A Disney “Adult” – Maneuvering Walt Disney World Dining With a 10-Year-Old

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We had a momentous occasion in our household this past December – my son turned 10 years old. While I was thrilled to see my young boy grow further and continue developing into a nice young man, I wept a little inside because I knew it meant that he was no longer a “child” as defined by Disney. Yes, according to ticket prices, dining plans, and other restrictions around Walt Disney World, my dear boy is now an adult. I expect him to move out and start supporting me in my old age soon. Yep, any minute now…

Discipline on "adults" can be a little harsher than when they were kids. :)

While I’m waiting, though, I thought it would be best to share with you other parents how we are managing to get around the “adult” price tags for things at Walt Disney World. As I mentioned, since Disney now considers my 10-year-old an adult, everything has gone up in price. A 7-day park hopper pass, for instance, is now $342.93 including tax, vs. $322.70 for the child’s ticket. Sure, that’s only $20, but it still hurts. The big issue is food; in fact, that is increasingly the greatest challenge when we plan a trip to Walt Disney World.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it costs more to eat at Walt Disney World than just about any place in the United States, and it keeps getting more and more expensive every year. When you reach the stage of having an “adult” joining you at the table, that only makes things worse. Whereas a dinner at Crystal Palace used to be one of our favorite splurges, spending $40.99 for my son to have the exact same food he used to get for $19.99 at dinner (see menu) just is not worth it. So, while he is filling out job applications, here are some tips we have for saving money with our new adult in the household.

  1. Read those menus carefully to see what's the REAL best deal

    Don’t eat at buffets or fixed-price meals. Sure, you may want to have fond memories of the halcyon days when your little one adored Mickey or Pooh, and you ate breakfast (see menu) with Chef Mickey in the Contemporary, but remember that the little ones are now big, and as they have grown, so has the price to feed them. I gave the Crystal Palace example above, but for breakfast at Chef Mickey’s, the price goes from $19.16 for kids to $35.14 for an “adult.” That extra $16 adds up quickly, because it’s not like the kiddo will eat more than he did when he was 9 years old.

  2. Do NOT get the Disney Dining Plan. If you have read some of my earlier blog posts, you know I am a huge proponent of the Dining Plan when you have kids. Depending on when you travel, for $15.04 or $16.02 per day you can feed your children a sit down meal, a counter service meal, and a snack. You probably couldn’t do that at home for that price. But when they reach the magical age of 10, that price jumps up to $51.54 to $53.54 per day. Is your little darling going to eat an additional $36 per day of food? I’m guessing not. At that point, it makes no sense to go for the Disney Dining Plan.
  3. Use the Kid’s Meals. It’s a well known fact that adults can still order off the kid’s menu if they would like. So, if you, like me, sometimes need a good table service meal to break up a long day of park touring, your new “adult” 10 year old can still order a kid’s meal. Not to say he has to, but the option is still there when you’re not visiting buffets or character meals. Just taking the time to do that can save you $20 or more at some restaurants.

    A well-timed box of popcorn can save the day

  4. Weigh your counter service options carefully. Again, your 10-year-old can still order off the kid’s menu at counter service restaurants, but sometimes, that might not be the best deal. Here’s an example: at Fairfax Fare in the Studios, a kid’s meal (see Kids’ Menu) will run you $5.49 for macaroni and cheese, applesauce, carrot sticks and small juice box. Meanwhile, the new hot dog meal (see Lunch/Dinner Menu) comes with macaroni and cheese on top and coleslaw on the side for $8.19. Which do you think is more likely to fill your child up? For my 10-year-old, it’s worth getting the hot dog meal so that we don’t have to stop and get a box of popcorn later.
  5. Snacks. Lots of them. I know, that’s counter intuitive to what I just said, but snacks can be key. If you are trying to save money, splitting items at table service restaurants and ordering kid’s meals, followed by a well timed snack makes a lot of sense. A nice $3.79 pretzel shared between you and your 10-year-old could stave off a larger meal later, saving your $20 or more for an adult portion.

Those are just a few of the things we tried in January to keep from going bankrupt trying to feed our newly minted “adult.” I’m sure we are not the first people to face this dilemma. While I take this kid to job interviews, what are your tips for saving money on these Disney adults?

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Posted on April 16, 2012

11 Responses to “A Disney “Adult” – Maneuvering Walt Disney World Dining With a 10-Year-Old”

  • This post could not have come at a better time. My youngest turned 10 this year and our next trip is scheduled for the end of June. The last time we went was December 2010. Up until then, I rarely complained about the cost of eating (ok–I didn’t complain much). But, when we went last time wow…the price hikes were noticeable, and that was before my dd turned 10! We will be passing on CP, too, this time around (also one of our favorite treats!)

