Budget-Friendly Disneyland: Choosing your Best Meal

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My friend Mike is what I’d call a true Disneyland expert! He’s been there many times and plumbed the park for all kinds of fun experiences. He’s written many posts on this blog over the past year (see my Disney page for all of them), and now he’s building an entire series for budget-friendly vacationing at Disneyland! Here’s the next post in the series.

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I’m back with more budget help for your next Disneyland vacation. Last time we chatted about where to stay to get the most bang for your buck. This time we will consider probably the most important part of your vacation: where to eat! I know not everybody gets excited for theme park food, but that probably means you haven’t found the right places.

There are many amazing things to eat at the Disneyland resort. Some are infamous (I’m looking at you turkey leg), others are too wonderful for words (Monte Cristo Sandwich), and some are lesser known culinary masterpieces. But this will focus not on the best Disneyland has to offer, but on the items that show value for money spent. Hopefully, this can help you figure out how to save a few dollars but also enjoy some of the best the parks can cook up.

General Tips for Saving money on Food

Let’s look at a few money saving ideas that everyone should know. First, you can bring food into the park. Nothing is stopping you from taking PB&J’s and goldfish for every meal (besides the look your spouse will give you on day 3). Bringing your own food can be a great way to save on beverages, snacks or entire meals.

I often bring my own bottle of water, which leads to the next tip. Disneyland will give you free cups of ice water! This can be great for refilling your own water bottle midway through the day. This service is offered at nearly every quick service dining location but isn’t available at food carts as a general rule.

Cafe Orleans, waiting for the Monte Cristo

Speaking of Disneyland quick service restaurants, you can order every item à la carte. The menu will have all the meals priced with entree, side and drink. But you can skip any of those things you don’t want and you’re not missing on any savings. They don’t discount meals when all the elements are bought together. You can also buy anyone in your family a kid’s meal. If you’re not feeling super hungry, no need to wolf down a full burger just because it’s chow time.

As a last general rule, you can save some real money with appetizers. In many restaurants, you can order a few appetizers and split them and have plenty of food and pay less. Appetizers at table service restaurants can also be some of the most inventive and yummy food on the menu. Do ask your waiter when making this a plan, they’ll be helpful to let you know how much food is in any given appetizer.

Best Place for Breakfast

To get the absolute best value for breakfast, hopefully you’re staying a great hotel that offers it complimentary. A few of the better places we reviewed last time were the Candy Cane Inn, but there’s also the Desert Palm & Suite and the Embassy Suites. If you’ve found yourself at a hotel that doesn’t have any sort of free food, you can do grocery delivery. Bagels, cereal (or cereal bars), yogurt, any item that will fit in your mini-fridge. Chains like Vons will deliver, and sometimes your first delivery is free for signing up.

Buffet at Candy Cane. Photo Credit Candy Cane Inn website.

But if your family needs something a bit heartier, a great value choice might be the IHOP or Denny’s right across the street from Disneyland. Though the menus might have a bit of price difference from your hometown restaurants, they are still some truly good values to be had. The trade off is that you may end up paying for that value in time spent as it is typical to find them remarkably busy.

Hard to say no to the classic Mickey Waffles

If you do want something warm and fresh, and you don’t wait too long for it, consider Tortilla Jo’s Taqueria in Downtown Disney. You can buy a breakfast burrito in a 12″ tortilla, with choice of meat, for about $6.25. You can get a 9″ egg and cheese burrito for just under $5. This is a tasty, quick, grab-and-go option that is near the park and won’t waste time or money.

Best Place for Lunch

The problem with lunch is that you’re most certainly in the park already. And while there are a host of great budget-friendly ideas outside of the park, what do you do if you want to stay inside Disneyland or California Adventure? Here are a few great options. In Disneyland, at the end of Main Street is a little red cart. And it is filled with magic! Well, corn dogs that taste magical. Hand dipped, freshly fried and zero calories (one of those facts isn’t correct). Priced at $6.50 (if you pass on the bag of chips), this is very filling and could easily make for a light lunch.

Corn Dogs of course! Pretty close to actual size!

In California Adventure, they also offer corn dogs. They are found by Goofy’s Sky School in the Paradise Pier. However, keep walking over to the Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta. The pizza is fine, the pasta is pretty good, but the salads are great! The most expensive thing on the menu is $10.99. Grab the Italian Chef Salad with a bowl of pasta and split this between 3 or 4 people. Made fresh, large portions, this is a superb value lunch if you want something fresh and delicious.

