We see it all the time: families on vacation in Disney World making questionable decisions when it comes to their money. Vacation brain can get to the best of us, and while we’re totally down for splurging every once in a while, there’s a difference between calculated indulgences and flat-out wasteful spending!
Here are TEN ways you may still be totally WASTING your money in Disney World, and ways to make sure you avoid these spending pitfalls on your next vacation!
Paying full price on hotel accommodations
There is almost always some sale happening on hotel accommodations – there’s just about no reason you should ever pay full price for your hotel! A GREAT current deal, as of this writing, can save up to 35% off your hotel room if you stay between January 3rd through April 17th, 2021.
While discounts on park admission are harder to come by, they do pop up from time to time — usually as a package deal that requires paying full price for your room. For 2021 we’ve seen a great deal where you can receive two additional days of theme park tickets when you purchase a 4-night/3-day room and ticket package. This deal is good for most nights between January 8th and September 25th.
Other ways you can save on hotel accommodations is considering staying at Moderate or Value Resorts, which offer many of the same amenities you’ll find at Deluxe Resorts for a much lower price point. Every Disney World resort has pools, a place to eat, and access to Disney’s complimentary transportation. If you’re spending all of your time in the parks anyway, it might not be worth it to splurge on that room at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa that you’ll hardly spend any time in.
There are also several hotels in the Disney Springs area that come with most of the perks you would get staying at a Disney-owned hotel but at a fraction of the cost (not to mention your room will most likely be a bit bigger and possibly more high-end). Consider all of your options before committing to a Disney World hotel! These resorts include popular chains like Hilton, DoubleTree, Wyndham, and even the Four Seasons. If you belong to any hotel rewards programs, there may be savings to be had there, too!
Finally, be mindful of when you’re traveling to Disney World. Often you can save big on hotel accommodations by simply going during the off-season. This means times of the year like early Fall, parts of January, and other slower times of year (AKA not holidays or summer!). Hotel accommodations are often the biggest ticket item on a Disney World vacation, and saving on a room could mean a longer trip, more spending money, or more leftover money to put towards your NEXT vacation!
Purchasing the Park Hopper and other ticket add-ons
With Park Hopping BACK in 2021, let’s revisit the topic of whether or not this ticket add-on is worth the money. For many, adding the Park Hopper option is worth the cost, and depending on how long your trip is or how much you want to fit into your vacation, there’s an argument to be made that a Park Hopper is a great value.
In our experience, however, the value of the Park Hopper can be hit or miss. So far, our experiences with “new” Park Hopping have been good — we’ve hopped where we want with relative ease come 2PM each day. BUT, it is still easy to argue that, at least for now, you’re paying more money for less time in that second park. You can’t hop where you want when you want all day long, meaning those few hours in the afternoon are costing you more than they did before the closures.
Want to maximize your Park Hopper? If you KNOW you want to Park Hop, be sure you use it as often as possible. Plan meals in different parks and split your days to really maximize your use. You can add the Park Hopper option to your ticket after you arrive, but keep in mind that Disney will charge you for the entire length of your ticket, even if you purchase the hopper later in the trip. So if you want to add it, add it EARLY.
Buying vacation essentials on property
No matter how well you plan out your packing list ahead of your trip, you will inevitably forget to pack SOMETHING in your suitcase. Disney is prepared for events like these and they conveniently offer many common vacation necessities, such as sunscreen, over-the-counter medicine, and even ACE bandages.
However, Disney KNOWS that you’re in dire need of these items, so there’s a nifty up-charge at the hotel gift shops where you can find these items. Be prepared to pay more than what you would normally pay at your local drug store. Depending on how many items you need to purchase, your bill can add up quickly.
Avoid these “vacation” fees and purchase these items ahead of your trip! You can also find certain types of over-the-counter medicine and supplies like Tylenol and bandaids for FREE at First Aid Centers in each park. There is a First Aid location in each of the four theme parks. Just be mindful that the medicine and supplies are there for everyone in need, so you’ll likely be given just enough for relatively immediate use, not enough of whatever you need to last you a lifetime!
