10 Common and Costly Mistakes Travelers Make at Disney
Leverage these little-known tricks and cost-savers to ace your Disney vacation.
Discover expensive missteps that visitors make – and how to avoid them.
If you're a fan of meet-and-greets with beloved characters from your childhood, themed amusement park rides and dazzling fireworks displays, chances are a Disney World or Disneyland vacation is high on your priority list. But before you don a set of mouse ears and embrace a little nostalgia and Disney's small-world charms, brush up on the common pitfalls first-timers and die-hard aficionados encounter, from overspending on ticket attractions to unnecessary wait times in insanely long lines. Stay prepared before your next vacation with these insider tips from Disney experts.
Overpaying for tickets.
While it's tempting to invest in multiday Magic Your Way passes, which afford entry for one to 10 days to Disney World's parks, it's an easy way to shell out money for tickets you don't need, says Jason Cochran, editor in chief of Frommer's.com and author of "Frommer's EasyGuide to Disney World, Universal and Orlando." For example, say you want to visit Universal Orlando for a day, a Disney park ticket will go to waste. Another snag: Tickets grant entry into only one park per day, so if you're interested in visiting multiple parks, splurge for the Park Hopper (a three-day Park Hopper option costs $349), which offers same-day entry to all four theme parks, Cochran says.
Navigating Disney World by bus.
"I'm a big fan of renting cars," Cochran says. In Orlando, you'll find reasonable car rental rates, hovering at around $25 or $30 per day, he explains. While you'll pay a steep cost to park in lots at Disney parks with daily pricing at Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom starting at $20, parking is free at Disney-managed hotels, he adds. Plus, if you stay at a nearby property, you can easily reach Disney attractions on foot. For example, Disney's Contemporary Resort is about a 10-minute walk from Magic Kingdom Park. And though the Disney bus system offers free transit between the parks and the hotels, "every minute you wait for is a minute you paid for," he explains, noting that you could be waiting a long time to hop on a jam-packed and uncomfortable bus. And if you want to take advantage of cost-effective dining options outside of Disney, you'll need your own set of wheels, he adds.
Overspending at a Disney-run hotel.
Choosing accommodations depends on a variety of factors, explains Karen Cicero, a contributing nutrition and travel editor for Parents Magazine. "If you have a child who has to nap in the middle of the afternoon, then staying on a Disney property is a good bet," she says. However, if you're already planning on renting a car to explore other Orlando attractions, you can slash costs by staying at an unaffiliated property. Compare moderately priced Disney-managed options such as the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and the Polynesian Village Resort, which offer added perks like free transportation, a pool area and Extra Magic Hours, which grant access to certain parks in the morning or evening, before the crowds arrive.
Forgetting to pack snacks and other convenience items.
If you're on a tight budget, consider preparing meals in your own room to save money and unnecessary stress, Cicero explains. Most Disney-managed resorts feature in-room fridges, so you can order items through services like Garden Grocer ahead of your trip to stock up on staples such as yogurt and fruit to enjoy en suite breakfasts, trim costs and conserve energy, she explains. Also consider packing nonperishable snacks and water bottles to enjoy throughout the parks, says Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo.com. What's more, you can walk up to any counter service or snack station serving soda and ask for a cup of free ice water to stay hydrated. And remember most days, especially at Disneyland, "will be sunny, and some days will be downright intense," he says, adding, "Bring sunscreen – it'll be more expensive on-site."
Picking the wrong time to visit.
"The busiest times in any of the Disney parks are when schools are out of session," Cochran says. To beat the crowds, visit at off-peak times such as late August, early September or January after the holidays, he says. Plus, during popular visiting periods, Disney resorts will be at a higher premium. For the best bang for your buck at Disneyland in the high season, stay at a nearby affiliated hotel. The park is a fraction of the size of Walt Disney World, and it's easily walkable, Cicero explains. Saglie also suggests planning a trip during shoulder seasons. "There's often a great lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas that can make visiting Walt Disney World or Disneyland Resort less expensive and smoother," he says.
Forgetting to reserve FastPass in advance.
If you're staying at a Walt Disney World-managed hotel, you can book your free FastPass+ (your ticket to the front of attraction lines) 60 days ahead of your reservation, Cochran explains. And if you're not staying at an affiliated property, you can book your allotted three FastPasses 30 days in advance, he says. Use the My Disney Experience app to reserve your tickets ahead of time. Cochran advises grouping the FastPasses earlier in the day, because after you use three, you'll be allotted more. While you won't save yourself money, if you loathe long lines, maximizing FastPasses will boost your overall happiness, he says.
Overpaying for dinner reservations.
If your top priority is conserving costs, utilize the quick-service food counters within the parks rather than splurging for sit-down meals with table service, which can add up quickly with expensive entree prices, along with gratuities, Cochran says. And if you're traveling with youngsters pining to interact with their favorite Disney characters, make sure to reserve Character Meal experiences well in advance. For example, Cinderella's Royal Table at Magic Kingdom offers reservations up to 180 days in advance and meal prices start at $35 per adult. To maximize savings, skip breakfast; prepare a light meal in your hotel room and budget for a pricier dining experience later in the day, Cicero says. And if you plan to go to Disney dining spots exclusively, invest in a Dining Plan, which affords plenty of restaurant choices, enables you to make reservations in advance and can help you trim meal costs.
Wasting your dining credits.
With hundreds of restaurants to choose from, Walt Disney World offers a wide range of options, from quick-service meals to character meals to table service venues. If you opt for a Disney Dining Plan, make sure to compare your options. The standard dining plan offers one quick-service meal, two snacks and one table-service dining experience each day. Meanwhile, the Quick-Service Plan is cost-effective and offers two snacks and two quick-service meals a day, but there are some caveats: Options are limited and you can't stack credits or enjoy special dining events, like character meals. To leverage value with the standard plan, keep track of your credits to avoid overspending and balance upscale character experiences with low-cost quick-service meals.
Spending too much time in line.
"Time is precious in the park," Cicero says. Instead of wasting time in lengthy attraction lines with cranky, squabbling youngsters, set realistic expectations and map out a prioritized agenda that's well-suited for everyone's needs and includes free entertainment, such as fireworks shows and parades. And avoid long queues for top attractions by utilizing FastPasses strategically to hit popular and new rides earlier in the day, Cochran says. Before you step foot in the park, make sure to look at a map and plot out which attractions you want to hit rather than crisscrossing the park and wasting time. Another way to sidestep wait times: Stay at an affiliated Disney property to enjoy money- and time-saving perks such as Extra Magic Hours.
Buying Disney costumes at on-site gift shops.
Instead of buying your son or daughter a costume, purchase a souvenir before you arrive, Cicero says. The on-site salons can come with a steep price, while buying an online costume is very similar if not the same, Cicero says. Instead, give your kids gift cards for around $20 or less to buy souvenirs of their choice at Disney. You can also start creating traditions together as a family by investing in a specialty item, such as a framed picture with signed autographs from characters that you can all enjoy and scrapbook later on, Cicero says. "It's not something that's going to lose interest over the years," she says. Plus, it will help the kids remember the trip.
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