20 Expensive Mistakes to Avoid at Disney

Minnie and Mickey Mouse ride Disney Parks float

Bastiaan Slabbers/istockphoto

Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
Minnie and Mickey Mouse ride Disney Parks float
Bastiaan Slabbers/istockphoto

It's a Small World (Paved With Big Bucks)

The name Disney conjures up whimsical images for children and warm memories for many adults. And though it may have a place in our hearts, Disney is first and foremost a business. From movie studios and television stations to merchandise and music, the global entertainment titan is a marketing master that is an expert at getting you to take money out of your pocket and put it into its cash registers.

If you're a newbie to any of Disney's dozens of parks, you're likely going to make some costly rookie mistakes. Fortunately, there are some ways to save money at Disney. And if it all seems too pricey, there are also cheaper family vacation alternatives.

Editor's note: This story was updated in July 2024

Asphalt after rain
Renato Arap/istockphoto

Forgetting to Prepare for Rain (or a Water Ride)

When it rains, Disney properties are usually prepared with umbrellas, dry clothes, and sometimes ponchos — for a price. You may be grateful to buy them, but bringing them with you in undoubtedly cheaper. 

Passenger airplane flying above clouds during sunset

Pick the Right Airport

This applies to both where you are and where you're going. If you're flying into Orlando, there are actually several choices. In addition to Orlando International, there's Orlando Sanford and Daytona Beach International. But before you hop on the cheapest flight, remember you still have to get to your hotel and the park, which can quickly eat up your savings. 

Buying Things You Need Instead of Packing Them
Amy S./Yelp

Buying Things You Need Instead of Packing Them

At Disney resorts, it's almost impossible not to splurge on a few awesome things you want — and that's fine if it's within your budget. Don't, however, waste your money by paying theme-park prices for things you need and should have brought from home. Make you sure you pack — and don't forget at the hotel — sunscreen, sunglasses, device chargers, medicine, umbrellas, and extra clothing such as sweatshirts.

Related: 25 Ways Disney Revolutionized Entertainment

Buying Pricey Glow-in-the-Dark Toys

Buying Pricey Glow-in-the-Dark Toys

When night falls in Disney theme parks, bright — and expensive — glowing toys emerge from kiosks everywhere. Kids love them, but the problem is they often find their way into the nearest trash can by the end of the night when the glow wears off. When it comes to pricey battery-powered light-up toys, they're likely to collect dust after the novelty of the trip is over. Expect to spend at least $25 for illuminated mouse ears. Want your kids to glow? You can score 100 glowsticks on Amazon for $8.

Want to find out more about Disney savings? Check out our free newsletter.

Master Yoda

Falling for Jedi Mind Tricks

The "Star Wars" franchise is one of the greatest marketing juggernauts in history — and Disney owns it. That means everything "Star Wars" is oozing from every corner of Disney's parks. If you're in the market for a lightsaber or helmet that's exclusive to park shops, by all means — as long as you have the means. Otherwise, run a quick Google Shopping search before you swipe. Chances are you can get it cheaper at home or online. 

Dole Whip

Swallowing the Disney Dining Plan Marketing

The Disney Dining Plan (and Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan) are wildly popular, at least in part because they are marketed brilliantly as an exclusive perk available only to guests at Disney resorts. In reality, they can be a money pit. Although the addition of beer, wine and cocktails was a major upgrade in 2018, that was still with users limited to a single drink and no appetizer. Bringing your own food and snacks can be a big money saver here.

Disney World

Visiting During Peak Times

The cost of visiting virtually all Disney parks — at least those in the United States — increases significantly during peak season. You can tell it's peak season if your kids are out of school. At Walt Disney World, the cheapest rooms in the parks' budget resorts can jump from less than $150 a night in off-peak times to more than $300 during the peak dates. 

Disney Grand Floridian Resort
Disney Grand Floridian Resort & Spa/Yelp

Not Fully Researching Accommodation Options

Disney resorts are conveniently located with immediate park access and they come packed with perks that many travelers consider to be well worth the money. You can likely spend much less per night by booking a place through Airbnb or a similar site. Even better, you can cook your own food in your private rental. While Disney loyalists note that you can definitely land an off-site rental for less, they're quick to point out that unless you drove to your Disney vacation, you'll have to rent a car or take an Uber or Lyft to and from the park, which can erase any financial gains quickly. Also, Disney resorts offer free shuttles and free breakfast. In the end, you have to strategize according to your situation.

Don't Buy Water

Drowning Your Budget in Bottled Water

It gets hot in Orlando. Likewise in Anaheim. Between the sun and all that walking, you're going to need plenty of water. There are two options at Disney resorts: Get it for free or pay through the nose. Bottled water costs $3.50 to $6. Or, you could bring a refillable water bottle and fill up at any water fountain for nothing. Also, any quick-serve restaurant will give you a cup of ice water upon request.

