Dining at Walt Disney World can be an enjoyable experience. It can also empty your wallet faster than you can lick your lips. What can you do? One hot afternoon while waiting on line, I wondered if it was possible for my family to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in Disney’s Hollywood Studios for only $100 for the day.
We are a family of four – my husband, 10 year old son, 6 year old son, and me. My children are picky eaters. They are proponents of the beige diet. If the color of the food is not white, beige or very light brown, they will not eat it. The offending item must be removed and never spoken of again. My family prefers riding attractions over sitting in a restaurant so many meals are eaten at counter service restaurants.
We used the following guidelines for our experiment. We can eat anywhere in the Studios for each of the three meals. The $100 is for food purchases only and does not include any taxes, gratuities or other non-food purchases.* My children will order from the kid’s menus. My husband and I will order from the adult menu. All purchased beverages will be included in the $100 budget. Any food or beverage purchased outside the Studios, but carried into the park will not be included in the budget.
Disney allows guests to bring food, refillable water bottles and other bottled beverages into the parks. I bring snacks since we easily eat $100 worth of snacks in a day at the Studios. It is nothing elaborate, just items that could easily fit in a drawstring bag and hold up well in the Florida heat. We pack granola bars, gummies, prepackaged crackers, apples and oranges. Each of us brings bottled water to refill at water fountains in the park. If you prefer not to carry around a water bottle, counter service restaurants, upon request, will give you a free cup of water.
We start the day with breakfast at Starring Rolls Café. Because we like to do as much as we can in a day, we eat a light and quick breakfast. Both boys ordered the bagel with cream cheese at $2.29 each. My husband ate the apple turnover for $2.99. I ordered a giant muffin for $2.99. Grand total for breakfast was $10.56, which left us with $89.44 for lunch and dinner.
We tour the park until we get hungry for lunch. We decide to eat at Catalina Eddie’s on Sunset Boulevard. My older son orders a cheese pizza off the kid’s menu. It comes with a choice of applesauce or carrot sticks and a small milk or bottled water for $5.99. My youngest son opts for the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It also came with a choice of applesauce or carrot sticks and a small milk or bottled water for $5.49. My husband has the Hot Italian Deli sandwich that comes with a Caesar salad for $9.39. I choose the Caesar salad with chicken for $7.99. Both of us ask for a free cup of water as our drink. The total for lunch was $28.86. Our running total for breakfast and lunch was $39.42, leaving us with $60.58 to spend for dinner.
Throughout the afternoon, we nosh on the snacks we brought into the Park and frequently refill our water bottles. No one complained they were hungry, although no one would have refused a cookie from The Writer’s Stop either. One thing we have learned on our trips to the World is that the hotter the temperature, the less hungry we feel. And when it comes to the kids, the more distracted they are, the less likely they are to eat mindlessly.
As the sun began to set, we decide to take a break and have dinner. As we debate where to go for dinner, we realize how hungry we are. Wanting something more substantial than sandwiches, we choose Fairfax Fare because of their menu choices. Both boys order Macaroni and Cheese, which includes applesauce, carrot sticks and a choice of a small low fat milk or small bottled water. Since we had been drinking water all day, the boys opt for milk. One tip, when your child can not finish all the items in his meal, the applesauce is totally portable and fits in a drawstring bag for later consumption in the Park or in the hotel room. On this day, the boys were quite hungry and ate everything. The total for both meals was $11.98. I order the ½ chicken, which comes with a good size serving of baked beans and coleslaw. None of the adult meals include beverages, so I ask for a free cup of water when I place my order. The cost of my meal is $9.99. My husband is the most extravagant and orders the Chicken and Spareribs meal. It likewise comes with baked beans and coleslaw. He also gets a free cup of water. His meal was $15.19. Our total for dinner was $37.16. With full bellies, we set out to ride more attractions before park closing.
With our grand experiment over, I thought about what we experienced. When we talk to people returning from Disney vacations, one of the topics is always how much they spent on food. Granted, you can spend a lot. But if you are careful and put some thought and effort into reviewing menus, a family of four can eat reasonably. If you like eating meals in air-conditioned restaurants, this approach is not a good fit for your family. Although we did save money, I still enjoy a sit down dinner once in awhile. With the savings from dining this way, the check amount from a sit down dinner for four is easier to swallow. So you are wondering what the grand total for three meals for a family of four came to? Drum (or dinner) roll please…we spent $76.62. To celebrate our achievement, we spend the remaining $23.42 on popcorn, a Mickey ice cream bar, cinnamon-glazed almonds, and a carrot cake cookie. And, we still had $7.18 left.
We did it! It can be done. I am proud of my family for being good sports. You too can do it. Most of us put some effort into planning our Disney vacation. I had never given much thought to dining strategies other than making Advanced Dining Reservations. I intend to start. Because a penny saved can be put back into the bank for our next trip to Walt Disney World.
*Menu prices were accurate as of January 2014. All menu items and prices are subject to change at the sole discretion of The Disney Company.