Thinking of hopping on a plane to Disney World for your next family vacation? Your kids might thank you — but your wallet definitely won’t. From overspending on subpar food to shelling out for overpriced souvenirs, there are plenty of obvious ways your wallet can take a hit at the happiest place on Earth. But you might also find yourself spending more than you expected if you buy unnecessary ticket options, travel during the wrong time of the year, or make the wrong choice of hotel.
Read on for some of the worst ways Disney visitors — both rookies and seasoned travelers alike — end up wasting their money at Disney World.
1. The Park Hopper Pass
If you go to Disney frequently and know what you want to see at each park, it can pay off to buy the Park Hopper Pass. But if not, you might want to save your money. As Undercover Tourist explains, Disney World’s base ticket option, called Magic Your Way, enables you to visit one of the four main parks — Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or Animal Kingdom — for each day of your visit.
A Park Hopper ticket, on the other hand, lets you visit multiple parks in the same day. But the Park Hopper Pass is a waste of money for Disney newbies or travelers with small children, who will usually find it overwhelming to get to more than one park in a day.
2. Disney Dining Plan
U.S. News reports the Disney Dining Plan is only worth splurging on if you plan to eat premium dishes at every meal. “While signature deluxe restaurants can cost up to $55 per person, table service restaurants charge around $35 per person and counter-service restaurants offer more cost-effective pricing.” Plus, you’ll pay adult prices for children ages 10 and older (even if all they want is chicken nuggets or mac and cheese). And if you’re a vegetarian, you’ll definitely end up overpaying with a dining plan.
Want to save money? Then skip the dining plan, and go for meals at the more budget-friendly of the park’s dining choices. Plus, go for counter service instead of table service.
3. Expensive pins
Pin trading is a beloved tradition at Disney World. But if you want to take part, don’t buy expensive pins to do it. Look for an inexpensive trading set, or buy them online before your trip, instead of trading pins that you paid $10 or $20 to purchase. It doesn’t make economical sense to trade away an expensive pin. If you find one you love, keep it as a souvenir instead.
4. Light-up toys
If you’re at the park at night to see a parade or fireworks, there will be plenty of opportunities to buy light-up toys. Don’t waste your money on them. They often aren’t made to last and might end up in the trash can at the end of the night (or at the end of your trip). Instead, pick up some glow sticks before your trip. You’ll only spend a few dollars, and you won’t feel bad about throwing them in the trash once they stop glowing.
5. The Disney memorabilia
We hate to say it, but those Disney souvenirs everyone loves buying at the park are usually a pretty big waste of money. Before you buy anything, you should think about how much you want to spend on Disney-branded merchandise — and make sure you set limits with your children. Think carefully about what you buy and whether you’re going to use it. A hat you’ll only wear at the park, for instance, will always be a worse buy than a more versatile baseball cap you’ll actually wear at home.
6. Rain gear
If you get stuck in the rain at Disney World, you can easily buy rain ponchos or umbrellas — but they’ll cost you. A disposable poncho, for instance, can cost as much as $10 to $15 at the park. And that’s to say nothing of the cost of an umbrella. But if you plan ahead, you can buy cheap ponchos at the dollar store and inexpensive umbrellas at Walmart. Or you can pack the rain jacket you wear at home to avoid spending money on gear you’ll likely throw in the trash at the end of the trip.
7. Disney resorts
Staying at a Disney resort is often the right choice for people who want to experience the “magic” of a Disney vacation full time on their trip. (Or it’s for those who want to take advantage of free transportation to and from the parks.) But as U.S. News notes, you can easily save a lot of money by staying somewhere not on Disney property. That’s especially true if you’re traveling in a large group. Consider renting a vacation home and sharing the costs of groceries and a rental.
8. Top-of-the-line rooms
If you do opt to stay at a Disney resort, don’t think you need to have the best of the best to enjoy your vacation. A fancy, expensive room or suite sounds enticing. But you most likely won’t be spending that much time at the resort anyway. And if you do spend time at the resort, it’ll likely be at the pool, not in your room.
Save at least some of that money by opting for a more basic room instead. That way, you’ll have more money to spend on rides, dining, and the other things you and your family would like to do at the park.
If you plan carefully, you won’t have to spend your money on parking at Disney World — or even worry about parking your car at the park at all. Disney resorts offer free transportation to and from the parks for their guests. And even many resorts that aren’t owned by Disney offer shuttles, as well.
