Disney on the cheap, part 2: The Bare Necessities, AKA, what to eat

This is the sequel to this post here where I looked at a multitude of overwhelming options for where to stay when you go to WDW, on the pretense of saving you money. πŸ˜‰ No, actually, it’s TOTALLY about saving money, it’s just a lengthy discussy post. *G* And guess what? So’s the sequel! Read on…

Now I know in my last post I said we’d be looking at tickets next, but I decided to save that one for a later post, because it’s probably the one expense at WDW you can’t really massage away with a little know-how. So instead I’m going to look at some of the things you really NEED, and how those can take up a bit less of your budget.

Because we can’t all look under the rocks and plants and take a glance at the fancy ants. Hakuna Matata maybe, but I am afraid I have never been able to subsist on bugs while at WDW. πŸ˜‰

I picked this picture partly b/c you can see all the food we got at the Garden Grill, and partly because Chip seems to like my son so much in it.

I picked this picture partly b/c you can see all the food we got at the Garden Grill, and partly because Chip seems to like my son so much in it.


Instead, here’s a good look at food options and ways to slim that cost down.

Part I: The Longest Part Is the Dining Plan Part

LOGO, PEOPLE. (c) the Walt Disney Company.

LOGO, PEOPLE. (c) the Walt Disney Company.

Now, first of all, you’re probably aware that Walt Disney World offers a dining plan. It has several iterations and I’m not going to go over them all and how they work or what’s included – that’s the subject of a different post. But I will talk a little about the Basic Dining Plan, which they promote as their best deal, and the cheapest DDP, the Quick Service plan. With these plans, Disney tells you, you can save a good deal of money.

And this is true. You’re going to eat, no matter what, and there’s a very good chance that as long as you’re at Disney you’re going to want to eat in the themed restaurants available. And personally, I LOVE Disney restaurants. It’s very hard to go to WDW and *not* at least look longingly at the dining options, even if you’re not particularly intersted in Cinderella’s Royal Table.

So, the Quick Service plan entitles everyone to two counter service meals and one snack for each night that you are staying at a Disney resort. It is an add-on option to the Magic Your Way package, meaning you can’t get it if you book a room-only offer and don’t add tickets (same goes for all levels of the DDP). The Basic Dining Plan, moderately but not hugely more expensive, gets you one table service, one counter service, and one snack per night of your stay. According to Disney, the basic plan can save you up to 40% off of food.

The big question is, are these plans worth it?

I’ve considered it long and hard and my opinion is – it totally varies. Sometimes OMG YES. Sometimes they’re AMAZING. But “sometimes” is not “always” because everyone has a different set of needs for their vacation, as I’m pretty sure I said in my previous “on the cheap” post; so you’ve got to weigh the pros and cons, and the particulars, of each plan. Which I will do in a different post at a later date; but for right now, I’ll be very general.

The Basic Dining Plan is great if you want to eat at a lot of character meals or buffets and you have the time to spend to do that. You can save a huge amount on this option – the cost per adult is about $56 more per night, and per child it’s $18. Kids do have to order off the child’s

You actually can get that much food on this plan if you know what you're doing.

You actually can get that much food on this plan if you know what you’re doing.

menu, so look at the prices of the restaurants you most want to eat at, because this can be tricky. For instance: $18 per night per child seems like a very small amount, but if you look at the price of an easy sample day of dining at Hollywood Studios: lunch at Backlot Express, dinner at 50s Prime Time Cafe, and a Mickey Bar snack add up to $18.33 before tax. On the other hand, if you go with *dinner* at Backlot, the Mickey Bar, and a character lunch buffet at Hollywood & Vine, well, the cost of the lunch buffet for a child is $17. So you’re pretty much paying only for lunch that day and dinner is free. πŸ™‚

