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Every year when Disney has price increases, or even every few months when someone writes an article about how they won’t take their kids there, we hear and see the grumblings or how Disney is too expensive and only the rich can afford it. Now listen, I am the first to admit that it is getting harder and harder to get the super cheap vacations to Disney that I used to pull off, but Disney is a lot more affordable than most people want to believe. We believe myths that make us think Disney is too expensive, but really, it may be very affordable for your family.
Here is the thing I want to start with. My family has taken a full year (plus) off from Disney vacations. You can read more about our reasons HERE but one of them was financial. So we took another vacation in 2016 and I learned something…it isn’t just the price of Disney vacations that have gone up. ALL vacations have increased in price. But that still doesn’t change the fact that Disney is not the cheapest vacation to take. However, it isn’t as expensive as people make it out to be.
Myths That Make Us Believe Disney Is Too Expensive
Today I want to talk about the myths that make us believe Disney is too expensive for us and show that it is much more affordable than most people believe. Now, let me preface this by saying Disney is not super cheap, and yes you will still have to spend a good amount to go, but in all honesty, you often times can go to Disney for as cheap as many other vacations…except if you believe all of these myths. Then you might find yourself paying more and more…
Myth #1 – You have to do all the fun, sit down meals in the parks and resorts!
I have talked about food being a great way to save money in the parks before, but a huge myth people have is that it is super important that you eat at all these different restaurants when you go to Disney. I may get hunted down by an angry Disney mob for saying this but- IMO Disney food is not that great for the price they make you pay. There are a few places that are good but honestly, I don’t think it is something that you will miss out on if you skip it to save some money.
We like to just choose 1-2 meals we will eat in the parks. Then we bring our own food in for other meals. What? You didn’t think that you could bring in your own food? Well you can. I talked about this in our 10 Things Banned from Disney Parks (and Some Items You Thought Were Banned but Aren’t). You can bring small, soft sided coolers and snacks and even sandwhiches into the parks. We also like to utilize the picnic area so we can bring even more food and just rent a locker. This myth could easily cost you $100+ a day if you fall for it (for a family of 4) adding over $500 to a 5 day trip. $500 can definitely start to make it feel like Disney is too expensive.
Myth #2 – The “Free” Disney Dining Plan is The Best Price at Walt Disney World
I am not going to lie, the “Free Dining” promotions that are usually available in the fall are pretty cool. But, they are limited to certain resorts and types of rooms, and there are a limited number. Often times, you may spend more upgrading your resort to get the “Free Dining Plan” then you would just to pay for the Dining Plan alone, or to pay for your meals with cash. If you already planned to stay at an included resort, then yes, this promotion is perfect for you…maybe! Often times Disney also offers a room discount during the same time frame, but you can’t get both promotions. This is where you need to really decide what is the best deal for you. If you are not a foody, and are happy to take sandwiches in the parks, then the room discount may be your better deal. If you want to eat all the food, then you may be better off with the dining plan. It will take a lot of math to decide. Hate math? Hire a Disney Travel Agent to price out all your options. They don’t cost you a penny extra and can take care of all your bookings. We have a whole directory of Disney Travel Agents HERE.
Myth #3 – You need all the souvenirs
I love Disney, but I have to admit, they are really good at marketing. They have little tricks to try and get you to buy souvenirs and things. A lot of rides exit into a souvenir shop. Every where you turn is a food cart or souvenir store. I am not sure if it is true but I have even heard they even turn down the temperature in the stores so you might be tempted to purchase sweatshirts?
While my family loves to purchase souvenirs at Disney, I have really learned to scale it back. We might get Mickey Ears for a first visit or if you outgrew your previous ones, and we always get an ornament, but in general, we don’t buy many souvenirs. Instead, we like to pick up Disney clothing from places like Target before heading on vacation. We also do pictures as our main souvenir. I like to make a bunch of cute character themed frames to put them in (check them out HERE). We also like to let our kids (or nieces and nephews) each pick out one item to get. We also like to budget the amount we will spend on souvenirs and get Disney Gift Cards to purchase them. This way we save even more (keep reading to find out how).
Myth #4 – You must stay on site to have a real Disney vacation
Disney is really pushing for you to stay on site. One of their current commercials is fully aimed at “why you should stay with us” or something like that. And of course you can book packages through Disney that are all inclusive, which is easier a lot of times…but easier also means more money. A lot of Disney addicts will try and say “you just don’t get the full Disney experience if you stay off site” but I look at it this way- If staying on site makes the vacation out of reach financially, isn’t staying off site and getting some Disney better than none? Also, most of the time we sleep in our hotel room…that is it. So why would it matter if I am in a Disney hotel room or not.
Don’t get me wrong, the perks are there (extra time in the parks, wake up calls, etc) but it isn’t enough to make me want to spend an extra $500+ on my vacation every time we go. Add to the fact that Disneyland does not have any “Value” or “Moderate” resorts, and the cost difference is huge.
If you are going to Walt Disney World and have a family that might need more than one room, check out renting an off-site vacation home. You can often find 2-3 bedroom condos or houses near the parks for around $100/night. The same price as a value resort. Plus you get a full kitchen. Just be sure to rent through a reliable source like VRBO or Home Away.
