Saving Time v. Saving Money at Disney World

A valuable lesson we’ve learned when it comes to Walt Disney World is that not everyone is as frugal as us. This has become apparent from traveling with others, and the comments to our article questioning which Walt Disney World upcharge offerings are ‘worth it?’

The response to that article really underscored the point that many Walt Disney World visitors are willing to pay extra to save time. The popularity of events and services like Disney After Hours and the Minnie Vans is all due, in large part, to a desire to save money.

In reality, saving time v. saving money at Walt Disney World is not a dichotomy. Most people fall in the middle of the two extremes. If you’re willing to upgrade to pay a bit of a premium to stay on-site, would consider using Minnie Vans, or have done a dessert party to avoid camping out for a fireworks or parade view…

If you stay off-site at the cheapest hotel, avoid upcharges like the plague, venture off-site for most of your dinners or prepare your own meals, you probably skew towards the ‘saving money’ end of the spectrum.

Conversely, if you always stay on the monorail loop or at an Epcot resort to be closer to the parks, do VIP Tours to beat the crowds, or have done the morning/evening hard ticket after hours events for shorter wait times, you probably skew towards the ‘saving time’ end of the spectrum.

If you ever purchased a Magic Kingdom cabana to save time by not having to go back to your hotel for a midday nap…you’re off the charts in that direction.

I’d like to think the ‘voice’ of this blog is somewhere in the middle of both extremes. Realistically, we probably skew slightly more towards saving money. We do Deluxe Resorts (albeit usually via DVC) for their proximity to the parks, but rarely bother with upcharges. We prepare and eat light breakfasts in our hotel room, but always eat lunch and dinner at Walt Disney World restaurants. You get the idea.

Walt Disney World is offering more and more targeted at demographics with disposable income who are concerned with saving time. Our perspective is that many of these upcharges are aimed at those who have a “fear of missing out” and don’t even do a ton to save time (or enhance the experience, as the case may be). We’ve pushed back against some of these offerings, evaluating them from an objective perspective with normalized Walt Disney World vacation costs as a baseline.

For a consumer-oriented blog like this, some degree of cost-consciousness with a value comparison that takes comparable Walt Disney World experiences into account makes the most sense (at least, that’s what we think). If your perspective of value differs from ours, it’s not too difficult to take that into account when evaluating the offering for yourself.

By contrast, if your approach were that everything Walt Disney World offers is a good value because you have limited vacation time and it’ll save time (so TREAT YO SELF!), that would render all conversations about value meaningless. Everything would be a good value, and therefore, nothing would. There would be no basis for making ‘worth it’ evaluations–unless something is so bad at any cost that it’s a complete waste of your time.

The natural progression of this line of thinking leads to conclusions like the Magic Kingdom cabanas being good because they offered convenience. With all due respect, a conclusion that those cabanas were “good” would require some serious mental gymnastics.

Of course, that’s an extreme position. It was pretty obvious that those cabanas did not pass the smell test, and even those who skew much more towards valuing time over money recognized those cabanas as a total joke.

It’s not so easy with other add-ons. Everything from VIP Tours to the After Hours parties presents similar questions of saving time versus saving money. For some people, saving money is a paramount concern. For others, saving time is a stronger motivator.

There are a number of reasons for both perspectives, from budgets to the prevalence of vacation time to when (if at all) someone anticipates returning to Walt Disney World.

Neither extreme perspective, or the continuum in between, is invalid. Varied perspectives are a big part of why you see so many differing reactions to the upcharges and just as many cop-out “it depends” conclusions on blogs like this one. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to provide a hard and fast ‘rule’ about what is or is not a good value when it comes to the Disney Parks.

When evaluating the value of their time at Walt Disney World, I know others who use a baseline of the per hour cost of going to see a movie. Others compare Walt Disney World to the cost of professional sporting events or Broadway shows. The latter comparisons seem popular–probably because they make it easier for people to justify costly expenditures at Walt Disney World to themselves.

Personally, I don’t believe either provide a meaningful baseline metric. A week-long vacation is not the same as a few hours at an event, and contains quirks beyond just the per-hour cost of a park ticket. I also wouldn’t find comparing the per hour cost of a Walt Disney World vacation to reading a book I’ve checked out from the library, or going hiking in a nearby park (both free).

(Note: these analogies usually come up when comparing the cost of the experiences to justify purchasing a vacation package in the first place. For this post, we’re assuming arguendo that the base cost of a Walt Disney World vacation is ‘worth it’ and are now just trying a method for determining the value of your time on that vacation. To wit, whether time-saving add-ons are worth purchasing given that base cost of the vacation.)

Our approach for determining the value of time on vacation is starting with the average cost of the core components of a Walt Disney World vacation–tickets (or prorated Annual Passes, in our case), airfare, and accommodations–and dividing this by our anticipated number of park hours at Walt Disney World. We don’t include dining (that would be included in calculating the per hour cost of a vacation, but not the per hour value of your time).

For example, if we’re taking a 4-night/4-day trip, our prorated Annual Pass cost might be $100, we might spend $250 RT on airfare, and our hotel cost might be $500 for a total core component cost of $850. On a trip of this duration, we’ll spend about 14 hours in the park per day, or 56 total. This puts the value of in-park time at ~$15 per hour.

Putting this into the context of saving time v. saving money at Walt Disney World, something must cost $15 or less if it will save us an hour of time. Since our time is worth so little, very few of the upcharges pass muster for us.

For most people reading this, we are guessing the per hour value of your time is higher than $15. Perhaps you don’t have Annual Passes so you’re paying more for tickets, or you’re paying more than $125/night for a hotel.

Moreover, just because you land on a particular number for the value of your per hour time when performing this objective calculation does not mean you have to agree with that number. Value is a subjective consideration, and you might feel your time is worth more or less than what that calculation bears out.

As we mentioned above, if your vacation time is more scarce than your money or this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, you might be inclined to place a higher value on your time. There’s nothing wrong with that–just as there’s nothing wrong with placing a lower value on your time if money is what’s more scarce for you.

We should also underscore the point that this calculation applies to upcharges that are strictly timesavers. Many things cannot be categorized this way. Something like a dessert party, for example, is a hybrid. Even though many people are booking it so they don’t have to camp out for a fireworks view, it also includes desserts (hence the name), so you have to account for the value of those desserts when calculating the value of the time-saving component of the dessert party.

At this point, you might be reading this, shaking your head, and thinking, “HUH?” This is an admittedly abstract concept and perhaps this post does not do the best job of succinctly explaining how to calculate the value of your time at Walt Disney World. It might also sound like such an approach will lead to a ridiculous amount of math.

In reality, we aren’t busting out our calculators and doing the math when evaluating every possible upcharge or add-on at Walt Disney World (or to wherever we’re traveling). Once you’ve done this a few times, it’s pretty easy to develop a rule of thumb or gut-level feeling about what’s worth it and what is not. There’s a good chance you already do this subconsciously on a daily basis, so it really isn’t extra work. It’s just something people tend to avoid when it comes to Disney, as it isn’t a fun way of thinking about vacation. However, we think it’s important to scrutinize the value of those add-ons. If you don’t, it’s possible to justify pretty much any upcharge. That’s how you end up dropping $650 on a glorified FEMA tent in Tomorrowland, asking yourself, where did I go wrong?! 

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

Your Thoughts

How do you calculate the value of your time at Walt Disney World…or don’t you? Do you agree or disagree with our framework for determining whether a time-saving upcharge offering is worth the money? Any particular ones that you think are or are not worth it at Walt Disney World? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!


44 Responses to “Saving Time v. Saving Money at Disney World”
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