Food for Thought: Save Money on Meals

You see Disney as the most magical place for any destination, but some things about travel are universal. Take food and lodging.

No matter where you go, these are your most basic costs (unless you go to outer space in the near future, when getting you to that rarified space will cost you an unimaginable amount of money).

In the meantime, with rising Disney World tickets (and Universal Studios Orlando tickets as well), your down-to-earth costs are going nowhere but up (similar to future and very costly space options).

So how can you get the prices back down to earth?

Reduced price Disney World Orlando tickets and Universal Studios discount tickets help but don’t save you that much money. And are no longer commonplace.

We get back to food and lodging.

Of course, this is your vacation.

So you don’t want to think endlessly about the subject of saving money. Not all the time.

So you want easy and simple hacks in this area, don’t you?


So these are some hacks we are going to tell you: The very best ways to save money on food, mainly, and lodging (and a few other related items as well).

Most of these, though not all, apply to Disney.

One other disclaimer: lots of places tell you what huge amounts of money you can save by following this or that practice.

You can save money

We’re not so grandiose here.

We should also note there is nothing wrong or less than noble to attempt to save money.

There are people who actually go into debt to visit Disney or a theme park.

No wonder.

“It can cost as much to go to Walt Disney World Resort for a week as it does to go to France,” complains one traveler. “People have no choice but to find deals.”

Remember also that your very basic cost of getting into, say, the Walt Disney World Resort is not going to be heavily discounted. The reality is that there is no such as deeply discounted Disney World tickets.

Keep in mind also that the longer you stay, the less you pay per day for all theme park tickets.

So don’t expect miracles of money-saving, either.

Let’s start the day out right.

Always eat breakfast

Yes, everyone tells you that. And it may be particularly good advice when you face a long, hard day at the park.

It’s also the least expensive meal.

True whether you dine out or eat at your home or hotel or wherever you’re staying.

Eat breakfast in your room. Simple, yes

Not exactly up to shaking hands with Mickey Mouse?

But the truth is that many people are like us: We don’t really have a huge appetite first thing in the morning.

So why waste it on a morning meal you might leave mostly behind you?

Guilt at not following universal notions that you really need a good breakfast is probably behind it.

Get rid of the guilt

So there’s nothing wrong with fixing a simple bowl of cereal with some healthy fruit (and any recipe challenged cook can do it). Even toast some Pop Tarts or energy breakfast bars.

You can buy these ahead of your stay here.

Cheaper and faster than waiting to be seated in a restaurant.

And you are still keeping healthy habits, aren’t you, by eating breakfast?

You also get quicker to the main event: the park itself.

Secondly, this is as simple as the first.

Take advantage of the one free thing you can always count on.


Bring your own water.

But not only that, plan to refill it.

Water fountains are still free.

How easy can it get

This advice is as easy as any you will ever get. But many people still persist in buying expensive water from the theme parks.

Easily an avoidable expense.

Does it taste any different?

Are you afraid of disease from fountain-spouting water?

Not likely. Just about impossible (this is not Flint, Michigan).

This is Disney.

They can and do raise Disney Orlando ticket prices but they (so far at least) still offer you free water.

Not just for fountains, either.

Counter service restaurants offer it as well.

If you want something stronger, last we heard Club Cool at Epcot gave you free Cokes from around the world.

You already know lunch is cheaper than dinner.

Almost everywhere.

Even theme parks. And Disney is no exception.

No desserts needed

For dessert, which you can share with someone else (or better yet, skip entirely), consider that popular restaurants like Be Our Guest are easier to get lunch reservations during the late morning hours.

If you’re with kids, a character meal is, simply, a must.

So choose breakfast.

The best deals, cost-wise (you will still interact with the characters, just that it is early for them as well).

Buffets are best, of course, so you can have a light snack at lunch.

Find out your options even before you get to the park.

There are budget-friendly places. But you need to research them.

Among them for $10 and under: the Tangerine Café at Epcot.

Spend a little time in research before you go.

Earl of Sandwich at Disney Springs is also a good choice.

Also before you go:

Buy some Gummy Bears or candy from dollar stores or Winn-Dixie beforehand for kids, if you have them.

Or for adults, too.

Another simple thing: go schoolboy or schoolgirl.

