Walt Disney World Tips for Saving Money On Dining

Walt Disney World Money Saving Tips For Dining

Walt Disney World Money Saving Tips For Dining

Unless you win a free Disney vacation trip it is going to be expensive. There is no other way Grumpy can put it to you. This is Grumpy’s first article in a series written to help you save a few dollars on your vacation.

You have probably spent a thousand dollars or more already for your families Walt Disney World vacation. Rooms, tickets and travel expenses add up quickly.

Now you have to eat. Eating out at home is expensive. Eating out at Walt Disney World is even more expensive! Face it, Disney has a captive audience and no competition so they can charge what they want.

Here are a few ways to take the bite out of the dining expenses at Disney. Grumpy has provided an estimated amount of savings. His estimates are just that! And they are based on a family of four (two adults and two children.)

Eat breakfast in your room

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Save time and money by eating it in your room.

You can bring a box or two of cereal from home or you can buy it at your resort hotel gift shop. Rooms at Disney should have a refrigerator and you can buy milk at the resort gift shop.  Surprisingly milk at the gift shops is not much more expensive than you would pay for it at home. If plan on doing this remember to bring some small plastic or disposable bowls and spoons. If you forget you might be grumpy yourself.

Or you could do cereal bars or doughnuts. Adjust to whatever your family likes.

Estimated savings: For the cost of a box of cereal and a gallon of milk (about $10) you can avoid buying breakfast at least three days. Breakfast will run you at least $5 per person. That’s $50 saved.

Saving Money At Disney

Bring Your Own Snacks

Snacks at Disney are not cheap. Stock up on your parties favorite snacks and stick them in your luggage. Each day before you head out for the parks load some into your backpack and off you go.

Estimated savings: Snacks average $4. For your family of four that is $16 per day saved.

Bring Your Own Food. Disney will allow you to bring food into the park. They will not allow you to bring your huge cooler though! Small coolers that can be carried by one person and will fit in the storage lockers are allowed in all parks except the Animal Kingdom. Or you can pack food that doesn’t require a cooler.

Estimated savings: With meals averaging $7 that saves you $28 a day if you only skip one meal.

Grocery delivery service

Don’t have room in your luggage to pack cereal, snacks and food? There are some companies that will deliver groceries to your resort for you. You can also shop for yourself if you have a car or even take a taxi to one of the local markets.

Estimated Savings: Varies on how you use the groceries.

Free water

Free? Yes free! It can be hot in Florida and buying an over-priced bottle of water every time you are thirsty adds up quick. That expense can be avoided two ways. The first is filling your own water bottles before you leave your resort. Then you can refill them at the fountains in the park. Or you can visit any counter service restaurant and ask for a cup of water.

Estimated savings: With bottled waters, your cheapest option, running $2.50 a bottle you save $10 per day if were only going to drink one beverage per day. If you were going to do more your savings go up.

Skip the Fries and Drink

Disney prices almost everything as a combo meal which will include fries or some other side. If you are not a big eater just ask for the entree by itself. You will save a few dollars. You save even more if you skip the drink and just get a cup of water.

Estimated Savings: $1.50-$ if you skip the side. A little more per meal if you skip the drink. This one won’t bring you huge savings but if you are being frugal it will help.

Sharing Is Caring (and Saving)

Some of the meals at Disney’s counter service restaurants can be quite large. If you don’t enjoy eating a large meal split it with someone in your party. This can be particularly useful with small children. If both of your children are going to throw away half of their food, buy one meal.

Some of the snacks can also easily be shared. For example both the pork shank and the cinnamon roll at Gaston’s will easily satisfy two people unless they are big eaters.

Estimated savings: If you go from four meals to three once per day you save $5-$10 dollars per day.

Timing Your Table Service Dining

Dinner is the most expensive meal at the table service locations. Lunch is cheaper and breakfast is typically cheapest. Instead of doing dinner eat earlier.

Most table service meals are either buffet or served family style. That means they are all you can eat. Do breakfast and eat big so you can. Then skip lunch. When you get hungry eat one of the snacks you brought with you.

Estimated savings: The difference between and adult breakfast and adult dinner is about $16 dollars. For children under nine the difference is only about $2. Children over nine pay adult price. Depending on the age of your children you could save up to $64.

