Welcome to another Disney Friends Blog Hop! When you’re done here, hop on over to the next post and loop your way around. This month’s theme is “Disney Splurges”. We choose Disney Parks: Splurge or save?
I am a fan of saving money. I’m married to an accountant, so we are always looking for ways to save some money here and there. I’m in the same boat… the more you save, the more often you can go! But, even we know that there are some things that are worth shelling out that extra money for. That being said, some things and experiences just aren’t worth it. We’ve taken the guesswork out of it for you; here’s what we think are the most important splurges or places to save in the Disney Parks.
Splurge or Save: Accessories
Birkenstocks: Walking in the parks is no joke. We’re talking twenty to thirty thousand step days. Don’t do it in Old Navy flip flops. Just, don’t. I really like Birkenstock sandals. They are trendy, have excellent arch support, and they won’t wear quickly. Style-wise, I like the Arizona (double strap) and the Madrid (single strap). The cons of these shoes are that sometimes they are too hard, and they don’t get wet well. They also carry a hefty price tag at about $90-130.
Painted TOMS or Vans: You’ve seen them on Instagram and Pinterest. This is definitely worth the splurge. There are so many great shops on Etsy in lots of different price ranges. There is something really special about being able to pick a character or design. Lucky for us, Danielle has an Etsy account called “Take Away the Plain.” Check her out on Instagram and Etsy! (Click here to see her Etsy shop.) There is no better place to wear your custom Disney shoes than in the parks.
E.V.A. Birkenstocks are my find of the summer! A friend had them on, and recommended them for water parks and such, since they can easily get wet. I grabbed a pair of the Gizeh sandals, and they are my absolute new fave. They are light, and have the same support as the cork bottoms, but they also have some give to them. They’re easy to clean, and I didn’t find they made my feet outrageously smelly.
Reef Sandals: For a more mid-range option sandal wise I really like Reef’s as I found them a bit softer, but so effective. Their more sturdy styles include Cushion Breeze and Sandy, which can range from $35-45 dollars. I was able to wear them all day with little discomfort. Crocs are another great water shoe option. They have gotten much trendier over the years and we have loved them.
Let’s talk fanny packs: I for one am so thankful that they are back in fashion. I have been predicting this for 4 years now (and everyone laughed at me). But at last, they are back baby! I love my black Herschel. It’s the perfect size to keep all of the essentials in, and you don’t have to take it on and off for rides all day. Now that we are out of strollers, it’s 100% necessary. Also note, Elisia is wearing a lululemon fanny in the previous picture. Both of our fanny packs were around $25 USD, versus the ones in the parks which are $45 and up. Buying one at home before you go will save you some change.
Splurge or Save: Dining
Coffee: By now you know that we love (and need!) our coffee. We all have different strategies when it comes to how to make our coffee habit work, but we just won’t tough it out without it, it’s not worth it. Go get yourself a pick me up when you need it, we give you full permission. 😉
Disneyland – Blue Bayou: This restaurant is all about the experience. Ever since I was a little girl I would look at it as we slowly went by on Pirates of the Caribbean. If you have never been to Disneyland, Pirates is a completely different ride from WDW. In the beginning you are floating through the bayou; on your right there is a restaurant lit by candles and soft lanterns. The smells are divine; in fact, I would say this is one of my favourite smells of all time.
I finally got to experience it a few years ago. We were in Disneyland on the one year anniversary of our father’s open heart surgery (he had 7 bypasses!). We wanted to do something special to celebrate. The ambiance did not disappoint. It was magical. We went at lunch which is a great way to save a little. The lunch menu is typically smaller, but also less expensive. (Portions are also a little smaller at lunch.) This is a wonderful splurge!
Walt Disney World: Let’s talk table service restaurants. I have recently become obsessed with viewing the MANY table service restaurants at Walt Disney World. There are over 100, both in and out of the parks, and I’d love to visit them all! That’s a topic for another day, but I would say SPLURGE on one nice restaurant during your stay.
