A trip to Disney World is a special event and, as such, you might be tempted to just throw money at every activity, experience, and upgrade available. You want it to be the BEST trip ever, right?!
And there are SO many things to splurge on, including special tours, dining experiences, and ticket add-ons. But for many of us, a lot of these splurges are unnecessary, so let’s look at which ones just aren’t worth it.
Because a lot of things at Disney World are different right now due to the global health crisis, we’re going to separate this list to account for what’s not worth it RIGHT NOW (meaning a lot of stuff that’s not available or limited) and what wasn’t worth it pre-closure (and potentially in the future). Let’s go!
What Disney World Splurges That Are Not Worth it Post-Closure
The parks are only operating at 35% capacity right now, so getting a parking spot close to the entrances isn’t as difficult as it used to be. Although paying for preferred parking might be a nice splurge when the parks are a lot fuller, we think it’s not worth it at the moment. Preferred parking costs $20-25 dollars MORE than the standard parking fee of $25, so it’s worth considering if you really need to save those couple of extra steps.
However, parking trams are not operating right now, and if you have mobility issues or are worried about walking from your parking spot to the park entrances, you might want to still consider preferred parking.
Select Dining Experiences
Things are a lot different at restaurants now, too, and that’s particularly true of those that have certain sought-after views. For example, California Grill at the top of Disney’s Contemporary Resort has a spectacular view of Magic Kingdom’s fireworks, but since fireworks are on hold right now, is it worth dining there?
This would also apply to Narcoossee’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, the Rose and Crown Pub and Dining Room at EPCOT or any other waterfront dining in World Showcase (at least until Harmonious debuts), and Topolino’s Terrace – Flavors of the Riviera at Disney’s Riviera Resort, which all have great viewing for nighttime shows. Of course, if you’re just going for the food, then we’re not going to judge you for your choices!
If part of the appeal of these locations-with-a-view was the extra entertainment that came with it, it may be worth holding off until you can get the full experience once again.
Paying for a Deluxe Stay at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
Although Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is only open to DVC members right now, we think it’s not worth it to spend the extra dollars (or DVC points) to stay there. At least not right now. For starters, the Monorail isn’t running right now. Many of the Polynesian’s most popular restaurants and watering holes, like ‘Ohana and Trader Sam’s, are also closed while the Great Ceremonial House is under construction (but you can still get your bread pudding fix elsewhere – whew).
The resort is undergoing a massive refurbishment for the next year, and is expected to open to guests next summer, with all-new Moana-inspired rooms and updates to the lobby and exterior! If one of the main reasons you’d consider staying at this (pricey) resort is the convenient transportation option with the Monorail or all the food and theming, perhaps hold off until next summer to really get your money’s worth.
Park Hopper Ticket Add-On
Park hopping is returning to Disney World in January, but will it be worth it? It’s an additional $65 to $85 per trip, but the new policies in place could prevent you from park hopping when and where you want. First, you must have a Park Pass reservation for the first park you visit each day. Then you’re only allowed to hop to another park (without a reservation) after 2PM IF there’s availability.
Therein lies the rub: if the park you’re hopping to is at capacity, you’re out of luck and you’ll just have to go somewhere else. If you have a dining reservation at that second park and it’s at capacity, you not be allowed to get in. At least, this is all as far as we know at this time about how the upcoming system will work.
And although park-to-park transportation is reportedly returning, it still might take a lot of time to get to/from parks because each bus has limited capacity. Also, keep in mind if you were hoping to hop on over to Hollywood Studios to score an elusive boarding group for Rise of the Resistance, you’re out of luck. Only guests who have Park Passes to Hollywood Studios can score boarding groups at 7AM or at the new 1PM second release.
Although it’s not a HUGE splurge, it could become a hassle to manage hopping from park to park with an entire family in tow. It all comes down to how your family prefers to do Disney World, though. If Park Hopping was a crucial aspect of your Disney World vacations and it just doesn’t feel right without it, this may be for you. Truth be told, come January 1st once we see Park Hopping in action, this may go from something we say skip to a must-do. FOR NOW, until that’s clear, it might be worth saving your pennies.
