Disneyland on a budget
Best Bets- food
You’ll save a lot of money by sticking with counter-service or cafeteria-style restaurants, which are substantially cheaper than the table-service restaurants. If you look around you can find some decent options besides corn dogs, hamburgers and fries.
Note that the cheapest beverage options at all of the theme park counter service restaurants are apple juice, orange juice or milk, any of which will cost you $1.79, though the portion is small. (Or you can ask for a cup of ice water for FREE.) Regular-sized fountain sodas or bottled water run $2.79 each. And the cost of coffee or hot tea is an outrageous $2.79!
Some places that are relative bargains within the theme parks are Rancho del Zocalo and Riverbelle Terrace in Disneyland and Pacific Wharf in Disney California Adventure.
The plates at Rancho del Zocalo in Disneyland can be very substantial and filling, and the Mexican food served at this location is tasty. For example, one order of fish tacos ($10.49) includes two tacos (each with a fairly big piece of mahi and two corn tortillas, plus toppings) plus a lot of rice and beans. A tamale special ($11.49) included a good-sized tamale, a serving of beef carnitas, rice, beans and several small flour tortillas.
At Riverbelle Terrace in Disneyland, the freshly carved turkey sandwich is pricey at $12.99, but it’s large and comes with two good-sized sides (baked beans and a cold item), plus there is a toppings bar with lettuce, tomato, onions, etc. The reasonably priced ($7.99) “Steamboat Breakfast” at that location includes three pancakes, scrambled eggs and three strips of bacon.
Pacific Wharf Cafe at Disney California Adventure serves a variety of hearty soups (clam chowder, broccoli & cheese, corn chowder or vegetarian chili) in a freshly-made sourdough bread bowl for $8.99. You can order the soups with the bread bowl “on the side” if you wish: they’ll give you a container of soup and a whole loaf of bread. It’s quite a bit of food. Pacific Wharf also offers the least expensive breakfast in either of the theme parks.
- that “The Plaza Inn is a good dining option. I think a lot of people assume it is a character meal all day long. Turns out, after the Mickey and Minnie breakfast is over it turns into a regular restaurant for lunch and dinner. The food is quite good, large portions, and decent prices. For about $15.00 you get half a chicken, large serving of mash taters, and a large serving of fresh green beans. More than enough to share between 2 people.”
Outside the parks, the Jazz Kitchen takeout window and the Tortilla Jo’s takeout window in Downtown Disney are good bets. Both the Jazz Kitchen and Tortilla Jo’s have fairly expensive full-service restaurants, but check out the takeout window at each of these locations, where you can get something a little different at a reasonable price. There is seating nearby where you can enjoy your meal.
At the Jazz Kitchen takeout window, try the beignets (New Orleans-style doughnuts), red beans and rice, or a po-boy (overstuffed sandwich), which comes with a hearty side dish. Fountain drinks are fairly expensive here, but there are free refills.
- At Tortilla Jo’s taqueria, try the tacos, which are quite a bargain considering the quality. The nachos are good: the portion is large and reasonably priced, too. The burritos are large and filling enough to be split by two people who aren’t starving. Fountain drinks are ridiculously overpriced here: order water or consider “aguas frescas” (fresh Mexican juices), which are cheaper and healthier!
Check Out Portion Sizes to Cut Costs
Many of the entrees and combo meals served at Disneyland Resort cafeteria-style and counter-service restaurants include a large amount of food. For instance, I have not been able to finish a plate of food from Rancho del Zocalo or Riverbelle Terrace by myself. If you’re not sure, a good trick at the counter-service restaurants and snack stands is to stand to one side for a minute and watch as people leave with their orders, so you can see how the portions look. If the portions are big and you are not big eaters, consider splitting an entree or combo meal between two people. If you need just a little more food, possibly ordering an extra side dish or appetizer to share will be enough.
Adults looking for a smaller portion at the counter-service restaurants should not hesitate to order from the kids’ menu. No one will know you’re ordering the kids meal for an adult! The kids’ meals are an especially good deal because they include a cold beverage (you can usually choose from a small lowfat milk, small lowfat chocolate milk, juice box, small bottled water or small soda; some locations have a more limited selection of beverages, so check the posted menu). The kids’ meals are also often healthier than the adult options.
Unfortunately most of the kids’ offerings aren’t very exciting for adults (mac & cheese, hamburger, chicken fingers, pizza or “Kid’s POWER Pack”) but a few of the quick service restaurants have more interesting kids’ meals:
At breakfast, Tomorrowland Terrace (Disneyland) offers two different kids’ breakfast platters, each of which includes a cold beverage for $5.99. Adult breakfasts are only 50 cents more, but don’t include a beverage and may be more food than you want.
At lunch and dinner, French Market (Disneyland) has a kids’ citrus chicken breast with rice, seasonal fruit or vegetables and choice of beverage for $6.99.
At lunch and dinner, Plaza Inn (Disneyland) offers a kids’ baked or fried chicken leg with mashed potatoes, green beans, seasonal fruit and choice of beverage for $6.99. It also has penne pasta topped with marinara or Bolognese sauce, served with fresh seasonal fruit, Italian bread and choice of beverage for $6.49.
