10 Clever Ways Disney World Gets You to Spend More Money (and How to Avoid Them)

With a little preparation, you can avoid spending too much at the park.
Updated May 2, 2024
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family in amusement park

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Disney may be the happiest place on earth, but it can wind up costing you more money than you planned to spend. This is especially the case if you have children and are planning a family vacation to Disney World.

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid getting into situations that cost extra money. Here’s what you need to know about saving cash at Disney World.

Have a gift shop strategy

Aleksandr/Adobe adorable little girl with mother shopping for toys

It’s well-known by Disney World enthusiasts that after you finish a ride, you have to exit through the gift shop. It’s an obvious way that Disney tries to part you from your hard-earned money.

This is especially the case with children, as the park fills those shops with items geared toward your little ones. To stay on budget, manage your kids’ expectations before they enter the gift shop. Set a firm limit on how much they can spend, and remind them there will be multiple chances to shop throughout the day. It’s not a foolproof strategy, but it will help.

Be prepared for the weather

Konstantin Yuganov/Adobe mother and daughter with red umbrella

This can vary depending on the time of year, but make sure to prepare for the weather at Disney World. Florida gets rain nearly every afternoon in the summer months, and Disney is counting on you not to be ready for it. That’s why they sell rain gear at high prices.

Be sure to pack everyone’s slicker and umbrella beforehand. Do the same with sweaters in the cooler months as well. Oh, and there’s a reason Disney World gift shops open their doors in the rain: to get you to come in and spend money when there’s nothing else to do. Be prepared for that, too.

Bring your own snacks

gpointstudio/Adobe young mom and daughter packing backpack for the school

One of the best things about going to Disney World is all the delicious food you get to eat. There are tons of options for everyone, from savory to sweet to snacks.

However, all of that dining out can hamper your efforts to manage your money. That’s why it’s prudent to pack a lunch, or at least bring snacks. Yes, it’s allowed, believe it or not. You can also bring an empty water bottle to fill up at the fountains. Finally, make sure you claim your one complimentary glass of water at the quick-serve restaurants in the park.

Skip the Disney Dining Plan

Monkey Business/Adobe family eating meal at outdoor restaurant together

The all-inclusive Disney Dining Plan sounds tempting, as you can enjoy your favorite foods at Disney without having to worry about the check. But this plan may actually cost more for some families than paying as you go.

Kids tend to have fairly small appetites compared to adults, and will likely snack their way through the park between meals. And if your little one is a selective eater, they might not like many of the options. So unless you plan on going to the classy joints and utilizing every point, skip the DDP.

Order your food a la cart

annanahabed/Adobe food orders on the kitchen table in the restaurant

The last bit of food advice on this list that’s good for saving money at Disney World is to order your food a la cart.

You might not be aware that you can do this, as nearly every restaurant in the park offers food in combination plans. However, you don’t have to get the sandwich, fries, and soda if you just want the sandwich and soda, and the same applies for your little ones. That way, you’ll both pay less for meals and save money throughout your Disney vacation.

Stick to activities that don’t cost extra

WavebreakMediaMicro/Adobe happy family riding bikes together

There is no shortage of fun activities at Disney World, which is likely why you booked a family vacation there in the first place. But know before you go that there are activities that cost extra, such as surf lessons, bike rentals, and having meals with costumed characters.

Of course, the kids are going to be tempted by some of these extras, which can really do a number on your wallet. Fortunately, there are tons of attractions that are covered in the price of admission. So talk with the wee ones about what you’ll be doing — and what you won’t.

Don’t get hooked on collecting

SHS Photography/Adobe boy and mother on carousel smiling at each other

Disney World is really good at selling merchandise to children and adults alike. However, for as much as Disney wants you to collect their pins, hats, shirts, and mugs, don’t feel like you have to buy everything they brand as collectible.

Again, you’ll need to set boundaries with the kids, but that’s not impossible. Instead, you can focus on collecting fun experiences, like how many rides you went on together, as opposed to plastic that will collect dust once you return home.

Skip the photo package

Halfpoint/Adobe father mother and daughter in amusement park taking selfie

With all the amazing things on your Disney bucket list, it’s only natural that you will want to remember everything about your family vacation in Orlando. That’s why you should take pictures with your smartphone to document the adventure.

Disney World is also happy to take plenty of photos for you, but they won’t come cheap. The PhotoPass and Memory Maker package charges can run into the hundreds, increasing with each day you spend at the park. So stick with your iPhone shots, which are pretty high-quality on their own.

Bring your own glow toys

nazareth/Adobe a boy playing with a glow stick in lowlight conditions

One of the most iconic parts of any Disney World vacation is the nightly fireworks. The park looks truly magical all lit up, and the fireworks displays at Disney World are top-notch.

But be warned: With all of that excitement going on, your kids likely are going to want to buy the glow toys the park sells in order to heighten the experience. Get in front of this by purchasing your own glow toys and bringing them into the park with you. Even if you spring for the fancy ones, it will still be cheaper than buying them with park markup.

Stay in an offsite hotel

Nattakorn/Adobe asian family packing luggage

On the surface, staying onsite at Disney World is full of perks like bonus magic hours, park transport, and room delivery. However, there’s a pretty good reason Disney wants you on the resort for as much time as possible: You (and the kids) will drop more cash there with everything the park offers right in front of you.

So consider staying in an off-site hotel — there are more than enough of them in the Orlando area. That will limit the hours you’re spending, spending, spending.

Bottom line

MinttuFin/Adobe Ride Swing Carousel in motion in amusement park

A Disney World vacation doesn’t have to break the bank, though it likely isn't going to be cheap. With a little ingenuity you can have a blast without spending your last dime. Don’t forget that there are other activities in the state that you can do that cost less, too. Florida has it all.

And if you do plan a trip to the happiest place on earth, make sure you book it using one of the best credit cards for Disney.

Author Details

Cat Lafuente Cat Lafuente is a Florida-based writer and editor with extensive experience in digital and print content spaces. Her own personal finance journey — particularly consolidating debt and paying it off, in turn boosting her credit score and becoming a homeowner — inspired her to join the FinanceBuzz team; she hopes she can help others do the same.

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