Learn From My Mistakes and Don't Pay for These Items at Disney World

A Walt Disney World arch gate on the road in Orlando, Florida, USA.


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Magic or Major Ripoff?

Disney World — it's a love it or hate it experience. As a first timer taking my kids, I really didn't know what to expect. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, it was hot as hell, the crowds were a pain in the ass, and I spent a s--tload of money. But I also did quite a bit of planning, which saved a lot of time. Still, there were some mistakes I made that could've saved money as well. Here's what I learned. 

Related: These Money-Saving Disney World Tips Are Gold, According to Redditors

Genie Plus
Jennifer Magid / Cheapism

Worth It: Genie+

Genie+ is Disney’s newest answer to Fast Pass, the former system that lets you select rides and times in advance of your park day. With this new app, you must pay an additional $20 to $35 per person depending on the park and day in order to reserve ride times.

The whole system was so complicated to me that I legit studied how to use it weeks in advance. Though it requires an early wake-up time and legwork throughout the day, it’s completely worth it. You’re already paying through the nose for Disney, so paying a bit more to be able to fit in all the rides you want instead of standing there for hours was a no-brainer to me. In this case, time is money.

Related: 18 Expensive Mistakes to Avoid at Disney

Character Meal at Disney
Jennifer Magid / Cheapism

Not Worth It: Character Meal

You may hear about how you must do the character meals, where Disney characters meet and greet restaurant guests. Some people book this experience as far out as possible, but on a whim, we booked one last-minute while deciding what to do for lunch. It was a mistake.

We ended up spending about $250 to have Pluto, Daisy Duck, and other characters stop by for a quick pic. I guess that's cute, but for all that money? No thanks. Plus, one child wouldn’t even touch the food, which was decidedly average. Verdict: It's a waste of money.

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Suitcase delivered standing in hotel room. concept of Hotel service and travel

Worth It: Staying Off-site

After looking at what you get for your money when booking a Disney hotel room, I decided to book an off-site hotel where I was able to find an additional discount. The hotel had free shuttle service to the parks, free breakfast, and offered free nightly dinner and drinks. I got all that for less than the cost of staying onsite. 

However, I did wonder if it might have been easier to stay on-site, where you can simply walk back to your hotel room at the hottest, whiniest part of the day and come back later refreshed. 

Target Retail Store. Target Sells Home Goods, Clothing and Electronics VI

Worth It: Target RedCard

When you buy Disney gift cards from Target with a RedCard, you get 5% off. In other words, you’ll have spent $95 instead of $100 to buy something at Disney. While it may seem meager, 5% here and there adds up, especially when you can use the RedCard for absolutely every Disney purchase, from the Genie+ app to meals and souvenirs. 

Disney Magic Band
Disney Magic Band by Julie Friend (CC BY-SA)

Not Worth It: MagicBands

Disney touts how much easier everything is when you buy a MagicBand for $45 per person. You simply scan your band at every ride, as well as use it to pay for food and souvenirs. 

We debated buying before deciding not to, and it was a good call. It was simple enough to scan our included Disney cards to enter rides. And call me old school, but I didn’t see the problem in just whipping out my credit card to pay for things.

Parents, baby stroller and exercise with a young man and woman pushing a pram while walking through a park on a sunny day. Closeup feet of a young family out for an active leisure stroll in summer

Worth It: Bringing Your Own Stroller

Strollers are free to check on every airline, even the budget ones. To rent one onsite, you must stand in line and then pay anywhere from $13 to $31 per day, which adds up for a multi-day trip. That’s definitely the cost of a couple snacks or mouse ears you could have bought instead.

Detail of photographer holding DSLR camera outdoors

Not Worth It: Memory Maker Photos

I paid $160 in advance for Disney PhotoPass, where you can have unlimited pictures taken by onsite photographers throughout the parks. The upsell is that instead of having a person left out because they are taking the pics, Disney does it all for you with their photogs stationed in over 100 locations. 

In Magic Kingdom, we could barely find any photographers. On top of that, some of the pics were … meh. Think eyes shut, weird faces, and just downright worse than I could do. We saw people who had brought their own tripod and set up their phone or camera for group photos. If you’re trying to be budget conscious, go that route and DIY.