If you are heading back your hotel, then you definitely want to grab a meal at the Earl of Sandwich in Downtown Disney. At around $6.99 for a sandwich or $7.99 for a salad, you’re going to get a “hand crafted” (wasn’t made by robots), completely perfect lunch. If you really want to save money, then you can head back to Tortilla Jo’s but go to the sit down restaurant. They will serve you chips and salsa and you then order the nachos. That should feed 3 to 4 people easy for $12. But do leave a nice tip for the waitress.

Plenty of outdoor seating to enjoy!

Best Place for Snacks

Sometimes, you just need a pick me up. Maybe you’ve had a late character breakfast and want to stretch out that expense to be your breakfast and lunch. A snack can balance things out. But where? In Disneyland, head over the Bengal BBQ in Adventureland. There we will find even more meat on a stick. You’re welcome. They come in beef, chicken but the pros go for the bacon wrapped asparagus. All the skewers run about $4.50 or less. It is a nice protein pick up in the middle of the day.

At California Adventure, I would be derelict in my duties if I didn’t mention the free sourdough bread samples provided by doing the video tour at Boudin Bakery in the Wharf area of Paradise Pier. Double that with the free chocolate samples provided by Ghirardelli next door and you’ve got a nice snack double feature.

Free samples!

For many though, there is no snack more desired than the Dole Whip! This pineapple soft serve ice cream is iconic to Disneyland. The Dole Whip Float is the same ice cream but in pineapple juice. This is actually a great treat priced at $4.49 and $5.49 respectively. Here’s the big tip though, you can now buy them at the coffee shop in the Disneyland Hotel. And if you do, you have the option to get a splash of rum on your adult Dole Whip for $8.75!

Best Place for Dinner

Assuming you want a meal and not just a series of fun snacks, what choices are available for diner? In Disneyland, the Plaza Inn might be the best deal to beat. The fried chicken meal comes with three pieces, mashed potatoes, veggies and a biscuit for just $17.49. Let’s all say it together, shareable! Need a bit more food, order their delicious and grand Cobb Salad for $13.49. Now you can feed the whole gang. Need just a bit more food, add a kid’s fried chicken meal for $6.99.

Inside the Plaza Inn

Out of the parks, it’s my absolute favorite deal. Pizza Press! $10 a pizza that can is just a tad bit more than one adult needs for themselves. Warm and yummy create your own pizzas. Pile the toppings on and make the value more pronounced.

One of my own creations

Over at California Adventure, it’s the best of times and worst of times (for value). They do have some of the best food, but they are limited to 3 sit down restaurants. Though value is always in the eye of the beholder, it would be hard to claim any of these as “deals.”

My best suggestion might be the Cove Bar on top of Ariel’s grotto and share the lobster nachos. They are fantastic, they come in at $16 and can probably be enough for 3 people. But that isn’t exactly the most family friendly atmosphere. So if you’ve got kids and looking for a deal, I think Wine Country Trattoria is the place to be. Order 3 or 4 of the appetizers (Fritto Misto, Rustic Bruschetta, Caprese Salad, Italian Insalata) and maybe a couple kids meals for less adventurous eaters. All of this will be perfectly fresh, filling food on a hot summer day. And everything ranges from $7 to $11 each.

Best Place for Dessert

Tucked away in the depth of New Orleans Square is a great spot to end your day at Disneyland, the Mint Julep Bar. Obviously, they serve their namesake Mint Julep which is my favorite refreshing beverage on a warm summers eve. At $3.59, it’s not a bad choice in comparison to other sweet beverages in the park. The other treat to enjoy are Mickey shaped Beignets. A 6 pack should do for the family at only $7.49.

Mint Julep is perfect for relaxing

Even better, you can get those same beignets in Downtown Disney in a 10 pack for $9.99 at the Jazz Kitchen Express. A great value, and super delicious sweet treat.

Pretty!

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Lot of great option for any eaters to save some money next time you visit Disneyland. What are you favorite foods when visiting at Disneyland?

For more tips on saving money in Disneyland, please see our Disney page.

Mike Rinehart is an independent travel agent affiliated with MEI & Mouse Fan Travel. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MikesTravelThoughts/ Or request your free no obligation quote on your next Disneyland, Disney World, Aulani, Disney Cruise (and any other cruise line) vacation by emailing him at [email protected]. Mention “The Coupon Project” and receive a free gift with your completed booking.

In case you missed the first post in our series, please check it out!

2 thoughts on “Budget-Friendly Disneyland: Choosing your Best Meal”

  1. We thought the picnic before the night time show at California Adventure was really worth it for the access to a better view, and for a decent meal.

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