Most often a Walt Disney World vacation itself is the splurge. A break in one’s reality to spend time in a place where everything is as it should be for a fee. Often a significant fee. Despite the built in cost to a Walt Disney World vacation, at times it is nice to enhance your trip by spending a little bit extra. And, while I have sadly come to the realization that I will never be able to utilize Disney’s VIP Tour Services ($315 to $500 per hour—Ouch!), there are a few worthwhile and reasonable splurges that even a lowly blogger like myself can afford. Here are five:
Upgrade Your Hotel – Staying on Walt Disney World property is always part of the fun, regardless of where you choose to lay your head at night. However, for some folks, that’s all the resort hotel is: a place to wearily return for some shut eye before rising early the next morning to race back to the theme parks. Obviously, in that case, it may be sensible to stay in one of the Value Resorts. But if some time at your resort is a large part of your vacation then a resort upgrade is definitely worth the splurge. With each upgrade you will gain a larger room, a better themed pool, and more dining options. You will also start to get away from the cartoonish feeling that some of the Value Resorts provide. Statues of Disney characters are not generally found in the Moderate and Deluxe resorts as they are in the Value Resorts, and the décor will feel more adult, which can be good for an adults only trip, or a trip with older children. Splurging all the way to a Deluxe Resort will also mean a prime location somewhere on Walt Disney World property, which alone can be worth it (think Beach Club during Food and Wine).
Say you were interested in a jump from an All-Star Resort to one of the Moderate Resorts. A stay in early September 2014 (one of the cheapest times), paying standard, non-discounted room rates, would run around $92.00 per night for the All-Star, while the Moderate Resorts would cost around $170.00 per night. Walt Disney World will typically offer some type of room discount during this time, so the overall nightly cost for both resorts very well may end up being lower, but the price differential between the two should still be around the same. If paying an extra $78.00 per night is still a bit too steep, consider upgrading to the Art of Animation Resort. While still technically a Value Resort, Art of Animation will provide you with nearly everything a Moderate Resort will, with the exception of the larger room (provided you are staying in a standard room and not a suite) and a sit-down restaurant. A stay at Art of Animation during the same time frame is around $115.00 per night.
Looking to upgrade from a Moderate Resort to a Deluxe? While the prices of the Deluxe Resorts can vary wildly based on resort, a stay at the Yacht Club during early September would be around $356 per night (again, there are typically discounts to bring this down). Sure, tacking on $186.00 per night can be a bit too much at times, especially if you will be enjoying an extended stay. So, perhaps you could consider a split stay. Stay at a Moderate, or even a Value for the bulk of your trip, then head over to a Deluxe Resort for a night or two. I would recommend with this, however, to stay in the Deluxe Resort at the end of your trip. Trust me, it would be awfully difficult to go from the amenities of a Deluxe Resort to anything else.
Purchase Party Tickets – If you are planning a trip to Walt Disney World during a holiday season, seriously consider splurging on either Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Both have excellent parades and fireworks shows, unique character meet and greets, and even freebees (candy at Halloween, cookies and hot cocoa or juice at Christmas). You will also get the added luxury of diminished crowds, as there is a limit to the number of tickets sold. Tickets for the 2014 Halloween Party start at $62.00 per adult, $57.00 per child over 3 (Passholder and Vacation Club discounts are available), however, prices do increase if purchasing on the day of the party, or for parties closer to Halloween. Tickets for the 2014 Christmas Party start at $67.00 for adults, $62.00 for children, with the same discounts and caveats as the Halloween Party applying. Tip: Instead of making this a splurge, why not make it a way to save money? Consider making this your only park admission during your trip. You can gain access to Magic Kingdom on the day of the party at 4:00 PM using just your party ticket. Historically, capacity at Magic Kingdom during the day on a party night is very low, and once 7:00 PM hits, only guests with party tickets are allowed to stay. This gives you 8 hours in Magic Kingdom at diminished capacity and—by purchasing only a party ticket instead of a 1 day Magic Kingdom pass—it will save you around $37.00 per adult, $36.00 per child for the Halloween Party, $32.00 per adult and $31.00 per child for the Christmas party. That’s a savings of $146.00 for a family of four. Of course, these saving could be used toward a resort upgrade (see how it all ties in?). For ideas of what to do while outside of the theme parks, check out my previous post on that very subject.
