We love everything about Disneyland and Disney World. Everything, that is, except the high prices on food and dining. Here are 10 tips to help you save $100 a day on food and dining at Disney parks.
1. Pack Your Own Snacks. Pack an assortment of lunchbox-type snacks, and you’ll save $5 to $15 a day by not buying Disney-themed popcorn, cotton candy, churros or ice cream. Choose sturdy items, such as cookies, goldfish crackers, pretzels, granola bars and apples. Avoid soft fruits like bananas and heat-sensitive foods such as cheese sticks. For grapes, use a hard plastic container instead of a plastic bag. To save the most, make your own snack-size treats by dividing a larger package into single-serving sandwich bags. The bags will come in handy later for saving things like those carrot sticks someone didn’t finish at lunch.
Savings: $5 – $15/day
2. Pack Your Own Water Bottle. A bottle of water at Disneyland will run you $2 – $5. Sodas can top $7 if you opt for the fancy Buzz Lightyear or Tinker Bell cup. Take a re-usable water bottle and fill it from any faucet or drinking fountain. For flavor, pack individual-size drink mix packets such as those by Crystal Light. If your water bottle has a wide mouth, ask for a cup of ice when you buy your lunch to help keep your drink cold.
Savings: $5 – $15/day
3. Stay at a Hotel With Free Breakfast. Many Disneyland and Disney World hotels offer free breakfast with your stay. At places like the Hilton, you’ll have a sumptuous, hot buffet with omelets, bacon, sausage, pastries, waffles, fresh fruit and much more. At 2-to-3-star places, the offerings range from a cup of bad coffee and a sticky, mass-produced Danish to a respectable spread that includes cereal, toast, yogurt, eggs, bagels and cream cheese, diced ham or sausage patties and make-them-yourself Belgian waffles. Do your research carefully by reading the user comments on hotel booking sites. These comments often specify what’s available for breakfast.
Savings: $15 – $30/day
4. Save the Sit-Down Restaurants for Lunch. If you’d like to enjoy some of the nicer Disney restaurants, such as The Blue Bayou in Disneyland or the Rose and Crown in Disney World, make your reservation for lunch instead of dinner. Lunch menus offer similar items for 20% – 50% less than dinner prices.
Savings: $5 – $20/day
5. Clip Coupons for Chain Restaurants. Watch the paper or search the Web for discounts at chain restaurants. Use the coupons to eat a late dinner after you’ve left the park, or an early dinner when the kids have woken up from an afternoon nap. For instance, I’ll be at Disneyland next month, and I have coupons for Buca di Beppo, IHOP, Black Angus, Red Lobster and several others. Also, Restaurant.com frequently offers a $25 discount voucher for House of Blues in Anaheim’s Downtown Disney. You can get the voucher for just $2 if you do a Web search for the best discount code. Other restaurant choices are available as well.
Important Note: When using discounts in full-service restaurants, it’s appropriate to tip on the full, undiscounted amount of your bill.
Savings: $4 – $22 per day
Tip: Save your parking receipt. If you leave the Disney parks for a meal, you won’t have to pay to park again as long as you have your receipt.
6. Order the Kids’ Meal. Whether you’re at a fast food place or a sit-down restaurant, order the kids’ meal for yourself as well as the kids. At the fast food places, this is no problem at all. At the sit-down restaurants, it may only work if one of your children orders something off the grown-up menu. My son adores the Monte Cristo sandwich at Disneyland’s Blue Bayou, which is $24.99 at lunch. Me, I had seared salmon with Parmesan noodles off the kid’s menu for $8.99, a savings of $24 over the $32.99 adult salmon entree.
Savings: $5 – $24/day
7. Share! If you splurge on a churro, divide it two or three ways. Get one order of fries for the table instead of one per person. Portions at Disney’s cafeteria-style and sit-down restaurants are large, so feel free to split an entree and share a dessert. At Storytellers Cafe in Disneyland’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, my son and I shared a huge burger and a bowl of chicken corn chowder for less than the cost of two fast food meals. The server split the soup for us and brought an extra plate for no extra charge (thus earning himself a bit extra in the tip!).
Savings: $2 – $15/day
8. Consider an Annual Pass. If you visit a Disney park more than two or three days a year, consider an annual pass. Dining discounts for annual passholders range from 10% to 15%. Annual passholder discounts are good in Downtown Disney restaurants as well as in the Disney parks.
9. Use Your Savings for a Little Splurge. Keep a mental tally of how much you’ve saved during your visit. Use your savings for a small splurge at least once on your trip. Share a giant sundae or get caramel apples on the way out of the park. Or, you can give each child a $3 to $5 limit for a toy or a treat.
Savings: Making a treat all the more special because it’s the highlight instead of the norm.
10. Enlist the Kids. Explain beforehand that food at the Disney parks is very expensive, and you won’t be buying things like sodas, popcorn or cotton candy. Knowing this in advance goes a long way toward preventing that “I-want-ice-cream-now” tantrum. Also let them know that you’ll be sharing some of the savings at the end of the trip. Encourage children age seven and up to notice prices. Ask if that seems like a fair price for the item in question, or if there’s something they would rather have with that amount of money. As an example, my son and I considered sharing a dessert during our lunch at the Storytellers Cafe. When I pointed out that desserts cost $8 or more, and we could share a churro for less than $4 or buy a small Lego toy instead, my son immediately chose the churro.
Savings: You went to a Disney park, saved a bunch of money and gave your kids lessons in money management? Priceless.
Blue Bayou Menus
Storytellers Cafe Menus