Daily Disney - Boardwalk at Night (Explored)
Daily Disney - Boardwalk at Night (Explored) by Joe Penniston (CC BY-NC-ND)

Neglecting to Check for Special Offers

Disney markets and distributes discounts of all sorts aggressively through a dedicated deals page on its website. Always check there before you buy anything. Right now, you can score deep discounts on rooms and vacation packages, authentic theme park merchandise, and even Disney credit cards.

Ignoring the Hidden Freebies
Arturo B./Yelp

Ignoring the Hidden Freebies

Despite the fact that it seems like everything you see at a Disney resort has a price tag attached to it, there's plenty of free stuff that newbies often overlook. Disney's Boardwalk at Walt Disney World, for example, is free with free, 3-hour parking. Parking and entertainment are free at Disney Springs. 

Main Street, Magic Kingdom
Tim Brown/istockphoto

Leaving the Stroller at Home

Your kids have outgrown the stroller — or so you thought. Hoofing it through a Disney park can be surprisingly exhausting, even for many adults. Many travelers report walking as much as 10 to 12 miles per day. You're likely to find that your smaller so-called-stroller-outgrown children might be begging for a push before long. You can rent a stroller, but it will cost you $15 a day for a single or $31 a day for a double

Buying Park Hopper Passes for One-Day Visits
James Kirkikis/shutterstock

Buying Park Hopper Passes for One-Day Visits

Park Hopper passes, which allow visits to more than one park in a day, can be valuable on multi-day trips to most Disney parks, but they're almost never worth the money if you're visiting a Disney park for just one day. It's common to underestimate how long it takes to move from one park to the next, and there's essentially no park you can completely knock out in a single visit — especially if you're carting children around.

Cost of Disney Through the Years

Writing Off Authorized Resellers

In your search for cheap passes and tickets, you'd be wise to avoid shady scalpers and aftermarket sellers, but did you know that you can score big discounts by buying from authorized Disney resellers that buy in bulk and sell at a discount? Among the best is UndercoverTourist, where you can get steep discounts on tickets, hotels, car rentals, and attractions at Disney resorts.

Woman arriving in travel agency

Not Using a Disney Travel Agent

Travel agents might feel antiquated in the era of of travel comparison sites that let anyone shop the best rates with just a few clicks — but Disney is different. Through the College of Disney Knowledge program, Disney has created a network of travel agents who specialize in Disney-specific vacations. They're free to use — Disney pays them, and you don't — and they're far more likely to find the best and most up-to-date discounts than a layperson. Small World Vacations is among the best in the business.

Woman on computer
Chinnapong/ istockphoto

Not Signing Up for the Mousesavers Newsletter

There's no shortage of blogs, forums, and fan sites dedicated to the wide world of Disney. But few are bigger, more reputable or more reliable than MouseSavers.com. Planning a Disney vacation? Sign up for the MouseSavers newsletter and Hot Deals emails and you'll get discounts, deals, and insider tips, many of which are exclusive to MouseSavers. 

Not Cashing in on Military Discounts

Not Cashing in on Military Discounts

Members of the military, including active duty, retired, National Guard, reservists, NOAA, and their spouses are entitled to deep discounts on all things Disney. Not only do military personnel get discounted tickets and park passes, but they enjoy steep cuts on extras such as PhotoPass and Memory Maker.

Not Using Your Own Camera

Taking Pictures With Their Camera Instead of Yours

When you visit a Disney park, you'll probably notice guests lining up for their turn with super-friendly photographers wielding impressive-looking cameras in front of the park's choicest landmarks and backdrops. Those people are Disney's official photo team, and when they snap a photo of you with one of their cameras, you can download it for a fee when you get home as part of the PhotoPass program — unless you pay $185 for the Memory Maker program that lets you download every photo from your entire trip. But there's another option they might not tell you about. You can just hand the photographer your smartphone and smile for the camera — they'll take a photo for you with your own device for free.

Credit card debt
Farknot_Architect / istockphoto

Using the Wrong Credit Card

Disney aficionados have their own plastic to swipe that lets them save money when they visit Mickey and company — or even if they're just shopping for Disney merch. The Disney Premier Chase Visa lets you build up 2% in Disney Dream Rewards Dollars when you swipe at restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations and, of course, Disney locations. You can then spend those rewards on virtually everything Disney, including park tickets, merchandise, media, and more.

Waiting Until Your Kid Turns 3

Waiting Until Your Kid Turns 3

You might think your 2-year-old is too young to enjoy a Disney vacation, but there's actually no better age to visit. Children under 3 years old don't need a park ticket, they don't need a FastPass and they can eat from your plate in Disney restaurants without ordering their own meal. Children ages 3 through 10 do get a discount, but it's not significant, so if your toddler is creeping toward birthday No. 3, now's the time to get packing.