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A Mouseketrips Mouseke-tip: How to make eating out at Disney World NOT take a bite out of your wallet

A Mouseketrips Mouseke-tip: How to make eating out at Disney World NOT take a bite out of your wallet

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I remember sack lunches. You know, those meals lovingly packed by Mom each day before you headed off to school. The ones that contained, by the time you got around to opening the tattered brown bag, a completely flattened PB&J, a baggie of what were once full-sized potato chips, a well-bruised apple, and some warm carrot sticks. A whole day's nutrition neatly contained in one flexible, squishable, and throwable portable container. How many of you are alive today because of sack lunches?

Unfortunately, too many folks seem to think that their Walt Disney World trip must, due to budgetary constraints and the stratospheric food prices charged at the parks, include some form of sack-lunch-type cuisine. The Disney theme parks do have a (well-earned) reputation of supplying hideously overpriced food and beverage services. It's still possible, however, to enjoy plenty of very good food at reasonable prices while on your Disney vacation by using a few tips and tricks discovered by Disney park veterans over the years. Maybe you could even eliminate the sack lunch from your repertoire once and for all.

Saving money on food during your Walt Disney World vacation really isn't all that difficult, it just requires a little bit of advance planning and a slightly different way of thinking. Here are a few of the best tips that we've compiled over the years for making the most of your food budget while you're visiting the House of Mouse.

  • Stock up on small grocery items.. When you arrive in Orlando, make a grocery stop between the airport and your hotel. If you're not renting a car, most town car transfer services will include a complimentary grocery stop on the way to your hotel - make sure to ask your driver. Stock up on snacks, sodas, bottled water, and breakfast items. Buy some paper cereal bowls, small paper plates, and plastic utensils. Purchase some milk and/or juices if you know your hotel room will have a refrigerator. (By the way, Disney announced yesterday that they will be equipping all of the rooms in their Deluxe and Moderate category resorts with refrigerators at no extra charge. The Value category resort rooms can still be equipped with a refrigerator upon request, but there will be an extra charge.)
  • Eat breakfast in your room. Eat a quick breakfast of bagels, cereal, fruit or other simple items in your room. Use the complimentary in-room coffee maker for making coffee, but keep in mind that it can also produce hot water for hot chocolate, tea, and even for preparing instant oatmeal. Everyone is excited to get to the parks anyway, and a fast breakfast only speeds the process.
  • Carry a fanny pack/backpack. This can be a real money-saver. Take some of the items you purchased at the grocery store into the park with you. Bottled water from the grocery store is under $5 for a six-pack. Bottled water purchased in the parks is $2.50 per bottle. Another handy tip - if you have a freezer in your hotel room freeze a bottle of water the night before. Then put the frozen bottle in your fanny pack to keep other items cool. You'll also have a cool drink for most of the day as the ice melts in the bottle. Carry some granola bars, fruit snacks, and crackers to keep the kids happy in between meals.
  • Split entrees. Disney's portions are usually huge. Most of the time you'll find that there's enough food in one portion to split between two people. This is a very common request at Disney restaurants, and most table service restaurants will even split the entrée for you in the kitchen and present it on two plates. This works really well if you're traveling with kids who are too tired, picky, or excited to eat very much.
  • Skip the entrée altogether. Another option lots of folks, myself included, really enjoy is to order an appetizer or two and dessert, and just skip the entrée altogether. Most appetizers are large enough to count as a meal, but still small enough that you're not too stuffed to sample the dessert tray!
  • Order a kids' meal. Don't hesitate or be embarrassed to order the kids' meal at Disney counter service restaurants, even if you're not quite a kid anymore. Many people find the portions offered in the kids' meals to be just the right size, and the cost is significantly lower than the adult menu prices. Do keep in mind that this only works at counter-service eateries, you can't order from the kids' menu at table service restaurants.
  • Meal Vouchers. There are several different types of meal vouchers available:

    o Animal Kingdom "Meals Plus". The Meals Plus program, available only at the Disney's Animal Kingdom, provides a coupon which can be used for a counter service meal with a small drink, a coupon for a box of popcorn or an ice cream, and a coupon for a bottle of water. These vouchers sell for $11.99 adult and $5.99 child, which is a significant savings over the regular price of these items if purchased separately.

    o Quick & Casual Meal Vouchers. "Quick and Casual" meal vouchers can be purchased from many ticket brokers and wholesalers. They are priced at $17.50 each and can be used for lunch or dinner at most counter service and some table service restaurants. These vouchers have to be used carefully in order to realize a big savings - you have to order the priciest items in order to come out ahead.

    o Character Breakfast Vouchers. Also available from ticket brokers and wholesalers are Character Breakfast vouchers which can be used for any of the Character Breakfast meals offered throughout the resort. These vouchers don't really end up saving anything, and in my opinion are more trouble than they're worth.

  • Alter your eating schedule. I've saved this tip for last, because I've found it to be the best and easiest method for saving money on food during my Walt Disney World trips. Most folks eat breakfast early in the morning, followed by a lunch around midday, with dinner being the "big" meal of the day sometime around 6:00 pm or so. If you just alter your food schedule and priority a little bit, it can end up saving you a lot. Let me explain what I mean.

    For breakfast, my family will either eat in the room using the food we bought at the grocery store, or, if we're eating at a restaurant for breakfast, we schedule a very late Priority Seating. Sometime after 10:00 a.m. is best, which makes Priority Seatings very easy to get. We can catch an hour or so in the parks as soon as they open and enjoy the shorter lines, and then head to breakfast just as everyone else is arriving. After breakfast we return to the parks and use the snacks and water we brought with us to hold us over until late afternoon.

    We eat our "big" meal of the day at around 4:00 p.m. - as late as we can before the restaurant changes from the lunch to the dinner menu. Lunch prices are always significantly lower than dinner prices, and most of the entrees served from the lunch menu are the same size or just slightly smaller than those served from the dinner menu. As an added bonus, we enjoy the shorter attraction lines in the parks while everyone else is trying to find a place to eat lunch during the "normal" lunch hours. It's also lots easier to get a table at the more popular restaurants later in the afternoon.

For dinner, which is a much lighter meal than lunch, we wait until late in the evening. If our trip is during the off-season when the parks close early, we'll wait until leaving the park and perhaps drive off-site somewhere for a less-expensive meal, or get quick service food at our hotel. If we're in the parks until later, we'll find a snack at an outdoor vending cart or a quick bite at a counter service restaurant.

Well, there you have it. While this is certainly not a comprehensive list of money-saving ideas for your Walt Disney World meal budget, it does contain the most effective ideas we've found so far. We're always learning new tips and tricks, and would love to hear any ideas you might have that we have not covered. Our readers, friends, and clients are our very best source of information, and we love finding new and unique ways to stretch vacation dollars and enhance the fun of a Disney vacation.

So fold up the brown bags, put away the Thermos, and close the box of sandwich baggies. Leave your sack lunches home - you're going to Disney World!

Scott Liljenquist is co-owner of Mouseketrips.com, the web's best Disney-only travel agency. A graduate of the College of Disney Knowledge, he suffers from a serious Disney Obsession Disorder. Unhappy unless he's either on a WDW vacation or planning the next one, he can usually be found scouring the 'net for the latest Disney news, rumors, and gossip. For further information on the sorts of trips and tours that Mouseketrips offers, visit the Mouseketrips web site.

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