After years of thinking about it, you have finally decided to take your dream vacation to Walt Disney World. You are prepared to spend the money on getting to the resort and into the parks, but have you accounted for meals? Food is the biggest cost of a Disney visit, just after transportation and tickets. Dining at Walt Disney World is great for you, not for your wallet.
You can save on your dining experiences at Walt Disney World, and the more time you are willing to put into preparation and planning the more you can save. The two biggest ways to save are to eat at counter-service restaurants and to bring in your own food.
If you plan to eat in the parks save your table dining experience for one or two meals and look for more wallet-friendly options. There are cheaper restaurant options at each park if you do not mind carrying a tray of food and eating outside. One tip that will save you a lot: there are no age restrictions on ordering children’s menus at most counter service restaurants.
1. Magic Kingdom – Cosmic Ray’s Cafe
Some of the cheaper options at the Magic Kingdom include Cosmic Ray’s Cafe, a large counter-service restaurant between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland that serves the typical fast-food fare. Probably the cheapest meal is a chicken Caesar salad with toppings of your choice. But if you skip the chicken, you salad will be even cheaper. Cosmic Ray’s also offers the option of chicken meals that feed two or three.
2. Tomorrowland – Lunching Pad
The Lunching Pad in Tomorrowland is a wonderful place to grab a quick meal or snack. For less than $15 you get a huge gourmet hot dog covered in toppings that is big enough to qualify as a meal.
3. Frontierland – Pecos Bill Cafe
Eating a whole turkey leg is a Disney World tradition, and it is a frugal meal option. Turkey Leg Carts are mobile carts that are usually found in Frontierland. These carts sell delicious (and large) smoked turkey legs, during the summer they also sell roasted ears of corn. One turkey leg provides a decent portion for two adults. Egg roll and noodle carts are one of the newer options at the Disney parks and offer another cheap, portable meal option.
Pecos Bill Cafe in Frontierland is a good option for those wishing to fill their stomachs without spending a fortune. Entrees at Pecos Bill are in the $8-12 range and after a visit to the toppings bar can qualify as a full meal. Several of the entrees are large enough for an adult and child to share.
4. EPCOT – Sunshine Seasons
The EPCOT resort is the paradise for foodies! EPCOT boasts everything from your typical American Burger to exotic vegetarian dishes, some for as little as $5. Some of the best places to eat on a budget are:
Sunshine Seasons, a cafeteria-gone-gourmet located in The Land pavilion. Your family can eat really good, really fresh food for around $10 per person. The best values are the kid’s meals, which include a hot or cold entree, a drink, veggie, and two snacks, all for around $6. Those with sophisticated palates will enjoy the exotic salads and seafood dishes.
5. Epcot’s China – The Lucky Combo
Each country in the World Showcase offers its own version of a fast-food restaurant with affordable food, both traditional and surprising. The Lucky Combo at the Joy of Tea shop just outside of China is a favorite! For around $10 you get a meal complete with a drink and ice cream. This is also a prime spot to watch the acrobat show in the China Pavilion without the hassle of being part of the crowd.
6. Morocco – Tangerine Cafe
The Tangerine Cafe in Morocco is another great place to eat. In addition to delicate pastries, you can purchase a large platter for under $15, that’s perfect for sharing. The Tangerine Cafe offers covered seating, which is great when the summer showers start. Try to eat here while the outside entertainment is happening and you’ll be treated to a show with your meal! The Tangerine Cafe is also a great option if you follow a vegetarian diet.
If you are going to visit EPCOT during the Food and Wine Festival, you’re exceptionally lucky to get cheap food. Around the World Showcase, you’ll find booths set up with food options from hundreds of countries around the world, with portions starting at just $2.
7. Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Yak & Yeti
When you visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom your options for affordable food are a bit slimmer than at the other parks but no less delicious. In addition to turkey leg and egg roll carts, you have several counter service options.
The Yak & Yeti counter service, just outside the restaurant of the same name in Anadapur, offers Asian favorites with portions suitable for two people. Eating here at night is a special treat as there are a DJ and free dance lessons.
8. Dino World – Pizzafari
A family-favorite is Pizzafari, located in Dino World. A pizza here can easily serve 2 small kids and includes a side salad, ask to skip the salad and it’s even cheaper.
9. Hollywood Studios – Backlot Express
Hollywood Studios offers The Backlot Express and the ABC Commissary for frugal dining options. The Backlot Express is located near the play area and offers sandwiches. The ABC Commissary is a television-themed counter service restaurant that offers more exotic entrees, like curried chicken, as well as family favorites like chicken nuggets.
10. Tables in Wonderland
For those who plan to purchase most meals on property take a look at the Disney Dining Plan. There are several plans available but they all work the same and allows guests who stay at a Disney hotel to pre-purchase meals and drinks at a discounted rate. Florida residents and annual pass holders can purchase Tables in Wonderland, an annual program that gives you dining discounts. Both options are available for purchase by calling the Walt Disney World resort.
11. Outside Food and Drink
The best way, by far, to save money on eating at Walt Disney World is to bring your own food. Walt Disney World is quite liberal with their policy of bringing in outside food and drinks. You can bring in anything you want, as long as nothing needs to be heated, aren’t in glass containers, and are non-alcoholic. You are allowed to bring a soft-sided cooler to store your food.
Bringing in just one meal, or snack, each day can save you a lot of money but carrying your food can be a bit of a burden, especially if you’re bringing in multiple meals. There are ways to make the experience easier, try some of these tips:
- Eat one (or two) meals at home. Go to the parks after breakfast and lunch, or plan an early day and eat dinner in your hotel room.
- Plan your meals around what you want to see that day. If you want to stay for fireworks eat big buffet breakfast at a restaurant and pack your own food for lunch and dinner. If you want to get to the park for early opening you can bring some granola bars for breakfast, treat yourself to a counter-service lunch and return home for dinner.
- Bring food that is easy to carry in one or two backpacks. If you don’t want to carry your food you can rent a locker at the park entrance. Locker rental isn’t free but it’s much cheaper than buying a restaurant meal.
- Ideally, you want to pack food that doesn’t need to stay cold, but that’s not always possible or desirable. In the summer ice packs simply can’t keep your food cool for more than an hour or two, so make it a point to eat cold foods early in the day. TIP: put your ice packs in a plastic zipper bag to avoid damaging your autograph books and maps.
- Sliced baguettes, crackers, wraps and dinner rolls travel better than loaf bread and sandwiches. Bring a small container of peanut butter or hummus to spread on the bread. In cooler weather chicken or tuna salad is a filling topping.
- If you want to pack sandwiches consider packing wraps, lunch meat, and cheese separately. If you freeze the meat and cheese you can pack it in plastic and it will thaw as you visit the park, just be sure to eat it when it’s still cold. Another good sandwich option is a BLT wrap, individually wrapped in plastic and stored in a lunch bag with an ice pack on top.
- Pasta salad is very filling and a good way to bring your veggies to the park. You can eat it right out of a plastic zipper bag, without carrying plastic containers.
- Cut veggies with hummus for dipping is a good snack choice and it doesn’t need to stay cool unless the day is very hot. A jar of nuts, dried fruit, and vegetable chips are all healthy snacks to eat on the go.
- Do not buy bottled water. Save your cash by filling empty bottles at water fountains. To save even more weight in your backpack, opt for paper cups. You can also ask for empty water cups at counter service restaurants. For variety bring single-serve drink mix packets.
A Walt Disney World vacation is sure to be a magical experience! Thanks to the many dining options available, and Disney’s relaxed stance on outside food, your vacation eating can be affordable!