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Mike Scopa

Shoestring Dining at Walt Disney World, Part I

Have fun while staying on a food budget

Friday, July 4, 2002
by Mike Scopa, staff writer

Plaza Restaurant serves great sandwiches, soups, and fountain deserts!
Plaza Restaurant serves great sandwiches, soups, and fountain deserts!

In this session, we tackle a subject that is always close to the top of the list for first-time visitors to the Walt Disney World Resort: the cost of feeding their family. This session is devoted to those spots in and around Walt Disney World that give you the best deal for your food budget. Let's explore the theme parks to locate these low budget-eating establishments.

Fair Food Fare

What is fair fare for one guest may not be the same for another, so let's establish what our acceptable food budget will be. Let's focus on Walt Disney World eateries that offer decent food for between $10 and $20 per person. The $10 end of the range will mostly be for the breakfasts, and as you move towards lunch, we nudge towards the $15 range. Finally for dinner, we edge close to the $20 range. Look for my "thumbs-up" labels for those places, which are among the best values in the Walt Disney World resort.

The Magic Kingdom

Main Street USA – One of my favorite places is the Plaza Restaurant. This is a great place for both lunch and dinner and not only are the meals light but so is the cost. Try the Reuben sandwich.

Adventureland – the place to go is El Pirata Y el Perico, across from Pirates of the Caribbean. This snack stand offers all kinds of Mexican treats at good prices. In recent years this stand has removed extended operating hours, so make sure you visit during lunch hours. I cannot guarantee it will be open for dinner.

El Pirata Y el Perico offers a simple "Mexican" menu, Taco Bell ala Adventureland.
El Pirata Y el Perico offers a simple "Mexican" menu, Taco Bell ala Adventureland.

Fantasyland – the place to go is Pinocchio Village Haus, to the right of “it's a small world.” This eatery is usually crowded and you may have to time it just right in order to get a table. It is a great place to take your family for lunch without having to mortgage the house.

Frontierland – I hand out my first thumbs up to the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon Revue. It seems there's always some entertainment going on, and where else in the World can you get good entertainment while enjoying a very nice (and inexpensive meal)? I try to visit it twice on each trip because I love both the daytime and nighttime shows.

Liberty Square – offers the Columbia Harbour House as an economical place to eat. The fare in here is similar to what you will find at the Pinocchio Village Haus. Columbia Harbour house is right around the corner from the Hall of Presidents and just down the way from the Haunted Mansion.

Tomorrowland – offers two places that meet our needs: Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe near the Indy Speedway, and the Plaza Pavilion just on the edge of Tomorrowland and Main Street USA. Both establishments offer a large variety of treats to eat at a great price.

Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe features audio-animatronic entertainer Sunny Eclipse.
Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe features audio-animatronic entertainer Sunny Eclipse.

Epcot

Future World – an often-overlooked place to eat is the Electric Umbrella located at Innoventions Plaza. It is a huge place and should be right on your list for either lunch or dinner. I recommend the pita sandwiches.

I also have to make a case for Pure and Simple in the Wonders of Life pavilion. There's not much as far as a variety, but the price and quality are good.

There is yet another Future World place that cannot be overlooked: the Sunshine Food Fair at the Land Pavilion. The name may sound new, but it's often referred to as the Land Pavilion food court. I don't recall just how many stands are there but I do know that there are many options to choose from, and it's great for the family with a number of diverse eaters.

The Sunshine Food Fair has a wide selection of options.
The Sunshine Food Fair has a wide selection of options.

World Showcase – you may want to give a few places an opportunity to satisfy your hunger without pulling too much on your wallet.

The Cantina de San Angel across from the Mexico Pavilion is a nice outside stand to enjoy some pretty good Mexican fare at a good price. You cannot go wrong with the Plato Combinacion.

One of my favorite places is the Liberty Inn right next to the American Adventure Pavilion. I like to enjoy lunch there after taking in my favorite WDW attraction. Now if I can only get the Voices of Liberty to serenade me while I eat I'd stay there all day.

