18 Sneaky Ways Disney World Gets You to Spend More Money
The most magical place on earth has a few tricks up its sleeve.
They force you to exit through the gift shop
To exit almost any Disney attraction, you’ll have to walk through an appropriately themed gift shop. This isn’t an accident, says one anonymous former Disney employee. It’s one of the park’s most successful strategies. “These gift shops are made with younger guests in mind,” says the former employee. “For example, little girls who just got off the Frozen ride in Epcot won’t feel satisfied from just seeing animatronic Anna and Elsa. They’ll want to dresses to become Anna and Elsa. Thus, as soon as you exit the Frozen ride, the first pieces of merchandise you see are $40 to $60 dresses at a young girl’s eye level.” These are the 23 secrets Disney employees won’t tell you.
They open the doors in the rain
Most Disney vacationers know the park is famous for its afternoon rain. And if it’s pouring outside, it’s only natural to want to duck inside. Disney even makes things easy for you. “The doors of nearly every gift shop remain open to give guests quick access in and out,” says a former employee. “Open doors also give guests a way to dodge rain and keep an eye on the weather.” Unfortunately, many guests also blow their budget during these showers. Spending almost $30 on a pair of Minnie Mouse ears seems a lot more reasonable when you’re forced to look at them for an hour.
They hike up the price of rain gear
Don’t want to spend the entire afternoon cooped up to avoid the rain? Purchasing a poncho from a street vendor might seem like a good idea—until you see that Disney’s ponchos sell for around $10 a pop. For a family of four, that’s about $40 down the drain. Bring a raincoat or dollar store poncho instead. This is the Disney dress code you had no idea existed.
They sell water—when you can get it for free
Water is a must for a hot day at the park. But at $3 a bottle, the cost can start to add up. Instead of buying multiple bottles to supply the entire family, pack a reusable water bottle or get a few cups for free. Every quick service restaurant at Disney is required to give out free cups of water. You can also get free water at Starbucks (there’s one in every park).
They catch your kid’s eye with glow toys
While waiting for fireworks, you’re likely to notice an abundance of glow-stick items. “It’s no surprise that kids would rather play with a glow toy than simply sit and wait,” says former Disney employee Brittany DiCologero, author of Brittany Earns Her Ears and founder of Castle Party Blog. Luckily, DiCologero has a helpful tip. “I found that the most helpful parents in these situations were the ones who were clearly teaching their kids about how expensive these items were and how to best budget for them,” she says. “In these instances, parents often purchased gift cards with set amounts for each kid, and before they made purchases they’d reinforce, ‘If you buy this now, you’ll only have x amount left, so you may have to get something much smaller later.’” Glow-stick crisis, averted.
They don’t tell you it’s OK to bring snacks
With airport-level security and tons of all-inclusive deals, it might seem like it’s against the rules to bring your own snacks to Disney. Turns out, it’s totally fine. “In a world where even local movie theaters and sporting events do not allow outside food, it’s understandable why some guests assume it’s not allowed and forgo packing a lunch,” says DiCologero. “If you are looking to save money though (or even if you just have kids who are picky eaters), there is nothing wrong with packing sandwiches, snacks, or whatever else you need to bring into the parks.” Want to splurge? These are the VIP Disney experiences everyone needs to have.
They push the Park Hopper Pass
While individual park tickets will only allow you to visit one park a day, the Park Hopper Pass allows you to visit as many as you want, for around $70 more per day. “Many guests purchase Park Hoppers because they assume that paying more to have the flexibility of visiting more than one park per day is a must,” says DiCologero. “It isn’t—and while it’s certainly convenient, some families buy Park Hoppers only to seldom ever park-hop. Kids get tired, plans change, even the parents get tired, and sometimes park hopping isn’t as doable as you thought it would be.”
They offer complicated meal plans
Nothing was more controversial among our Disney experts than the Disney Dining Plan. For some, the convenience of the all-inclusive service was too good to pass up. But for others, especially those with smaller appetites and picky eater kids, it was a no-go. “It’s really only worth it if you plan on dining at some of the best eateries the place has to offer and [eating] the most expensive dishes,” says David Bakke, a travel expert at Money Crashers. “Otherwise, you’d be better off going without.”
They play up the prix fixe
Decided to opt out of the Disney Dining Plan? Now it’s time to decide if a prix fixe meal is worth it. “In just about any restaurant you go to anywhere in Disney World, all the meals are prix fixe,” says Eileen P. Gunn, founder of travel advice website FamiliesGo!. “Luckily a waiter tipped us off that you can ignore the prix fixe and just order what you want, and they’ll charge you accordingly. So if the breakfast combination was $14, say, an egg sandwich and coffee might have been $10.” These are the 25 healthiest foods at Disney World.