Time Your Trip For Free Dining

In the past few years Disney has offered their Dining plan free to guests staying at select resorts who pay full price for the room. They usually over a room discount at the same time so you have to choose free dining or cheaper room. If you go with free dining you can (and Grumpy did) go your entire trip without spending money on food.

Estimated Savings: Probably $100 per day.

For more money saving tips visit Grumpy’s Saving Money at Disney Page.

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Saving Money At Disney


117 thoughts on “Walt Disney World Money Saving Tips For Dining”

    1. Grumpy shared a lot of snack credits but the meals were mainly all Grumpy! I found the desserts with the Counter Service to be too much though!

  1. I am all about eating breakfast in the hotel because its easy fast and cheap. Once you get a good breakfast, you can get to the parks early and actually enjoy them while they are somewhat empty rather than sitting at a table eating while rides are open. I do spend one day at Ohana for breakfast because that is the best place to eat breakfast!

  2. We love to go during Free Dining (who doesn’t?!) If we pay out of pocket, we usually end up splitting entrees at least during one meal per day…especially with our toddler who barely eats. Great tip about the free water! Thanks for all of the wonderful info!!

  3. I agree with all of your tips and have used them all except the free Disney dining. Even when it’s available, I’ve calculated that in most cases it’s cheaper if you take the room discount instead of the free dining!

  4. We have a family of six (all boys) and the disney dining plan is what we use every time. Yet we also carry snacks in our back packs for those in between times. We also book all of our sit down meals in all you can eat places. Now when it’s just the wife and myself we split our quick service meals. She doesn’t eat as much. This works well for us. We have also started staying at the campgrounds which makes it a lot easier to prepare breakfast or late night eats. It is also easier on the wallet then staying at even a value resort.

    1. I’m going to be working on another article on cost savings as soon as I get time. I will include the campground. Do you do a tent or camper?

  5. These are actually all very, very true, and if you’re going to go, trust Grumpy when he says the Free Dining Plan is the way to go with a Value Resort.

    Mind you, we always go with a Dining Plan and we still benefit by doing some of the above things. Instead of using a lot of our Snack Credits AT the park (aside from really special things like Dole Whip), we preferred to use them for yummy snacks after park-going at the Cafeteria, **especially** for Movies Under The Stars (which is a GREAT freebie I think a LOT of people forget about!). They’re also great to accumulate in order to grab a bunch of snacks for the home trip in order to savor them for the green and yellow going-home blues. :[

    We saved on things this way, too:

    – We bought a hydration pack for water throughout the parks and refilled it as needed. It proved to be very useful, especially for the hotter days.
    -We made the mistake of double scheduling two Table Service meals a day not once, but twice-we did a Table Service breakfast and Table Service dinner one day-and while some days it’s called for, you have to REALLY plan for that to be a long day. Epcot is ideal for this because Epcot is just enormous, and if you’ve got to crunch that park into one day, it’s best to skip lunch and just eat a big breakfast to anticipate dinner. Otherwise, it’s just too much food within a small bracket of hours. One Table Service a day is usually sufficient with a Counter Service. In this style, we’d usually do breakfasts like The Crystal Palace or Akershus as early as we can manage a reservation with them, that way afterward, we’re so busy with the attractions distracting us that we can reasonably snack small (if at all) during the day. Alternatively, like Grumpy suggests, you can have a breakfast at the hotel, go to the park and snack if you must, wait until you can have a Table Service for lunch, then snack if you must (though doubtful) until it’s time to go.

    It’s all a strategy for you to rub your temples over, of course, in a fun way. I enjoy sorting it all out and dividing the Dining Plan up as thinly as possible to allow extra elbow room.

    Also worth mentioning-on one of your shorter days (where you’re not going hard ALL DAY at a park, just maybe going to a park half a day), ditch the parks all together if you really wanna eat at a sit-down within Celebration, go to Downtown Disney. A lot of places are under $14 a person, and if you keep away from desserts/combos it’s often more around $8-$9, and there /are/ fun things to see and look at there. The shopping is phenomenal, even if it’s just window shopping.

    Best wishes to anyone going, and thank you for the wonderful tips, Grumpy!!

    1. Thank you for stopping by! You added some good money saving tips yourself, especially about the movies under the stars! Most people really don’t know about them I bet. I used a lot of snack credits (from our FREE dining plan) to try stuff I wasn’t sure about. That way if I threw it out I didn’t feel as bad.

