After the parks, your biggest expense is likely to be 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, not just with the main meals of the day, but also with drinks and snacks.
In many cases, even a ‘cheap’ burger, chips and a drink type meal can cost up to $15 per person. With two adults and three children, a basic lunch in a theme park can cost $50 or more for counter service. Multiply that over 14 days and you start to get an idea of the overall costs involved.
Therefore it’s worth taking advantage of the various deals that are available throughout Orlando. All-you-can-eat buffets are fairly widespread and usually 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 and Budget Buffets In the Theme Parks
Walt Disney World
This lovely venue is a representation of the original Crystal Palace built in Hyde Park in London, housing the Great Exhibition of 1851. Disney’s pretty glass-and-iron version sits at the top of Main Street in the Magic Kingdom park, facing the entry to Adventureland.
- Type of food: Breakfast here features the standard American offerings of eggs, fruit and cereal, while lunch and dinner feature roast meats, salads and pastas.
- Who goes there? Families and couples visiting the theme park, especially those who would like to meet Winnie the Pooh and his Friends, as this is a long-standing (and very popular) character dining experience.
- Best time to go: Breakfast with Pooh and Co starts the day off right, but the food is more interesting at lunch and dinner.
- Open: 8am-9pm.
Hollywood and Vine
Hollywood and Vine in the Echo Lake section of Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a tribute to the intersection in Los Angeles, California, famous for its association with businesses dedicated to the entertainment industry in the 1920s.
- Type of food: Rather more interesting than the standard bacon-and-eggs, Hollywood and Vine’s breakfast includes omelettes, frittatas and a breakfast casserole. Lunch and dinner feature meats, fish and an appealing create-your-own pasta bar.
- Who goes there? Families visiting the theme park, especially those with pre-schoolers who want to meet the stars of the Disney Jr. television shows.
- Best time to go: Breakfast and lunch are the time to go if you’d like to meet the characters. Dinner is more sedate, and character-free.
- Open: 8am-park close
Found in the Germany pavilion at Disney’s Epcot park, this is among the most convincing of themed restaurants, taking guests straight to Germany’s famous beer gardens during Oktoberfest. Seating is communal, there is plenty of dancing and oom-pah-pah entertainment, and the beer is served in steins bigger than your head.
- Type of food: Traditional German foods are the stars of this hot and cold buffet, a feast of sausages, cabbage, sauerkraut, potatoes and spatzel. With more than 40 items to choose from, you won’t walk away from this one hungry.
- Who goes there? Families and couples visiting the park, and those with a hearty appetite.
- Best time to go: It’s easier to get seating for lunch, but just like a traditional Oktoberfest, the experience really comes into its own when you can stagger out into the starlight under the weight of a hearty meal.
- Open: 12pm-park close.
Situated in the Africa section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Tusker House has long been a top theme-park choice of ours, for its more authentic atmosphere and interesting salad combinations, a healthy alternative we really appreciate during a long, hot day of touring.
- Type of food: Standard American hot and cold breakfast items such as cereal, waffles, eggs, bacon and fruit. Lunch and dinner includes American and African selections such as salads, carved meats, vegetables and cold cuts.
- Who goes there? Families visiting the park who want to meet Donald Duck and his Safari friends, and those who enjoy a slightly more adventurous selection of foods than the standard burger-and-fries or chicken tenders.
- Best time to go: Breakfast and lunch include visits from the characters, while the food offerings at lunch and dinner are the most appealing.
- Open: 8am-park closing.
A great excuse to visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, this heavily-themed venue is firmly on our favourites list, and one of the few buffets we’re happy to seek out again and again. Not only are the foods on offer authentic, many of the recipes came directly from the mothers and grandmothers of the African Cast Members working in the restaurant.
- Type of food: African-inspired choices abound here, from the truly unusual (such as Bobotie, Fufu, and Pap and Chakalaka, all of which are delicious), to the more familiar but still exotic tastes of Slow Roasted Pork Ribs, Spice Crusted Beef Striploin, and Seafood Gumbo. Bring your appetite; the buffet is enormous, and the soups are so incredible it would be easy just to fill up on those alone.
- Who goes there? Families and couples looking for that special ‘something different’, plus locals who have been before and know a winner when they see it.
- Best time to go: Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all appealing here, but the best time to visit is for a late lunch/early dinner, when the restaurant is somewhat quieter.
- Open: 7.30am-9.30pm.
