If there is one thing that the House of Mouse is good at, it is separating you from your money. There are countless ways to bust your budget on your next vacation. From disposable souvenirs like balloons, glow cubes and light up toys, to overpriced fruit (really? $2.29 for an apple?) to charging adult prices for 10 year olds.
Let me start with the wastes of money.
Memory Maker ($199.99)
PhotoPass photographers are strategically located all over the parks poised to take pictures of your group in front of classic Disney backdrops like Cinderella Castle or the Tree of Life. Sounds good, until you get to the $200 price tag. Sure, you can save $30 if you buy it ahead of time, but considering the photographers will take the same pictures with your own phone or camera, why pony up the extra money to get the picture? Some of the more iconic shots will often have lines. Who wants to wait in line just to get their picture taken?
Park Hopper ($60-80 per person)
Adding the Park Hopper option to your ticket package can get pricey quick; a family of 4 will add $320 to the bottom line for a 4+ day trip. Why is it a bad purchase? First of all, if you are relying on Disney transportation, it could take as much as an hour or more to get from one park to another. Second of all, with a little planning, it is an unnecessary expense. You will generally know 6 months in advance where your dining reservations will be. If you will be dining in the parks, make your fast passes for that park on those days at the 30-60 day mark. With the expanded offerings in Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom over the last few years, there is more than a day's worth of things to do at each of the parks, and no real reason to spend time getting from one park to another on the same day.
The Disney Dining Plan ($26-$119 per person, per day)
There are 4 levels of the Dining Plan:
All 3 plans come with the refillable mugs. Basically, you are prepaying for food that you may never eat. How many times have you been in a resort gift shop and see someone buying up all the candy they can to burn up the unused snack credits before they expire on the last day of their trip? It's a use-it or lose-it proposition, and Disney is betting more will be in the latter category. What happens if you have one of those days and just want to grab a snack and head back to the resort for dinner? Too bad, you've already paid for dinner at Chef Mickey's.
Appetizer spread at Story Book Dining at Artist Point
Now, for the things that will add value to your trip.
Memory Maker ($169.99 purchased in advance, included with Annual Passes)
How many family vacation photos do you have that are missing a person? You know, the one with the camera? Problem solved! Let the friendly PhotoPass photographers take the pictures for you! The pictures are available for review almost instantly in the My Disney Experience app. From there, you can share them with friends or to social media. But Memory Maker is more than just family photos in front of the castle, it also includes Magic Shots, a fun way to enhance your picture by having a little extra magic in your shot. It varies by location and time of day. Some photographers will also have fun props or frames. But wait, there's more! Ride photos and videos are included as well!
Ride photo from Pirates of the Caribbean
One great way to manage crowds is to hit the park with the early morning Extra Magic Hours to knock out the headliners, then hop over to the park that had Extra Magic Hours yesterday to have a more relaxing afternoon. What about when you can't get that prized reservation to have dinner with Cinderella in her castle, but you check that one night and a slot opened up on the day that you have a FastPass+ for Flight of Passage? No problem, spend the morning in Pandora, then hop over to Magic Kingdom for dinner and stay for the fireworks! The Park Hopper option gives you the freedom of not being locked into a single park. If the crowds are out of control at the park you first head to, no worries, hop on over to another. Using the My Disney Experience app, you can change your FP+ to another park and catch a bus, monorail, boat, or Skyliner to another park. For shorter trips, it will help you to hit all the must-do's in less days.
The Disney Dining Plan
If nothing else, the dining plan is peace of mind. You have already paid for your food. It is one less thing to worry about from a budget perspective, because it is already paid for. One of the fastest way to bust a vacation budget (especially at Disney) is with food. Cue the DDP. Need a Dole Whip? No problem. Scan your MagicBand, punch in your code and enjoy! Want to have a steak or prime rib for dinner every night? Don't worry about it, it's covered! It is a great way to try new restaurants that you haven't experienced before. At the end of your trip, if you have unused snack credits, use them at the resort gift shop for snacks for the plane, or gifts for friends or family back home.
As with everything, your mileage may vary. Every family has different priorities. What is a good value for me is something you wouldn't even consider spending your hard earned money on. What are some of things that you think are a waste of money? What about things that you think are great values?
- Quick Service Dining Plan (2 counter service meals and 2 snacks per day, for $26/$55 per person per day)
- The Regular Dining Plan (1 counter service and one table service and 2 snacks per day, $30.51/$78.01)
- The new Dining Plan Plus (2 meals [counter service or table service] and 2 snacks per day, $35/$94.60)
- The Deluxe Dining Plan (3 meals [counter service or table service] and 2 snacks per day, $47.50/$119).