If you want to splurge on a bit of luxury for your Walt Disney World vacation but are on a budget–or are simply a frugal tourist who is conscious of value–this list is for you. We cover which resort, dining, and other add-ons are worth the money, as well as some that are not worth it.
We’ll start by quickly dispensing with what isn’t worth your vacation dollars. As is likely obvious from previous posts, we’re not huge on up-charge offerings at Walt Disney World. You won’t find dessert parties, fireworks cruises, or pretty much any special experience on this list. Not because we haven’t done them–but because we have and wouldn’t bother with any of those things again. We also typically don’t recommend paying extra to upgrade room views, nor are we keen on spas or makeovers.
One splurge we really do enjoy is staying Club Level, but even that’s one with which we grapple. As noted in our Guide to Club Level & Concierge Lounges at Disney Worldand some specific reviews, it’s difficult–if not impossible–to justify Club Level at Walt Disney World from an objective, value-for-money perspective. In fact, the exorbitant cost and desire for reasonable alternative splurges is the main motivation for this list…
In our Review of Atrium Club Level at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, several readers left comments requesting a list of more attainable splurges that we recommend. Specifically, ones that offer sufficient value for the cost. That’s what this list is all about, with the operative question for inclusion on this list being, “is the quality of the experience commensurate with the cost?”
With that in mind, we have a variety of great splurges at Walt Disney World at all price points and for guests with pretty much any budget!
Minnie’s Seasonal Dine – In and of itself, character dining is expensive and is not categorically a worthwhile splurge in all cases. Sure, we love and highly recommend a good pre-park opening breakfast as well as several resort character meals, but most in-park character meals don’t even come close to making this list.
Minnie’s Seasonal Dine is one exception to that. We’re particularly big fans of Minnie’s Holiday Dine at Christmas and Minnie’s Halloween Dine. With the value proposition of both Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party being more and more dubious, these meals are great alternatives. Not only is the food good, but it’s a great chance to get dressed up for the season and take family photos with characters that are likewise in special attire.
Behind the Seeds Tour – I’ll preface this by saying that I’m the wrong person to ask about backstage or VIP tours. We’ve now some from both categories, and Behind the Seeds at Epcot is the only one I’ve loved. (Almost everyone we know has nothing but effusive praise for every Walt Disney World tour they’ve done, so what do I know.)
Irrespective of all that, Behind the Scenes at Epcot is the perfect way to get your feet wet with the world of Disney’s tours. It’s the cheapest tour you can do, offers fun info, and interesting backstage access–all at a price point that feels fair for the duration of the tour.
Upgrading to a Moderate – While we love Pop Century (especially now that it offers Skyliner transportation), there’s definitely something to be said for the resort experience at Walt Disney World, and that doesn’t really kick in until you’ve moved from the Values to the Moderates.
Fortunately, at the Moderate tier, there’s an option for everyone. Want a compact resort layout? Go with Port Orleans French Quarter. Looking for a romantic resort suitable for a honeymoon? Port Orleans Riverside all the way. Want a business-class hotel? Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs is your best bet. Prefer something with good transportation, diverse dining, or tropical ambiance? There’s a reason we call Caribbean Beach Resort the “Poly Lite.”
The two exceptions to this are Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge, which also just so happen to be Walt Disney World’s two least expensive (typically) Deluxe Resorts. They are themed to the hilt and generally offer something you cannot get from a real-world counterpart. Of course, we still go for the best possible deal at both (we try to score the “Value Studio” at Animal Kingdom Lodge whenever possible).
Dining at the Lodges – If staying at the lodges is out of the question, we highly recommend dining at them. This one actually started out as specific restaurant recommendations, but we quickly realized that we enjoy literally every restaurant at both Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge. So, why not include both for the sake of offering a variety of options at various price points?
Our top recommendation here is to slow down and make an evening of it. Do either on a non-park day, and if you’re going to Wilderness Lodge, take the boat over. Enjoy sunset on the savanna if you’re heading to Animal Kingdom Lodge. Unwind in the lobbies after dinner. There’s no reason not to turn this into a 3-hour, leisurely experience. (As for specific dining recommendations, our favorites are Sanaa at Animal Kingdom Lodge and, for something totally different, Whispering Canyon Cafe at Wilderness Lodge.)
Victoria & Albert’s – This one making the list really illustrates the operative question of the post. Here, it’s important to remember that there’s a huge difference between cheapness and frugality. We are willing to pay for quality and luxury, especially when the value given matches the price paid.
Savi’s Workshop – Here’s another one along those same lines, albeit with a value proposition that’s incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to quantity. Sure, there’s the real world cost of a lightsaber like the one you build, but Savi’s is so much more than that.
As you can read in our Is Star Wars Land’s $200 Lightsaber Experience Worth It? review, we were blown away by this. We almost didn’t do it because of the cost, but are very glad we did. For adult Star Wars fans or kids, this is something special that will make a lasting memory. It’s arguably worth it as a splurge or Christmas present. (At half the cost, Droid Depot might seem like a better alternative–it’s not.)
Booking a 1-night stay at Beach Club for the end of your trip and taking a late flight out on your last day is perfect. Alternatively, you could do that night in the middle of a three-resort trip, with a couple of relaxed resort days to decompress amidst your vacation. It’s worth noting that this is not our favorite Club Level at Walt Disney World, but the “SS Harbor Beach Club Strategy” is your best bet for squeezing every ounce of value out of a Club Level stay.
Early Morning Magic & After Hours – I hesitate to include these paid pre-park opening and evening hours for a couple of hours. First, because doing so makes us “part of the problem” of guests willing to pay extra for something that used to be free, and could lead to the further erosion of Extra Magic Hours. Second, because I don’t totally trust that Walt Disney World won’t oversell these in the future, as has been the case with the Halloween and Christmas parties.
However, in the here and now, both Early Morning Magic and Disney After Hours offer great opportunities to get a ton done with minimal waits. These are particularly good options if you’re interested in doing the headliners repeatedly, you don’t score the most coveted FastPass+, or you have limited vacation time. (Essentially, this is one for people who prioritize their time over their money.)
As with all things, both Early Morning Magic and Disney After Hours are not for everyone (neither are strictly necessary if you follow one of our Walt Disney World Itineraries and only want to do each popular attraction once per day), but they can be great for some guests. That could be said about everything on this list of WDW’s top splurges, though.
That’s it for our list of the best value for money splurges at Walt Disney World. As with pretty much everything WDW-related, your mileage may vary. Some of you will likely find great value in the things we wrote off as “not worth it” at the top of the post, whereas others may disagree with what we think is worth the extra money. Reasonable minds may differ and all that.
One thing that does bear stressing before we close out this article is that no enhancements or up-charges are necessary to have a great trip to Walt Disney World. When it comes to online trip planning and social media, there’s a pervasive sense of FOMO that drives many people to spend on unnecessary experiences. It’s easy to fall into that trap, but you should try to avoid it. Regardless of how much you spend or plan, you’re going to miss out on something. That’s the bad news. The good news is that some of the best magical moments at Walt Disney World occur by chance, and no amount of spending or planning can “force” those to happen.
What are your favorite Walt Disney World splurges? Anything offering great bang for buck that you think we missed? Anything that made the list you feel does not belong? Questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!