Disney on a Budget, Part 1: Travel Food

Last week, I shared half of our food purchases for a family vacation to Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  I also shared the biggest reason why we were able to keep our food costs so low.  We packed or prepared much of our own food.  Some of the food was brought from home in a large tote.  We also had a delivery to the hotel from Garden Grocer.

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That food was sufficient for all of our breakfasts and lunches while at Disney.  And except for one ice cream pit stop purchased at Disney on Father’s Day, we supplied all of our own snacks, too.  The grand total for all of that food was $206.34, which is a lot.  Especially for a family of five that lives on a $400 a month grocery budget at home.

That being said, we knew we were at Disney.  We allowed ourselves to spend more than our typical budget on food because we were, after all, on vacation.  Meals out were a necessity if we were to stay sane and truly experience all aspects of Disney.

Prepared meals were purchased in a couple different settings.  First, we bought all of our suppers from Disney restaurants.  We also ate several travel meals “out” on the way to and from Disney. All of those purchases are accounted for here.

Before I get into the numbers, though, I need to provide a little background information.  Our actual method for getting to and from Orlando was a little outside the box.

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As alluded to in my Father’s Day post last week, two of our girls danced at Disney World.  Our family traveled with our dance studio so they could participate in a parade at Magic Kingdom and a stage show at Epcot.  The dance studio chartered a bus to Orlando.  That bus ride, from the minute we stepped on at home until the moment we stepped off in Orlando, was thirty-one hours long.

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While we made several stops along the way to eat and stretch, it was still a very long time to be confined in a moving vehicle.  Three of us rode that bus.  Our oldest daughters thought it sounded like great fun when travel plans were made, and I decided to be a good sport and travel with them.  Todd and I were pretty sure that our youngest daughter was simply not equipped to ride a bus that long.  At six years old, she just might go insane.  And probably bring the rest of us with her.  So Todd and she traveled by air.

I tell you this because our food purchases are divided here by traveler.  We were gone for seven days.  Todd and our youngest daughter were at Disney for five nights.  The rest of us stayed only four.

This first set of meals here includes purchases made by Todd to get two people fed on the way to and from Disney:

  • McDonald’s Lunch: $10.91
  • Chick-Fil-A Lunch: $15.53
  • Total: $26.44

These are the purchases I made to feed three people while traveling:

  • Cracker Barrel Breakfast: $33.26
  • Subway Lunch: $17.91
  • Grocery Store Salad Bar Lunch: $19.06
  • Subway Supper: $21.39
  • Truck Stop Supper: $9.03
  • Truck Stop Breakfast: $8.16
  • Total: $108.81

This is the list of meals we purchased while at Disney:

  • Pop Century Hotel Supper: $6.38
  • Animal Kingdom Yak & Yeti Supper: $48.10
  • Magic Kingdom Auntie Gravity’s Snack: $25.41
  • Hollywood Studios Rosie’s All American Cafe Supper: $19.68
  • Pop Century Hotel Supper: $44.68
  • Pop Century Hotel Supper: $14.15
  • Pop Century Hotel Supper: $31.71
  • Total: $190.11

Restaurant Total: $325.36

Grand Total: $531.70

We created our Disney travel budget last fall, and the paperwork we still have laying around from that is a bit sketchy.  I wish I could say for certain what we budgeted for food, but I cannot.  Our best guess is that we figured it would be $150 to $175 per person, which would give us a grand total of $750, minimum.

As you can see, we came in well under that amount.  I think we did so for five reasons.

  • I shopped sales and bulk for the food we brought with.

I waited until the last possible minute to buy anything we brought with, unless I found it somewhere on sale ahead of time.  In addition, most of the single-serve packaged foods came from Costco.  That kept prices much lower than I would have spent at our local grocery store.  Any of our nuts and seeds came from the bulk bins at our grocery store, which is also cheaper than tidy little packages.

  • We drank a lot of water.

We drank water almost exclusively while on vacation.  Our goal was to stay optimally hydrated, but a handy little side-benefit is that water is easy on the budget.  I purchased collapsible water bottles that we refilled frequently.  They were easy and convenient to carry in the parks and while traveling.

  • Our restaurant choices were not fancy.

Fancy meals are fun, but they were more than we needed for this vacation.  We stuck to hamburgers, pizza, chicken strips, and the like.  Everyone in our family was a-ok with that.  After examining the budget and how well we did, Todd and I now wish we had maybe splurged on one nicer meal for the family.  Oh well.  Live and learn.  It is a very rare day when we regret not spending money…

  • We did our homework.

Disney includes information on their website for all of their restaurants at the resorts and theme parks.  Menu options (including prices) are listed.  In addition, many Disney travel books and websites include information about food costs at restaurants in and around the park.  We had a rough idea before ever leaving home which eating establishments would fit our tastes and budget.  This helped at the park when dinnertime rolled around.  We were not forced to eat somewhere expensive for lack of planning.

  • We ate when we were hungry, and only what we were hungry for.

This sounds kind of ridiculous on face value, but hear me out.  Restaurant portions are often enormous.  Disney is no exception.  It can be very tempting to buy more food than necessary because everyone needs their own three-course entree plate.  But our family does not eat out a lot, so for us, those large portions really do feed more than one person.  We often opted to order smaller portions, knowing we could always go back for more if we were still hungry.

For example, one night Todd and two of the girls shared a pizza and skipped all the side dishes available.  I was worried they would not have enough to eat, but as it turned out, they ended up with enough leftovers that Todd had supper again two nights later from that same pizza.

Eating at Disney is expensive.  With planning and preparation, though, it is possible to keep costs at a reasonable amount.  We ate well, we enjoyed Disney food, and we also saved a bunch of cash.  We call that a win.

Do you have strategies for saving money on food at Disney?  Send me an email or comment below!