    We’ve never stayed OP with our girls, so we’ve never done DDP.

    I know that I will be studying menus very carefully this time around. Could mean a big difference in $$.

    Thank you for your insight! I am sure to use it as I continue to plan!

  • Thankfully we got free dining last year when our oldest turned 10. One other thing we didn’t know is that the Quick serve meals aren’t labeled as adult or child. Wish we had known that before our last day there. Our 3 year old doesn’t eat much and we could have used his meals for lunches instead of throwing away most of his food. I don’t know if I would pay for the DDP again. Is the Quick Serve plan worth it or is it still too much money?

  • by Melissainsc on April 16, 2012, at 3:39 pm EDT

    We recently did the DDP with our twelve year old son and it wasn’t a great value. Specifically, we had reservations at Boma which we all loved last time we visited. Unfortunately, this time my son didn’t feel really well and only ate a plate of mashed potato, three grapes and a brownie for supper. I told him that twas the most expensive mashed potato I’ve ever seen in my life. even I barely get my money’s worth at a buffet because I’m simply not a big eater but I enjoyed it very much regardless. In the long run, we would have been better off with 2 of us on the DDP and simply purchasing something OOP for the boy and sharing dessert. In fact, we stretched our CS credits by doing just this and were quite happy with it. Always tweaking the system for our visits.

  • breakfast in hotel…no exceptions (banana and protein bar for mom and day, poptarts for kids)

    lunch and dinner in the parks, kids (ages 10, 11 and 13) order off kids menu always…no exceptions. Mom and Dad share a meal.

    From past experience, this is enough food. We don’t want to feel stuffed walking around and we can always get that pretzel you mentioned. We also bring backpack with snacks such as granola bar, chex mex, individually packed oreo cookies, crackers with cheese, etc.

    Plus don’t forget you can always get FREE water from any counter service even if you don’t purchase anything. Adding pop (soda) for 5 people can easily add $10 to the bill.

    We are visting again in May 2012—can’t get dining plan since we are at Swan and Dolphin for conference. Will they ever change that policy?

    • by chris frantz on April 16, 2012, at 6:21 pm EDT

      I would like to add to the free water comment…you can bring your favorite drink packets to give yourself flavor drinks if you dont want just water. Some of the condiments stations also has packets of lemon juice if you want lemon water. We have an avid rule “NO POP” You can choose pop as a treat if you rather have that instead of the ice cream. Saves $200 in a week for 2 people. Thats a lot of money you could put towards meals.

    • +1 for this idea. We always bring insulated water bottles and flavor packets for the free water from the soda fountains at CS restaurants. I do it because I can’t drink sugar or caffeine, but it also saves a lot of money. I always shake my head in bewilderment when I see people paying for bottled water.

  • With our 11yo, using the DDP when he was 9 was a bit of a drag. His appetite was significantly bigger than kid’s-meal portions, so he kept wanting some of our meals! Becoming an “adult” by Disney standards was okay by us. But for our younger son, age 9, becoming an “adult” will be a big waste of money on DDP — he is very picky, doesn’t eat much, and prefers the kid’s-meal options. We’re doing free dining this year; next year, I highly doubt it.

  • You are right on with this advice! We just returned yesterday from our first trip without the meal plan, but as you mentioned, we couldn’t see it being worth it for our 10-year old son. He ordered off the kids menu at most counter services, as well as Sci-Fi Dine-In (his favorite) and The Plaza. When he got hungry, we filled in the empty spots with Mickey ice cream bars.

  • For some kids being an “adult” by Disney food standards at ten is appropriate. My daughter, an 11 year old dancer who burns a ton of calories, eats as much as I do. But my son, who will be ten on our next trip, is doing good to finish a kid sized portion. We look at menus when we’re planning and do the math to see what works out best for us. Last trip the DDP “broke even” for us so we used it for convenience. But it might not next time.

  • Timely post–my daughter and I are heading down in August, just after she turns 10. Glad to see that the plans I’m making are the same you’re recommending. Already decided against the DDP–I cannot justify the adult price for her (she’s not a BAD eater, she’s just not a BIG eater!). We do like our table service meals, though–daughter wants to hit Sci Fi & Via Napoli, which are ala carte, so we should be OK there. We have to do ‘Ohana, though, so that will be a bit of a splurge. Planning on bringing our own water bottles, and we’ll share counter services and snack as we see fit–the August heat means lots of Pineapple Floats!

  • RE: Kids meals…it’s worth asking about “off-menu” items. For example, at Riverside Mill we offer plain hot dogs, or penne with marinara or butter, or grilled cheese (among others). You just have to ask!