If you are heading to Disneyland, the good neighbor hotels are a great option (And you can book them in packages). My family also likes to use pay before you know sites to get really good rates. We can often get 3* hotels for $75/night this way. I always make sure to purchase travel insurance in case something goes wrong (Read about Common Travel Disasters and how to handle them HERE) and I have to cancel my stay.
Believing you must stay on site is one of the biggest myths that lead to Disney being too expensive. Be sure to check out all your other options. You will still have a magical vacation, even if you stay somewhere else.
Myth #5 – Hotel prices are inflated near the parks
People always tell me “the hotels around Disney are so expensive.” First, if you check around Walt Disney World, the off-site hotels actually aren’t spendy. $65/night gets you a decent 2-3* hotel (depending on time of travel and how you book). At Disneyland yes, you do pay a pretty penny for hotels ($125/night and up) and that can add up. In fact, this was one of the reasons we decided to take a year off from Disney. And you know what we found out during that year…that hotel prices are spendy everywhere. We paid much more for our hotel in Portland and even in Lewiston, Idaho then we did for hotels in the Disneyland area. Hotel prices have just gone up everywhere! We need to accept that it isn’t just the Disney area.
Myth #6 – Disney just keeps raising the prices! They have priced me out!
Yes, Disney does keep raising the prices every year, but can we just take a moment to look at the bang you are getting for your buck. Think of activities you do at home. Movies- you pay $10 for 90 minutes of entertainment (not including snacks). A trampoline park- $15/hour. It goes on and on. If you go to the Disney parks for one full day you pay around $100 (depending on the park and if you get a parkhopper option). You could easily be there for 10 hours or more. That would put you paying around $10/hour so less than your trampoline park and slightly more than the movies. But once you add on more days, and buy multi-day tickets, the price per day goes down. Not to mention the quality of the entertainment you are getting. Add on to that, the fact that Disney will include many things for free that other parks charge for (fastpass anyone?).
Disney is also constantly expanding. We will be seeing Star Wars Land on both coasts. Pandora is coming to WDW as well as Pixar Land. They are also constantly adding new entertainment and other offerings. It isn’t like they keep raising the prices but do nothing with the parks. Also, if you check the prices of other theme parks in the area, you will find that Disney is pretty on par with other parks. So if Disney is too expensive, then maybe we should broaden that statement to say theme parks are too expensive.
Myth #7 – There is no way to save on Disney tickets
We just talked about the cost of Disney tickets. One myth out there is that there is no way to save on Disney Tickets. While you should never purchase partially used tickets (they use fingerprints (WDW) or photos (DL) to ID guests ) or from random people off ebay or craigslist (these are often times fake), there are some legit ways to save on Disney Park Tickets. First is purchasing through a Disney Authorized Ticket Agent. For Walt Disney World, you can check with TouringPlans.com for discounted tickets. For Disneyland, I used to purchase through my husband’s work as they partnered with Disney. Sadly, Disney discontinued that program last year. So we will be going to either Get Away Today to purchase our tickets (yes, they sale tickets only) or using the Target Red Card Trick. I go into detail on how this money saving tip HERE but basically, I use my red card to save 5% off Disney Gift cards and then use them to purchase my Disney Park Tickets. This is also how I purchase gift cards to use in the park, so that I basically save 5% off all my purchases inside of Disney.
Myth #8 – The Disney Packages are the only packages out there
I know I talked about booking packages when I addressed the Dining Plan Myth but this is a separate myth altogether. Many people believe the only way you can do “all-in-one” booking is through Disney themselves or an authorized Disney Travel Agent. Guess what, this is not true. There are many travel sites that allow you to book package deals.
My favorite is Get Away Today (affiliate link). Yes, they are a Disney Authroized Travel Agency, but they are more than just Disneyland Packages. What I love about them is that you can book your Disneyland pacakge, but add on tickets for Legoland or Universal Studios and more. They can even book you discounted tickets to Medieval Times dinner and your character meals (you do still have to make reservations). Another reason I love Get Away Today is that they have a layaway plan. A lot of times people book through Disney because they can book for $200 down and make payments. Get Away Today has a similar option but you only have to put $175 down and then payment in full is due 2 weeks before travel. (You can also book packages just for other Southern California locations as well)
These myths are ones that are pretty rampant in the Disney Addict community but can make many believe they can’t afford a Disney vacation when there is a good chance they can. Not going to lie, Disney vacations are still spendy, but honestly, our Portland trip in June cost nearly as much as a Disney vacation – and that was with us cancelling half of it. Had we done are entire vacation it would have been more expensive then our typical Disneyland vacation. We spent more on a hotel to go to Northern Idaho for 3 nights for a funeral for than we do on our week long hotel stays in the Anaheim area.
So if you take an annual vacation, but think Disney vacations are out of your budget, maybe it is time to examine if you are falling for one of these myths.
Be sure to check out our post on how to go to Disneyland for Cheap in 2017 (and any other year) for more ways to make your vacation affordable.