At the risk of stating the obvious, visiting Walt Disney World can be expensive. Without a plan, anyone can get caught up in the magic and go over budget. And while there are plenty of great places to save – like on dining, park tickets, and lodging – some experiences are worth the splurge. Here’s where I think you should go all out.
Special Event Tickets
You know how it’s always smart to check park hours before you plan your vacation? (If ya didn’t, now you do!) One reason for that is special events occasionally shorten the general admission day. Instead of attending the parks when they’re bound to close early, stay home during the morning and buy a special event ticket if it interests you.
Last year, we splurged on the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and had an absolute blast. Guests are allowed to wear costumes and cast members hand out candy at trick-or-treat locations, but the real perks were the event-only treats and zero ride lines. (Like actually zero. We walked right on to popular picks like Peter Pan’s Flight and Splash Mountain.) Scroll through the slideshow below to see a few cellphone shots I captured at the event.
Did you even go to Disney World if you don’t take a photo with Mickey or Minnie? Skip the long character lines in the parks and focus on attractions; you can get your character photos while eating! Character dining is a fun splurge, and the non-park options mean you can make the most of your ticketed time and visit a character restaurant on an off day. Our favorite is Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort. The food is delicious, and you see classic characters like Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, and Donald. Each rotate to your table while you dine for photos, autographs, and a little Disney fun – and don’t worry about missing them while you’re at the buffet, as a cast member makes sure you see each character before you leave.
If you’re hoping to meet a unique character, or would rather dine in the parks, you could try the Crystal Palace at the Magic Kingdom to meet characters from Winnie the Pooh, or Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot to see princesses. However, if its the ladies in ballgowns you want to see, try dinner at the Cinderella’s Royal Table at least once. You get to dine inside Cinderella’s Castle, and you bring home extra souvenirs – including a cute wishing star I turned into a fridge magnet – after you finish eating and enjoying the view. See more from my birthday dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table in the slideshow below.
Word to the wise: We don’t think the 1900 Park Fare character dining experience is worth the money. While the characters were neat, the restaurant didn’t feature that special theming that makes the experience feel unique. (And, to be honest, we were not impressed with the food.)
Happily Ever After Dessert Party
We teetered back and forth about this splurge during every trip, but finally took the plunge at the Magic Kingdom on my mother’s birthday. As Mickey would say, “oh boy!” was this worth it.
Disney dessert parties offer two things: guaranteed, reserved good views for the nighttime show and an all-you-can-eat dessert event. At the Magic Kingdom, several versions are available including seated packages and pre- or post-show snacks. We went for the garden view and desserts after the fireworks so we could leisurely enjoy our snacks. Available food including a few savory options (cheese, crackers, etc.) and some fruit, plus an ample pre-made dessert (mini cakes, chocolate strawberries, macarons, hot toffee cake, etc.) buffet, build-you-own cookie or cupcake bar, fresh s’mores bar and large beverage station with pop, sparkling cider, coffee, and tea.
We had an absolute blast, and in true we’re-super-extra fashion we closed the party down and were the very last to leave. Since it is all-you-can-eat, I think this is only worth the money if you come hungry. And thirsty. And again, like seriously hungry. We saw people leave after two cookies and 15 minutes. If that’s your style, skip this. I tried everything (cough, twice, cough), ate way too many plates, and stayed for an hour. We even left with cups of hot tea after finishing our cider. Come with an empty stomach and get your money’s worth, or risk feeling like you wasted a pretty penny.
Oh and you might notice I specified the Happily Ever After Dessert Party and not, say, dessert parties as a whole like I did for event tickets and character dining. While I have not tried the others, I don’t see the value there. Other evening shows at the parks, while entertaining, don’t hold a candle to the truly amazing projection, firework, and musical event that is the (lengthy) Happily Ever After show. In its current form, the Epcot evening show is visible all over the World Showcase. The Animal Kingdom evening show, despite being my second favorite across the parks, has two performance times with ample unobstructed views. And I could personally take or leave Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studios; it’s cute enough, sure, but after seeing it this year I think I’m good for the next several trips. The Happily Ever After dessert party gets you a perfect, unobstructed view of the performance, which means you can enjoy not only the fireworks but the complete video projection across the castle – which, even as a serious firework lover, is the most amazing part of the show.
Have you tried any of these Disney splurges? Where do you splurge at Walt Disney World?