Over the past few weeks, we’ve been covering lots of the math behind the Disney Dining Plan. We calculated how much credits are worth, and showed how difficult it is to get value out of two-credit meals. If you’ve decided that the Dining Plan costs to much, or you don’t want to think about maximizing the value of every credit by ordering steak and alcohol with every meal. But you still want tips on how to save money on dining during your Disney vacation. This post is for you! We’ll cover two different strategies for cutting food costs at Walt Disney World, and do the math on how much each can save you.
You can get a really detailed example of my family’s most recent grocery delivery experience here. But here are the basics:
My family always places a grocery order for arrival day, and it usually beats us to our resort. Bell Services holds it for us (including refrigerated items). We just pick it up when we arrive and store everything in our room!
Let’s be clear – I love Disney food, so I don’t like feeling like I’m missing out on extra Disney snacks or excellent quick service meals. But even still, I’ll frequently order a loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter in case my kids get picky or need something to snack on during our pool day. And I always order a couple of 6-packs of soda for my husband and I to throw in our park bag at the start of the day because soda is way over-priced in the parks and at the resorts.
One of our biggest grocery delivery savings is with breakfast. We’re constantly running to rope drop in the morning, and dropping a bunch of money on easily transportable breakfast food every day stinks. Let’s run the numbers to see how much I can save during a sample 6-day trip to Walt Disney World for my family of four.
If we were to order a quick-service meal to take with us on our way to the parks, it would typically include:
This already represents quite a bit of splitting and sharing and dependence on our handy water bottles, but even still it comes out to an average of $34.33 for a breakfast on the go. Multiply that by the 6 days of our trip, and we’d be spending $205.88 on quick-service breakfasts.
But let’s say I make one big breakfast grocery delivery order instead. For the purpose of this exercise, I’m going to price it out on Instacart and use Publix as the shopping store. On a 6-day trip, I’d place an order for:
All of that for a pretend delivery today prices out to a total of around $54. I just pack some plastic or paper bowls and cups and utensil into our luggage (or add them to our order if I’m feeling lazy or tight on space).
So just by ordering one grocery delivery for all of our breakfast food, on this 6-day trip for my family of four, I’m saving over $150 compared to buying quick service breakfast every day. That’s a nice table service meal paid for with my savings!
I’m glad you asked – Erin Foster just caught us up with all of the gift card FAQs here. But let’s narrow down the benefits to our situation of saving money on food.
By purchasing gift cards ahead of your vacation, you can still have the convenience of pre-paying for all of that delicious vacation calorie intake, and you can even save money while doing it, without much effort. This allows you to spread out payments for your food by purchasing just a gift card or two at a time, and then redeeming them during your vacation. So – we’re still pre-paying for our food! But we have much more flexibility with what we can order instead of trying to “beat the dining plan” by always ordering the most expensive option.
Buying gift cards also comes with an important bonus compared to the Dining Plan. You can use gift cards to pay gratuity, which isn’t included on the Dining Plan. With the plan you’re paying gratuity out of pocked with every meal – and that gratuity is going to be higher because you’re ordering expensive meals to get the best value out of your plan. With a gift card, you order what you want, when you want it, and you’ve pre-paid for the meal AND the gratuity. All without paying Disney extra money just for the convenience.
I’m going to offer two different scenarios. The first is gifts for special occasions. For my husband’s 30th birthday, I surprised him with a Disney Cruise (our very first one, pre-kids) and a night stay at WDW before we headed to Port Canaveral. His actual birthday happened while we were on the ship, but I invited his family and my family over to our house the night before we left. He didn’t know about the party, and he didn’t know that we were leaving the very next day.
Our families always give gifts for birthdays and holidays, so I offered that if anyone would like to participate, they could “pre-purchase” a meal or a special experience for our trip as their birthday gift to my husband. I made a menu of options and what they would cost, and then said that they could either buy a gift card for something close to the amount of the experience they wanted to gift, or they could just pay me and I would print out a certificate. So someone gifted a dinner at Palo, someone gifted an excursion to Atlantis, someone gifted dinner at Sanna the night before we left, etc. This allowed us to do many more experiences than we otherwise would have done, and really made for meaningful gifts. We took pictures of each experience and sent them as thank you notes at the end of the cruise. Gift cards made this sort of personalized gifting possible.
The second scenario is just stocking up on gift cards yourself, leading up to a vacation. I do this before every Walt Disney World trip we take. I’ll semi-plan out where we’ll eat and what I think everyone will order. Doesn’t have to be exact – just a rough guess. For example, for a 6-night trip it might look something like:
For our family of four, with gratuity included, that could cost something like $1,100. Yikes! But I can buy one $100 gift card at Target each week for the 11 weeks leading up to our trip, and that doesn’t feel nearly as bad. Plus, I get 5% off all purchases at Target with my Redcard. And they often run little bonus promotions like “spend $90 three times in-store in three weeks, and get $30 back”. Let’s say with my eleven purchase, I take advantage of that deal three times.
Instead of paying $1,100 out of pocket for our meals on the trip, I pay $1,045 and get $90 back. So I still get $1,100 of food and beverages, but I save $145 by paying with gift cards. And I’ve spread my payments out over 3 months instead of the bill hitting all at once after our trip.
Do you have any tips or tricks for saving money on food at Walt Disney World? Share them in the comments below!
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This content was originally published here.