Touring at Disney World is physically challenging. It’s such a huge place; people have been known to traverse a dozen miles in the course of a humid day to visit favorite attractions. Staying your best physically can be a challenge. Not only are you out of town and at the mercy of restaurants, but you are at the mercy of THEME PARK restaurants. If your blood sugar goes out of whack, it can lead to fatigue and grumpiness, and from there progress to short tempered remarks at cast members and other people’s kids, then naturally you start recalling all those little things your significant other has done that really annoy you. You’ve got a WHOLE monorail ride back to the TTA to cover it. It’s a slippery slope that I’ve skiied once or twice. Caring for yourself from a fueling perspective can make or break a trip. I know, since I’ve found myself standing in line at a quick service praying that there’s something that will serve as fuel on the menu while my blood sugar falls and my ire rises.
In the spirit of sharing, I’ve put together some amateur tips for survival in the Disney jungle of theme park food. This is not a gourmet dining plan. This is not a diet plan. These are merely pointers from one experienced park goer to another who need to eat properly on a consistent basis to appropriately fuel their bodies. No extreme highs, no extreme lows: keeping the brain fed and balanced in a physically demanding environment.
1. Create eating windows
If you aren’t going to make a reservation for a specific time, have open time slots in mind that you will use for fueling. For example, know that stopping no earlier than 10 am and no later than 11:15 will keep you on track for 5 small meals that day. This allows you some spontaneity and will let you browse restaurants outside of the traditional meal times. But it also keeps you from the threat of low blood sugar, which could have consequences later in the day. If you are making advanced reservations, place the reservations and then fill in around the major meal with quick service and snack windows. What you don’t want to do is look at your phone and realize it’s 4 pm and you last ate at 8:15 am before you got on the bus. Talk about a panicked trip to the closest food source.
2. Plan for fueling stops
When you are on a touring mission due to a FastPass scheduled in an hour and then need to get good viewing for the parade, you might have to adjust your fueling plans. The key here is to know at least one eatery with the appropriate foods in each major area of the park that you are going to be near. Know which stops have limited menus, and which offer healthy options. Just because you are desperate to eat something and Casey’s Corner is nearby, does not mean that the menu will magically offer grilled chicken salad. I’ve done just that: I’ve walked in thinking, “Surely I can find something decent in here,” only to realize that it is still fries and hot dogs. This skill is no different from our ancestors knowing where the river was, where the blackberries grew, and where to find wild boar to hunt. Well, it is kind of different, now that I think about it. But the principle is the same: know your environment with regards to fuel.
Some examples of quick service menus in the Magic Kingdom that contain high protein, nutrient rich, or less processed options:
The key to this strategy is to to know the menus. Nothing worse than finding yourself at the counter after a long wait to find that there is nothing on the menu but fried chicken nuggets. Because then you just order the battered chicken nuggets.
3. Carry emergency food
Research and purchase some refrigeration-free bars to keep in your bag. Carrying along 150-200 calories of balanced protein and complex carbohydrates might mean the difference in skipping a fueling stop or in compromising by purchasing a negative fuel. At this point in time, there is not a WDW restriction on this, but always keep your eyes open for park policies on outside food.
4. Peruse your resort food court like a hunter/gatherer
When you are in your resort food court, look at the foods available in the same way you observe food in the grocery store. Processed vs. unprocessed, complex vs. simple carbs, battered vs. grilled. Do you see any combinations that minimize processing and maximize fuel value? Are there any portable options for your park bag the next day? There are some hidden gems in the food courts like fresh fruit and relatively unsugared cereals. Snack credits on the Dining Plan come in very handy here. Fill that daypack up like you’re about to migrate!
5. Go for treats in a responsible way
When you make that splurge on dessert, minimize the effect. You might choose a 600 calorie cupcake, or you might choose an under-100 calorie Dole Whip. Know what you are going to choose ahead of time, know where you can get it, and put it into your day responsibly. There is always a Mickey Mouse Ice Cream bar in my WDW trips. Not 5, not 3, but one. And it is a special, special treat purchased strategically before a long walk out of or around the park.
6. Hydrate like a marathoner
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. If you don’t know how marathoners hydrate, there are lots of blogs and books out there. Runners are almost as fanatic as Disney people. Imagine what you get when it’s a Disney runner…
Making a plan for fueling allows you to control one solid variable in your vacation trek. It’s such a foundational part of being ready to face the Parks. If you can’t control heat, long lines, disappointed family members, lack of rest, attractions that need painting, and your third go on Small World, then just control your fueling. You’ll be in a better place to deal with the rest.