      Planning for Disney is hard work! But it’s fun hard work. It is important to remember that sometimes the plan falls to pieces in the park (of Mice and Men and all that) and roll with it. Disney is meant to be enjoyed and if I have a few bumps in my plan its not going to ruin my time.

      1. Oh, absolutely! There will always be bumps in the road, but Disney World is so much fun that I’m willing to accept those bumps. Even the less-than-enthusiastic Cast Members are enough to make me smile.

        1. There are a few less-than-enthusiastic Cast Members but there are a few you remember for years! I remember one gentleman from Ecpot who gave my wife and I special surprise. Paul the tour guide on Backstage Safari. Another young man working Guest Relations….a dear sweet, older lady at the gift shop at AKL I talked to every day. She was like my grandmother. She told me she had lost her husband and Animal Kingdom had been his favorite park (Just to show how much we talked.)

          1. Well you know–Actually, I remember a Cast Member or two that, while not the grouchiest, they certainly were less-than-perky, and you could tell. However, I remember a particular incident where my partner was speaking to Cast Member at Disney’s Pin Traders at Downtown Disny, and spoke with him for so long that basically, when I came back to the conversation, they’d given my partner about 5 different Stitch pins, and was offering me 5 limited edition Figment pins. I was stoked. That Cast Member did NOT have to do that, and told us to keep it a secret, because certain types of magic were supposed to be secret.

          2. We have run into less than Magical cast members. But on average CMs are good. But there are a few that are great and they make Disney the destination of a life time.

  6. If you know the layout of the parks, resorts and other areas, you can have wonderful meal at a good price. I highly recommend Sunshine Seasons in the Land pavillion at EPCOT, Pecos Bill’s Wild West Inn & Cafe & Columbia Harbour House at Magic Kingdom, the Backlot Express (near Star Tours) at Hollywood Studios and, my personal favorite, FlameTree Barbecue at Animal Kingdom. Most of these counter service restaurants can give you a good meal for just over $10-12 dollars.

    1. Yes they do. Or you can always do peanut butter sandwiches and a cup of water from one of the counter service locations!

  7. Another tip I would add incase you don’t have it is bring along little souvenirs from home. Young kids won’t know that they didn’t come from the parks. I stocked up on dollar tree finds.

    1. That is a a brilliant tip! Many people call them Tinkerbelle presents. One parent escorts the children out of the room in the morning and the other retrieves the souvenir. Place it somewhere the child is sure to find it when you return to the room and you have a gift from everyone’s favorite pixie.

  8. I found another tip!! If you are a avid Starbucks drinker like me load your gold card before you go! That way you aren’t using your “disney” money for your addiction or your snack credits! °o°

  9. We took ziploc bags for the chicken tenders that the kids liked to snack on (and didn’t finish since they ate all the fries first)- carried them in a small backpack with a frozen bottle of water – served 2 purposes on a hot day!

    1. Ziploc bags are so great! Save snacks, leftovers etc. Can also use them to keep your phone dry or even your camera if the bag is big enough.

      1. Huh…I’ve never taken notice–but Disney doesn’t DO doggy bags/take-out boxes, do they…? I’ve never thought to ask because I’m always gorged full (and always wanting more, of course)…

          1. Grumpy cannot find it either. Not sure what happened to it. But people said they have gotten doggie bags for things like desserts and such.

  10. That tip to time your table service dining is brilliant! I had never considered that before. That’s a great way to fuel up for those long days in the parks. I’m usually too hot, tired & miserable for a big Disney dinner in the evenings anyway. Great tip!

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I’m with you I don’t want to eat a huge meal most of the time. It slows me down too much!

  11. Between here and the Facebook blog, it’s been established that another way to save money is to ask for a to-go box/doggy bag. I know next time I’ll stock up at an end-of-the-night feast, that way there’s a decent box full of either snacks or tomorrow’s breakfast later on at the hotel. I’d hate to carry leftovers in my bag through the parks (and usually I don’t really have room in a bag anyway, I’ll have a hip bag of some kind), so I don’t know about it for every dining experience, but this is a REALLY good tip.