What Disney World Splurges That Are Not Worth It Pre-Closure
Now for the stuff that we remember. The stuff that’s on hold still or hasn’t returned in the way it had been before the parks closed for an unprecedented amount of time this year. Here’s the stuff that (when and IF they return) we think are worth considering skipping.
Dessert parties are one of those things that we don’t feel are always worth it unless you’re celebrating something special and want to go all out or will only settle for the perfect fireworks view. In that case, they do deliver because you DO get a great view and some sweets and light snacks. While these parties do offer all-you-can-eat desserts, you’re paying a lot for a plate or two of sweets and a nice view.
Just how much are you shelling out for a reserved table, a couple of chocolate-covered strawberries, cheese cubes, and maybe a Bud Light? The Happily Ever After dessert parties got a price increase earlier this year. The price for the Happily Ever After with Tomorrowland Terrace Viewing jumped from $84 to a whopping $99 per person. The Plaza Garden Viewing and the After Fireworks parties increased from $69 to $79.
But that price increase did come with a nice bonus: BOOZE. The parties also come with a choice of select beers and wines, which could make dessert parties a little more worth it for some. There are other dessert parties in the other parks too, including the Frozen-themed Dessert Party that previously took place during IllumiNations in EPCOT, and more. If you have a larger family, you could end up spending a lot of $$ on a very brief event, so really contemplate if this is worth it for your family to splurge on.
Bibbidi Bobbodi Boutique
Okay, so we get that some parents will swear that taking their kids to Bibbidi Bobbodi Boutique to be transformed into a princess or knight is the best thing they ever did for their children, but guys — it’s SO expensive for what it is (especially if you opt for the costume, too!).
The cheapest package is the Crown Package, which is $74.95 per child. This includes hairstyling, makeup, a princess sash, and nail polish. This is all literally stuff you could do at home, or in the hotel room, before hitting the parks. If you’re wanting a full princess gown or knight costume included, though, it’s going to cost at least $199.95 per child. And considering you can often find the same dresses in the park — or online — for much less (and often on sale), that’s a little steep.
Reservations are also hard to get, so there’s the element of stress involved in finding a time that’s right for you. If you do score one, it might be at a location requiring ample travel time (the Grand Floridian, Magic Kingdom, and Disney Springs all have locations). This is an “everyone stop their Disney day so we can go watch little Timmy or Susie have a magical transformation” type of an ordeal. The process can take HOURS (after all, you’re paying top dollar), which eats into valuable park time. When all is said and done, yep, your kiddo will look awesome, but, in our experience, we heard “the dress is hot and itchy” followed by wiping off the makeup, chipping off the nail polish, and pulling out that fancy bun within an hour. 🤦♀️
If your kiddo has the stamina to sweat through scratchy thick tulle and satin for hours in the heat with half a gallon of hairspray in their hair, they might get a lot of value out of this. We’ve seen some parents keep their kids’ hair in that bun for days — even through swimming! In our experiences though, this is a fun thing to say we did but we don’t need to repeat.
Okay, so we know saying that the Dining Plan is not worth it is a controversial opinion, so hear us out. The value of the price paid for the dining plan isn’t great unless you plan on eating a lot of expensive food throughout the entire trip.
It’s also a LOT of food. We don’t know about you, but we always end up with a ton of snack credits at the end of our stay and find ourselves buying everything we can from our hotel gift shop that’s eligible to take home with us. Some, however, might see that as a bonus (it sure can feel like free snacks for the ride home!).
HOWEVER, we know that Disney offers a free dining plan occasionally if you book a resort stay at full price. And well, free food IS FREE food, right? But you’re still paying full price for the hotel room, so it comes down to this question: is that free food as valuable as a room discount could be? Also keep in mind — that “free” or out-of-pocket dining plan does not include tips so that $200 dollar steak dinner you just enjoyed might still end up STILL costing you about $40 bucks.
Now we know that the VIP tours offer a lot of valuable information and insight into Disney World, and some people love that. They are VERY expensive, though, and, again, take away from valuable park time depending on the tour you select (it depends on what your priorities are). For example, something like the Keys to the Kingdom Tour is FIVE HOURS and involves a lot of walking around in the hot Florida sun.
