Many people insist that they know the best ways to save on costs at Disney Parks. To be sure, a Disney vacation can, and probably will, take a chunk out of your bank account. While there are many ways to save on a magical vacation, I don’t think that all of these ways benefit your trip. In short, some ways to save money just aren’t worth your time and sacrifices.
One popular piece of advice in trying to save money at Disney is to “eat your meals outside of the Disney Parks”. This “advice” is the most annoying to me of all the money-saving “tips” people offer. Yes, that’s a lot of quotation marks. That’s how I show my half-sarcastic disdain! In this post, I’m going to lay out 6 reasons why I think eating off-site all the time isn’t a good idea while on a Disney vacation.
Before I give you the reasons why to eat inside of Disney, I will throw out a caveat or two. First of all, there are great restaurants to try outside of both the Disneyland and Disney World resorts. If you want to go get an In N’ Out Burger because you live outside of California, I fully endorse that. In fact, I do it every trip. If you want to try some of Orlando or Southern California’s premier dining locations, by all means, try it. This is unique and something that will probably enhance your vacation. The second exception to this post is that if you truly have budgeted your vacation to spend the absolute minimum on food (I’m talking dollar menu at a fast-food joint everyday). I understand that a Disney vacation is once-in-a-lifetime for some and just going there is more important than eating. With that being said, here are reasons why you should keep your dining inside the resorts.
1. Eating on-site isn’t much more expensive.
When looking at the costs of the different restaurant options, dining in the parks (or at the hotels) simply isn’t much more expensive. As I mentioned above, as long as you weren’t just planning to scour dollar menus for a week the cost is negligible. There are plenty of under $10 options at Disneyland and Disney World. There are even more options under $15. Sure, some of them might be your usual theme park food but a good share isn’t. Off the top of my head, Disneyland offers Mexican, Cajun, American, and Bakery (salads and sandwiches) items all for under $15. California Adventure adds pizza and Chinese food to the table. That doesn’t even show the variety that Downtown Disney and the hotels add. Some of these are of higher quality than others but a little research will help you decide. In my opinion, almost all of these places are better than the usual fast food.
Over on the other coast, there are even more options and variety thanks to the size of Disney World. The cost of food at Disney if you are using strictly counter-service is roughly 2-5 dollars more per meal. If you, drive to a different fast food location then that cost is close to off-set as long as you aren’t with a bus full of people. That’s especially true if you are at Disney World. To me, there is little value in buying your food outside of the parks and that’s not even bringing up one of the aspects we value most of vacation….
2. A lot of time is lost when eating outside of the resorts.
Continuing with the talk of value, time is something of the utmost importance while on vacation. Regardless of the pace you take while at the parks, guests want to have as much time at the parks or at their resort as possibly while on vacation. If you are taking time out of your day to go eat cheap food that you can essentially get home, you are losing money by not being at the parks. Disney tickets aren’t cheap. To drive the point home, I’ll use my elementary school math. I’ll take the most extreme examples (meaning you are buying the most days so that the cost of per day goes down) of Disneyland (that park because there are closer restaurants to walk to).
So let’s say a couple goes to eat at a restaurant outside of Disneyland because they don’t want to pay for the prices inside the park. They have a 5-day park ticket which comes to $55/day each. They plan to spend 10 hours a day in the park but have to subtract anytime that they go out to eat. At Disneyland it probably takes an hour to go eat (you could maybe cut it to 45 minutes) with walking out of the park to the restaurant (10 minutes minimum), ordering and eating (probably around 30 minutes at a fast food restaurant) then walking back, going through security, and getting to where you want to go in the park (another 15 minutes). We’ll take away an hour of the day to make the math easy. If you were planning to spend 10 hours in the parks and take away an hour that’s $5.50 this couple is losing per person just by spending a meal out to eat. $5.50 is more than the different between a fast food meal and a counter-service meal inside the park. The value simply doesn’t add up, and this was at the best per day savings possible at Disneyland. If you are looking to save time and don’t want to spend much on food, get some groceries before you go into the parks and have a sandwich while there.
3. You get to see great theming when eating inside the Disney resorts.
Aside from PB&J’s losing their appeal after a few days, this is one of the biggest reasons why you shouldn’t just stick to the groceries. Restaurants in Disney Parks are an extension of the land that they reside in. While the theme in attractions and details around the parks are not to be missed, I’d argue that some of the best theming is in Disney restaurants. While more expensive restaurants are bound to have more extravagant theming due to the budget it took to create them, counter-service restaurants can still have beautiful design and details. My favorite counter-service restaurants due to theme are Be Our Guest (Magic Kingdom for lunch), Flame Tree Barbecue (Animal Kingdom), Flo’s V8 Cafe (California Adventure), and Katsura Grill (Epcot). All of those restaurants have meals well under $15. There are many more wonderful themed restaurants in that price range, as well as many that are more expensive.
4. Eating inside the resorts keeps you inside the Disney bubble.
Now, this one is going to fit different guests preferences. It is also more applicable to Disney World than Disneyland. When vacationing at Disney, many like to forget the world around them. I include myself in this category. When at Disney I don’t want to be reminded of the outside world. When you only eat on-site, that bubble isn’t burst. There is no reminder of the outside world. Again, this category isn’t for everyone. Some people don’t like to be locked away. I, for one, enjoy the convenience and the care-free nature of staying inside of Disney.
5. The ‘Free Dining’ discount provides a way to save money while getting to eat quality food.
I wrote about the free dining discount a few weeks ago on the blog so I won’t delve into it here. Suffice to say, this reason only applies to Disney World but I really do think it adds to the experience of Disney World especially if your family is apprehensive about eating all of their meals inside of the resort. My wife went to Disney World without the dining plan the first time and ate mostly off-site. The next time, we went with the dining plan and a decent amount of research on where we wanted to eat. She said she’ll never go back to the first way after doing that.
6. The food really is good.
One last reason I’ll add is that the food really is enjoyable. I mentioned this in my dining plan post but this is a safe place for people to really try to branch out and try new ethnic food. They will be slightly Americanized (in most places) so they aren’t quite as big of a jump as going to a different country and eating there. There are good counter-service restaurants and there are good high-priced restaurants. Some of my favorite meals I’ve ever had have come at Disney Parks, namely Napa Rose and California Grill. There is something for everyone out there, even if your budget is a little smaller on food than you’d like it to be. Like with most things at Disney these days, the more research you do, the better your dining choices will probably be.
If you are ever in need of suggestions or want more advice on dining in a Disney Park leave a comment here or email us at Wanderingindisney@gmail.com. We’d be happy to help you out and would love to share some more specific suggestions. Do you think dining mainly on-site at Disney is the way to go? Let us know in the comments. As always, thank you for reading!