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Walt Disney World 101: the Food
First Things First
Alright, its time to clear the air. A fairly large reason behind why I love the Disney parks so much is the food. There. I said it. If that sounds odd to you then you are doing it wrong. Plain and simple. Between the dining plans and the mere fact that the portion sizes are large enough to share dining at Walt Disney World can be done affordably. Even if you have to eat your breakfasts in your hotel room you can make your dining experience at Walt Disney World magical.
Making Ordinary Magical
How can you make your ordinary food into something worthy of Disney? Easy, magic.
So you are making breakfast at your hotel and you are making pancakes. Why not add some Disney sprinkles? Or why note make your pancakes Mickey shaped? Use fruit to make faces on the pancakes. Blueberries make great eyes, and strawberry and banana slices are good for the mouth and hair.
If you take a walk down the aisles of your local grocery store you are likely to find many Disney themed foods. I have seen cheese snacks in the shape of Mickey. There are yogurt cups with Disney characters on them. I've even seen apple slices and carrots in little bags with Mickey and Minnie on them.
Bringing Your Own Food
The first time my parents took us to Disney we brought a case of mixed fruit justices from Costco along with a try of the giant Costco muffins. That was breakfast. My parents also brought popcorn and other snacky items for if we were hungry after the long days at the parks. For a few more trips we brought down packs of doughnuts, cases of juice and chocolate milk, and pop tarts. That was when we stayed at the value resorts. You want to know what made it magical? All the resorts have souvenir mugs that you can use your entire trip. One of my parents would run down to the cafe and fill up the mugs with hot chocolate while my brother and I were getting ready. We got to drink as much hot chocolate as we wanted out of a Disney mug every morning. What kid wouldn't love that?
Fast forward a few years and my parents decided that it was more cost effective to join the DVC (That's Disney Vacation Club to those of you who don't know the secret.) Now when we stay we have our own kitchen. Sure, we still have the cases of juice and chocolate milk. But, now we can make pancakes, eggs, and all the other breakfast foods we love. Having breakfast in your room saves money. And as an added bonus the time you would have spent looking for food and eating in the parks can now be spent hunting down your favorite character or riding that must do ride.
Disney allows you to bring food into the parks. Pack a few snacks for each member of your group in your day bag. That way you save money and time later in the day. Think about it, chances are pretty good that your 7 year old is going to want a snack at some point in the day. And when he is tired, hot, and tells you he's hungry while your waiting in line do you really want to have to get out of line (or worse make in wait until you're done, which could be more than thirty minutes with a cranky, hungry child) and spend $7+ on each person? I assure you it is much easier to reach into your bag and pull out a few granola bars. Its quicker and easier on your wallet.
If you plan on doing a day at one of the water parks I would strongly consider bringing in your own food. Sure there is plenty of food you can buy, but if you can save a little money why not? A cooler filled with sandwiches and snacks is much cheaper than buying a couple of cheeseburgers.
Mickey Eggs and Pancakes
Many of the table service restaurants require reservations. This is because they tend to fill quickly and people like to plan out their meals around parades and the nightly firework shows. I've heard that it is getting harder to make reservations if you are not on the dining plan. As, I have never had to make reservations without the dining plan I don't know how true this is. If you know where you want to eat make your reservations as early as you can. Typically the earliest you can make then is 180 days ahead of time.
Paying Out of Pocket
So, you don't have a kitchen in your hotel room or you just don't feel like cooking on your vacation. That's not a problem. There are plenty of places where you can find food. All of the Disney resorts have at least one restaurant in the main building. All of the parks have three different levels of dining. The lowest level are the snacks. These are going to be items like popcorn, Mickey ice cream bars, and turkey legs. The next step up is called the quick service. This is like Disney's version of fast food. What is nice is there are a lot of healthy options at some of the restaurants, so its not all burgers and fries. The highest level is called table service. These are going to be the sit-down restaurants. Some of these are more expensive than others, but the food is very good.
You can eat whatever you like wherever you like. You will just need to pay for your meals out of pocket just like you would if you were eating out at home.
Would you use a Disney Dining Plan?
The Dining Plan
Disney offers three different levels of dining plans. The nice thing about these plans is you don't have to pay for your meal that night. That means you can have everything budgeted out and there will be no surprises on your credit card when you get home. The only thing you are responsible for after your meal is the tip for the waitstaff.
My preferred dining plan has one snack, quick service meal, and one table service meal allotted per person per day. What is really nice about this plan is you don't have to use all three things in one day. I'm a fan of this because some table service meals require two days of table service instead of one. This means I can use two of my quick services in one day and save a table service for a really nice dinner another night.
It is not uncommon for Disney to offer special deals. During certain times of the year Disney will offer the dining plan for free if you stay at one of the select resorts. That's not too bad when you think about it. All of your food included for the price of your hotel and park tickets.
Sharing is Caring
The portion sizes are rather large at Disney. It is entirely possible for two adults to share a meal and be full. If you are able to share at least one entree at each meal it will save you money. Ordering 3 entree at each meal for a group of 4 will save at least $12 (if not more...) at each meal. That is quite a lot if you eat three meals a day.
In the End
Even if you decided to go with a dining plan or pay for your meals out of pocket it is still a good idea to bring some food along with you.
- Granola bars
- Pop tarts
- Single serving of chips
- Candy bars
- Protein bars
These are all great things that can be easily packed for your trip. You can even arrange for local stores to have your food items delivered to your hotel if you don't have the travel space.