Gotta Have it! 12 Cheapskate Splurges at Walt Disney World*

best things to spend money on at Disney WorldUpdated for 2014!

There is no one size fits all Disney vacation. You can customize your trip to fit your needs and desires, sprinkling as much Pixie Dust as you can afford to spread. From Value to Deluxe Resorts, standard park tickets to Annual Passes, and Signature Restaurants to cereal in your hotel room, there is seemingly no end to the choices you can make concerning your Disney experience.

I always believe it’s a good idea to ask real people who spend lots of hard-earned money on vacation what they thought of experiences, accommodations, and purchases before I decide where and when to drop my Disney money. We asked our Cheapskate Princess Facebook fans, “What is the one thing you’ll spend money on for a Disney vacation, even if it’s pricey?” Here are the answers, straight from the fans, and while numbered, they are really in no particular order.

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things you have to do at Disney World on vacation

1. Character Meals

Character meals will cost you three to four times more than a counter service burger, and it will surely take twice as long to dine, but a character meal rates as an experience more so than just a meal that may justify the extra bucks.

Amy shares, “I always spend the money on the character meals! We get some family time together and get to visit with one another and the characters. It’s nice to sit back and see the sights from a distance that way. Crystal Palace and Chef Mickeys are our favorites for just that purpose.

Marissa agrees, “Character dining…the experience is priceless even if the food isn’t.”

Betsy just paid for a character meal, “Cinderella’s Royal Table! We did it almost one week ago and it was worth every penny!!

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Must do at Disney World Character Dining

2. Experience the Experience

A reader once said she looked forward to vacationing at Disney because she followed words of wisdom Oprah often expressed on her television show, where she suggested people looking for happiness should “spend money on experiential purchases.” While a new coat or shoes may get old after a while, the enjoyment of looking back on the memories you made with friends and family at Disney will last as long as your memory does. Or when your memory starts to fade, you just bring out the photo album.

Shari agrees with this wisdom, “We pick one splurge each trip to make it special and different. One year we upgraded to deluxe dining and tried places we wouldn’t normally. Once we did the pirates league experience. This year we will go on the pirates and pals fireworks voyage.”

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Julie is planning already, “My husband is planning on doing a fishing experience the next time we go, and I’d like to have pictures taken.”

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Brea is running toward her future memories, “We like to go to special events, like MNSSHP. It’s expensive, but totally worth the price. This year our family is getting in shape, so we splurged and are running the Tower of Terror 10-miler, and my son is participating in the kids races. Should be a lot of fun!!”

Teryl also saves money for experiences, “Aside from character meals, we select one special event. Last time we decided to each buy hoodies. Next trip we want to try the hot air balloon.”

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what should you do at Disney World on vacation

 3. Upgrade Your Accommodations

Depending on the time of year, Disney Resort rooms can cost (at a minimum) anywhere from about $100 a night  for a Value Resort to $540 a night for a room at a Deluxe Resort like the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. Accommodations at the Grand Floridian actually reach $2926 a night for a two bedroom Club Level suite during the week after Christmas. (Gasp!!)

While most Cheapskate Princesses don’t have that sort of money for vacation accommodations, you don’t have to spend ALL that kind of money to upgrade to a nicer room. The price difference for an upgrade from a Value Resort like the All-Star Music Resort  to a Moderate Resort like Coronado Springs is about $90 a night.

Angela follows this splurging school of thought, “I will spend the extra on lodging. I love being able to walk to Epcot….worth every penny.

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upgrade your accommodations at Disney World

4. Stay on Site

It may not seem like out when you read everything on the Internet, but not everybody that vacations in Orlando actually stays on Disney property. We can’t all afford to pay those Disney prices. Even if you pay the extra gas money to drive in from an off-property hotel, you can still save a ton of money buy paying $60 to $80 a night for a hotel room in Kissimmee. By my calculations, that’s about two off-property nights for the price of one Value Resort night.

But should you splurge and stay “at Disney?” Many people think it’s worth the extra money for convenience and to stay in the heart of all the Disney experiences, even if you have to stay less night because you paid more to stay on property.

Angela reports, ” I splurge on staying on site. Call me a Disney snob, but I cannot fathom staying at an offsite location, even if it will save us a thousand bucks!”

Amy agrees on the location splurge, “I have to agree with lodging. We travel with a wheelchair, and I’m all for staying on site in a better resort. The kids are petitioning for Grand Floridian next!”

This is especially good advice if you have never been to Disney World before and are not that familiar with the whole shebang. It may be worth some extra money to have the convenience of the busses to the parks and food courts on site.

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stay on site at Walt Disney World

5. Club Level Accommodations

I know very few people who can afford Club Level accommodations, but those that do say it’s an experience you’ll never forget, one that can spoil a Disney Princess rotten.

For a room in the Outer Building – Club Level at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, you will pay $905 a night during Holiday Season. Do the math with me, you calculator carrying cheapskates. A standard room at the All-Star Movies Resort is $198 a night during the same time period, which is $600 more each night. What’s so great about Club Level?

