There are a million ways to do Disney. But whether you experience the most magical place on Earth the right way or the wrong way depends on how prepared you are for your trip. Without proper planning, you could make costly mistakes, turning an already pricey vacation downright unaffordable.
Of course, Mickey hats and other Disney paraphernalia will be vastly inflated on site and not worth the expense. But other lesser known mistakes are made all the time — some without knowledge you’re even committing one. Here are 10 of the costliest Disney mistakes, ranked from minor to catastrophic.
10. Assuming your child is privy to child prices
- Price of your mistake: $6 per day per child, plus food
Although Disney brings out the kid in all of us, guidelines for whom it considers a true child are relatively strict. Those who are 10 and over must pay adult level admission prices, as well as adult menu food prices — even if your 12-year-old only craves Mickey waffles and orange juice.
The adult breakfast at the Be Our Guest Restaurant, for example, is a full $8 dollars more expensive than the kid breakfast option. Ticket prices for adult verses child admission also vary by $6 per day, which could get pricey depending on the day of the week and the number of days you plan on staying.
Next: Food mistakes that’ll add up quickly
9. Food options in the park
- Price of your mistake: About $15 per person
Not researching your food options before entering Disney could be costly for you and your family. Walt Disney World has a variety of in-park food options that range in price from $14.99 per adult to over $60 per adult. Snacks are obviously cheaper, but it’s not uncommon to pay $5 for ice cream Mickey ears, a prerequisite vacation buy.
People with food allergies, dietary preferences, or just a hankering for savings can bring their own food into the park. Katie, the blogger behind Kitchen Stewardship, spent a whole day at the theme park and succeeded in bringing her own food.
Many guests think leaving the park for cheaper food options is smart, but they’re just wasting time and money. The most efficient savings strategy is to eat a free resort hotel breakfast first, then pack a bag of snacks for the trip.
Next: Forgetting to alert the staff of this one thing could cost you.
8. Keeping your birthday a secret
Disney knows how to celebrate. | David Roark/Disneyland Resort/Getty Images
- Price of your mistake: $15 to $20 worth of freebies
Celebrating another trip around the sun is definitely not something you want to keep secret at Disney World. In fact, you’d be breaking a cardinal Disney mistake by not alerting the staff of your birthday — or any other monumental celebration occurring during your stay.
Any guest armed with a celebration button will get special treatment throughout the resort. As explained in Theme Park Tourist, this button acts as a big flag for staff who are prepared to offer you anything from free desserts and Starbucks coffees to sandwiches and impromptu birthday serenades.
Next: Ticket strategies are important for your budget.
7. Going with the wrong ticket strategy
Make sure you take advantage of your time there. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images
- Price of your mistake: $75 for a six-day visit per person
The length of your stay is what really influences your spending habits at the park, and trying to decipher among varying ticket options can get hairy. It’s best to keep it simple. The longer you stay, the cheaper it gets. And the older your kids are, the more valuable a Park Hopper becomes.
The Disney Tourist Blog recommends first-timers stay for six to eight days to get the most out of their vacation. If you plan on going multiple days, bundle your day passes for super savings. For example, individual day passeswill run $99, but a six-day pass is only $65 per day.
In addition, upgrading to a six-day Park Hopper ticket is only $75 more. But buying this would be a waste of money — almost an entire Disney dinner meal — if your crowd is too young to withstand multiple parks back to back. Most people don’t recoup their value because there’s only so much time in a day.
Next: Some things are better left unplanned.
6. Adding on all the bells and whistles beforehand
Paying as you go will save you from paying for things you don’t need. | Mark Ashman/Disney via Getty Images
- Price of your mistake: $90 in additional fees
If you’re prone to upgrades and sweet-sounding deals, one of the biggest — and most expensive — mistakes you can make at Disney would be going for broke when it comes to park access. Part of Disney’s magic is the art of the upsell, meaning guests have the option to purchase ticket add-ons, such as Park Hopper and Park Hopper plus. This gives you access to the main parks, the water parks, golf courses, and ESPN’s Wide World of Sports.
But it doesn’t make sense to pay for options you won’t use ahead of time. Seven days’ worth of Disney World theme park access and seven Water Parks Fun & More admissions might seem doable during planning, but actually trying to visit these in real time will feel like running an Iron Man race. Add-ons aren’t worth it if you only plan on making one visit to the other parks. And because they’re cheaper than the main park, it makes sense to purchase admission separately throughout your vacation to ensure you only pay for what you use.
