any counter-service eatery in the Disney parks can ask for a complimentary cup (not bottle) of water. It sure does beat spending $3-$4 per person to get a soda (save that for your refillable mug when you get back to your resort). If a given eatery for some reason cannot supply you with water, Cast Members there can at least give you cups of ice that you can fill up with water at the nearest drinking fountain. Simply drinking free water can save a hoopla of money when you look at the big picture!

It can be easy to come back from a vacation and wonder where all of the money went to. An efficient way to save a little (or a lot) more cash is to give each member of your family their own specific food envelope. Since breakfast won’t be included in the envelope (because you’re bringing breakfast from home), $20 is a fair amount to put in each person’s envelope per day of the trip. That’s (give or take) enough money for two counter-service meals and a snack. This system worked terrifically on my family’s last trip to Disney, especially for the children in the group. Since they felt like they were spending their own money, they were very more conscious about where it went!

Instead of giving everyone their entire week’s supply of food money at once, give each person was given $20 for their envelope at the beginning of each day. If you hav money left over in your envelope at the end of the day, add to the next day’s eating money (but NOT to spending money). Additionally, on the days you have a table-service meal planned, look at that meal’s pricing ahead of time and give that meal its own specific envelope with the family total in it (instead of taking the money from everyone’s individual envelope). Keep in mind that reservations for table-service meals can be made 180 days in advance (in place October 27, 2009).

Even when it’s budgeted like that, $20 for food can be gone fast if you don’t pay close attention. Typically an adult meal at a counter-service restaurant starts at around $8-$9. If you’re running low on your daily food money and still have a meal left, try a kid’s meal for a surprisingly terrific value. For $4.99 (plus tax), a kid’s meal includes a main food (which is usually chicken tenders, macaroni, pizza, or something similar), two sides (carrot sticks, grapes, a cookie, or applesauce), and a drink (1% milk, a small soda, chocolate milk, a juice box, or a small bottled water). That’s quite the deal! Even better, most of the time you won’t notice that you’re eating a child-sized meal. Although the pizza is considerably smaller than an adult’s size, most of the other options are very reasonably sized. Additionally, go for the healthier sides when they’re offered. It’s probably one of the only healthy foods you’ll have during your vacation!

To change things up a little bit from the typical fast-food menu, try eating at one of the counter-service dining spots in one of Epcot’s World Showcase countries or Flame Tree BBQ at Animal Kingdom. Some of the best values that are likely to please any member of the family include Pinocchio Village Haus at Magic Kingdom, Electric Umbrella in Epcot’s Future World, Sunset Ranch Market at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Pizzafari at Animal Kingdom.

Visit Epcot for some unique foods at each of World Showcase’s countries. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Where snacks are concerned, the cheapest options are at the small snack stands that are found in many locations throughout Walt Disney World. These are home to one of the Disney standards, Mickey Mouse ice cream bars. They also sell delicious chocolate-covered frozen bananas and other desserts.

However, there are some other wonderful (though slightly more pricey) snacks that you might want to set aside some of your daily food money for. The Magic Kingdom is home to some of the best snacks in all of Walt Disney World, including the crowd favorite Dole Whip, a tasty ice cream-like snack at Adventureland’s Aloha Isle. (Try the swirl for a vanilla/pineapple combo that’s excellent to enjoy on the adjacent shaded benches or in the nearby canopy area.) Another Magic Kingdom favorite snack is the ice cream cookie sandwich at Sleepy Hollow in Liberty Square, consisting of two scoops of vanilla ice cream placed in-between two huge chocolate-chip cookies – it’s fantastic! (Try to enjoy your Dole Whip or ice cream cookie sandwich at night or in the shade – they melt fast in the sun!) At Epcot, each country has special snacks in World Showcase. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, some delicious deserts like caramel apples can be found in Starring Rolls Café just after turning onto Sunset Blvd. from Hollywood Blvd.

Even without the Disney Dining Plan, if you take the time to plan out where your money is going, bring some food from home to eat for breakfast, purchase a refillable mug to use at your resort, ask for free cups of water in the parks, and set aside each family member their own food money envelope, dining at Walt Disney World can indeed be budgeted and reasonable. I would advise future Disney guests to visit AllEars.net’s excellent selection of Disney menus to get an idea of where you might like to dine during your vacation. Find some eateries that will please your family and keep a close eye on your money. And enjoy your Dole Whip!

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By Blake; posted August 21, 2009. All images belong to Blake’s family.