The Do's And Don'ts Of Eating At Disney World

Disney World is one of the most-visited vacation destinations on the planet, with iconic landmarks like Cinderella Castle and Spaceship Earth enticing millions of guests each year (via Themed Entertainment Association). While most guests go to meet Mickey Mouse, ride Space Mountain, or watch the fireworks, some guests plan their entire vacation around the food.

Disney World has turned into a bit of a foodie mecca over the years, with everything from the most basic of snacks to lavish multi-course meals that can satisfy visitors with all kinds of budgets and palates. It seems like anyone who has been to the theme parks lately has an opinion on which restaurant is the best, what you should and should not eat, or what you should prioritize when visiting Magic Kingdom. But while you could argue over what Disney World restaurant serves the best cut of steak, there are several core tenants that we can all agree on.

No matter what your personal preferences are, there are some basic do's and don'ts you should keep in mind when planning out your dining experience on your next Disney World vacation.

Do: Research your options ahead of time

One of the first things you will realize as you start to plan out your dining strategy at Disney World is just how many restaurants there are. Between the theme parks, resort hotels, and Disney Springs, there are hundreds of dining locations to choose from (via Touring Plans). This, in some respect, is a blessing because no matter what your vacation budget is, or what you are in the mood for, there is likely a restaurant for you. But the sheer volume of choices can be overwhelming. How do you know exactly if you are making the best choice for your vacation?

One way to mitigate this concern is to do ample research ahead of time. Ideally you will want to learn about the different options months before your vacation so you can narrow down your choices and choose which restaurants you want to book reservations for. Disney World has all of the menus online with prices so you can see exactly which table or counter service location serves what. They even include allergy-friendly information if that is a concern with your travel party. Equipping yourself with as much knowledge as possible about what Disney World's restaurants are like and what kind of cuisine you can find will be invaluable once you are actually there.

Don't: Wait until the last minute to make dining reservations

Dining reservations at Disney World's restaurants open up 60 days in advance. That may seem like plenty of time to figure out where you want to eat, but be warned: Many restaurants see their reservations be snatched up in an instant. Some restaurants, like 'Ohana at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort and Cinderella's Royal Table in Magic Kingdom, can be booked up within minutes once that 60-day window opens (via WDW Magazine). So, it is in your best interest to know exactly where you want to eat ahead of time so you can book a reservation when the time comes.

If you already have a vacation planned, mark your 60-day window prior to arrival on your calendar and be ready to book dining reservations early that morning (reservations typically open up around 6 a.m., according to planDisney). While there are plenty of restaurants that do have better availability and usually accept walk-ups, if you want to dine at any of Disney World's sit-down restaurants, you are much better off booking well in advance.

If your favorite restaurant is booked, keep checking as plans change and others may drop their reservations at the last minute. Also, consider backup options to book so you have better odds of at least having some reservations. Who knows: You may wind up discovering a new favorite restaurant.

Do: Consider dining outside of the theme parks

Many of Disney World's popular restaurants are iconic park destinations. Cinderella's Royal Table allows guests to dine inside Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom. EPCOT's World Showcase is filled with internationally-inspired restaurants with menus that span the globe. Disney's Hollywood Studios has its own replica restaurant based on the original Brown Derby in Los Angeles. And, since most of your time will likely be spent in the theme parks, it may seem like a no-brainer to focus your efforts on booking reservations at these restaurants situated just steps from your favorite rides.

It's worth expanding your horizons and looking into restaurants outside of the theme parks, too (via Touring Plans). Disney World's resort hotels, particularly its top-tier deluxe resorts, are home to some of the best restaurants on property, including the high-priced, high-luxury Victoria and Albert's, which has earned the AAA Five Diamond Award since 2000 (via Disney World's website).

You can also find great character dining options, like Chef Mickey's in Disney's Contemporary Resort, as well as unique restaurants like Sanaa in Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, with views of the hotel's savanna which is home to a wide array of animals. Many of the hotel restaurants serve breakfast, which is a convenient way to start your day before heading off to the theme parks. Other hotel restaurants, like California Grill at Disney's Contemporary Resort and Topolino's Terrace at Disney's Riviera Resort, boast rooftop views of Disney World (including fireworks views at night), according to Travel & Leisure.

Don't: Sleep on Disney Springs

Did you know that Disney World has an entire shopping and dining district that you can visit without a theme park ticket? Formerly known as Downtown Disney, this foodie mecca is known these days as Disney Springs, and you may regret passing over this area when considering where to dine. Disney Springs may lack rides or characters, but it makes up for it in spades with the sheer number of options when it comes to dining.

