Walt Disney World’s dining options can prove to be pretty expensive. Business Insider spoke with a number of former Walt Disney World cast members about their favorite park food, and while most said they tended to bring lunches from home, they love certain park snacks.
Walt Disney World's dining options don't have a reputation for being cheap.
John Quagliano, a former cast member who worked in the Magic Kingdom, told Business Insider that he steered clear of eating in the park for this reason.
A former participant in the Disney College Program, he began working at the park as a recent college grad who was considering graduate school. Splurging on food wasn't an option for him. He added that park guests should follow his example if they want to "save a crap ton of money."
"You can bring in your own food and snacks," Quagliano told Business Insider. "Most people don't realize that and, of course, the company doesn't advertise it. But you can physically bring in an entire cooler full of snacks, water, whatever you want, and not only can you bring it into the park, you can ask the company to store it for you. They'll take it, tag it, and store it in the back."
Quagliano has seen this firsthand. He worked on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom near a storage area where cast members would store guests' items.
"We'd be like, 'You know, we'll do you a favor. We'll put it in the back and store it,'" Quagliano said. "They'd seem to think we were doing them some big favor. In reality, we're just doing what the company lets us do."
Business Insider asked a number of cast members who previously participated in the Disney College Program at Walt Disney World to share their favorite park foods with us. A number of their responses reflected Quagliano's comments on the cost of food. But they still had fond memories of certain park treats and meals.
Here's a look at their favorite treats:
"I always loved the Mickey pretzels," Devin Melendy, a former cast member who wrote "Devin Earns Her Ears: My Secret Walt Disney World Cast Member Diary," told Business Insider. "I love hot pretzels, and the Mickey ones were always huge!"
Mickey pretzels are sold all around the parks, at stops like Anaheim Produce in Hollywood Studios, Liberty Square Market in Magic Kingdom, BoardWalk Joe's Marvelous Margaritas in Epcot, and Harambe Fruit Market in Animal Kingdom.
A Mickey pretzel with cheese goes for $5.69 at the park.
Melendy said that for the most part, she didn't eat in the parks. She noted that some local restaurants around Walt Disney World gave cast member ID card-carrying patrons a discount on meals.
Quagliano said he only bought food in Walt Disney World twice.
"I really didn't eat out a lot," he said. "I made my own food because it's way less expensive."
In his experience, most of his friends in the program did the same.
"You know, a hot dog's 10 bucks," he said. At Casey's Corner in the Magic Kingdom, hot dog prices range from $8.49 for a "corn dog nuggets meal" to the $12.49 "foot long all-beef Cuban hot diggity dog."
But Quagliano said he was impressed with "The Citrus Swirl" ice cream — which has since been replaced by "The Orange Swirl," a frozen order with slightly different ingredients.
"It was good," Quagliano said. "But it was five bucks so, yeah, that was a one-time deal."
According to the Disney Food Blog, the Orange Swirl's pre-tax price is $4.29.
Jake Kleckner, a former Disney World cast member who worked in Frontierland, told Business Insider that most cast members' lunch breaks weren't long enough to allow frequent trips to park restaurants.
"We don't really have enough time to get out of our costume, run up into the park, get something to eat, and eat it," he told Business Insider. Those tasks would take an hour, he estimated. "We only have a half hour," he said.
Still, he said that "experiencing new restaurants" and "new food" at Disney was one of his favorite activities.
"A lot of my financial irresponsibility was due to me wanting to eat all the different food at Disney," he said. "I was always the one being like, 'Hey guys, let's make a reservation for this restaurant at this time.' And people would be like 'Why?' And I'd be like, 'Because I want to go. Let's just go eat something cool.'"
"I would also be the first one to get in line at Casey's for a foot long hot dog. Those are the ones that are so expensive," Kleckner said.
When it comes to his absolute favorite park chow, Kleckner called himself a "big softie" for choosing a Frontierland staple: Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Café.
Entrees at the Old West-style saloon range from a veggie rice bowl for $9.99 to a fajita platter for $14.99.
"If someone told me, 'You can only eat at one restaurant at Disney for the rest of forever,' I would say, 'Okay. Pecos Bill it is, I guess,'" Kleckner said. "I love being in there, eating the Tex-Mex food, and being in Frontierland. I am such a nerd for Frontierland now."
Chantelle Judd, a former cast member who worked in Frontierland, told Business Insider that she didn't typically eat at Walt Disney World establishments.
"I ate at home a lot of the time and was always prepared when I came to the parks," she said.
However, one meal at a casual dining style joint at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort stood out for Judd.
"I have to say, Trail's End was one of my favorites," she said. "I'm a big brunch fan. It's my favorite meal, so a buffet of breakfast food was fantastic."
The spot's brunch menu offers up selections like brown sugar-glazed applewood-smoked bacon, grits, Mickey-shaped waffles, omelets, baked mac and cheese, Canadian bacon Benedict, mashed potatoes and gravy, fried chicken, French toast bread pudding, and apple cobbler.
Meghan O'Neill, a former Disney cast member who worked in Future World in Epcot, told Business Insider that her favorite Disney cuisine came from the France Pavilion at Epcot.
"The Croque Glacé from L'Artisan des Glaces in France is my favorite," O'Neill told Business Insider. "It's a scoop of ice cream in a brioche bun pressed warm. It sounds weird, but it tastes delicious."
L'Artisan des Glaces is an "artisanal dessert shop," according to Disney's website. A Croque Glacé costs $7.04 at the shop.
A former Disney cast member who spoke with Business Insider on the condition of anonymity said that our question about their favorite park food was "seriously the hardest question you've asked me because I really love Disney food."
"I have to go with a Disney ice cream cone," they told Business Insider. "I honestly don't know what it is about it, but I have to get one every time I go to the Magic Kingdom. It could be because I worked next to Storybook Treats."
A soft-serve chocolate, vanilla, or swirl ice cream cone goes for $3.99 at Storybook Treats.
Former Disney cast member Missy Farni, who worked at Epcot and Animal Kingdom, told Business Insider that she mostly made her own lunches.
But sometimes she'd "splurge" on her favorite park treat: Dole Whips.
The Dole Food Company whipped up the first concoction back in 1986. The frosty treat has since picked up a bit of a cult following. Dole Whips come in pineapple, vanilla, or swirl varieties, and cost $4.49. Business Insider's Kim Renfro described the pineapple soft serve as "not too sweet, perfectly tart, and super light and refreshing."
"My roommates were the ones who made sure I had more self-control with that whole situation, because I would totally be the person who's like, 'I could totally get a Dole Whip every single day,'" Farni told Business Insider. "And they're like, 'No, you can't do that. That's pretty expensive.'"
Christina Hartless, a former Disney cast member who worked at Epcot, told Business Insider that she worked near a Sodexo-run employee cafeteria where she'd often eat, either bringing in her own lunch or purchasing a meal there.
"It had really good food and it was reasonably priced," Hartless told Business Insider. "They had a Subway in it as well, I believe. Sometimes I would go over there because I was lucky to work close enough to it that I could."
Hartless added that she and her coworkers would often head over to Epcot's Electric Umbrella to buy chicken tenders with fries for $9.49.
While she said she loved the fries, her favorite Disney food was the Dole Whips.
Are you a former Disney cast member with a story to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.