If you plan on enjoying more than one table service meal, then the Disney Dining Plan might be for you! It’s a splurge, but if you break down the costs of each of the meals, you may get your money’s worth in the end. You can have your TA (hello, me!) check the costs of the meals with and without the plan for comparison. (Heads up, you can only get a Dining Plan if you are staying on property.)
We do like to save when it comes to food 80% of the time… so we can splurge on what’s important. We save by popping our own popcorn in a microwave. In a “Good Neighbour” Disneyland hotel there will be one in the room. The “value” or “moderate” resorts at WDW don’t have one in the rooms, but you can use the ones in the “marketplace” (food court).
We bring snacks and a meal for the kids because there is nothing worse than spending $8 on a kids meal only for them to not “feel” like it. We buy kids meals for ourselves so we can share a treat later, share meals, or go out of the parks for fast food on occasion. Then, we don’t feel so guilty about a treat a day. There are other ways to save on food in the parks. For all of our best tips check out Operation Food Budget: Disneyland.
If you really like the idea of the Disney Dining Plan, there is hope. The Dining Plan is available in WDW and allows for you to essentially prepay for your meals at a slightly cheaper price. Included is usually two meals, drinks, and snacks. We never eat that much in the parks, so we haven’t found it to be worth it.
Splurge or Save: Merchandise
Spirit Jerseys: At $64.99 USD these are a must-splurge for us. Yes they are expensive; no it may not be something you wear a lot outside of the park (unless you’re a super fan like us); but still, totally worth it! They are so comfortable and the perfect light weight option for a cool evening in SoCal or Florida. If you are like us, you won’t want to take it off! They recently released a hooded version which my husband bought. He’s 6’4″ and the XL fit him perfectly. It’s so hard to find sweaters and t-shirts that are long enough for him. He loves it.
Mugs: Mugs may not be your thing… it may be pins, or clothes, or whatever. But don’t leave the park with regrets. You may not know when you will be back. If there’s something you want, and you like it, get it!
Backpacks: We also recommend having a good quality backpack with you in the park. There is nothing worse than your bag splitting or being on a ride and everything getting soaking wet. We are HUGE fans of the loungefly backpacks! They’re cute, and the perfect size. You can fit everything you need and not be weighed down by a massive backpack. There are SO many adorable prints and styles available now. The price range for these bags is $65-100 USD. So they don’t fully break the bank but are definitely a splurge purchase!
Purses: Disney Dooney & Bourke. Three of us have been lucky enough to convince our husbands of our need for one of these beauties. The highest of quality, and I think they are timeless. I got mine for my 30th birthday, which I spent at the Magic Kingdom. Every time I use that purse it reminds me of that special day. This is not an every trip purchase, but put it on your splurge list for sure!
Toys: Our kids all love the bubble machines at Disney. Instead of buying a new one each time we pack it along next time we go. We buy things like bubble refills outside of the park. Another fun idea is to buy glow sticks and necklaces for night time. This is also a great way to keep track of your kids when it gets dark!
Spray Fans: Walmart and Target almost always have them in their seasonal section or online. A spray fan in the parks is $20 USD, but you can find them for half that in stores offsite. We got caught in a heat wave and didn’t have one so we did buy a park one. We were able to use it for a couple of park visits so if you do buy one, remember to save it and use it again!
Ponchos: We cannot stress this enough! If you are going to Florida (any time of the year) or Disneyland in the rainy seasons, buy ponchos ahead of time at your local Dollar Store. In the park they are $12 for adults and $10 for kids. That’s $50 (for a family of 4) that could be better spent somewhere else. Ponchos are light and easy to throw in a suitcase or backpack for the parks. Trust us, you will thank us later.
Costumes: Disney costumes are always a little bit more expensive in the parks. When our girls were little we would pack theirs from home (we like to wait until they go on sale at the Disney store). If you have a stroller, just throw it underneath. None of our kids wanted to wear them all day but we would throw them in for photo ops with the Princesses.
