Disney World: it’s the most magical place on Earth, but it can also be one of the most EXPENSIVE trips you’ll take!
You may already know about some discounts and deals you can take advantage of to make your trip more affordable, but there are all kinds of spending traps both large and small that you may unknowingly be stepping into. So, today we’re sharing our TOP 5 spending traps that you’ll want to avoid in Disney World!
1. Paying for Water
We know, we know. If you’re an avid DFB reader, you’ve probably read several of our posts talking about how you can get FREE water in the parks. But, we’re sharing it here AGAIN because SO many people still pay for bottled water in Disney World, so our “don’t pay for water” campaign must continue!
Right now, a bottle of Dasani water will cost you a whopping $3.50 in Disney World. If you want fancier water, SmartWater is $5.50 per bottle. If you’re downing a couple bottles per day to stay hydrated you’re looking at $7-11 bucks per person per DAY (or more, if you like your liquids!). You know what’s better than $7-11 bucks+ per day? Free.
If you don’t already know, you can get a FREE cup of ice and water at quick service locations, either with your order or on its own. Right now, you might not be able to simply walk up to some restaurants and get a free cup of water (without any kind of other order at that restaurant) since they’re focusing on mobile orders and limiting how many guests are in one spot at the same time.
But, if you aren’t able to get water in one spot, there’s typically another location relatively close nearby where the Cast Members will point you to that can give you that cup of free water!
If you want to carry around your water in something more convenient than an open cup, bring a refillable bottle from home that you can continuously fill up during the day. And, if you’re not a fan of the taste of Florida water or tap water in general (drinking Florida water isn’t quite like sipping on Fiji water) consider bringing a bottle with a filter in it or bring some powdered or liquid water flavor enhancers.
Staying hydrated in Florida is REALLY important, so you’ll definitely want to have some water with you. But, continuously buying expensive bottles of water in Disney World can be a huge spending trap you’ll want to avoid!
2. Buying ALL the Souvenirs
Okay, yes, we’ll admit it — Disney souvenirs can be GREAT and we may or may not own a ridiculous amount of Minnie ears (we totally do. Guilty as charged, there.), but all those trinkets can also be expensive. Let’s just say, Disney knows what it’s doing as it lets you out of an attraction and (generally) directly into or next to a gift shop!
Unless you’ve got an unlimited budget, you’ll want to be extra careful that you don’t fall into the trap of buying every cute, cool, or fun piece of merchandise you see after you exit every single ride. In other words, pace yourself!
You may want to set a spending budget and commit to that budget by loading Disney gift cards with that set budget amount. This can be particularly good for kids (and adults, let’s be honest here). Let’s say you load the card with $30. Once it’s gone, it’s gone! That can help everyone really think carefully before they buy something (and hopefully prevent future begging for more souvenirs).
You may also want to adopt the mindset that you’ll only LOOK at, not buy, everything throughout the day and decide (before the park closes) what you REALLY want and buy it then, or buy souvenirs in advance (we especially recommend this when there’s a sale on shopDisney) and bring them with you.
You could also check if any of the items you’re looking at are available online on shopDisney, where you could potentially take advantage of some discounts that aren’t being offered in the parks. Or, you can visit the Disney Character Warehouse at Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets, a Disney outlet store where you could score some AWESOME merch on the cheap! Visit this spot before heading to Disney World or before you go back home and you could get some serious bang for your buck.
Now, one thing we want to mention is that some popular Disney merchandise will sell out quickly or will be exclusive to one shop or another. Those are the type of things that (if you want them) you’ll probably want to snag as soon as you see them, rather than wait until later. If you’re seeing the ears you want FLYING off the shelves and you know that you definitely want them, then you’ll want to grab those while you can! BUT, in general, we find taking the “wait and see” approach with souvenirs helps curb the buyer’s remorse, especially with impulsive kiddos.
Also, while it can be a BIG upfront cost, if one person in your party gets an Annual Pass, you could all take advantage of their merchandise discount (currently 20% at Disney owned stores) in addition to their other Annual Passholder perks, and save lots! But, you’d have to do some number crunching to see if this is worth it for you. Right now, new Annual Passes aren’t being sold (except possibly on a case-by-case basis for former Passholders) but we’re on the lookout for any updates to that.
3. Paying a LOT for a Resort You’ll Barely Have Time to Enjoy
If you and your family will be spending the majority (or basically all) of your day, except for showering and sleeping, in the Disney theme parks or Disney Springs, then paying for a big, expensive hotel room (particularly those on Disney property) could be a big spending trap. You need to consider how much time you’ll actually be spending INSIDE your room or utilizing things like the pool or other areas at the resort before you commit to that massive price tag.
If the time at your resort will be minimal, then you may want to opt instead for a room at a value or moderate resort instead of a deluxe resort, that can give you the amenities you’re looking for (Disney transportation, etc.) without the extreme price tag. Or, you may want to look at some of the Disney Springs hotels that can get you some of those same perks for MUCH less (with a still REALLY nice room, TBH). You could also potentially consider hotels outside of the Walt Disney World property for way WAY less than you’d pay for the perk of being in the center of it all.
Now, this isn’t going to be a one-size fits all kind of solution. This all depends on your needs and what’s most important to you. If you want REALLY easy transportation to the parks (like, walking access) then the higher cost of Disney’s Contemporary Resort or Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (with walking access to Magic Kingdom) or Disney’s Yacht or Beach Club Resorts (with walking access to EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios) may totally be worth it for you.
