Ask Amy: Saving $ While Dining at Disney

Editor: Welcome to our newest series, “Ask Amy”! We know you have questions, so each month Amy will answer one of your questions….since we know if one person has a question, chances are others wonder the same thing. :) So read on for this month’s question….and let us know in the comments if there is something YOU would like to know for next time!

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Our Facebook Fan Hallie asked “What is the best way to save $ dining during your Disney vacation?”

Hallie – thanks for the question. Dining at Disney is one of my favorite parts of each trip (for that matter, it’s one of the favorite parts of my existence). I am here to admit it – I am that crazy person who gets up at 5:45 am at the 180 day mark to login at to the Disney website and get the reservation I want. Below are a few tips to get you started:

BYO food to the parks!
Yes, you can bring food into each park! For our travel party, that means snacks like goldfish crackers/cereal, granola bars and a few apples. We travel in August, so I’m not lugging around sandwiches or other items that might make me sweat more than I already am. We also bring in filtered water bottles to refill throughout the day. Please note there a few restrictions regarding what can be brought into the parks.

Share a meal
The portions at Disney are typically very large. At all counter service options, consider sharing a meal between two adults, or some combination of adults and kids. Even if you add on an additional drink or side, you’ll still save.

Eat at Non-Disney Restaurants at Disney
Several restaurants within the gates aren’t owned by Disney. For instance, the Landry company operates T-Rex, Yak and Yeti, and the Rainforest Café, so if you will be dining at these restaurants, see if a Landrys Select Club membership will help you save. I’ve also occasionally seen discounts for Todd English’s Blue Zoo (WDW Dolphin) at Restaurant.com.

Save even more offsite
If you are staying offsite, your accommodation may have a kitchen or at least a kitchenette. Consider a stop at a local grocery store to save some dough. Many airport car services also include a stop at a grocery store in their pricing. You might save by:

  • Eating breakfast at your hotel
  • Cooking some evening meals after long days at the parks
  • Stocking up on snacks and beverages (see more below!)

Staying on Disney property?

Cereal packs well!

You can save too, even if the Magical Express won’t pull over at Publix. If you have room in your luggage, bring a few items that won’t take up a lot of space. Microwave popcorn (assuming access to that appliance) folds flat and fits into suitcase crevices. Small cereal boxes, apples, bananas, nuts, energy bars, and yes, wine, usually make our trip.

A grocery service like Garden Grocer will bring any selected items to your hotel for a fee. I would recommend this option only if you plan to eat several meals in your rooms.

Disney Dining Plans
To book the dining plan or not… always a question. There are many variations of the Disney Dining Plan from Quick Service to Platinum and several in between.

Our family has traveled to WDW several times recently, each with the standard Dining Plan. I always wanted the all-inclusive feel of having everything paid for in advance. While we ate breakfast in our rooms most mornings, everything else all meals were covered by the plan. In 2013, we’ll be flying without a plan for several reasons:

  1. Two of the adults in our party don’t eat pork or beef and one is a vegetarian, so we’ll be ordering the cheapest items from the menu.
  2. My young son is a wiggle worm to say the least. Table service meals, even character or buffet meals, can be challenging if he’s tired from a long, hot day of fun. We’ll be traveling with my even younger and equally squirmy nephew, so with a few exceptions we’ll spend most of our time at counter service restaurants. We hope to enjoy simple dining with just a few advance reservations.
  3.  The quantity of food in an adult meal is more than we normally would eat, even on vacation.

Quick Tips:

  • If you do go with a Dining Plan…we’ve had great success asking for bottled water or packaged apples in lieu of dessert while on the Dining Plan.

Note of Caution: Many of my friends get excited when free dining is offered. Sometimes Disney offers other discounts that are better for your wallet than free dining. A good travel agent (like Nancy!) can help you crunch the numbers and see what makes the most sense.

For even more tips
Check out Nancy’s book Magical Meals: A Guide to Affordable Dining at Walt Disney World.

Share your ideas!
Now that we’ve saved some money, let us know how you’re going to splurge. For me this year, it will be a Dole Whip and dinner at Jiko in the Animal Kingdom Lodge while the kids play at Simba’s Club House. Chime in – Dining Plan or no Dining Plan? Please also share your own dining saving tips in the comments section.

Thanks again, Hallie!

