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Is theme park quick service food really overpriced? – DePaoli on DeParks

by Jeff DePaoli

The cost to simply enter a theme park is quite high. It’s no wonder that theme park excursions have become known to some as the “most expensive day ever.” Due to the high cost of entry, any additional costs on top of that can make your budget spiral out of control.

theme park food cost

There are many things you can choose to add onto your day, like souvenirs and front-of-line access, but those are optional. One thing you do need to spend money on if you’re spending a full day in a theme park is food. Food is a necessary added cost on top of your theme park ticket. Perhaps that’s why so many people complain about the cost of eating in a theme park. But is it really that much more expensive than dining outside of the theme park?

There are lots of options when dining in a theme park. There are snacks, quick service, fine dining, and various levels in between. If you want to go out for a very fancy and expensive dinner, in some theme parks you can certainly do so. But if you’re looking not to spend a lot on top of your already expensive day of entertainment, prices may be more reasonable than you realize.

Below are some prices comparisons of food costs in theme parks versus equivalents in the “real world.” Let’s see how they stack up against each other.

If you’re in the mood for Mexican food in Disneyland, head to Rancho del Zocalo where you can get a Burrito Sonora with Chicken (which includes rice and beans) for $12.49. Add a Fountain Beverage for $4.29 and your total comes to $16.78.

For comparison outside of the park, here is the cost to eat at a Chipotle in Anaheim, California. A Chicken Burrito will cost you $8.20, but that doesn’t include any sides. I’ve added on a side of Chips & Guacamole for $4.30, to make up for the lack of rice and beans side, then added on a Fountain Drink for $2.55. That brings the Chipotle total to $15.05. That’s only $1.73 less than an equivalent meal in Disneyland.

Now let’s hop over to Universal Studios Florida and Mel’s Drive-In dining location. A Bacon Cheeseburger Combo with Fries and a Regular Shake costs $17.49. For the real-world comparison, I chose Johnny Rockets, as it serves similar kinds of food. A Johnny Rockets Bacon Cheddar Burger costs $10.49, Fries cost $3.99, and an Original Shake costs $6.49. That brings the Johnny Rockets total to $20.97 which is $3.48 more expensive than a theme park equivalent. To be fair, it’s not a perfect comparison considering Johnny Rockets leans more toward a sit-down restaurant than Mel’s Drive-In. But I don’t feel that it’s too far off considering the food options and theming.

Some theme parks even offer dining packages. At Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, you can get Premium All Day Dining for $42.99, which allows you to order entrees and snacks every 90 minutes along with drinks every 15 minutes. If you plan strategically, this option can turn into a great value.

These are just a few examples of how the cost to eat inside of a theme park aren’t as horrible as you might assume. It is possible to eat in a theme park for a reasonable amount of money.

Areas where food costs in theme parks do go through the roof is for specialty snacks. If you’re looking for a churro in Disneyland, that’ll cost you over $6. That’s about half the cost of the full entrée from Rancho del Zocalo mentioned earlier. If you want a Butterbeer at Universal Studios Hollywood, that’ll cost you $8.00. Add one of those for each family member and it really can start to feel like the most expensive day ever.

My point is that eating in a theme park can get very costly, but it doesn’t need to. There are options available that wouldn’t break the bank any more than if you were dining at eateries outside of theme parks. And if you really want to save, bring a refillable water bottle or simply ask for tap water at dining locations. The cost of fountain soda can add up quickly throughout the day.

What do you think? Do you have any cost saving strategies when it comes to eating in theme parks? Do you simply expect to spend a lot of money when dining in a park and therefore you don’t let it bother you? Leave a comment and let me know.

If you have any theme park topics you would like to hear my opinion on, let me know in the comments. You might just see it pop up in a future DePaoli on DeParks.


Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com. DePaoli’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent Attractions Magazine.

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6 comments

Louise Herrick February 7, 2022 - 10:18 am

1-I drink water in the parks so that is free.
2-I also knock off the side of fries or other item on quick service meals as it’s just too much food for me. That usually saves another couple of dollars at Disney yet they don’t advertise that you can do that.
3-I don’t eat from the food booths at the Epcot festivals either. Mostly the portions look tiny & by the time you’ve bought just 2 or 3 not very big portions you might as well have spent the same money on a quick service meal that would fill you up.
4-My son & husband do buy sodas but ask for them without ice as they are cold anyway so don’t need them. It also gives them more drink for the money so don’t need to buy them so often.
5-We’re DVC members so have usually a 1 bed apartment with full kitchen. I’m not into cooking a fill meal on holiday but we will buy breakfast items in & frozen pizza for some days which saves money.
6-Being DVC we buy food items from the shops rather than quick service restaurants as they are discounted. Items such as bottled drinks are a good example. Also we used to find the shop at Boardwalk would sell the same cakes as at the Bakery but discounted to DVC & Annual Pass members.
7- This year I made used of Freecycle Facebook groups where people pass on extra groceries. I took advantage of items people had overbought on & also passed on some of my extras when I left.

Reply
Jeff DePaoli February 9, 2022 - 2:41 pm

Wow! Thanks for sharing all of your tips. The cost of food festival booths can certainly add up quickly and like you wrote they’re not very filling.

Reply
Cathy February 13, 2022 - 6:53 pm

I order kids meals to save both calories and money. Portions are plenty for me. I do get cups of ice water often- it quenches my thirst a lot better than a soda would and costs nothing extra.

We don’t buy too many snacks. I guess I’m too thrifty to spend that kind of money. Last November I bought a churro in Hollywood Studios and was disappointed with both the cost AND the taste. I’ve had better at Costco!

My son has celiac so we need to be mindful of gluten exposure. We still splurge on family style meals (like Liberty Tree Tavern and Garden Grill), but try not to do more than a couple of table service meals during our short stays (4 nights usually since I drive from Pittsburgh).

Lastly, I do use my Disney Visa to rack up Reward Dollars. We eat several meals for free at times this way!

Reply
Jeff DePaoli February 14, 2022 - 1:45 pm

Good thinking with the Disney Visa. Saving for your next trip while spending for the current one.

Reply
Patricia Aldrich February 26, 2022 - 11:56 pm

Those Disney dollars help a lot I know we were able to use them on our resort we had quite a bit to use

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Jeff DePaoli February 28, 2022 - 2:26 pm

Definitely helpful!

Reply

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