Save Money on Food At Disney

by Dana S on June 19, 2012

One of our Disney Snacks

We recently made a trip down to Disney World with our three kids to celebrate recently becoming debt free. We had a blast meeting the characters and going on as many rides as the rainy days would allow us. But because our emergency fund isn’t fully funded yet, we were determined to spend as little money as we could while still enjoying ourselves.

One of the areas that we focused on saving was on food. Eating at Disney is very expensive! We ate two quick service meals at Disney which totaled over $40 each. And we had our kids split meals!

The biggest money saving tip we used was to bring in meals and snacks. This completely allowed by Disney! We packed a backpack of snacks and also brought a small cooler as well. You can store your cooler in a locker in the parks. We placed ours on the back of our stroller.

We ate breakfast and most dinners in our rental condo. We kept it very simple so that we spent little time cooking on our vacation. By packing food and eating in, we saved hundreds of dollars as well as ate healthier on our trip.

Tips: 

  1. Increase your grocery budget: Buy special treats that you normally don’t buy at home.  We also spent more on convenience items like paper plates, frozen waffles and pancakes, precooked chicken, bagged salads, etc.
  2. Budget in a few Disney brought treats: Most days we got an ice cream or another special treat at the parks. This helped us not feel deprived.
  3. Keep it cold: We froze water bottles, juice boxes and squeezable yogurts and added them to our cooler’s ice packs. This helped keep all of our food nice and cold. It was so refreshing on those hot Florida days!

What are your favorite ways to save on Disney?

 

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa June 19, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Like you, we have breakfast (cereal or granola bars) in our hotel room. For quick service meals in the parks we share, probably two meals for three of us. We even share snacks, so everybody gets to taste the treats. (Mmmm …. thinking of those glazed almonds, still warm from the kiosk heater.) For table service, we try to dine at lunchtime, which is less expensive.

When Disney offers free dining for guests who stay at Value resorts, I think that’s a great deal!

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Dana June 19, 2012 at 8:41 pm

The quick service meals are huge! You can definitely split them. Great tip!

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Rebecca June 19, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Great tips! I also find that staying in a mid-range hotel (like Hampton Inn, Best Western Plus, or Holiday Inn Express) that has a full breakfast for free with the room comes in handy on saving money on food.

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Dana June 19, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Rebecca- in addition to those free breakfasts, I was shocked at how little the rooms are! We ended up in a condo with three bedrooms for only $80 per night! Staying offsite is an awesome way to save money.

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Sherry Risley June 19, 2012 at 8:20 pm

THREE WORDS: FREE DISNEY DINING! We took advantage of this program three years running, at the end of every September. FREE MEAL PLANS, even with the least expensive rooms!! We brought breakfasts to eat in the room of instant oatmeal, cereal bars, juice, etc. as above, then the plan included two meals and a snack each day :) It is offered other times during the year…. you can google free disney dining for details!!!

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Dana June 19, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Sherry- we were going during a season of no free dining. I agree with you completely though. We noticed that the meals you get on the dining plan are HUGE and you also get dessert!

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MUGE Celik June 19, 2012 at 8:36 pm

I am planing to take my 2 kids to Disneyland Florida this winter. I am single mom and budget is very low. I am thinking winter season would be cheaper as park ticket and hotel costs and plane tickets for 3. Is that right? And also I have heard there are some time share hotels very cheap that offer free park tickets too. Is that right? Any advice? Thanks.

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Dana June 19, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Muge- if at all possible, I would try to drive. It saved us so much money. If you are on a really tight budget, stay offsite. You can find places as low as $60 per night in the off season. Look up condos to be able to use a kitchen.

I have never done the presentation thing with timeshares, but had a good friend do it. You may be able to get free tickets this way, but you need to be really tough. You won’t save yourself any money if you get a timeshare on a tig budget!

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Denice June 22, 2012 at 7:20 pm

I live in Florida (about an hour from the parks) and have done the timeshare/free ticket offer a few times. It is true… they really do give you free tickets. It takes about 90 minutes between the presentation and tour of the property and the morning tours usually offer a free breakfast. They do try to get you to purchase a timeshare but with the kids there it should be easy to get away… at the end of the 90 minutes kids are usually tired and ready to leave.

The timeshare booths offer tickets to several of the parks but if you go to Sea World – stop off at the customer service desk before leaving and ask them about the pass for a 2nd day. It’s FREE!

My other suggestion would be to stop off at a Denny’s restaurant and pick up a travel book – they’re free and right at the front door… you don’t need to dine there to get the book, they are in stands right inside the restaurant door… just jump out of the car, open the door and grab one. They are FILLED with hotel coupons. My friends and I have stayed at $80 a night hotels for $30. There are also restaurant coupons and check before you come but many restaurants in Florida offer “kids eat free” days… just 1 paying adult and you get 1 free kids meal.

And finally… there free things to do in Orlando. Just Google -“free things to do in Orlando”.

I hope that helps and enjoy Florida. Not sure when you’re coming but July & August are REALLY hot here and can make going to parks miserable. Just make sure you have plenty of water – you can bring in your own water bottles and refill at the fountains.

