To Splurge or Save at Disney World, That Is the Question
Summer is just around the corner, and you know what that means. It’s time to start planning your next Walt Disney World vacation. However, with tax season finally in our rearview, those receiving a large refund may be looking to splurge, while others who owe money to Uncle Sam may need to tighten their purse strings for the foreseeable future.
Luckily, no matter what time of year it is and what your travel budget looks like, there are plenty of ways to maximize what’s in your bank account and plan a truly special trip to The Most Magical Place on Earth. So, take a look at your savings account and bring a calculator as we break down some of the best places to stay, restaurants to eat at and things to do at Disney World, whether you plan to travel on a shoestring budget or are ready to splash out.
Splurge or Save at Disney World – How to Craft the Best Vacation for Your Budget
If you’re a millennial like me, then you probably remember devouring the Choose Your Own Adventure books throughout elementary and middle school—choosing an option from the list of possibilities, then flipping to the appropriate page to assess the damage (and probably using your finger as a bookmark so you could easily flip back and choose another path if it all fell apart) stay true to your convictions and progress in the story, come what may.
Well, you need to approach planning a vacation to Disney World with a similar spirit. Only, instead of deciding between a spooky, fog-ridden path through the forest (it’s just a shortcut—what’s the worst that could happen?) or a scenic detour through a sunshine-y meadow filled with daisies, you’re navigating the budgetary quagmire that is deciding between a value, moderate or deluxe resort and whether to do a character meal or not. And don’t even get us started on all the different ticket options!
On the bright side, unlike that ridiculously addicting book series, the best choices for your family’s next trip to Disney World don’t have to be a mystery. With a little bit of knowledge and some preparation, you can easily create a magical Disney World travel plan that fits both the needs and interests of everyone in your group as well as your budget. Let’s get started!
Depending on how you travel, where you choose to stay can be a hugely important part of your planning process. Personally, since I typically plan to spend most of my time out exploring and only see a hotel as a place to sleep at night, I prefer to stay somewhere on the cheaper side of things and save my money for actual experiences. However, for those who plan to spend more time relaxing back in their room or hanging out by the pool, spending more on a nicer Disney resort makes sense.
Splurge on: Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort
As the only AAA Five Diamond Hotel in Central Florida, let alone Disney World, Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World is the perfect place to splurge if you have space in your budget. The rooms and suites are luxurious. There’s a beautiful water park with a lazy river for relaxing. And, not to mention, other impressive amenities like a golf course, a spa, and several dining options, including the Michelin-starred Capa steakhouse, which is also well worth the splurge. What’s more, since Four Seasons Resort Orlando is part of the Magic Kingdom Resort Area, it’s relatively easy to get to and from the theme parks.
Save with: Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort and the Gran Destino Tower
For an upscale experience without the sticker shock, book a stay at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, specifically its Gran Destino Tower. As one of Disney World’s moderate resorts, this hotel offers middle-of-the-road room rates (and much cheaper when compared to the Four Seasons) while still featuring excellent amenities like The Lost City of Cibola Pool, which is designed to look like an ancient Mesoamerican pyramid, and some delicious dining options, including another Michelin-recognized, Spanish-style steakhouse, Toledo – Tapas, Steak & Seafood (and, not to mention, it’s more affordable than Capa, too). One of the newest additions to the resort is the Gran Destino Tower, which, along with gorgeous new rooms and sweeping views, also boasts the Chronos Club, the most affordable club-level offering at any of the Disney World hotels.
Splurge on: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
For a Disney World resort hotel stay unlike any other, book a room at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Designed to evoke a lodge on an African game reserve, complete with several savannas teeming with wildlife like giraffes, antelopes and zebras, and even some savanna-view rooms, there’s nothing else like it at the Walt Disney Resort. A stay here truly feels as if you’ve been magically whisked away to some remote hideaway in Kenya’s Masai Mara. On top of that, Animal Kingdom Lodge touts some of the most unique dining options Disney World has to offer, including African-inspired signature dining and buffet restaurants and an Indian-inspired eatery with views of one of the savannas. This also happens to be one of the least expensive deluxe resorts, putting it on the lower end of Disney World’s priciest hotel category.
Save with: Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
For a different kind of delightfully immersive hotel experience and a much lower room rate, consider a stay at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. With rooms, pools, playgrounds and even entire buildings themed after beloved animated Disney movies, Art of Animation is an ideal Disney World hotel for families with kids (or even grown-up fans of Disney characters). It also happens to be the newest and nicest of the value resorts. And while the food here isn’t anything to write home about, kids will go crazy for the Big Blue Pool, and adults will love its convenient location along the Disney Skyliner, making getting to and from Epcot and Hollywood Studios a breeze.
Splurge on: Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
Nestled on Bay Lake just a short boat or bus ride from the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge feels like a rustic retreat far from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks. The most affordably priced of the deluxe resorts at Disney World, this bucolic yet grand hideaway is a worthwhile splurge for guests looking for a little peace and quiet in between the craziness. Designed to look like a majestic national park lodge in the Pacific Northwest, Wilderness Lodge boasts a fantastic pool area with a water slide cut into the rocks, several different Disney Vacation Club villas (including some cabins overlooking the lake), and even a delightfully themed character dining experience in its former signature restaurant, Artist Point.