Find out how the FREE services of a Disney World travel agent can make planning your Disney vacation simple and stress-free!

Amy works as a college administrator and instructor in the Philadelphia area, where she lives with her husband and two children. She visited Walt Disney World for the first time as an adult for a conference. But Amy truly caught the “Disneybug” when she traveled with her young daughter. Amy loves all things travel and especially enjoys trip preparation and strategy: trying to find the best deals, exploring new resorts and restaurants, and planning an extra something special for each trip.

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Related posts:

  1. Thrifty Thursday: Ten Ways to Save Money on Your Disney Dining
  2. Thrifty Thursday: Is the Disney Dining Plan Right For You?
  3. Disney With Little Ones: Should I Buy the Dining Plan? (Part 1)
  4. Thrifty Thursday: 3 Tips for Making the Most of Your Disney Dining Budget
  5. Thrifty Thursday: Saving on Food at Disney World
This entry was posted in Affordable Disney Vacations, Dining at Walt Disney World, Disney Vacation Planning, Disney Vacation Tips, Saving Money at Disney World, Saving Money on Food and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Ask Amy: Saving $ While Dining at Disney

  1. Holly says:

    We don’t do the dining plan, as it’s just not economical for us, but here’s how we manage our dining dollars:
    Ask for ice water instead of a beverage. It’s free.
    Purchased 1 resort mug. We don’t drink much soda, but my husband is a morning coffee drinker. The one mug worked for his morning coffee (the packets for the in-room coffee maker was gross) and an afternoon drink.
    Buy a kids meal – especially at places that have a toppings bar. You can load up on toppings to make the entree feel more grown up, but not have so much food to eat. It’s perfect.
    I use MyPoints and earn points that I trade for a Rainforest gift card. We had enough on the card to completely cover a hardy brunch – and then didn’t need to buy lunch.
    If you know your entree will be huge, opt for sides that you can easily save for a snack.

  2. Keith says:

    We always pack instant oatmeal packs,pop tarts,cereal,etc in our luggage for breakfast most mornings. We do splurge and go to a restaurant or resort for breakfast a couple times a trip. Since most if not all of the value resorts have refrigerators in the rooms now. Go to Earl of Sandwich in Downtown Disney. you can buy great quality subs for cheaper than in the parks or resorts. Stock up your fridge and eat them for lunches or when your starving from walking all day! We also don’t do the dining plan. Since we don’t have kids we don’t need to be on a “schedule” so we usually just eat at counter service anyway. Great tips Amy!!!!

  3. Hallie says:

    Thank you for the great info! We are going to WDW in a couple of weeks and I will definitly be using some of these great tips! Especially the packed wine;) My daughter is a wiggle worm too and while I would love to try BOG for dinner there is no way I would pay $ for my daughter to act wild and us have to leave. Maybe I’ll try it for lunch. I also like the filtered water bottle idea snacks in the park and resort and eating off site. I wasn’t sure which way to go with the dining plan so this helped:) thx again

    • Nancy says:

      Our pleasure Hallie! So glad that it helped! And do try BOG for lunch: we did last month and it was awesome….and your daughter will love it. :)

  4. Gaylin says:

    I have food allergies so I pack my own snack bars. I have a snack bar, 1/2 a banana and a yogurt or applesauce for breakfast. I like to start the day without sitting in a restaurant so this works for me. Also at the food court in Pop Century I can get 2 hard boiled eggs, if I know I am going to have a really busy morning, I will have those as well!

    When I have a quick service meal I will often ask for the applesauce for dessert and stick it in my backpack for the next mornings breakfast!

  5. Aimee says:

    We’ve been to WDW twice and did the dining plan both times. First time we did all counter service, which was great. With three kids and it being our first time there, we didnt’ want to worry about reservations, and honestly we took that trip on a really small budget. Second trip was just me and the hubby, and we did the basic plan so we had a sit down dinner each night. We LOVED it.
    We are going again in August with the kids (one adult, the other two teenagers now) and hubby’s parents. We did the basic plan and have a reservation for either dinner or breakfast each day. I like having everything paid for in advance, and I like knowing that we have that little block of time to take a break already built into the day.

    For us, the meal plan is a must. We will stay in a value resort to afford it :)

  6. Amy says:

    Thanks for all of the great tips and comments!

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