If you've ever looked up the cost of a Disneyland vacation then you know that you need to save a small fortune to be able to do one for your family. Or maybe not … we have annual passes to Disneyland Resort so we go pretty often. But we are not high rollers by any means. If you don't watch your budget while eating out in the Parks, your food total can easily add up to over $200. After going to Disneyland several times with friends and seeing us all feel the pinch in our wallets when we sat down for meals, we set out on a challenge to see if we could feed a family of four with hot meals at Disneyland Resort for less than $20 per person. The catch was we could not pack any food to bring into the Park and everyone needed to feel satisfied after eating. We figured out where to eat and what to order … and we did it for under $75! Keep reading to see the best values when eating out at Disneyland Resort …
Here are a couple of assumptions we're going to make:
- You have a Park Hopper ticket – if you're coming to the Disneyland Resort for vacation, you probably have a Park Hopper and if you are an Annual Passholder, you definitely can hop between Parks.
- You can get an extra 10% off at dine-in restaurants with an Annual Pass. This will save you about $6 if you follow our plan but if you don't have an Annual Pass, plan for a budget of about $80.
- We'll assume you ate a hearty breakfast before coming to the Park.
- We assume you're not bringing any snacks with you. However, you'll save even more if you bring snacks and skip our recommended between meal snacks.
- With all of the meals, order water to drink. Water is free in the Parks and you can ask any restaurant for a cup of water and they will give you one with a lid and straw. If you need a little something extra for your drink, bring Crystal Light or other drink packets you can mix in. You will save about $20 at each meal by drinking free water over paying for drinks. Plus it gets hot, so water is better for you anyways.
Pro Tip: Drink water (which is free) rather than buying drinks. A family of four can save about $20 at each meal by skipping the drinks!
Feed a family of 4 at Disneyland for under $100!
Mmm, let's dig in to the menu! Since we're assuming you ate breakfast before entering the Parks, we're going to start with lunch:
The best kept secret at Disneyland when it comes to a hot meal is the Plaza Inn's Chicken Dinner.
This meal comes with a hefty serving of mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans with onions and peppers, and half of a fried chicken. It's enough to feed several people!
Here's how to make this one Chicken Dinner feed a family of four (2 adults + 1 teen + 1 kid):
- Ask for extra plates at the salad/dessert bar inside the Plaza Inn. For a family of 4 you'll need 3 extra plates
- Split the Chicken Dinner amongst the plates once you're seated at a table in the restaurant
- 2 adults can split the breast – it's HUGE!
- Give the chicken thigh to the teen
- 1 kid gets the leg
If you have more adults or a teen boy (we all know they tend to eat more!) then you can order two chicken dinners and split them among the family. Our main point is that the Chicken Dinner is HUGE (it's half a chicken!) and it's a better value to split it rather than order one per person and leave half the food on the table, uneaten.
Pro Tip: instead of lunch, eat at the Plaza Inn for a late dinner – you can sit out on the patio, under the heaters, and watch the fireworks show or parade in comfort!
To make everyone feel a little more satisfied (without buying a second entree or Chicken Dinner) we also order a slice of cake or pie. On our most recent trip, we decided to get a 60th Anniversary special Chocolate Mousse Cake with Mango. This makes the meal feel special without costing a fortune.
This pie is super rich and the kids loved the candy gem and printed candy detail on the back. We ate this one slice of pie as as a shared dessert where everyone has their own spoon and we all eat off the same plate. We gave each of the kids one of the two candy pieces. The dessert selection at Plaza Inn changes all the time but the pricing is pretty standard across all the dessert offerings.
If you want to splurge a little, grab a cup of coffee at the Plaza Inn for a couple bucks. Sipping a coffee with the dessert helps me eat less of it (so there's more for the kids) and it's a cheaper pick me up than stopping at the Starbuck's on Main Street in Disneyland.
Pro Tip: There are free refills on coffee at the Plaza Inn. Drink it with your meal then ask for a to-go cup before you leave. Take a full to-go cup of coffee with you on the way out!
The best snacks for sharing at Disneyland Resort
In a couple hours, the kids will likely be hungry again. Here are the best shareable snacks at Disney Resort (besides popcorn).
Grab a churro!
Did you know that Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World doesn't have churros? There's nothing quite like a Disneyland churro, which are available at carts throughout both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Parks.
I like churros because they are easy to break in half. If you have little kids, they probably will only eat half anyways. And now, you can get flavored chuurros at certain locations in the DIsneyland Park, like sour churros at Fantasmic! and Star Wars Light Saber Churros in Tomorrowland.
