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In early 2020, we booked a trip to Disney World. It was a gift for my kids and something I’d always wanted to do: Go to Disney, stay on resort, and DO IT ALL.

Now, I’ve done Disney way more budget-friendly in the past. Driving down, staying at friends’ houses on sofas or at cheap hotels, and only doing the park for one day, bringing all our own food. Honestly? A fun adventure, but not much of a vacation. I mean, when you’re cooking mac and cheese on a hot plate on a hotel bathroom counter… it hits a bit different. But it’s also how we made do at the time, it was workable!

But we opted to save and go bigger this time. So we booked the trip, got delayed for two years, had a baby, invited my parents, and decided to GO for it (within the reason and the budget that we had).

I wanted to be completely honest about the experience on the things we paid for and what we felt was worth it, and what wasn’t!

Let’s begin!

Worth It / Not Worth It: Booking It Yourself

Verdict: NOT Worth It

Did we manage? Yes. But since booking, I spent probably 50 hours just on research, reservations, flights, etc. At one point we ran into a huge issue with our flights and a follower who is a travel agent stepped in and was able to fix the whole thing within an hour (something that for days I was unable to fix). I would highly recommend finding a travel agent that knows Disney, and the resort options AND is open to assisting you with your additional reservations like dining or events.

Cost: Google told me $50-500 or a percentage of the overall trip cost for an agent. EDIT! A few agents reached out to me to say travel agents are paid by airlines and Disney, NOT the consumer, so it should be FREE for guests!

Worth It / Not Worth It: Staying On Resort

Verdict: Worth It!

If I reflect on one thing that I’ve never enjoyed about Disney travel, it’s getting in and out of the parks. By staying on resort we were able to walk, gondola, boat, or bus at any point to any park, and even Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney). We opted for Beach Club for the fact that it had amazing pools, dining, and a 3-minute walk to Epcot. With a Park Hopper pass (more on this later) this meant we could walk over any time after 2 pm for dining or shows and rides. It took between 3 minutes to 30 minutes between resort to parks!

We booked our rooms and park tickets combined and I’ll break down the totals below.

Room 1: 2 adults, 3 tweens/teens, 1 baby
2 Queen beds, 1 pull-out bed, 1 crib
Beach Club Resort Waterview room
Included 7 nights and 5x 7-Day Park tickets including Park Hopper
Cost: $8517.89 USD (converted to $11,226.10 CAD)

Room 2: 2 Adults
King Bed
Beach Club Resort Waterview room
Included 7 nights and 2x 7-Day Park tickets including Park Hopper
Cost: $6528.44 USD (converted to $8604.12)

Experience: 8 people, 2 rooms, one week stay and park tickets
Total Cost: $19,830.22 CAD
Price Per Person: $2478.78 CAD (kids under 3 are technically free, but let me have this)

What would I change? I probably would opt to save money and not do the Waterview rooms, because we honestly never really spent much time on the balcony! We used the room for sleep, changing, and showers!

Beach Club Resort Marketplace where you could purchase snacks, groceries, necessities, fresh and to-go foods.

Worth It / Not Worth It: Park Hopper

Verdict: Worth it!

Park hopper allows you to start your day at one park, and hop to another after 2 pm. Given that in a large group your party may have different ideas of fun, OR that if you’re staying at a resort close to a park, the option to walk and enjoy different places throughout the day really gets you so much further in your trip. Now at Disney, you have to pre-book your park days, here’s how we booked ours:

Saturday: Magic Kingdom *didn’t park hop*
Sunday: Hollywood Studios *park hopped to Epcot*
Monday: Magic Kingdom *park hopped to Animal Kingdom & Epcot*
Tuesday: Epcot *park hopped to Hollywood Studios*
Wednesday: Animal Kingdom *didn’t park hop*
Thursday: Magic Kingdom *park hopped to Epcot for fireworks*
Friday: Magic Kingdom *park hopped to Hollywood Studios & Epcot*

My only regret with this plan is I wish I had chosen one more day at Epcot, just so we could ride Guardians of The Galaxy again. Since that ride has a virtual queue that opens at 7 am and again at 1 pm, you are unable to book it without having checked into the park. Park hopper opens at 2 pm, so by the time you get to the park – it’s already booked.

photo via Disney

Worth It/Not Worth It: Lightning Lane

Verdict: Worth It, if you plan to use it well.