For adults – same thing, except since you’re not limited to the kids’ menu and their prices, you have a few more options to make sure you get your money’s worth. But you have to remember, most counter service lunches are only going to run you about $10 pre-tax; on the dining plan you get your drink and a dessert free, so that’ll take you up to perhaps $16 or so on average. Then say you get a $4 snack so you’re at $20; you want to be sure that, for dinner, you’re going to get a $35 meal (entree, drink, and dessert) to be sure you get what you’ve prepaid for. That Hollywood and Vine character buffet is about $30 for an adult and that leaves you overspending for the day by about $5. On the other hand, if you go to Epcot’s Akershus Storybook Princess Dinner, the adult price on that is $47 and it includes a photo! So obviously – depending on your tastes, your time, and your decisions, this plan can be a great money-saver or just a convenience of you not having to worry about paying for your meals when you eat.

The other problem with the DDP is not about money, but about time: you have to be sure you’ve got the time, more or less every day, for a sit-down meal. Is this time you’d rather be spending in the parks? At the pool? Taking a nap? Or is this really what you’re looking forward to most? If “yes” to that last one, go for it.

The Quick Service plan? Well, again – tricky. For adults this is significantly cheaper per night than the basic: about $38 each. For kids though, it’s only about $3 cheaper. So here’s the very tricky part for children: “snacks” count up to about $4, tops. Nearly all kids menu counter service options are $5.99 before tax. So you’re basically paying $14.50 per night to get, tops, $16 worth of food and that’s assuming that your child wants a $4 snack and not a $2 snack (or they want a snack at all). Plus some of the kids’ menu options are $5.49. If your kids prefer those options, and a $2.50 snack, you’ll pay $14.50 per night for $13.50 worth of food… I know I’m picking at nits but you know, that’s the topic of this blog today. Saving money. πŸ™‚ Those dollars CAN add up.

I also did not actually mention that you get these refillable mugs good for your entire stay. One per person on the plan. It's like a $15 value for the mug alone plus all the beverages you want to put in it. So there's that. Photo (c) the Disney Food Blog.

I also did not actually mention that you get these refillable mugs good for your entire stay. One per person on the plan. It’s like a $15 value for the mug alone plus all the beverages you want to put in it. So there’s that. Photo (c) the Disney Food Blog.

For adults it’s about the same; depending on what you get with your counter service credits, you might break even, you might save a tiny bit of money, but you also have the chance of losing a little bit of money.

If this blog was about convenience today, I’d say who cares? I’m nickel-and-diming this to death. But since it’s about saving money, I just want to point out that it takes some careful planning to be sure that you’re saving money with the basic DDP, and that your chances of actually *saving* with the QS DDP are pretty slim.

Do note, however; when the dining plans are free, this advice up here? All those lengthy paragraphs? THROW THEM OUT THE WINDOW. You’re not going to get a better deal! Doesn’t matter if it’s free Quick service at a value resort, or free basic at the others, or what. If it’s free, you are saving HUNDREDS of dollars, and it is worth it. Keep in mind you can’t combine offers, but you’re probably getting the better deal with the free dining plan.

Also, I can totally book you on this deal for serious, give me a call. ;)

Also, I can totally book you on this deal for serious, give me a call. πŸ˜‰

Part II: So let’s assume you’re not getting the Dining Plan.

Putting all that above information aside; what other options do you have? No, they never have sales on Disney dining. πŸ™‚ (In fact, at certian times of the year – usually holidays – prices at restaurants go up.) You *can* get a membership with Tables In Wonderland, which gives you a percentage discount at participating restaurants. Assuming you are not doing that, your best bet is:

BRING YOUR OWN FOOD! *lalalaaaa!*

Daddy's Hot Rod loved his raisins back then.

Dad’s Hot Rod loved his raisins back then.

