Disney Recap: Back to Finances
Prior to our trip, I blogged about the cost factor of a Walt Disneyworld vacation. It is not inconsiderable. You, of course, can select less expensive options, but no matter where you choose to stay, what tickets you purchase or if you choose the dining plan, your vacation cost will not be insubstantial. For most families. If you’re Oprah or Donald Trump you can stop reading, but most families have to give the cost of their Disney vacation a lot of consideration before they go.
But, since I’ve already talked about cost, I want to spend my time today talking about value. Is what you’re spending a good return for what you’ve spent. Is there enough benefit to staying at a Disney Resort as opposed to choosing a less expensive off site option? What about that dining plan? And those expensive character dinners.
1) Is a Disney Resort worth the extra cost?
Quick answer? Yes. Why? There are, of course, the well known, oft written about Disney reosrt benefits and I’m going to touch on them. First, Disney resort guests get priority in making dining reservations and FastPass+ selections. While anyone may make dining reservations 180 days in advance, Disney resort guests get a 10 day window allow them to make ALL of their reservations at one time. If you’re looking to make reservations at some place like Cinderella’s Royal Table, which is a hard to get reservation, those extra ten days can mean the difference between getting your preferred reservation and not getting one at all. FastPass+ reservations can be made 60 days in advance plus 10 days for resort guests. While FastPass+ isn’t that competitive at this time, it will ensure you’re able to get your preferred rides at your preferred time which is a nice plus.
Additionally, resort guests get free parking at all parks during their stay ($15/day) and Disney resort guests will still be admitted to parks during high capacity days when the parks stop accepting “day guests”. If you’re planning a park visit during high peak season, this ability alone should probably push you towards staying at a Disney resort. But, there’s more than that.
Disney resorts provide tons of entertainment at no extra charge. Our resort (Port Orleans Riverside) had activities every day from 1 until 8. This included a pool party, pool games, campfire and movies under the stars. It’s a nice touch! Our next trip will absolutely feature more resort days because we didn’t even have a chance to do everything the resort offered! However, we did spend a nice afternoon at the main pool and the kids had a lot of fun doing the scheduled activities (for both swimmers and non-swimmers). I think I would have loved the bonfire and movie under the stars, too, but we didn’t have time for that. Next time, we’ll be sure to. I love a good campfire.
Disney resorts are also going to offer you the closest lodging to the theme parks. The Monorail resorts are mere, uncrowded minutes from the parks. This will be worth its weight in gold after a very long day at the parks and the proximity to the parks gives you a better chance of returning to your resort for a mid day break. We parked at a monorail resort for breakfast reservations. Our departure from the Magic Kingdom was easy and fast and Big Daddy and I will be springing for a monorail resort on our next visit.
If you fly in, Disney transportation means you don’t have to rent a car at all. Shuttle service to and from the airport is “free” as is Disney in park transportation. Not having to rent a car could be a big cost savings for your family. Of course, then you’re at the mercy of Disney transportation and that might not be acceptable
2) Is the dining plan worth it?
Quick Answer? No.
Let me explain this; I spent a good deal of time crunching the numbers of purchasing the dining plan at full price (for our family, $214/day). We would save no money using the dining plan at full price for the way we eat (big breakfast, snack, big dinner). However, a Stay, Play and Dine package was released during our stay and we were able to secure the dining plan for $114/day for our family which DID make it a better deal.
So, why don’t I recommend it? Several reasons. The dining plan locks you into a certain way of eating. It requires 7 table service meals (aka meals requiring reservations). Disney has a 24 hour cancellation policy and requires a credit card to hold your reservation. If you find, on Friday, that you’re not hungry for your 2:00 lunch reservation you have two choices; skip it and pay a $50 no show fee ($10 per person you reserved for) or show up and eat anyhow. We showed up and ate anyhow. While an occasional sit down meal would suit us, trying to have one per day wasn’t really how we wanted to eat. Additionally, the large meals meant we didn’t eat our snacks and I was scurrying through the resort gift shop on our last night loading myself up with fifteen items that would meet our snack credit requirements.
Wednesday morning, Baby Bee was sick and needed to sleep in. She and Big Daddy missed our breakfast reservation meaning we left an adult and child table service credit sitting unused because we couldn’t make it up. Since we got a discount, I estimate that we only left $55 sitting on the table, but had we paid full price it would have been closer to $100. There are no refunds. Unused meals are money lost.
The dining plan, in my opinion, makes far too many demands on your time and how you want to eat. Next time, we’ll pass. Doing the math, we probably would have spent an extra $400 purchasing food not on the dining plan (meaning we spent $170/day)but I think we would have been less stressed and happier.
3) Are Character Meals worth it?
Quick Answer? Yes, with a few stipulations.
Our first morning in the magic kingdom, we walked in to a huge line. People were waiting to meet Minnie Mouse and Pluto. We skipped by, having just come from a meal at Chef Mickey’s where Baby Bee was able to meet Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy and Donald. We had four character meals on our trip and, frankly I’d have still done three of those four even if we weren’t trying to do seven sit down meals due to the dining plan. Three of those meals gave our kids the ability to meet most of their favorite characters meaning we got to bypass long lines that wasted precious park time.
So, yes. Do character meals. Plan them sparingly and be sure to highlight your kids favorite available characters. Consider that your children may be too excited to actually eat, so if you have a kid who melts down easily when they miss meals, you may find that character meals aren’t a good fit. Littlebit had trouble eating while waiting for her favorite characters to come by. Another con is that the rooms are often big, crowded and noisy and it can be difficult to hear the face characters speak and shy children may be overwhelmed. However, the character meals we attended had little parades or dances that gave children another opportunity to interact with their favorite characters. You know your child best!
4) And lastly, have a souvenir budget and stick to it. Our girls used gift money and some earned money for souveniers. This meant that 1) everyone had a budget. When the money was gone, it was gone and 2) the kids considered what they wanted to buy a bit more carefully when it was their own finite money. Poor Littlebit took days to buy something as she carefully calculated the cost of each thing she wanted to buy and how much it would leave her afterwards. She did finally settle on a few things, but mainly this amazing outfit after a great character experience with Belle (more on that another day).
Big Daddy and I also had a particular budget for the remainder of our trip as well, which helped us be more calm and less fussy about extra purchases.