Part Five – Disney Eats
Ten tips on how to eat at the Disneyland Resort.
1. Eat breakfast in your hotel
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times (I think I actually HAVE said it a thousand times): Bring food and eat breakfast in your hotel room. Instant oatmeal can be made with hot water from the coffee maker – just run water through without filters or grounds. Make sure you bring bowls and spoons.
You can also stop at a local grocery store and get yogurt, fruit, granola, cereal and milk. I even bring good coffee from home (coffee snob here) and get creamer at the store.
Eating in our room makes the morning run smoother and saves us money. The kids eat while we get ready and we eat while they brush their teeth and get dressed. When we leave the room, we’re ready for park fun, not an hour in a restaurant.
2. Pack a lunch
We bring bagels, crackers and ziploc bags from home and buy cream cheese, fruit and string cheese at a store near Disneyland. We also bring a knife from home for spreading and cutting (and pack it in our checked bag!).
Each day we pack a lunch for each of us. At lunchtime we board the Disneyland train and eat while we ride the train the full circle. We also sometimes eat while waiting for a parade or while waiting in a particularly long line. Sometimes it’s nice to just find a bench to eat on and just people watch.
3. Pack a ton of snacks
This is so very important – especially when traveling with kids. But adults need them too. When we get hungry we get grumpy, short tempered and we tend to make bad food choices. Bring snacks to curb the grumpies. My friend calls it getting “Hangry” – Hungry Angry. Hangry is not a good thing to be when you are dragging kids around a crowded park under the hot afternoon sun. Bring healthy snacks. Munch. Never, ever get Hangry.
Some great snacks to bring to the park:
- String Cheese
- Goldfish Crackers
- Wheat Thins
- Nuts or Trail Mix
- Granola Bites
- Fruit Leather or Fruit Snacks
- Protein Bars or Granola Bars
- Teddy Grahams or Graham Crackers
I try to bring all of these. Once a kid has one snack, they won’t want to eat it again later (maybe it’s just my kids??). They’ll want something different. Pack a variety of snacks (but make sure you have enough of each thing for everyone to avoid fights over the only raisin box).
4. Consider splitting meals
Disney meals are expensive, let’s just face it. Are you and your spouse only slightly hungry? Will your child eat some of your meal? Will your kids each only eat half a dinner plate? Consider splitting meals between family members if it’s possible.
It feels like such a waste to buy a $7 kids meal and only have your child eat half of it. Sometimes the best option is to buy one meal for your kids to split (or you and your child) and buying a piece of fruit on the side to supplement.
5. Look up menus and reviews in advance
Look through these before you go. Find the restaurants serving the food you will enjoy. It’s important, when trying to have a great vacation, to know some information in advance. Heading to restaurants you are looking forward to is always a great part of vacationing.
Looking for a great bakery? Try La Brea Bakery in Downtown Disney or Jolly Holiday Bakery in Disneyland. Want meat on a stick? Go to the Bengal Barbeque. Want soup in a bread bowl? Try the Pacific Wharf Cafe in DCA (great clam chowder!).
No need to spend your whole trip eating dry chicken strips and soggy french fries. Just do your homework and know where to go (and where not to go).
6. Get toddler meals for kids who eat light.
Toddler meals, which include Macaroni and Cheese, applesauce and milk, are available at some Disney eateries (this is where it’s helpful to check the menus in advance). Toddler meals include smaller portions for a smaller price ($3.99). They are so helpful if you know your kid won’t eat much.
Kid’s POWER Packs ($5.99) are also available at many counter service restaurants. They include string cheese, yogurt, sliced apples, whole grain goldfish crackers and a drink (milk, juice or water). This is a great meal for little ones – especially picky little ones.
7. Counter Service or Table Service?
Before you head into a restaurant you need to think about your food expectations. Disney has two distinct types of eateries.
First off, there is the counter service meal. This is the type of meal you order at the counter, pick up at the pick up at the pick up window and carry to your table on a plastic tray. Generally, this food is made ahead of time (fast food) and more casual. Food types include burgers, chicken strips, pizza, fries, sandwiches, soup, etc… It is usually less expensive, but has a greater chance for disappointment.
Table Service, on the other hand, is where you are seated by the host and your order is taken by a server. The food is made to order and usually higher quality. Table Service meals, however, are usually more expensive.
If you are used to high quality food and want to eat well, stick to table service. If you are looking to save money or want to eat quickly, go for counter service. Just be very selective and read on to see my restaurant and meal suggestions.
8. Share splurges like ice cream cones or bakery items
Sometimes it’s nice to splurge on a treat or expensive item. The ice cream, cookies, pastries, Dole Whips, caramel apples, Mint Juleps and other yummy desserts and snacks are absolutely delicious. Really. They are as good as they look. They are also as big as they look.
Want a splurge? Get one or two for the family to share. Everyone gets a treat but you don’t go broke or give anyone a tummy ache. And them times we spent sharing treats are some of my favorites.
9. Consolidate eating and waiting.
If you don’t like wasting time, one of the best ways to eat is in line for a ride, while waiting for a parade or while watching a show. Simply pick up a counter service meal and take it (without the tray) to wherever you plan to eat. Eating while you wait for a parade is a great idea because you are just sitting with your kids and need to keep them entertained so you don’t hear, “Is the parade here yet?” every 30 seconds. Make sure to dispose of your trash properly, however.
10. Best Disney Grub
Here are my suggestions when it comes to Disney restaurants:
- Carnation Cafe – DL Main Street (closed until summer 2012) – All sandwiches and soups are excellent ($10-$15)
- Big Thunder Ranch BBQ – DL Frontierland – Family style BBQ meal ($25 adults, $10 kids)
- Bengal Barbeque – Adventureland – BBQ meat skewers ($4)
- Cafe Orleans – New Orleans Square – French Onion Soup ($8.50) and Le Salade de Masion ($5.50)
- French Market – New Orleans Square – Chowder and Salad Duet ($11.99)
- Tiki Juice Bar – Adventureland – Dole Whip ($3.30)
- Main Street Cone Shop – Main Street – Single Scoop ($3.70)
- Jolly Holiday Bakery – Main Street – Coffee ($2.80 & free refills), pastries
- Cocina Cucamonga – Pacific Wharf – Burrito Sonora ($10.50), Soft Tacos Monterrey ($10)
- Pacific Wharf Cafe – Pacific Wharf – Monterrey Clam Chowder in a bread bowl ($9.30) **My all-time favorite meal at Disney, Sonoma Chicken & Apple Salad ($9.50) ** A close second on the favorites list
- Paradise Pier Ice Cream – Paradise Pier – Soft Serve Cone ($3.19)
- Don Toma’s – Paradise Pier – Turkey Leg ($9), Corn on the Cob ($4.40) **Share these, they are huge and salty…but oh, so good!
- La Brea Bakery – Pretty much everything here is delicious
Don’t Eat Here:
In my opinion, the food in these restaurants is disappointing. I feel it’s my duty to make this disclaimer. We’ve eaten at all of them and felt like we wasted our money on food that was microwaved days earlier and thrown under a warmer.
- Village Haus Restaurant – DL Fantasyland
- Tomorrowland Terrace – DL Tomorrowland
- Red Rocket’s Pizza Port – DL Tomorrowland
- Stage Door Cafe – DL Frontierland
- Hungry Bear Restaurant – DL Critter Country
- Daisy’s Diner – DL Toontown
- Taste Pilot’s Grill – DCA Golden State
- Rainforest Cafe – Downtown Disney