By Jennifer Stuart
There is no way around the fact that the Happiest Place on Earth can also be a very expensive place to visit and food can be a big ticket item, especially if you are feeding a family. Here are our tried and true tips for saving money on food at Disneyland.
Eat at your hotel
This is our preferred way to have breakfast. We always look at if a hotel offers a free breakfast and calculate it as part of the cost of the hotel. We will choose one hotel over another if they are similar priced and one offers a breakfast as for a family of four this can add up to a significant savings.
You could also make your own breakfast in your room. If your room has a fridge and you are cereal or fruit and yogurt people then a quick stop at the grocery store can help out with inexpensive breakfasts. . If you also have a microwave there are even more options. One of the reason we often recommend Lanksy for airport transfers is that they will include a 20 min grocery store stop on the way in from the airport if you ask in advance. This is a great way to stock up on water and snacks as well.
Choose a quick breakfast
Like a coffee and muffin for breakfast? There are several options in or out of park to choose from. Most of them are around the same price. There are currently 2 Starbucks locations in downtown Disney and both the Market House in Disneyland and The Fiddler, Fife and Practical Café in California Adventure are essentially Starbucks locations in the park. IF you are not a Starbucks fan you can check out La Brea Express, located just outside of the bag checks in Downtown Disney. Also in Downtown Disney you can find Earl of Sandwich (click here for our review) and a handful of other options. On Harbor Blvd. (across the street from Disneyland) you will find a McDonalds.
Link to La Brea menu
Link to Earl of Sandwich menu
Make breakfast last
If a sit down breakfast is more your style, the deals are few. The way to save here is to make a big sit down breakfast last and replace your lunch with a snack. Again it is often much cheaper to enjoy these meals outside of the park. On Harbor Blvd. (across the street from Disneyland) there is a Denny’s, IHOP and Mimi’s Café.
Link to Denny’s menu
Link to IHOP menu
Link to Mimi’s Café menu
Insider tip: You can use your Starbucks card to pay for your purchases at both the Market House and Fiddler, Fife and Practical Café so that you can collect stars but you cannot redeem stars for free beverages or get your birthday drink.
Bring your own
Of course it is most cost effective to bring in your own drinks. We like refillable water bottles as we can fill them up at the hotel in the morning and then refill them as we go during the day. We love the Platypus water bottles as they are BPA free and they collapse as you drink so they take up less space in your bag as you drink what is in them (click here for Canadians) I like adding water flavoring but they rest of the family likes water straight up. If you are going to bring a water bottle make sure that it is not a glass water bottle as glass containers are not allowed in the park and you will be turned away at bag check. (This happened to my sister- in law last year)
If you choose to go with a disposable bottle of water or other beverage pick it up from anywhere—pretty much anything will be cheaper than the prices you will pay in the park. (Just make sure your drink comes in a plastic bottle—see above!)
Get FREE ice water
Yes, you heard me free! At any counter service restaurant in Disneyland or Disney California Adventure you can ask for a free cup of ice water. We often start to drink these and then use the left over to fill our water bottles so that we are not hampered by drinks on the rides.
Share a large drink
A large drink is usually not much more than a small drink so if you are ok sharing consider sharing a large drink between 2 people rather than ordering 2 smalls. At time of writing a regular size fountain drink is $3.29USD and a large is $3.69 USD)
Bring your own
Officially Disneyland has a no outside food policy. Taken from their website “with the exception of food items for Guests with specific dietary restrictions, outside food or beverage items are not permitted in either of the Disneyland Resort theme parks.” However this is not usually enforced for snacks within reason
If you are looking to save money on food, bringing your own snacks is a good start. My kids are big snackers and munching on a handful of goldfish in a line was a good way to keep them happy and to save time by not having to stop for a snack break later. Small portable snacks are the way to go here. Whatever your (or your kids) favorites are could be a good choice. Things like goldfish, granola bars, trail mix all travel well in your park bag. Fresh fruit or veggies and applesauce cups can also work. You can bring from home if you have space in your luggage or hit a grocery store in LA. (Keep in mind if you are coming form Canada that you cannot transport most fruit across the border click here for US guidelines)
If you are going to treat yourself to food at Disneyland a snack item although pricey, probably won’t break your budget. Everyone has their favorite snack items. We love Dole Whips and when the kids were smaller we could get away with sharing one between 1 child and 1 adult. My kids are still happy enough with a half churro or splitting a Mickey pretzel. It is enough to have a taste of their favorite treats.
Lunch and Dinner
There is a lovely shaded picnic area located in the esplanade next to the Disneyland stroller rentals and lockers. For those who would like to save by bringing their own lunch or those who have very restricted food needs. I would recommend going with a soft sided cooler so that you know it will fit in the lockers better and still think of less perishable items as it can get hot anytime of year in LA and the lockers are not refrigerated. While Disney will over look a few snacks in your bag a full lunch should really be eaten in the designated picnic area. Outside the parks, lockers are available for $7, $10, $11, $12 and $15 USD per day. Lockers provide unlimited access throughout the day. You will get a code that you can use to access your locker multiple times. So you could also store jackets and other bulky items.
