I love helping guests with Disney trip planning. I’m happy discuss the strengths and weaknesses of every ride, resort, and restaurant on Walt Disney World property. But I have a confession to make, there’s one type of question that I can’t stand answering: “Is it Worth It?”
When working on the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, some of the hundreds of “Is it Worth It?” questions I’ve seen have included:
- Is staying in a concierge level room worth it?
- Is the Disney Dining Plan worth it?
- Is Victoria & Albert’s restaurant worth the money?
- Is it worth waiting an hour to go on Toy Story Midway Mania?
- Is it worth it to get a preferred room?
- Is Cinderella’s Royal Table worth booking?
- Is the Grand Floridian Resort worth the money?
- Is it worth paying extra to get Park Hopper tickets?
- Is the Wild Africa Trek worth it?
- Are PhotoPass pictures worth the money?
- Is it worth the time it takes traveling back and forth to my hotel for a nap?
I could go on (… and on and on), but you get the idea.
Worth occurs when benefits exceed costs. Vacation time and money are scarce commodities. You want to be reassured that benefits you’ll gain from your Disney experiences will be greater than your investment in those experiences, both in money and time. You want to be reassured that your investment will be “worth it”?
My dirty little secret is that my answer to all your “Is it worth it?” questions is, “I simply don’t know.”
Yes, I have stayed on the concierge level, used the Disney Dining Plan, eaten at V&A’s, purchased the Park Hopper and so on. I can tell you what the charge on your Amex will be. I can tell you my personal perception of quality of the food, service, and attention to detail. I can tell you how much time you’ll save in transit by staying at the Floridian and how many steps you’ll save walking to the bus if you stay in a preferred room rather than a regular room. I can tell you if the cost of these experiences and amenities is worth it TO ME. But I cannot tell you whether these experiences will be worth it TO YOU.
Why can’t I tell you if a Disney experience will be worth it to you? Because I don’t know you.
Let me give you an example. A basic experience at Disney’s Richard Petty Driving Experience costs approximately $500. For this you get classroom and safety instruction, track orientation, and 8 laps speeding around the oval. There is absolutely no way this $500, four hour investment would be worth it TO ME. No way. I don’t like noise; I don’t like fast; I don’t like cars. I don’t even like driving my own car on the Interstate. But maybe you are someone who loves autos, who dreams of being a race driver, or who loves speed. Maybe for you, this is a totally worth it opportunity of a lifetime. But because I don’t know you and your auto affection, or lack thereof, I can’t really say whether Richard Petty driving is worth your precious vacation time and money.
So given that everyone has different personalities and profiles, how can you determine whether any specific Disney experience will be worth it to you?
Here are some questions to consider:
- What is your income and/or vacation budget? If you make $50,000 a year, then spending 1% of your total annual income on one night in a room at the Grand Floridian would be a significant expense. Your stay would would have to be pretty darn spectacular to be worth it. If you make $500,000 a year, then a Grand Floridian stay will be much less of a bite to your bottom line, making it more likely to be worth it.
- What is the financial opportunity cost of the experience? Will spending money to stay at the Grand Floridian mean that you’ll have fewer funds to spend on other things like Park Hoppers or fine dining. Which would you rather have?
- What is the time opportunity cost of the experience? Does going on the eight hour Backstage Magic tour mean that you won’t have time to go to the Animal Kingdom during this trip? How do you feel about this?
- What are the real financial costs of the experience? You need to have accurate factual information before you can assess worth. Have you done all your research on promotions and discounts? Can you make the experience be less costly? Are there hidden taxes, gratuities, or other fees that will make the experience more costly than you’re expecting? This question is particularly important when looking at the “free” dining plan offers.
- Will you have opportunities to experience this event again, or is it a one time only experience? For example, will this be your only WDW trip at Christmas time? If so, then the expense of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party might be more worth it than if you’ll have other chances to go.
- Are there aspects of your personality that will impact the experience? As in the Richard Petty example above, I’m not a car person, so no expense on driving experiences would be worth it to me. Other folks might detest wearing a jacket to dinner, so no matter how good the food is, Victoria & Albert’s would not be worth it to them.
- Are there aspects of other family members’ personalities that will impact the experience? For example, when my kids were toddlers, if they were tired they were complete terrors. For me, the time spent going back to the hotel for a nap was completely worth it, because we’d have a miserable time later if we didn’t do it. For families with more even-tempered children, the transit time might not be worth it.
