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While visiting Disneyland there are many considerations you need to make regarding budget and spending your money wisely. Generally, it’s wise to bring some snacks and plenty of fluids to keep hydrated. I recommend a bladder filled with ice water that you can easily drink from. Disney will provide free cups of ice water* at most Quick Service locations. I don’t want this article to be so much about preparing or planning or budgeting. I want to talk about the food at Disneyland.
*During the hot Summer months, we’ve found that some places don’t add ice to the cups saying they commonly run out due to high demand.
Table Service: Sit down, traditional restaurant style dining
Quick Service: Walk-up ordering with some basic seating
Cart/Kiosk: Walk-up snack foods such as popcorn or churros
Dining Event: Highly themed Table Service dining can include character interactions
Disneyland offers such a great variety of foods and snacks that it would be tough to narrow it down. We have some favorite places that over the years we have decided these are “must-haves”. They are our favorites because they are consistently good and have good choices based on our different tastes and appetites.
Rancho del Zocalo – This is one of our two favorite Mexican style dining locations. This is considered a Quick Service location as you stand in a line, order your food, it’s made in front of you. You then get your drinks and other sides and finally pay at the cash register. However, there is a lot of seating and most all of it is at least covered if not indoors. Also a tip here is you can get free drink refills as well as fill your own drink containers. It is located in Frontierland between Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Frontierland Shootin’ Exposition. It’s usually busy but folks move through fairly quickly. Wyatt and Rachel love the Burrito Guadalajara. It’s a huge burrito filled with beans, rice and Carnitas. My favorite is the Chile Verde.
Tiki Juice Bar – As the meme above states, “I did it all for the Dole Whip!” This treat is easily my personal favorite food at Disneyland. Soft serve ice cream you can either get in a dish by itself or as a float in a cup of pineapple juice. You can get a Dole Whip elsewhere, maybe a local restaurant, and it may be quite similar but there is truly something magical about getting one at the entry way to Adventureland at the Tiki Room attraction/show. The line at this Quick Service location is usually very long and you will definitely have to wait 10-20 minutes. But, there’s another line inside the Tiki Room attraction that is much, much shorter. But don’t tell anyone! It’s a “secret”!
Carnation Cafe – Right on Main Street, USA, this institution of Disneyland is famous for affordable dining any time of the day. We’ve added this Table Service restaurant to our must-do list recently and found it necessary to reserve it early. We enjoy breakfast at least once per trip here. We’re big fans of the Country-fried Steak and, of course, the Mickey-shaped Waffle! The food is great, the service is fantastic and it is old school, traditional Disney through and through.
Blue Bayou Restaurant – This is easily the height of theming and quite honestly, expense, of where we eat at Disneyland. The restaurant is located inside the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in New Orleans Square. In fact, if you sit close enough to the waterfront, you can wave and see the riders (please wave back if they wave at you!). If you don’t decide to eat there, please go in and at least look at the place and be taken away to a southern plantation at “night”. Our favorite dish here available during lunch is the Monte Cristo sandwich. Unique to Disneyland, this meal is a very indulgent and heavy “sandwich”. Fluffy egg, or Challah bread topped with powdered sugar and filled with turkey, ham, and Swiss cheese. Small dishes of blackberry sauce and Crème Anglaise are included for dipping. This delectable dish can easily feed two. At $30, it should!
Wyatt and I are huge fans of the N’awlins Gumbo so consider adding that to your next order. The Monte Cristo is also available at the Cafe Orleans restaurant. This location is a lot easier to get into. You usually only need to reserve a week in advance, where you need to reserve Blue Bayou a few weeks to more than a month in advance.
Tortilla Jo’s – Located in Downtown Disney, outside of the Parks, this has become one of our must-eat places as well. A great selection of Mexican fare with unlimited chips & salsa (so good!). Service is excellent. Indoor and outdoor options. I highly recommend the nachos! Consider reserving a table in plenty of time as well.