Pack your own lunch.

Enough said.

Snack for free.


Whenever you can

Street vendors and kiosks offer granola bars, dried fruit, crackers, you name it.

When eating in restaurants, remember that portions are often large. Easily sharable for two.

Ask the waitress about the size of the meal.

Then ask for an extra plate.

For some reason, diners are often reluctant to ask, then to tell the server they want to share (are they afraid the waitress will think they are cheap? Who knows why?).

Here’s another not always well-known tip:

Table service restaurants consider anyone over the age of 10 an adult. But for counter service restaurants, you are not required to order as adults.

So beat the system.

Get the kids deal.

It will cost you up to a 50 percent savings over the adult meal. And portions here are generally not small (unless you are really a big eater).

A few non-Disney operated restaurants are property offer savings. For example, T-Rex Café in Disney Springs and the Rainforest Café often offer free or reduced kid meals.

Here’s another good choice:

The Earl of Sandwich (mentioned earlier) at Disney Springs offers enormous sandwiches at prices starting around $6-7. Afterwards, drop into Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop for a free sample (not ice cream but chocolate).

Can’t decide where to eat? Help is here

If you’re having trouble figuring out where to eat, Disney offers dining plans like “Tables in Wonderland” that offers a 20% discount on food and drink.

Disney Dining Plan? Consume it or not…opinions are divided.

If you do stay on property and others with you all have hearty appetites, it should be a good value.

There are different plans. So first realize that.

Sorry, but here you will have to make an effort to determine the best plan for your own group, depending on the size of your family, and of course your own budget.

Do remember that adult prices do apply to anyone over 10, and that those under 3 can share food at no cost. Kids must order from the children’s menu.

But here’s some other points you might not have considered.

Other good choices

Dine at off-site locations whenever you can. Even with taxi fare, it might cost less.

Counter Service menus usually include side items. These quickly add up.

So ask the waitress: what if you had the bacon cheeseburger without fries? Or ask cast members about restaurants with entrée-only prices.

As for that subject of where to stay…

You will often hear it costs less to stay on property for free transportation and other perks. And that may be true, depending on your circumstances (number of your family members, etc.).

And those Disney “value” rooms under $100 during cheap time periods do give you what you basically need: two beds, bathroom, at least one television. They can work for you but don’t count on it.

When you stay on property you get free and steady bus transportation to and from parks, along with transportation from the airport via Disney’s “Magical Express” bus line.

Not to mention, Disney hotels have a ton of free activities going on all the time for people of all ages.


Sounds good if you can afford it

Unlike Disney World Orlando tickets, there are discounts here. But you have to go during off seasons such as September or January.

But also consider that Disney hotels, whether value or upscale, are often two or even three times as expensive as comparable places that are just outside of Disney’s property lines.

And buses to these “value” properties will be crowded. Locations are on Disney property but are the farthest distance from the parks.

If you do opt for off-Disney properties, check the Disney World Good Neighbor Hotels for options.

You’ll find the best time, cost-wise, is invariably between school holidays and vacations.

A few other spending tips

—Make a spending plan. Stick to it. Don’t be diverted by that Mickey Mouse watch on sale.

It’s particularly important to budget for any extra costs such as souvenirs (with or without Mickey of Minnie or Goofy or sale or other grabbing incentive to convince you to buy).

—Go out of your way to find the free attractions (rare, but there). The monorail, the ferry and watching the nightly parade or fireworks, for example.

—Did you know if you choose to take the time…the Disney Vacation Club offers free gifts for attending a presentation (usually a gift card).There are also free drinks and food while waiting.

—You can save money on auto expenses. The simple way to do it: leave the car behind. Take the free DTS (Disney Transportation System). If you arrive by air, the resort’s Magical Express coaches will shuttle you to and from the Orlando International Airport for free.

—If you are smart and looking at multi-day passes instead of a single-day Disney Orlando ticket, consider that only one member of your group needs to show an annual pass to get all of you into the park. They’re god for one year of free admission, and certainly a bargain for visitors who make frequent trips to the parks. It also includes merchandise discounts. And free parking.

There’s a lot of magic to be easily found everywhere at Disney, but for the free stuff to save you money, you’ll have to look harder. ###