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Saving Time vs. Saving Money at Walt Disney World

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When I started blogging for TouringPlans, oh those many years ago, I asked our fearless leader Len Testa what kinds of things I should write about. His response was, “Stick with our goal – help people save time and money on their vacations.” While that mission is fantastic, I sometimes struggle with the interplay between the two halves of the statement. Sometimes the things you might do to save time are diametrically opposed to the things you would do to save money, and vice versa. Let’s look at some of the tradeoffs. screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-10-48-09-am


If you have unlimited funds, there are plenty of things you can do to save time. First among them is hiring a VIP guide. For $400-$600, (price varies seasonally) per hour (with a six hour minimum), plus park tickets, for a group of up to ten people, you can have your very own cast member guide escort you around the parks in whatever manner you wish. They’ll pick you up at your hotel and bring you into the parks via a back door entrance (no pesky waiting for the bus or walking from the parking lot to the entrance gate). They’ll scoot you through the FastPass line for attractions, even if you don’t have a FastPass reservation. They’ll take you to a reserved area for parades and shows, so you don’t have to waste time staking out your spot in advance. In short, if you want to throw four or five thousand bucks extra bucks at the “saving time” problem, Disney has you covered.

A similar argument could be made that the new Magic Kingdom shanties cabanas at $650 per day are a way to obviate the need to go back to your resort for a nap. Why waste time shlepping back and forth to the hotel when you can sleep in privacy right in the middle of Tomorrowland.

Magical Express saves money, but might cost you time.
Magical Express saves money, but might cost you time.


On the other end of the spectrum, if you want to save money, you can stay at a bargain-basement off-site hotel. A quick peek on Expedia will show several Orlando area options in the $50 range per night, or about half the price of the Disney World value level resorts. I was even able to find a deal for a $29 per night — at the M Hotel near Universal. (Let’s ignore the fact that the hotel’s reviews are, um, less than stellar. A fairly typical Expedia review said, “The only nice thing I can say about this hotel is that I’m still alive.”) You’ll certainly save money staying there, but you’ll have to factor in at least 30 minutes a day of extra travel time to and from the parks, and significantly more if you want to take a mid-day nap break. There are definitely more palatable bargain hotels that are closer to Walt Disney World, but they all involve time trade-offs. For example, if you’re using an off-site hotel’s shuttle service to the parks, you’ll be dropped off at the farthest bus zone, adding walk time. More obliquely, you may end up spending more time waiting for a meal or a ride because you did not have access to Disney resort guest early access to Dining or FastPass+ reservations.

If you want to save money on food, you can bring your own meals to the parks, but then you’re spending time on shopping, prep, and clean-up.

And one of the most common ways to save money is to alter your mode of transportation to get to Walt Disney World. Flying my family of five back and forth from our home in New York to Walt Disney World costs somewhere around $2,000 to $3,500, depending on the season and what type of transportation we use to get to the airport. We could drive for just the price of a few tanks of gas and some tolls, assuming that we take shifts with the driving. However, flying takes about five hours each way (including transport time to/from the airport), while driving takes about 20 hours each way. If we drive we save cash, but we lose two days of vacation.

The fly/drive decision is often a time vs. money tradeoff. @Southwest Airlines
The fly/drive decision is often a time vs. money tradeoff. @Southwest Airlines


There are small scale time/money tradeoffs throughout every Disney vacation. Booking a character meal saves time waiting in line for meet & greets, but costs more than standard dining. Using Disney’s Magical Express saves money over renting a car, but it may take longer to get to your hotel. Staying on the monorail line can reduce travel time to the Magic Kingdom, but costs more than staying in a moderate resort.

Even during a brief visit, you may need to make a dozen or more decisions about whether you’re prioritizing time saving or money saving.


Most people will make the time vs. money call using instinct or gut feeling. The decisions feel easy with larger scale items. For example, getting an in-park cabana just seems like too much money. Driving from New York to Orlando just seems like it would take too much time. (For me, at this stage of my life. Your personal choices might be entirely different.)

