After the parks, your biggest expense is likely to be food and dining. While eating out in America (especially Orlando) is often great value for money, it is easy for the costs to pile up quite considerably on a daily basis, not just with the main meals of the day, but with general drinks and snacks. In many cases, even a ‘cheap’ burger, chips and a drink type meal can cost up to $10 per person. With two adults and three children a basic lunch in thr park can cost up to $50, $70 or more for counter service. Multiply that over 10 or 14 days and you start to get an idea of the overall costs involved. Therefore you need to take advantage of the various meal deals that are available throughout Orlando.
All-you-can-eat buffets are fairly widespread and offer great value for money, giving you the opportunity to fill up the whole family for a more budget-orientated price.
All You Can Eat Buffets - Disney World
Crystal Palace - Magic Kingdom
Hollywood & Vine - Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Biergarten - Epcot
Boma at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge resort
Cape May Café - Disney’s Beach Club Resort
Trail’s End - Fort Wilderness resort
All You Can Eat Buffets - Orlando
CiCi’s Pizza Buffet has several locations, including one on Palm Parkway near the Downtown Disney entrance to Walt Disney World. The pizza buffet offers a somewhat more health-conscious approach, providing things like vegetable pizzas, with a soup and salad bar at some locations and a tempting selection of desserts, for a surprisingly low price. Ponderosa Steakhouse and Sizzler are two chain restaurants with multiple locations throughout central Florida. They both provide breakfast, lunch and dinner. While the food is largely pretty ordinary, there is plenty of it and it is pretty consistent. Other buffets worth looking out for are Golden Corral, Black Angus, Perkins and Shoney’s, where you may pay a dollar or two more but the extra quality is undeniable.
Sweet Tomatoes - Kirkman Road is a particularly health conscious buffet with one of the biggest salad buffets in town. Sweet Tomatoes serves great soups, pastas, breads and sweet muffins and youghurt for dessert, all made fresh daily and all extremely delicious. It is easy to fill up here both cheaply (a buffet lunch costing around $10) and healthily, which isn't so easy to do at the theme parks. Hours are 10:30am-9pm Mon-Thur, 11:30am-10pm Fri and Sat and 9am-9pm Sun.
Value for Money Sit-down Restaurants in Orlando
There are some diners where great value can be found in particular menu items. Panera Bread is a counter-service chain which specialises in soups and sandwiches. Their daily fresh soups, which come with a big chunk of French bread, are often a meal in themselves for around $5 and one of their sandwiches is often enough for two. The Olive Garden chain features unlimited salad and breadsticks with their meals, which often means you can fill up a hungry tribe without going over the board with the bill. For budget-priced Italian, the prices at Fazoli’s are hard to beat. You will be hard-pushed to spend $10 on a meal there, and the food is extremely respectable for fast-food style.
Kid Eat Free
The ‘Kids Eat Free’ deals are fairly common at many of the hotels, primarily in a bid to get hotel guests to eat there rather than elsewhere, but many are happy for non-hotel guests to eat there as well. The Howard Johnson and Holiday Inn chains are notable for this feature, however not all the hotels offer the Kids Eat Free prommotion. Some participate seasonally and not necessarily at peak periods. Very often the best thing to do is to keep an eye out when you first arrive, especially at nearby hotels. Many will advertise ‘kids eat free’ on billboards outside and it is then easy to check if these apply to hotel guests only or if anyone can take advantage of them.
Make sure you check out the Attraction Tickets Direct 'Kids Eat Free' card. This amazing value for money card offers unlimited children's meals over a 14 day holiday for just £10 at over 130 affordable restaurants. Check out the 'Kids Eat Free' card here.
Many other restaurant chains participate in this offer, however it may not be widely promoted. It's definitely worth enquiring at some of the restaurants listed below.
- Beef O'Brady's
- Ponderosa Steakhouses
- Boston Market
- CiCi's Pizza
- Golden Corral
- IHOP (International House of Pancakes)
- Lone Star Steakhouse
- Pizza Hut
- Roadhouse Grill
- Tony Roma's
Early Bird specials and Happy Hours
As a general rule, Americans stick rigidly to the main mealtimes, hence 12-2pm and 6-7pm are the busiest possible times to head for a restaurant. Conversely, some restaurants offer special deals if you eat outside of those times. These ‘early bird’ specials, where main menu prices are reduced, are notable at restaurants like Goodfella’s Pizza on Colonial Drive and Kobe Japanese Steakhouse with six Orlando locations; Sun-Thurs 5pm-6pm). Visit the excellent seafood restaurant McCormick and Schmick’s, located in Mall at Millenia, for their Happy Hour between 3:30 and 6:30pm Monday to Friday. During happy hour all their appetizers as bar snacks for just $1.95.
The food courts at some of the shopping centres also offer better value for money than many of the standard restaurants, and you will probably find it easier to please all the family. The huge food court at the Florida Mall (central Florida’s largest shopping centre) offers no less than ninetten counter outlets from which to choose. Similarly, the choice at the superb Mall at Millenia is wide-ranging and surprisingly health conscious, with 12 good-value outlets. Lovers of a good English breakfast should seek out Best of British located on International Drive just across from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Both of the Orlando Premium Outlets centres and the Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores also boasts decent food courts where you can save a few dollars.
Discount Dinner Deals
You should hunt down any number of Coupon booklets you will find distributed in racks in all the main tourist areas, outside shops, in hotels and at some petrol stations and restaurants. The booklets feature a range of money-saving deals, from 'kids eat free' promotions to free appetizers and two-for-one entrees. You can even pick up some vouchers in advance on a number of websites.
For downloadable vouchers and coupons check out these websites:
- Coupon Momma
- Orlando Sentinnel
- Val Pak - In order to make full use of this site and get all the latest deals you will need to enter a local zip code.
Try one of the following zip codes when you log on Val Pak's site:
- The International Drive area - 32819
- The Disney/Lake Buena Vista area - 32821
- Kissimmee - 34746
This being America, you should also be aware that food portions – whether for starters, main courses or desserts – are almost invariably large, and it is perfectly possible for one main course to be enough for two. Just tell your waiter or waitress in advance you wish to share a dish and it will often be served on two plates for you. Be sure to tip as though you've both had a main meal, as this is something most Americans would do, and your server is likely to feel short-changed.
Discount Alcoholic Drinks
Visit our favourite ‘local’, the Orlando Ale House on Winter Garden/Vineland Rd, just north of Downtown Disney, for their fabulous food, great prices and extensive array of beers. Of particular interest are their various specials on pitchers of beer and by-the-glass specials on the likes of Fosters. Sports enthusiasts take note: there are dozens of television sets, showing all sports, all the time.
When touring the parks – especially in the summer heat– it is absolutely vital to drink lots of water at regular intervals. But you don’t want to be paying $2.50 a bottle at the parks. Instead, buy one of the cheap Disney water bottles from a supermarket like Wal-Mart, Target or Publix (only around $5 each), fill them with ice from your hotel or holiday home before you leave, and then top them up at the water fountains around the parks. Alternatively, you can buy water much cheaper at the supermarkets, freeze it overnight, and take a few bottles with you. However, taking large amounts of food and drink is not permitted in the parks.
If you plan for one meal a day at one of the restaurants mentioned above for your budget you will definitely save a significant amount of money eating at the theme parks. It is tempting and convenient to eat or snack at the parks and many of them do boast some outstanding dining choices – but you will quickly find the costs mounting if you do this every day. A three course lunch for four at somewhere like Hollywood Brown Derby in Disney’s Hollywood Studios can easily cost up to $180 and you probably don’t want to be doing that every day
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