Once upon a time it was high noon in the Magic Kingdom, and everyone was quite hungry. While toddlers melted down in the unseasonably warm December day from hunger, their haggard parents waited in lines out the door for popular counter service (“quick” being relative…), and the crowds so thick you could barely walk. Yet the Adventureland Girls crew calmly made their way to a hostess desk where folks were being turned away without reservations.
“Flaum, Party of 4” was called within moments and we were seated inside with air conditioning, ice water, and service with a smile.
When it comes to eating well on vacation – a little planning goes a long way. Now eating well comes in all forms from cheap eats to fine dining, but the planning is what will set you apart and minimize the meltdowns, drama, and general problems that occur without. One of the big delights for our family is eating well. Street food to fine dining, new cuisines to trusted favorites – we love to eat great meals! I would estimate somewhere around 40% of my planning efforts involve finding the best choices for us, researching our fast food options, and plotting when best to make reservations. In this article I will discuss all of my best tips and practices in general for planning to eat on vacation.
Planning your meals on vacation can be approached in several ways:
1. Plan on grabbing whatever is quick whenever you get hungry
2. Plan ahead setting all dining times and locations
3. Plan ahead some meals, leave others flexible/open
Your budget, time, and other priorities on the trip will be factors for your choices as well as personal preference. Even if you plan on grabbing quick & easy food – research is very helpful. It isn’t all burgers and hot dogs (unless you want it to be), there is a WIDE range of prices and experiences, and you don’t have to feel “confined by your dining reservation times” when on vacation either. So to get started, ask yourself a few questions:
How do you eat at home? Sticking fairly close to your routine while on vacation is generally a good idea. If you never eat late, booking a 9pm dinner is a recipe for misery. Likewise, if you just don’t like breakfast – don’t schedule any! Your body and travel companions will thank you for a dining schedule that makes sense and fits what they are used to.
Do you have any special dining needs? If you’re going to Disney – you’re in luck. Allergies and restrictions, they’ve got you covered! I have never seen a company more dedicated to making sure all can enjoy a meal safely!
What are your must-do experiences? Character dining to trying a brand-new restaurant – whether your destination is Disney or not if you have any “must” dining experiences or foods – get them written down. These may become clear as you dive into research.
You know you’re going to be hungry and would prefer to eat tasty food – so knowing some options and what you can find ahead of time can really save time, energy, and avoid a lot of bad meals once on vacation. I use several sources: The official website(s) for restaurant, Google Maps, and Trip Advisor. I follow food bloggers simply for photos/oh that looks good inspiration. I do not read message board or Facebook group “reviews” in general unless it is simply someone posting photos “I ate — and enjoyed it”.
Menus change. I don’t rely on a single “must have” item on a menu to book a place. I look at the overall picture. How are prices? Will my family enjoy this place? If the menu looks good with multiple things seeming tasty – that’s a place I pick.
Tip: Look at all the meals. On a recent trip to New York I wanted to book dinner at a place but quickly realized their dinner menu looked like a compilation of all the dishes I’ve ever seen that nobody in my family would ever order. Meanwhile their lunch menu was 100% different items, and all things we’d love!
Make a list: I keep a small notebook with pertinent details. Restaurant hours, general what’s on the menu, phone #, etc. This is especially handy if you are planning to play it by ear. You will know what is available, who accepts reservations (even if only short notice – it can make a difference!), and what is near you when you happen to get hungry.
Add to the list: From seasonal treats to special spots to find great snacks, dessert, and more… if you see something, think it looks good? Add it to your maybe list! Nothing worse than having a blah cookie when the most epic ones were right around the corner. You don’t have to use every place you have in your notebook or planner – and it can’t hurt to have food options!
Work on your activity plans: I tend to work on activities and eating all together because I try to group things. For example – we want to try the Chez Remy restaurant in Disneyland Paris, so I will make sure to plan shows and rides in that area/park around our dining reservation. Conserving walking, working in zones, and a little bit of planning ahead really can make all the difference in your day.
Put it on paper, walk it through: Just like with all my planning I put it down on paper then imagine I’m on the trip. If I’ve had an 8am mega buffet breakfast, I won’t be hungry at 11:30 for burgers! That said, planning on a mid-day shared meal or snack, followed by a more normal dinner would work well. I also look at food types, and try to avoid back to back buffets, burgers, etc. and instead spread out the meal experiences so that we don’t get sick of eating specific foods.
PREPARE FOR GOOD EATS!
Once you’ve researched, booked your preferred dining times (if any reservations were necessary), and have your own personalized guide book/notes you’re ready to enjoy vacation. By having notes you can adjust on the fly, know what is nearby and good, where to get the better food for less, and more. Remember that you absolutely can research and plan for a trip without feeling trapped or locked in.
I hope that I have inspired you to do a bit of research and planning for your next vacation’s meals. Remember that whether you enjoy the freedom of no reservations or like setting up more set dining times – the magic is in the research. I just located the oldest patisserie in Paris and have added that as a “hope to enjoy” for our trip. If you have any tips or questions we’d love to hear from you please feel free to leave us a comment.
Stay tuned for more planning articles, as well as reviews, itinerary suggestions, and more!