Confession: I’m Too Cheap to Go to Disney

disneyI know I must sound like a broken record, but I’m afraid I won’t be earning mother of the year again.  And it’s not because I sell my kid’s toys on craigslist or am forcing them to have a joint birthday party to save money.  It’s because I recently discovered that I’m too cheap to go to Disney World, even if the majority of the trip is free.  Let me explain.

The other day I wrote about which credit card rewards deals I’m working on. In that post, I talked about signing the two of us up for different versions of the Southwest Rapid Rewards card.  Somewhere deep in the comments, Brad at Richmond Savers suggested that I pursue Southwest’s companion pass which you get once you earn 110,000 rapid rewards points within one calendar year.  Well, I didn’t plan on trying for the companion pass initially.  However,  I quickly changed my mind after realizing that I would be soooooooo close to getting it just by having the Plus version and the business version of the card in my name.

By signing up for two Southwest Rapid Rewards cards, I will net at least 104,000 rapid rewards points once I meet the required spend of $2,000 per card.  I’ll just need to spend enough to earn 110,000 points to get the companion pass that will allow my companion to fly free on Southwest flights.

Anyways, once I decided to earn the companion pass, I became very interested in which cities we could fly to and from.  And so did Greg, especially after realizing that there were a bunch of cool cities with Southwest hubs, such as San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle, etc.  He also saw that we could fly to Orlando and started coming up with a plan to take the kids to Disney World.  And I cringed.  After all, the last time I went to Disney World I was eight months pregnant and miserable.  I literally peed all over myself in the Magic Kingdom and puked on the trolly going home.  True story.  But that wasn’t the only reason I hated Disney.   I mean, they just sell so much junk and the whole thing feels so contrived.  But for free?  I could live with going to Disney World for free.  And truth be told, I would love to see the look on my daughter’s faces when they saw that giant castle, Mickey and Minnie.

Making My Daughter’s Disney Dreams Come True

So, we started coming up with a plan.  Basically, we figured out that the four of us could fly round-trip to Orlando for around 35,000 points and $30 in fees after factoring in the free ticket we would get with the companion pass.  And since we would have well over 110,000 points by then, we knew that that would work.  In addition to that, several hotels near Disney World can be booked with Starwood points which I happen to have a surplus of.  So basically, we could fly to Orlando and spend the weekend for about $30 in cash money.  After that, all we would have to pay for were the tickets to the park.  And how much could they be?  For a weekend?  It was gonna be cheap, I tell ya.  Cheap.

Until I looked.

I’m Too Cheap to Go to Disney

WTF.  I don’t want to get into too much detail but the cheapest tickets I could find were around $90 per person per day (a little less for the kid’s tickets).  So, for our family of four, it was going to cost at least $720 for park tickets for the weekend, and that doesn’t even include tax or transportation to and from the resort.  Oh, and it doesn’t include food either which is too bad because I distinctly remember paying over $30 for two soggy baskets of chicken fingers last time we were there.  Magic Kingdom, my ass.

I know what you’re thinking.  I could just pay for the tickets.  Or I could turn some other points in for gift cards and pay for them in some other roundabout way.

No.

It’s a matter of principle at this point.  I don’t care if I could get Disney tickets with $40,000 in free food stamps.  I still wouldn’t do it.  It’s a rip-off and I refuse to participate in their elaborate scam.

So, yeah.  I cannot bring myself to pay that much for Disney Hell World,  even when the majority of our trip would be free.  Maybe I could take my kids to the local theme park, King’s Island, and just pretend that it’s Disney.  Or, Ill just hope that they never ask to go (fingers crossed).  Regardless, I’m too cheap to go to Disney.  How about you?

Would you suck it up and pay for the tickets if you were me?  Or, would you just stay home? 

About Holly

Holly Johnson is a wife, mother of two, and frugal lifestyle enthusiast. She is the co-founder of Club Thrifty and a staff writer at Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Travel Guy, and U.S. News and World Report's "My Money Blog." Holly has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger Personal Finance, Fox Business, and Daily Finance.

Comments

  1. Hmm. We sucked it up and paid for Disneyland tix in California – after all it might be our one trip to the US and we’d come all that way, it seemed silly to sweat a couple hundred dollars on something I’d wanted to do for years. But yes, it is pricey, and it doesn’t sound like your girls are DYING to go anyway.

  2. I think as long as your kids aren’t dying to go you’re not putting your mother of the year status at risk by not taking them. I bet in a few years when they are older they are going to start asking to go to Disney though- especially if they have friends at school that go. I remember my sister and I started asking our mother to take us there when we were in elementary school (she never did take us- and we turned out just fine :-)

  3. You also don’t have to go to Disney for two days. One would probably be more than enough to check the memory box if it’s something the kids really want to do (which would cut the cost in half). Then you could pick up a rental car and get the heck out of Orlando and head to one of the coasts to hit up the beach.

    • Yeah, but we would only be going for a weekend. I can’t see going through all the effort just to go to Disney for one day. Plus, when we were there for a convention years ago, it took half a day just to *get* to one of the parks and get yourself in the gate. I don’t think that one day would be worth the effort at all.

