With the Disney World Parks officially reopened, we’ve got dining on our minds.
Just a short while after announcing the reopening of the theme parks, Disney canceled all upcoming Advance Dining Reservations and Disney Dining Plan packages. This came as a bit of a shock. For some of us the Disney Dining Plan is a way of budgeting dining expenses before a trip, so HOW do we save money on Disney dining now? Fear not, we’re here to help. We’ve got a TON of NON-Dining Plan savings tips in the post below.
But if you’re headed to Disney World soon and need more guidance about where and what to eat, how to save precious vacation dollars, what events to consider, reviews for every restaurant, and more, we’ve got all of that for you in the DFB Guide to WDW Dining e-Book we publish!
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OK — here we go to the BIG TIPS!
First up, consider eating offsite. Yes, we love Disney food (obvs), but Disney restaurants are VERY expensive. Don’t feel like you’re trapped dining IN Disney World when you could dine NEAR Disney World.
Eating offsite is very likely to cost you less, even for food of similar quality and portion size. Take a look at nearby restaurants and consider spending dinnertime off property once or twice. Your wallet will thank you. If you didn’t drive to Disney World in your own vehicle, you can use a rideshare service like Lyft or Uber to easily get to any restaurant you like!
Split Your Meals
If you DO dine in a Disney restaurant, remember that those portions are often HUGE. We usually consider them large enough to share whether you’re at a fast food or a sit-down table service spot. For those of us who don’t eat as much, sharing is often a no-brainer.
Some places have absolutely MASSIVE platters like Flame Tree Barbecue in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Not sure if you’ll be able to share? Scope out dishes that other guests are ordering or ask a Cast Member about the portion size prior to ordering. OR check out our reviews here on Disney Food Blog to see the actual portion size!
At some table service locations, Cast Members will even plate a shared meal separately so that it feels like you’re each getting your own portion. Be wary though, sometimes splitting isn’t accommodated so ask your server if that’s an option.
Don’t Get Sides You Don’t Want
This next one is a SUPER easy savings tip but it’s also one that a lot of people don’t know about. When you’re ordering at a quick-service restaurant you can get most things a la carte. Don’t want that side of mac and cheese? Ask for your meal without it! Think that that sandwich will fill you up on its own? Forego the sides!
When you skip out on sides you don’t want, your meal will usually cost less. This is a great tip for those with picky eaters in their family. If you don’t think you or a kiddo will end up eating part of the meal, don’t waste your money paying for it! On the flip side, you can always fill up on a few a la carte sides instead of a full meal if you aren’t too hungry!
Order Off the Kids’ Menu at Quick Service Locations
Speaking of kids, did you know that they’re not the ONLY ones who get all the fun of ordering off the kids’ menu? At quick-service (fast food) locations, typically anyone can order from the kids’ menu! Yep, that means you, Mom and Dad.
Remember what we said about portion sizes? Kids’ portions are usually big enough for an adult and if you have a big meal coming up later, chowing down on a kids’ meal is a great way to hold you off until then. Plus, kids get some AWESOME options like the Cheeseburger Pods at Satu’li Canteen!
(FYI — At table service, your experience will vary. Sometimes a server will be able to bring you a larger, adult-sized portion of a kids’ menu item if you don’t care for anything on the adult menu, but it likely will cost the same as a full-sized adult entree. So there are probably no money savings from a table-service kids’ menu perspective, but you can always ask!)
Bring Your Own Food
Another option is to bring your own food! Of course, you don’t need to DIY EVERY meal but it can be a really nice pick-me-up for your wallet if you eat in or picnic sometimes.
If you know you’ve got a big lunch planned in the parks, eat breakfast in your hotel room. Pack or pick up some cereal or granola bars to get that burst of energy before you head to the parks — without dishing out any extra cash.
You can take this tip even further, too! Grab some snacks to take into the park so that you can pay for fewer meals or share entrees when you DO eat at a Disney World restaurant. If you’re worried about being able to pack food, you can use a grocery delivery service such as Instacart or Amazon Prime Now to deliver goodies to your hotel.
You can even bring a picnic into the Disney parks (just remember — last year Disney issued new rules concerning bringing coolers and ice in the parks. Click here to brush up on all the new rules.)!
If you stay in a Disney Vacation Club Villa or other location with a kitchen, you can even cook your own meals. Just remember, if you want a kitchen in your Disney World hotel, things might get pricey. Weigh out the savings from being able to eat-in versus the upcharge for a kitchen when you consider this option.
Tables in Wonderland
This next tip is only available to certain guests but if it’s an option for you, it could be a great way to rack up some savings. Tables in Wonderland is a discount card that’s available to Annual Passholders, Disney Vacation Club members, and Florida Residents.
The card will net you 20% discounts at most Disney World table-service restaurants, and even some quick-service locations and lounges (including pricey alcohol). You’ll also get free 3-hour valet parking at Disney Resort Hotels when you show your receipt after dining at the hotel. All in all, your discounts will typically be higher than you would get with your Annual Pass or as a DVC Member.
The pass costs $175 for Florida residents and $150 for DVC Members or Annual Passholders and is good for a year. If you dine in Disney World a lot, it could be a GREAT way to save money when you’re not on the Dining Plan!
Eat a Big Breakfast or Lunch
PRO TIP ALERT! Breakfast at Disney tends to be cheaper than lunch and dinner. Keep this in mind when you’re planning your table service meal for the day!
If you eat a big breakfast or lunch, especially at a table service spot, you’ll save a few bucks as opposed to if you opted to do dinner as your big meal. Plus, with portion sizes in Disney, eating a big breakfast or lunch can usually hold you over for a large chunk of the day, meaning you can skip a meal (or two!) and save some cash.
Wanna take this tip to the next level? Consider booking a breakfast buffet as late as you can in the morning. You’ll get to chow down on breakfast favorites and, in many cases, they’ll switch the buffet over to lunch while you’re there so you can get your fill of a totally different lunchtime meal as well! Two for the price of one sounds good to us (just plan to arrive HUNGRY!). We tried this at Tusker House and, while we practically had to be rolled out the door when we finished, it was an awesome experience.
Don’t Dine at More Than One Table Service Restaurant a Day
Speaking of picking your table service meal, choosing a sit-down dinner is about more than just “when.” It’s also about how many times you should dine on a table-service meal. If you’re looking to save some money, we recommend limiting to just one table-service restaurant each day.
Remember, portions are huge so unless you’re a BIG eater, it’s hard to get your money’s worth if you sit down at two nicer meals in one day. Quick service locations have some great options, too! Plus, all that time you’d spend sitting and eating will be yours for touring around the parks instead!
Sam’s Club and Target RedCard Gift Cards
And finally, we’ve got one more tip that is available for specific groups. If you’re a Sam’s Club member or have a Target RedCard, you can get discounts by purchasing Disney gift cards before your trip. Sam’s Club sometimes has Disney gift cards at a discounted price and buying Disney gift cards at Target (with that RedCard) will net you 5% back on the purchase.
If you use these gift cards to pay for your food (or anything else for that matter), you’ll end up getting discounts on everything you buy! This is a pretty simple way to save yourself some cash!
You don’t need to despair if you lost your Disney Dining Plan! Sure, it may not have been part of your ideal plan for your Disney trip, but with a few changes to your plans, it doesn’t have to put a damper on things. There are other ways to stay on top of a budget, and we’ve got you covered!
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Think these tips will help? Got some money-saving tips YOU want to share? Tell us in the comments!