One of the most asked questions travel agents get from clients about visiting Disneyland or Walt Disney World is “How can I save the most money?” Now what you have to realize is that there are many variables to take into consideration when answering that question. So today we’ll delve into how to save on lodging, food and tickets.
First, where do you want to stay? If you would like to stay at a Disney property in Anaheim you will pay a premium. Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel is the most affordable option if you want to experience Disney hospitality. The off-site hotels that are within walking distance of the park are more reasonably priced, but families need to keep in mind that for these properties you will pay for the convenience of being able to walk across the street to enter the gates of Disneyland. If you choose a hotel property a block or two from the theme park you can reap considerable savings on your stay.
At Walt Disney World in Florida, you have a much wider variety of choices when it comes to picking a Disney-owned hotel. Disney offers properties of the Value, Moderate, Deluxe and Deluxe Villas variety. They even have a campground for the more adventurous sort. There is a budget category for every pocketbook at Walt Disney World and Disney has made staying on-site very attractive by adding some extras for those who chose to do so. Imagine being able to play after hours in one of the parks after the gates have closed because you are a guest of the resort? If you stay at a Disney property, you will have this amazing opportunity!
Many clients ask how they can save money on food while visiting a Disney park. We get it. Food at a Disney park is expensive. Obscenely expensive, and they only let guests bring in snacks or foods that do not require heating. You can bring in bottled water and soda, but will not be allowed to bring in juice boxes or Capri Sun drinks that have straws. You may also bring soft-sided coolers. For people with food allergies or special diets, you are allowed to bring in some food, but it must be disclosed to security. If you are lucky enough to have a big cooler with you and you can pack a meal, you can rent lockers just outside the entrance of the park and enjoy your meal there. Because food is such a hot-button issue, I’ll spend most of this article discussing it.
If you are visiting Disneyland, the park is close to the outside world so you are able to leave and eat at a restaurant off-site. The least expensive options directly across the street include McDonalds, IHOP, Quizno’s and Denny’s. If you have a car and are able to venture further away, dining options include California Pizza Kitchen, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Joe’s Crab Shack and Red Robin.
If you decide to stay in the park, there are many options to saving money. You’ll save a lot of money by sticking with counter-service or cafeteria-style restaurants, which are substantially cheaper than the table-service restaurants. If you look around you can find some decent options besides corn dogs, hamburgers and fries.
Note that the cheapest beverage options at all of the theme park counter service restaurants are apple or orange juice and milk, all which will cost you $1.79, though the portion is small. You can also ask for a cup of ice water, which is FREE. Regular-sized fountain sodas or bottled water run $2.79 each. And the cost of coffee or hot tea is also $2.79.
A few restaurants that are relative bargains within the parks are Rancho del Zocalo, River Belle Terrace and Plaza Inn in Disneyland; and Pacific Wharf and Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta in Disney California Adventure.
The plates at Rancho del Zocalo near Big Thunder Mountain Railroad can be very substantial, and the Mexican food served at this location is very tasty. For example, one order of fish tacos includes two tacos (each with a fairly big piece of mahi and two corn tortillas, plus toppings) plus a lot of rice and beans. The tamale special includes a good-sized tamale, a serving of beef carnitas, rice, beans and several small flour tortillas. Many of the platters at Rancho del Zocalo are so large that a couple can share.
At River Belle Terrace on in Frontierland, the freshly carved turkey sandwich, while a bit pricy, is large and comes with two good-sized sides (baked beans and a cold item), plus there is a toppings bar for the sandwich with lettuce, tomato, onions, etc. This lunch is easily shared between a couple. The River Belle Terrace also offers a great breakfast at a reasonable price. The “Steamboat Breakfast” includes three pancakes, scrambled eggs and three strips of bacon.
The Plaza Inn on Main Street, U.S.A., is also a good dining option. After the Mickey and Minnie breakfast is over, it turns into a cafeteria-style restaurant for lunch and dinner. The food is quite good, the portions large, and prices decent. For approximately $15.00 you get half a chicken, a large serving of mash potatoes, and a large serving of fresh green beans. This is more than enough to share between 2 people.
