Food will always be one of the major expenses for anyone going on a Disney vacation. Disney knows they’ve got you – let’s face it, when you’re in the parks and start to get hungry those $4.50 pretzels seem to look like not such a bad deal anymore.
How can we save some money on our meals at Disney?
Food prices at Disney World are high because people have no other options and will pay them. Unless you pack your breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks which isn’t exactly practical you’re going to spend some money on meals on your vacation.
Most times when you’re on vacation you want to go out and eat – enjoy the food so you’re looking to eat out once in a while.
I for one am not looking to eat peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for lunch and dinner when I’m on vacation even though it’ll save a lot of money With that said, I went to look for ways to manage the costs of eating at Disney, to find shortcuts, tips and ideas which can help take the sting out of the high food prices.
Credit card point currencies from Chase (Ultimate Rewards), American Express (Membership Rewards), and Citi (Thank You Points) allow you to redeem points for gift cards. While I tend to discourage redeeming valuable points for gift cards, this can be an option if you have some extra points laying around.
I don’t like using credit card points for gift cards because of the poor redemption value – the most you’re going to get is $.01 for each point. That means for a $50 gift card to Olive Garden it will cost you 5000 points which is not that great of a value.
If you are swimming in extra points or have a lot of food costs on your trips then it might make sense to redeem points for gift cards.
Of course you’ll have to venture off property to redeem these gift cards but hey, it could mean a free or highly discounted dinner. Some restaurants offsite that you could get gift cards for are:
- Olive Garden
- Longhorn Steakhouse
- Red Lobster
- Outback Steakhouse
- + many others
2. Eat Breakfast & Snacks in your Hotel Room
You can save a decent amount of money by eating one of your meals in your hotel room which is also the easiest to do – breakfast. Most hotel rooms have a coffee maker, a fridge and a microwave which allow you to cook many things for breakfast in your hotel room.
Eating breakfast in your room helps you get an earlier jump on the day as well. You can quickly make up breakfast in your room then get to the parks early for opening. Even eating at the food courts in the resorts can eat up precious time in the mornings.
If you are staying onsite or won’t have access to a car to purchase food, no problem. You can pack breakfast foods & snacks in your luggage and bring it along with you. A few items that I usually bring along or pick up at a supermarket are:
- Bagels & cream cheese or peanut butter
- Instant oatmeal
- Granola bars
- Breakfast pastries
While you’re not going to be able to make bacon & eggs in your room….or could you? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iODrN07xIXA#t=233 Some good ideas there but all I envision is egg and bacon grease all over the hotel room, probably a better idea to stick to the simple stuff.
3. Eat Sit Down Meals at Lunch
I always love sitting down for a meal at the parks, especially when going to Epcot to sample some of the countries food. Sitting down for a meal helps give you a break in the middle of the day by giving you some time.
Having a sit-down lunch at a full service restaurant has many benefits in addition to cost savings.
- Restaurants are less crowded – Many people wait to sit down for dinner which leaves plenty of availability during lunch. It’s easier to get reservations which will allow you to have more flexibility with times and locations.
- It’s cheaper – Lunch menus are generally 15-20% cheaper for basically the same items that will be served during dinner. Pay for your lunch with your discounted Disney gift cards and your savings goes up to 25-30%!
You can also make a reservation for a late lunch around 2-3pm which is usually good to hold you off until early evening so you can make lunch your “main” meal. For all of those reasons I’m a huge fan of going to full service sit down restaurants for lunch.
4. Bring Snacks and Water
When you’re touring the parks all day you need to snack and drink pleanty of water, especially during the hot summer months to make it through the day. Snacks and water can add up quickly so instead of buying them each time – bring them along!
It can be a pain to carry around water bottles which is why I like these collapsable water bottles that flatten out when not full of water.
I like to bring a small bag or backpack to carry a few items, two of which are empty bottles of water and some snacks for the day. You can fill up the bottles of water at any of the water fountains throughout the parks, sure beats paying $3+ for a bottle.
Another option for water is to ask for it from counter service restaurants which will give it to you for free! Just go up to the counter and ask for a cup of ice water As much as we all want a Mickey ears ice cream, eating too many of those will cost you in the long run.
5. Purchase Food with your Discounted Disney Gift Cards
Remember those Disney gift cards that you can purchase from Target for 10% off? Those gift cards you purchased for a 10% discount can be used all over the parks & resorts – pretty much anywhere except for some spots in Downtown Disney. You can use those same gift cards to purchase food in the parks which will give you a 10% discount on all food!
When I use my discounted gift cards in the parks and resorts it’s almost always for food because you’re not going to find any discounts on food in the parks or resorts.
Yes 10% isn’t a whole lot but every penny works, for example if you spend $50 on a dinner that will come down to $45 for a savings of $5. What I do is set a budget that we want to spend on meals during a trip, say $500 and purchase gift cards at a cost of $450.
I like to use the gift cards as a budget setting device as well, I set my budget of $500 on the gift cards I have to stick to it because that’s all I have to spend on food.
Those are just 5 ways that you can easily save money on food in the parks, there are many many more that you could do in addition to these. If you have some suggestions yourself feel free to post them into the comments for other readers to benefit from!