The Biggest Wastes Of Money At Disney World, According To Frequent Visitors

Since its opening in Orlando, Florida, in 1971, Disney World has been a dream destination for people around the world. But with a single-day adult ticket costing over $100, plus gas or airfare and accommodations to factor in for visitors coming from out of town, a trip to Disney World can be a very pricey affair, despite the many free things on offer. Unfortunately, many visitors make some critical spending mistakes that make their trip cost even more — and some of these wastes of money may surprise you.

Several travel experts and frequent visitors, including some who specialize in Disney-related travel, have spotlighted these unnecessary expenses and found ways to cut them out of your budget. If you're planning a trip to this most iconic of destinations or are worried it might be too expensive, here are the biggest wastes of money at Disney World and how to avoid them. This advice should help lighten your budget — sometimes in some pretty significant ways — and let you enjoy that Disney magic to the fullest.

Visiting during peak periods

Choosing when to go is one of the most important parts of planning a Disney World vacation. If you're able to make your trip to Disney World during off-peak times, you'll end up saving a significant amount of money on things like park hotel rates, ticket prices, and airfare. Another bonus is that most off-peak times mean the parks will be less crowded!

When is the cheapest time to go to Disney World? Travel experts often give elaborate explanations that might leave your head spinning. Luckily, some are more concise. For instance, one planDisney advisor writes, "My rule of thumb is that if the typical U.S. public school is in session, then it is a more favorable time to visit." Ziggy knows Disney narrows that down: "As a rule, January, February, August, and September are the cheapest seasons, as long as you avoid any holidays in those months." Whether they've got a short answer or a more elaborate one (or even a detailed month-by-month Disney World guide), you should read everything an expert says since some off-peak times come with caveats. For instance, The Ascent points out that September isn't the best month in Orlando, weather-wise, so if you can, you may want to choose another off-peak month for your Disney World trip.

Booking preferred rooms and expensive Disney hotels

Staying on property at a Disney resort hotel has a lot of advantages. Some travelers, for instance, love that it's easy to take a break and head back to their room (or their hotel's pool) in the middle of the day. Then there are the perks like free parking, free transportation to and from the parks, priority reservations for certain Disney restaurants and Lightning Lane spots, and early park entry. But be careful what kind of accommodation you book. The marketing around Disney World's hotels is as magical as the place itself, and you might get so caught up in it that you find yourself tempted to reserve a room at the most expensive price.

It's understandable. Why not have some luxury amidst your fun days at Disney? However, many Disney World experts and travelers warn that it's probably not worth the (usually very high) expense. After all, you're not going to Disney World to stay in your hotel room. As long as your room is as clean, comfortable, and as spacious as you need, does it really matter if it's the most luxurious one in the hotel? Plus, if you're not fixated on a preferred room, sites like The Budget Mouse reveal that you can find some amazing deals on Disney accommodations.

Buying bottled water at Disney World

Buying bottled water is one of the most commonly mentioned unnecessary Disney World expenses and no wonder. According to Urban Tastebud, basic bottled water costs $3.75 at Disney World, and SmartWater sells for $5.75 a bottle. Fortunately, there are a few ways to avoid buying bottled water at Disney World.

Disney rules allow guests to bring their own water (although you should avoid bringing bottles of only ice since loose ice isn't allowed at Disney World). Of course, you may not be able to carry enough water for an entire day, which brings us to two easier options. First, you can bring your own plastic bottle (glass is not allowed) to fill at water fountains or bottle refill stations in the parks. You can also get water for free at any of Disney World's Quick Service restaurants. The disadvantage is you'll have to wait in line, but at least you can ask for ice to make your water extra fresh. WDW Vacation Tips reports that you can use the fountain drinks machine for water and ice in certain Quick Service restaurants, possibly reducing the wait time.

Only buying food and drinks from Disney World

Food and snacks bought at Disney World can cost a fortune, especially if you're traveling with (and paying for) multiple people. Prices for snacks or meals at park restaurants aren't exorbitant, but they can add up since you'll be spending one or several days there. Luckily, Disney allows guests to bring their own food, although there are a few rules, including no glass or strong odors. It's a good idea to pack things like cookies or fruit snacks to snack on at the park each day. If you have a car during your stay, consider buying food in Orlando before heading to the park(s). Or leave Disney World for cheaper meal options. Always check to be sure the rules haven't changed, but as of this writing, your ticket will allow multiple entries into the park on the same day.