Along with the restaurants listed above, we love eating the other foods as well. We’ll get clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl at Pacific Wharf Cafe in Disney California Adventure Park. We love getting a free chocolate square and indulging in a delicious ice cream nearby at the Ghirardelli’s Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop. Pretzels, popcorn, and Churros will always hit the spot at the many carts around the parks. Corn dogs are amazing from the Little Red Wagon near the Plaza Inn and Corn Dog Castle near Little Mermaid in California Adventure. Burgers are great at the Galactic Grill in Tomorrowland and at Hungry Bear near Splash Mountain. We also like Smokejumper’s burgers next to Soarin’ Over The World in California Adventure. For a hearty way to start your day, check out the breakfast burritos and sandwiches at Galactic Grill.
Recently, Disneyland started adding online ordering options for many Quick Service locations to help get your food faster. Be sure to look through your Disneyland App for what’s available. I just heard that you’ll soon be able to order a Dole Whip with your app and skip that crazy line!
As we mentioned in our first posts, we’re not big into Character interactions. However, a few years ago, we accidentally stumbled upon a Character Breakfast at The Plaza Inn. It is a buffet-style breakfast where Disney Characters, especially Minnie Mouse, would wander around and make some really fun photo-ops for the diners. They sold some photo print packages for added magic. We enjoyed ourselves and were glad we experienced it. We’ll likely not do it again, but if you have young children, these kinds of experiences are pure Disney magic!
Food options are nearly endless at Disneyland Resort. Any price range, almost any kind of cuisine. Full meals to quick snacks. Again, it’s up to you how you decide to budget your trip to Disneyland. Outside the parks are typical places like McDonald’s, Denny’s, iHop, etc.. But I hope this article gave some insight to eating in the parks. We certainly haven’t eaten everywhere. We never made that a goal. We definitely take advantage of the food and dining experiences that are available and really, really good.
-UPDATE: It has been recently reported that Disney is no longer providing lids with any cups except child cups and straws are available by request. This is due to goals to reduce single-use plastics in the parks.
I took this during our last trip to Disneyland. This attraction was recently re-themed from California Screamin’ to The Incredicoaster to fit in with the new Pixar Pier land. The actual coaster remains the same, just new artwork and story with the Parr family from Dinsey/Pixar’s The Incredibles. Still one of the fastest coasters in Disneyland, it’s a ton of fun.
–If the above video doesn’t play, it’s also on YouTube: HERE
Our way To Disney is both simple and complicated. The simple side of things is pretty much this: we do mostly attractions. We’re not into meet & greets or character meals or parades. Disney is magical. Quite literally. Places like Universal Studios and other theme or amusement parks are fun. Disney is magical. This comes from things that are environmental, like music, smells, decorations, etc. The level of immersion when you walk into an attraction like Haunted Mansion or Pirates of the Caribbean is a testament to this magic. You get the magic when you ride the attractions and experience the immersive story-telling. From Cast Members being extra happy and very polite to sight lines and forced perspective convincing your willing mind that Sleeping Beauty’s Castle must be 500 feet tall.
Complications are introduced with what we do between riding these attractions. We eat. We walk. We play games on our phones like HeadsUp! We use amazing tools Disney provides like FastPass and MaxPass to ensure our wait in the queues are minimal. We take advantage of single-rider options on attractions that offer it. For example, Indiana Jones Adventure. Yes, we’ll generally take a ride as a family first, usually with FastPasses. From then on, it’s single-rider or bust. Same with Incredicoaster and most recently, Space Mountain. Maximize riding the attractions, minimize the waiting. Before MaxPass we would literally sprint to FastPass distribution areas for attractions like Radiator Springs Racers as soon as we got through the ticket turnstiles. (Thank goodness for MaxPass!)
MaxPass is a recent addition Disney introduced in July of 2017. For a cost of $10 per person, per day, it affords you the amazing convenience and ability to digitally reserve FastPasses through your phone on the Disneyland App. You just have to have entered the park. It’s super great as you can collect your entire party’s tickets or passes on your device and reserve FastPasses all at once. No more running to the FastPass distribution machines and feeding it ticket after ticket hoping you all get the same return time. So awesome and so worth the money. PhotoPass is also included, and that allows you to download photos from attractions and from the photographers around the parks. We consider MaxPass a must-do for at least a few of the days of your trip, if not every day. To be clear, your entire party can participate in MaxPass with just one phone, but a MaxPass must be purchased for each ticket. If you have youngsters without phones, no worries.
