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How To Save Money on Disney Food Without the Disney Dining Plan

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Over the past few weeks, we’ve been covering lots of the math behind the Disney Dining Plan. We calculated how much credits are worth, and showed how difficult it is to get value out of two-credit meals. If you’ve decided that the Dining Plan costs to much, or you don’t want to think about maximizing the value of every credit by ordering steak and alcohol with every meal. But you still want tips on how to save money on dining during your Disney vacation. This post is for you! We’ll cover two different strategies for cutting food costs at Walt Disney World, and do the math on how much each can save you.

Saving Money with Grocery Delivery

How Does Grocery Delivery Work?

You can get a really detailed example of my family’s most recent grocery delivery experience here. The basics are below, or for more details about specific vendors and procedures you can see Grocery Delivery to Your Walt Disney World Resort.

  • There are many grocery delivery services that will either meet you at your resort or deliver your food and beverages to bell services for you to pick up later
  • Some of these options charge service fees, and others like Amazon or Instacart have their own pricing nuances
  • In general, you’ll pay less per piece of food than if you were to pick up the same item from a convenience spot at your Disney resort, or order a quick service meal

My family always places a grocery order for arrival day, and it usually beats us to our resort. Bell Services holds it for us (including refrigerated items). We just pick it up when we arrive and store everything in our room!

Let’s be clear – I love Disney food, so I don’t like feeling like I’m missing out on extra Disney snacks or excellent quick service meals. But even still, I’ll frequently order a loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter in case my kids get picky or need something to snack on during our pool day. And I always order a couple of 6-packs of soda for my husband and I to throw in our park bag at the start of the day because soda is way over-priced in the parks and at the resorts.

Have cheaper food ready and waiting for you on your Walt Disney World arrival day!

If you only want a couple of things and delivery feels like too much of a hassle, you can pick up a few staples at your resort store. It should still save you money compared to eating those meals or snacks from a Disney restaurant or food cart. See: What Groceries and More Are Available at Your Disney Resort Merchandise Store?

Example Grocery Delivery Savings

One of our biggest grocery delivery savings is with breakfast. We’re constantly running to rope drop in the morning, and dropping a bunch of money on easily transportable breakfast food every day stinks. Let’s run the numbers to see how much I can save during a sample 6-day trip to Walt Disney World for my family of four.

If we were to order a quick-service meal to take with us on our way to the parks, it would typically include:

  • One single-serve apple juice
  • One single-serve chocolate milk
  • Two pieces of fruit
  • One adult entrée
  • One pastry
  • One kids meal

This already represents quite a bit of splitting and sharing and dependence on our handy water bottles, but even still it comes out to an average of $34.33 for a breakfast on the go. Multiply that by the 6 days of our trip, and we’d be spending $205.88 on quick-service breakfasts.

But let’s say I make one big breakfast grocery delivery order instead. For the purpose of this exercise, I’m going to price it out on Instacart and use Publix as the shopping store. On a 6-day trip, I’d place an order for:

  • 1 large apple juice
  • 2 half-gallons of milk (they fit in the mini-fridge better)
  • 2 boxes of cereal
  • 1 bunch of bananas
  • 1 bag of apples
  • 2 packages of pop-tarts or muffins
  • 1 package of bagels
  • 1 tub of cream cheese

All of that for a pretend delivery today prices out to a total of around $54. I just pack some plastic or paper bowls and cups and utensil into our luggage (or add them to our order if I’m feeling lazy or tight on space).

So just by ordering one grocery delivery for all of our breakfast food, on this 6-day trip for my family of four, I’m saving over $150 compared to buying quick service breakfast every day. That’s a nice table service meal paid for with my savings!

Of course, we’ll almost certainly still make time for Mickey waffles on one day of the trip. We’re human, after all.

Saving Money with Gift Cards

How Does Using Gift Cards Work?

I’m glad you asked – Erin Foster just caught us up with all of the gift card FAQs here. But let’s narrow down the benefits to our situation of saving money on food.

By purchasing gift cards ahead of your vacation, you can still have the convenience of pre-paying for all of that delicious vacation calorie intake, and you can even save money while doing it, without much effort. This allows you to spread out payments for your food by purchasing just a gift card or two at a time, and then redeeming them during your vacation. So – we’re still pre-paying for our food! But we have much more flexibility with what we can order instead of trying to “beat the dining plan” by always ordering the most expensive option.

Buying gift cards also comes with an important bonus compared to the Dining Plan. You can use gift cards to pay gratuity, which isn’t included on the Dining Plan. With the plan you’re paying gratuity out of pocked with every meal – and that gratuity is going to be higher because you’re ordering expensive meals to get the best value out of your plan. With a gift card, you order what you want, when you want it, and you’ve pre-paid for the meal AND the gratuity. All without paying Disney extra money just for the convenience.

