Mark J. (NDD#102) (33 Posts)

Mark was born and raised in Fayetteville, WV. He first visited Disney World back in 1975 and was instantly hooked. He returned several times as a child and now brings his own family as often as possible. Being a new lawyer, however, that isn't as often as he'd like. Mark is married to Sherri, NDM#237.

Photo Credit: Dennis Brown, NDU 5

Vacationing at Disney World on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the convenience and experience of dining in the parks.  While it is no doubt cheaper to eat food from outside the resort, there are a number of ways to save money on the food you purchase inside the parks.

The counter service food, while still more expensive than comparable fast food you’ll find at home, is way less expensive, both in terms of money and time, than eating at the table service restaurants.  We eat almost all of our meals in the counter service restaurants.  We come away with our bellies full without our wallets being empty and are back on the rides quickly.

There are several tips we use to reduce our food budget even further when eating counter service.  First of all, portion sizes at Disney World are large.  I’m typically a big eater, especially when I’ve been walking for miles around a theme park, and the chicken wrap at Pecos Bill’s is so large that I have trouble finishing it.  This makes it easy to share a single entrée if you’re not very hungry.  You can also share drinks.  We’ll sometimes order a large soft drink and three cups of ice for the four of us.  This not only saves a little money, but reduces the amount of empty calories we take in.  Or you can order ice water (not the bottled water) for free.  I can’t stand the taste of the water from the fountains in the parks, but the water in the restaurants isn’t bad.  I’ll drink a cup of ice water with my meal, then use another to refill the water bottle I carry with me.

Another way to reduce the cost of your counter service meal is to order a la carte.  The prices displayed on the menu screens are for combo meals, which include the entrée and a side; for example, a cheeseburger and fries.  Disney doesn’t advertise it, but you can order the entrée by itself and skip the side.  Again, this saves not only money, but calories.  If I’m in the mood for fries, though, sometimes one of us will order the combo meal and another just the entrée and we’ll share the fries.

Finally, counter service restaurants offer what I feel is a true value, even compared to real world prices—the kids’ meal.  These include the entrée (usually a burger, pizza, or chicken nuggets), two sides (fries, grapes, carrots, cookie), and a small drink for $4.99.  I can’t think of a fast food restaurant that offers that much food for that price in its kids’ meal.  And kids’ meals are filling for an adult, too.  My wife and I often order them for ourselves.  Not only are they cheaper, but the portion sizes are a little more reasonable.  I’m noticing a trend—most everything that saves you money on food also saves you some calories.  A double win!

Eating at Disney World doesn’t have to break the bank.  By being a smarter shopper, you can get quick, filling meals at the counter service restaurants and still have enough money for souvenirs.  Disney World offers some unique table service restaurants, however.  For many people, the table service dining is one of the highlights of a trip to Disney World, right up there with the attractions.  Next time, I’ll discuss some ways to save money at these restaurants as well.

Contributed by: Mark Jeffries (NDD#102) Mark is the DDL Finance Blogger.


  1. Great tips! We often times share a soft drink as well, and not just at WDW!

  2. We’re with you. We usually share a soda everywhere we go. The more I learn about high fructose corn syrup, the more I try to cut it out of my diet. Plus, portion sizes are so large any more! A “small” drink is more than enough for 2 or 3 people.

  3. great tips. i love the counter service as well. at the all stars / pop resorts – i love getting the kids meal for breakfast. great food for a lot cheaper 🙂

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