But with the many smaller choices you must make, using your internal barometer may not be the most logical way to go. Instead, you might want to do some pre-trip soul searching and decide how much your time and money are worth to you. For example, you might decide that it’s worth spending $20 to save an hour of time, making the new express bus service a no-brainer. Or you might decide that you have a hard cap on expenditures that you won’t violate no matter how much time you save.

If you want a real numerical evaluation of time vs. money, take a look at Brian’s excellent post on whether the a princess character meal is worth the money.

If you’re not up for all the math, try testing yourself with logical extremes. For example, if the park-to-park express bus works for you at $15 price, does it work at $30? At $50? At $100? At some point you’ll know what doesn’t make sense for you. Or do this in reverse … if the in-park cabana is too expensive at $650 per day, would you do it for $500? For $400? For $300. During these exercises, you’ll get a good feel for your personal value of time vs. money on vacation. As you encounter decision points, use your personal value ratio to evaluate the options.


Knowing your personal time/money threshold can help inform many of the your trip planning decisions. For example, if your personal set point is that it makes sense to spend $30 to save an hour of time, this might sway your decision to rent a car during your visit. Or you might even consider that spending $30 more per night to stay at an on-site All Star resort could save you an hour of worry or planning before your trip because it allows you to book FastPass+ selections 30 days earlier.


A middle ground strategy could look like what happens when you use a good touring plan. Saving a few hours a day of waiting in line for attractions might mean that you can do everything you want in less overall time, allowing you to make you trip a day shorter and save the money you would have spent on a hotel, dining out, and an extra day of park tickets. But then the downside of that is you’re possibly having one less day of fun with your family on vacation. This bring up another topic about where you value having fun in the time/money equation. I’ll tackle that in another post.


How do you make your personal choices about time vs. money? Do you do lots of math? Do you decide on the fly? Do you consult with other family members? Has the time/money balance ever caused conflict in your family?

Let us know in the comments below.

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Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel (now PlanDisney), a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater.

12 thoughts on “Saving Time vs. Saving Money at Walt Disney World

  • I usually figure out what I want to do, then figure out my budget will allow and go from there. We usually opt for the saving time vs saving money, except when it comes to flying, my husband will not fly. Our trip time is only about 8hrs so it’s really not so bad. We are DVC members so really the biggest chunk of our expenses are taken care of. Our family consists of just my husband and I so there are rarely ever conflicts.

  • One word: Uber. Our last trip to WDW (Dec 2015), we Ubered every time we went ANYWHERE. It cost us $120 (family of 4, for 5 park days), but saved us…wait for it…12 hours of travel time. Worth every penny, if you ask me.

    • Uber was actually cheaper for us round trip from our hotel to Epcot than it would have been to park there.
      We were also fans of Preferred Parking for $15 extra on the days we did drive to the park.
      When I did the math for our last trip, it was cheaper for us to:
      Rent a car
      Stay at a 4 star hotel on Trip Advisor
      Pay for parking,
      than it would have been to stay on WDW property. The extra time getting from the lot to the entrance was worth it in regards to the amount of $ we were able to save.

  • Leslie

    I start with a budget based on what we spent in years’ past and then try to figure out how to get the most for that budget. So we book at the least busy time of year we can (usually September) at whatever resort we can get a deal. Usually that means where we get free dining, but this year we booked a DVC rental at Boardwalk for less than the moderates. This will mean more counter service and no free dining, but it was worth the trade off for the convenience to the parks.

    We also plan one splurge/extra every trip. This year it was Queen Victoria’s room at V&A’s for a very special occasion; next year it will be the much cheaper Marceiline Tour based on the difference in how our budget is allocated.

    I tend to choose saving time over money, but it still has to be somewhat within budget, so those cabanas are a hard no. I’m not sure I’d pay $50 for that.

  • Robert Blaszkiewicz

    Our family always had used Magical Express and Disney transportation until our last couple of trips. On one we rented a car, on the other we had our own car. In addition to the time saving, you can recoup some of the cost of a rental car in the savings of going off property to buy groceries and supplies, or dine at a less expensive off-property restaurant. Still, car rental or not is a close call for us.

