Disney World On A Budget - Food

Chef Mickey's located in Disney's Contemporary Resort
You have chosen your travel dates, made reservations at an Orlando area hotel, and decided how you would get to Disney World. Now you need to tackle the question how much money will I need to budget for food during my trip? Aside from lodging and airfare the most amount of money you will spend on your Disney World trip will be on food. Listed below I have information about food costs based on where you choose to stay while visiting Disney World. No matter where you choose to stay, if you want to eat at good table service restaurants you will need to make your reservations as early as possible. Disney starts taking reservations 180 days in advance of your visit.  Most of the good table service restaurants start filling up that early. Planning will get you the meals you want. Reservations are not available at quick service restaurants with the exception of Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom. To make reservations you can call 407 939-3463 or visit the Disney Dining Reservation website.

Disney Dining Plan For Guests Staying At A Disney World Hotel: If you choose to stay at a Disney World hotel you will have the option of purchasing the Disney Dining Plan. Basically Disney offers 3 meal plans from which to choose. You can choose the Disney Quick Service, Disney Dining Plan, or the Disney Deluxe Dining plan. Only Disney resort guests have the option to purchase meal plans. We chose the Disney Dining Plan for our trip in 2013. Listed here I have each plan option and the cost:

Quick Service
Dining Plan
Dining Plan
Deluxe Dining Plan
What types of meals do I get with this plan?
2 quick service** meals + 1 snack per night per person + a refillable resort mug. Meal includes an entrée, non-alcoholic beverage, & dessert.
1 quick service**,       1 table service***, + 1 snack per night per person + a refillable resort mug.  Meal includes an entrée, non-alcoholic beverage, & dessert OR 1 full buffet.
2 snacks per night, 3 meals of your choosing (quick** or table service***) per night per person. A meal consists of appetizer, entrée, dessert, & a non-alcoholic beverage OR 1 full buffet.
Cost per adult per night (Ages 10 & Up)
$41.99*  per adult per night
$60.04*  per adult per night
$109.53*  per adult per night
Cost per child per night (Ages 3 – 9)
$16.03* per child per night.
Children must order from Child’s Menu.
$19.23* per child per night.
Children must order from Child’s Menu.
$29.86* per child per night.
Children must order from the Child’s Menu.

*The cost as of 2015 for dining plans are in addition to the cost of your Disney World Magic Your Way package.
** Quick service meals may consist of an entree or a combo meal at a Quick service location. Quick service meals are often referred to as counter service meals and are similar to fast food options such as McDonald's.
*** Table service is a sit down restaurant. 

Disney's Polynesian Resort Ohana Restaurant
What is the difference in cost between purchasing the dining plan or paying as you go? For the budget conscious family I recommend deciding how much you would like to eat while at Disney World. Once you decide how frequently you would get snacks or eat desserts with a meal, then you will need to start crunching numbers. Go to the Disney World dining web page and check out the menus to get an idea of the cost for places you will eat. For my upcoming trip I had the knowledge of how the meal plan worked and decided I would compare going with the plan versus paying as I go.  For each night of my upcoming stay I selected 2 meals from a variety of quick service and table service locations. Two of the meals I planned were at Ohana's & the Hoop Dee Doo Revue - both are expensive table service options. The Dining Plan meal plan would cost my family of 3 adults (10+ in age) $1,275 for 7 nights/8 days. To pay as I go I anticipate the cost being $775.  That is a savings of $500!  Now understand we do not typically eat desserts or snacks. If we did eat snacks and desserts for every meal then our estimated cost would have been significantly higher. Since I could potentially save $500 on my upcoming trip, I opted NOT to purchase the Disney Dining Plan. The only time I would select the dining plan would be if Disney were offering it FREE with your package.  This usually happens twice per year, in the fall and late winter/early spring when school is still in session. 

Some families like being able to sit down for dinner and not have to study the menu and prices.  If you enjoy this luxury then maybe the dining plan is for you! If you decide to purchase any one of the dining plans you can use your meals in any order you wish.  If you want to eat 5 times a day for the first 2 days of your trip, you can do that.  However you will not be eating much on the remaining 3 days of your trip because you will have used your credits.  At the same time, whatever meals or snack credits you do not use by midnight on the day you check out of your hotel, you will lose that number of meals or snacks. People almost always have snack credits left over.  Make sure you spend your credits wisely.  Some ideas include purchasing the Mickey shaped cookies or the premium popcorn for souvenirs. Another idea for snack credits is to use them to purchase breakfast items since on all but one dining plan you only get 2 meals per day.  There are even lunch/dinner options that are on the snack credit list. When we had the dining plan we used one of our snack credits to purchase chicken fried rice at Yak & Yeti's in Animal Kingdom. It was plenty big enough for a meal! When you look at a menu you will see SC next to the items that are on the snack list. 

