June 12, 2012

Eating Well At Disney World Without Going Broke


Disney Dessert

One of the biggest complaints when it comes to travel is how much food and beverages cost when you’re a captive audience. Disney World dining is not immune from these discussions. It actually goes beyond travel to pretty much any instance when you’re forced to buy their food. So it’s not just airports, hotels, theme parks and the like. Add to it movie theaters, sporting events, museums and the like.

While people sometimes do their best to smuggle things in, when you’re on vacation it’s not always easy. And while I have my own opinion on that, as do many others, what I though I would do is give a few tips on how to keep your budget in check when it comes to eating while at Disney World.

For those with food allergies and sensitivities, you’re in luck! Disney World dining is one place that takes the dietary needs of its guests seriously. So much so, there is an entire department that handles the thousands of inquiries they get every month; their online dining reservation system is set up to manage those dietary requests; and the cast members making dining reservations on the phone are well versed in ensuring a guests food needs are noted. Whether you’re a parent with a child that has food allergies or sensitivities, it’s your own dietary concern or you make food choices for religious or personal reasons, Disney has you covered.

When it comes to Disney World dining , the following tips are ones I’ve found to be helpful for my family not only to manage our food and beverage budget but also in managing our food consumption. Even though it’s a vacation and I’ll be walking 854 million miles a day, I still try not to overdo it.

1. Stay hydrated – Disney provides guests with many drink options, all of which come at a price. I’m a water-drinker and I’ve found that instead of buying bottled water I can get a cup of ice and get water at the drink fountain, free of charge. I’m ok with how that water tastes, but I know some may not. I often bring in my own bottled water, too, because I will drink several each day. Disney does permit guests to bring in non-alcoholic beverages. They do not permit glass containers though. And if you’re at Epcot, stop by Club Station Cool (in Future World) and sample a variety of Coca-Cola soft drinks from around the world, FREE! I don’t usually drink soda, but this is my one exception. A trip to Disney World without my Beverly just wouldn’t be the same!

2. Bring your own food – as long as it doesn’t need to be heated up, Disney won’t balk at you bringing in your own food. You can’t take in wheeled coolers but if you’re willing to carry your stuff around or put it in one of the small lockers, it’s all good. Again, nothing in glass containers. The only exception is baby food jars. You can take in snacks, a picnic lunch or even heartier fare for dinner. But avoid anything that could spoil because that’s not magical.

3. Share meals – Many of the quick service (fast casual) restaurants offer large portions. At the prices they’re charging, Disney knows they need to offer a good value. Some places offer better values than others, so you should check out the different dining options based on the foods you like. At Magic Kingdom, we like Cosmic Rays because we can buy 2 adult meals and share them among the 3 of us since BabyGirl is not particularly fond of the kid menu offerings. At Epcot there are so many options in World Showcase. One of our favorites is Tangerine Cafe, in Morocco. The food is plentiful and so tasty that we often can’t finish 2 adult meals among the three of us. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom it’s Flame Tree BBQ, hands down! Although The Yak & Yeti quick serve cafe is a very close second.

4. Dine in for Lunch – if you’re wanting to try some of the fantastic restaurants in and around Disney but think spending $80 per person for dinner is a bit much, try going at lunchtime. Many of the restaurants offer less expensive, but still similar to dinner, lunch menus at a fraction of what dinner would cost. Skip the soda and maybe share and you’re getting the best on a budget.

5. Manage Your Snacks – for those on the Dining Plan, there is a snack allotment and that usually lets people have some treats without going overboard. Do the same even if you’re not on the dining plan. Rather than just grab a snack every time you smell the churros, popcorn, or cotton candy or pass an ice cream cart or the Dole Whip stand at Magic Kingdom, plan ahead. If each person in your party is given a certain number of snack ‘credits’ it’s easier to manage not only the budget but also what they eat. I know people who have gone to Disney and have lived on snack foods, but I wouldn’t suggest that.

For many people going to Disney is something that is planned for many months in advance. It’s easy to thrown down the credit card each time you want something to eat. It’s getting back home and opening that bill weeks later to realize you’ve spent several hundreds of dollars each day on food that can suck the magic out of your trip faster than you can say Zip-a-Dee-Do0-Dah.

You can have a great Disney Vacation without having to eat protein bars for every meal. It takes a little planning, but like all your Disney trip planning you’ll be well rewarded.

If you have other tips, please share them. We all do Disney a little differently and it’s great to know how others make the most of their Disney vacation.


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