  • Magical Express needs a reboot. We’ve enjoyed using it for the better part of the last decade over multiple trips, but somewhere along the way it has gone from feeling like “Oh Boy, we’re going to Disney!” to Cattle Car. The things that bother me most are the incredibly long wait ON the bus at the teminal (have been there for as long as an hour, with others on board before us), and always being the last ones dropped off.

    After trying a rental on our last trip and seeing how easy it was to drive from MCO to WDW, stopping at Universal first, rentals are the way to go now, plus they give me so much freedom to explore options for food, shopping and entertainment.

  • TwoBits

    For me and my family, money is more valuable than time, but time is made up by careful planning. For our next trip, we will drive, save offsite in a condo or house rental, and prepare many of our own meals (we are not foodies). We will use the touring plans in the latest Unofficial Guide and make adjustments using the touring plans app to fit our needs. And, of course, we will have a Touring Plans subscription. 😉

    I would be surprised if anyone reading this blog believes money lost is time saved or vice versa. After all, isn’t saving both time AND money why we frequent this site?

  • Fun topic! I agree with lots of what’s above — we usually start with a figure in mind and make decisions from there. For example our last trip to WDW I told my boys we could stay 6 days at POFQ or 8 days at Pop Century and they voted on Pop. Since the additional days’ tickets don’t add up to much (8 vs. 6), it was a reasonable trade.

    Based on past trips, we also have priorities. We always stay on property because we love it and have found it to be worth the money to stay “in the magic.” If we can’t afford to stay on property somewhere (even a value), we keep saving or shorten our stay until we can. We also always get park hoppers because we like to hop. We’d rather cut a different corner.

    On the other hand, we aren’t picky about food so that’s a saver. We make an Uber grocery trip and get stuff for breakfast (bananas and bars or poptarts usually!), then we eat one bigger meal each day and snacks or smaller / shared meals the rest of the time. We’ve been known to make many a meal out of soft pretzels and fruit (and an occasional margarita!).

    We also tend to go less often and stay longer, so we don’t mind using Disney transportation or rarely Uber – we don’t rent a car because it’s just not a priority. We rise early and make the best use of the mornings, and when we stay 7 or 8 days that’s plenty of mornings to see all the parks early.

    You’re definitely on point here — it’s almost impossible to save time AND money in equal amounts, so it comes down to choice (with good advice from Touring Plans, of course!).

  • What’s the situation with Uber at MCO. It’s been changing a bit from what I’ve heard. Do they pick up curbside at the terminal…or is technically ‘onsite’; the remote parking lot, which means shuttle bus to get to the remote lot for pick up. And does Uber pick up at Disney Resorts?

  • Steve H.

    For me you just can’t beat convenience so I’m willing to pay a little extra staying on site and adding a dining plan. So, I’m a time over money person as far as that goes. We just stay at a value or moderate instead of deluxe. You can always get a good deal if you do your homework and wait for the promotions. I like being in the “bubble” and not having to worry about transportation or meals. I just budget for $1,000 per person which has been about right our last two trips. Also, we’re in Kansas so we definitely fly.

  • Its amazing home much the questions you pose for vacationing relate to the work Len and I have been doing in the diabetes space. With enough information about how a person values time, money, and comfort you could probably optimize a trip with software for more than a touring plan.

  • Lee & Robin

    I love TouringPlans, but it seems that all the bloggers here think that you either stay on-site or you are forced to stay in some dive hotel off-site which takes upwards of 30 minutes just to get to the parking lot in the parks. I am currently sitting in a 3 bedroom 3 bath town home with our own private splash pool, full kitchen and living room, for which we are paying a grand total of around $105/night. Off-season rates are much cheaper. Tonight after arriving and relaxing in the splash pool, we drove to the Studios. Total transit time was approximately 20 minutes including the tram to the front of the park. We have friends that always stay on-site. They report travel times via Disney Transport much higher than what we experience driving in from this town home.

    Options other than on-site and dive hotels exist. VRBO is a great resource.


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