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5 Ways to Save While Dining in Disney World

Thanks to Sami Cone for this useful list of ways to maximize your money when it comes to dining in Disney World.

You’ve saved your spare change and sold everything you could scrape up enough money to get to Disney World….but then you get there and forget you’ve got to eat! What’s a frugal family to do? In all our years of going to Disney, we’ve perfected a few tips and tricks when it comes to maximizing your money on dining. Here are just a few of our favorite tips:

Oscar's Special

1. Eat your main meal at breakfast
If you can’t go when the Disney Dining Plan is free, then be sure to schedule your main/biggest meal for a late breakfast…especially when it comes to character dining. Dining prices get increasingly expensive as the day goes on, so the earlier the better.

Typically, we bring some breakfast/snack foods with us, so our typical day of dining will look like this:
Wake Up: juice, breakfast bar & fruit in our hotel room
10:30am: Sit down breakfast
1:00pm: Snack from backpack and cold drink (we love the frozen raspberry lemonade!)
4:00: Early dinner – counter service or back at the hotel food court
Before bed: Another cold drink with our refillable mugs and another snack/fruit in our room

2. Go during a time when they’re offering the Disney Dining Plan for free
This may seem obvious, but at SamiCone.com, we’re all about helping people save where they can so they can spend where they want. So if you can make it work with your schedule, why not go to the same great place at a time when you get more for your money?

In the past, Disney has offered the Dining Plan for free during the fall (Sept/Oct), so not only are you getting free food, but you’ll be there when the weather is a little cooler and the lines are much shorter too! (Editor’s Note: This year, Disney’s has released the free dining option for August and September.)

Disney Fruit Crisps

3. Buy & Bring Disney Themed Snacks before arriving at Disney World
Half the fun of eating at Disney World is eating things with Mickey’s picture on it! So before you leave home, make sure to stock up on and pack things you can get very inexpensively (or close to free with coupons!) like Disney themed fruit snacks or Disney Crunch Pak fresh fruit. We even splurge and get some Disney Candy items (which you can often find in the dollar bins at Target) to bring with us for fun times like watching the fireworks!

4. Free Treats
While it won’t fill you up, believe it or not, there are a few places to get some free treats at Disney World! If you’re headed to Downtown Disney, make sure to swing in the retail side of the Ghirardelli Shop – you’ll get a free chocolate square!

Also, if you take the time to check out the Disney Vacation Club, not only will you get a free gift for attending the presentation (like a Disney gift card or a Magic Fast Pass), there are free drinks and refreshments while you’re waiting and the an old-fashioned ice cream shop you get to eat at before you leave…all free!

5. Save at non-Disney restaurants at Disney World
There are a select few non-Disney operated restaurants on Disney property that offer their own savings. For instance, T-Rex Café (Downtown Disney) & Rainforest Café (outside the Animal Kingdom entrance and at Downtown Disney) frequently offer free or reduced kids meals. You can also find Restaurant.com gift certificates for select restaurants inside the Dolphin & Swan hotels.

With a passion for teaching and mentoring others as her inspiration, Sami Cone began blogging in 2009 to encourage others to live their dream life and pursue their passions. A published author and seminar speaker, she draws on her experiences as a writer, editor, university professor, performer, professional athlete, and pageant winner to help women realize their full potential in life. Sami and her husband of seven years, Rick, thrive in Nashville with their two children.

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13 Comments

  1. canadianslovewdw says:

    a tip for those on free dining.. quick service meals are not broken down into adult or kids credits.. and alot of meals are big enough to share with your children. so you could get a big breakfast and a lunch and share with the little ones…

  2. Becca says:

    A couple of my favourites…

    Eat your main meal at lunch. While not as cheap as breakfast, there are still some significant savings to be had on usually the same food.

    Split entrées. Take advantage of the huge quantities of food by splitting it between two people – whether it’s at a sit-down or a counter service restaurant! There may sometimes be a small “extra plate” charge. I was always afraid of looking like a total skinflint doing this, but apparently it’s totally normal in American restaurants. We chose to disregard this tip completely on our honeymoon, and came home with an extra 30lbs of body weight between us. :(

    Bring more substantial snacks. I know Annette was quite mean about this idea on an episode of WDW Today, but if Disney are ok with me bringing a ham and cheese English muffin from Publix into the parks, then I’m ok with it. If you’re staying in a resort that doesn’t have in-room refrigerators, look into a “fridge swap” on the DIS boards or similar. It means you only end up splurging because there’s a real treat in store, rather than because you’re famished from all that walking!

  3. canadianslovewdw says:

    another one is to bring cereal from home and use a snack cred it the morning for milk…

  4. Lynne says:

    Because we feel like bottled water is a necessity, and because it is so expensive in the parks, and we don’t want to use snack credits for it, here is what we do: Costco.com sells cases of water for around $6–this includes shipping. A few days before we get to Disney, I place the order–putting as much information as possible in the shipping spaces (including or reservation #)–it was less than $8 for the case last time. Either by the day we get there, or the next, our case of water has arrived and we save a ton of money.

    My other advice for ways to save–only do counter service, split as many meals as you can, and never pay for soda–just wait until you get back to the hotel to fill the mug (drinking water instead never killed anybody).

  5. JoeyV says:

    I have found a great way to get larger portions (and somewhat better service). Say that you write for a Disney food website.

  6. JoeyV says:

    …also faking a birthday helps, too.

  7. Gabriella says:

    On our last trip we saved a lot of money on food by eating off property, mind you we had a rental car. We ate all of our snacks and lunch at Disney so we didn’t feel deprived of our Disney favorites, but went outside of the world for dinner and only spent around $30 for a family of 3!! Some of our money-saving favorites include: Pei Wei, Tijuana Flats, Whole Foods buffet, Carrabbas, Bone Fish Grill and Seito Sushi.

  8. becky says:

    I’m just curious:
    you suggest going when the dining plan is free (free is always better of course!) but I’m wondering your opinion on paying for the dining plan. good value, or better to just pay OOP while there?

  9. Sami says:

    Love all your tips, everyone!
    Becky, I personally do not believe it’s worth the money to pay for the Dining Plan (& I believe AJ will back me up on this). If you normally eat EVERY meal on property and go for the gusto, then it might be worth it…it also takes a lot of the thinking out of your dining. However, I feel like we can do better and get our money’s worth following the guidelines I laid out above. Hope that helps!

  10. Kat says:

    A chocolate square, really?

  11. Paul C says:

    Being a DVC member, we save money by ordering groceries (we use Garden Grocer). With a full kitchen in the 1 and 2 bedrooms, it saves a lot having breakfast in your hotel room. If you stay in a treehouse at Saratoga Springs, you can even BBQ.

    Also, the dining plan works for us. With an 11 yr old son who is a big eater and twin 7 yr old girls, the four of us love planning the restaurants as much as the park trips. When paying for the dining plan it’s best to price it out to see if it works for you.

  12. canadianslovewdw says:

    another good tip. is to take those little packets of instant lemonade or gatorade or what ever you family prefers.. then just ask for a large ice water and mix it up.. especally good if like me you go mostly in august…

  13. Figment says:

    We were lucky enough to land Free Dining for our trip December 1st – 9th 2009. It was totally unbelievable how much money we saved. Snack credits were mostly spent for breakfast items, although we did find our favorite snack EVER at the Writer’s Stop – the carrot cake cookie sandwich. At counter service restaurants, we often found that we were too full to eat our desserts, so we made sure we got wrapped ones and carried them around until we felt hungry. For full service, we darn near stuffed ourselves – and we used 2 credits for Cinderella’s Royal Table. Hands down, best cost saving trip ever.

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