Save with: Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
Hoping to escape the intense theme park crowds without paying deluxe-resort prices? Then Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground is for you. While the cabins here are technically considered a moderate-level hotel and, as a result, are priced a bit steeper, Fort Wilderness Campground offers the cheapest accommodations at Disney World, as long as you have a camper or a tent you can set up on one of the campsites. With forested areas blanketing the resort, as well as outdoorsy activities like wagon rides and horseback rides from the Tri-Circle-D Ranch (which, bonus, is completely free to visit), archery lessons, a Segway tour, and a Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Campfire Singalong, there’s no shortage of unique things to do. And for a truly memorable meal, book a table at the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, the resort’s Wild West-themed dinner show.
Just like where you choose to lay your head at night, where you decide to eat while traveling is also incredibly important. In fact, since food is one of life’s greatest joys, a memorable meal can totally be worth the splurge, both in calories and cost. That said, if the Michelin-recognized street food stalls of Southeast Asia are any indication, you don’t need to pay an arm and a leg to dine on some incredibly tasty food. The same goes for the Walt Disney World Resort, where restaurants run the budgetary gamut from fine dining experiences priced at $100 to $300 (or more) per adult to quick-service joints selling yummy dishes at cheap and cheerful prices.
Splurge on: Takumi-Tei
Walt Disney World might seem like the last place you would find an elegant, chef-driven Japanese dining experience, but that’s exactly where you’ll find Takumi-Tei, one of the resort’s newest restaurants. Located in Epcot’s World Showcase in the Japan Pavilion, this signature restaurant offers a multi-course omakase menu, which means “I leave it up to you” in Japanese—“you” being the chef. In other words, the dishes on offer vary according to the whims of the chef. The food is high quality and authentic, the setting is beautiful, and the hospitality is gracious, making this a great splurge-worthy meal for adventurous eaters and special occasions.
Save with: Morimoto Asia Street Food
On the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of price but not cuisine is Morimoto Asia Street Food. Part of the Morimoto Asia, the Michelin-recognized restaurant by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto at Disney Springs, this counter-service spot serves up a limited menu of Asian favorites like ramen and Takoyaki (AKA octopus fritters for the uninitiated) at wallet-friendly prices. While not nearly as expensive as its sister restaurant or Takumi-Tei, the quality here is still what you’d expect from a restaurant headlined by a celebrity chef like Chef Morimoto.
Splurge on: Victoria & Albert’s
When it comes to premiere meal experiences at Disney World, Victoria & Albert’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa takes the crown. From the swanky setting with just a sprinkle of Disney magic to the semi-formal/formal dress code to the sophisticated chef’s tasting menu (complete with optional drink pairings), this is luxury dining at its best. As of 2023, Victoria & Albert’s is also Michelin-recognized (stay tuned to find out whether it earns a covetable star) and AAA five-diamond rated. The ingredients and preparation of the dishes here are impeccable, as is the service. So, if you have money to burn or are celebrating something special, there’s nowhere better than Victoria & Albert’s.
Save with: Les Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie
Looking for an experience that feels a little fancy without having to spend a ton of cash? Then Les Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie is the place to be. Tucked into the backstreets of the France Pavilion in World Showcase at Epcot, this quaint bakery is a treasure trove of buttery pastries, hearty sandwiches and sweet treats. Effortlessly fusing delicious food and affordability, just like a traditional Parisienne patisserie, simple ingredients skillfully combined to delicious effect and easy-on-the-wallet prices make this a can’t-miss option for budget travelers eating their way around the world at Epcot, whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Splurge on: Story Book Dining at Artist Point with Snow White
Character meals are a quintessential Disney World experience. Unfortunately, it also happens to be one of the more expensive dining experiences available. That said, if you or anyone else in your group loves Disney characters, then the cost of character dining can definitely be worth it. One of the best character meals at Disney World is Story Book Dining at Artist Point with Snow White, which is located at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. With tree branches trimmed with firefly-like lights hung above the tables, the ambiance is enchanting. The food is also a cut above what you’ll typically find at most other character dining locations, swapping out typical buffet fare for a prix fixe menu filled with themed dishes like Royal Prime Rib Roast, Magic Mirror’s Slow-braised Pork Shank and Fairy Tale Gooseberry Tart. And, of course, don’t forget the characters! This is one of the only places where you can see the Evil Queen, as well as Snow White, Dopey and Grumpy, making for a meal that is undeniably magical.
Save with: Breakfast à la Art with Mickey & Friends at Topolino’s Terrace – Flavors of the Riviera
Ok, we’ll admit that this character breakfast isn’t that much cheaper than Story Book Dining at Artist Point with Snow White. However, the cheapest way to dine with Disney characters at Disney World is with a character breakfast. On the whole, character breakfasts tend to be about $10 to $20 less per person than a character dinner, which can add up to a pretty decent savings for those traveling as a family. Our pick for the best character breakfast at Disney World is Breakfast à la Art with Mickey & Friends at Topolino’s Terrace – Flavors of the Riviera in Disney’s Riviera Resort. Along with upscale options with a European twist, like quiche with house-made pancetta, and being able to see Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy all dressed up in creative costumes, Topolino’s Terrace is also located at the very top of the hotel, making for incredible views of the area below.