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Mary Kate June 19, 2012 at 9:25 pm

There is a hotel in Kissimee that has a dinette in the room. We liked it because it had a full refrigerator, plates, stove with oven and all the things you could need. We just had to buy napkins. It came with a free breakfast…so we took the napkins from down stairs. It was great. Now if I could just remember the place’s name. I would love to go back there. LOL
There was a Publix right down the road so we save tons!

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sheri grennille June 19, 2012 at 10:25 pm

with the dining plan, we combined meals – two meals for lunch, one for breakfast, supplemented with the free beverage cup from the hotel, free tea/coffee in the room. our one real tip is to always have a water bottle to refill.

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Ami Chick June 19, 2012 at 10:32 pm

We are planning our very first trip to Disneyland in December- this is a great article….but now you have me curious about a condo instead of a hotel…do you have a preference of sites that you used to find said condo? I would really love something with a full kitchen and a homelike feel since we will be there for a full week.

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Dana June 20, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Ami- I found our condo on vrbo.com

You can get a condo pretty cheap in Orlando but I am not sure about in CA. Any CA readers know if the same is true for Disneyland?

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Jason June 19, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Congrats on being debt free! And especially on staying disciplined once you got down there where it’s easy to blow a whole bunch of money. You will be so much happier and less stressed without the debt. Enjoy!

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Vickie Brammer June 20, 2012 at 1:25 pm

We are planning our first family trip to Disney sometime at the end of this year–also to celebrate paying off our home (hopefully by October). We are the weird ones who put all our extra income toward our mortgage while our friends are making (expensive) memories. Our kids are 5 and 8 and are so on board with paying off debt that they are very mindful of turning off lights, taking shorter showers, etc.

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Dana June 20, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Vickie-
That is amazing!!!! I should clarify…we are debt free except for our primary mortgage. I am praying that we can pay it off within 5years. It just blows my mind to even think that is possible. Do you have any tips or advice that helped keep you motivated?

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Mariam June 20, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Hi,I have a question how do you keep water frozen ?do you have them in a special containers or in thier own bottle which you buy them from the store?I have had hered a long time ago that when you freez bottled water ,that the material of the plastic bottle is mixed with the water .thanks

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Dana June 20, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Mariam- we let our frozen water thaw in the cooler as the day went on so that we had ice cold water later. I haven’t heard about plastic leaking into frozen water. I have heard about that happening with heating plastic though.

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Laura June 20, 2012 at 2:54 pm

One of our favorite lunches is very simple & yummy!! U can make it ahead of time & enjoy.
1 pound pasta & 1 pack tuna (4small cans)
mayo, S & P, garlic powder (if you like)
Cook your pasta, drain tuna mix all together. Add mayo & season to taste
Stick in the fridge. DONE!!
We eat ours with crackers or chips.

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DONNA June 20, 2012 at 10:30 pm

We went to Florida 4 yrs ago now, but what an awsome time we had. We saved for it so when we went over budget it wasn’t by very much. We have a family of 5 with a disabled daughter in a wheelchair. If we had stayed at a Disney hotel we would have had to have 2 rooms, $$$$. Instead we found a handicap accessible home, 4 bdrms, 3 baths, and an accessible swimming pool!! all for about $125 a night. We had to rent a special van which costs way more than your typical rental, but it allowed us to sight see and go other places too. Eating in was the best, we had breakfast every morning, almost all dinners there too and packed lunches several times and always snacks. Our daughter has special dietary needs also so the kitchen was quite handy. Nothing like a home cooked meal, even BBQ steak one night. I know some women don’t feel that cooking on vacation is a real vacation, but I much rather know that my kids are eating healthier.

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Leah June 20, 2012 at 10:42 pm

We go to Disney World several times a year (we’re there now!) and really can save a lot of money by planning our meals ahead of time. Since we fly here, we have groceries delivered to our room and stock our fridge. For breakfast, we eat fruit, granola bars, or oatmeal (which we make by running hot water through the coffee maker). We bring in peanut butter sandwiches and fruit for lunch in our bags. When we eat in the restaurants, the meals are really big, so we’ll share. We’d rather splurge on the fun treats available in the parks anyway. Instead of buying kids’ meals, we often buy an adult meal and split it between our 2 boys. This has really helped us be able to save!

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Beth Emmerich-Ilecki June 21, 2012 at 6:24 pm

I don’t know how much prices have gone up since 2008. We booked our trip with AAA We brought a suitcase full of snacks and breakfast things. We bought the meal plan at the time $40 for adults $11 for the kids. I didn’t think that was bad we did a lot of character meals. And most of the regular price was around $40 a person. The meal deal was a sit down or character,snack or drink, and a cart. We would bring ziplock bags get popcorn as a snack and split it up. We did some of our character meals as a late breakfast, so it doubled as lunch. I suggest the book Disney on a dime. It helped us so much. We bought trading pins on Ebay for cheap bought baseball hats before we left. To put our pins on. and then traded them with the cast members. We made autograph books out of Disney Fabric. I could go on and on but the trick I found and how the time I put into it really paid off for a great trip. The one thing I do suggest I found out the hard way pack a mini medicine cabinet I got very sick the first night. and any kind of meds are not cheap and small on Disney property, also pack some cup of soup packs easier than ramen it’s smaller Soup is VERY hard to find on Disney property.

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