Lightning Lane is available for purchase as an add-on with Genie Plus at 7am each morning and allows you to pre-select rides based on time slots available. You can hold one lightning lane pass at a time, but if you play it right, you’re walking onto rides all day! Our trick was to grab our most important one first thing in the morning, then after it was used, immediately book the next one in the closest time slot (for example: if we booked our first LL for 10 am to meet Mickey & Minnie, upon arrival to that experience, we would immediately book another ride/experience using LL for 10:30-11:30 am so we could go from one experience to the next). We used it for 3 of our days. We used it to meet Mickey & Minnie, skip the lines on some popular rides and bypass wait times on several others. Our longest wait for a ride was 30 minutes total. With a baby in tow, that can feel like a million years, but Disney does lines right. They’re often fanned, and interactive (or at least entertaining and always moving). In that Orlando sun, you really need that break. I also want to note (but not promise) that the wait time posted vs actual wait time is usually less, sometimes by a lot! It’s a nice surprise and delight when it happens.

I will add that one of the days we bought it, the lines just happened to be short that day (it was the Friday at Magic Kingdom) and we could have gone without the Lightning Lane, but that’s impossible to predict, so I still stand by having it.

Cost: Between $7-15each person per day.

My Disney Experience App screenshot

Worth It/Not Worth It: Magic Bands & Magic Band+

Verdict: Magic Bands, Worth it! Magic Band+, NOT Worth It

Magic Bands connect your entire Disney experience in a wristband. You can enter the park, pay for meals, and get into your room – all at the tap of a wrist!
When you’re staying on resort, you can opt to select a Magic Band before your stay at a discounted price and they’re available for you at check-in! They are also connected for payment only to who you want, and with a pin # for security.

Magic Band: Long-living battery, can be used again and again, basic but with tons of design options
Magic Band+: Interactive with shows and statues, but needs to be charged.

Why is my verdict split? While the Magic Band+ is cool, it’s not necessary and not all that different. I didn’t like that it needed charging and loved the original Magic Band best! If you want to see or experience the Magic Band+ without the added cost for your entire party, consider buying just one for everyone to see it make the statues sing/speak and light up.

Cost: Between $10-$50 (save $ if you’re staying on resort and order ahead)

Worth It/Not Worth It: Resort Refill Mugs

Verdict: SO Worth It!

When staying at a Disney resort you have the option to buy a refillable mug/handle cup. These can be used in resorts only, not including resort restaurants. Drinks include teas, coffees, and fountain sodas. Given that drinks are $3-5 each, you could easily have them pay themselves off within the first day. Downfall: They can only be used in resort refill stations, not in parks or restaurants. So prepare to pack or grab water/drinks in the parks.

Cost: $19.99 each

Photo via Disney Food Blog

Worth It/Not Worth It: Character Dining

Verdict: Worth It, With Notes

Ok, so I feel two ways about this. Because we booked two character dinners and they were entirely different experiences. The first was a character dinner at Tusker House Restaurant, inside Animal Kingdom. This dinner was family-style dining, with unlimited refills with a fixed menu. We had 4 courses: Salad, appetizer, selection of entrees & sides + dessert. Daisy, Donald, Goofy, and Mickey all visited our table throughout the dining experience which lasted about 1.5 hours total. It was incredible. We all had so much fun and enjoyed everything so much! We also did Cinderella’s Royal Table. This character dining experience is fine dining hosted INSIDE the Magic Kingdom Cinderella’s castle, and Cinderella greets you upon arrival. The food and service were amazing, but would I do it again? Probably not. It was so cool to do, so cool to see, but if I’m investing again – we’re going for the more interactive experience because there’s nothing like it. At Cinderella’s castle, we again had appetizers, entrees, desserts and (non-alcoholic) drinks included.

Something to note with character dining is that they’re extremely hard to book. Look at all your options and menus and 60 days before your travel you can book your dining reservation, I’d recommend booking what you can asap! They Go FAST!

Catch: “Children” are ages 3-9, not so great if you have tweens/teens…who only like chicken nuggets.

Cost: $55 adults, $36 children for Tusker House Restaurant, $62 adults, $37 children for Cinderella’s Royal Table. You must be holding a ticket or park hopper for that park the day of your dining as well.