Disney Springs is home to dozens of table and counter service dining options (via Disney Springs' website). The restaurants range from family-friendly locations like Rainforest Cafe and T-Rex to more upscale dining options like Morimoto Asia, owned by famed Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. Looking to land somewhere in-between? Check out casual dining options like Chef Art Smith's Homecomin', The Boathouse, and Raglan Road. Once it's time for dessert, head over to Gideon's Bakehouse for their half-pound cookies (via Gideon's Bakehouse's website), or to Amorette's Patisserie for an artisanal pastry.

Disney Springs is also home to some great bars and lounges to close out your evening, including Wine Bar George, owned by Master Sommelier George Miliotes, as well as Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar, inspired by the Indiana Jones franchise. You may find yourself returning to Disney Springs multiple times in one trip once you realize how many great dining options there are.

Do: Consider character dining, especially if traveling with kids

It is basically a rite of passage when you are visiting Disney World to get a picture with Mickey Mouse. While you can meet most characters through traditional meet and greets around the theme parks, there is another way that could wind up checking multiple to-dos off your list — and that is through character dining experiences.

There are many restaurants around Disney World that include character interactions, both in the theme parks as well as throughout the resort hotels. At these restaurants, characters will roam around the restaurant, visiting tables to sign autographs and pose for pictures. Character dining has been somewhat modified in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, though some of it has returned to its pre-2020 operations (per BRB Going to Disney).

Character dining guarantees that you will see several characters in a short amount of time without having to wait in any lines, which makes them a great time saving measure. They are also great options if your little one is more hesitant to approach characters, since they will be able to see them from a safe distance before actually meeting them at the table. Keep in mind that character dining is a very popular option for families, so reservations at these restaurants tend to fill up quicker than others.

Don't: Let the cost of dining sneak up on you

No matter how you slice and dice it, a Disney World vacation is a pricey endeavor. While there are many ways to save, you are still facing a trip that will cost thousands of dollars, no matter what time of the year you choose to visit. While the price of hotel accommodations and theme park tickets are arguably the biggest expense you will have to budget around, another line item to keep a close eye on is — you guessed it — dining.

There are countless ways to save on dining in Disney World, so the key takeaway here is to be aware of how much the total cost of dining can sneak up on you so you can prepare and budget in advance. Couponing to Disney recommends figuring out a rough budget ahead of time so you can at least know what to expect.

Other cost-saving measures include splitting meals, packing snacks in your bag, and even considering eating off-property if you can do so easily (via Undercover Tourist). In general, breakfast is a cheaper meal at the sit-down restaurants, so consider dining at your favorite table-service locations in the morning and eat dinner at a counter-service location to save a few bucks.

Do: Check out an EPCOT food festival

If you have been to Disney World more than a few times, then you probably know that EPCOT is the theme park known for its restaurants and wide array of dining options, particularly in World Showcase. EPCOT is also home to four food festivals that take place throughout the year: the Festival of the Arts in winter, the Flower and Garden Festival in spring, the flagship Food and Wine festival in summer and fall, and the Festival of the Holidays in November and December (via Disney World's website).

During these holidays, food booths scattered across EPCOT (mostly in World Showcase, though there are several booths around the front half of the park) serve smaller-portion food and drink items, allowing guests to "taste" their way around the park. If you budget carefully, you can try quite a few items for the same cost as one sit-down meal. And, because the festivals are limited-time offerings, you will sometimes come across very unique dishes you do not normally find at Disney World.

The festivals also include live entertainment, exclusive merchandise, and more (via Parade). These days, EPCOT is in near-constant festival mode, so your odds are high that you will be visiting during at least one of the four festivals. Make a plan to check out the food booths during your trip.

Don't: Be afraid to try something new

With hundreds of dining locations across the parks and resorts, there is a restaurant in Disney World for just about everybody. Whether you are a big fan of seafood, pasta, desserts, hamburgers, international cuisine, or anything in between, you are likely going to find a restaurant (or several) that caters to your personal taste buds. But between hard-to-find dining reservations and a general time crunch while on vacation, you may be left with the possibility of having to pick a restaurant you would not typically choose. In these situations, however, it is best to cast your fears aside and try something new. It is probably best to not pick new restaurants every time you eat, but maybe pick one new restaurant to try on your next trip.

