We've all overheard these types of people while we're trying to enjoy our day at a park. We've even thought about it ourselves. They complain about the prices, the lines, and project a false sense of entitlement over other guests, "I've spent so much for this vacation..." (Oh, you have, and I haven't?) You see them round up their group to get to their car, just to drive to a "McPlace" or maybe some fried chicken at Publix if someone they know listened to the DIS Unplugged. So, I'll start by breaking this down as simply as possible to show you why leaving the park is a bad idea, especially if you're of this mindset. Please note, prices and length of stay vary, so I'll be using numbers for your typical family of four (two adults, two children under 10) for a five night stay, with a park visit planned for each day (pro tip: Magic Kingdom Mondays are normally crowded, since guests usually go here first to start their vacation). I'm sure there are plenty of these types who bring their own food into the parks to snack on, but it still surprises me how many still want to leave the park for fast food, because...
Time is money.
When a single day ticket to the Magic Kingdom went up and people freaked out, it was pretty ridiculous. The only visitors that I could think of that go to a park for only one day are the ones who take advantage of the Dining Plan for their length of stay and look forward to enjoying meals at many fine restaurants at the resorts (hint: another pro tip) and their time could be occupied with other activities like Spring Training games at Wide World of Sports, a competition, or convention in town. The cost for a family of four (with two kids under 10), five days (no park hopper) for just park tickets purchased through Disney right now is $1,252.44. Divide that by 5 days and your total is $250.88 divided by 4 people is $62.622. Now, divide $62.622 by a typical 12 hour day (10AM-10PM) you will spend in a park and that comes to $5.2185 an hour you are spending, averaged per person in your group just by being in the park (if you can't even hope to attain 12 hours in a park, this number gets higher. Maybe a typical day for you is 11AM-7PM, 8 hours is $7.82775 averaged per person per hour). Your time is literally worth this amount in this scenario. So try not to think about those stand-by queue times because it just reinforces the idea that...
The Monorail is leaving? More waiting!
You are wasting money leaving the park.
How long does it take for you to leave the park? Let's say your group just finished watching a show in front of Cinderella Castle and are now on your way back to your parking spot. Is that twenty minutes on a good day? Is the Monorail running on time? Twenty minutes to your destination? Twenty minutes back to the park? Ten minutes back through the gate... oh, wait, you have to go through the bag line again even when you're re-entering the park and it's taking FOR-EV-ER (five minutes)... you're in a bad mood now, aren't you? Little Timmy just had to have some certain brand's chicken nuggets. Trying not to take your frustration out on him? This vacation is for them, right, the kids? This was your decision as an adult, as a parent. You wasted 75 minutes (minimum) on this lunch/dinner trip which adds up to $26.0925 as a group in time wasted if you spend 12 hours total in a park. Let's assume the gas money you spent to drive to this lunch evens out the price of food savings (and you didn't wreck your vehicle-didn't want to bring this up, but it is a possibility). You still walked an extra amount just to make this trip (pro tip: you will walk at least seven miles a day and blisters happen). Let's say you have to pay $15 more for your dinner in the park, doesn't this sound like a bargain now? A good time to plan on eating is around 2PM-4PM, which is prime time for a pop-up shower. If you're still not convinced, please allow me to point out...
Afternoon shower in Adventureland? More like downpour.
Time away from Disney is less magical.
It sounds absurdly simple, but a big reason Disney has so many repeat customers is the lengths in which cast members go to give everyone a pleasant, repeatable experience and that includes the people who serve your food (some are experts). Why would anyone want to go back to the "real world" and take a chance on having a disgruntled or lethargic fast food employee ruin your day (and order)? I'm not suggesting your dining experience couldn't be flawed at a park (there are policies in place during peak times where you can't sit down at a table without food), but the staff is trained to address problems. Here's an idea; if you're finished with a park (say, Animal Kingdom, which usually closes early), wouldn't you rather take a bus to Port Orleans at Riverside and (hint: pro tip coming up) split a "build-your-own pasta" for $10.99 at the Riverside Mill? Sit down, breathe, let the kids watch cartoons in the corner, and then take a boat ride to Disney Springs for a little shopping. Let the kids get excited again as they build something at the LEGO Recreation Store to tucker them out before heading back to your room.
Build your own pasta at Port Orleans Riverside's Mill.
Save time away from parks for sleep and have a good plan.
If your group is the type that is staying at a Value Resort to take advantages of the Extra Magic Hours, buses, and other perks of staying on property, the best way to use your time away from the parks is to sleep, honestly. You want to see as much as possible and experience every major attraction, right? If you've got your walking shoes worn in, seven miles a day is no problem, and a dip in the resort pool one late afternoon sounds like it should cool you off from the Central Florida heat and humidity, you've got the right idea! But, wait, what's that, you drove a long distance or flew a few hours and are jet-lagged? You planned to tackle a park on the first day after check-in? Ooh. I bet tomorrow will be bad; the kids are going to nag you about what they missed on their first day and how they got in a fight with a local kid in a play area when you left the park for dinner because you wanted to "save money" on food. Did you know there are many play areas (hint: pro tip) in the parks?
Dumbo play area instead of a queue. Great idea.
Stay and enjoy the scenery, it's what a vacation is all about.
There are plenty of nice spots to eat and/or people watch in any park, but you must be willing to take a step back and let yourself relax to do it. Disney goes the extra mile for theme, scenery, storyline, and experience to submerge you and it's a shame that groups don't take advantage of this because they view this trip as just another one (like a weekend getaway to their local amusement park). A favorite spot of mine (hint: pro tip) is the second floor, outdoor balcony at the Pinocchio Village Haus in Fantasyland. There are eight little tables and you get a nice view of the Prince Charming Regal Carrousel and the backside of Cinderella Castle. Enjoy some flatbread and listen to the happiness. Call your parents, log on to My Disney Experience for wait times to adjust FastPasses, and check the radar for any notorious 30-minute pop up showers. If outside isn't your thing or someone in your party has a wheelchair, inside next to the glass window is great for waving to people getting ready to experience it's a small world.
View from outside balcony at Pinocchio Village Haus.
Just a few things to think about the next time you decide that you'll be saving money by leaving the park for lunch.
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