Paying full price on (some) merchandise items
Picking the perfect souvenir is a must for so many on any Disney World vacation. We’re the first ones that will fully endorse you purchasing a pair of Minnie Ears to commemorate your time on vacation, but if your goal is to avoid wasteful spending, merchandise should be a BIG area of focus.
Often, you can find a lot of the same exact merchandise on Disney’s online store, AKA shopDisney, and that’s where you can often find sales year-round. Be on the lookout for sales on Black Friday, their Twice Upon a Year Sale (which usually takes place once in late spring and again right after the holidays), and their Friends & Family Shopping Events.
It’s not as frequent, but occasionally you might find sales happening IN Disney World, too. These sales typically happen towards the end of certain seasons (EPCOT Festival merchandise may be on sale in the final few weeks of that festival, Christmas merchandise typically goes on sale in December and January, etc.). Disney doesn’t announce these sales so you’ll have to keep an eye out for signs in the stores.
Keeping an eye on Disney’s online sales can be a really useful tool if you know when they happen before your vacation (especially since merchandise can be limited in the parks, it can also be nice to buy those Minnie Ears you’ve been eyeing before you go so you know you’ll get em!). Some merchandise that Disney sells IS park-exclusive, meaning you won’t be able to find it online, so be sure to ask a Cast Member if you spot an item you really like if it’s park exclusive. If it’s unavailable at your location, they can try to help you hunt it down.
If you’ve been to Disney World recently and you still have a MagicBand, consider bringing it to on your next Disney vacation. The complimentary MagicBands you used to get ahead of your trip have been discontinued in 2021. If you want to avoid unnecessary spending, consider reusing your old MagicBand rather than buying a new one! If you don’t have a band and don’t want to shell out for a new one, you’ll be able to use your phone for a lot, like getting into your room, and will get a card to use for your tickets.
Another great budgeting tip is to consider buying pre-loaded Disney gift cards ahead of your trip and let that be your souvenir budget! This is also a great tool if you have kiddos who would love to take everything they see in the gift shops home with them. That card can be their special spending money and when it’s gone, it’s gone.
Spending money on things that you can find for FREE in Disney World
Despite how expensive Disney World is known to be, there are still plenty of things you can do throughout the parks and resorts that are completely free! There are movie nights at the resorts, yoga classes in the mornings, as well as most transportation options (more on that in a moment). Some of these offerings may not be available during Disney World’s phased reopening, so be sure to double-check when you arrive.
Our die-hard DFB readers know what’s coming next…don’t waste your money on bottled water in Disney World! We say this ALL the time, but we still see people buying bottles of water! Free water is just about everywhere in Disney World, whether you pick up a cup of ice water at a Quick Service dining location or you’re filling up a reusable bottle at one of the many water fountains or bottle filling stations.
Finally, weigh the pros & cons of add-on services like Memory Maker. It makes getting things like on-ride photos or pictures of the whole family around the parks a LOT easier (and you’re all in the pictures!), but remember that you can also take photos for free using your phone. Memory Maker costs $169 when purchased in advance for your trip. That’s a good chunk of change for digital pictures!
Spending money on transportation
Like we mentioned earlier, most of the transportation options in Disney World are complimentary for all guests. If you need to get from point A to point B, your options include the Monorail, Skyliner, buses, boats, even walking paths, all at no extra charge.
Disney World does have a paid transportation service operated by Lyft known as Minnie Vans; however, the service is currently suspended during their phased reopening. At this time, it’s unclear when we can expect Minnie Vans to return, but if you’re looking for rideshare options, you’re currently restricted to regular Uber and Lyft.
Speaking of — rideshares are totally a viable option to get around BUT it’ll cost ya. While this may provide added convenience, be mindful of how quickly the cost of a ride share service can add up. If you rely on Uber to get to and from the parks each day, you’ll easily spend the same amount of money that you would drop on a meal in Disney World. Spend your dollars carefully, friends!
Not knowing what discounts you have at your disposal
No matter what time of year you visit, where you stay, or how long your vacation is, there’s almost ALWAYS some way of saving a few dollars here and there. In fact, there are lots of ways to save on accommodations, tickets, dining, and souvenirs that you might not even be aware of!