  • Lounge with beverages
  • Continental breakfast, midday snacks, afternoon tea, evening wine, cheese and hors d’oeuvres, late night cordials and desserts
  • 24-hour room service
  • Turndown Service

Richard and Amanda tell it from experience, “The club level lodging… It’s worth it with snacks round the clock and personal attention. It’s not cheap but it’s worth it!”

Use these links to see two articles that discuss Disney Resort stays from the least expensive room to the best your Disney Visa can buy.

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Disney's Bay Lake Tower

6.  Add to Your Collection

If you don’t have your own personal “thing” to collect at Disney, you probably know someone who does. You will be overwhelmed by the amount of fantastic merchandise in Disney gift shops, even if you are underwhelmed by the price. Key chains, t-shirts, pressed pennies, autograph books and pens, you name it, Disney can sell it to you.

If you are not forking over big bucks to splurge on experiences, you can spend a lot less on bringing home a souvenir that will remind you of  your vacation each day. Many people actually make their own souvenirs: Save Money on Disney World T-Shirts by Making Your Own!

Julie has her collection already in place, “We budget a set amount for each person to spend as he or she sees fit.  That being said, I ALWAYS have to buy a Disney sweatshirt while I’m there. I know it’s not super expensive, but it’s my little tradition.”

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7. Food!

How often do you make it to Disney, once each year? Every couple years? Still saving up for that very first trip? There is something to be said for eating breakfast in your hotel room to save some cash, but Disney Dining is almost an experience on its own. Many people bring snacks or even meals into the parks, but don’t forget the fun of eating meals in the parks, even if that’s just a counter service meal.

Samantha says splurging is all about the meals, “Food in general. We don’t usually hold back when eating on vacation, but if we wanted to save, we could go back to our villas and eat a lot cheaper.”

Melanie agrees, “I splurge on pins and good food!”

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special food at Disney World

8. Signature Restaurants

What is Signature Dining at Disney World? That’s just an extra fancy Disney Princess term for really nice restaurants that offer meals, service, and atmosphere way above the rest of the food opportunities that abound at Walt Disney World. Almost all the Signature Dining restaurants are located at Disney’s Deluxe resorts, except Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom and the Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

If you couldn’t tell just by the name, a meal at a Signature Restaurant will cost nearly twice as much as a meal at a regular Table Service restaurant, if not more. But Signature Dining is a Disney experience

Khara tell us her splurge, “FOOD!  We have a few favorite Signature restaurants. They’re a great evening break from hectic days, and the food is such a treat! Our favorite is Flying Fish Cafe. They have excellent seafood. My husband and I think their New York strip is the best on Disney property. That’s a bold statement, I know!”

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1900 park Fare at the Grand Floridian at Disney World

9. Go to a Party!

Walt Disney has become known for their holiday parties held on certain nights during Halloween, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, and Christmas, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. The Magic Kingdom shuts down to regular ticket holders on these nights, and to attend the party, you must have an additional ticket, and it’s not cheap. Prices for adults start about $65 per ticket and go up from there, plus you have to have a ticket for regular park admission.

These parties are definitely splurges.

Sheryl, “We splurge on MNSSHP, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and Character Dining. If you are going to Disney you just have to splurge on some things.”

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Disney World Christmas decorations on a vacation

10. Hop Around

If you don’t have annual passes, you need to decide between standard tickets and adding the Park Hopper option. With the Park Hopper Option, you can enjoy same-day access to all four theme parks, though it will cost you $57.00 more per ticket. Use this link to access Disneyworld.com to determine the cost of your tickets.  For my family of five, pre tax, we’re looking at almost $300 to be able to visit more than one park per day. Is it worth the extra cash?

Chauna started with two splurges and wound up hopping, “We definitely will always spend the extra $$ for staying on site and in at least a moderate resort, buy the dining plan, and always the park hopper to go along with it all!”

Carolyn, “The Park Hopper is worth the splurge for our family; I love the freedom of eating in one park, going to see a parade in another, and playing in yet another in a single day!”

Park hopping has changed in the days since the new Fastpass+ was introduced. Having Fastpass=es at different parks has not been available so far, but rumor has it, it will be available in the near future.

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park hopping at Walt Disney World

11. Pins – Trade ‘Em!

Disney Pin Trading is a fun experience where our Guests can trade Disney pins with Disney Cast Members and other Guests. You can start a new collection or exchange pins for the pins you’ve been searching for. Locate a Cast Member wearing a lanyard with Disney pins and find a pin you’d like. Then present your Disney pin to the Cast Member to trade. Bringing home the magic is that simple. You can find Pin Trading instructions on this official Disney site. 

Colleen agrees with this splurge, “Pins, pins and more pins!”

Little Cheapskate Princess tip: You can find trading pins on eBay; they may not be as fancy or new, but these eBay pins are for trading, so the last thing you want are pricey pins to trade.  Be careful about the pins you purchase however, as many can be called “scrappers.” Pixiedustsavings.com reports that a scrapper is a pin made during an official run that was meant to be discard or destroyed (thus scrapped) for not meeting quality control standards. It can also refer to someone getting an old pin mold and remaking the pin. They describe how probably over 75% of pins on Cast Members lanyards are scrappers.