Some tours DO focus on taking you on the biggest rides, like the Ultimate Day of Thrills VIP Tour for $349 per person. Others, like the Backstage Magic 7-hour tour for $275 per person, focus on the behind-the-scenes action in the parks — meaning lots of walking, listening, and not a lot of riding!
Yes, sometimes getting to see some of the behind-the-scenes stuff is pretty magical. But some of the tours don’t allow photography or video, which means you won’t get to capture some of those memories to look at later. So it comes down to what your vacation priorities are. If it’s your dream to walk in the Utilidors under the Magic Kingdom, that comes at a price. If you just want to ride all the rides as fast as you can and not wait in line, they have a tour for you too, but again, it’ll cost ya.
Here’s another controversial question: is Memory Maker worth it? Are you willing to stop and get photos EVERYWHERE you see a Photopass photographer, even if there’s a line? After all, Memory Maker gets you free digital copies of ALL the photos you take with photographers or on rides for not-so-low price of $169 before your trip starts or $199 during or after your vacation. The only way to make the cost of Memory Maker worth it is to get as many photos as possible, right??
Do you really want ALL your ride photos? You may answer, “yes” to all of the above, and if you do, great! Memory Maker might be a better value now considering that Photopass photographers are not allowed to touch guests’ phones and cameras, effectively stopping them from helping you take “free” pictures of your family.
If you’re going for a long trip and plan to meet a lot of characters and use a lot of the Magicshots offered, it might be worth it for you. There is another option though — if you’re wanting to splurge and get all those photos PLUS some additional perks, we recommend having one member of your family get an Annual Pass. This comes with plenty of discounts on rooms, merchandise, dining, AND free Memory Maker! It’s a much bigger upfront cost, but the savings across the board could make it worthwhile. Just one person in your group needs to have a Pass for everyone to take advance of its benefits!
Certain Dining Experiences
Sure, dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table in Magic Kingdom lets you eat inside Cinderella Castle, but it’s also EXPENSIVE! Before the park’s closure, it was almost $100 per person! That’s $400 for a family of four! Yes, you get to meet the princesses and, again, dine inside the castle, but for that price the food should be phenomenal, and, in our experiences, it’s…just OK.
Honestly, if your big goal in life is to eat inside the castle, we say go for it. But otherwise, we recommend skipping the experience and saving that money for better meals elsewhere.
Preferred Resort Rooms
Disney World often gives you the option to upgrade your resort room to a better view. There’s standard rooms that could possibly face a parking lot or…not much at all. There are pool or water view rooms, preferred rooms with better access to amenities, theme park view rooms at the Magic Kingdom resorts, and even Club Level and beyond! Considering how little time most of us spend in our rooms, we have to question if that additional cost for a view we don’t have much time to enjoy is worth it.
We totally get paying for an upgrade at certain times if it means less walking to and from your room each day (especially if you’re mobility impaired or have small kids in tow!). And we understand wanting a savanna view at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. That’s a huge appeal of staying at the resort! But here’s a tip: you can still get a standard view room and request a “partial savanna” view, which still gets you a view of the animals without the additional upgrade cost.
You can actually often make room requests, so it helps to do your homework beforehand on which rooms are the best for the room level you’ve selected to see if you can get a prime room. Of course, a request is never guaranteed, but in our experience, Disney will generally do what they can to accommodate requests if they can.
We’re not going to lie, deluxe resorts have spoiled us a little and we LOVE the times we’ve stayed there. But depending on how much time you have at Disney World, and what your schedule looks like, it just might not be worth paying more for a hotel room you’re only going to sleep in. This is right in line with paying for room upgrades. If you’re planning to just use your hotel to sleep, really consider if the hefty additional cost is worth it.
For some — and we totally get it — you’re going to want to get everything out of the hotel you pay for, and you might even plan a full resort day to relax and enjoy all the amenities that hotel has to offer. Deluxe resorts also offer stellar table service restaurants, lounges, and often other amenities like a gym and more. It comes down to your own personal preferences and plans for your trip.
So there you have it, things we believe are not worth the splurge at Disney World. We understand that everyone comes to Disney World with different priorities, and in the end, it’s up to you and how much you’re willing to spend and what you’re willing to spend that on.