Disney Movies: Is a Trip to the Movie Theater Draining Your Vacation Fund?

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Disney AMC movie theater

Before our last Disney vacation, our family made plans to see a movie in an actual movie in Orlando. My sons had been asking to see Wreck It Ralph, and I had really wanted to tour the inside of the Downtown Disney AMC Movie Theater 24. So while lots of people were riding Space Mountain and Tower of Terror,  we purposely used up a couple of hours of vacation time to sit inside in a theater. In case you have never been inside, all the photos you see are of the inside of the Downtown Disney theater. We have a movie theater in our small coastal Alabama town, but it lacks that element of Disney entertainment.  With all the upgraded food and drink choices that our local movie theater does not offer, I honestly can’t wait to go back.

When you think about the Disney Corporation, it’s easy to focus on their incredible theme parks and cruise ships, but purchasing one of their very own products could be keeping you from heading off for the Disney vacation of your dreams. If you are saving up for a trip to Disney, have you taken a look at the cost of buying a ticket to see a movie in a theater? This fun entertainment just may be sucking money right out of your Disney money jar.

Read: If You Get This On A Disney World Vacation, Whoops, You Could Be In Mega Trouble!

Downtown Disney popcorn

Using information from the  National Association of Theatre Owners, the L.A. Times reported the average movie ticket price for July to September of 2012 was $7.78. That was down from a record high of $8.12 per ticket in the second quarter of 2012 and $7.94 per ticket in 2011. Business Insider reports that in larger cities like Houston ($9.50) Atlanta and Dallas ($10.50), and Boston and Washington D.C.($11.00), people pay much more than the average U.S. ticket price to see a newly released movie. A dollar here, dollar there, and your vacation money is disappearing.

Now for your average person, a trip to the movies is not like nickel and diming away your discretionary money for a weekly visit to Starbucks or Dairy Queen. According to answerbag.com, the average American goes to see five movies in the theater each year. For my family, if that average was true, I could save about $500 a year by not visiting the theater or purchasing any snacks. That is, if my family went to the theater five times each year and bought snacks each trip, which we do not. What if you go see more movies in a theater each year than the average household?

If you cut out those every other month trips to the movie theater to save money for a vacation, what options are you left with if you truly enjoy watching movies?

Read: Can a Cheapskate Princess Afford a Dooney & Bourke Disney Handbag?

Food at the AMC Theater 24

1. You would have to be living out in the deep, Internet-free forest to not be aware of a company called Netflix. You can rent movies online using Netflix (www.netflix.com) with movie rentals starting at $7.99 per month. For the cost of one movie ticket, you can have access to movies all month, although they will not all be new releases. Many a Friday night, our family has sat down on our couch to watch a movie we purposely missed at the theatrical release.

2. You can purchase iTunes movies starting at $1.99 each. Not only can you watch a movie or TV show, but you can also play a podcast, audiobook, or take in a lecture from iTunes U. With iTunes LP, you can read song lyrics and liner notes, watch videos, and more. Select movies on iTunes sometimes include “iTunes Extras” like behind-the-scenes footage, cast and crew interviews, and deleted scenes. If you don’t mind the small screen as opposed to the big screen, this can definitely save you cash.

3. Hulu.com is a free internet option for people who want to watch TV shows on their computers; think Netflix but just for TV shows. The Hulu Plus subscription service is the first and only internet video subscription service to stream full current seasons. They have an extensive library of hit TV shows from ABC, BET, Comedy Central, FOX, NBC, MTV, VH-1 and more, for computers, internet-connected TVs and Blu-ray players, set-top boxes, mobile phones, and tablets, all for $7.99 per month with limited advertising.  By paying this fee, you can watch Hulu Plus content in HD (when available) on multiple devices like your laptop, the Apple iPad and iPhone, PlayStation 3, Roku, and TVs and Blu-ray players from Sony, Samsung and Vizio. More devices that use this service are coming soon.

22 and 1/2 FREE Activities at Downtown Disney!

4 princess Coca-cola Freestyle

4. Ever heard of Crackle?  This company was new to me. Crackle is “full length, full force entertainment for the connected guy.”  It’s free and on demand, specializing in hand-picked movies, TV shows and original programming in guys’ favorite genres, like action, sci-fi, horror, crime and comedy. Crackle content is delivered uncut, and back to our money-saving theme, it’s always free, whether online, on mobile devices, or on connected televisions. You can check it out here. I’ve decided I don’t care if it is marketed specifically to guys – I’m going to look into it anyway.

