Earlier this week, I read an article put out by a popular “list” website that stated it had “massive” savings tips for Disneyland. As I read through the article, I felt like it really failed to connect with the average parent planning a family trip to the park.
Let’s be honest for a minute – Disneyland is expensive. For most of us, a trip to the park requires taking time to save up the funds needed to go. It’s a sacrifice. So, suggesting to “get an annual passport” or “join D23” are just not feasible options for most people (especially those who live outside of California!)
I wanted to provide realistic tips for the average family. These are tips that my family uses on our trips to the park.
I’ll be sharing tips over the next few days. Today, I’m talking about FOOD in the park! We are budget travelers, so our trip to Disneyland doesn’t include things like eating at Blue Bayou or Carthay Circle. Would I love to eat while watching the Pirates boats go by? Sure! Do I want to pay $30-$40 for one plate of food? Nope! Towards that end, these are my tips to eat cheaply – not necessarily tips to find the best food in the park.
Here we go!!
One of “must-haves” when booking a hotel is a hotel that offers a FREE breakfast. Yes, the cinnamon rolls at Disneyland are amazing, and yes, that $12 Mickey waffle is cute, but those treats add up fast! Take advantage of that free breakfast buffet and load up!! Fill up your bellies, drink several cups of coffee, and load up on the carbs. (You’ll walk them off, I promise!) If they have protein, eat some of that too!
Bring your own snacks and water bottle!!!
While the Disneyland website states that you are not allowed to bring food into the park, this “rule” is not enforced, and nearly everyone you see in the park will have their own food. We typically bring a backpack, and put a stash of granola bars, applesauce pouches, fruit snacks, and individual zippered bags full of crackers, pretzels, etc. in it. A piece of fruit in the park can run you $3, so bringing your own snacks is a big money-saver.
*The only things you are guaranteed to get taken from you are things in glass containers (except small baby food jars) and alcohol.
An empty water bottle (and sippy cups) can really cut down on costs AND keep you hydrated. If you are not from SoCal, you might think the water tastes funny. (We do not care for the water that comes out of the fountains at Disneyland.) I know some families who bring bottles of Mio or Crystal Light pouches etc, to make the water more palatable.
If you forget your own snacks, you can get a Kids’ Mickey Check Meal – Kids’ Power Pack “meals” for 6 bucks. This is basically a collection of snack foods that you can divvy up throughout the day. It comes with a Danimals smoothie, apples, carrots, a banana, goldfish crackers and water.
Know the Restaurants:
You can access all the park restaurant menus (which show the prices) online. We know going in that we won’t be hitting the more “uspcale” restaurants or the character dining experiences.
Most adult meals will cost $8-12 if you stick to the restaurants with one $ sign in the price guide. Beverages are extra. Typically, when our family of 6 (2 adults and 4 kids) eats in the park, we spend about $50. With free breakfasts and our own snacks, we spend about $100 per day on food. Here are some of my family’s go-to “budget” restaurants in the parks:
Hungry Bear Restaurant – We love sitting on the deck overlooking the Rivers of America. I’m not sure how the changes being made to the river with the construction of Star Wars Land will change this, but it’s a great little place that’s never too crowded. (I love the Crispy Chicken Sandwich!)
Rancho del Zocalo- The entrees here are a tiny bit more (about $12 bucks), but you get a good amount of food. Entrees come with rice and beans, and my kids love the bean and cheese burrito meal.
Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port – Love the pizza and pasta, and the slightly lower prices. A plate of pasta is around 10 bucks, while a slice of pizza is $7.50. Kid’s meals are $6.49.
The Golden Horseshoe – Eat nuggets & fries or fish & chips for 10 bucks! I’ve also had their Chili Cheese Fries ($4.59) as a meal, and was full. This is my son’s favorite park restaurant.
Disney California Adventure:
Smokejumpers’s Grill (Formerly Taste Pilots) – I recommend the hamburger. It’s 11 bucks, BUT it comes with fries and the restaurant has a self-serve toppings bar, so you can make yourself a side salad of lettuce, tomato, and onion and load up on pickles to get some of your money back.
Cozy Cone Motel: Cone #3- The Chili Cones available at Cozy Cone #3 in Cars Land are $7.49 and delicious!! They will definitely fill you up! (My husband thinks the best soft-serve in the park is at Cone #2.) 😉
Award Wieners – This is probably one of the lowest-priced meals (entree with side) in the park. You get a gourmet hot dog (with awesome toppings) and a bag of chips for $7-8 bucks. At Disneyland – that’s a deal!