Paying For Meals As You Go: So you have decided you are not purchasing the meal plan OR you are staying at a non-Disney hotel and you do not have the option.  What do you do about eating in Disney World and not spending every available penny on food?  Listed below are some ideas for saving money on food at Disney World: 
  • Water is FREE from any quick service restaurant.  You just walk up to the counter and ask for water.  When I last went to Disney World in 2013, I received a 20 ounce cup of water with ice.  Prior to my learning this trick I would be a pack mule toting water bottles in the park. Make sure you drink plenty of water if you are visiting during the summer.  It won't take long to dehydrate in the Florida heat. 
  • If you don't like plain water, take Gatorade or Kool-Aid packets with you into the park each day.
  • Share food with members of your family. Instead of ordering 2 combos and throwing away the extra fries order 1 combo and share it.  Cosmic Rays at Magic Kingdom has a rotisserie chicken that could be shared by 2. 
  • If you don't want the side order of fries or a salad ask the cashier for just the entree. You will save money and not waste the side items you would not eat anyway. For example at Hollywood Studios Pizza Planet all personal pizzas come with a side order of a salad. If you do not want the salad tell the cashier and you can save $2.00. 
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios Pizza Planet

  • Look for restaurants such as Magic Kingdom's Cosmic Rays or Tortuga Tavern that have toppings bar. This is a salad bar type area that is available for you to add unlimited toppings to your burgers etc. Examples of toppings included lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheese, sauteed onions & mushrooms, pickles, or sauerkraut. Other restaurants that have similar spreads include Hollywood Studios Sunset Ranch Market or Epcot's Cantina de San Angel.
  • Surf the condiment selection at your hotel or in the theme park. You will most likely find peanut butter, jelly, and honey among other offerings for FREE. Order 2 slices of bread & you have a cheap PB&J for the picky child (or adult).
  • Eat breakfast in your hotel room.  All Disney hotels and most non-Disney hotels now have a refrigerator in your room. Bring breakfast bars, cereal, & pop tarts from home. When we drive to Disney World, we buy milk from a local Walmart or grocery store before heading to our hotel the first day we arrive.  If you are staying off Disney property select a hotel that offers a free breakfast.  Take some of the fruit and boxed cereal with you to the park each day. 
  • If you fly to Disney World you can order groceries ahead of time.  One such website that will deliver your groceries to you is We Go Shop. I have not personally used this service, but it gets good reviews on other blogs I have read.
  • I highly recommend having a Disney Character Meal if you have never done this or you are travelling with children.  This is a great way for the kids to get to see their favorite characters in a more personal non-rushed setting. However, it costs quite a bit for a family on a budget.  To save you money I recommend you have Character Breakfast meals.  If you make reservations for the last reservation for breakfast it is usually around 11 AM.  The buffets are filled with plenty of meats, fruits, and pastries that you will not be hungry again until dinner time. If you have a Character Lunch or Dinner it cost more than breakfast. My favorite Character breakfast is at Magic Kingdom's Crystal Palace. Make sure you make your Character breakfast reservation as soon as you have finalized plans to go to Disney.

Listed below is a list of some of our favorite restaurants and some we are going to try.  I also have the average per person menu prices as of 2015.

Restaurants - highlighted ones are our favorites. Some of the non-highlighted ones we are trying for the first time this year but they get good reviews.Avg Meal Cost
per Person
Boatwrights @ Disney's Port of Orleans Riverside - UPDATE: Food was bland & not good.$20.00
Ohana @ Disney's Polynesian Hotel - We LOVE Ohana's. This is our favorite restaurant in all of Disney. . UPDATE: Food, service, & atmosphere was good as always!$30.00
Hoop Dee Doo Revue dinner AND a show all you can drink beer and sangria as well as down home good food while watching a good ole family fun show. We are trying this trip - gets great reviews online.UPDATE: Great food & entertainment - highly recommend worth every penny!$58.00
Animal Kingdom Flame Tree - good BBQ with a nice view @ the tables around back of the restaurant Closed for refurbishment when we visited.$11.00
Animal Kingdom Pizzafari Did not eat there this trip.$9.00
Animal Kingdom Yak & Yeti Local Foods - Asian food. We really like the chicken fried rice which is a snack on dining plan UPDATE; Food was good.$10.00
Downtown Disney Earl of Sandwich - The BEST use of a counter service meal. Great food! UPDATE: Great sandwich - worth the wait in the long line.$8.00
Downtown Disney Cooks of Dublin (Behind Raglan Road) Serves food similar to Raglan Road but is less expensive.Did not eat there this trip.$12.00
Downtown Disney Raglan Road - It's pricey but if you like authentic Irish food & drink - it's a must! UPDATE: Excellent food, service, & atmosphere.$22.00
Epcot Sunshine Grill Future World - like a food court serving Asian food, burgers, chicken, etc one of the few places that give FREE drink refills. Our favorite quick service restaurant.UPDATE: Great food & still has FREE drink refills.$10.00
Epcot Japan Katsura Grill$11.00
Epcot France Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie Sandwiches & Pastries$8.00
Epcot America Liberty Inn UPDATE: Food was average.$10.00
Hollywood Studios ABC Commissary UPDATE: Food was good for counter service.$11.00
Hollywood Studios 50s Dinner - Our fav. restaurant @ Hollywood Studios downhome food & fun! The waiters are in character from the 1950s. UPDATE: Food was good as usual, service was slow & not as themed as in years past... Maybe I just had a bad waitress.$20.00
Magic Kingdom Sleepy Hollow (behind castle) Must try Waffle Chicken Sand. $7.49 UPDATE: We did not like the waffle chicken OR ham sandwich - would not recommend.$8.00
Magic Kingdom Crystal Palace great character meal we always had the breakfast late in the morning. My favorite character meal restaurant.$20.00
Magic Kingdom Be Our Guest Lunch supposed to be the best counter service restaurant in Disney - I haven't tried it- yet.$12.00
Magic Kingdom Columbia Harbor House - Serves food similar to Liberty Tree Tavern but less expensive. UPDATE: Good counter service restaurant - highly recommend especially if you do not want a burger.$11.00
Magic Kingdom Cosmic Rays - set up like a food court with burgers, chicken, or sub sandwiches.$11.00
Port Orleans Riverside Hotel Boatwrights - Cajun food gets good reviews we will be eating there this trip for 1st time.$20.00