FastPasses are reservations for a future time on an attraction. A shorter queue is provided to assure a faster arrival to the attraction. MaxPass is a digital version of this that removes the physical aspect, no tickets, no actual distribution locations. It’s right on your phone.
Rope drop is always a goal but rarely has it happened for us. It’s especially nice to take advantage of this opening ceremony for the fanfare and the anticipation as the crowds press you in towards the literal rope, cutting off your access to further magic. If you’re at Disneyland and get close to the barrier heretofore mentioned, speed your way through the castle gates to Peter Pan’s Flight. That classic attraction is ALWAYS in a long wait. Another way to get through that queue is to take advantage of Extra Magic Hour or One Magic Morning. These are benefits to Disneyland hotel residents or multi-day ticket holders, respectively. As the title infers, you get into the parks one hour before the normal park opening. These are great ways to ride these commonly busy attractions.
Please enjoy Disneyland in your own way. We’ve taken years to develop our way and we completely enjoy all the benefits. We look forward to sharing more and more ways To Disney. If you have some requests or questions, leave them in the comments. It can be a lot of work and put a toll on your feet after several days. But as I’ve always said and will continue to say, it is all worth it.
Friends, let’s be real… Disneyland is expensive. The undeniable fact is that you will need to figure out a budget. If it takes a couple of years or even five years, it will be worth it. One of the things I tell people when I explain how To Disney is that yes, it’s expensive and you can’t dismiss it or ignore it. The cost is real. However, you need to figure out a way to somehow detach that fact in your mind so you can make it happen and have the experience of a lifetime. We’ll share some ideas how to do this here.
For some perspective, my younger brother took his family of seven just this summer. It was their first trip to Disneyland. For three days with access to both parks (Park Hopper), and a home rental, they spent $3,500. They added on MaxPass to each ticket and two of their five children are under 10 so those tickets were slightly less expensive. This did not include food or travel expenses like gas, etc. Again, Disneyland is expensive.
Here are some things to be aware of that may cost you money. We might take some of these and write full articles for them so this will be more of a quick summary.
Parking: Disneyland property parking is currently $20 per vehicle/day, or $25 for RVs. (more info)
Some hotels also charge for parking
Park Tickets: Click this link to see current pricing
Over our many years of planning and making trips to Disneyland, we’ve come up with some great strategies and tricks to try and keep that dollar sign out of the front of your minds. One thing we started doing is getting money cards from our bank and preloading them with a set amount of money. We had three total. In the ideal world, we would use them for either each person (when it was the three of us), or one for food, one for souvenirs, and one for “other stuff”. Usually we’d just use them until they were gone and move on to the next one. The real benefit of this strategy is that instead of using a debit or credit card, where the amount goes up, the money card’s amount goes down. It’s a controlled amount. You can’t overdraft. Plan your budget to include these money cards and your in-park experience will feel more comfortable and you won’t be nervous or anxious about spending too much money. With banks and their mobile apps you can easily make a visual check on their balances if you feel like you need to. Also, be sure they have a major credit card logo on them, like Visa or Mastercard, otherwise they may not work.
Other ideas we’ve used is looking for deals. Disney has really tightened up in the past several years on other parties selling discounted tickets. It mostly doesn’t happen and if you do find one, the discount is usually fairly minimal. We like getawaytoday.com. They do a great job of bundling hotels and park tickets. The park tickets may be lightly discounted but their agreements with hotels let them package deals at a decent discount and your overall costs are lower. When I say look for deals, don’t be tempted to look at places like eBay or craigslist. Most of those are partially used tickets and while they may work, Disney has protections in place and may reject the tickets. Also, those places are hotbeds for scammers and creeps. I would just avoid them.
The bottom line here is that while Disneyland is not a cheap vacation, it is so, so, so worth it! The experiences you’ll have will be unmatched. The memories you make will be indelible. Your children and friends and family members will have these times to think on for years to come. Even if you only ever make it once or twice, it will be worth it. You can’t really put a price on magic. Disney has magic in spades!