Eating at Walt Disney World isn’t cheap, for most people traveling to WDW, they have to plan a budget for food expenses while on vacation. I regularly read Disney forums, and I usually see this question come up a lot, since some people are not on the dining plan, or they are on a set budget, have decided on only doing counter service meals, or just want to stretch their dollar. The question is, where are the best places to eat on a budget? Here are my money-saving strategies that I would recommend to anyone looking to save a few dollars here and there.
1) By far and away, the cheapest place to eat at WDW is in Downtown Disney, it’s Earl of Sandwich.
Earl of Sandwich is a chain restaurant that specializes in sandwiches and salads, and makes your food to order. All sandwiches are $3.99 for breakfast sandwiches, and for lunch/dinner their sandwiches and salads are $5.99 each. The portion size is decent, and adequate for most people’s needs. There is a large selection of lunch/dinner sandwiches to choose from, including the Holiday Sandwich which gets rave reviews, basically Thanksgiving dinner in sandwich form.
Earl of Sandwich does not accept the Tables in Wonderland card, but does offer a 10% discount to Disney Vacation Club members.
2) Don’t waste money on buying drinks and snacks if you can help it. Drink water when possible, restaurants have filtered tap water and it tastes fine. If you are traveling by car, there are grocery stores near WDW, and you can pick up drinks and snacks for cheap. Keep these in your hotel room fridge, or cooler and you can save a lot of money on buying drinks – grab what you need as you are heading out for the day. If you have an in-room coffee maker, make your coffee and take with you in a travel mug. Keep granola bars, nuts, jerky, or other snacks with you in case you need a pick me up. Coffee is at least $3 on WDW property. Specialty coffees as expensive as $6-7 for certain iced coffee drinks at the coffee kiosks located around the parks. You are permitted to bring a small cooler into the parks (NO LARGER THAN 24″ (61 cm) long x 15″ (38 cm) wide x 18″ (46 cm) high), if you want to bring some drinks, snacks, sandwiches, or fruit. If a cooler is too much trouble, just bring a backpack with the items you need.
3) Counter service/Quick service dining will save you money as opposed to table service dining. You will be saving at least 15-18% immediately since you won’t be tipping as you would at a sit-down meal. Plus the quick service meal prices tend to be about 20-50% less than comparable meals.
My personal favorite counter service place is Cookes of Dublin, also in Downtown Disney. They make great fish and chips, for less than what you’d pay at Raglan Road for the same meal. Of course by chips they mean french fries. Cookes of Dublin fish and chips $10.95, Raglan Road $19.00. The quick service Cookes of Dublin meal is about 43% less the cost of the Raglan Road meal PLUS you don’t have to tip 15-18%. A family of 4 who each order fish and chips for dinner (or equivalent $19 meal) and a soda each at Raglan Road would cost $110.59 after tax and 18% tip. A family of 4 who each order the virtually the same fish and chips meal from Cookes of Dublin, plus 4 drinks, would cost $59.43. Skip the sodas and save $12 plus tax, total $46.65. The $12 plus tax for soda basically pays for almost three 12 packs of soda if you pick some up from a local grocery store, that’s 36 servings vs. 4 drinks!
Cookes of Dublin also takes the Tables in Wonderland card, which is a 20% discount. Drinks are pricey here, at $3 a pop, but they do have a self-service soda fountain where you can get free refills. I usually don’t feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth until I’ve had 2 drink refills. If you don’t feel like splurging on a drink, just ask for a cup for water. They serve a lot more than fish and chips, they have a full menu, including wraps, salads, burgers, seafood, wings, and desserts. Most meals are under $12.95. My favorite is the shrimp and chips, delicious batter-fried shrimp with thick french fries. If you are trying to eat healthy, they will substitute the fries for a side salad, your choice of the mixed green salad or caesar salad (they put bacon on it).
Tip: Cookes of Dublin is right next to the Hole in the Wall Bar, which serves what might be the cheapest beer prices during happy hour 5 – 7 pm that you will find on WDW property.
Another spot for Fish and Chips ($8.99) is at Yorkshire County Fish and Chips stand in Epcot at the UK pavilion, virtually the same meal dining at Rose and Crown would cost you double that.
4) If you want to experience different sit-down restaurants but don’t have the budget for splurging for a full multi-course meal, consider making a sit-down reservation and order one course – a salad or appetizer as your meal, or go just for desserts. Most sit-down restaurants have cheaper menu items at breakfast or lunch, as opposed to dinner.
For instance, two great places for a little snacking would be Sci-Fi diner, where you can get an appetizer as a meal. Or try 50s Prime Time for their yummy PB&J milkshake. The PB&J milkshake is large enough for 2 to share, and a pretty good deal at $5.29 (plus tax and tip). If you just want to stop in, you can check out the Tune-in Lounge, you can order from the bar.
Another example, the French Onion Soup at Les Chefs de France is extremely filling, it’s a meal in itself and it’s $7.99 (plus tax and tip), plus they serve fresh bread and butter at this restaurant which is excellent.
5) Some menu items at quick service are exactly the same or very similar to table service counterparts.
Often times you will find great food at the resort quick service restaurants. I’ll give you a prime example. Kona Cafe is well-known for their Tonga Toast – a breakfast dish that is delicious, but can be pricey if you have to worry about feeding the whole family at a sit down restaurant, plus tax and tip can be expensive. Well, many people may not know that Captain Cook’s (a quick service restaurant) located downstairs at the Polynesian resort has Tonga Toast available on their menu for a lot less. You can still indulge in yummy banana french toasty goodness and save money.
Another example, the desserts at the French Bakery in Epcot, are the same desserts you would be having if you were dining at Les Chefs de France – for less money. This is why quick service gives you such value, for example, you can still sample Japanese, Moroccan, and Chinese, cuisine for less than the table service counterpart. Less frills, but also less money.
That covers the basics, you can still have plenty of fun on a budget. Maybe even more fun, since you won’t be spending so much time going to and from table service meals which eat into your vacation time. We can’t always save money all the time, we have to live a little too and have fun. As long as you know what your options are and choose accordingly, you can stretch your dollar further. Saving money is fun to me, I enjoy getting a great deal or a good value. Hopefully you can use one or more of these tips on your next vacation!