They profit off your forgetfulness
Because it can be hard to snag a table at some high-demand Disney restaurants, many travelers overbook dining reservations so they know they’ll have someplace to eat. That’s fine, unless you forget to cancel the ones you don’t actually attend. You’ll be charged $10 per person if you don’t cancel with at least one day’s notice. “The trick to not forgetting to cancel reservations is to keep an eye on your My Disney Experience app and set mobile alerts,” says Allison Reinert of ALR Marketing Solutions. “Our group always has a ‘dining conversation’ about what we want to do the next day so we can be sure to cancel any reservations we don’t want to keep.”
They count on you getting cold
Think Orlando is always hot and sticky? Think again. And if you’re caught off guard, especially after sunset, you could be in for sticker shock. “Park apparel is abundant, but it isn’t cheap,” says Reinert. “If the temperatures drop, it is easy to find jackets, sweatshirts, winter caps, and gloves in the Main Street Stores, but this apparel can be pricey. Adult sweatshirts usually cost between $50 and $60.”
They encourage you to stay longer
Obviously, Disney wants you to stay as long as possible. They even incentivize it with park-ticket packages that get progressively cheaper per day as you book more days. Of course, there’s a catch. “It seems like a good deal at first,” says Jonathan de Araujo, founder of Disney travel website magicguides.com. “Then you realize that the extra nights to stay at resorts and additional days on a dining plan can really add up.” Here are the three words no Disney employee can say.
They offer you preferred parking
If you’re driving a car to one of the Disney World parks, you’ll inevitably be asked if you’d like to park in the standard parking lot (for $22 a day) or the preferred parking lot (for $45 per day). In the moment, it might make sense to choose preferred. You’ll get to the gate before the crowds, right? Not so much. “You don’t need to spring for the extra $23 unless you have money to burn,” says Josh Elledge, founder and chief executive at savingsangel.com. “You will save (at most) an extra five minutes of walking in my experience. The trams will get you to the front of each of Disney’s Parks pretty efficiently no matter where you are in Disney’s vast parking acreage.”
They make you want more
Of course, some of the ways Disney gets you to overspend aren’t sneaky at all. In fact, they’re very up front. “A lot of people end up spending more than they bargained for by booking character dining meals (more expensive than regular restaurant meals), buying souvenirs, renting strollers, boats, bikes, taking surfing lessons at Typhoon Lagoon, getting a makeover at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, taking a Keys to the Kingdom tour, etc.,” says de Arauio. “There are so many fun things to do at Disney that are covered with normal theme park tickets and resorts stays that some of these extra-fee activities are unnecessary and can really impact your overall spending.” Check out the 14 best Disney resorts for families.
They sell you “exclusive” merchandise
Everyone loves to own something exclusive. But at Disney, more often than not, “exclusive” doesn’t hold much value. “There’s such a high volume of exclusive merchandise being pumped out from the parks that it’s hard to discern what’s really exclusive and valuable, and what won’t be worth anything a year later,” says one former employee. “Be very cautious when shelling out $70 for an ‘exclusive’ spirit jersey that will only be repurposed into another trendy color a few months later.”
They give you a checklist
“At the start of both the Food and Wine festival and the Flower and Garden festival, Epcot releases the event ‘passport’—a complete list of everything offered at the event booths,” says one former employee. “However, Disney oh-so-cleverly transformed the listings into a checklist. If you’re competitive, expect to go broke trying to complete the checklists each year.” Here are 14 insider secrets from a Disney super fan.
They sell you pins
Trading collectible pins is a Disney rite of passage. Unfortunately, individual pins run from $8 to $19—that’s a lot for something you might not care about once you leave. Look for lower-priced pins in the sale section of Disney’s official site or on Amazon, or buy a mystery pack or starter pin set in the park, suggests DiCologero. Purchasing secondhand pins is controversial, as fake pins bring down the value of the pins for everyone involved. However, “if budget is a real issue, cast members will not deny trades from eBay, and this can be a way to start pin trading if it always seemed out of your price range before,” she says.
The photo package
Joanne Davidson/for Disney/Shutterstock
You want to preserve your memories, but Disney’s Memory Maker package costs about $170. Our experts advise making a decision based off how recently you’ve taken professional family photos (while the Disney package is pricey, it’s guaranteed to be high quality). You’ll also want to consider that Disney photographers aren’t paid on commission, which means they’re happy to photograph your family using your personal phone or camera. Next up, learn these 14 ways to save serious money at Disney parks.