Walt Disney World dining is expensive. This could be because Disney charges an appropriate premium, much like restaurants near other tourist destinations, due to its location, theming, and convenience (probably true). It could be because Disney raises prices to create more illusory value in the Disney Dining Plan (also likely true, in my opinion). It could be as simple as demand (also quite possible). Whatever the reason for the pricing of Disney dining, it’s undeniably expensive.
If you want to eat on a budget at Walt Disney World, smuggling in Ramen Noodles and requesting cups of free hot water isn’t your only option (as alluring as that may sound). You also don’t have to eat exclusively at counter service restaurants that have toppings bars and free refills. Even if on a budget, you can eat at some of Walt Disney World’s nicest and most fun restaurants! At this point, you might be wondering, “what’s the catch?” Well, to take advantage of this wonderful offer, you only need to sit through an obligation-free 30 minute timeshare presentation hosted by–I’m only kidding. There is no catch.
First, there’s the obvious. If you want to dine at nicer restaurants on a budget, order water instead of soda or alcohol, order cheaper entrees, and split meals. The same types of things you can do anywhere to save money. Rather than waste your and my time elaborating on these rather pedestrian common-sense tips (apologies to those short on common sense who could have used further elaboration!), here are some concrete tips for items to order to save money at specific Walt Disney World restaurants:
1. Hollywood Brown Derby (menu) – The Hollywood Brown Derby is one of the best restaurants at Walt Disney World, but unfortunately, it’s also one of the most expensive. However, you can dine at the Brown Derby for just a bit more than it would cost to eat at a counter service menu and you can order two of the Brown Derby’s most popular menu items. For $22 per person, you can order the Famous Cobb Salad (on the appetizer menu) and the Grapefruit Cake (dessert). The Cobb Salad at the Brown Derby is colossal and contains a kitchen sink of awesome ingredients. Seriously, if it were sold at Beaches & Cream, it would simply be called “Kitchen Sink Salad.” I’m not typically a salad fan, but this Cobb Salad is amazing, and incredibly filling. The Grapefruit Cake isn’t as filling or large, although it’s still sized well, but it has a very unique flavor and is one of the Brown Derby’s signature items. For $22 per person plus tax and tip, you will get a chance to dine at one of Walt Disney World’s nicest restaurants and you’ll leave full. Compared to the $80 or more you can easily spend per person when dining here for a full meal, this is a great way to sample the ambiance and two of the best menu items at the Brown Derby!
2. Le Cellier (menu) – Le Cellier has three great lunch menu items that you should consider when trying to dine on the cheap, all of which have great reputations: the Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup, Le Cellier House Burger, and BLT Salmon Sliders. I don’t really think any of Le Cellier’s dessert’s are mindblowing, so I’d probably go with the Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup and the BLT Salmon Sliders. Total, this is just over $20. If you want to dine cheaper and you really like dessert, consider a bowl of the soup and the Maple Crème Brûlée (it’s good, just not any better than what you’ll find anywhere else, in my opinion). Add to that the amazing complimentary pretzel bread, and you’ll have a filling meal for less than $15. I recommend spending a bit more and getting the sliders or burger, but that’s just me. Another option if you’re in Epcot is ordering the Caesar Salad at Coral Reef (menu). The aquarium ambiance is the big draw at Coral Reef, and the salad can be a way to cheaply enjoy that amazing ambiance.
3. Via Napoli (menu) – Since Animal Kingdom doesn’t have much to offer in this department (don’t make the mistake of going to Rainforest Cafe…unless you like poor-quality common chain-restaurant food and loud rainforest sounds), here’s another Epcot-option. I’ve gone from being lukewarm on Via Napoli to it being a pretty much “must dine” for us each time we go to Epcot, all because of the value and quality we’ve experienced at Via Napoli on recent trips. If you have 3-5 people in your party, order a “Metro” size pizza. It’s $41, and should be able to feed about that many people. I can’t resist Via Napoli’s Calamari Fritti, so we usually get that, too. Depending upon the number of people and what else you order, you can easily dine at Via Napoli for $10-20 per person. Not too bad for a restaurant many people have called overpriced!
4. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater (menu) – This list could probably be made exclusively of Disney’s Hollywood Studios restaurants, as its restaurants offer theming that makes them an attraction in-themselves and several have affordable and delicious menu items. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater is often unfairly slammed. The menu changed for the better in Fall 2011, yet critics continue to slam it based upon their pre-Fall 2011 experiences. My picks here are the Picnic Burger (it’s really good, I swear) and a milkshake. This will set you back around $21. Considering the awesome theme and the fun atmosphere, not to mention the underrated food, this is a great value. Give Sci-Fi a chance–I don’t think you’ll be sorry that you did!
5. The Plaza Restaurant (menu) – I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m not a huge fan of this cult-favorite amongst many Walt Disney World regulars, but it still makes the list due to popularity and pricing alone. The Plaza Club is less than $12, and The Plaza Restaurant Sundae is only $5. Less than $17 for a popular Walt Disney World table service restaurant?! Perhaps it’s time I give this one another try…
All of the menu items at the restaurants on this list are great (or at least popular, in the case of the Plaza Restaurant), and they give you the opportunity to enjoy the atmosphere of some of Disney’s coolest restaurants without paying premium prices to enjoy that atmosphere. While I strongly recommend these particular restaurants and items, you can follow this same formula (order and appetizer plus dessert or a cheap entree) at just about any restaurant on property. I highly recommend you look at Walt Disney World restaurant menus before your trip, regardless of whether you’re on a budget.
Even though our menus here at TouringPlans launched only recently, we’re already constantly updating them. These menus make a great planning resource if you want to know what is currently on the menu at Walt Disney World restaurants! Obviously, some inexpensive items are inexpensive for a reason (they aren’t as good as the expensive items), but like many of the items on the dishes on this list, there are some inexpensive gems to be found!
What are your favorite “value” menu items? Share your picks for dining at Walt Disney World on a budget in the comments!