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Budgeting for Meals at Walt Disney World

You can't ignore the fact that a Disney World vacation is expensive. Even 'cheap' things can feel like a burden on your wallet. One of the biggest mistakes when planning is not giving yourself enough wiggle room in your wallet for meals. A lowballed budget will feel you sticker shocked. Too strict of a budget will make your trip more stressful.

What about the dining plan?

This guide will help you budget if you don't have the dining plan and are paying out of pocket. I personally think the dining plan is a rip-off unless you get it for free (which is getting harder and harder as it's a very sought after discount). There are very few places where you'll spend more than what each credit is valued at and it's not fun trying to only order the most expensive items on the menu to feel like you're getting your money's worth.

Food options and prices wildly vary at WDW. There are four categories dining options at WDW fall under:

  • Quick Service
  • Table Service
  • Signature Dining Experiences
  • Character Dining

Quick Service

The most basic food options available, you'll walk up to a counter and receive your food. While most places will serve your standard theme park hamburgers and hot dogs, you can find some really good out-of-the-box quick service places, especially at Epcot and Animal Kingdom. There are also several quick service places that bring the food out to your table. The most popular place that serves this style is Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom during breakfast and lunch. For your quick service meals, plan to budget $15 a person for breakfast and $20 a person for lunch and dinner.

Table Service

A more traditional style restaurant with hosts & waiters, you'll find anything and everything at the table service restaurants. Some are very ho-hum and may leave you scratching your head why you paid that much, while others will tempt you to order another dish. It's also a good idea to pick an Advanced Dining Reservation (abbreviated as ADR) and for some places it's a necessity. Some table service locations will serve the same menu for lunch and dinner, while others will have differing menus (in both portion sizes and prices). You'll also find several buffets that still have waiters to take your drink orders and make sure everything is ok. Plan to spend $20 a person for breakfast, $30 a person for lunch, and $40 a person for dinner.

Signature Dining Experiences

These are the cream-of-the-crop restaurants at WDW. Everything from the service to the food is top notch. Some places are expensive and others are really expensive: like $200/person expensive (Victoria's & Albert's at the Grand Floridian). It comes without saying, a reservation is a must, but you can find bars/lounges at many that will accept walk-ins and serve the full menu. There is also a dress code (basically not looking like you just hopped out of the pool) and some may have very stringent dress requirements. Plan to spend at least $70 a person for dinner.

Character Dining

It wouldn't be Disney without the characters and this can be one of the best ways to meet the characters. Unlike the meet & greet spots around the parks, at character dining meals they come to your table and you're likely to have a much longer interaction than you would at a meet & greet where they have a line to get through. The character meals are expensive and some may make your wallet skip a heartbeat. It's also worth noting that the food can be less than impressive at some, so it's best to do some research before you drain your bank account for some one-on-one time with Mickey. Plan to spend $35 a person for breakfast and $50 a person for dinner.

Daily Walt Disney World Dining Budget Examples

For all these budgets I assume the following:

  • Quick Service:
    • 1 adult entree
    • 1 non-alcoholic beverage
  • Table Service
    • 1 appetizer
    • 1 entree
    • 1 non-alcoholic beverage

Keep in mind prices at Walt Disney World vary. You may come in well under budget at some places, and over at others. These budgets also don't include snacks, which will usually run you around $5-8/item. Alcohol usually runs $8-12 per beer/wine, and $15 a cocktail.

Example 1: All Quick Service Meals

  • Quick Service Breakfast: $15
  • Quick Service Lunch: $20
  • Quick Service Dinner: $20
  • Total/day/person: $55

Example 2: Quick Service Breakfast & Lunch, Table Service Dinner

  • Quick Service Breakfast: $15
  • Quick Service Lunch: $20
  • Table Service Dinner: $50
  • Total/day/person: $85

Example 3: All Table Service Meals

  • Table Service Breakfast: $25
  • Table Service Lunch: $40
  • Table Service Dinner: $50
  • Total/day/person: $115