November 5, 2020
Earlier this year, the pandemic forced Walt Disney World to shut down for nearly four months. Since it reopened, many fans have been eager to return to the theme park—but not just for the rides and character photo ops.
Wilma Norton has been visiting—and eating at Disney World regularly for decades. She also serves on planDisney (formerly the Disney Parks Moms Panel), a group of Disney enthusiasts who answer questions for guests on the Disney website.
“When we first started going to Disney World more than 25 years ago, I don’t think it occurred to us that we would want more than a hamburger and french fries or some chicken nuggets when we were at a theme park,” says Wilma Norton.
Norton and her husband are longtime annual passholders. They’ve gone from visiting with their two young daughters in tow to Disney date nights.
“Lots of people go to Disney World without kids,” says Norton, who realized that adults-only visits could be even more fun and allow for more adventurous eating.
Whether you’re planning a solo trip, family vacation or grown-up getaway, Norton can answer your most pressing Disney dining questions.
How can I avoid overspending on food at Disney World?
To figure out if a pre-paid Disney dining plan makes sense for you, think about whether your group prefers sit-down meals or grab-and-go snacks. Norton’s family prefers to share snacks, each sampling a bite of this and that, so they skip the dining plan.
Can I bring my own food?
Yes! Most outside food and nonalcoholic beverages are allowed. Especially for families with small children, Norton advises bringing a backpack full of crackers, juice boxes, squeezable applesauce and other kid-friendly snacks. This leaves more room in your budget for a Mickey Mouse ice cream bar or other special treat. Remember to bring your own water bottle, which you can refill at filtered water stations around the park. You can also ask for a free cup of ice water at any quick-service dining location.
Is character dining worth it?
A meal with cameos from your favorite Disney characters is special… and expensive. But if face time with Mickey or a one-on-one with Cinderella is your family’s top priority, then Norton says it can be worth the $60+ per person. “If seeing characters is really important to you, and you don’t want to have to stand in line, character dining is fabulous,” says Norton, who still splurges on an occasional dinner with Winnie the Pooh and friends at Magic Kingdom’s Crystal Palace restaurant.
How can I avoid overspending during Disney’s food festivals?
From the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival to the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival to special holiday food offerings, it’s easy to go overboard. To stay within your food and beverage budget, Norton suggests buying a gift card with your daily food allowance.
What are some options for adventurous eaters?
For unexpected flavors, Norton recommends the restaurants at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Boma, Sanaa and Jiko offer African-inspired dishes. One of Magic Kingdom’s newest restaurants, Jungle Navigation Co. LTD Skipper Canteen, is a mouthful to say and to experience, with African, Asian and Latin cuisine.
What’s the food scene like at Disney Springs?
Disney World’s shopping, dining and entertainment complex (formerly Downtown Disney) is full of innovative restaurants from celebrity chefs. Enjoy fried chicken with doughnuts at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’, barbecued eel rolls at Morimoto Asia Street Food or guacamole with chile-lime grasshoppers at Rick Bayless’s Frontera Cocina.
Can I drink alcohol at Disney World?
Any other advice?
Allow downtime. Some of your favorite Disney memories are likely to be things you didn’t plan, so don’t be in such a rush to get to your dinner reservation that you miss what’s happening right in front of you. Says Norton, “Allow time for the magic to unfold.”
Explore The Zest
Host: Robin Sussingham
Producer: Dalia Colón & Robin Sussingham
Photo Credits: Disney Dining