by Daisy Diva
I love the Disney Dining Plan. I love that all my meals and snacks are already paid for with a quick scan of a Magic Band. But sometimes the Dining Plan isn’t your best option—and if you are staying off-property, it’s not an option at all. So how should you plan for your meals? How much money should you bring? And how can you make sure you don’t spend all your meal money on souvenirs? Here are some tips that have helped me and my family handle meals when we are not on the Dining Plan.
Obviously, the first step in the process is deciding where you will be eating. This means evaluating your plans for the trip and making choices about table services vs. counter service restaurants. If you are travelling with a group where getting on as many rides as possible is a priority, then you may be doing most of your meals on the fly at a counter service spot. Or you may be with a more laid back crowd that prefers to sit and relax while they eat, maybe with a character or two at a table service spot. Gauge your travel group and their priorities and make your decisions based on that.
After evaluating the priorities of your travel group, it’s time to start thinking about actually paying for these meals. Your group may really want to do a character meal every day, but it’s important to make sure that’s in your budget. While super fun, character meals are expensive and may not suit your financial needs. Keep each specific meal cost in mind when making your plans and looking for reservation times. It’s also important to decide how to pay for your meals. Most restaurants at Disney World accept all major credit cards, but in my personal opinion this could be dangerous and not very budget friendly. Who wants to come home from a relaxing vacation just to get a monstrous credit card bill in the mail a few days later? I have found that a cash envelope system works really well for me. Here’s the scoop on how this works.
Once you’ve made your decisions and scored your ADRs, it’s important to know how much each meal will cost. You can view the menus (with prices) for most of the counter service spots and some table service locations by visiting the Disney website (just click on the specific restaurant to see the menu), but some of the table service restaurants, especially those with either a buffet or family-style service, have seasonal prices that change throughout the year. The best way to find out the cost of those meals is to just call Disney—they are more than happy to look up the price for your entire party with tax and everything based on the date and time of day you will be eating. This has proven to be extremely helpful for me when budgeting for our family’s trips.
So I start a list (usually a note on my phone so I can easily alter it wherever I am) of each restaurant with the amount of money it will take for our family of four to eat there. For counter service meals, I usually plan on spending $10-$12 per person. For table services meals with a menu, I can usually tell from looking at the menu what each member of my family will choose, and I base my amount on that plus a tip for the server. I also include in my list additional costs such as snacks, souvenirs, and parking since I will need cash for those as well. Then I create an envelope for each item on the list. Now it’s time to actually get the money.
Be specific when you go to the bank to get your cash. Otherwise you may end up with a bunch of hundreds or twenties that won’t break down right into your envelopes. I decide exactly how many of each monetary denomination I need, and write it down. Then I hand my request to the bank teller with the check so s/he knows exactly how to cash my check. Then I just divide the money up into the envelopes and seal them up. I DO NOT carry all the envelopes around with me at one time—only the ones I need for the day. That way if my bag gets lost or stolen, all of our spending money isn’t gone forever.
I have found that this little envelope system also works for tips when I am staying on-property. Remember that tips are not included in the dining plan, and your servers should always be tipped at table service restaurants. I also leave my Mousekeeping tips in envelopes labeled with the day so that I make sure I have enough to cover the whole trip. And I sometimes decorate the envelopes just to keep that Disney magic going strong.
So there you have it—an easy way to manage your money and control your spending while on your next Disney vacation. And be sure to check back over the next few weeks as we share our tips on how to dine at different Disney parks for less than $40 a day!
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