Cape May Cafe
Turn-of-the-century style Cape May Café at Disney’s Beach Club Resort harkens back to the lazy days of summer in the swanky resorts along the United States’ East Coast, complete with a boardwalk to stroll or surrey bikes to hire after your meal is over.
- Type of food: Standard American hot and cold breakfast items such as eggs, cereal, yogurt, French toast and fruit. Dinner is extensive, with a variety of salads, peel-and-eat shrimp, a carvery, shellfish, pastas and desserts.
- Who goes there? Families and couples staying at or visiting the resort.
- Best time to go: Breakfast features Minnie Mouse, Goofy and Donald all decked out for a day at the beach, and is a popular choice for families. Dinner has a more refined atmosphere, and is popular for its all-you-can-eat seafood selections, including crab legs.
- Open: 7.30am-9pm.
Trail’s End at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground wins our high praise for being the best-value buffet at Walt Disney World. Not only that, there is enough to do at the campground to occupy at least half a day, and the food is above average, too.
- Type of food: It’s a traditional American barbecue picnic each night at Trail’s End, with ribs, fried chicken, corn on the cob, baked beans and salad, plus soups, peel-and-eat shrimp, hand-carved meats, pizza and pasta. Breakfast is standard American fare.
- Who goes there? Families staying at or visiting the campground, and locals who leave Magic Kingdom for a mid-day or evening break to fill up onsite, without the theme-park prices.
- Best time to go: Dinner service begins at 4.30pm, and it’s the ideal time for a visit. The buffet is open but the crowds haven’t arrived yet, giving you time to eat and still have the evening free for the petting zoo, biking, a trail ride, or a boat ride over to the Magic Kingdom. Take note, lunch is a la carte only.
- Open: 7.30am-9.30pm (10pm Sat).
This pizza and pasta buffet has an inviting outdoor terrace and plenty of eye-appeal from the surrounding landscape.
- Who goes there? Families with a hungry brood to feed, and those making their lunchtime meal last through dinner.
- Best time to go: Lunch is ideal for some time off your feet and a hearty meal that will see you through the remainder of the day.
- Type of food: Pizza and Pasta, along with Chicken Parmesan, salad, cupcakes and beverages.
- Open: 11.30am-1 hour prior to park closing.
Fun Town Pizza and Pasta Buffet
Fun Town Pizza and Pasta Buffet has been a big hit since it opened, offering an alternative to the standard burgers and fries. Its location in Fun Town makes it a natural choice for large families with a lot of mouths to feed.
- Who goes there? Families visiting the park, especially with children who gravitate toward familiar foods.
- Best time to go: Lunch can be busy, so this is a good choice for dinner, as the evening crowds are a bit lighter.
- Type of food: A variety of pizzas, including an intriguing Hawaiian pizza, plus a pasta bar and salad bar. Don’t miss the cinnamon dessert pizza. Yummy!
- Open: 11am- to park closing.
All You Can Eat Buffets Around Orlando
An excellent Budget choice, CiCi’s has several locations, including one on Palm Parkway near the Downtown Disney entrance to Walt Disney World.
- Type of food: This 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.
- Who goes there? Families taking a break from the theme parks, plus locals, especially budget-conscious ones.
- Best time to go: Lunch and dinner are both worthwhile, with identical offerings, but it’s often easier to get in at lunchtime.The I-Drive location can be hectic at dinner-time.
- Open: 11am-10pm.
In the heart of tourist central, Golden Corral is a popular choice for cheap-and-cheerful, with a massive buffet guaranteed to leave you bursting at the seams. There is nothing fancy about it, but the selection makes up for what it may lack in terms of atmosphere. There are several locations, but the International Drive location is the most popular.
- Type of food: Breakfast features the standard bacon-and-eggs, pastries, waffles and sausage. Lunch and dinner offers meats, pasta, fish, steamed vegetables, desserts and more, laid out steam-table style. Fresher ingredients take a back seat to pre-made, but you certainly won’t leave hungry.
- Who goes there? Families looking to stretch their dining dollar, and those with choosy eaters.
- Best time to go: Breakfast can be filling enough to keep you going straight through until dinner, making it an ideal choice before a big day in the theme parks.
- Open: 7.30am-11pm.
Another tourist favourite, Ponderosa fits firmly in the budget category and its location on International Drive speaks to its mass appeal for international visitors.
- Type of food: Lunch and dinner include meats, pasta, fish, steamed vegetables, desserts and more, served steam-table style.