There’s no denying that the heart and soul of Walt Disney World and its four theme parks are the many attractions. But there’s more to The Most Magical Place on Earth than just roller coasters, dark rides and standing in queue after queue (after queue). Whether you’re hoping to avoid some of the hassles that come with experiencing the best rides that Disney World has to offer, want to see a different side of the resort or wish you can end your trip with a bang, there’s a way to do it all while also staying within your budget, no matter how large or small.
Splurge on: Private VIP Tour
If you’re hoping to spend as little time in line as possible and money isn’t an object, then splurging on a private VIP tour is for you. Ringing in at $450 to $900 per hour, this luxurious experience doesn’t come cheap by any means. However, it also makes experiencing the theme parks incredibly easy, with pre-arrival planning, private transportation, a knowledgeable tour guide and front-of-the-line access to some of Disney World’s most popular attractions all included. Plus, with space for up to 10 for each tour, you could team up with some friends and split the cost to make the cost slightly more reasonable.
Save with: Disney Genie+
Is a private VIP tour out of the question? That’s ok! For those visiting Disney World on a budget, you can take advantage of much shorter lines with the help of Disney Genie Plus. Priced at $15 or more per person per day, depending on how busy the park is at that time, Genie+ is the new iteration of Disney’s FastPass. This nifty feature of the My Disney Experience app allows guests to schedule a reservation to use the Lightning Lane for some of the resort’s most popular rides, thus skipping the standby line and a considerable wait in the process. Although you won’t be able to skip the line completely, you will be able to save a good deal of time if you choose your Lightning Lane attractions and make your reservations strategically.
Splurge on: Wild Africa Trek, Disney’s Keys to the Kingdom or Dolphins in Depth Backstage Tours
VIP tours aren’t the only guided experiences worth the splurge at Disney World. Backstage tours like Wild Africa Trek at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Dolphins in Depth at Epcot, and Disney’s Keys to the Kingdom at Magic Kingdom are just as worthwhile. Though not as expensive as a VIP tour, they still don’t come cheap, with pricing from around $100 to $200 or more. However, that premium price buys you unprecedented access to things like Magic Kingdom’s underground utilidors, exclusive viewing of some of Animal Kingdom’s African wildlife and the ability to swim with Epcot’s pod of dolphins. After one of these, you’ll never look at Disney World the same way again.
Save with: Behind the Seeds, Caring for Giants or Up Close with Rhinos Backstage Tours
Want to go behind the scenes at Disney World without having to blow your budget out of the water? Believe it or not, there are also some backstage tours that are also very reasonably priced. At Animal Kingdom, animal experiences like Caring for Giants and Up Close with Rhinos give you the opportunity to learn about and see creatures like elephants and rhinoceros (and, for Up Close with Rhinos, possibly even pet) for only $35 and $45 per person, respectively. The cleverly named Behind the Seeds tour, meanwhile, takes you behind the scenes at the greenhouses in The Land Pavilion at Epcot for just $35, where you’ll find out about the groundbreaking work being done by the park’s horticulturists.
Splurge on: A Private Fireworks Cruise
There’s no better finale to a day at one of the Disney World theme parks than with a firework spectacular. And while you could certainly opt to watch the display with a few thousand of your closest friends inside the park, consider upgrading your fireworks viewing experience with a private fireworks cruise. Although this is obviously still a treat-yo-self kind of experience, fireworks cruises are surprisingly reasonably priced for what you get. Starting at $399 plus tax, fireworks cruisers enjoy a captained 25-foot boat with seating for up to 10 people, as well as soft drinks, snacks and even decorations like balloons and banners, if you so desire. And, not to mention stunning on-the-water views of either the Magic Kingdom or Epcot fireworks, complete with synchronized audio.
Save with: DOLE Whip and Magic Kingdom Fireworks Views from the Polynesian Village Beach
Looking for a fireworks viewing experience that’s less crowded than what you’ll find in the parks without having to dip into your savings? Head outside the park and make your way over to the beach at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Thanks to its location directly opposite Magic Kingdom, Polynesian Village boasts some of the best views of the show from any of the area hotels, meaning that you’ll be able to see the fireworks glitter over Cinderella Castle with your toes in the sand. Plus, not only is the music piped in for the full viewing experience, but you can also grab some DOLE Whip from Pineapple Lanai to make the show even sweeter. Best of all, it’s completely free (minus the DOLE Whip, of course).
Well, that brings this Disney World guide to an end. As you can see, no matter if you’re a frugal traveler or your budget knows no bounds, there are still plenty of ways to make sure you and your crew have a truly magical time at Walt Disney World. We hope that we have given you a few ideas to make your next Disney World vacation even more memorable wherever you fall on the spectrum. What are your favorite things to splurge or save on at Disney World? Let us know in the comments! Then, learn how you can stretch your budget further to afford one of the pricier options on our list with our discount Disney World tickets.