Updated 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.
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!!”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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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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!”
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!”
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.”
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.
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.
Ok, jewels is probably stretching it, but many princesses do love Disney jewelry, and there are boo-coodles to choose from.
Amanda Major, 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.”
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.
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!
Where is a good place to start planning your vacation?
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Erin, our official Authorized Disney Vacation Planner with Destinations in Florida travel, offers special rates for certain Disney vacation packages. She also offers promotions for Cheapskate Princess readers like Disney Trading Pin sets, autograph books, and free Mickey Mouse ear hats for kids under age 17. We know our readers love free…
Give Erin a call at 214-697-7732, or send an e-mail to erin @ destinationsinflorida.com. Or click on the box below and fill out the request form. She would love to help plan your next Disney vacation.
Disney’s Cheapskate Princess