If you're on vacation at Disneyland, you'll want to enjoy the special treats and magical dining experiences that earned the resort the nickname "the happiest place on earth." Eating at Disney isn't cheap, especially at the theme parks. Fortunately, there are tips and tricks that can help you dine at Disney without breaking the bank.
Research What's Available
Disney offers a variety of dining options, from quick snacks to character dining experience. Since there are many different restaurants, it can get overwhelming in a crowded park with a hungry family. To choose the restaurants that meet your budget, do a little research ahead of time. Check the "Dining" section of the Disney World and Disneyland websites. You can narrow restaurants by type of service, such as quick service or table service, and park location. At a quick service, fast food or cafeteria style restaurant, you order or pick out the food you want, pay and eat. These options are typically cheaper and there's no waiter to tip. There are also bakeries, ice cream carts, juice bars and food trucks listed under the quick service category.
Prices are indicated with "$" symbols. For example, a "$" means the price is $15.00-$29.99 per person, at the time of publication. Each restaurant's menu with current prices is also available online. Read the third-party restaurant reviews provided on the Disney site to find out which places offer you the most bang for your buck. Some restaurants are known to provide portions large enough for sharing. If your family enjoys pizza, ordering a pizza from a quick service counter can help you save money versus buying individual meals. For example, Redd Rockett's Pizza Port in Disneyland charges $32.99 for a whole pizza at the time of publication.
Cut Costs on Character Dining
Character-themed dining can be a fun and memorable experience. If it's a must-do, consider character dining on Disney property, but outside the park. Many resorts offer Character dining options. For example, the 1900 Park Fare is a Cinderella dining experience located in the Disney's Grand Floridian resort. The Disneyland Hotel features character dining with Goofy at Steakhouse 55. Prices at the resorts are generally cheaper than at the park. You don't have to be a resort guest to dine in the restaurant. Regardless of whether you dine on or off the park, character dining is cheaper for breakfast than lunch or dinner.
Pack Snacks and Drinks
Disney allows you to bring in outside food items, as long as they don't need to be heated. You're free to bring a backpack or cooler filled with snacks, sandwiches, water, juice or anything else to cut down on meal costs. The resort just asks that you let security know you're bringing in food items when you enter the park.
Opt for a Disney Dining Plan
The Disney Dining Plan is available to guests staying on Disney World property. You get credits, which can be used at select restaurants, character dining experiences, quick service counters and food carts. During certain dates, the Disney Dining Plan is offered as a free promotion when you purchase a non-discounted vacation package. At the time of publication, the regular dining plan is $60.04 for adults and $19.23 for children. Whether the dining plan is worth it or not depends on what you eat, where you eat and how often. If you enjoy eating steak at some of the pricier restaurants, the dining plan may be more cost-effective than paying for your meals. Disneytripplanner.com features a Disney dining plan calculator that helps you estimate if the dining plan would be cheaper than paying for each meal separately. You don't need to buy the dining plan for everyone in the family. You can purchase for just the kids or just the adults, depending on your needs.
Drink for Free
Service counters at Disney World and Disneyland provide free cups of ice water or hot water. Since water or soda can cost a few dollars per bottle or can, the savings add up. If you don't want plain water, bring packets of flavored drink mix, tea or instant coffee to add.