Earl of Sandwich – This was one of the cheapest meals we had on our last trip and was super tasty! The kids loved the pizza sandwiches, which were just $3.99! I recommend the Hawaiian BBQ sandwich! This is my daughter’s favorite park restaurant.
Napolini – Grab a slice of pizza for about $5!! Enjoy pasta for $9, and a large salad for $8! This is a great deal – and beats the price of pizza found inside the park.
*We choose to stay inside the parks/at Downtown Disney for our meals. Some people opt to store sandwich fixings, etc. at their hotel. Even though shuttles run frequently, for our family, we’d rather spend more time at the park and less time on a shuttle bus. Others choose to eat at the restaurants surrounding the park. We’ve found that you won’t find much of a savings. Like Disneyland, those restaurants know they have you, and their menu prices are likely higher than you’re used to at home.
The Disney Kid’s Meals are about 7 dollars per kid, but they do come with a drink. (Save the water bottle and re-fill it using drinking fountains!!) (I’ve ordered a kid’s meal for myself a time or two as well.)
The “Toddler Meals” are VERY small, and I don’t recommend getting them for your elementary school-aged child to save money.
Consider ordering an adult meal and splitting it between two kids. Some kids don’t eat as much and would be happy to have half of a large burger and half an order of fries.
If you do bring snacks (especially things like fruits or veggies), you could consider ordering a side dish item for your child and supplementing with the snacks from home.
If you are going to get a treat while in the park, here are my recommendations:
- Dole Whip! Well worth the money. These are practically a Disneyland rite of passage. We personally love the Dole Whip Floats, pictured below. (Read my post: Stop and Savor the Dole Whips. It’s not about food, but it’s a good read!)
- If you are going to get an ice cream sandwich, check some of the restaurants for specials before getting one from a cart. The pre-packaged ice cream treats sold from carts are ROCK-HARD. I got an ice cream sandwich from Clarabelle’s that featured fresh-baked cookies, chocolate sauce, and sprinkles for LESS than one of the pre-packaged teeth-breakers!
- Pooh’s Corner Chocolate Peanut Butter Sandwiches
I hope some of these tips helped you as you are planning your trip to the happiest place on earth. I’ve gone and gotten myself hungry thinking about some of my park favorites. You CAN eat well at Disneyland without breaking the bank.
If you have a question regarding budget dining at the park, please feel free to ask! Have another budget dining tip or “cheap” park restaurant you love? Leave a comment and let us know!
One thing to also remember–any counter service restaurant will give you a small cup of water with ice for free. Yes, the water doesn’t taste awesome, but the ice is sometimes very welcome. There is a water bottle fill station inside of the first aid building, and that water is usually fairly cold.
Great tips Melissa! I didn’t know about the water bottle filling station! I’ll have to remember that for our fall trip.
There is another free cold water station inside the courtyard of Rancho del Zocalo in Frontierland. Great for bottle filling.
The soups at Earl of Sandwich are amazing and surprisingly filling for $3.99. We take the monorail at Downtown Disney. They also have an email list and when you sign up you get a printable coupon for a free sandwich!
My husband and I shared a generously portioned hot fudge sundae at Ghiradellis in CA Adventure park for just over $12 which I felt was comparable to any ice cream restaurant. Was yummy! And we just skipped a meal to enjoy it for our anniversary!
Very interesting details you have remarked, appreciate it for posting.
Just another add for water bottle filling….at the Mint Julep bar in New Orleans there is the same water bottle filling device as in the Mexican Restaurant
We go almost every week so that can get costly with 2 adults and 2 high schoolers. My daughter and I find that we can share almost any meal there. Our favs are the Asian chicken salad at pizz port, or the the Asian chicken salad in a bread bowl at The Pacific Wharf Cafe (this one has a lot of chicken). We also find that at least three people can share the Monte Cristo sandwich at Cafe Orleans, and that the chicken at the French Market can feed at least 2 if not three.
Great tips, we will be spending the week there soon. Will have to try those chili cheese fries, that’s not a bad price. Unfortunately I think hungry bear might be closed right now.
I would also suggest the jolly holly bakery cafe. They have a grilled cheese-tomato basil soup for $10 that’s amazing, filling and can easily be shared.
Yes! We’ve had that combo before as well -soo good! (And then you can splurge on one of their treats!)