- Can a reasonable facsimile of this experience be found elsewhere? If there is Rainforest Cafe in your town, then taking the time to eat there during vacation might not be worth it. If you can get the “snow in Florida” experience for free at the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, then maybe Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is not worth it.
- What is the purpose of your trip? If you’re going to be theme park commandos, staying at the Magic Kingdom from sunup until closing, then the expense of a deluxe resort might not be worth it. But if you’re planning to spend your days sunning by the pool and indulging in resort recreation, then posher digs might be worth the expense.
- How would you define a good vacation? This is the “benefits” part of the “worth it” equation. Do you value relaxation? Convenience? Novelty? Adventure? Indulgence? If the experience doesn’t push one of your “good vacation” buttons, then it’s probably not worth it.
- Will you feel cheated if you’re missing something that you’re used to? If you’ll be upset that you have to sleep on a double bed rather than a queen sized bed, then the cost of the upgrade from a value resort to a moderate resort may well be worth it.
- Are you someone who likes to indulge or be pampered? There are many folks who feel intimidated in fine restaurants or in situations like spa experiences. If you don’t like this sort of thing, then the expense is unlikely to be worth it.
- Will the experience make for a good family story? Will you get long term psychic benefits from mentally reliving the experience? For example, yes you can get eggs and French toast for just a few dollars and, assuming that you’re already in the park, you can see the princesses for free, so in pure terms spending over $50 to eat at Cinderella’s Royal Table might seem silly. But if your five year old daughter will be overjoyed to dine in a real castle and will talk about it for months afterward, then the additional expense could pay out.
- How disappointed will you be if the experience doesn’t go as planned? Let’s face it, things don’t always go off as you envision. The weather doesn’t cooperate, kids get sick, and so on. If you think the experience will be a waste if it’s not absolutely perfect, then maybe it’s not worth it to you.
- Would you do this even if it were free? My friend Melissa is deathly afraid of heights. Even if someone gifted her with a parasailing excursion at the Contemporary, it would not be worth it to her.
- Will this expense of time or money make you lose self-respect? There was a 300 minute wait for Test Track over Christmas week. Even if it were my favorite ride in the universe, I had nothing but time on my hands, and I knew that I’d never get to experience it again, I’d still hate myself for waiting five hours for a three minute ride. Similarly, my mother thinks spending money on gourmet food is ridiculous. She would hate herself for days if she spent $200 on a meal at Victoria & Albert’s, even if it was the best tasting food she’d had in her life.
By asking yourself the questions above, you may be able to determine on your own whether a particular Disney experience will be worth it TO YOU. Then again, you may still have questions and need some advice. If you do decide to ask an outsider the “worth it” question, here are some things you can do to get an answer that’s meaningful to you.
- Ask someone with a similar demographic profile to you. If you have three daughters, asking someone with only sons whether Cinderella’s Royal Table is worth it might not give you meaningful information. If you’re used to staying in luxury accommodations, asking someone who only stays at value hotels about the worth of the Grand Floridian may not elicit valuable data. Find someone like you to get information that you will like. This tactic is particularly important when lurking in chatrooms or reading reviews on Trip Advisor. Before taking a stranger’s opinion to heart, try to get a sense of who is giving their opinion and whether their opinion is likely to be similar to yours.
- Ask your adviser to use a benchmark. For example, when I was a young single girl, I used the cost of a movie as my personal entertainment “worth it” benchmark. A movie cost $10 and lasted two hours, so I valued entertainment at $5 per hour. If a hardcover book cost $20 and gave me 10 hours of entertainment, then the $2 per hour cost made the book comparatively worth it. On the other hand, a Broadway show costing $90 and giving three hours of entertainment would not, at the time, have been worth it to me. If you’re asking Disney “worth it” advice from someone you don’t know personally, then try to get their benchmark opinion on something you’re familiar with so that you can assess their reliability.
And for the record, my answers to the “worth it” questions above are: 1. Maybe, 2. No, 3. Yes as often as humanly possible, 4. Maybe, 5. No, 6. Yes but probably just once, 7. Maybe, 8. Yes, 9. Yes, 10. Yes, 11. Yes. But that’s just what’s worth it to me, your perception may be completely different.
So fellow planners, how do you decide whether something is worth it at Disney World or elsewhere? Let us know in the comments below.