My Almost-Free Disney Vacation: Part 5 - Food

One of my favorite things to do on vacation is to eat! Well, that's actually one of my favorite things to do ANY time, but we'll just roll with vacation for now! :)

We all know that everything at Disney, including food, is VERY expensive. And with a family of 5 to feed for 6 days there, I was looking for a solution that wouldn't break the bank.  If you are here for the first time, you may want to read up on the first posts of the series for a better understanding of this post:

"My Almost-FREE Disney Vacation Series (for 11!):

Part 1: The Basics

Part 2: Airfare

Part 3: Hotel

Part 4: Disney Park Tickets

Growing up, my family had just enough to get by. I never knew the sacrifices my parents made for us to have the "cool" once-a-year jeans for the beginning of school...or the spiral perm that I just HAD to have! Times were tough and even today, we sometimes have to sacrifice for our kids. But, it's totally worth it! When preparing for this trip for the WHOLE family to take (and we all love to eat), I realized that there were very few options for "discounted Disney" anything.  But, I didn't want to walk around the parks and say "no, you can't get that cheeseburger, get a hamburger instead..."  Well, maybe not that extreme, but you know what I mean! If you are caught up on our series, let's take a look at a solution:

So you've seen how we got our $5 flights from the Southwest credit card deal.  Now for those of you that have gotten cards recently, you may have noticed that you were bombarded with tons of other credit card offers soon after, from various banks.  The Southwest card is through Chase and  shortly after I was approved, I received another offer from Chase for the Disney Rewards Visa card. This was a "no annual fee" card, so I immediately investigated the rewards.  Basically, for every $100 you spend on the card, you get 1 "reward dollar". Then, you turn in your "reward dollars" for Disney gift cards. 1 Reward Dollar gets you $1 on the Disney gift card. You also get 10% off a $50 purchase at Disney Stores with this card and a few other perks. But at 1% cash back, I wasn't really interested...At least not until I saw the offer they gave me!

You see, when you see ads on TV or online for card offers, these are most often offers for the "general public". BUT, in the mail, you often get "targeted" offers, special ones just for a target audience. So, being a Chase Southwest cardholder, I received an awesome one!  Normally, the sign-up bonus for this Disney card is a $50 Disney gift card after the first use of the credit card. But my offer was a $200 gift card after spending $500 on the card in 3 months! Sign me up!  Wowee! 

Now, I had $200 to spend on food at Disney. OK, so I knew that I still didn't want to eat out EVERY meal at Disney for a few reasons: 1.) We had recently spent a day in Disneyland for my daughter's competition and it took a LONG time to agree on a place to eat, order the food, wait for the food, find a table, eat the food and get back to the part of the park you left off at. 2.) We weren't even hungry for 3 full meals that day.  Our family is a "small snacks all day" family. Our meals are small, so did we really need to plan all that time just to eat? For us, it would waste time. 3.) I didn't want to "plan" out all of our meal times. We are more of a "eat when you are hungry" family when we are on vacation. We always have snacks and drinks on hand to tide us over until the next meal.  For a nice "sit down" meal, you usually have to plan way ahead. No thanks. 

So, I knew that we may be able to swing this park food thing for roughly around $200. Now, what to do about the snacks?

I'm not sure about your kids, but getting them to sit and eat breakfast when they know they are going someplace fun is a challenge.  Our kids aren't generally very hungry in the morning, so I knew this was a time when we could eat at the hotel.  If you have read Part 3: Hotel of this series, you will see we stayed at the Walt Disney Dolphin. They had a variety of places to eat right at the hotel, PLUS, there was a nice refrigerator in our room. SCORE! In our vacation world, refrigerators rock!  So, I began to make a list of the breakfast foods they love.  We didn't have a microwave right in our room, but we did have one that we could access in the buffeteria! Another score!