Buy those gift cards gradually at home, combine the balances, and bring one gift card to rule them all with you on vacation.

Example Gift Card Savings

I’m going to offer two different scenarios. The first is gifts for special occasions. For my husband’s 30th birthday, I surprised him with a Disney Cruise (our very first one, pre-kids) and a night stay at WDW before we headed to Port Canaveral. His actual birthday happened while we were on the ship, but I invited his family and my family over to our house the night before we left. He didn’t know about the party, and he didn’t know that we were leaving the very next day.

Our families always give gifts for birthdays and holidays, so I offered that if anyone would like to participate, they could “pre-purchase” a meal or a special experience for our trip as their birthday gift to my husband. I made a menu of options and what they would cost, and then said that they could either buy a gift card for something close to the amount of the experience they wanted to gift, or they could just pay me and I would print out a certificate. So someone gifted a dinner at Palo, someone gifted an excursion to Atlantis, someone gifted dinner at Sanna the night before we left, etc. This allowed us to do many more experiences than we otherwise would have done, and really made for meaningful gifts. We took pictures of each experience and sent them as thank you notes at the end of the cruise. Gift cards made this sort of personalized gifting possible.

The second scenario is just stocking up on gift cards yourself, leading up to a vacation. I do this before every Walt Disney World trip we take. I’ll semi-plan out where we’ll eat and what I think everyone will order. Doesn’t have to be exact – just a rough guess. For example, for a 6-night trip it might look something like:

  • 5 quick-service lunches
  • 1 quick-service dinner
  • 2 character meals
  • 4 table-service dinners
  • 1 table-service brunch

For our family of four, with gratuity included, that could cost something like $1,100. Yikes! But I can buy one $100 gift card at Target each week for the 11 weeks leading up to our trip, and that doesn’t feel nearly as bad. Plus, I get 5% off all purchases at Target with my Redcard. And they often run little bonus promotions like “spend $90 three times in-store in three weeks, and get $30 back”. Let’s say with my eleven purchase, I take advantage of that deal three times.

Instead of paying $1,100 out of pocket for our meals on the trip, I pay $1,045 and get $90 back. So I still get $1,100 of food and beverages, but I save $145 by paying with gift cards. And I’ve spread my payments out over 3 months instead of the bill hitting all at once after our trip.

What Does This Mean For You?

  1. There are many ways to save money on your food while at Walt Disney World, and many of them require significantly less effort than maximizing your value on the Disney Dining Plan.
  2. Vacation Grocery Delivery allows you to have certain staples in your room. And since you can bring outside food into the parks, this can really cut down on expensive snacks or meals.
  3. Paying with gift cards is a great way to spread out your food payments, and to feel like everything is pre-paid (because it is!) once you get to Orlando.

Do you have any tips or tricks for saving money on food at Walt Disney World? Share them in the comments below!

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Becky Gandillon

Becky Gandillon was trained in biomedical engineering, but is now a full-time data and analytics nerd. She loves problem solving and travelling. She and her husband, Jeff, live in St. Louis with their two daughters and they have Disney family movie night every Saturday. You can follow her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/becky-gandillon/ or instagram @raisingminniemes

2 thoughts on “How To Save Money on Disney Food Without the Disney Dining Plan

  • We like bringing some small staple foods with us (muffins, granola bar, etc). Foods that are just enough to satisfy us for early morning, (getting to the park, going on our first few rides). Around 10-11am, we go for ‘brunch’. This usually holds us off until dinner. Essentially, we get by paying for 2 meals a day instead of 3 meals.

  • The gift card thing is complicated, especially if you end up with a dozen or so gift cards you’ve got to iterate between. And inevitably, you’ll either have purchased too much on gift cards or not enough. (If you are a frequent guest, “too much” isn’t a big deal…but if you are someone who is making a one-time trip, “too much” is money wasted.)

    What’s not mentioned is the Disney Visa offering 10% off at selected restaurants. (Plus an extra 1% in rewards, of course.) Also the Costco and Verizon Visa cards offer 3% rebates on restaurants. The Costco Visa also offers a 3% reward on travel, so if you decide to let your Magic Band charge the bill to your room, you are still covered. This month, Discover is offering a 5% rebate on restaurants.

    The Verizon Visa also offers a 3% rebate on groceries as well.

    Other cards sometimes offer special deals as well; earlier this year, the Disney Visa was offering 5% on restaurants and groceries for a brief period of time.


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