Annual Passholders, Disney Vacation Club Members, Disney VISA cardholders, and Florida residents are four major categories of guests that typically have some sort of discount available, whether it’s 10% off your meal, 20% off merchandise, or other discounts on hotel rooms or theme park tickets. There are other groups with frequent discounts, like AAA and active or retired military. Be sure to investigate where you might be able to find a deal or two!
There are several ways to save on dining in Disney World, even if you don’t fall into any of the above categories! Landry’s, for example, owns Rainforest Cafe, T-Rex, and Yak & Yeti in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. If you’re a Landry’s Rewards member, guess what? Your discounts will work in Disney World! That includes a discount on your birthday!
When it’s active, Tables in Wonderland is another way to save on dining. The program requires an annual fee, but it gives you access to tons of dining discounts, even discounts on alcoholic beverages (food discounts for other groups mentioned typically exclude alcohol). If you’re an Annual Passholder, a DVC Member, or a Florida resident and you visit Disney World multiple times a year, a Tables in Wonderland card can be worth looking into.
Spending too much money on food
You don’t need to be eligible for a dining discount to save on food! Disney World dining is another area where we see LOADS of wasteful spending, and there’s really no reason! While food at Disney World is clearly our favorite thing to talk about, we also want to make sure you’re able to enjoy your meal without shelling out thousands of dollars in a week to do so!
Consider skipping a meal and have only one or two bigger meals instead. Late breakfast and early dinner is usually our go-to meal combination for the day, but you could possibly get away with just having one huge lunch and snacking throughout the day. Eating breakfast in your hotel room can also be a huge tool in avoiding wasting your money on too much food. On your next vacation, think about taking an Uber to a local Target or Walmart to load up on breakfast items or opt for a grocery delivery service to deliver to your resort!
Splitting entrees is another way to enjoy all of your favorite dishes at a fraction of the cost. If you split entrees at a table service restaurant, just be sure to tip your server appropriately! This method works great too at Quick Service locations where an adult meal can EASILY be split between two people. Some kids meals are also surprisingly big, so if you have a smaller appetite, consider those meals as well while dining.
Some snacks in Disney World are large enough to be considered meals in and of themselves — if your travel party is full of light eaters, consider this option rather than filling your day with pricey sit-down reservations. You know your travel party best and their level of appetite, so test out what works best for your family’s budget and stomachs!
Not being prepared for the unexpected
Even the savviest of Disney World planners will inevitably run into one or two snafus on vacation. The difference between a good vacation and a great one isn’t being able to avoid hiccups, but it’s how you react in those unexpected moments! Case in point: unexpected moments could wind up being a total waste of money if you aren’t prepared.
When it rains, Disney makes out like a bandit selling those overpriced ponchos! Rain in Florida is an almost daily occurrence in certain seasons, so if you know this ahead of time, you can stock up on ponchos for a fraction of the price by buying some on Amazon or at Walmart. Throw them in your backpack and you’ll be surprised at how much money you could save should you need them.
The same goes these days with face masks! Currently, Disney World is charging $9.99 per mask (you can spend a little less per mask by buying a bundle ahead of time on shopDisney!). By now, you probably have a decent-sized collection of reusable face masks you can pack in your suitcase so you won’t need to purchase more once you’re there. Or, stock up on cheaper disposable masks and use those instead.
Not preparing for your NEXT Disney World vacation
The further out you start preparing for your NEXT Disney World vacation, the more opportunities you’ll have to save! Disney World will sometimes entice you to book your next vacation before you’re even done with the one you’re currently on by offering bounceback offers. These offers usually come with hefty discounts, so if you know you’re coming back to Disney World, it might be something worth considering if one is presented to you.
Don’t get us wrong, last-minute Disney World vacations are super do-able! Just keep in mind that you may be more limited in whatever offers Disney has at the time. You can, however, take advantage of most of the other tips we mentioned above no matter when you book your reservation.
We hope this was helpful in introducing you to or reminding you of some valuable money-saving hacks on your next Disney World vacation! Wasting your hard-earned money is the LAST thing you should be doing on a Disney World vacation, which in and of itself costs a pretty penny! We’re not saying to follow ALL of these guidelines to perfection — there are MANY scenarios where spending extra money is totally justified. You are, after all, on vacation, and splurges are not just expected, but you deserve it! The more money you save, however, the more you can put towards your next Disney World vacation.