OK, so maybe you are thinking, "I don't want to have to worry about making food, bringing food, storing food, etc. I just want to eat."  By all means, you can certainly do so.  However, I just want to share how much TIME this saved us as well. And, having snacks helped kill time in the longer lines for the rides and during the theater shows that little kids may not attend to very well. Our snacks were a necessity! I'd urge you to consider it if you have young kiddos:)

Now, I will write about ground transportation in another post, but I want to let you know that with our private transportation from the airport to the hotel, we were able to stop at a Publix grocery store for 20 minutes for FREE! :) This allowed the whole family to buy any items they needed and bring them to the hotel for the week without lugging all of it on an airplane. AWESOME!

Here is a list of some of the items I purchased at Publix:

-3 cases of water
-Gallon of Milk
-Bananas, Oranges
-Cold Cuts
-Gogurt and Yogurt cups
-Cheese Sticks
-Cream Cheese
-Roaring Waters Juice Boxes
-Chips, trail mix

The store was much more expensive than at home.  But I still stayed under my $50 budget...right at $49 total! :)

And here is a photo of the food that I packed into a carry-on suitcase. Now, remember, I use LOTS of coupons, so this costs well under $25.  Some of the items included:

-Ritz, Goldfish crackers
-Peanut Butter
-Tuna Fish Pouches
-Box of Shredded Wheat Cereal
-Coffee Singles
-Cereal Bars
-Protein Bars
-Pop Tarts (hubby's fave)
-Applesauce To-Go
-Hickory Farms Cheese (non-fridge till opened)
-Candy...I needed candy.
-Fizzies (to turn water into soda...not paying $3 for a soda for the kids!)

I also brought dish soap, plates, baggies, sandwich boxes, small water bottles, plastic utensils, wet wipes and 2 insulated lunch bags.  These were all necessary for travel to the parks...well, not the plates, I used them at the hotel to MAKE the lunches!  I also had small food storage containers that sealed well to make the tuna fish in and take there without leaking.  Also, we put ice from the ice machine in them to keep things in the lunchbox cool until lunch! :)

So, you can see, we were pretty decked out with breakfast and snacks. I tried very hard to keep it as healthy as possible. And, success as far as my definition of "healthy". No danishes, donuts or 
sugary cereals for us! Very tempting, budget-wise, though. :)

The Execution:

I was SO excited to be able to enjoy the parks with my family! I didn't want to spend all morning getting 3 kids ready and then making lunches.  I had the most people in mine, so it took the most planning for the next day as far as getting everything ready. Each night, we would wash baby bottles and had the kids choose their lunches for the next day.  We'd get them ready, put them in the fridge and then just grab them the next morning!  I also made up baggies of snacks for the day as well. Each of the two bags had a kid lunch, mom or dad's lunch, water and snacks. My baby got her own diaper bag of goodies, still! :) It took a bit of planning each night and we were dead tired most of the time, but when we heard "I'm hungry" in line for the Toy Story ride, we were glad we did it! :)

Did we overspend?

OK, so I spent under $75 on food from home and Publix and had $200 for the park food. TOTALLY enough! In fact, we still have over $30 left on the card. Yeah. That was AFTER our "let's get ANY foods we want in Epcot to try!" It was SO much fun to get ANYTHING we wanted. Honestly, we were NOT that hungry at Disney. Way too much to do!  I am SO very glad I listened to the advice of others and did NOT purchase the dining plan. It would have taken WAY too much time to get the value out of it that we would have paid for after researching prices and what we actually ended up eating !  I  would recommend the dining plan to people that don't focus on budget, want the luxury of not having to plan, and have a bit more time to spend in the parks. 


If you are concerned about budget, I highly recommend bringing or buying your own food to supplement your meals at parks.  Even if you want a burger there, you don't need to buy the fries and soda that go with it if you have other snacks and your own drinks that you bring. You will be surprised how much money you can save!

We had so much fun just enjoying each other there that food wasn't really our focus. I don't think that booking a fancy dinner at a restaurant with all 4 kids would have been relaxing or worth it...maybe when they are older. We enjoyed sitting in the rocking chairs outside the Country Bear Jamboree and watching the road show while we ate our own lunches on the front porch...the kids loved it!  And, we were much more relaxed as parents that we could say "yes" to those special food items like ice cream and candy apples at the parks!

Do you have a way to save money on food at Disney? I'd love to hear it! Comment below!

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