Disneyland 2016 Dining Update

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The dining landscape is changing at Disneyland, much as it has changed in Florida. If you read our 2016 WDW Dining Update, much of this will probably sound redundant. In California, prices have also increased (10-15% on average for counter service), while in many cases portion sizes and quality have decreased.

While the price increases are a new thing of the last month or so, the quality and portion decrease has been a gradual trend, that is best illustrated by Flo’s V8 Cafe. As we discuss in our updated review of the restaurant, it went from having one of the best menus at Disneyland Resort to resting on its laurels and prime location by gutting and substantially downgrading its menu. The new menu features smaller and lower quality items across the board…all at higher prices.

Most menus haven’t seen the same gutting (although the switch to cardboard pizza from flatbreads at Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta and the removal of the only good vegetarian option anywhere ever from Hungry Bear Restaurant certainly were disappointments). More common are “only” price increases and portion size decreases. The same has occurred at table service restaurants, although we have less firsthand experience with those due to their prohibitive pricing and not much new of interest. (We haven’t even tried the iterations of River Belle Terrace in the last year, because reviews suggest that Disney is phoning it in with them.)

The biggest difference between the changes at Disneyland and Walt Disney World–for us at least–is how we’ll respond to them. Admittedly, what follows is an anecdote that probably won’t be all that relevant to the mostly-tourist demographic that reads this blog. Those of you planning vacations will probably dine at Disneyland just as you would have before: it’ll just cost a bit more and you might do more snacking. However, this blog has always been about our personal experiences, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t share.

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Sarah’s sister was recently visiting us, and we spent 2 full days in the parks, which meant lunch and dinner in the parks (a rarity for us). Upon tallying up receipts for our meals at Disney California Adventure, I discovered we had spent nearly $60 on food for the 2 of us in 1 day. This was despite eating at counter service restaurants, and only ordering (free) water to drink. After we got home for the evening, we ate again. That’s a ridiculous amount to spend on fast food for the day, only to still be hungry at the end of the day. We could’ve eaten at In-N-Out like six times for the cost of those 2 meals! I’m drooling right now at the prospect of that many Double-Doubles…

This was a “moment of clarity” for us. Part of the dream of moving to California was feasting upon the fruit of the gods–Plaza Inn Fried Chicken–five nights per week. My dreams were quickly shattered when the reality of how much that would cost set in. Like so many of those who uproot themselves for the golden dreams of the Bear Republic, I was crushed, defeated, and chicken-less.

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We eat at Disneyland’s restaurant’s from time to time, but unlike Walt Disney World, it’s not an integral part of our experience. We enjoy restaurants like Plaza Inn, French Market, Cove Bar, etc., but since we’re locals who visit the parks 2-3 times per month, we can easily eat before heading to the parks or after heading home. Or, on visits of longer duration, we can walk across the street and quickly eat off-site.

This latter part is why our personal anecdote is relevant–because it’s probably not so personal. Guests at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland can dine off-site. The practical reality is that as a “world” unto itself with a strong tourist demographic, off-site dining is far less likely to occur. That’s doubly so thanks to the pre-purchased Disney Dining Plan, meaning many guests are effectively paying twice if they choose to dine off-site (…or at any of those theme parks down the road).

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By contrast, the real world sits just outside Disneyland’s Esplanade, and most guests have driven themselves to the parks from Los Angeles or Orange County. There’s also no Disney Dining Plan that creates a captive audience for the Disneyland restaurants. Of course, it’s easier for locals to dine on-site at Disneyland’s restaurants, but it’s also easier to hit that balking point when value no longer outweighs the inconvenience of dining off-site. As prices go up while portions and quality decrease, that tipping point comes closer.

We have hit that point. Whether it be a 10-minute walk to Pizza Press for delicious meal or a slightly longer walk to McDonald’s for a cheap guilty pleasure, these are better options that paying more while getting less in the parks. Since Disneyland restaurants aren’t as insulated from competition from Walt Disney World ones (in light of the above), I wonder whether the similar management philosophy, which seems to be in use on both coasts, is appropriate in both locations? Surely we aren’t the ones who have a lower threshold for balking at Disneyland restaurants as compared to Walt Disney World ones. Maybe I’m totally wrong in my speculation, but there has to be a breaking point.

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We’ll still do meals in the parks here and there when there’s a special menu option or something that looks like a can’t miss, or when out of town friends are visiting, but otherwise, we’ll pass. Even before our “moment of clarity,” we had been eating on-site less. Special menus are still a great hook for us, and like all Disney-addicts, we can’t resist anything that’s Limited Edition.

This is part of the reason why we’re so excited about the upcoming Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival. I’ve been waiting for this to return since the Cars Land construction wrapped up, and I think it’s the perfect way for the park to showcase its (largely fading) California theme. We have discovered that the foodie scene in California is wonderful, and this should be a great way to showcase the state’s culinary diversity. We shudder to think about the prices and portion sizes during the special event, but we’d rather splurge on something special and unique like this, and skip a few other meals at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure to help offset what we spend.

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Hope this isn’t too much of a downer. The good news, as mentioned above, is that it’s highly personal. Part of it is undoubtedly due to familiarity of being a local, and having more of a real-world mentality when visiting Disneyland. That’s on us, and something we do not feel at Walt Disney World.

Moreover, aside from a few missteps, the counter service options at Disneyland Resort are largely exceptional. If I were visiting once or twice per year, I would be dreaming of Little Red Wagon Corn Dogs, and ignoring that $18 price tag when ordering Plaza Inn Fried Chicken. I’d eat from the fountain of youth (a bowl of Lobster Nachos) while watching World of Color’s dancing fountains. There’s still a lot to love about Disneyland Resort’s dining scene, especially for casual vacationers. For those takin’ the 73 to the 5, getting off on the 405 to bypass the rush before getting back on the 5 via the 55, it’s like…too much.

If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, whether you should stay off-site or on-site in a Disney hotel, where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!

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Your Thoughts

Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of the dining scene at Disneyland Resort? Think we’re jaded, or is that a fair look at how prices have continued to trend up while quality has not? Share any questions, opinions, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!

20 Responses to “Disneyland 2016 Dining Update”
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