I don’t mean you shouldn’t eat ANYTHING at the parks. Because that’s like blasphemy. But try to anticipate eating at least one meal with food you brought yourself. Nearly all the resorts now have a mini fridge in the rooms, so if you bring your own perishable foods you can keep them cool; bring breakfast supplies. Bring snacks. Disney never enforces a “no outside food” rule, perhaps because they know there would be mass revolts if they did. Bring whatever you need to make it through most of the day and make use of informational sites that post menus (*cough*) to figure out where you’d like to eat and what the costs are so you can anticipate what you’re likely to be spending.

You are also not a complete captive; if you run out of supplies and you can get offsite transportation, there are grocery stores nearby, like a local Publix that has, you know, normal prices. πŸ˜‰ Depending on where you stay there are also options like lounges with free snacks, low-priced parties where you can pick up enough finger food to make a meal, or if you want to do just one buffet you can make that your only “bought” meal of the day – fill up while there and subsist off of snacks the rest of the day.

You can also split offerings at Counter Service restaurants. Some are better than others for this, but Flame Tree Barbeque has this great chicken and it’s HUGE, I mean it’s like an entire quarter chicken, for about $10 and it comes with slaw and beans. GUYS! πŸ˜€

The other option? Do a buffet… at BREAKFAST. πŸ˜€ They are always the least expensive buffet times, you get nice and full to start your day and can usually just skip lunch, and you still get the character interactions. Er, assuming it’s a character breakfast (unlike, say, Trail’s End – which by the way is good food and quite reasonably priced!).

Part III: I Open the Floor To You, The Reader, for Suggestions

I got these from Estelle, from This Happy Place Blog, and they apply mainly to money saving on food:

I know you aren’t this far yet but one suggestion as far as food is… eat in a lot of lounges. You can still get the Disney quality but not have the price of a full on restaurant experience. Not park hopping is another. And just cutting it close on other things in the parks: snacks, souvenirs and things. When does the Food and Wine start? That’s a great way to get an eclectic dinner on a budget too.

Food & Wine, it was just announced, will be held at Epcot from September 27 to November 11. If you’re unfamiliar, this is an international festival highlighting, uh… food and wine πŸ™‚ My husband and I did this back in 2005 and it’s *terrific*. If you’re on the Dining Plan, most of the food offerings at each section in the World Showcase can be purchased with a snack credit! We had not used our snack credits for a full week and so on our last day we went around sampling a huge variety of food and well, we ended up very full! So I fully agree with this advice! My advice has to do with staying very basic to cut down on food costs, but Estelle’s great advice applies to trips where you are willing/able to pay for a little bit more, but you want to know how to get the most that you can. You don’t have to go sit down at all the restaurants in Epcot to get a taste of their amazing cuisine!

Part IV: My Choice, drumroll please…

Okay, so my trip in the fall, which I am still planning for. Since I’m trying to do this as cheaply as possible, I’m not really splurging on any extras, except the day we do the Magic Kingdom, where we will PROBABLY be doing Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Hence the splurging. πŸ™‚

My splurges/ice cream will no doubt include Dole Whips, because I've been told that I am insane for not loving them yet.

My splurges/ice cream will no doubt include Dole Whips, because I’ve been told that I am insane for not loving them yet.

This means I’m going to be bringing breakfast – non-perishable, because we’re camping and won’t have those mini-fridges – for most days, with the option of picking up something extra to share from Trail’s End To Go if we feel really peckish; we won’t be eating at any sit-down restaurants UNLESS I really feel like splurging and doing a Crystal Palace breakfast buffet. Which I am considering.

Instead my plan is to have breakfast covered, each get a snack every day (probably will usually be ice cream, haha, but we’ll see), and for remaining meals split one counter service on one, then each get a full counter service on the other. I camped before with this plan and it worked out fine, but that was just me, so it may not go perfectly with a 7-year-old child… but on the plus side, with the option to buy more if she’s starving, no harm done. I’ll still be trying to do it as cheaply as I can and I’ll let y’all know how well it works!

Have any other tips? Please leave a comment! ❀