Home » The 5 Hidden Costs of a Walt Disney World Vacation (and How to Avoid Them)

The 5 Hidden Costs of a Walt Disney World Vacation (and How to Avoid Them)

Your vacation budget has a certain amount of elasticity. You can probably splurge here or there for a special indulgence. Should you spend too much, however, money will be tight when you get back home. When you take a trip to Walt Disney World, you don’t want to get hit with unexpected charges, but pitfalls abound. Here are some of the hidden costs of a Disney vacation plus some tips for avoiding them and thereby stretching your vacation budget.


Image: DisneyWhen you plan your travel, you’re either going to take a plane or a car to get to Disney. Historically, a car was cheaper, but recent changes have blurred the issue. Disney charges a nightly parking fee for cars staying at their resorts. Presuming that you’re staying onsite, you’ll pay $100 or more extra for a week’s stay.

Flying will cost more unless you live in a metropolitan area with inexpensive direct flights. Even then, hidden fees are an intrinsic part of the airline business model. You must pay luggage fees for your bags. When you’re staying at Disney for a while, you’ll need more bags. Those prices can add up quickly. For example, Delta charges $25 for the first bag per person and $35 for the second one. For a round trip flight, you’ve just added $120 to the price of a plane ticket!

Image: DisneyHere are a couple of tips to save money. Research credit card deals, particularly travel ones. Many major airlines offer exclusive cards that include membership perks. Generally, one of those perks is a free checked bag. These cards also have potential sign-up bonuses. For example, Delta offers 50,000 SkyMiles for guests who spend a set amount of money during the first 3-4 months of card ownership. You could feasibly get one or two free roundtrip tickets via these incentive programs. Even if you don’t, you’ve saved money both ways because you got to check a bag for free!

Should you still prefer to drive, you may save money on parking fees. I’m not guaranteeing it, but you can check the math when you arrive in town. The Orlando International Airport (MCO), like all other airports, offers long-term parking. They don’t care whether you’re staying in Orlando or not. So, you could feasibly drive into the city, park at MCO and then use ride-sharing to reach your resort.

Depending on the length of your stay and the hotel where you’re staying, you could shave a few dollars from your nightly parking fees. I can’t be definitive here due to Disney’s parking policy. The price is different for each tier of Disney resort.


Image: DisneyYou’ll need certain items when you’re at Walt Disney World. You’ll want sunglasses and suntan lotion to protect yourself against the blistering Florida sun. You’ll need a rain slicker or umbrella, too. Orlando is notorious for its spontaneous thundershowers. In this day and age, you’ll also need a battery charger, too. Your phone has become integral since the inception of My Disney Experience.

You should buy these things in your hometown and then bring them to Walt Disney World. I know it packs your suitcase that much fuller, possibly causing you to check an extra bag. Here’s the reality, though. Walt Disney World has the highest mark-ups on merchandise that you’ll see this side of Las Vegas. When you buy a battery charger at the park, you’ll pay $35 or more for something you can get for less than $20 via Amazon. While sundries like suntan lotion are only a few dollars extra, that’s money you don’t want to give away, right? With a bit of planning you can avoid it.

Similarly, NEVER take your favorite pair of sunglasses to a Disney theme park. You’re just asking for heartbreak. Pull a ZZ Top and get yourself some cheap sunglasses instead. Think of them as disposables for your trip. Should they fall off during a ride through Expedition Everest, you’re not out anything. My advice is to go to Wal-Mart or a Dollar General in your area right before you pack. Grab the cheapest stuff you can find for your trip. You won’t be attached to anything you buy, but maybe you’ll fall in love with those unicorn-print sunglasses anyway.

Hotel stays

Image: DisneyDeciding where to stay during your trip is probably the most difficult choice. You have a multitude of options, but let’s start with the obvious one. Disney incentivizes guests to stay at their official resorts. They give these theme park tourists special benefits such as Extra Magic Hours. Their resorts are also closest to the parks and have free transportation to and from each Walt Disney World gate. The catch is the price. Most of these resorts cost more than third party options.

