Don’t waste your money in Disney World!
It’s no secret that a trip to Disney World can be expensive. That’s why we’re constantly on the lookout for deals and discounts to help you save your Disney dollars. But even if you think you’re doing everything “right,” there are still some small mistakes that can cost you BIG in Disney World!
Let’s take a look at some common missteps that can balloon your Disney World budget!
Not Checking for a Discount
That’s right, you might make your first expensive mistake before your vacation even starts! Disney won’t automatically apply discounts for guests booking hotel rooms, theme park tickets, or vacation packages, even if there is one available.
Disney often offers discounts on hotel rooms and/or park tickets, especially for guests traveling outside of “peak season.” Don’t leave those savings on the table! Be sure to check the special offers page of the Disney World website to see whether any discounts can be applied to your trip. We keep an updated list of ALL the current offers from Disney right here!
In fact, sometimes there will be multiple offers that could apply to your stay. Since you can only select one, you may need to compare a few deals to see which one will save you the most. Be aware though, some discounts may only apply to certain rooms, specific resorts, or certain travel dates. Some discounts are limited to a select number of rooms at a given hotel as well.
So, you’ve booked your next Disney vacation and now you’ve discovered a new deal that saves your family money — WHAT DO YOU DO? Not to worry! Just call Disney directly at (407) 939-4357, when you’re connected with a reservations agent Cast Member you’ll need to provide information verifying your existing reservation. Then, specifically, inform the Cast Member of the discount you’ve discovered and request it be applied to your existing reservation. The Cast Member will verify that your reservation meets the promotional requirements, including specific date ranges, resort category, room categories, any affiliate specifications (Military, Annual Passholder, Florida Resident, etc), and review those with you.
Be aware, sometimes discounts require slight modifications to existing reservations or you may have to update your room preferences as sometimes discounts are not available for rooms with preferred views. But if you’re willing to shift your plans a bit, you could save a healthy chunk of change!
Sometimes, when booking a vacation, Cast Members won’t always disclose if there are any discounts available. IT NEVER HURTS TO ASK. If you’re on the phone, booking a resort stay, specifically ask the Cast Member assisting you if there are any discounts or promotions for the dates of your trip that can be applied.
Feeling overwhelmed by the planning process? You could also opt to work with a travel agent to help you navigate the potentially confusing world of Disney discounts. If you’re looking for a travel agent, we highly recommend Small World Vacations. Their agents can help you plan your trip free of charge!
Missing a Dining Reservation
If you’re planning to book any Advance Dining Reservations, this tip’s for you! For most Disney World table service restaurants, guests have until 24-hours before their reservation to cancel free of charge.
For most restaurants around Disney World, guests are free and clear to cancel their reservations up to the 24-hour window. There are a few experiences, like Cinderella’s Royal Table, that do require payment in advance. Advance payment is required at this signature dining location, however, if you cancel at least 24 hours in advance you will receive a full refund. You can cancel your reservation online or by calling (407) 939-3463. It may take from 3 to 5 business days or even longer to process your refund. Please note, however, that if you book a Signature Celebration Package when available, you would be required to cancel 48 hours before your reservation.
And yes, you should take that cancellation policy seriously! Guests that no-show for their dining reservations will be charged a fee of $10 per guest. Those charges can add up quickly, especially if you’re traveling with a large party, so be sure to plan around your dining reservations.
If you run into an unexpected circumstance that causes you to miss your reservation (for example, getting stuck on an attraction that breaks down), speak to a Cast Member to see if they’re able to help! If you are running late, the Cast Members at the restaurant will try to work with you and, in our experience, usually honor reservations within a 10-15 minute window. However, these tables are on a schedule and there’s no guarantee that a Cast Member can squeeze you in if you arrive late. Try to plan accordingly and give yourself extra time if you’re using Disney Transportation. Plan to arrive at your restaurant at least 15-30 minutes EARLY if you have a specific table request (i.e. fireworks view, outside, etc) or be prepared to wait to fill your request.
Opting for Unnecessary Add-Ons
There are plenty of ways to “upgrade” your Disney World vacation with options like park hopper tickets, preferred rooms, and more. It can be tempting to splurge on pricy options when trying to plan your dream Disney World vacation. But keep in mind that more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better for your traveling party. Before you commit to an add-on, consider whether it will actually add value for you and your family.
With the recent announcement of the reopening of the Club Level hotel rooms, that temptation is stronger than ever. The Club lounges offer concierge services, complimentary food and beverages throughout the day, and a special exclusive lounge for club guests to enjoy. However, if you and your family will be in the parks for most of your trip, it might not be worth the splurge on amenities that you won’t have time to enjoy. Staying in a Club Level room can add on several hundred dollars each night of your stay, so do your research to see if this option is right for your trip.