Do not write this off as a bad thing! Sometimes your favorite Disney World restaurants are discovered by accident, or maybe you stumble upon a new dining location and are curious to see what's in store. Regardless, keep yourself open to trying new things. Some of Disney World's best restaurants are not the ones with Mickey Mouse waffles, chicken tenders, and macaroni and cheese (though those are all delicious). For a globally-inspired menu, try Tiffins in Disney's Animal Kingdom or Sanaa at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. For unique environments, check out Space 220 in EPCOT or Storybook Dining at Artist Point at Disney's Wilderness Lodge (via Disney Dining).

Do: Look into grocery delivery to save some money

The cost of dining in Disney World can and will add up very quickly, and you may find yourself looking for ways to cut back on your food budget during the vacation. While you can opt for cheaper counter-service meals in lieu of more expensive meals served at table-service restaurants, a great way to save a good deal of cash over the course of your trip is to look into grocery delivery services.

Guests can use various grocery delivery systems to have products brought straight to their resort hotel, just like your local grocery service works when you want products delivered to your home. Companies like Garden Grocer are located in Central Florida and will bring your groceries to your designated hotel at a predetermined time (via Garden Grocer). You can also use nationally recognized companies like Instacart and Amazon Prime if you are a Prime member (via Disney Trippers). Research the various options to see which one works best, as some of them charge different fees, use different stores, and have guidelines concerning what items they will pick up and deliver.

If you have a rental car, you can save even more by driving to the nearest grocery store to shop yourself, eliminating the delivery fees associated with delivery services.

Don't: Overlook bars and lounges

In addition to the numerous restaurants located on Disney World property, there are also many bars and lounges found in the theme parks, resort hotels, and Disney Springs. But do not simply write them off as only places to go if you want a nightcap at the end of a long day in the parks. Disney World's bars and lounges are often hidden gems that serve great food in a much more relaxed atmosphere.

Most of the bars and lounges in Disney World include some sort of food service, whether it is a small bites menu or a full service menu. This makes them a great backup option (or first choice, depending on how many drink options you want with your meal) when you cannot find a reservation at a restaurant and the walk-up list is full. Some bars, like Nomad Lounge in Disney's Animal Kingdom, are adjacent to full-service restaurants (in the instance of Nomad Lounge, it shares a building with the signature dining restaurant Tiffins), so sometimes you will even find identical food items being served at the bars and lounges without having to fight for those hard-to-get reservations.

It is worth noting, however, that some bars and lounges have their own reservation system or are popular in their own right (like Oga's Cantina in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge), so be sure to research your options ahead of time to see if you need to show up early to grab a seat.

Do: Check out all of the incredible snacks

Snacking in Disney World is almost as much of an American pastime as baseball when you consider the sheer number of Mickey Mouse-shaped food items available across the parks and resorts. From pretzels to rice krispie treats to ice cream bars, there are snacks of all shapes and sizes to keep you full in between meals. Some snacks, like Dole Whips and churros, are as iconic in Disney World as Cinderella Castle, with many guests including them on their must-do list when visiting.

Simply put, if you visit Disney World and you are only eating during designated meal times, you might be missing out on some of the best treats you can find. Many of the snacks served at Disney World are limited-time offerings, especially around the holidays, which make for an even more special experience when you take that first bite into your generously-frosted cupcake.

Not all of the snacks need to be treated as dessert. Some snacks, in fact, are great meal substitutes if you are looking to save a little money, you are short on time, or you simply do not have enough room in your stomach for a full lunch or dinner. Loaded french fries, spring rolls, and of course the infamous turkey legs are just a few examples of the more savory snacks available.

Don't: Plan on eating three large meals each day

As you go about your regular day, you probably eat three main meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And while you may feel inclined to follow that pattern while vacationing in Disney World, it might actually be a better idea to shake things up a bit.

Planning three large meals a day in Disney World is dangerous for several reasons. For starters, stopping your plans to eat three times can chew up a lot of valuable vacation time when you could be knocking more rides off your to-do list. Second, the cost of dining in Disney World adds up fast. Purchasing three big meals a day can wind up being detrimental to your overall vacation budget (via Orbitz). Third, eating three bigger meals can weigh everyone down, especially if you are visiting when the Florida heat is at its peak.

What should you do instead? Consider a larger breakfast later in the morning, and then snack your way until dinner. Eat smaller portions or a bigger snack for some meals, or split an entree with a friend. Whatever you do, do not make the mistake of eating more than you can handle (especially if you are heading to Tower of Terror afterward). Bring your own food into the parks so you do not have to find food when you get hungry (via Insider). Map out the times you and your party will want to eat, and plan accordingly.