Pacific Wharf Cafe at Disney California Adventure serves a variety of hearty soups in a freshly-made sourdough bread bowl. You can order the soups with the bread bowl “on the side” or they’ll give you a bowl of soup and a whole loaf of bread. It really is a lot of food. Pacific Wharf also offers the least expensive breakfast in either of the theme parks. They offer an Egg and Bacon Boule – Scrambled eggs served in a traditional bread boule, served with two slices of bacon and fruit or a Breakfast Croissant Sandwich – Freshly baked croissant with Scrambled eggs, Cheddar Cheese and Bacon for $5.99. They also offer a hot bowl of oatmeal served with brown sugar, honey and raisins for just $3.99.
I’ve already discussed that how portion sizes at many of the restaurants already mentioned are huge and can be split among a couple people. If you’re not sure, a good trick at the counter-service restaurants and snack stands is to stand to one side and watch as people leave with their orders, so you can see how the portions look. If the portions are big and you are not big eaters, consider splitting an entree or combo meal between two people. If you could use just a little more food, possibly order an extra side dish or appetizer and you will find you have plenty of food to share.
Adults looking for a smaller portion at the counter-service restaurants should not hesitate to order from the kids’ menu. The kids’ meals are an especially good deal because they include a cold beverage – you can usually choose from a small lowfat milk, small lowfat chocolate milk, juice box, small bottled water or small soda; some locations have a more limited selection of beverages, so make sure to check the posted menu. The kids’ meals are also often healthier than the adult options.
For some of the best choices in in kids’ dining check out French Market, Rancho del Zocalo, River Belle Terrace and Plaza Inn at Disneyland; and Flo’s V8 Cafe, Paradise Garden Grill, Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta, Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill and Lucky Fortune Cookery at Disney California Adventure. Remember: adults are not allowed to order from the kids’ menu at full-service restaurants.
If you are dining at a table-service restaurant and are not feeling particularly hungry or want to save some money, consider ordering an appetizer instead of an entrée. Appetizers can many times be just as filling and delicious as an entrée, but can save some big bucks!
Options for saving money on food at Walt Disney World are bit more varied. There are over 250 dining choices ranging from American to African, Polynesian, Sushi, Norwegian, British and everything in between. You name it, you can probably find it somewhere at Walt Disney World. This also includes snacks, counter-service and fine dining experiences. So how can a family save money when the nearest off-site restaurant is in the food court of a shopping mall over a half-mile from Downtown Disney? You just need to know a few tricks!
Keep in mind the same tips about portion sizes, ordering appetizers and kids’ meals to help keep costs low.
Another tip that was shared by a friend is for those traveling with small children who are often picky eaters and don’t finish all their food is to visit the food court in one of the resorts and buy two slices of bread for 69 cents plus tax. You can add peanut butter for about 50 cents, and in some food courts it’s free because there are packets of it with the condiments. Jelly can be obtained for free because it’s a condiment. So for around a dollar or less, you can make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for those little ones!
In a few cases, an expensive table-service restaurant and a nearby counter-service location offer the same food item for two very different prices. It can really pay to know the difference. At a counter-service location, the item will usually be presented without any garnish or sides and served on a paper plate. Here are some hints (note that prices are subject to change at any time):
At Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom, a bowl of New England Clam Chowder is $7.49 (plus tax and tip) at lunch. Get the same chowder at the nearby Columbia Harbour House for $4.69 a bowl, plus tax.
Kona Cafe in the Polynesian Resort serves its Tonga Toast with a side of breakfast meat for $12.99 (plus tax and tip). At Captain Cook’s Snack Company nearby, Tonga Toast is served by itself for $5.19 plus tax.
At Chefs de France in Epcot at lunch, you’ll pay $14.99 (plus tax & tip) for Quiche Lorraine served with salad and $7.25 (plus tax and tip) for Crème Brulee with a madeleine. At Boulangerie Patisserie, located in a building behind the restaurant, the quiche without salad is $5.20 plus tax, and the crème brulee by itself is $4.50 plus tax.
If you’d like to try the famous Zebra Domes desserts, you can get them at the rather expensive Boma buffet at Animal Kingdom Lodge ($32.99 and up, depending on season, for an adult meal, plus tax and tip), or just buy them a la carte at the Mara food court for around $4 each. Mara also offers soups that are the same as Boma’s, but priced at $2.99-$3.49 per serving.
Rose and Crown Pub in Epcot serves fish and chips at lunch for $17.99 (plus tax and tip). A smaller portion of the same fish and chips (without a side of peas) can be purchased next door at Yorkshire County Fish Shop for $8.99 plus tax.
