I’ve previously blogged on ways to save money on your transportation to and from Disney World, on your lodging, and on your tickets. Those are the big three expenses in a trip to the theme parks. But another significant expense, one that comes up every day, is eating. Disney, like most theme parks, malls, airports, and other venues where you’re a captive audience marks up its food prices in order to maximize profit. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to save money on food.
The cardinal rule in saving money on your food is to avoid buying food on property as much as possible. Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the great restaurants Disney offers and have to instead pack up and leave property every day at lunch. There are lots of ways to apply this rule. Obviously, you can buy groceries and cook in your vacation home, DVC, or campsite. Many resorts, however, offer no kitchen facilities. And to many people, including my wife and myself, cooking and vacation don’t mix.
Many off-site hotels offer free breakfasts to one degree or another. (Embassy Suites offers the best, in my opinion, including made-to-order omelets.) If you’re staying off-site and can take advantage of a free breakfast before heading to the parks, that alone will save a significant amount of money. Even if you’re staying at a resort that doesn’t offer free breakfast, you can fix yourself a light breakfast with non-perishable food that doesn’t require cooking. Think Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispy bars, cereal bars and the like.
You can pack your own lunch. When my son was younger and an even pickier eater than he is today, we brought a loaf of bread and jars of peanut butter and jelly so we could pack him a PBJ every day. (It was about all he would eat at that time). We also brought dry, sugar-coated cereal in little containers for him to snack on. I’ve even seen people wheeling large coolers around the park. While I wouldn’t want to do this myself, I admire their thriftiness.
The easiest way to save money by not buying food in the parks, and a method that my family always practices, is to bring your own snacks and bottled water with you. We pack granola bars, raisins, and snack-size M & M’s to munch on between meals. We like the M & M’s because they don’t melt in the Florida heat.
Many people don’t like the taste of the water from the fountains at Disney World. My family is among this group, so each person packs a bottle of water to sip on. Hydration is especially important during the summers when we go. Saving $2.50 on a snack and another $2.50 on a bottle of water for four people, over the course of a five day vacation adds up to $100.
If you’re flying, it may be difficult to pack enough snacks for a family. One idea I’ve read about, that I really like, is to pack one suitcase full of snacks. Over the course of your vacation, you consume all of the snacks. You then have an empty suitcase to pack souvenirs in for the return trip. Another problem with flying is bringing enough water to last a whole trip. When we fly, we order a case of bottled water from Costco and have it shipped directly to our resort. We place the order a couple of weeks before we’re scheduled to arrive and make sure to have “Hold for guest arriving on ____” in the address label. When we last did this in 2009, a case of water was only around $7.00, including the shipping. The best part is, you don’t have to be a Costco member to take advantage of this.
So you can see, avoiding paying the inflated prices for food on property doesn’t mean having to constantly travel back and forth from the parks to your resort. You can save money even if you don’t strictly apply this rule; there’s a significant amount of money to be saved merely by having breakfast off-site before entering the parks or having an off-site dinner after leaving the parks. Next time, I’ll show you some ways to save money on the food in the parks.
Contributed by: Mark Jeffries (NDD#102) Mark is the DDL Finance Blogger.