Splurge or Save: Experiences
Memory Pass: In Walt Disney World, you have an option to pay $99 before you go for a Memory Pass, and what we say to you is DO IT! There are so many fun and magical shots around the parks. Plus, then you don’t have to stand awkwardly around looking for someone to take your pics. Ride photos are also included in this pass. Totally worth it.
Bibbity Bobbity Boutique: We did this for my nieces 7th birthday and I am so glad that we did. There are different packages of varying price. We chose to do the most basic one, but it did not disappoint! The Crown Package starts at $74.95 USD plus tax. It includes a hairstyle, shimmering makeup and face gem, a princess sash and cinch sack, and nail polish. The girls felt totally pampered. The most expensive package is the Castle Package ($199.95 USD). That’s the whole kit and caboodle.
They get to choose a Disney Princess gown and accessories. My daughter doesn’t love the itchy costumes and I could guarantee it wouldn’t last more than an hour. Not worth it for us! But you know your princess and if this is something that she would thrive on, it’s worth the splurge. Book plenty of time in advance because they fill up fast. You can (and should) make reservations for this. For more details about prices check out their website.
MaxPass: This is only in Disneyland for now. We wrote a whole post about it. You can decide if it’s something worth splurging on for your family. Click here for our post: MaxPass Ins and Outs.
Park Hopper Tickets (Disneyland): Disneyland is absolutely worth paying the extra money for the ability to go between the parks. You can go gate to gate in about one minute flat. Even with our young kids we were back and forth every day.
Build Your Own Droid: If you haven’t already seen, Galaxy’s Edge has a Droid Depot where you can build your own droid. You select the type of droid you want to build and then parts come out on a conveyor belt and you choose what you want. This costs $99.99 USD, but I think it’s ridiculously cool and at least you get to take it home with you.
Character Dining: We may get flack for this, but Character Dining is a place we suggest saving. It’s a big “time suck”, it’s expensive, and there are lots of characters wandering around (or that you can wait for quickly) in the parks without taking up a big chunk of your day. The only thing that has interested me was the idea of doing Character Dining on an off day at one of the Disney Hotels. But I just can’t spend more than $100 on one meal for an hour’s experience. I just can’t.
Park Hopper Tickets (Walt Disney World): WDW is a different story. It takes a solid amount of time to park hop. Can you do it? Definitely. Is it worth upgrading your ticket to have it? We vote no. However, if you plan on visiting the water parks, the Park Hopper is included (it’s confusing, I know). This is a personal decision. We didn’t do it when we had 100 littles with us (okay, not a 100, but it felt like it when it came time to collapse the stroller for the buses). We loved having Park Hoppers when we went as a couple. Weigh the pros and cons.
Splurge or Save: Offsite or Onsite
Walt Disney World: Stay ONSITE. Every time. We were recommended onsite for our first trip; since then I’ve also stayed offsite, and I am a HUGE advocate for staying onsite. Benefits include easy access to the internal transportation system, being able to book your FastPass 60 days in advance (you heard me right), Advance Dining Reservations 180 days in advance for the ENTIRE stay (more likely to get the restaurants you want), free Magic Bands, free transportation on the Magical Express to and from the airport, the ability to send your packages back to your room… I could go on! The money and time you save is well worth it, and the theming and experiences you will get is unparalleled.
Disneyland: Stay offsite. Yes, we would LOVE to stay at each of the three Disney Hotels onsite, and probably will. But for the regular trips, the 49 Good Neighbour Hotels will absolutely do the trick. There are tons of options; from good water parks and pools, to free hot breakfasts. Some are within walking distance, and some are easily accessible via public transit. You aren’t in your room that much anyways, so it really is worth it to stay offsite. Find out what your walking limit is. After a long day it isn’t worth the half hour walk after you’ve already been on your feet all day (trust me). Do not rely on parking a vehicle. Parking is expensive, and takes up a lot of time. If you want more information on which hotels we recommend check out Booking Your Trip to Disneyland.
What are the things you like to splurge or save on? We’d love to hear from you!
Have a magical day!
Erica, Heidi, Elisia and Danielle