Saturday, March 2, 2013

How to Save Money at Disneyland: The Food Edition

With ticket prices rising and gas costs climbing, finding ways to save money at Disneyland can be challenging, especially when it comes to slashing the costs of the food bill. Disneyland is filled with alluring aromas, everything from fresh candy apples, popcorn, corn dogs and turkey legs to enchilada platters and home-style fried chicken. It is easy to forget the $15 prices when confronted with those delectable options.

But there ARE ways to cut food costs while at the Happiest Place on Earth.

I have written a more general Saving for Disneyland Battle Plan and how to save money at home for a Disneyland vacation, so if you're looking to save money all around, you can visit those posts. This one focuses on saving money on food while vacationing at Disneyland.

Step 1: Do Your Homework

Before leaving for your trip, check if your hotel comes with a refrigerator and microwave. Plan to bring food from home if you are driving to the Park. If you are flying to Anaheim, check if your hotel is near any convenience stores, in which you can purchase cheaper food to store. Many of these convenience stores have fresh fruit available, which are nutrient-dense and much more affordable that the fruit inside the park.

Also, before leaving on your trip, check if any restaurants or fast food options are nearby. Along Harbor Blvd, which runs along the eastside of the Disneyland Resort, there is a Mimi's Cafe, McDonald's, IHOP, and Denny's. Further down Harbor Blvd near Katella Ave is a Subway and other dining options. Down Disney Way/Freedman Way is the Anaheim Gardenwalk, which is filled with many restaurants that offer free meals for those who join their mailing list.

Once you know which dining options you are nearby, go to the Anaheim, Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau website, which offers free, printable coupons for local restaurants. With our coupon, we fed our family of three for $10.75. The previous day we dined at Rancho Del Zocalo in Disneyland for $27. Therefore, finding ways to eat outside the park is worth the extra trouble if you're serious about cutting costs.

Even if you do not use coupons, dining outside the park can save you some serious cash. Many of these restaurants offer discounts to AAA and AARP members. Two weeks prior to your vacation, join the local restaurants' mailing lists for free, and they will send coupons and free meal vouchers to your inbox.

Again, do your homework:
  1. Stay at a hotel with a fridge and microwave and, if you can, a complimentary/continental breakfast.
  2. Print coupons from the City of Anaheim's website.
  3. Join mailing lists of nearby restaurants and plan to dine there during your stay.
  4. Take advantage of membership discounts.
  5. Eat outside the park as much as possible.
Step Two: Arm Yourself with Snacks

Don't go into the park "empty handed." While outside food is not really "allowed" in the Park, cast members do permit guests to bring in bottled water and snacks as long as there are NO glass containers.

So bring in outside food!

  1. Bring bottled water to keep you and your family hydrated and refill at the many drinking fountains within the park (many of which are in lines leading up to attraction). A bottle of Dasani water in the park can cost as much as $4, which is about what a case of water costs outside the park.  
  2. Bring nutrient-dense snacks like dried fruit, beef jerky, seeds, trail mix, granola bars, etc.
  3. Snack while waiting in line or during downtime to curb hunger inside the park; don't wait until you're actually hungry or you might not care that that delicious-smelling turkey leg costs $9.
Step Three: Choose Filling and Budget-Friendly Meals in the Park

While you don't want to eat in the park for every meal if you want to save money, dining in Disneyland is an enjoyable and relaxing experience. In that case, some places are better than others; therefore, you should seek out the most filling and budget-friendly dining options.

  1. Rancho Del Zocalo, Disneyland- Frontierland
This restaurant is usually not very crowded, leading to a relaxing dining experience. The prices are not too outrageous for what you get. They offer Mexican cuisine like fish tacos, fajitas and enchilada platters as well as fruit and dessert options. The most expensive plate is around $14.99, but the tacos are only $9.99 and a heaping plate of fresh fruit is only $5. The servings are generous, so plates can be shared with children. The easiest to share is probably the fajitas, as you can make many servings and divide among your party.

      2. The Plaza Inn, Disneyland- Main Street (near the entrance to Tomorrowland)

This restaurant serves generous helpings of home-style food like fried chicken and pot roast. Even with their $12/plate prices, you get a lot of food for your money and food can easily be shared with children in your party.

       3. Pacific Wharf Cafe, Disney California Adventure 

This place serves clam chowder and shrimp Louie salads inside large and hearty sourdough bread bowls. Meals can easily be shared and will keep you full for most of the day.

Step Four: Resist the Food Carts

The food carts that are sprinkled throughout the park serve salty and mightily expensive goodies. A box of popcorn can cost you $6 and have you craving a Coke soon afterward. Instead, stick to the snacks you bring with you. If you really want popcorn, bring some from home. We bought a bag of popcorn at the local Dollar General for $1 and munched on that at night.

Step Five: Always Enter the Park with a Full Belly

Even though you might want to rush into the Park first thing in the morning, it might be better to eat something before going in, whether it's a morning snack brought from home, continental breakfast, or a sit-down breakfast at Denny's. You are likely to walk and move faster than expected while in the Park, and doing so on an empty stomach, will more quickly lead to fatigue. Fill up first!

If a family of four ate in the park, for every meal, they could possible spend:

$15/plate for 3 meals x 4 people = $180/ a day.

By eating outside the park, using coupons, and choosing budget-friendly meals, guests can significantly lower their food bill and have more money to spend on souvenirs (which will last much longer than a turkey leg!).

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