If you don't want to miss out on some of Disney's iconic eats, snacks like the famous Dole Whip and the Mickey Pretzel currently cost $6. You could make those a special treat, while everything else is bought outside the park. If outside food isn't an option, try to stick to snacks and Quick Service restaurants, which are cheaper than other dine-in options at Disney World. According to Urban Tastebud, an adult lunch or dinner costs $12.79 at a Quick Service restaurant. A kids' meal is $7.49 (and some kids might even be able to share this or an adult portion).

Buying Park Hopper passes you don't need

Disney World's Park Hopper pass is worth the extra expense for certain travelers, but its hefty cost could be a massive waste of money for others. Whether for a single day or several, a standard Disney World ticket allows entry to just one of Disney World's four theme parks (the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios) per day. But if you add a Park Hopper pass, you can visit each park in a single day, as much as you like. It sounds like a good deal, but keep in mind that Park Hopper passes aren't cheap. Depending on when you visit, a Park Hopper pass can cost around $80 to nearly $100 per ticket.

NerdWallet writes that Park Hopper passes could be a good investment for people who will only be visiting Disney World for a short time and want to see all of the parks or for visitors who wish to be able to enjoy restaurants and attractions in every park, every day. But many visitors might be fine paying standard ticket prices and spending time at one park per day, especially if they plan to stay at Disney World for a while and can take a day to enjoy each one.

Buying clothes at the park

Some people dream of buying a special souvenir T-shirt or cap at Disney World, while others find themselves buying clothes here out of necessity. Maybe they're unprepared for Orlando's intense sun and sudden, heavy rainstorms, or maybe their clothes or shoes weren't suitable for long days on their feet. Outside the occasional discount, clothes prices at Disney typically start at around $17. So it's no wonder many experts, including Disney Dose, consider this one of the worst unnecessary Disney World expenses. 

Luckily, it can be avoided by planning ahead. Check the weather forecast before you pack to give you a general idea of what to expect. But also remember that Florida weather can be unpredictable and change dramatically in a single day. If the forecast calls for sunny days, stick a plastic parka and rain-appropriate shoes into your suitcase, just in case. If the forecast calls for rain, pack a hat and sunglasses for sun protection. As a general rule, ensure that all of your clothes are in good condition so your budget won't get taken out by broken zippers or rips. Your shoes should be comfortable for walking and standing for extended periods of time and as water resistant as possible.

Buying souvenirs you can get somewhere else

Disney parks are full of exciting attractions, beautifully detailed scenery, varied eateries, and lots and lots of shops. But while there are some souvenirs you can only get at a Disney park – or even exclusively at Disney World Orlando — experts agree visitors should save money by buying from outside the park whenever possible. For instance, in a piece on Business Insider, former Disney employee Kayleigh Price explains that pins are a popular Disney World souvenir, but they can be ordered online for a lower price. She adds that visitors who want to trade pins with fellow guests or Disney employees should consider buying pins in bulk online and bringing them to the park.

T-shirts are another common avoidable expense. Price suggests that groups or families who want to take photos at Disney wearing matching shirts should buy them before they come to the park, ideally at a retailer where they'll cost considerably less. In fact, the cost of t-shirts at Disney World can get so high that Price even says families could probably afford to order personalized Disney shirts online for less money than they'd spend at the park. These are good general rules for many Disney souvenirs, from princess dresses to plushies. Consider, for instance, letting your kid wear their favorite Disney look to the park instead of buying clothes or accessories while you're there.

Buying big souvenirs instead of small ones

While at Disney World, in the heat of the moment, you may get excited and want the biggest plush of your favorite Disney character or the most humongous model Star Wars vehicle. Try to stay calm, as when it's an option, going with a smaller version will reduce your costs and worries about the space in your suitcase (in fact, too many large souvenirs may even lead to additional luggage fees). For instance, a post on planDisney shows just how much the price of plushes at Disney World can vary by size. An advisor writes that some large plush toys cost $60 or higher, "huggable size" are around $25, and small ones that are backpack-attachable could cost as little as $5.

Adults reading this might be convinced, but persuading a kid to put down the giant plush they can barely wrap their arms around can be tough. Hopefully, showing them a smaller option will make them realize it's easier to hug and carry around (not to mention take home in your car or on a plane). For older kids, setting a souvenir budget and ground rules beforehand could also be a convincing argument for a smaller souvenir.

