At the Disney Food Blog, we are obviously HUGE fans of dining at the Walt Disney World restaurants. But there may be times when, due to budgetary, medical, religious, or other restrictions you may want or need to bring your own food into the parks with you. Here are 13 typical questions and answers about having non-Disney food at Disney.
Am I allowed to bring my own food and/or beverage into the parks?
Yes, with limited exceptions.
Exceptions? What exceptions?
The Walt Disney World website states that you are not permitted to bring alcoholic beverages or glass containers into the parks. Glass baby food jars are allowed.
But what about the security check points?
They’re looking for weapons and things of that nature. They will not question your consumables unless they’re alcohol or in a glass container.
In my many hundreds of park admissions, the only item I’ve ever personally seen confiscated at the security checkpoint was a bottle of Heineken, which obviously failed both the alcohol and glass tests.
There are no limits on the quantity of food I can bring in the parks? Really?
It’s correct that there are no specific limits on how much food you can bring with you into the parks. You’re not limited to just snacks or just a water bottle; a full lunch of sandwiches, fruit, dessert, etc. is fine.
However (and this is a big however), there ARE limits on the size of the container you can use to carry your food into the park. No box, cooler, bag, or other container larger than 24″ x 15″ x 18″ is allowed into the parks as a food receptacle, or for any other purpose. This means that you’ll have to leave that giant Coleman you use for tailgates at home.
Also, other than strollers, you may not bring any wheeled conveyances into the parks. This means no rolling coolers or wagons to transport lots of smaller coolers.
What types of food have you brought into the parks?
Nearly every time I enter a Disney theme park, I’m carrying some sort of beverage: water bottle, Diet Coke, or juice box for the kids. When my children were small, I always brought baggies filled with their favorite munchables like Goldfish and Cheerios.
I have a friend whose son has severe allergies; she brings entire meals for him when she visits the parks.
Have you ever had any problems with this?
Nope. Not once. Really.
Any ideas about what I should use to carry my food in?
In my experience, I’ve seen guests have the most success with soft-sided insulated bags. These could be either the single lunch, six-pack-size for individuals or back-pack or diaper-bag-size for families.
Hard-sided coolers, even small ones, add extra weight and are more difficult to maneuver. A quick spin on Amazon shows the smaller size soft coolers starting at about $10.00 and the larger ones starting at about $20.00.
Another bonus if you’re flying is that you can fold soft coolers for transport or use them to corral wet swimsuits for the trip home.
Do I have to haul my food around with me all day?
You have two options: carry your food with you or leave it in a locker. If you’re just toting drinks and snacks, then you’ll want to keep those with you in your personal purse or backpack. You never know when hunger will strike.
However, a full meal can get a bit heavy to haul around in the heat all day. If you have a stroller, you could leave your cooler there (always take valuables with you). If you don’t have a stroller, then your best bet is to store your lunch in a locker.
Lockers are available at the front of all four Disney theme parks and both water parks. Additional lockers are available at the back International Gateway entrance at Epcot. Bear in mind that lockers are not free. Prices do change, but currently a large locker will set you back about $5.00 per day ($10.00 up front payment, with a $5.00 refund when you return the key.)
Another caveat about lockers is that you may be faaaaaar away from your food when it’s time to eat. It’s a long, long walk from Epcot’s World Showcase when you’re starving and your food is at the front of the park.
How do I prevent my food from spoiling?
It’s no secret that Walt Disney World can be hot, hot, hot. If you have anything perishable, you’ll want to make sure that you have the means to keep it cool under challenging circumstances.
Start with cold ingredients and the insulated bag. If you’re staying at accommodations with a freezer, you can freeze gel packs, water bottle, or juice boxes and pack them in with the perishables. If you don’t have access to a freezer, then you’ll need to use ice. All of the Disney resort hotels have ice machines, and the in-park counter service restaurants will provide you with cups of ice for free. If you’re using ice as your cooling mechanism, be careful to keep it in several layers of well-sealed plastic (ziplock within a ziplock within a ziplock). There’s nothing worse than soggy sandwich.
On a related note, all of the Disney moderate and deluxe hotels include a dorm-sized refrigerator (these are available for rental at the value resorts). In many cases, these refrigerators contain a small freezer compartment — just about big enough to hold a box of frozen waffles, or a few freezer gel packs. However, the Caribbean Beach Resort refrigerator on my recent stay had no freezer compartment, so don’t count on this being available for you.
Is there some place to heat the food I’ve brought with me into the parks?
By law, the Disney restaurants are not allowed to handle food given to them by outside parties. This means that they won’t warm your baby’s bottle or heat his strained peas. Nor can the Disney restaurants puree guest-provided food, even for medical reasons.
There are a few work-arounds to this. Each park has a baby care center where you can use a microwave or hot water to warm food for little ones. If you have more substantial heating needs, head to a nearby resort. Each of the Disney-owned resorts has a counter service restaurant equipped with a microwave and toasters. You are welcome to use these devices to heat your own food.
For example, if you’re at the Magic Kingdom and you want to heat up a can of soup that you’ve provided yourself, go to any of the monorail resorts (you can even walk to the Contemporary Resort) and use the counter-service facilities there.
Where can I eat the food I’ve brought?
Anywhere you like. Stop on a bench and pull out your snack. Or if you have a full meal, you’re welcome to eat at any table at a counter service restaurant, indoors or out.
I like eating at the outdoor tables near Casey’s in the Magic Kingdom. There’s great people watching and a view of the Castle.
Will bringing my own food really save me money?
In a word, yes. Certainly you’ll save money on water, soda and snacks if you bring your own. Again, prices can change, but Disney is currently charging somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.50 for a bottle of water or Coke. You can often get five or six bottles of water for this same price if you’re shopping “off campus.”
Similarly, a counter-service sandwich at most in-park restaurants will run about $8.00-$9.00. For that price, you can make PB&J for the entire gang.
Will my kids feel deprived/disappointed if they’re not eating Disney food?
My philosophy here is “what they don’t know won’t hurt them.” If you don’t talk about dining with the princesses in the Castle, then chances are that your kiddos won’t even be aware that this exists. If they don’t know it’s there, then they won’t be disappointed.
Check the park maps and steer them away from the pricey restaurants. However, it’s all but impossible to keep kids from seeing the in-park snack items. Mickey bar carts and popcorn are on every corner. My personal approach here would be to let the kids share an in-park snack item or let them have one item of their choosing over the course of your stay. With any luck this will keep the whines to a minimum.
NOTE: This information is for the Disney World theme parks in Orlando, Florida.
Have you had any experiences with bringing your own food into the parks? Let us know your tips and tricks in the comments section below!