5. Our public library offers movie “rentals” for free, as long as you return the movie on time. And on time is the key, because our library charges a whopping $1 a day late charge. This fee is simply encouragement for slackers like me to return movies promptly so more people can enjoy them.

6. With Redbox, you have over 200 movie choices in each box, located at places you are already shopping, like Walmart and Walgreens. You can return your movies to any box in the U.S. and reserving a movie is as simple as locating the movie using the internet, picking a pick-up location, and making the reservation. With 31,500 kiosks nationwide, it won’t be hard to find a location near you. And if you make a reservation online, there’s a current special where you will receive your next rental free.  Gotta love free…

My family now counts as five adults in terms of movie theater ticket prices, and we go to see a movie on average of about once every three months. With tickets for five people and snacks, we can pay upwards of $80 for an afternoon at the movies. That’s enough to keep anyone home watching reruns. While my friends sneak snacks into the theater, I am one of those cautionary people who has nightmares about tripping in the theater lobby, sending my illegal candy flying in all directions, and promptly being escorted right back out the door by security.  So because of my guilt at breaking rules, we eat a big meal before we go, and I refuse to even drink water in the lobby. This way I don’t miss anything due to a bathroom break.

To Save Money on Disney World Food, Eat Breakfast Here!

bar at Disney movie theater

So while many people are bringing/sneaking in their own snacks, many other people just pay the highly inflated prices for movie theater candy and popcorn. Time Magazine  reports that movie theaters make an estimated 85% profit at the concession stand on soda, candy, nachos, hot dogs and, of course, popcorn. Time described movie-theater popcorn as “one of America’s biggest rip-offs,” because it sports a retail price nine times higher than what it costs to make.

Apparently, the majority of the movie ticket price goes to the studios and distribution companies rather than your local movie theater. Movie theaters, Time Magazine  points out, can be more aptly described as being in the popcorn and candy business. Theaters are businesses that want to make a profit, as any solid American business would. We can’t blame them for that, and what they provide is an experience different from sitting in your living room, watching old movies on your computer, and they provide yummy, hot buttered popcorn, fizzy sodas, and sugary snacks than are probably far more tasty that what is sitting in your fridge or cabinet right now.

Read: 10 Cheapskate Reasons to Vacation on Disney Property

snack bar at Disney World movie theater

I am not advocating you sneak in your own snack, as that’s against most theater rules. I also am not advocating you boycott movies; I love a good Disney movie viewed in a darkened theater as much as anyone. My boys still tease me about crying through the re-released in 3-D Toy Story movies before Toy Story 3 came out. While not specifically a Disney movie, I bribed my three kids into reading The Hunger Games by promising to pay for their movie ticket. Sometimes, in our stressful lives, we need a mini-vacation so we can hold onto our sanity until we reach our actual vacation. If you can take your mind off reality for a couple of hours in an AMC theater, that beats other options people turn to for escape from reality, and it’s probably worth the inflated movie theater price.

I just think you should be aware your vacation funds can or will be affected by paying for snacks in a theater, not to mention the price of the tickets and gas to get there. Seeing Wreck It Ralph at the Downtown Disney AMC 24 theater, which was one of the nicest theaters I have ever visited, was a great afternoon of vacation fun. My boys are already asking what will be in theaters when we visit Orlando again. I told them to start saving their money…

Read: Avoid These 10 Mistakes That Can Wreck a Disney World Vacation

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Amanda Major Cheapskate Princess


Disney’s Cheapskate Princess


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Amanda Major CheapskatePrincess.comAmanda Major is the creator of cheapskateprincess.com. She remembers her first visit to Magic Kingdom like it was yesterday, because she had a ham sandwich tucked in her shorts pocket. The whole family snuck in their lunch; you can’t make that kinda stuff up. 40 years worth of trips to Orlando later, she is still trying to save money on vacations.

Amanda is a Disney Vacation Club Member and Annual Pass holder. Her amazing husband, band director Carl Major, plus three teen children and two dogs keep her busy. Amanda teaches Leadership to high school seniors in the almost-coastal town of Foley, Alabama. Read about her cheapskating local vacations with this link. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, walking somewhere, or paddling a kayak. Life is indeed a blast. 

We hope we can help save you some money too. Use this link for a free no obligation vacation quote from our Travel Consultant with Pixie Vacations, Mike Ellis. You can also e-mail him at mike@pixievacations.com.