If you are into some economical ethnic fast food then be sure to try the Lotus Blossom Cafe in China, Refreshment Port in Canada, Sommerfest in Germany, the little known Tangierine Cafe in Morocco, and the very cool Yakitori House in Japan. These establishments may lean more towards the high end of our range but after your first bite, you won't complain.

Yakitori House is the fast food venue in the Japan pavilion.
Yakitori House is the fast food venue in the Japan pavilion.

Disney-MGM Studios

Hollywood & Vine – One of the tips I mention quite a bit is to take in a late breakfast here. If you have a late morning seating them you can enjoy a brunch. Get into the park early, do your favorite attractions, then have a little brunch at Hollywood & Vine. While you're enjoying your breakfast the lunch foods are brought out. Note that this too hits the high end or our range, but it's brunch folks: all you can eat.

Sunset Boulevard – offers the Sunset Ranch Market with several outdoor stands for lunch, dinner or a snack. Here's a plug for Catalina Eddie's for a veggie pizza.

Sunshine Market Ranch mimics the Farmer's Market in Hollywood.
Sunshine Market Ranch mimics the Farmer's Market in Hollywood.

A tip for parents who want to relax but let their kids go crazy with video games, it's called Toy Story Pizza Planet. Food and video games – sounds like a combo any kid would love.

I can't leave MGM without mentioning Starring Rolls Bakery. This is a great place for a breakfast snack such as muffins or croissants.

Disney's Animal Kingdom

Maybe it's not my tummy growing but the animals in Disney's Animal Kingdom making that noise. This theme park has quite a few places to stretch your WDW dining dollar.

If you love barbeque food then the Flame Tree Barbeque is the place for you. This is located close to the bridge that goes to Dinoland USA. It's a great outdoors eating-place.

If you just want a burger and relax and gaze at the Tree of Life then go to Mr. Kamal's Burger Grill. Do lunch here. There isn't much variety but if you are looking for burgers and chips it's just right.

Pizzafari, located near the bridge that goes to Camp Mickey-Minnie, is a very underrated eatery. The prices are great and there's a lot of neat stuff to choose from including, be still my heart, a roasted vegetable calzone.

Pizzafari gets a nod from Mike as a very under-rated restaurant.
Pizzafari gets a nod from Mike as a very under-rated restaurant.

Tusker House in Harambe should also be on your list for this theme park. Simple, fast, and economical lunches are easy to come by at this Animal Kingdom establishment.

Pre-Meal Advice

What we have looked at in this session are those theme park eateries that offer variety, sometimes some entertainment, but most of all a great value for our food budget dollar.

Regardless of where you eat, always check to see if Priority Seating is in order, or else plan to eat at a non-traditional time such as a 2:30 lunch to guarantee you a table at a special restaurant.

Next time

We venture into Downtown Disney, and also check out the resorts for those special places to make your palate and wallet smile.

Class dismissed.


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Mike here.


CREDIT

Photos on this page by Brian Bennett unless otherwise noted

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Scopa first visited Walt Disney World almost 30 years ago. Planning a trip was simple back in the 1970s, with only the Magic Kingdom and a few Disney-owned resorts in Orlando.

Over the past 11 years, Mike has been perfecting his WDW trip-planning skills as he has hosted chats and bulletin boards about Disney for a Fortune 100 company.

Mike brings his experience to MousePlanet in a series of lessons to help you with all the phases of planning a WDW trip.

Mike pays special attention to all the details that ensure your family has the best possible time at the Happiest Place on Earth.

You can contact Mike here.

OTHER LINKS

Here are trip reports that Mike has written that are part of MousePlanet's archives:

Michael Scopa -- August 1999 -- Walt Disney World (CSR)

Michael J. Scopa -- July 1997 -- Walt Disney World (WL/CBR)

Mike Scopa -- July 1994 -- Walt Disney World (WL / CBR)

Also, don't miss Lani Teshima's column, “The Trip Planner” for more travel planning information.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”

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