You might worry about having to plan your day around a shuttle schedule. But remember that resorts — and Disney World — are crowded places, and shuttles are usually frequent to accommodate a large volume of visitors.
10. Peak-season accommodations
U.S. News advises if you can, you should visit Disney World during the off-season. (That would be late August, September, or January.) The publication advises, “While theme park tickets are more of a challenge to find at a reduced rate, accommodations will be more affordable during these times.”
Traveling during the off-season will not only save you money on Disney hotels and resorts, but it will also increase your chances of encountering smaller crowds and having more choices of dinner reservations.
11. Trips during major holidays
It sounds tempting to spend a major holiday at Disney World. But you might end up disappointed if you fall for the hype. Holidays bring major crowds to Disney. So you’ll have longer lines to contend with — even if you thought the park wouldn’t really be that busy on your holiday of choice. Plus, you might end up spending more on airfare or ground transportation. That means the whole trip could be more expensive than if you’d chosen a less popular time to travel.
12. Sleeping in
Wherever you stay, don’t be tempted to sleep in. That’s actually a big waste of money — even if you think you’re getting the most out of your hotel room. Guests at Disney resorts — and some non-Disney hotels — can access the parks during extended Extra Magic Hours. That means you can enter the park an hour earlier than the normal opening time.
And that’s the perfect time to enjoy popular attractions and busy rides without the crowds or waits you’ll encounter later in the day. Even if you don’t arrive in time for the Extra Magic Hours, make a point of getting an early start. You can always take a mid-day break to nap or relax by the pool.
13. Breakfast at the park
Even if you don’t mind paying a little extra to try some of the many dining options at the park, you shouldn’t eat breakfast at Disney World. Instead, plan to eat breakfast in your hotel room or at your vacation rental each day before you head to the park.
With a quick stop at a grocery store, you can buy everything you need for breakfast. (Cereal, fruit, energy bars, and yogurt are all easy options.) You can store your milk, yogurt, or fruit in a mini fridge. And by not wasting money buying breakfast at Disney World, you’ll save some cash to spend on other things.
14. Professional photos
The many opportunities to have a professional photo taken at Disney World might sound tempting. But they probably aren’t worth the price. Instead, you should just plan to take your own photos. You can even ask a staff member to snap a group photo of your family.
Then, when you get home, you can get your own prints made. They’ll cost a whole lot less than what you’d pay at Disney. And they won’t be battered by a day of walking around the park or from stuffing them in your carry-on for the trip home.
15. Bottled water
Anyone who’s been to Florida in the middle of the summer can attest to the importance of staying hydrated. But you’ll want to plan ahead, so you don’t end up wasting your money on pricey bottled water at Disney World. You can stock up on bottled water at the grocery store. Or you can use a filtering water bottle that you refill throughout the day. You can even carry a hydration backpack. Or just duck into a Disney restaurant, where you can get a cup of ice water for free.
16. Disney apparel and costumes
Even kids who don’t normally wear Disney costumes or T-shirts might want in on the action when they get to Disney. But you’ll end up spending a lot more money than necessary if you buy those items at the park. Instead, you should buy Disney apparel and costumes before you get to Florida, and pack them in your luggage. You’ll be able to find much better prices, especially if you shop online. And you probably won’t have to struggle to find what you want in a crowded store.
17. Reservations you aren’t 100% sure about
You can make reservations for restaurants or book FastPasses to get to the front of the line at popular attractions 180 days before you arrive. But in the case of restaurant reservations, don’t commit unless you’re 100% sure. You’ll need the reservation to get in at the most popular restaurants. But you’ll end up getting charged for a reservation you miss (or even one you cancel after the cancellation period).
You’ll want to make reservations. Just make sure you get a consensus from your family or group before committing everybody to a specific meal.
18. The food
If you’re serious about saving money at Disney World, U.S. News recommends skipping the food at the park. A controversial opinion — but a strategy that can save you a bundle of cash. The food, even at pricier restaurants, often tastes “on par with hospital cafeteria food” but carries an eye-popping price tag.
Instead of eating at the restaurants at the park, you have a few options. You can buy premade food at a grocery store nearby. If you have a kitchen at your hotel or Airbnb, you can prepare your own meals. Or you can pack snacks to eat at the park, and eat a meal once you’ve left the park.