- Who goes there? Like the other cheap-and-cheerfuls, the clientele here is mainly families trying to stretch their holiday dollars.
- Best time to go: Breakfast sets you up for the day, but the chance to add an inexpensive steak to your dinner makes it a good choice for your evening meal.
- Open: 8am-9.30pm (10pm Fri and Sat).
Bursting with fresh produce, Sweet Tomatoes is an excellent option for vegetarians, and while we’re not vegetarians ourselves, this is by far our favourite buffet. With locations around Orlando, including Kirkman Road near Universal Orlando and Vineland Road near Walt Disney World, it is a particularly health conscious choice with one of the biggest salad buffets in town.
- Type of food: Along with its massive salad bar, Sweet Tomatoes serves up great soups, pastas, jacket potatoes, breads and sweet muffins, and frozen yoghurt for dessert, all made fresh daily and all delicious.
- Who goes there? Tourists and locals visit here in equal numbers.It is easy to fill up both cheaply (the buffet lunch costs around $10) and healthily, which isn't so easy to do at the theme parks.
- Best time to go: Lunch has fewer crowds, and it can get decidedly busy at dinnertime. But go anyway. Your body will thank you for the chance to enjoy fresh vegetables.
- Open: 11am-9pm.
Sizzler is another cheap-and-cheerful venue, and what you sacrifice in freshness you make up for in price. Need belly-fill? You’ll find plenty of it here. The International Drive location is busiest; the Apopka-Vineland Rd location is closest to Walt Disney World.
- Type of food: Meats, pasta, fish, steamed vegetables, desserts and more, served steam-table style.
- Who goes there? Families, after a day in the theme parks.
- Best time to go: Dinner is the most popular time for a visit, but if you need a break from the Disney parks, the Apopka-Vineland Rd location is easy to reach for a quick lunch.
- Open: 7am-10pm.
Black Angus Steak House
Black Angus is a step up from the likes of Sizzler, Golden Corral, and Ponderosa, with table service and a proper menu, backed up by an all-you-can-eat salad bar.
- Type of food: American favourites including steaks, seafood, chicken, prime rib, salads, sandwiches, soups and pasta.
- Who goes there? Families, after a day in the parks.
- Best time to go: Dinner with locations in Lake Buena Vista, Kissimmee and on International Drive, it’s a popular choice for visitors before heading back to their accommodation for the night.
- Open: 11am-11pm.
A big hit with the Brits for its amazing classic ice cream sundaes and World Famous Hot Fudge Cake, Shoney’s serves up comfort foods with a smile.
- Type of food: Burgers, pasta, chicken skillets (pot pie), sandwiches, salads, steak and fish. Breakfast is the standard eggs-and-bacon or biscuits and gravy, but fresher than you’ll find at the buffets.
- Who goes there? Families getting ready for a theme park day or looking for a casual sit-down dinner after park pounding.
- Best time to go: Breakfast here is inexpensive, filling and fresh, but dinner is good value, too.
- Open: 7am-11pm.
Value for Money Sit-down Restaurants in Orlando
This is a popular counter-service chain specialising 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.
- Type of food: Breakfast features various egg and meat sandwiches or fruit, while lunch or dinner offer soups, salads, sandwiches and some incredibly enticing pastries.
- Who goes there? Families looking for a lighter meal, and locals who gravitate toward the Pick Two Menu (any duo of soup, salad, and a half sandwich).
- Best time to go: Lunch is ideal, especially for the Pick Two Menu.
- Open: 6.30am-10pm.
It’s practically an American institution by now, made famous for its all-you-can-eat salad and bread sticks with every meal.
- Type of food: Americanised Italian with that little ‘something extra’. Pastas are the main feature, but you’ll also find pizza, soups, salads, steak and a healthy Lighter Fare menu with fish, shrimp and lightened-up pastas.
- Who goes there? Families and locals, generally for an inexpensive night out that’s fresh and tasty, but won’t break the budget.
- Best time to go: Dinner is popular, and can have long waits. It’s much easier to get in at lunchtime.
- Open: 11am-11pm.
International House of Pancakes
Also known as IHOP, it’s wildly popular with Brits, many of whom look forward to a visit each holiday for their ‘fluffy pancakes’ fix.
- Type of food: American, through and through.
- Who goes there? Tourists and locals flock here, and it’s a long-time Sunday Breakfast tradition for local families after mass.
