Probably the most under-budgeted part of a Disney trip is FOOD. Most people do not realize just how expensive food is (especially if you are staying at a Disney resort). Here are a few ways to save on food during your Disney vacation:
Dining Plan – Disney offers resort guests several different dining plans (several variations exist – outlined here) that essentially allow you to pre-pay for meals but these are valid at Disney property locations only. On occasion I have seen Disney offer FREE dining plans as part of promotions to entice people to travel during off-peak times. Last December we took advantage of this and got a free dining plan during our stay at Art of Animation. This easily saved us over $1,000 in food expenses! One of the coolest features is that your dining plan gets loaded onto your resort room key. No vouchers or coupons to lose or get wet. Just swipe your room key and go!
Get to a Grocery Store – This is one of the main reasons why I always rent a car when I am at Disney. It gives me the ability to drive to a local grocery store and stock up on food for our stay (and hit the Dunkin Donuts drive through). Disney allows you to bring your own food items into the resorts and parks and this can be a huge money saver. We like to stock up on things such as water, yogurt, kids snacks, cereal, OJ, milk and stuff to make sandwiches. Just buying water alone can be a huge money saver. A bottled water in Disney World will cost you $2.50 plus tax and conversely you can buy a 24-pack of water at the grocery store for less than $5.00.
Not renting a car? Not to worry there are still be ways to get food from a grocery store. First tip – get to know your neighbors. While at a Disney resort you will inevitably get to know at least 1-2 other families staying in nearby rooms. Maybe one of them has a car and is willing to pick you up a few grocery items when they go out themselves. Never hurts to ask and you’ll be surprised just how willing people will be to help out a fellow Disney resort guest. I have also heard of people using grocery delivery services to have food brought right to their door. Another tip – buy a cheap styrofoam cooler to keep food items cold and from spoiling. Most Disney resort rooms do not have refrigerators but they do have ice makers. Then when you check out donate the cooler to a family just checking in – we have done this several times and it always makes their day!
Another thing to keep in mind – we have always been surprised just how little our kids eat when we are in Disney. Their minds are just racing way too much and eating is not a priority! We have on several occasions wasted money on ‘kids’ meals that were thrown away after only a few bites because they ‘weren’t hungry’. We later learned to save money by just buying two adult meals and sharing with our kids. If they are still hungry you can simply buy more but at least you are not throwing money away. This is more efficient, less wasteful, saves you money and is less frustrating then trying to ‘make’ your kids eat when they don’t want to.