If you’re traveling with small children who can only handle a few hours in the park each day, park hopper tickets might not make sense for you. Be sure to consider how you actually plan to spend your time in Disney World and spend your money accordingly!
Those After Hours events are fun and offer some exclusive entertainment, but they’re not for every family and not for every budget. The current price for the Halloween-themed Boo Bash After Hours Event ranges from $129-$199 per ticket (for adult or child!) and we anticipate that the new Disney Very Merriest After Hours will follow suit. That can add up for any family and only you can decide if one evening of fun is worth that price tag, or if those funds could be applied to another vacation expense.
Nothing can market the dollar out of our pockets quite like our kiddos all dolled up as their favorite hero or heroine. Princess makeovers traditionally available through Disney’s Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique can set budgets back anywhere up to $450 and your young one can come out styled as a heroic knight, a pop star, or a fairytale princess. Before you book, make sure you review the different price points and consider some cost-saving alternatives (like bringing your own princess dress instead of purchasing one there) or you can look into booking a spot at the Harmony Barber Shop to save a few dollars but still receive a special stylistic experience. The stylists at Harmony Barber Shop can provide a haircut, (or even a beard or mustache trim, if dad wants in on the action!) for around $20. For an eye-catching Disney-do, a colorful not-so-hidden Mickey can be applied to your hair with gel and glitter (that’s pixie dust!) for an additional charge.
Both Harmony Barber Shop and all three Bibbid Bobbidi Boutiques are still closed since they both provide an experience that brings guests and Cast Members into close, prolonged contact with one another, so Disney is more than likely erring on the side of caution when it comes to reopening these options. This gives you that a bit more time to research the options to see how and if this special experience fits into your vacation budget.
Ordering Too Much Food
Portion sizes for a lot of the meals around Disney World can be surprisingly large. With that in mind, most families probably don’t need to plan three table service meals a day.
As we previously mentioned, dining reservations need to be canceled at least 24-hours in advance to avoid fees. So, if you don’t realize that you over-committed until right before your reservation, you may find yourself eating an unwanted meal, or paying a price to cancel. You can always choose to split a meal with others in your party. This can save your waistline and your wallet! We encourage you to reflect on what your family needs. Remember that time is money and each table service meal can take about an hour and a half (or more!) out of your park day. You’ll want to make sure you plan out how much time you want in the parks and how much time you want to budget for sit down for a meal, so you’re not spending your park-time waiting for your check to arrive!
Another money-saving tip is that adults can order off of the kids menus at quick service restaurants. The kids menu usually offers reasonable portions for a light meal at a lower price. If you don’t want to be relegated to chicken nuggets or mac and cheese, you can also split an adult entree with someone in your party. Traditionally, Disney portions are on the larger side, and splitting one can save you money and not over-burden your belly!
If you have a big meal planned, or you’re just not feeling super hungry, you can order smaller (and less expensive!) items from the kids’ menu for your other meals that day to save money and avoid wasting food. If you visit during an EPCOT festival, you can usually make a meal out of two or three of the small plate options at the food booths. Throughout the year, some hefty snacks could be substituted for a meal, like the funnel cakes, Mickey-shaped pretzels, caramel apples, and some of the mac and cheese side dishes around the parks and resorts!
Forgetting to Pack Essentials
You can find basic essentials like pain medication, bandages, sunscreen, ponchos, and more at locations around Disney World. But, they’ll cost you way more than buying them at home.
Double-check your packing list before you leave to make sure you have all of the “essentials” with you.
Again, there are ways to get these items in Disney World in case of an emergency, so you don’t need to pack literally the entire medicine cabinet. But if it falls into the category of something you’ll definitely or probably need during your trip, bring it with you to avoid paying a serious mark-up. Each park has a First-Aid Center equipped with medical staff to help you with a bandaid, single-servings of over-the-counter medication (think antacid or Tylenol), and much more, should you need help.
If you need something more than just a single-serving basic medical solution, most resorts and parks sell common over-the-counter medications for pain relief, upset stomach, and cold and flu. For a wider variety for larger quantities, you can take a rideshare service to a nearby pharmacy or have the medicine brought directly to you.
If you find yourself in Orlando and realize that you forgot to pack your pills, you didn’t pack enough, you lose them, or anything else, AdventHealth’s Experience Center may be able to help. You can give them a call 7 days a week and see what arrangements can be made to get your needed prescriptions delivered straight to your pharmacy of choice or straight to your Disney World hotel. Another option is Turner Drugs, a local pharmacy near Disney World that specializes in delivering prescriptions to travelers. They will deliver any prescriptions to your resort for a fee (it cost us around $9, but it might be worth it to not have to disrupt your vacation too much). Just note they won’t file prescriptions with your insurance — you’ll have to once home — meaning it’ll cost a good deal more up front if you fill a prescription with them.