Worth It/Not Worth It: Disney Ponchos

Verdict: Worth It

Listen, I tried to be budget-friendly about this. I bought 10 ponchos for $25 on amazon thinking we would use them 1-2x. In the Orlando weather, we ended up needing them daily, and they didn’t make it past day 1. The rain may be quick but it POURS. So we ended up buying ponchos at Disney and using them for the remainder of the trip. Sucks, but is what it is. If you end up buying cheaper elsewhere, make sure they’re thick and durable!

Cost: $12ea

Worth It/Not Worth It: Fireworks Dessert Party

Verdict: If you really want to see the fireworks once, really well: Worth It! If not: it’s not!

We were hosted by Disney for a Fireworks Dessert Party experience which I had heard is amazing! It starts with a buffet of desserts and leads you into a courtyard center of Magic Kingdom with a clear view of the castle without the big crowds. We sat down and enjoyed the show with no fuss over having to find and hold a spot for hours. The desserts were awesome, but truly, you’re paying for a world-class view of the fireworks. If that’s important to you, you’d find this worth it! Gluten-free desserts were also available by request and were so lovely!

Cost: $114 adults $69 for kids (ages 3-9)

selection of gluten free desserts

In the end, it’s about what’s worth it FOR YOU. I read a quote once that said “you’ll never agree with how others choose to spend their time and money”. Some reading this will find themselves shaking their heads in approval and others in disapproval. We clearly spent a good chunk of money on this trip, and I would do it again in a heartbeat (when I save up to do so).

A week later, and with all the receipts, I’m really proud of this trip. For what we got and the experiences we had, I found it more than reasonable. It’s an experience, core memories and something we will talk about for the rest of our lives.

WORTH IT.

Comments

27 thoughts on “Worth It / Not Worth It DISNEY WORLD Edition (with the receipts!)

  • Sarah,

    Thank you for this we are headed to Disney in December and I have been struggling with a few things. Your post just made everting so much easier!
    Hope you all feel better thank you again

    Erica

  • Thank you for sharing this! You’ve got me thinking of planning a dream trip with the family too and not making it all about being on a budget. I guess it’s the balance of do I want 3 or 4 budget trips or 1 amazing dream trip!

  • That was a truly informative, awesome post! I’ve always loved Disney & loved following along with you all on this trip. Lemmie just brightens my day…cutest, funniest baby ever (slapping Donald’s hand…lol)!!! Thanks for all you share. I think you’re fabulous!!!

  • Did you know there are a lot of great travel agencies (including Canadian women started ones) that have no fees?! It doesn’t cost you any more to book with them than Disney directly and they help you navigate a lot of these things and help you book your dining reservations!!

  • Love this breakdown – I agree with everything.

    WDW is such a magical place, and though very expensive, it is worth every penny. My partner and I are VERY thrifty in every aspect of our lives, except Disney Parks trips and Disney Cruises. We splurge and enjoy every second.

  • Good for you. Sounds like a vacation you will never forget. The whole family will remember well except Lemmie. But u will tell her about it enough she will remember. Lol

  • Thank you Sarah! I’m in a family of 3 with a 4 year old daughter. My husband and I have both discussed a Disney trip is a MUST in the next two years before our daughter gets “too old” we want the child magic to still speak to her. This was a really helpful breakdown and explained things to me I would have never thought of. Looks like we will be saving up to have a few nights on resort so we don’t then have to also rent a car. Thank you again!!

  • Wow, that’s a comprehensive review. Thank you so much for taking the time to do it. I’m thrilled that y’all go so much enjoyment from your vacation. Sounds like it was absolutely worth it. I went with my son and his wife and their 3 kids in 2019. Next year, we’re going again, this time with my daughter, my other son and his wife and their infant as well- can’t wait!! And yes, to saving up for the experience of a lifetime:)

  • What a fantastic review!! This trip looked like a bucket list experience for your family. I appreciate the transparency with the costs.

  • I get so judged for my Disney trips with my son. I get a lot of “with that money you could go to Europe”. I’m aware, but my son is 3 y/o he likes swimming, seeing his favorite characters, his diet consists of mac n cheese and nuggets…im not wasting thousands traveling to a place he wont yet appreciate quite like he appreciates our visits to Disney. Disney is so worth it.