    Another one that I thought of was plan meals strictly–which is something a friend of mine that frequents Disney enforces with great passion. Granted, he does the Dining Plan with one table service a day, but he makes sure that every table service is scheduled at an appropriate time and not just randomly placed throughout the day–either in the morning to where we eat a proper Table Service breakfast to get us past a large portion of the afternoon without even thinking about food and even sometimes, we’ll save the day’s snack, and then a Counter Service as a late dinner, to where we’ll be so full we won’t think about anything but drinks when we get back to the hotel (which are free). Alternatively, we’ll use a Counter Service at the hotel for a decent breakfast, and use our snack around afternoon in anticipation of the evening’s Table Service. Things get a little hectic if the Table Service is a lunch, because you don’t wanna get too full in the morning on breakfast, and your stomach will get sort of whiny around dinner. So I recommend using Table Services to your greatest advantage for either strictly breakfast or dinner.

    I think the Dining Plan is most effectively used with a great deal of timing. I’ve never gone without one, so I’m not sure how a budget would work–but I know we travel with 3+ adults on the same ticket, so the full Dining is always worth it. We calculated things for as much as we enjoy/require eating (we’re strict against leaving the property for anything but gas or meds) and the bill was far too pricey for us. Also, we feel that by skipping the Dining Plan and paying out of pocket while there, we run a great risk in leaving ourselves room to say, “Eh sure! I’ll go for non-water/dessert/alternate side, why the heck not, after all–we’re in Disney and it’s only xxx more!” And whoop, there goes the extra cash. Discipline is difficult at Disney-at least for our crew-and the Dining Plan provides a potentially strict itinerary with meals that gives us just enough legroom. It gives you anything you’ll need already paid for in advance, and I feel that it makes you more conscious of, “OOH I’m DYING for a Dole Whip, here’s my daily snack!” and, “Hmm….do I really want to spend actual money/waste a snack on this Frozen Banana, when I can just wait for our nice, prepaid dinner for another hour?”

    Just my thoughts, of course. There are thousands of large families that make the non-Dining Plan work, but uber kudos to them. I couldn’t manage all that in my head while at the park itself. My Disney head would explode and I’d be broke.

    1. Whether you are on the dining plan or not you make a good point about planning. And Grumpy has no desire to go off property. You might be able to get a cheaper meal but would it be a better value? You have spent thousands of dollars to go to Disney do you really want to steal time from Disney to go somewhere else? Not me.

      1. Exactly. First of all, traffic is AWFUL just outside of the Celebration gate itself. It took us about a full hour to drive out, get ONE package of medications at the closest CVS, get gas, then head back into the gate–all of this was within 10 miles of the gate.

        Granted, we were between Animal Kingdom’s closing and an 8:00 Boma reservation, so it’s not like we were strapped for time, but I would have rather just…not dealt with that. It’s a huge “real-lifey” distraction and not anything I wanna think about during a vacation. Call me an on-property brat, maybe, that just seems really hectic to me, and it takes away from the “engulfed” in Disney experience.

        Next time an entire medication pack will be made with Emergen-C, Airborne, Aloe, Ibuprofen, extra pillows, blankets, other hotel survival things…That’s been the biggest mistake I’ve made–the first trip had no meds, the second trip was too few/not enough varieties of meds/comfort items.

        1. The problem we had with meds was they were packed in our checked baggage and not carryon. Magical Express is great, don’t get me wrong, but it can take a LONG time to get your luggage. Put those meds in the carryon if you will need them right away.

          1. There are certainly faster ways to reach your hotel but not having to look for luggage is great. In my opinion the benefits outweigh the problems.

  12. We split meals a lot. We love going to Cosmic Rays with fresh fixings so we can enhance our food. There is usually enough to share. Thanks for the good advice. Love learning more tricks to save money.

  13. We always get the dining plan whether it’s free or we purchase it. It’s a great way for our family to budget our meals into our vacation ahead of time. Especially if you’re on a limited vacation budget.

    1. Do some research. For some it works well and saves money. For others it is not a savings. Even if it isn’t a huge savings though, it makes budgeting a lot easier.

  14. Paying for the food in advance makes it seem more like a vacation and saying “yes” to a snack a day is way better than saying – “that’s too much for an ice cream” – love the Dining Plan!

  15. Great tips! In the past I’ve been able to go when my dad had a trade show in Disney, and we got to stay at the Yacht Club on the club level for free because we were there with the company he works for. (I realize that I have been extremely lucky) We always had breakfast in the club room and the appetizers were nice and hearty enough to be dinner, so we really only had to buy lunch in the parks and maybe a snack. We’re going this upcoming December (yay!) as a birthday present, and we’re not staying at the Yacht Club, so I’ve been worrying about how much food is going to cost! So thanks for the helpful tips!

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