Using Genie+

Genie+ is the paid version of Disney Genie, a free app that helps visitors plan their day (or days) at the parks, with recommendations and the option to reserve spots on virtual queues and at park restaurants. Genie+ includes all of these features, plus the ability to reserve Lightning Lane spots for certain attractions. Genie+ users are charged a per-day fee that varies depending on the date of their visit and the park. At its lowest, this fee is $15 per person per day, but it's often closer to $25 or more.

Some Disney World fans and visitors consider Genie+ a "must." But others warn that it may not be worth the money. For instance, Genie+ doesn't guarantee Lightning Lane spots, and it doesn't even offer them for some attractions. Many guests and experts also complain that Genie+'s Lightning Lane spots sell out fast. Inside the Magic reports that if you don't reserve them as early as possible, available Lightning Lane spots for popular attractions will already have been snatched up. Some visitors, including a few quoted by Inside the Magic, point out that if you come on a slow day, you don't need to reserve Lightning Lane spots for most attractions. Depending on your plans, it may be better just to use the free Genie app and purchase individual Lightning Lane passes for the attractions that interest you the most.

Buying balloons

Balloons are the bane of many a parent's existence at just about any family-oriented destination or event. They're unwieldy, not allowed in certain places (including rides), constantly at risk of flying away, and won't last forever, and yet, they're often fairly expensive. This is very much the case at Disney World, where the lowest-priced balloon costs $12, with prices usually soaring closer to $20. No wonder balloons are on several Disney travel experts' lists of expenses to avoid! In fact, in a compilation of Disney fans' spending advice, Inside the Magic found that balloons were the "one thing that was universally agreed on to be not worth the price."

Of course, this may not be easy for kids to understand. If you're traveling with older children, try to address the balloon issue before heading to the park. Remind them that a balloon won't last as long as a plush, key chain, T-shirt, or toy they can get for the same price (or whatever price you've set as a souvenir budget). Buying a balloon at Disney World is like throwing money into the sky. Whatever your technique to avoid this, good luck, fellow parents!

Forgetting to cancel meal reservations

Not canceling meal reservations is one of the biggest ways people waste money at Disney World. It's called out by several Disney travel experts, including That's because when you reserve a meal at a Disney World restaurant, a reservation fee of $10 per person is included. If your plans change, Disney lets you cancel up to two hours before the scheduled meal. But if you don't cancel, they'll keep those reservation fees. If you have made a reservation for multiple people, you'll lose quite a lot of money. It's worse than buying a souvenir you don't need because, in this case, you'll have spent money on nothing.

Keep in mind that this cancellation rule applies to everyone in your party. Even if everyone else shows up but one person doesn't, if you don't cancel for them, you'll still be charged their reservation fee. In some specific cases, this needless expense could be even higher. Disney Dose writes that some dining experiences will charge no-shows the price of the entire meal or event, not just the reservation fee. Be extra careful to cancel those reservations.

Purchasing the PhotoPass Memory Maker package

Disney's free PhotoPass includes things like photos of you and your fellow travelers taken by professional photographers. However, unless you purchase the Memory Make package, you won't be able to download these photos or will only see them with a watermark. Other features of the Memory Maker package include optional photo shoots (at an additional charge) and downloadable shots of you and your group on different rides. It's understandable to want to preserve your Disney vacation in the most magical way possible, but many Disney travel experts point out that most of us can do this just fine with our phone or camera.

If you're worried your photos won't capture the Disney magic, find tips online for great Disney World photo spots and brush up on your basic techniques. If you don't take photos often, practice with your phone's camera before you leave. And remember that you can bring your camera to the park, giving you higher-quality photos. On the other hand, selfie sticks and large tripods aren't allowed. One former Disney World employee wrote on Business Insider that guests can ask anyone who works at Disney to take a photo of themselves and their fellow travelers with their phone or camera, so no worries about not getting everyone into the shot. All of this means the Memory Maker package is an expense you can probably take off your list.

How we created this list

To compile this list, we looked at tips from budget and Disney travel experts, including planDisney advisors, Disney Dose, former Disney employees, and more. We noted the most common things these frequent visitors and other experts included on their lists and, in many cases, compared them with our own experiences. This ultimate list of ways people waste money at Disney World will help you save some money and make your Disney vacation even more magical.