So, you’ve decided to take your summer and plan a vacation. We all know by now that summer is the most expensive time to travel, so finding ways to save money can be a challenge, especially at theme parks where they charge your $7 for a pretzel without cheese. If you take every opportunity during the day, you could easily spend hundreds of unnecessary dollars. You want to make sure you budget for everything, including souvenirs and those all-important kiosk goodies, like Mickey-shaped ice creams and kettle corn. It’s never easier to waste money than when it comes to food. If you missed how to save in general, check out my last post.
Bring your own snacks
As you well know, grabbing a snack every time you’re hungry or your kids say they are can quickly add up and bust your budget. Yes, I want to eat all those fries and hot dogs and ice cream sandwiches, too, but I try not to give in each time I feel that stomach twinge – which is nearly every time I pass a kiosk or food window. I’m aware that I want to eat all the time when I’m on vacation and children are no different. Pack your day bag – I suggest an Ameribag or Urban Tour Bag from Travelon, as they save your back, have pockets for everything and thwart thieves – with granola bars, veggie sticks and peanut butter, crackers, cookies and the like to satisfy your hunger pangs.
Things like fried chicken can also double as lunch items if you don’t want to spend the money on (sometimes) ridiculously priced meals. This is especially helpful if you kid orders the same thing from the menu everywhere you go, like PB & J or chicken nuggets. Save your $10 and bring it in with you.
Don’t forget the water
Bottled water is the biggest rip-off. $5 for a bottle that you can buy a whole case of at Target or Safeway and still get some change back? Buy them before you head to the park, put them in the freezer or fridge – or buy one of these Cool-it Caddies to keep stuff cool on-the-go – and save yourself some aggravation by having to buy 32 drinks throughout the day. Not only will you have fresh water, but you can refill the bottle at water fountains (and Disney employees will refill your bottle at any of the counter restaurants) to save even more all day long.
Not loving less that icy H2O or need some variety? Purchase some of those drink packets and turn it into tea or punch or lemonade. Universal also has a new beverage plan that enables you to pay one price and get a souvenir cup that you can have refilled all day long at any of the participating food locations in the park.
Eat breakfast before getting to the park
If you have a vacation rental or a hotel that includes continental breakfast makes this pretty easy. If you just have a regular room with a microwave and fridge, make some instant oatmeal, have cereal, eat a bagel or load up on pastries or those Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches. That meal alone will save you $10-20 per person each day.
Leave the park for meals
It’s no secret that you can eat more cheaply if you leave the park and eat at a restaurant off-property. If you don’t have the budget to eat within the park, then do some research and plan out where to eat each day. I enjoy trying different places inside the park and save time by not leaving, but during the summer Disney and other theme parks can be open 14+ hours a day, so if you are gone for a couple hours, you won’t miss out on much.
Look for restaurants that have kids eat free options. You can also have the children share a regular size entrée. Not only is this cheaper than two things off the kids’ menu, but they are more likely to eat a vegetable. Sharing a meal with your child can also save money since most places serve much more than one person should eat.
Sign up for the meal plan
Got teenagers with you? They seem to be eating machines. While I don’t find the meal plans worth their price normally, if you have teenage boys who have bottomless stomachs, this might be just the way to go for you. You get a certain number of meals, beverages and snacks included each day and you don’t need to be around to give them money every time they claim they’re hungry, since they either just need their ticket or wristband.
Have you found a good way to save money on food when traveling to theme parks?
Need more tips to make your summer vacation affordable and awesome? Download my Summer Savings ebook. Spend a little to save a lot!