The Good, The Bad, and The Hungry: Saving On Food At Disney World

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

For a lot of people, eating is an important part of a vacation. And Disney World offers a lot of wonderful foods to try, from snack carts to fast food-type restaurants to a AAA Five Diamond Award winner, with dozens of different cuisines to sample. However, that food often comes at a price.

So what options do you have when you don't want to completely break the bank?

Bring Your Own Food To The Parks

Surprisingly, this is a totally legit option. Disney doesn't mind when people bring their own food in as long as there are no glass containers or alcohol. There aren't any dedicated picnic areas, but there are some good places to relax with sandwich at the parks. We don't bring full meals into the parks, but we do bring food to Disney. Unless we have special breakfasts planned (and we do have a few on this next trip), we just eat breakfast in our room (usually Pop-Tarts and fruit, because it's simple and portable), and I do usually pack a snack or two in my park bag just in case.

Annual Pass Discounts

As I mentioned in the ticket post, annual passholders can save 10-20% on select restaurants around property, both in and out of the parks.

Disney Dining Plans

The dining plans are not for everyone. If your family doesn't eat much, they're definitely not for you. But if you have a family that packs an appetite, or plan to book a lot of character meals and/or dining packages (like we are), it can definitely save you money in the long run. There are three dining plans: the Quick-Service Dining Plan (including 2 quick service meals per person per day, 2 snacks per person per day, and one refillable mug per person), the Dining Plan (including 1 quick service meal per person per day, 1 table service meal per person per day, 2 snacks per person per day, and one refillable mug per person) and the Deluxe Dining Plan (which includes three meals -- either quick service or table service, your choice -- per person per day, 2 snacks per person per day, and one refillable mug per person). The refillable mugs can only be used at resorts, but they're good for soda, coffee, tea, and hot cocoa; we've always liked filling them up on the way to the bus stop in the morning. Sometimes, the plans save you money. Sometimes they don't. Some people like them even when they don't save them money simply for the convenience. You can use a dining plan calculator, like this one, to help determine how much value we'd be getting; for our upcoming trip, choosing the dining plan will save us around $200!

nachos from La Cantina de San Angel at the Mexico pavilion at Epcot

Disney Visa Rewards Card

Chase offers the Disney Visa Rewards Card, available as both a credit card and a debit card. I actually just got the debit version a couple of weeks ago, and I'm excited to take advantage of the associated perks! One of the perks is 10% off at select dining locations, as long as you pay with your Disney Rewards Visa. These locations include:

  • Boma, Jiko, and Sanaa at Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • ESPN Sports Club and Flying Fish at BoardWalk Inn
  • Shutters at Old Port Royale at Caribbean Beach Resort
  • The Wave at the Contemporary
  • Trail's End at Fort Wilderness
  • Citricos, Grand Floridian Cafe, and Narcoossee's at the Grand Floridian
  • Olivia's Cafe at Old Key West
  • Kona Cafe at the Polynesian
  • Boatwright's Dining Hall at Port Orleans Riverside
  • Turf Club Bar & Grill at Saratoga Springs
  • Artist Point and Whispering Canyon Cafe at the Wilderness Lodge
  • Captain's Grille at the Yacht Club
  • Cape May Cafe at the Beach Club
  • Hollywood Brown Derby and Hollywood & Vine at Hollywood Studios
  • Biergarten, Coral Reef (lunch only, Le Cellier (lunch only), and Rose & Crown Dining Room (lunch only) at Epcot
  • ESPN Wide World of Sports Grill at ESPN Wide World of Sports

Tables in Wonderland

The Tables in Wonderland Card isn't available to everyone; you can only purchase it if you are a Florida resident, a Disney Vacation Club member, or an annual passholder. It costs $175 for Florida residents, and $150 for DVC and AP. There are block-out dates for certain holidays, but most days of the year, Tables in Wonderland will save you 20% on food and beverage purchases (including alcohol!) at over 100 restaurants on Disney property, as well as free valet parking. The best thing about the Tables in Wonderland discount is that it's available at quick service locations and bars as well as table service locations. The one drawback is that Tables in Wonderland does add an automatic 18% gratuity to your bill, but if you don't mind that, it can be a great way to save!

Club Cool

If you happen to be thirsty at Epcot and aren't afraid to try some unusual soft drinks, Club Cool (by the Starbucks in Future World) offers free samples of eight different Coke products around the world. Tom won't try them, but I've tried them all. Some I love, some are okay, and some I have zero interest in ever trying again. My favorite is Inca Kola from Peru! Another bonus? It's air conditioned!

Split Meals

In my experience, portion sizes at many Disney restaurants tend to be massive. There have been times when even Tom, who is hungry basically all the time, couldn't even finish all his food. I imagine that splitting at a table service restaurant may be frowned upon if you're not sharing with a toddler, but nobody cares what you do with your food at a quick service restaurants.

Think Fast

And speaking of eating at quick service restaurants, one way we saved a lot of money on our first trip was by eating almost exclusively at quick service restaurants. Portions were ample, but the prices can be significantly cheaper than table service meals.

the MASSIVE Texas bacon burger and potato wedges from Pepper Market at Coronado Springs Resort

Think Smaller

On that first trip, I ordered kids meals for many of my meals, and I never had an issue with being hungry. The cheese empanada kids meal at Cantina de San Angel at Epcot was especially filling.

Discounted Gift Cards

Again, I'm singing the praises of discounted gift cards. You can use them to pay for almost everything at Disney World, including food. I've known people who will price out the meals they want ahead of time, and put the amount they'll need on a gift card so that it's all ready to go.

I do highly recommend trying the dining options at Disney World; there are a lot of different foods to try!

For more savings:

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