Here’s an unpopular opinion: I’ve never understood everyone’s issue with the cost of a Disney vacation. Don’t get me wrong—a week at Walt Disney World is far from cheap, I’m not denying that, but attending other popular events and destinations like an NFL game or Coachella is similarly priced. These are undeniably splurges, but if you pick and choose where to spend based on what you want in a vacation the entire experience may ring up for less than you thought.
From hotel accommodations to souvenirs, there are ways to save, spend, and splurge on any item or experience while visiting Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. I’ll break apart these categories in upcoming blog posts, but since I’m hungry we’re starting with my favorite today: Disney dining.
Obviously, the cheapest way to do these things is to skip them: pack your lunches, meet characters at photo spots, and leave the park for sit-down meals. In my opinion, budgeting for dining is an important part of a Disney trip, especially for adults, because the food is half the fun. If you’re looking to eat at Walt Disney World Resort, check out these options at a variety of price points.
Character dining is a quintessential Disney tradition, and the offerings now cover a variety of characters and taste buds. While none are inexpensive, the prices can vary a bit depending on location and meal.
$: The Crystal Palace Breakfast
I’m guessing Winnie the Pooh looks a little more… uh… modern these days, but I have not been to The Crystal Palace since the mid-90s so this is the best I could do. However, one quick Google search shows me the inside of the establishment…
…has not changed much. And that same article says breakfast is the meal to get here! Prices at breakfast range from $20 to $34 and will likely inspire you to burn off those calories with a swift power walk to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride in Fantastyland, which is just as fun for all ages as the restaurant’s all-you-can-eat bacon. Oh, and Breakfast Lasagna is on the menu. Need I say more?
$$: Chef Mickey’s
Sigh. Chef Mickey’s. This has been my family’s collective favorite as long as I can remember. One of the only buffets adult Julia is actually impressed with, Chef Mickey’s is a great out-of-park meal to plan if you wanted photos with classic characters. Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald, and Goofy all stop by your table while you much on all-you-can-eat prime rib and macarons. (There were other things, obviously, but those were my favorites.) Dinner ranges from $30 to $50.
$$$: Cinderella’s Royal Table
I was going to say we would have totally eaten here when I was a kid if it was around then, but apparently it was with the wrong name. Formerly called King Stefan’s Banquet Hall (as in, the king from Sleeping Beauty), the restaurant inside Cinderella’s Castle is now known as Cinderella’s Royal Table. Guests are greeted by Cinderella and then brought upstairs into the castle for a meal surrounded by fellow princesses. When we attended, Sleeping Beauty, Jasmine, Ariel, and Snow White were wandering the dining room.
This pricey experience ($67 per adult before tax and gratuity) comes with a three-course meal from a limited menu, but our food was spectacular. I had the soup of the day, a delicious beef stew, with the Beef & Shrimp entree. All of us in my three-person party ordered different desserts so we could sample everything, and the The Clock Strikes Twelves chocolate clock was the unanimous favorite.
My Pick: Chef Mickey’s
Busy riding rides? Fuel up on snacks so you can keep moving.
$: Cart Snacks
Mickey bars, Mickey ice cream sandwiches, popcorn, roasted nuts… The carts at Walt Disney World have some of the best food available within the resort. No trip is complete without a Mickey bar in my opinion.
$$$: Refillable Popcorn Bucket
This was our first year trying the refillable popcorn bucket option and it was great. We bought the $15 Mickey balloon popcorn bucket that just launched at Walt Disney World (it was at Disneyland beforehand) and were able to refill it for $1.75. When compared to the cost of making popcorn, it is obviously quite the mark-up, but we thought it was worth it to have a constant hot and tasty snack. Since we only had it for part of our trip, our number of refills was limited. However, I’d estimate we refilled it 6 or 7 times for our group, which made each huge snack cost about $3. (FYI, a slightly smaller, less cute popcorn bucket was available for a little closer to $10.)
$$$: Counter Service Snacks
Food at the parks is broken into a few major categories like counter service, unique/themed dining, and family style. Counter service eateries are a great place to grab an easy meal and most feature a unique snack or two, such as Sleepy Hollow’s Fresh Fruit Waffle ($8.29, served with Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread) and Loaded Buffalo Chicken Tots ($9.49) at The Friar’s Nook. It is fun to shop around for one-of-a-kind treats, but some are hard to enjoy while walking and require you to find a seat.
