If you’re wondering why your wallet is crying in the corner, it’s probably because Disney World just increased prices on all kinds of food, experiences, and souvenirs. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a wave of price increases hit the parks (far from it), but it drives home the idea that Disney vacations are expensive and only getting pricier.
Is all hope lost? Should you throw in the towel and cancel your upcoming vacation? Before you panic too much, don’t forget that there are also some great ways to save a lot of cash during a Disney World trip. We can help you plan to stay within your budget, whatever that budget may be. Check out the 5 biggest recent price increases here and see some awesome tips for how to cheat the system and AVOID them!
The tips we’ll share here aren’t illegal or wrong at all, but a lot of people don’t know about them, which is why it feels like you’re CHEATING in Disney World. Don’t feel guilty — you’re 100% allowed to save money wherever possible. We’ll start off the list with one of the biggest price increases that can feel impossible to beat, but don’t worry — it isn’t!
The Price Increase
Genie+ is the newer system by which guests who purchase it can skip the standby line at some Disney World rides. It used to cost $15 per person, per day, and you’ll use the My Disney Experience app to make Lightning Lane reservations throughout the day.
With the updates announced recently, Disney Genie+ still has a base cost of $15 per person, per day. However, the change is that now this system is subject to surge pricing (note that individual Lightning Lanes or pay-per-ride attractions have been subject to surge pricing for a while now). That means that, during peak times when Disney World is busier than usual, the price can go up. This is similar to how Disney World park tickets get more or less expensive depending on what time of year you’ll be visiting.
We’ve already seen this surge pricing in action — on October 12th, Genie+ cost $20 per person, per day in Disney World. Disney has indicated that (at least through the end of October) the price could go up to $22 per person, per day during the busiest times, with other dates falling somewhere in that $15 to $22 range. This could change later on, with prices increasing even more after October.
The most expensive times to buy Genie+ will likely be similar to the most expensive times to visit Disney World in general. The holiday season and summer months are usually the peak times to visit and thus the most expensive.
How to Beat It
If you’re set on purchasing Genie+ in Disney World, the best way to beat this price increase is to visit during less busy times of the year (this will also likely save you money on park tickets and hotel rooms, too). That way, you’re more likely to see the $15/day price instead of $22/day.
However, if you’re willing to consider NOT buying Genie+, you can use other tricks to get on Disney World rides with lower-than-average wait times. First of all, get to the parks well before opening time each day. We usually recommend being at the front gate at least 30 minutes before the scheduled opening time.
Then, you can head inside right when the parks open (which sometimes even happens a little while before the official opening time, depending on the day) and go straight to your favorite ride. Getting there with the first rush of guests will likely mean a lower wait time, even if there are quite a few people in front of you.
This trick is called Rope Drop, and it’s an age-old tactic that Disney fans use often. So don’t be surprised or discouraged if there are a lot of people there with you in the morning — you’re still going to see lower wait times early in the morning than later on in the afternoon.
Keep in mind that guests staying at Disney World hotels can enter each of the theme parks 30 minutes before the official opening time. That means you’ll want to be at the park entrance a full hour before opening time in order to get in ASAP. Not all the rides in every park are open during that extra 30 minutes in the morning — click here for a list of what’s open during Early Theme Park Entry. So don’t head straight for Splash Mountain if you’re using early entry — that one only opens when the park does!
If you’re NOT staying at a Disney World hotel and think you’re ready for rope drop level 2 (yes, it’s a thing, we just made it up), you should head to one of the rides that’s not open with Early Theme Park Entry. Most guests who can enter the park early will go to the open rides, which means the ones that open with the park will be less crowded.
For example, Jungle Cruise is not open for Early Entry, but Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is. If you’re coming in at the park opening time instead of 30 minutes early, Seven Dwarfs is going to be pretty crowded already. But Jungle Cruise (which was closed until park opening) won’t have quite so many people lined up yet! Head there for better odds of getting on a ride early in the day.
Finally, you can consider staying at a Disney World Deluxe hotel to take advantage of Extended Evening Hours or paying for an After Hours event. Both of these will allow you to stay in the parks after normal closing time, and ride wait times are usually much lower than normal during Extended Hours and After Hours events.
However, tickets for the After Hours events and the extra cost of Deluxe hotel stays will both be more expensive than just paying the increased cost for Genie+. So it depends on your budget and which one is more worth it to you.
The Price Increase
A few different add-on experiences got price increases as well. Building a lightsaber at Savi’s Workshop in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge increased from $219.99 per person to $249.99 per person (this covers the building experience, lightsaber, and carrying case).
And building a droid at the Droid Depot in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge increased from $99.99 to $119.99 (this covers the building experience and droid).