If you want easy transportation around Disney but want to avoid the really high price tags, consider whether just using a Disney bus (which is available at all resorts, including the value resorts) is enough. Is waiting an extra couple of minutes for transportation worth saving hundreds of dollars? For many, that answer might be a solid “yes.”
If you want access to other convenient Disney transportation, consider resorts with access to the Disney Skyliner that are a bit lower in cost — like Disney’s Pop Century Resort, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort (both value resorts) or Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort (a moderate resort). The Skyliner could easily get you to EPCOT or Disney’s Hollywood Studios (with some transfers, depending on where you stay), but those hotels (especially the value ones) could help you stay in budget while still giving you excellent transportation options.
Good discounts and deals could also make that moderate or deluxe Disney resort much more enticing and affordable. So, that’s something to be on the lookout for!
4. Paying for Extra Features or Tickets You Don’t Need
A big spending trap that many can fall into is paying for extra features or things that they think they might need without actually calculating or figuring out if it’s worth it (and if they’ll actually get to use those features!).
Let’s start with Park Hoppers. Some guests buy a Park Hopper ticket (park hopping just returned in 2021!) without thinking through whether they’ll actually be using it. Generally, you CANNOT downgrade your ticket from a Park Hopper to the cheaper one-park per day ticket, so this can be a BIG spending trap if you decide too late that you won’t use it.
BUT you can always ADD Park Hopping to your park ticket later. So, if you aren’t really sure if you’ll be hopping a lot (particularly under the new system) you should probably hold off on getting it until you’re sure you’ll want to use it or you’re in the parks and decide that you need it.
Just keep in mind that if you decide to add a Park Hopper to your ticket during your trip, you’ll have to pay for it for ALL of the days of your ticket (not just the ones you have left). So, if you buy a 5-day ticket and decide to add park hopping on day 3, you’ll still have to pay for it for all 5 days. So, if you want to add it to your ticket, make that decision early so you can take full advantage of it during your entire trip.
Paying For More Days
Another spending trap can be buying tickets for more days because the price of the ticket per day gets cheaper as you add more days. For example, a 1 park per day ticket in 2021 starts at $103 per day for a 4-day ticket. Go up to a 5-day ticket, and your price could go down to as low as $88 per day. Up to 9 days? You could be paying as low as $56 per day. So, the temptation is definitely there to get some extra tickets and just extend your stay a bit.
But, you can’t forget that tickets aren’t the only thing you’re paying for! You also have to pay for food, your resort stay, etc. for every day of your trip and that can all really add up. Suddenly tacking on an extra day to shave off a couple bucks on your ticket price is costing you hundreds of dollars! If you plan out your trip and realize that you don’t really need that 5th or 6th park day, you could save some serious cash!
It’s key to break down what you actually want to do in the parks and see how many days you’ll actually need to accomplish them then tack on all the added costs to make those extra days happen to know if that extra day or two will be worth it.
Not Scoping Out the Best Deal Beforehand
Another key mistake can be buying tickets alone or as part of a resort package without actually scoping for the best deals! While many times buying a package can save you money, it’s worth it to price it out separately and see if special deals online (like Florida resident ones or others) will actually result in a cheaper overall price.
When Disney offers its Free Disney World Dining promotions, many may also assume that is their BEST value in terms of booking. But, you’ll want to do a bit of digging or potentially work with a travel professional to crunch those numbers and see what kind of booking arrangement will actually save you the most money.
5. Getting the Disney Dining Plan
Finally, we end our list of potential spending traps with the Disney Dining Plan. The Disney Dining plan isn’t available right now, but it may return in the future. For many, this is a great way to essentially “pre-pay” for most of the dining costs they’ll encounter on their Disney World vacation, but it’s all about a “use it or lose it” mentality here.
While the Disney Dining Plan can be good for some, for many it is a BIG cost that isn’t worth it if you do the math. First, tips aren’t included on the Dining Plan and, after you figure 20% of those pricey sit-down meals, you could be surprised by just how much you’re still spending even though you paid before your trip. Second, you’ll also need to seriously consider how your family eats to see if it’s worth it for you.
Do members of your family skip meals sometimes, have restrictive diets, or only order the cheapest things at quick service and table service restaurants (because that’s really just what they like)? Then a dining plan may not be worth it for you. If you want to make the most out of your plan, you really have to think BIG. We’re talking ordering big (meaning pricey!) entrees and big, expensive drinks to really maximize things. The Dining Plan rarely will actually save you any money if you’re ordering cheaper dishes.
But it CAN be a good deal if done correctly. If you’re looking to make eating a big part of your trip and you want to go big or go home when it comes to what you order, you could come out on top. The key thing here is to take a look at the cost and think about how your family eats and see if you could potentially eat in a way that would actually make the Dining Plan a savings for you. Keep in mind that often Free Dining is offered at the same time as a resort discount option. Since you can only pick one discount to apply to your vacation package, a resort discount could mean much bigger savings than the Free Dining Plan offer, so be sure to do the math for all available discounts.
Click here to check out our break-down of the new Dining Plan Plus and how it compares with other plans — and whether it’s worth it for you!
These are just some of the spending traps you’ll want to avoid in Disney World. But there are definitely others (like those sneaky $10 cancellation fees you could get hit with if you don’t cancel a Disney Dining reservation at least 24 hours in advance). The key thing for all of these is seeing what’s right for your family and planning accordingly. If the high-cost item is worth it for you, then that’s great, just like it’s A-OK to pay for the Park Hopper add-on even if you don’t use it much. We want to help you identify where extra spending could occur and decide if that’s something you’re OK with paying for or not.