Chances are, if you are planning out your Florida vacation, you’ve started to think about what rides you want to ride, what shows you want to see, and what restaurants you want to try. One of the great things about Orlando is that you’re always just a quick drive from great food. From tacos to Thai food, Mexican to Mediterranean, and southern comfort classics to seafood, Orlando has something to satisfy any appetite.
Families who are visiting the parks and opt in for the Disney Dining Plan have the opportunity to purchase meals in advance, and use vouchers throughout their stay at particular restaurants throughout the parks. The very basic package allows families to stop by two fast food type restaurants, have one snack, and allows them to refill their Disney mug throughout the day. The price per adult is $44.13, and for kids 3-9 is $19.04. For seven days, eating snacks and fast food all day, a family of four would pay $884.38.
And that is just the basic package. If you want to be able to enjoy some of Disney’s “sit down” restaurants (which you should because they’re amazing!) A family of four could see a price tag of over $1,200, and that’s not even the most advanced dining package. If you are coming to Disney with no budget and not a care in the world about the money spent, purchasing the Disney Dining plan is probably a good option for your family. However, there are other great options that will allow you to eat a variety of foods without breaking the bank.
The first, and most cost effective tip is to buy groceries when you arrive. Buying cereals for the mornings, milk, juices, sandwich meats, chips, and other easy non-perishable items will allow you to eat breakfast before you get to the parks, and most parks allow you to bring in small snacks to enjoy throughout the day. Families staying in hotels have limited space to keep a lot of groceries, so it is important that they only buy what they need, and plan on making a few trips to the store throughout their stay. Families who opt for vacation rentals have access to full kitchens, cabinet space, and pantries, giving them the space they need to do one big grocery-shopping trip at the beginning of their stay. Access to a stove, microwave, fridge, freezer, and dishwasher also makes eating at home (or making food and taking it to go) a lot easier.
Eating outside of the parks is also a good way to save money but still enjoy the local food options. Venturing just a few miles outside of the “Disney zone” will allow you to enjoy a tasty meal out, without paying Disney prices. Leaving the park is not always easy and convenient, especially if you’re lugging toddlers and strollers and Disney souvenirs, but if leaving the park in the middle of the day makes sense, drive a few miles, enjoy a good meal, and come back for some evening magic at the parks.
Do some research about the rules each park has about bringing in food, drinks and coolers. The water parks are usually stricter about what you bring in, so same yourself some time, energy and embarrassment by following the guidelines and only packing what is allowed. Getting called out by the “cooler inspection patrol” is not a great way to start a day at the theme parks. That being said, take advantage of what you can bring and stock up on water bottles, fruit and other snacks that can get you through the day.
When planning your vacation, leave room in your day (and budget) to enjoy some of the delicious food the city has to offer. By using some of these easy tips, you can save money and still eat like you’re on vacation. (and remember, calories don’t count when you’re on vacation.)