Use this Pixiedustsavings.com link HERE for instructions on how to spot scrappers. The eBay lots of 50 and 100 pins for $1.00 each are too good to be true and will most assuredly be scrappers. When you find pin traders in the parks, they will not trade scrapper pins, which can be confusing for many of the small children you bought the pins for.

Here is our guide to shopping on eBay before or after your trip, in case you just can’t handle the idea of paying full retail.

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buying Disney trading pins for less

12. Jewels

Ok, jewels is probably stretching it, but many princesses do love Disney jewelry, and there are boo-coodles to choose from.

Amanda, cheapskating princess and the only fan that actually mentioned purchasing jewelry, said, “I just have to splurge on a piece of Disney jewelry. Arribas Brothers, with locations on Main Street, U.S.A and Downtown Disney, have great pieces of jewelry priced from the low twenties to well into the hundreds of dollars. Guaranteed, you will be able to find something that will remind you of your spectacular vacation once you get back home, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to remind you of all the Disney memories you made.”

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Mickey Mouse necklace

Thanks to all our Disney’s Cheapskate Princess on Facebook fans who offered up their suggestions for ways to spend your vacation dollars. Thank you for stopping by for some Disney tips from real Cheapskate Princess fans who vacation there.

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What’s your favorite splurge? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Thanks for stopping by. If you ever turned off the water during your shower to save $$, so you could make reservations at a nicer resort in Orlando, you just might be a Cheapskate Princess!

 

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Give Erin a call at 214-697-7732, or send an e-mail to erin @ destinationsinflorida.com. 

Great Perks for your Walt Disney World Vacation at Destinations in Florida

 

Comments

  1. Rochelle says:

    Whether have you found rooms in Kissimmee for $30-40 a night? We have been looking for May and haven’t seen anything close to that price. Thx!

    • Amanda says:

      Google a place called Saralago Resort. It’s not exactly a resort by Disney standards, but we have paid that rate for a standard room before. They also have bunk bed suites, but they are more than the $40 mark. We usually stay there for just a one night stay before we check in somewhere else. It’s right by Old Town. Hope that helps. ~A.

  2. Christie says:

    My favorite splurge this last trip was the snacks (on the dining plan – Yay!) and my brand new beautiful tiara. And yes, I wear the tiara at home. A lot. Wearing it right now, in fact.

    My favorite splurge has been staying on site though. We have stayed at the All Star Sports resort each of our 3 visits and they have all been awesome in their different ways. Free dining for 2 of our trips have been a wonderful extra, probably not something I would pay for, but a nice bonus nonetheless. I think if I went at a time when we didn’t get free dining, I would save up what I would have spent on the dining plan and put that $$ on a prepaid card and used it to eat wherever I wanted instead of the dining plan. The plan is great, but if you have kids that are considered “adults” at 11 and not eating over $50 a day, you’re wasting your money. If it was on a prepaid card, the money would still be in your pocket! (and you wouldn’t have to order a dessert with every single meal!)

    Love our memories of Disney!

  3. Angela says:

    I have to admit seeing my name in the article was a bit of a thrill. Lol. I’m used to doing the reporting and not being quoted… its kinda fun (0=

    I like seeing what everyone’s must haves are. It’s funny that everyone varies so much.

  4. Shelby says:

    I completely agree with the club level experience!! We stayed club level for our honeymoon and it was so amazing we are staying again when we go next week! One of my favorite parts of it was having the breakfast available. We are saving money and time that way by just eating at the hotel and having reservations for dinner. The magic bars (which are only on club level at Walt Disney I’ve been told) are so delicious. It is basically a seven layer bar, but with Mickey Mouse sprinkles which makes it even better :) Great article!!

  5. Heidi Daily says:

    I had never been to Disney World before meeting my husband, but his grandparents lived there so every year when we would go down to visit we would always go to at least one if not all the parks. We did that every year for eight years. Since we got married five years ago we haven’t been back, but in January we are taking our children for their first visit and I insisted on staying on site. My husband’s grandparents no longer live down there so that was definitely an added incentive to stay in property, also having a 1 year old and a 3 year old, we wanted the added convenience. We wanted to go all out to make it extra special so we are doing the dining plan, and have saved and will continue to save as much money as possible to be able to nudge while we are there. I can’t wait 75 more days!

  6. Clare says:

    These are great tips- thanks so much!

    We are making our first trip next summer, and I’m so glad we booked to stay on site. These tips have given me some great ideas for other things to do to make our trip extra special :)

  7. Mariana says:

    I’m disturbed by how you’re encouraging people to buy scrappers (fake Disney pins) to trade! It’s quite unfair to those trading real pins in the parks. Those ebay lots of 50 pins are NOT real.

    • Amanda says:

      I totally agree, Mariana, and when I wrote this article 16 months ago, I didn’t even know they existed. I updated the information. If you know a better source than eBay, send me the link and I’ll add it in. Thanks for reading! ~A.

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