My Pick: Refillable popcorn bucket (with cart snacks being a close second!)
DINE-IN PARK MEALS
Get off your feet for an hour with a sit-down meal inside the park. Remember to make reservations early!
$: 50’s Prime Time Café at Hollywood Studios
While listed as a mid-price restaurant ($15 to $34.99/adult) by Disney, this eatery is a perfect place to split a meal. The serving sizes are large and they’ll happily bring you a second plate to share. We got the Sampling of Mom’s Favorite Recipes ($24) which includes delicious fried chicken, meatloaf, pot roast, veggies, and mashed potatoes, and has plenty of food to share with at least two adults.
$$: Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant at Hollywood Studios
Also listed in Disney’s $15 to $34.99/adult category is the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant, a.k.a. potentially my favorite restaurant ever. Make a reservation in advance so you’re guaranteed car seating and get ready to watch a hilarious reel of old-school sci-fi clips while you dine. (Your table looks just like the car in this photo!)
$$$: The Hollywood Brown Derby at Hollywood Studios
Can you tell I think Hollywood Studios has the best restaurants? This is a must-visit location if you like Cobb salads, since it is a reproduction of the historic restaurant that created the dish. I would like all of my salads to be this finely chopped from now on, please. If you want to try this treat but aren’t interested in the pricey restaurants, it has an outdoor lounge attached which is sincerely cheaper.
My Pick: Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant
Drinking makes it more magical, right? Right.
$: Pineapple Dole Whip with Coconut Rum
Available at Tamu Tamu Refreshments for $7.50 in Animal Kingdom, this is the best way to enjoy Dole Whip in my humble opinion. I practically licked the cup clean. But here’s the real question: Why don’t all Dole Whip stops include rum?
$$: Piña CoLAVA
This frozen creation is part piña colada mix and part raspberry puree perfectly mixed with raspberry rum, which I didn’t know was a thing. It was generously sized for its $10.75 price tag and is available at The Coral Reef at Epcot.
$$$: Magical Star Cocktail
My favorite Disney drink, the Magical Star cocktail, is available at a variety of restaurants and carts throughout the resort for $12.50. I made myself try a few new things on our latest trip, but I probably still had three of these sweet treats. Plus, you get to keep the light-up ice cube, which in my experience has a weirdly long battery life. I still have ones from our last family trip in 2013 that I turn on for party punch bowls.
My Pick: Magical Star Cocktail
$: Mickey Gingerbread Men
Like gingerbread? You’ll love this $3.99 over-sized cookie, available at a variety of Disney bakeries and snack shops. I bought an extra on our last day and ate it for breakfast while we checked out of our room. Other Disney baked goods are also tasty, but this was the clear winner according to my taste buds. (Birthday cake scones were pretty great, though!)
$$: Raspberry and Lime Macaron
Going to Epcot? Visit the Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie, located in the France Showcase, for an insane variety of sweet treats in the $4 to $10 range. The raspberry and lime macaron ($5.75) was my favorite, while my mom and husband preferred the Duo.
And if you’re attending during the Flower & Garden Festival, get the chocolate macaron on a stick from the France festival cart; it’s even better, but has limited availability.
$$$: Dessert Party
Reserve a special seat for the fireworks and enjoy all-you-can-eat desserts at one of the dessert parties across the parks. We haven’t actually done this, but I did peek in and see what it looked like while we were at the Magic Kingdom. I’d need to do a little more research about the guarantee of your firework viewing point before I determined if it was worth it for me, but the sweet treats did look delicious. Adults start at $59 depending on the viewing location and park.
My Pick: Mickey Gingerbread Man
Stay tuned for more cost breakdowns on other aspects of Disney vacations!