  • Agree with you on so much of that!
    We used a Disney travel agent for a Disney World vacation. It did not cost me anything extra to use her. I had talked to a few before deciding one to go with and all of them said that it wouldn’t cost me anything & that they got paid by Disney. But either way, it is the way to go! We had prioritized what dining experiences we wanted and she got them booked! I didn’t have to worry about it.
    And the Disney ponchos- same experience as you had! Our trip was years ago and those ponchos are still in great shape. They’ve been used at so many sporting events & hike when we’ve been caught in the rain. They have a permanent place in the car & backpacks.

  • I am a huge Disney fan and now have adult children ages 28 and 24. We went to Disney several times on the tightest of budgets and then splurged also to do some of the cruises as well. I have absolutely zero regrets, Disney is fit for every age and is simply magical! I do really appreciate all of your new experiences and tips. Now I’m in the stage where I’m going with grandbabies soon and I can’t wait!

  • Love your take on it – we went in feb 2020 before any shutdowns and I agree with all of your worth it not worth it’s! However – we did use a Disney planner (which is absolutely worth it!) but in the states – we used Academy Travel, and they are free for the end user, Disney pays their salary after your visit is complete and you do all the things they scheduled for you. My planner and I became great friends bc we spoke so much in the year leading up to the trip!

  • This was so informative and well organized, thank you SO much Sarah!

    I am curious and I wonder if you wouldn’t mind sharing the total you think you spent, or an average cost per person? How you saved for it etc.

    Either way thank you again for all the AMAZING free content!

  • Sarah this gave me chills and made me tear up. Since I’m a FL resident, I’ve been to Disney many times but I would trade them all for an experience like this with the whole family. A dream is a wish your heart makes and this is that dream come true.

  • We are heading to Disney world for 10 days October 1st and then following with a four day cruise on the Wish! We are going with my sister and her family and it will truly be the trip of a lifetime! Thank you for sharing your experience! It helps to hear what’s worth investing in.

  • How did Lemmie handle this experience? Was it overwhelming for her & too busy, or did she thrive? Obviously you didn’t have her yet when you originally booked the trip, so how did the trip itself change with the addition of a toddler?

  • Okay if you ever want to go again. I recommend Disney Vacation Club. You can rent the rooms or points through different sites and you could get a two bedroom with full kitchen in the deluxe resorts for under 10,000. We are DVC members, we bought resale. But there are trips we take if we are out of points. Example, we have a studio in Animal Kingdom Lodge for 2200 for the week in a pricier November. That room goes for 700 a night. It’s just the best! You get insurance coverage as well. Places to research DVC shop, dvcrentalsales and Davids rentals. Fabulous vacation and advice!

  • Oh Rats. I thought you would do a quick list of all you spent with a total. I am sure you have one I guess I have to add up everything.

    I was waiting to see the total end price. If the room and park passes were just under $20,000. Canadian how much would you say you spent for 8 people with all that you decided to do and meals and spending money. Like $50,000.

    I was getting a small settlement from an accident like $75,000 and I thought to take 13. 6 adults, 2-8 year olds, 1-2 year old and a 6 month baby. I guess I better rething

  • Disney Travel Agent here!!! Love that you recommend us!!! Many people truly don’t understand how much there is to Disney and how beneficial agents are!! I’m so glad your vacation was magical!!

  • Beautiful! Never regret spending time or money making memories with family….. ever!! Kids grow up and soon don’t want to travel with you and then you’ve missed your opportunity hear their laughter, the silliness and the light and love in their eyes. Cherish every minute…. Life is just too damn short! Love your pics ❤️

  • So the other princesses didn’t come visit the tables at CRT?? When we went they had Jasmine, Ariel, Snow White, Aurora, walking around, and after our meal Prince Charming was downstairs with Cinderella taking pictures as well. This was pre-Covid (2019). I hope it hasn’t changed!!

    Thank you for all this info!! You all look so magical 🥹

  • Thankyou so much for all the details it’s very helpful v r gng soon n all this is very helpful.
    Could you also tell what attractions/tides ur kids like I m gng with 2 girls 9 n 4 n I m the big kid who had waited her entire life to be able to go to Disney.

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