Your vacation budget isn’t limitless. You’re not Jeff Bezos. When you travel to a theme park, you want to get the most out of your money. The reality is that some potential parts of your trip are better for stretching your budget. Here are seven of the best values at Walt Disney World.
The Disney Dining Plan
One of the strangest statements for Disney neophytes to understand is that the food at Walt Disney World is spectacular. It’s like Las Vegas without the debauchery. Disney hires many of the finest chefs in the world. At least one former Top Chef winner is an executive chef, and several Top Chef Masters and other celebrity chefs run restaurants onsite. Disney takes food very seriously, which they should since they’re feeding more than 100,000 people daily.
While the cuisine at Walt Disney World is excellent, it comes at a high price. Many Disney buffets, high-end dining experiences, and character meals cost $50 per person or more. Even the counter service restaurants can creep into the $30 per person range, depending on what you order. Your food budget can quickly spiral when you’re not careful.
The Disney Dining Plan is the solution to this problem. It comes in several forms, but the main dining plan entitles guests to one Quick Service and one Table Service meal per day. It costs about $75 per day for adults and $28 for kids aged 3-9.
You'll save a bit of money using this program. Also, you'll get to eat at better Table Service restaurants. Since you receive entitlements, all Table Service meals "cost" the same. You can eat at the most expensive places such as Akershus, Chefs de France, and Tutto Italia without paying more money.
The Disney Dining Plan combines value with cost control. Best of all, you can pay in advance. With this tactic, none of your travel budget will go toward meals. For me, it’s a much more relaxing way to travel. I have the peace of mind that I’ve already paid for my food.
Earl of Sandwich
To Orlando locals, Earl of Sandwich is one of the easiest ways to make a day at Walt Disney World affordable. This place’s menu isn’t the least bit Disney-priced. To the contrary, a meal here costs about the same as when you dine at your local Subway. Folks, I’m not going out on a limb when I say that such reasonable pricing is rare in Orlando, much less at Disney Springs.
You’re probably thinking that there’s a catch. You guess that the food must be terrible, glorified cafeteria cuisine that middle schools wouldn’t serve. Au contraire! Earl of Sandwich is currently ranked as one of the top 25 Quick Bites in Orlando…out of almost 400!
The sandwiches here are delicious, which makes the pricing borderline suspicious. Generally, when something seems too good to be true, it is…but not Earl of Sandwich! This place sells terrific food at a great price.
You have an even better way to stretch your food budget at Disney than Earl of Sandwich or the Disney Dining Plan. During 200+ days each year, Epcot’s World Showcase hosts exhibitions. The most famous of them is the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, but the oldest one is actually the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. Fairly recent editions are the Epcot International Festival of the Arts and the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays.
While these events aren’t permanent, Disney hosts them beginning in January and ending in December. On most days, you’ll find one of them in operation, and these are the times when Epcot seems closest to Walt Disney’s vision for a permanent World’s Fair.
During each exhibition, Disney opens food kitchens. These pop-up kiosks sell international cuisine at comically low prices. You'll get to sample some of the most exotic flavors in the world, and Disney chefs have elevated the recipes with high-end ingredients and tireless research. It's legitimately some of the best food in Orlando, yet the menu items are rarely higher than $10. There's a reason why Orlando residents hang out at the World Showcase so frequently. It's where the best and cheapest food is most of the year.
Don’t laugh. Miniature golf at Disney World is some of the best that you’ll ever play. It’s nothing like the junky Putt-Putt courses in your city. Disney Imagineers have constructed these majestic courses, Winter Summerland and Fantasia Gardens. They’re spectacularly detailed and fun to play. That’s almost assumed when Disney designs anything.
The stunning part is the cost. At the time of publication, a round of miniature golf costs $14 per person. I pay more than that any time that I want to play a round of mini-golf in Pigeon Forge. Admittedly, that place is a tourist trap, but it’s a far cry from Disney.
Disney’s miniature golf pricing is quite reasonable. More importantly, it’s sometimes free. Many Walt Disney World multi-day tickets come with mini-golf admission included! When you get your tickets, read the back of them. It’s a fairly standard benefit for tickets of four or more days.
Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter
I’m not a fan of the Value Resorts at Walt Disney World. I feel like you get what you pay for at these, by which I mean an oddly impersonal Disney vacation. For only a bit more per night, you can vastly improve your vacation experience.
Port Orleans French Quarter is one of the most intimate resorts at Walt Disney World. It also features some of the finest amenities. You can take a boat directly from the hotel to Disney Springs, and you’re also only a few minutes away from Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The Cajun food and beignets for sale at the restaurant here will also enrich your vacations.
The remarkable part is the nightly rate. A standard hotel room at French Quarter is frequently available in the $250 per night range. While that’s certainly at least $75 more than All-Star properties, it’s at least $150 less than Deluxe Tier resorts. In my estimation, French Quarter is the best of the Moderate Tier properties and the closest one to a Deluxe Tier experience. The fact that it costs so much less makes it a tremendous value.
Every day that you spend at Walt Disney World is expensive.
I’m not saying that Disney is a waste of money or anything. To the contrary, I vacation here because I feel that it’s the best tourist attraction on the planet (sorry, Louvre!). But I know when I visit the Orlando campus that I’m burning through money at a Charlie Sheen-ish rate. I hate the thought of sitting on my hands when I could be out doing something.
The problem with a regular theme park admission at Walt Disney World is that you only gain access to one of the four gates. I'm not telling you how to vacation, but I don't want to spend the full day in a single park. I prefer to mix things up, which is why I'm an evangelist for Park Hopper. Over the course of a 7-day, 6-night visit, a Park Hopper pass costs about $15-$20 more per person per day.
have broken down. You’re stuck with Soarin’ and a bunch of attractions that rarely have a long wait.For that price, you open up your Disney options exponentially. For example, let’s say that you’re at Epcot at a time when both Frozen Ever After and Test Track
Because of two E-ticket attractions going down, the wait-time for those other rides goes up dramatically. You're now forced to wait for stuff that you shouldn't. Without Park Hopper, you're stuck at Epcot. With it, you can switch parks and have a better time.
For approximately $20, guests can receive unlimited refills at Walt Disney World resorts. Now, this value is only applicable to those of you staying onsite at official Disney resorts. When you do, however, you should buy a refillable mug.
Once activated via RFID chip, these mugs don’t need any sort of cast member assistance to work. You simply walk over to the drink fountain at your hotel (all Disney resorts have at least one while many have multiple fountains) and pick your beverage of choice.
Since a lot of these restaurants have Coke Freestyle machines, you'll have a wide range of options each time, too. The variance kicks the value up a notch. Even without it, refillable mugs save you a lot of money. A beverage at Walt Disney World is at least $4. You'll have saved money after your fourth refill!
Circling back to the Disney Dining Plan, you’ll get one free refillable mug for each member of your party as part of the program. So, it’s like two values in one!