When you visit Orlando, you’ll have several other housing options. You could rent a house or condo, you could stay at a cheaper hotel, or you could rent an Airbnb. All of them are valid, but the downside is significant. I believe that the logistics of Walt Disney World virtually force guests to stay onsite. I understand that others have a differing opinion. If you want to save money by renting somewhere or staying in a third-party hotel, you’re already saving money. So, you don’t need my advice.

Image: DisneyI can help on the Disney part, though. I recommend several different strategies for saving money on hotels. The first is to find a package offer. This idea will come into play in the next two sections, too. Admittedly, some of these deals aren’t the greatest. Disney tends to price their packages in a way where you only save a bit from the cost if you purchased each item individually.

Something you may not know that you can do is book a hotel room using Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points. You could join the program, something I heartily recommend to frequent Disney visitors, or you could merely rent points for a single trip. You’ll oftentimes get to stay in some of the most luxurious resorts on the Disney campus for the cost of a moderate tier room. Warning: it’s addictive!

Alternately, you should speak with a Disney third party travel agency. These services are free to you, as the agents work on commission through Disney. Your agent will keep an eye on prices for hotel rooms, booking your room at the lowest possible cost for you. It saves you a bit of aggravation, too. Someone else worries about your hotel stay for you.

Theme park admission and money management

Image: DisneySaving money on theme park admission is difficult. These prices are static, and Disney’s introduced several changes in recent years that have raised the cost of admission overall. Something that you can do is buy tickets through a reliable third-party company. Some vendors have special deals in place that will save you a few bucks on the price of admission.

You’ll also find that Disney tends to price you in on longer stays. An extra day or two at the parks could feasibly cost less than you’d expect. You should always investigate this just in case there’s a bargain to be had. As discussed previously, price out any packages Disney’s currently offering for the same reason.

Image: DisneyMoney management at Walt Disney World comes in several forms. The one you may not realize ahead of time is tipping. It’s a sore subject for a lot of Disney fans, but cast members are generally underpaid. That’s just the reality of the situation. A few extra dollars as a reward for a job well done is certainly appreciated.

You should carry some cash, preferably in $5 increments for these situations. You’ll need to tip your Magical Express driver as well as the person in Bell Services who brings your luggage up to your room. You’ll tip your servers during any Table Service meals, too. Anything that you’d tip for at home works the same at Disney. Having cash in hand prevents any awkwardness when you realize that you should tip but aren’t carrying any money.


Image: DisneyFood costs money. Period. You’ll pay more at Walt Disney World, too. I’m a devout believer in the Disney Dining Plan, but I accept that it’s not for everyone. Having said that, the most popular package that Disney makes available each year is the Free Disney Dining Plan.  With this package, Disney gives you two “free” meals each day. When that offer is available, take it.

Yes, cynics will note that you’re not saving much money, but ignore them. With this dining plan, you’ll have less stress in planning your vacation. You’ve already addressed your meals ahead of time. You should also know that when you eat at Table Service restaurants, you are still responsible for tips.

You can save money on your meals through several different strategies. One is to sign up for a Disney credit card. You’ll earn cash back on your spending, and you’ll receive discounts at many Walt Disney World restaurants. Similarly, annual passholders and DVC members get these discounts, too. Generally, they’re either 10- or 20-percent discounts. Tables in Wonderland is another program to research, but it doesn’t help you unless you’re either a Florida resident or DVC member.

Image: DisneyOne tip you should keep in the back of your head is that you’re not married to Disney locations. You could easily ride-share to a restaurant in the vicinity, one which might have better reviews than some of the standard Disney fare. And it will assuredly be cheaper. Plus, it’s nice to escape the Disney campus occasionally.

Finally, snacks are an easy way to save money. Just bring your own with you to Orlando. Alternately, order some snacks on Amazon and have them delivered to your room. A lot of people do this. Oddly, the way to save the largest amount of money on snacks is to order bottled water that you can take with you to the parks. A 24-pack at Amazon costs about the same as two (!) bottles of water at Walt Disney World.