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Vote of the week: Do you eat lunch early or late when visiting a theme park?

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Published: February 11, 2011 at 8:14 AM

A long-standing piece of advice from Theme Park Insider readers has been to eat lunch in a theme park either early or late, in order to avoid the mealtime crowds and possibly take advantage of (slightly) shorter lines at the attractions as everyone else moves to the restaurants.

But which is it: Do you eat early, or late?

Monte Cristo at Cafe Orleans in Disneyland
A Disneyland lunch favorite: The Monte Cristo sandwich

That's this week's vote. I'd like to hear your best strategy for handling eating at mid-day. Do you eat early? Do you eat late? Do you not eat at all? Or do you insist on eating between noon and 1pm, no matter the crowds?

I understand that your strategy might depend upon the park you're visiting. So tell us what you do most often.


Personally, I always try to get to the park when it opens, so I usually go for the early lunch option. Even if I'm getting a reservation/priority seating at a table-service restaurant, I try to get one for around 11:30 am.

Yet if I'm just making it a half-day visit, I'll arrive at opening, ride through lunch, then go for a late lunch outside the park, after 1 or so. So I could go either way on this. Okay, forget I wrote anything. I'm a horrible source for this one. :^(

So let's hear some better advice from you, in the comments.

Readers' Opinions

From Nick Dakuginow on February 11, 2011 at 8:54 AM
I usually try and wait until later to eat at a counter service restaurant. However, I'm going to the Magic Kingdom tomorrow and plan on eating at Pecos Bill early, around 11 am or so. Then go and get a Dole Whip Float and park hop. I figure that'll hold us over until later on and it'll be better to have something in our stomach.
From Daniel Etcheberry on February 11, 2011 at 9:20 AM
I eat between 2 and 3. My strategy is to ride my favorite rides first, then enjoy my lunch, and finally ride one or two minor rides afterward.
From Anthony Murphy on February 11, 2011 at 10:02 AM
I go as early as possible so that I can eat dinner later. Thats usually my plan at parks such as EPCOT.
From 212.240.35.34 on February 11, 2011 at 10:24 AM
I eat around 11.30am then treat myself to a snack around 3pm. That usually tides me over until aroung 7.30pm when I am to have dinner
From 65.254.11.19 on February 11, 2011 at 10:26 AM
We usually skip lunch because we have had a character/buffet breakfast and that holds us over until our special dinner. Again buffet/character Dinner
From Eli Katzman on February 11, 2011 at 12:02 PM
it all depends for me- how long i've been at the park, how badly i want to do something like ride a coaster (o' course), or something of that matter. I think the earliest i've eaten was probably about 11:30, latest was about 4:30
From 67.224.251.54 on February 11, 2011 at 12:14 PM
I am very encourage to see that so far later is beating 45% - 36% early. Since our family gets to the park at opening we eat very little at breakfast a snack or some fruits, then by 11 a.m. or 11:30 we are really hungry already. So the "earlier" we eat the best! It works really well too, since people are just arriving in higher numbers as you are exiting the eatery. So right now 9% more people eating later means 9% less people eating at the same time as me... Which is great!!

-Francisco-

From Mike Gallagher on February 11, 2011 at 12:25 PM
Later, probably between 4-6 pm..IF I do eat in the park or nearby. Otherwise,it's a big breakfast and something when I leave the park. At Great Adventure, I'll often bring sandwiches and drinks in a cooler in the car, and open that 4-6 window above.
From Joshua Counsil on February 11, 2011 at 1:06 PM
Big breakfast, get to the park early, leave in the mid-afternoon, snack and cocktails at the hotel, back to the park for the evening and a late dinner.

So, late lunch or snack.

From Will Chilcote on February 11, 2011 at 4:48 PM
I go for a late lunch.

But, at Disneyland/California Adventure i leave the park for Downtown Disney around 1 or so and go to one of the many restaurants there. I personally have been disappointed with the restaurants in both of the parks. The food in Downtown Disney is cheaper and the quality is better.

From James Rao on February 11, 2011 at 5:19 PM
If visiting a theme park, I usually accomplish early headliner touring, leave the park for lunch (when visiting the Magic Kingdom the Contempo Cafe is an excellent option even at high noon), then return for the rest of the night (usually having a late dinner in the park).

If visiting a thrill park, I generally just snack on hard-to-mess-up-items (like pretzels) until dinner, then I leave the park, eat a good, sit down meal, and return for a few night time coaster rides.

From David Sutter on February 11, 2011 at 5:37 PM
I opt for a late luch around 2 or so. At the Magic Kingdom its the Dinninghall upstairsin the castle. I never had a porblem getting a reseservation for that day. The foods above average, the staff is great. And its a nice rest from the crowed park. And the price is only slightly higher then a grab aqnd go counter service. At The Studios it Mama Melroses all the way. Epcot, ANyone will work out great. Animal Kigdom..Why? RainFOrrest Cafe lunch ..Im there.
From chris cona on February 11, 2011 at 9:35 PM
SKIP LUNCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!

All you have to do is eat a big breakfast and eat a big dinner (probaly a buffet my style). These will save you time in lunch lines and ride times so you can have fun with your family, friends or who ever is with you

From 69.227.126.153 on February 11, 2011 at 11:58 PM
I don't like to spend prime morning time eating breakfast, and prefer to get to the park before opening time. I either grab a free continental breakfast in the hotel or bring easy breakfast items like instant oatmeal and fruit cups. By 11:30 the park is getting crowded and I'm getting hungry, so an early lunch is perfect timing!
From Roxanne Price on February 12, 2011 at 5:20 PM
If we're staying at a hotel, we eat a light breakfast in the room and get to the park at opening. Then leave the park to go to a buffet serving breakfast at about 11 am. Most buffet breakfasts are far cheaper, we've eaten for $4/person even though it's almost noon. (I've got an active boy with a hollow leg, so buffets are great!) So - brunch? Relax in the air conditioning before returning to the park.
From 86.141.182.28 on February 13, 2011 at 3:23 PM
Eatong breakfase in the room is a must....saves money but most importantly of all saves time which could be be spent in the parks!
From 98.14.59.201 on February 13, 2011 at 8:47 PM
The ONLY time i eat a early to nroaml lunch 12noon to be exact is when I go to hearshey. Cause after lunch U just chill in the waterpark. When going with friends and some of there family I eat somtimes do not even eat lunch because U pick all day on the snacks so that would make me a on the go snack guy also. also If I do typicly eat lunch 9/10 times I eat it LATE in the day it substitutes as a LUNCH/DINNER typicly I prefer later becsue after lunch I do not feel like inverting or spinning anymore for like a long time after.

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