Now, when I first published this post, someone said they would never share a churro. You can eat the whole churro … you're just gonna spend more money on food at the Parks.
Share a Dole Whip in Adventure Land!
Next, head over to AdventureLand. At the entrance, by the Enchanted Tiki Room, is the Dole Whip stand. Right across from this stand are some bathrooms so it's a good time to hit those up and then get a Dole Whip. We share with the kids, getting 4 spoons at the counter.
Or you can get one Dole Whip and one Dole Whip Float so you can try a little of both but this might bust the budget just a tad. We usually hit the Dole Whip stand between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm, right when it's the hottest in the Park. A Dole Whip is a great way to cool down and there is a lot of shade in Adventure Land.
Where to find free snacks at Disney California Adventure!
A little savory snack is good right about now and the bread samples at the end of the tour are free.
Yes, you can get FREE bread at the end of the tour!
Best budget dinner in Disney California Adventure Park
I wish I had a better photo of our dinner but I took this inside and it was dark. A great place to rest and get a warm dinner is Flo's V8 Café. Get a sandwich with sides, a chicken dinner, and a side of macaroni and cheese to share. You can ask for extra plates at any of the restaurants so that you can easily split up any food between the whole family.
For this meal, we'll split the sandwich between two of us and the chicken between two of us. Matthew takes the Mac N Cheese as his side, which is always a kids' fave. He is always begging for kids meals but once we explained to him that he can try more things if we split them up, he was totally game. Honestly, your kids probably already eat off your plate so this strategy just helps you save money at the same time.
Disney California Adventure usually closes before Disneyland does, so around 8:00 pm we usually head back over to Disneyland.
On the way out of the Park, you'll pass by Clarabelle's Hand Scooped Ice Cream Shop.
Stop in for a Kitchen Sink Sundae, in a plastic kitchen sink, or for ice cream cones, which are great if you want to walk and snack at the same time. We get two or three cones and share because the scoops are HUGE! Right next to Clarabelle's is a candy shop – look inside the window and see if you can spot my cousin, a pastry chef who is one of the candy makers at the Disneyland Resort!
Another great place to get ice cream sundaes is The Golden Horseshoe inside Disneyland's Frontier Land. These sundaes are also huge and totally share worthy, like the cookie sundae Katie got in the photo above.
Pro Tip: Get one of any snacks in the Parks and share ti with each other. You can always buy more if you are still hungry after sharing but if you buy too much, you'll end up throwing money in the trash.
Don't make this mistake when eating out at Disneyland Resort!
Why do we split up food? Because far too often we have seen food go to waste at the Parks. By the time you decide to eat, you're most likely super hungry and will order more than you can eat- we've totally been there, done that! We have seen people leaving piles of food on their plates time and time again.
Here's the thing – if you are super hungry, you can always go back and get more or grab a corn dog or chimichanga at one of the carts. I know, the photo above is kind of gross but I really wanted to drive this point home. The family of 2 adults and 1 child who did not finish their food (on the left) spent over $50 to leave more than half of it on the table. We cleaned our plates (photo on the right) and spent under $25 to feed 3 adults (Katie is a teen but practically an adult) and 1 child. It's all about being smart so you can do more at the Parks without going broke on food and drinks.
Here's how it all adds up:
- Chicken Dinner + Pie at Plaza Inn in Disneyland (including tax and 10% discount of $2.14) = $20.78
- 1 Churro at cart in Disneyland (no discount) = $4.00
- 1 Dole Whip in Disneyland (no discount) = $3.79
- Bread at Boudin Bakery Tour in Disney California Adventure (DCA) = FREE
- Chicken Dinner + Sandwich and sides at Flo's in DCA (including tax and 10% discount of $3.01) = $29.21
- Ice Cream at Clarabelle's Ice Cream in DCA – 3 Waffle Cones (mom and dad shared one – including tax, no discount) = $15.20
- TOTAL = $72.98
Under $75 for the whole day to feed a family of four!!
Want more tips for eating on a budget at Disneyland Resort?
Check out the comments on this post for more ideas … some of the best ones are these:
- split a chimichanga – these are usually large enough to split between two people.
- pack a 12 pack of King's Hawaiian rolls in your backpack. Grab a hot turkey leg in Frontierland, pull the meat off the bone and make turkey sandwiches.
- get the carne asada and chicken tamale meal at Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill in Disney California Adventure. For under $15 you essentially get TWO entrees that a couple can split. Plus the tamale is delicious!
Do you have any great money saving tips for the Disney Parks? Share them in the comments!!