Dining the Teen Way: Fast, Cheap, and Greasy

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Roller coasters, shopping, fireworks, swimming, dancing, laughing. These are some of the things that teens love about Disney World. Notice the omission of the phrase “sit-down-dinner-ing?” True, Disney has some amazing restaurants, but a teenager would much prefer to be in the parks, riding rides, than scarfing down a fancy meal. Though there are some family-friendly restaurants, I don’t know of any that involve being thrown upside-down and pulling 5-Gs. Ever since Disney got into the thrill business, it’s been hard for calamari to compete.

Solution? I call it “snacking your way through the parks.” There are no restaurant meals on a snacking vacation. Instead, buy your food at eateries and from vendors. That way, you spend more time watching shows and experiencing rides than waiting for a dish to arrive. Forget your grandmother’s rules about walking and eating! Who says you can’t savor a soft pretzel while darting to the Jungle Cruise?

But if you’re like many Disney World guests, you might have a few concerns: 1) fast food isn’t remotely healthy, and 2) Disney World restaurants serve such fabulous food that you don’t want to miss out. Not to worry. I’m going to teach you to snack in a way that solves these problems, plus saves you a Goofy-sized bundle. So read on, Grasshopper (or rather, Jiminy Cricket).

First: healthiness. You may be worried that eating burgers and cheap pizza for a week will ruin your waistline. You ought to know that on an average day at Epcot, a guest walks over 12 miles, not to mention time standing upright in lines. I promise, you will burn calories. In fact, I usually lose a couple pounds in Disney. However, if you can’t stand food loaded with cholesterol and fat, or rather lacking good stuff like vitamins, below is a list of counter-service places at each park with options for the health-conscious diner. (Remember that Disney has been making an effort to provide healthier choices, so there can be a fruit side with almost any meal.)

MAGIC KINGDOM
Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe, Tomorrowland (soups and Kosher items)
Columbia Harbour House, Liberty Square (vegetarian chili and seafood)
Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn, Frontierland (vegetarian wraps)

EPCOT
Sunshine Seasons, The Land (fresh fruits and veggies, and good stuff for breakfast too)
Lotus Blossom Cafe, China Pavilion (vegetable dishes)
Liberty Inn, America Pavilion (come only if you’re desperate for a salad)

HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
Backlot Express (vegetarian sandwiches and multiple salads)
ABC Commissary (curry and salads)

ANIMAL KINGDOM
Flame Tree Barbeque, Discovery Island (salads)
Kusafiri Coffee Shop, Africa (light pastries for breakfast)

What about missing out on the world-class food at WDW? Some of the country’s top chefs have restaurants there; it seems a shame to skip. It’s true you won’t sample many culinary masterpieces in my “snacking through” strategy because it’s geared towards downing calories for energy. Then again, there are some counter-service versions of the high-end restaurants. Exhibit A: Wolfgang Puck Express at Downtown Disney. It’s more casual and faster, but the pizza is as much gourmet as that of Wolfgang Puck Cafe up the road. The Yak & Yeti Restaurant at Animal Kingdom has a cafeteria-style alternative. You get the picture.

I hope by now it’s clear that you hardly have to sacrifice anything to snack through Disney World. It gets better, too! Here’s the major upside: a family will save an average of $90 for every sit-down meal they forego! Another example: stock up on bagels and cereal from the Buena Vista Winn-Dixie to eat at the turnstiles to save a castle-load. (Get it? Castle sounds like cash. And it’s Disney-themed. Get it? Never mind.)

What are my awesomest money-saving tips for food? OK I’ll tell, but let’s hope my mom doesn’t find out that I shared the family silver! The drinks at Disney are huge, so splitting them saves you about $3 every time. That may not seem like much, but considering how hot Florida gets, staying hydrated is important; it adds up. The ultimate cheap(er) dining secret is: get kids’ meals for adults. Like I said, portions at WDW are huge. Kids’ meals are often big enough to satisfy an adult stomach, and are up to $7 less for the exact same food.

If you still cannot give up eating at a restaurant, you and the other adults can have a sit-down dinner. Meanwhile, the teens and preteens can continue touring, making all of you happier than Snow White singing to beavers. Just make sure the pubescents have a little cash and a cell-phone with them in case of an emergency.

I should mention one other major worry about snacking before I go: not experiencing a character breakfast. Luckily – with the notable exception of Cinderella – almost any character your munchkin would meet at a character breakfast can be found somewhere else in the theme parks, for free.

That’s all for now, though I may return to this topic later. If you have any questions about a Disney World vacation with teenagers, feel free to ask them in the Comments. I might just turn the answer into my next post. In the meantime, have a magical day!

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Posted on November 18, 2009

8 Responses to “Dining the Teen Way: Fast, Cheap, and Greasy”

  • You couldn’t have posted this at a better time for us, thank you! We are leaving in 12 days for WDW, and bringing our teens on their first ever trip. This is very helpful! :)

  • I’m so glad I could help, Betty! If you have any questions before your trip, I’d be happy to answer them as best I can.

  • we used quick service didning plan in Aug/Sept to good effect with 2 teens and a pre schooler. I heartily recommend Wolfgang Puck Express as the best food we found on CS Dining plan.

  • You can find Cinderella in the Toontown Hall of Fame (just saw her there a couple of days ago.)

    We went to the character breakfast at Chef Mickey’s and were pretty disappointed. If you can find a “character dance party” (during an extra magic hour or during the Halloween or Christmas parties at Magic Kingdom), it is a way more interactive experience for the kids with the characters.

  • Great article…But there’s no way the “average” day at Epcot entails 12 miles of walking. My wife and I will go through 3 parks in one day from 8 am (EMH) til 10 or 11 at night and maybe hit 9-10, and we’re always moving.

    Other than that, good stuff!

  • Thanks so much for all your comments, guys!

    I’m very excited to hear that Cinderella has been released from her palatial prison. As a little girl, when Cindy still roamed free, I was lucky enough to be kissed on the cheek by her. I was on Cloud 9! I’ve felt badly for the kiddos from the past few years who haven’t had the same experience.

  • I have pictures of me and Snow White on Main Street. She was just walking around… I was prolly around 5 or 6. I agree JillAnn. Especially with the Bippity Boppity Botique and Pirate League. Kids would LOVE to see their fave face characters just hanging out…..

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