Order the kids meal
I find portion sizes can be big and I will often order the kids meal at counter service restaurants for myself. These meals while mostly unadventurous are a good portion for me and always include a small drink. (Usually water or milk/chocolate milk) Think chicken breast with rice fruit (usually grapes) applesauce and a drink or a chicken taco with rice, fruit vegetables and a drink. The menus say that these items are meant for children 9 and under at a counter service restaurant no one will question you.
Even the standard hamburger or chicken nuggets while in a smaller size than the adult will come with applesauce, fruit and a drink. (Usually priced at $6.99 as opposed to the adult hamburger with fries that is $10.99 with no drink – fountain drinks are $3.29 for a small)
Read our post on the kids Power Pack and why we think this can be a good deal)
Share a larger portion
As I said, I find that portions can be large. I will often split an entrée with either one of my kids or with another adult. When my kids were younger we would order 2 Jolly Holiday combos between the 3 of us (Read our review of the Jolly Holiday Bakery Café here)
Pacific Warf Café in California Adventure serves soup of salad in a bread bowl. Ask to get the bread served on the side and the huge boule of sourdough bread is easily shared.
Link to Pacific Warf Café menu
Order an appetizer instead
Obviously size matters in an appetizer some can be quite small and others larger. Talk to your server or look at other people’s food. I usually order an appetizer of Pulled Pork Sliders with a side of fries from House of Blues happy hour menu and even that is too much food for just me!
Cook your own lunch or dinner
Before booking your hotel check and see what the room amenities are. Most (but not all) rooms will include a fried and many a microwave. A handful of hotels offer rooms with a real kitchen! (We love the Residence Inn Anaheim Maingate but there are others) If you are the kind of person who doesn’t mind cooking while on vacation or if your family has food restrictions or allergies that make it easier to prepare your own food this will add up to a significant savings.
Join clubs or email lists
Sometimes it is possible to get a deal or discount by joining a restaurant’s email list or points club. This is best done shortly before you arrive as most of the offers are time sensitive and will expire within 2 weeks. I recommend doing 3-7 days before your arrival date at Disneyland to make sure that you can benefit from these deals. Two of our favorites are with Earl of Sandwich (click here for our review) and Jamaba Juice (review coming soon). Both have locations in Downtown Disney. Usually Earl of Sandwich offers a free sandwich for signing up to their email list (click here for link) and Jamba Juice usually offers $3 off a smoothie for doing the same. (Click here for link) Both also have a points system that you can accumulate further discounts by making purchases. Visit their websites for more details.
Mimi’s Café is on Harbor Blvd Join the Mimi’s Club (click here for link) and receive a coupon for a FREE 4-pack of muffins with $5 minimum purchase. Their muffins are huge. This can be a good option for people staying at one of the hotels on Harbor Blvd. that doesn’t include breakfast.
Check out the Anaheim Visitors Bureau for printable coupons for discounts at restaurants and other attractions and transportation. These offers can change but at time of writing included discount for McDonalds, IHOP, Buuba Gump, and Pizza Press. (In the past we have also seen offers for La Brea) IHOP also usually offers Kids eat free when buying an adult meal offer but it is best to check if this offer is valid at the restaurant first.
Click here for link to coupons
Eat off site
I do love to eat in the parks and I have several restaurants that I love but it can be very pricey. We usually mix it up and eat out of the park most days and in park a couple of times so that we can visit our favorites.
Look for offsite restaurants clustered in several areas. On Harbor Blvd (across the street from Disneyland), on Harbor Blvd (south of Katella), in the Anaheim Garden Walk area and in Downtown Disneyland. These are mostly chain restaurants such as: Cheesecake Factory, Bubba Gump, Tony Roma, House of Blues, and California Pizza Kitchen.
Be an annual passholder
Disneyland Annual passholders receive a discount of between 10% and 15% on food depending on the type of pass. This includes most locations in Downtown Disney but does not include snack carts or Dole Whips) Click here for a list of passholder discounts. Think that an annual pass isn’t right for you? Look for our post on which ticket is right for you coming soon.
If you do purchase a meal in Disneyland look for a discount coupon on same day merchandise purchases.
These are a pricey meal. You are really paying the price for Character interactions rather than for the food. The nice thing is that they are all you care to eat buffets and there are options to please picky eaters so you really can eat a BIG meal…but you won’t be “getting your money’s worth” n terms of food. If you want to do a character meal and save money choose breakfast. Breakfast is considerably cheaper. You will want to check out the different locations as the characters vary. (Note: Characters are not present at Ariel’s Grotto for dinner) Again if you have a really large breakfast you might be able to get away with having just a snack for lunch and save some money there.
All photos by Jennifer Stuart
Thoughts? Questions? Do you have a favorite way to save money on food at Disneyland? Let us know.
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