Again, we encourage you to think ahead and bring some everyday essentials (pain relief, antacids, allergy medicine, bandaids, any prescriptions, contact solution, etc) with you from home to save yourself some money, time, and stress! But if you find yourself needing something that’s not in your stash, you do have options.
Buying Bottled Water
Speaking of mark-ups, bottled water is super expensive in Disney World. And since it’s often hot and humid in Disney World, the cost of water can really add up if you’re constantly buying new bottles to stay hydrated.
But don’t worry, there are a few cost-effective solutions to stay hydrated on your trip. Your first option is to bring a refillable water bottle with you to the parks.
In addition to regular water fountains, several water bottle refill stations around Disney World make it even easier to replenish your bottle.
If you forget your water bottle in the room, there’s another way to snag free water. Guests can get free cups of ice water at any quick service location in Disney World.
We know from experience that you may end up needing to buy bottled water once or twice when you’re in a pinch during your vacation. But opting for these free water solutions whenever possible can help shave some serious spending over the course of your trip! We also recommending ordering ice water with meals instead of tea or soda, this will shave that extra cost off of your final dinner bill, keep you hydrated, and will add up over time!
Wasting Your Disney Dining Plan Credits
Currently, Disney dining plans are still not being offered in Disney World. But this can be a MAJOR money-waster, so we have to make sure you’re prepared in case dining plans have returned by the time you take your next trip! Disney recently announced plans to bring back this popular amenity, we’re still waiting for them to announce exactly WHEN this option will return, but we’re excited to hear that it will be back!
The Disney Dining Plan has options for any budget and any dining taste. Plans are pre-purchased and added onto a Disney Vacation Package (i.e. you must be staying on a Vacation Package at a Disney owned-and-operated hotel, and have purchased at least one ticket per person), so that all you have to do when you get to Disney World is head to a restaurant on the list, eat, and scan your card or MagicBand.
The points for the meal will be deducted from your pre-paid card, and you don’t pay while you’re at the restaurant. (Note: Gratuity is not included on table-service meals.)
Many guests love the convenience that the dining plan offers. But it’s important to make sure you’re using your credits wisely, or else the dining plan may end up costing more than the value of the food you order. In 2018, Disney updated the Dining Plan to include alcoholic beverages for the over-21s to utilize on their plan. This provided some great value as a $15 cocktail or glass of wine included with dinner provides a much larger value than a $4 soda or lemonade. However, if you’re not a big drinker, or prefer water to hydrate, this is another way the Disney Dining Plan may not pack quite the bang for your buck for you.
If you’re considering a dining plan that includes table service meals, you’ll get the most value out of it if you order the most expensive items on the menu at these locations. Since you’ll cash in one or two “credits” (depending on the restaurant) regardless of what you order, you’re more likely to cover the cost of the dining plan if you order items like steak or lobster when available.
On the other hand, if you tend to opt for less expensive meals like chicken or veggie-based dishes, it can be hard to recoup the price you pay for the dining plan.
There can also be a huge price disparity in the snack credit options. Using a snack credit to get an inexpensive item like a side of cheese sauce is an easy way to lose money on the dining plan. Also, be sure not to use snack credits on bottles of water — remember you can get ice water for FREE at counter service locations. We’ve done the research and compiled a list of the best values for snack credits on the DDP to take the guesswork out of it for you!
Instead, try to use your snack credits on items that fall in the $8-$10 range to get the most value out of your dining plan. Many of the items at EPCOT festival food booths often count as snack credits, and these tend to be great options for those looking to get the most bang for their buck.
Another important part of not wasting your dining plan credits means making sure you have no credits left behind. There are no refunds, rebates, or rainchecks for those unused credits, so don’t leave them on the table!
While you don’t want to leave ANY kind of credit behind, the snack credits tend to be the biggest offender in our experience. Again, the EPCOT festival booths are a snack credit goldmine, and skipping lunch and/or dinner to snack around the festival can help you cash in on those credits.
Lots of prepackaged treats around the parks also count as snack credits, so if you really get down to the wire and need to spend your credits before you leave, you can stock up on some goodies to take home. Anything is better than leaving those credits unspent!
The Disney dining plan can be a good option for guests that enjoy the convenience of prepaying for their meals. But if you’re not careful to spend (ALL) your credits wisely, you could end up losing some serious money on the dining plan!
A Disney World vacation can be an expensive experience even for the most meticulous planners. And if you’re not careful, these little mistakes quickly add up to cost you even MORE money. Avoid these pitfalls on your vacation so you can stretch those Disney dollars further!
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What little Disney World mistakes have cost you money in the past? Let us know in the comments!