Finally, the Capture Your Moment photoshoots increased from $79 per 20-minute session to $99 per session. These photo shoots are private sessions with a Disney PhotoPass photographer where you and up to 8 guests can take all kinds of pictures to commemorate your trip.
If you want your session to last longer than 20 minutes, you can book multiple photo shoots back-to-back, each at $99.
How to Beat It
There are some places in Disney World where you can buy lightsabers for much cheaper than $250 (such as at Keystone Clothiers in Hollywood Studios), but those sabers don’t come with the experience of building your own. The same is true for droids — you can purchase pre-made droids for cheaper than $120, but you won’t get to build one.
Unfortunately, there’s not really a way out of those experience price increases if you want the experience of building your own Star Wars souvenir. You can, however, cut other areas of your budget to make room for those if you’d like.
If you don’t want to pay $100 for a 20-minute photo shoot, you can of course take your own pictures in Disney World! Many phone cameras now have pretty high quality, so switch off with your family and friends or ask a nearby Cast Member if they could snap a photo for you.
You can also purchase Memory Maker in Disney World, which allows you to download any and all of your PhotoPass pictures from your trip. So you can just go up to any Disney PhotoPass photographer who’s set up in the parks, they’ll take some gorgeous pictures (maybe even with special Magic Shots), and then you can download those images from your My Disney Experience app.
If you don’t have Memory Maker, you’ll have to pay for each PhotoPass picture download. But if you do buy it (for $69 a day), you get unlimited downloads. Pro tip: have just 1 person in your group purchase Memory Maker and download and share all the photos you want. This also includes on-ride pictures.
Having a full day of photos for $69 rather than a 20-minute photo shoot for $99 could get you even more pictures at a better value. Just make sure you take advantage of this extra by finding several photographers throughout the park!
Water, Soda, and Classic Snacks
The Price Increase
A few theme park staples got price increases recently, including bottled water, bottled soda, and some iconic snacks. Dasani water used to cost $3.50 for a bottle, but now most places have it listed for $3.75. And SmartWater increased from $5.50 to $5.75 at many locations as well.
Bottled sodas (like Coca-Cola and Sprite) increased from $3.99 to $4.29 at many locations in the parks. At several restaurants, fountain drinks also increased from $3.99 to $4.29.
At some snack stands and restaurants, iconic snacks also went up in price. Mickey Pretzels went from $7.19 to $7.49 at some places, soft-serve ice cream went from $5.75 to $6…
…Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bars went from $5.99 to $6.29, and Nestlé® Mickey’s Premium Ice Cream Sandwiches went from $5.99 to $6.29.
How to Beat It
The easiest price increase to beat here is the one on bottled water. You don’t need to buy water in the parks! You can bring your own reusable water bottle and fill it up at water fountains around the parks. Or you can ask for a free cup of water at any quick service restaurant.
If you want some soda during your trip, you can bring your own into the parks as well. This also applies to snacks — you’re welcome to bring any food or drinks (excluding alcohol) into Disney World parks.
You may not want to pack your soda and snacks in a suitcase, but don’t worry — you don’t have to! There are a few different grocery delivery services that serve Disney World hotels.
Keep in mind that there are some snacks that you won’t want to have sitting in your Disney parks bag all day — anything melty or crumbly (like chocolate or Nature Valley bars) could make a mess, and string cheese turns kind of gross if it’s sitting in the heat for a while. But snacks like Goldfish crackers, Uncrustable sandwiches, and trail mix will keep well and save you lots of money.
The Price Increase
Recently, we’ve seen some character meals increase in price pretty drastically, but those increases were due to the return of characters (where previously the characters had been missing). Several character dining spots just got a bit more expensive as part of this latest wave of price increases.
Dinner at Tusker House in Disney’s Animal Kingdom went from $55 per adult and $36 per child to $59 per adult and $38 per child.
The lunch and dinner buffet at Hollywood & Vine in Disney’s Hollywood Studios increased from $55 per adult to $59 (the kids’ menu stayed the same, at $38).
Storybook Dining with Snow White at Artist Point got a price increase as well. This Wilderness Lodge character meal features Show White, Dopey, Grumpy, and the Evil Queen, and previously the price was $60 per adult and $39 per child for dinner. Now, you’ll be paying $65 per adult instead. Luckily, the children’s price remains the same for now, at $39.
And Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort increased in price for the breakfast and dinner menus. Breakfast was previously $42 per adult and $27 per child, and now it costs $45 per adult and $29 per child.
For dinner, the old price was $55 per adult and $36 per child, and that increased to $60 per adult and $38 per child.