Next: Perks sometimes outweigh price.
5. Forgetting available resort perks
Disneyland Hotel at The Walt Disney Studios at Disneyland Paris | Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images
- Price of your mistake: $90 at minimum
Guest who choose to stay off the Disney resort will save a bit of money, but they’ll miss out on convenient travel perks only offered to resort guests. It worth considering value when choosing accommodations, as resorts offer free entertainment, transportation, and food to hotel guests. Not only will you pass over contagious Disney magic outside the theme park, you’ll pay $20 per day to park, $50 and $70 per day in rental car fees, and likely waste money on expensive breakfasts each morning.
Planning to just sleep at your resort would be careless, as well. Many of the resorts offer free entertainment options that are instrumental in saving money on your vacation. The resort lobbies are one of the best places for character photo opportunities,and many will offer free tours to guests looking to take it all in.
Next: How much time are you wasting in line?
4. Forgoing line strategies
Be first in line for the Teacups. | Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images
- Price of your mistake: All the time in the world
The biggest gripe about Disney is the “hurry up and wait” phenomenon that no park hopper or ingenious map route can seem to squander. Without proper preparation, you’ll spend the majority of your day waiting for a ride while withering away in the hot sun. But Disney didn’t achieve unprecedented success without a few tricks up its sleeve. Guests will commit a detrimental Disney mistake by ignoring simple wait-time hacks, such as Ride Switch, FastPass, and Single Rider policies.
FastPass allows riders to choose three attractions per day to jump the line into the “FastPass” lane. Some rides have an entirely separate lane for single riders who don’t mind strapping into a coaster alone. And Ride Switch is a timely solution for parents who must switch off with another parent to wait in line with a child who can’t ride. And if you’re not using Disneyland phone apps to scout the shortest lines in the park, then you’re doing Disney all wrong.
Next: Why it’s an expensive mistake to spend all your days at Disney
3. Spending the entire vacation at Disney
Epcot should be experienced. | iStock.com/JimVallee
- Price of your mistake: $107 per day
There’s no need to splurge on five days’ worth of passes if you know you can hit everything the Magic Kingdom and Epcot have to offer in three. An adult one-day ticket is $107, all of which will go to waste if you’re stuck catching Z’s at the hotel room. It’s best to spread your Disney trip across all attractions to save money. As mentioned earlier, Water Park tickets are $45 cheaper than a theme park pass and could prove to be more relaxing than navigating a crowd at Hollywood Studios.
Disney Tourist Blog suggests that you buy one day fewer worth of tickets to enjoy other amenities available to you for less money. Visitors on the WDWinfo blog advise vacationers to take a breather with an off day. For example, take a leisurely ride on the Monorail to check out nearby Disney resorts, or wander around the Disney campgrounds.
Next: Suppress your desire to splurge.
2. Splurging on overpriced experiences
Kids can meet their favorite characters around the park, too. | Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
- Price of your mistake: $333.64 for tea with a princess, for example
Amid all the magic and music, it can be tempting to indulge in a few lavish Disney-related activities. And though they might make for an unforgettable trip, they’ll definitely be costly.
Disney Fanatic breaks down a few of Disney’s most extravagant activities, including princess teas, backstage private tours, and dolphin encounters. But if your children want to have tea with a princess, expect to pay over $300 for the royal treatment.
Next: Should you really bring the kids?
1. Bringing kids who are too young to appreciate such an expensive vacation
These memories can last a lifetime if they’re old enough. | Todd Anderson/Disney Parks via Getty Images
- Price of your mistake: About $370 for a six-day child’s ticket
We hate to say it, but towing young children to Disney World or Disneyland might be your most costly Disney mistake ever. Florida weather is brutal in the summer, and trudging through all 27,000 acres of the park in search for Minnie Mouse is exhausting for little legs. In fact, some would say Disney is no place for children — at least those who wouldn’t appreciate it.
What’s abundantly clear is a Disney vacation is expensive. And a toddler who cries through a character dining meal or spends afternoons and evenings napping (the prime show times) is wasting their price of admission. It’s best to wait until your child is a bit older to enjoy all the sights.
Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.