- Best time to go: Breakfast is by far the best time to visit, with lighter choices and some truly massive assemblages of eggs, pancakes and meat three ways!
- Open: 24 hours a day. At 2am, it’s the American version of going out for a curry or a kebab after a night on the town.
Denny’s is one of the top choices for its consistently good food and great service, and another big step up from the cheap-and-cheerfuls while still offering good value for money.
- Type of food: American classics. Eggs and bacon, waffles, etc, served in hearty combinations are the staple at breakfast, with ‘old familiars’ such as pot roast, spaghetti and meatballs, fish, and steaks at dinnertime. Lighter appetites will appreciate their Fit Fare menu.
- Who goes there? Families and locals looking for a hearty, filling, inexpensive meal with friendly, efficient service.
- Best time to go: Breakfast, but avoid Sundays when the locals pour in. Dinner here is also an excellent budget-friendly choice (especially with their ‘$2, $4, $6, $8 Menu’).
- Open: 24 hours a day.
Kids 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, but not all the hotels offer the Kids Eat Free promotion. Some participate seasonally and not necessarily at peak periods.
Very often the best thing 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 AttractionTickets.com 'Kids Eat Free' card. This amazing value for money card offers unlimited children's meals over a 14-day holiday at more than 130 affordable restaurants, and you don’t have to drive around town wondering which locations might be participating during your stay.
Many other restaurant chains participate in this offer, but it may not be widely promoted. It's definitely worth enquiring at some of the restaurants listed below if you’re dining there:
- 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 Discount Dining
As a general rule, Americans stick rigidly to the main mealtimes, hence 12-2pm and 6-8pm are the busiest possible times to head for a restaurant. Conversely, some restaurants offer ‘Early Bird Specials’ with limited-selection discounted dinner menus. However, these are increasingly less common than dollars-off coupons or rotating Daily Specials (your server will point out the daily specials if they are available).
Seniors (age 55 and over with photo ID) benefit from the Senior Discount at many restaurants (just say, “Do you offer a Seniors discount” when it comes to paying the bill), and some, like Perkins and Denny’s, even have a Seniors menu with smaller portions and smaller prices.
Early Bird Specials
Kobe Japanese Steakhouse
With six Orlando locations, Kobe offers both traditional sit-down dining and the fun style of made-in-front-of-you Teppanyaki dining.
- Type of food: Japanese, including tempura, teriyaki, a Sushi menu and lighter Hibachi entrees.
- Who goes there? Families with nearby accommodation, especially those who enjoy the interactive (and funny!) Teppanyaki dining.
- Best time to go: Early Bird Dinner 5pm-6pm Sun-Thurs.
- Open: 4.30pm-10.30pm.
Goodfella’s Pizza on Colonial Drive.
- Type of food: Italian salads, soups, pizza, pasta, chicken, seafood and veal. Early Bird menu is limited, and primarily pastas.
- Who goes there? Families taking a break from the theme parks.
- Best time to go: Early Bird Dinner, 4pm-6pm.
- Open: 11am-10pm.
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 fewer than 19 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, and the Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores also boasts a decent food court where you can save a few dollars.
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 daily beer, wine, and cocktail specials. Sports enthusiasts take note: there are dozens of television sets, showing all sports, all the time.
Look out also for ‘Wine Down Wednesday’ at a number of bars and restaurants, when a variety of wines are offered at reduced prices.
For superb cocktails, Blue Martini (at Mall at Millenia and The Pointe Orlando) has an enticing Happy Hour from 4-7pm daily while one of our favourite casual restaurants on Highway 27 near Davenport, Manny’s Chophouse, has 2-for-1 drink specials before 7pm each evening.
Upmarket steakhouses Fleming’s (on Sand Lake Road and Winter Park) and Morton’s (Sand Lake Road, in the Dr Phillips Plaza) both have price reductions on wines by the glass before 7pm and reduced price appetisers if you dine in the bar area.
Brio Tuscan Grille (at Mall at Millenia and Winter Park Village) also features specially-priced wines, cocktails and appetisers in the bar, as does Bravo Cucina (on Sand Lake Road), both Mon-Fri from 3-7pm and 9pm-closing.
Discount Meal Coupons
You should hunt down any number of Coupon booklets distributed in racks in all the main tourist areas, outside shops, in hotels and at some petrol stations and restaurants. These leaflets or booklets feature a range of money-saving deals, from 'kids eat free' promotions to free appetisers 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:
- Free Coupon Momma
- 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