Try A Signature Restaurant – Dining at Walt Disney World has become so much more than burgers on the go and sit down meals with characters. Scattered around Walt Disney World are what Disney calls their “Signature Restaurants” (restaurants considered signature will be listed as such on the Walt Disney World website and can be searched by selecting “signature” in the filter). Each restaurant will vary based on cuisine and style, so you will be able to find most anything you like. As I’m sure you may have guessed, signature dining can be quite expensive, though not every restaurant is on a Victoria and Albert’s price level. If you are on the dining plan, these meals can be 2 credits, and you will still be responsible for the tip, which can still be substantial. The food, however, is worth it. We dined at Narcoossee’s in the Grand Floridian Resort for our anniversary recently and enjoyed the butter poached lobster tail, which was possibly the best lobster I have ever had. The ambiance was also perfect for celebrating our anniversary. However, while it is nice to enjoy a great meal in an adult atmosphere, the stigma of the meal price can loom large. So, I will typically justify this splurge by using this example: A family of four can dine at The Crystal Palace (another splurge that families opt for) for roughly $122.00, plus tip. With that meal you will get to meet Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends and enjoy a good all-you-care-to-enjoy meal. The issue—for me at least—is that my children never eat what I would consider $20.00 worth of food (the cost for a child’s dinner). Now, let’s compare a meal at Narcoossee’s. A kid’s meal cheeseburger with tater tots, veggies, and a drink will run around $7.00. Even if you have an older child (under 10) who is more adventurous, a kid’s flat iron steak with roasted potatoes, veggies and a drink will run around $13.00. For adults, there is a wide array of steaks and seafood, but for the sake of this example, let’s go middle of the pack and say our parents are going with the grilled filet mignon with mashed potatoes, haricot verts and herbed cabernet-oxtail reduction (which is delicious, by the way). The cost of this meal is around $45.00 (apiece, of course). This would bring our meal total to a maximum of around the same $122.00 (adding in drink costs as well), plus tip. TIP: It is understandable that the kids may not be in favor of giving up a chance to meet characters with their meal, but a good way to make it up to them—if dining at Narcoossee’s or California Grill—would be to book a dinner reservation for roughly 45 to 60 minutes prior to the start of the Wishes Nighttime Fireworks Spectacular. The lights will dim just as Wishes begins and the show music will be piped in, giving your kids the full experience as they watch the fireworks display from the comfort of their seats or a viewing area nearby. As an added bonus, they will also see the Electrical Water Pageant float by just prior to Wishes. Also, if you plan to dine out a lot during your stay at Walt Disney World, I strongly recommend purchasing the Tables in Wonderland card, if you are able. It saved us over $40.00 at Narcoossee’s on our anniversary dinner!
Attend La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil – Generally speaking, I am not a fan of attending shows while at Walt Disney World. Time is precious there, and I just don’t like committing extended periods of my trip to one specific thing. That being said, attending La Nouba is one thing I can get on board with. For one, I enjoy spending time at Downtown Disney and am looking forward to seeing what Disney Springs will bring when it is complete. When my wife and I go to Walt Disney World without the kids, spending an evening having dinner, some drinks, and strolling around Downtown Disney is a fun, stress-free way to wind down our trip. Taking in La Nouba just sort of fits right in to that. The biggest problem we had with pulling the trigger on La Nouba, at least initially, was justifying the cost on simply a show. But, as the years went by and we became desensitized to the cost of doing business at Walt Disney World, it seemed like less of an unattainable endeavor. The show, itself, is both unique to Walt Disney World and unique in Walt Disney World. La Nouba can’t be found anywhere else, and it provides you with some mesmerizing, edge of your seat entertainment that isn’t character heavy. Tickets run from $52.19 to $159.75 for adults, and $52.19 to $133.13 for children, depending on where you choose to sit.
Go During Christmas – This splurge is a bit different as you have to plan your trip around it, not add it to an existing trip, but to me there is nothing better than Walt Disney World at Christmas time. From the Resort Hotels decorated in spectacular fashion, to Main Street, U.S.A., to the characters in their Christmas best, it is a fun time to be there. And if you did take my advice and splurged on a ticket to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, walking down Main Street sipping a hot chocolate at the end of the evening while “snow” steadily streams from the sky will make for a very lasting memory. TIP: The first two weeks of December are great times to go. Christmas decorations will be up in their entirety, crowds will be lighter, and hotel costs will be less. For example, a non-discounted, week day rate at All-Star Sports for December 1, 2014 through December 11, 2014 is $98.00 per night, but starting December 12, 2014 the cost begins to spike, going from $165.00 per night until it reaches its peak of $176.00 per night on Christmas Day.
Like most things in life, the more money you spend at Walt Disney World, the more you will receive in return. You will certainly never run out of options for enhancing your vacation, that is for certain. While some can justify the cost of the other, more expensive splurges, these are five that most people can decide on without breaking the bank, yet will still provide vast enhancements to any trip.