How to Beat It
If you’re set on character dining, the cheapest option currently is Garden Grill in EPCOT, which costs $55 per adult and $36 per child (serving lunch or dinner). We really like the food at this spot too, which is a bonus! However, that’s not much cheaper than the other character meals in Disney World.
To really save some money, you can meet the characters elsewhere in the parks and then eat at non-character dining locations instead. You can find Mickey and Minnie at the Town Square Theater in Magic Kingdom and at Red Carpet Dreams in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The Disney princesses can be found at Princess Fairytale Hall in Magic Kingdom and sometimes up on the Main Street train station balcony in this park as well.
Compared with character dining, non-character restaurants are generally much cheaper (until you get into the signature dining range). For example, a table service meal at Yak and Yeti Restaurant in Animal Kingdom will be between $15 and $35 for an entrée, compared with the $59 meal at Tusker House in the same park (and we prefer the food at Yak & Yeti).
Other Meals and Snacks
The Price Increase
We can’t fit all of the price increases at various snack stands, counter service restaurants, and table service restaurants into this post. There were literally HUNDREDS of price increases, including on some of our favorite items like Cheeseburger Pods from Satu’li Canteen and the chicken waffle sandwich at Sleepy Hollow Refreshments.
Here are a few examples:
- Sleepy Hollow, Magic Kingdom (Counter Service)
- Sweet-and-Spicy Chicken-Waffle Sandwich and Broccoli Slaw with a Honey-Sriracha Glaze served with House-made Chips — Previously $11.29; Increased to $11.59
- Sunshine Tree Terrace, Magic Kingdom (Snack Kiosk)
- DOLE Whip® Orange Cup — Previously $4.99; Increased to $5.29
- DOLE Whip® Strawberry Cup — Previously $4.99, Increased to $5.29
- Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort (Lounge/Bar)
- Polynesian Pearl (RumChata Cream Liqueur, Grand Marnier, and Cinnamon with Tropical Juices. The Pearl is yours to keep!) — Previously $21.00; Increased to $22
- Uh-Oa (Plantation Original Dark Rum, Bacardi Superior Rum, Orange, Passion Fruit, Guava, Pineapple, and Grapefruit Juices, Falernum, Cinnamon, and fresh Lime Juice. Recommended for Two or more Guests) — Previously $25, Increased to $26
- Woody’s Lunch Box, Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Counter Service)
- Chocolate-Hazelnut Lunch Box Tart — Previously $4.29; Increased to $4.49
- The same increase was made for the Lemon-Blueberry Lunch Box Tart and Raspberry Lunch Box Tart
- Le Cellier Steakhouse, EPCOT (Table Service)
- Lunch –Rib-Eye Steak (USDA Prime* with Lemon-scented Fingerling Potatoes with Caramelized Onions and Roasted Shallot-Whiskey Butter) — Previously $57.00; Increased to $59.00
- Lunch — USDA Prime New York Strip Steak* (with Canadian Cheddar Potato Au Gratin, Au Poivre Sauce, Crispy Onions) — Previously $52.00; Increased to $54.00
Most of these price increases were less than $1 per item, but there were some $2 to $5 increases, especially at table service restaurants. If you can think of a Disney World restaurant, odds are good that the menu items there are just a bit more expensive now than they were before.
How to Beat It
If you want to save even more, consider eating at counter service restaurants instead of table service ones. The fast food-type restaurants have cheaper options that still provide lots of tasty choices and filling meals. You’ll save quite a bit of money this way, as most counter service meals cost under $20, compared to most table service meals that are over $35.
You won’t get the fancy meals at the counter service spots, but we have some favorites that serve awesome food. Check out Casey’s Corner (Magic Kingdom), Flame Tree Barbecue (Animal Kingdom), Woody’s Lunch Box (Hollywood Studios), and Yorkshire County Fish Shop (EPCOT) for some of our top choices.
If you’re heading to Disney World soon and are looking for ways to save money in the parks, check out these posts for tips and tricks:
- 5 Ways to Save $1,000 on Your Disney Trip (Really!)
- Our NEW Tips for Saving BIG in Disney World!
- How You Should Spend Your Money in Disney Springs
- The Best Disney World Souvenirs for Every Budget
- Plan Your Next Disney Vacation With the Latest Deals and Discounts
Our BEST tip for sticking with your budget at Disney World will forever be to plan ahead – especially for dining! When you buy our DFB Guide to Dining at Walt Disney World, you’ll get immediate access to our downloadable worksheets for planning your trip, as well as sample one-day dining itineraries. And as a DFB reader, you’re entitled to a discount — use code WDW2022 for 25% off your purchase.
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What are your best money-saving tips for Disney World? Let us know in the comments.