Patricia is a mom of three and a full-time nonprofit employee. She has lived and played in Florida for several years.
Budgeting and Dining
Why put budgeting and dining in the same article? Because it kind of makes sense—at least it does in the middle of the night after minimal sleep due to my two-and-a-half month-old son who has had a rough couple of nights. Yes, he has already visited Disney World twice since he has been born—I told you I was a huge fan. But I digress. A large portion of your daily budget will be driven by food and drinks. And dining at a restaurant at Disney World requires a little planning.
Taking a vacation to Disney World can be expensive. Setting a budget before hand will come in handy. Buying all those Mickey ears your first day adds up. Without a budget, at the end of the day you might be in sticker shock as you just blew through half of what you saved without even blinking (or thinking).
Budgeting also sets expectations for your little ones ahead of time. If you set aside money for souvenirs, be sure your children understand the expectations. We remind our kids at the start of each day they are allowed to choose one gift per park, per day. And nothing over $45. They understand what the limits are and teary eyes or tantrums are avoided.
So what is a realistic budget for Disney World? Well, that depends. Is it realistic to set a daily budget of $300 - $400 per day for a family of four eating three meals at restaurants in the park or resort, a snack and a souvenir for the kids? Yes. Is it also realistic to set a daily budget of $100 - $200 per day for a family of four with the same incidentals as the $300 - $400 budget? Yes and no. So what does the $300+ get you that the $100+ does not? Other than a whole bunch of those Mickey ears I mentioned earlier, having a $300+ budget per day (again, for a family of four) will have you eating at two sit down restaurants (excluding the high end restaurants), two or more snacks or drinks and a nice souvenir or two for the kiddos. The $100+ budget may allow for some snacks, a souvenir, and will have you bringing food with you to the park or getting one quick service meal. (Yes, you can bring food into the park. However, don't expect to go waltzing through security with that camping cooler on wheels.)
We have gone to Disney World and spent $150 in one day, and we have gone to Disney and spent $400+ in one day (even though it was a most magical day, it still stung a little to spend that kind of money). Do your research ahead of time. Check out the menus and costs of the restaurants you are considering eating at. The Disney World website lists the menu and cost of each restaurant. For the souvenir costs, you can get an idea of cost by going to the Disney Store or Disney Parks Merchandise websites. My daily budget information does not include the cost of airfare, hotel, parking (if only going for the day or staying off-site), and theme park tickets. Keep that in mind when you are considering a trip.
The keys for a successful Disney World budget are do what you are comfortable with spending, know before you go (it really isn't a cliche), and anticipate your family's impulses when immersed in the most magical place on earth.
You don't need a reservation to dine at Disney World, said no pro EVER! You don't have to reserve every meal every day of your trip with a dining reservation, but I would highly recommend adding a few during your stay (and what your budget allows for - see, I knew I would tie the two together somehow). Disney World allows you to reserve dining up to 180 days in advance, regardless of if you are staying on-site or not. And there is a reason why you should book sooner rather than later. Some of the most coveted restaurants (Cinderella's Royal Table, Be Our Guest, California Grill, and the T-Rex Restaurant) will be completely booked come 12:01 AM on the 180 day mark. And because you signed up for your Disney World online account, you can make reservations online at almost all the restaurants throughout Disney World.
If you are thinking of purchasing a dining plan, consider the number of people in your family, if you plan on eating out for every meal, and your budget of course. I have heard that the Disney World dining plans can be restrictive and costly. Not all restaurants accept the Disney dining plan. Others have said that the dining plan was great for them. They found lots to eat and didn't have to worry about the cost of meals since they were already budgeted and paid with their initial trip payment. I have never used a dining plan, so cannot say one way or the other. Whatever you decide, do the research ahead of time. There are lots of good review websites about the Disney World dining plans.
Disney can be a gastronomical delight, and it is a good thing you will be doing all that walking to burn those extra calories. Some of my favorite restaurants include:
- California Grill in the Contemporary Resort
- Jiko - The Cooking Place in the Animal Kingdom Resort
- Cinderella's Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom
- Restaurant Marakesh in Epcot
- The Spice Road in Epcot
- Chefs de France in Epcot
- The Brown Derby in Hollywood Studios
- Prime Time Cafe in Hollywood Studios
- Yak and Yeti in Animal Kingdom
- Paddlefish in Disney Springs
From those ginormous turkey leg and churro stands, to the Colorado Bison Loin at the California Grill, Disney really does have just about every flavor of food imaginable, and at every price point. I could spend all day (or night as it so happens to be right now as I write this) talking about all your dining options at Disney World. Just remember to utilize the 180-day booking window and discover which restaurants your family may want to try through the Disney World website, and bon appétit!
© 2017 Patricia McNamee
Ann Helion on October 20, 2017:
Great info, keep it coming!