At lunch and dinner, Rancho del Zocalo (Disneyland) and Cocina Cucamonga (DCA) have a kids’ bean and cheese burrito or chicken taco, either one served with rice, fruit cup and choice of beverage for $6.49.
At lunch and dinner, Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port (Disneyland) has kids’ spaghetti and meatballs with seasonal fruit, baby carrots and choice of beverage for $6.49.
At lunch and dinner, Riverbelle Terrace (Disneyland) offers a smaller kids’ version of its carved turkey or roast beef sandwich with red flame grapes, sliced apples and choice of beverage for $6.99.
At lunch and dinner, Baker’s Field Bakery (DCA) and Pacific Wharf (DCA) offer a kids’ turkey wrap with a healthy side and choice of beverage for $5.99.
At lunch and dinner, Lucky Fortune Cookery (DCA) offers kids’ teriyaki chicken and rice with a fruit cup and choice of beverage for $6.49. (Note that you can also order this with spicy tofu, though it’s not listed on the menu. I have tried this meal myself and found it pretty good.)
Adults are not allowed to order from the kids’ menu at full-service restaurants.
A good option at table-service restaurants, and one that works well for someone dining alone, is to substitute an appetizer for your entree. For instance, order two appetizers instead of an appetizer and an entree, or order an appetizer instead of an entree, thus leaving yourself room for dessert. Be sure to inquire about the portion size first — some appetizers are substantial and filling, but some aren’t
a Budget for buying cool stuff
One way to do this is to give them Disney Dollars or Disney Gift Cards for birthdays, Christmas, etc. before your trip. Encourage grandparents to do this, too. You can’t spend Disney Dollars or Disney Gift Cards anywhere but Disney, and kids will have a lot of fun picking out souvenirs from their own “money.”
Disney Dollars are “cash equivalents.” One Disney Dollar = one US dollar. They can be used at Disney Store locations in the US and at almost all locations in Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Resort and Disney Cruise Line. Disney Dollars can be purchased at any US Disney theme park, or by letter from Walt Disney World Ticketing, PO Box 10140, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830. You must pay in advance. Shipping is $15.00 for express delivery to domestic addresses only (no international shipping). Include shipping charges with the check and indicate what denominations you want (they come in $1, $5 and $10).
Disney Gift Cards can be used online at DisneyStore.com, Disney Store locations in the US and participating locations at Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Resort and Disney Cruise Line (includes most shopping and dining locations). You can buy Disney Gift Cards at Disney Stores, Disney World, Disneyland and DisneyStore.com. You can order in denominations from $25-$500 and shipping is FREE. Once you have a Disney Gift Card, if you’d like to reload money onto it by phone, call Disneyland DelivEARS at 1-800-362-4533 and press “1” to speak with a Merchandise Guest Services representative. Thanks to Linda P for info.
A variation on this comes from MouseSavers.com reader Linda: “One thing I am doing before we go, is paying my kids half their allowance in Disney Dollars. I know there will be things they want to buy and I won’t, so this way, they are saving (forcibly) to buy the things they will want. The kids love it, and some weeks request all Disney Dollars!”
Mr. Potato Head Hints
A popular souvenir is the all-you-can-fit-in-a-box Disney-themed Mr. Potato Head toy. This is available at Engine Ears Toys, just inside the entrance of Disney California Adventure, and possibly at other locations within the resort. For a flat fee you get as many parts as you can manage to fit into the provided box, as long as it closes and is not bulging. Here are some hints for getting the most for your money when buying this toy:
If possible, buy one or more basic Mr. Potato Heads while you’re still at home. You can get one cheaply from a discount store (or even a thrift store or yard sale, if you’re really frugal). The head sold at Disneyland is the same as the standard ones sold elsewhere, and it’s the bulkiest part. Since will take up a lot of room in the box, skip it and load up on the Disney-exclusive parts! You may be able to make up multiple complete sets if you buy the heads separately.
If you do buy the head at Disneyland, be sure to open up the back and fill it up with parts! This is allowed.
Be sure to get plenty of arms at Disneyland. The arms are different from the standard arms that you can get elsewhere, and they allow you to attach special Disney items like Mickey ice cream bars, video camera with Mickey ears, balloons and autograph books.
FREE Pin With Purchase
On the first Sunday of each month, you will receive a FREE pin with a purchase of $25 or more in pins and pin accessories (after any applicable discount and before tax) at shops throughout the Disneyland Resort. The pin is predetermined and changes monthly. This appears to be an unpublished offer, so it’s subject to change at any time, though it’s been around for years. Thanks to Jackie for updated info.
Disney’s Character Warehouse Outlet
You can get great deals on Disney merchandise at this outlet store a little over 3 miles from Disneyland. For basic Disney souvenirs, such as t-shirts, sweatshirts and mugs, you can’t beat the prices. Disney’s Character Warehouse is located at 243 Orangefair Mall. You can call (714) 870-9363 to check hours, etc.
Free things- people get caught up in how much Disneyland cost (and I get it) but the memories you make are free, going with great people and making Memories is worth the ticket inside. You can work around the rest!