Disney offers some great options on Disney Dining Plans. When you can buy these plans on sale or get them for free they offer a substantial savings on meals and snacks. Take advantage of them when they are available. They can save up to 30% off your food bill while visiting the parks if you choose to stay on-site at Walt Disney World. They can include all types of meals from counter-service to fine dining and character meals. They are definitely something worth looking into and asking your travel agent about.
Many clients want to know when the best time to visit a Disney park is and when they can get the best discounts on tickets.
The BEST times to go to Disneyland are:
September-December, except holiday periods. In September kids are back in school, so the crowds drop off. The weather cools off in late October, though it can be crowded on fall weekends. Beginning in early October, you can enjoy Haunted Mansion Holiday. Beginning in early November, the Christmas decorations and it’s a small world Holiday will be up. Decorations stay up until approximately January 3. If you want to visit Disneyland during the Christmas-New Year period, pick whatever day the Rose Parade is held — it siphons off a lot of tourists and locals, especially in the morning.
Second week of January-March (except holiday weekends). However, often rides will be closed for refurbishment at this time of year. The first week of January can be busy due to extended holiday vacations.
Any rainy day. Southern Californians think they’ll melt if they get wet. Seriously, the parks are often dead when it rains. A few of the more exposed rides (i.e. Dumbo) may close temporarily if it’s really pelting down, but if the rain stops they’ll open back up. A lot of the rides are indoors, so you can still ride. It is actually quite nice to be there during a storm despite being wet.
Weekdays, especially if you have to go in the summer or holiday seasons.
The BEST times to go to Walt Disney World are:
Mid-November through mid-December (except the week of Thanksgiving). The weather is usually cool but pleasant, the Christmas decorations are up, special events are running, and the attendance is usually moderate. Expect crowds on Saturdays, especially at the Magic Kingdom. Disney’s resorts typically fill up early for all of December, but this doesn’t necessary translate into huge crowds in the parks during that time.
Second week of January through mid-February. It’s cool this time of year. This is one of the least busy times of year and hotel prices are usually quite low. However, some rides will be closed for refurbishment. The first week of January can be busy due to extended holiday vacations and the Walt Disney World Marathon. Avoid any holiday weekends.
First three weeks of May. The weather is warm in May, but usually not unbearably so. Crowds and hotel prices are moderate. Memorial Day weekend will be more crowded, but not as bad as you might expect.
Late August and entire month of September (even Labor Day weekend). It will be extremely hot, and this is peak hurricane season. Plan on taking afternoons off and visiting water parks. Crowds are low. Off-site hotels usually have their rock-bottom deals during this period, and Disney has offered “free dining” packages in this time each year since 2005.
Some people mistakenly believe that they can buy discount tickets to a Disney park on the Internet or even from a travel agent. Sometimes, Disney offers a ticket special like “Everyone plays for the kids price” or “Pay for 3 days get 2 free.” But rarely will you find discounted Disney tickets. There are a few places that sell them, but most reputable travel agencies do not have access to these tickets.
If you are traveling to Southern California and intend to visit Universal Studios and San Diego, you can purchase a Southern California City Pass. This will allow you admission to the Disneyland Resort for 3-days, Sea World for 1-day, Universal Studios for 1-day and either the San Diego Zoo or the San Diego Wild Animal Park for 1-Day. This pass will does give the holder great savings when visiting all of these attractions.
I have seen on eBay sellers who buy multiple day admission tickets to Disneyland, use one or two days and sell their remaining days at discounted rates. This is illegal. Disneyland is fully aware of this practice and is cracking down on these scammers. So beware of this and do not buy any tickets from eBay sellers promising you the remaining days from their unused tickets. There are even a few businesses that have been set up to look legitimate. Do not fall for their tactics. It is still illegal and if you get caught with their tickets, you will be escorted from the park.
If you plan on being in Florida for at least 4 days, a park hopper pass may not be the ticket you want. The parks at Walt Disney World are huge to say the least and you have to take some sort of park transportation or a car to get from one to another. So you could easily spend one day in one park. To cut costs, you could buy the basic theme park tickets that allow you entrance into one park per day. If you added the park hopper option it would add $57 per ticket. Depending on how many are in your traveling party your savings could mean the difference between a food for a day or getting in a couple extra rides in another park.
There are definitely a lot of ways you can save money while visiting the Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World. All it takes is a little time and planning. There’s something there for everyone