Doing Disney

Eating at Disneyland {Where We Ate & How to Save Money}

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A common question in regards to Disney planning is food. I get questions like ‘where should we eat?’ ‘Do we want to spend time at a sit down restaurant?’ and  ‘how much should we budget for it?’

The cost of food is something you absolutely need to work into your budget. We all know Disneyland isn’t cheap, and if you are choosing to eat all your meals in the parks (plus potential snacks) the cost of your vacation will increase substantially.  Some hotels will offer a free breakfast, which is a great start as long as it’s actually a decent meal and not just doughnuts and dry cereal. We always get groceries on our day of arrival so that we have snacks to bring into the park (such as granola bars, chips, fruit, etc), bottles of water (California water is gross in case you weren’t aware) and food for at least one meal in our rooms. On our most recent trip we had breakfast and supper or lunch in our condo almost every day.

Turkey Dinner at Flo's. SO MUCH YUM!
Turkey Dinner at Flo’s. SO MUCH YUM!

If you do plan to purchase in the parks, the best bang for your buck will be to eat at Counter Service restaurants. These are places where you will line up to order, be given your tray of food and then find a place to eat at open tables. Meals can be anything from burgers and fries to salads to themed foods such as Italian or Mexican. You’ll generally pay $10-$12 per plate and you’ll get a decent amount of food. Kids meals run around $6 in cost and it was a good amount of food for our nearly three year old.  One of our favorite counter service restaurants is The Hungry Bear in Critter Country located near Splash Mountain. Awesome salads and chicken burgers! The seating area is in a lovely shaded area along the Rivers of America where you can watch the Mark Twain Riverboat and Canoes sail by. Another great one is Flo’s V8 Cafe in Carsland at California Adventure. We ate there twice this trip thanks to the awesome Turkey & Roast Beef dinners. And that view of Ornament Valley and Radiator Springs Racers? Doesn’t get much better!

Character Breakfast Buffet at PPH. I could have kept on eating if I weren't so distracted by characters!
Character Breakfast Buffet at PPH. I could have kept on eating if I weren’t so distracted by characters!
Big Thunder Ranch BBQ Buffet - The Chicken, Ribs & Cornbread just kept comin!
Big Thunder Ranch BBQ Buffet – The Chicken, Ribs & Cornbread just kept comin!

Sit Down restaurants are significantly pricier and are much like your traditional dining experience. You’ll be seated at a table, will have a waiter and you’ll need to give a tip. Because of these things your price just jumped up to $25+ for one adult meal depending on if you have lunch of supper there (yes – there is a price difference!) It’s recommended that you make reservations for these places in advance and you’ll want to allow more time to eat, thus giving up park time. We did more sit down restaurants this past trip then ever before because we were celebrating some special things. My husband and I ate at Blue Bayou for our 5th anniversary (if you decide to eat there show up early and request a waterside table – it’s worth it!) We also tried out Big Thunder Ranch BBQ and did a character breakfast at Surfs Up with Mickey & Friends in Paradise Pier Hotel. No joke, those three sit down restaurants raised the cost of our trip by several hundred dollars. Was the food good? Absolutely! But I doubt we will do that many again on our next trip. If you have to pick just one sit down meal I would opt for a character breakfast with your kids (unless you have access to a babysitter, then totally do Blue Bayou with your special someone!)

We bought a fair amount of snacks in the park simply because it was hot and we wanted cold things like ice cream and frozen strawberry lemonade. They items range in price from $4-8 dollars and are usually bought from carts located along the pathways in the parks. Things like drinks and popcorn are often offered in ‘souvenir’ containers which will nearly double your cost, so try to avoid being sucked into that.

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So to wrap this up… how can you save money on food at Disney?
* Get a hotel/condo with a kitchen and purchase groceries
* Bring snacks into the parks (just try to avoid bringing a cooler in – that’s often a no go)
* Stick to counter service restaurants
* Pick ONE special sit down meal as a splurge

What are your favorite spots for Eating at Disneyland?

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