  4. My parents took us to Disney World and all I remember are waiting in crazy long lines for rides and such. On that same trip we also spent a few days at the beach. It was the first time my sister and I saw the ocean. I think we had much more fun with that part of the trip than the actual Disney experience.

    • We aren’t huge on theme parks either but there are few little ones about an hour away we will probably go to once the kids are bigger. I don’t think my 2-year-old could ride many rides at this point anyway.

  5. We’ve done Disneyland when it was a day trip, and my cousin has an annual pass and a daughter my son’s age. I’ve never understood flying to Florida to go to disneyworld, but I’ve never been and I’m not crazy about amusement parks to begin with. My MIL likes amusement parks though so she takes the grand kids places.

    • We aren’t huge on theme parks either but there are few little ones about an hour away we will probably go to once the kids are bigger. I don’t think my 2-year-old could ride many rides at this point anyway.

  6. The park tickets are insane. I’ve only gone (since I started paying for my own tickets) if I had a friends working at the park who could sign me in.

  7. Well, I would definitely look for some better deals on tickets. I’m wondering if you could get some additional days added for almost no extra cost, making it less per day per person? Or maybe get some half off deal? There’s whole websites devoted to Disney travel so I would imagine someone out there would have an idea. Now the question is how much time do you want to sink into trying to save money on Disney World tickets ;)

  8. I would love to take my daughter to Disney eventually (she’s crazy about all things princess). But yeah, the costs are ridiculous! Once you add up food, souvenirs, and the super overpriced park tickets, you’re looking at several hundred dollars just for that. Then again, the thrill that it would bring my daughter would probably justify the expense :) If your kiddos are dying to go, it might be something to reconsider.

  9. Holy crap, it’s that much?! What a ripoff. I grew up in Ohio near Cedar Point and as rides are more important than the “magic” aspect, that’s good enough for me :)

    You live in the area, right? So I’m sure you’ve been to CP? If not, it’ll be great once your daughters are a bit older. And MUCH cheaper than Disney.

  10. I remember going to Disney World when I was a kid and had a great time. It was probably a lot cheaper back then. $720 is pricey for a weekend. I’m not sure if I would do it or not. I don’t have kids but imagine it is difficult to be rational and say no to things like this when you know they would have a great time. But that is why you are the adult and they are the child.

  11. Wow that sounds pricey. I don’t remember things costing that much when I went. I went twice in highschool and I think the trips were maybe $600 including flights! I was thinking I wouldn’t mind going to Disneyworld, as I’ve never been there, but at over $100/day, it sounds steep!

  12. We’ve really enjoyed both of our trips to Disney but will probably not go back anytime soon…been there, done that. Love the King’s Island idea though…The Beast was one of my all-time favorite rides.

    The tickets to Disney are expensive but the more days you purchase at a time, the cheaper they get. The first time we went we added six additional days to our ticket with a no expiration option. That means the tickets can be used whenever. We spent three days at Disney on the first trip and 4 on the second a couple of years later, seeing all the parks. Think those tickets for days 6 and 7 were only about $40. Each time we rented a house 15 minutes away to reduce the cost of staying on site and giving us more flexibility. We packed our lunches to save from buying food at the park. As I said we had fun. Nothing beats holding your little girl and seeing the look of joy in her eyes as the fireworks explode over the castle. My vote is to suck it up Holly…you have to do this at least once for the kids when they are ready. :) Save up and use those awesome rewards…I’ll bet you can do this for cheaper than you think.

    • Actually, I do not *have to* take them to Disney!!! Get it straight! =)

      I might, but when they’re older. They’re only 2 and 4 right now. I think the money would be better spent when they are older and would remember it more.

      • MomofTwoPreciousGirls says:

        I wanted to go to Disney my whole life. My parents didn’t do it until I was a teenager and at that point I had developed a major fear of flying (not sure why) so I stayed home!

        My husband refused to take me worried I would embarrass him with my “singing” the whole time!

        We have two daughters and I priced a trip for spring break and it was over 3k not including flights. Definitely not happening this year. We will do something simpler, but I will save for a trip in a couple of years. I think you’re right on about their ages though. Mine are 6 and 4.5. When we have to wait in line for five minutes to get on a bouncy house when festivals come around, they have whining fits! Just no patience yet and the little one is just starting to refuse naps at home, but she becomes evil! I think she would be miserable at this time. I’m shooting for saving for an awesome trip in 3 years!

  13. I don’t think you’re scarring them by skipping Disney. I’d wait til they were older and wanted to go. But those ticket prices are crazy! Is anyone in your family in the military? My hubby is, so our 4 day park hopper tickets were $129 each. :)

  14. We’re actually planning on going to Disney in December. I was looking at ticket prices the other night and about choked when I saw them. So, it looks like I need to do a little more research on getting discount tickets or something.

    We’re planning on going as my Mom and Stepdad are taking us all on a Disney cruise for Christmas and are paying our way out there so it seemed to make sense to do since our airfare is already covered. Assuming we go, we need to start churning the Starwood card to cover the stay and a few cash back cards. Of course my wife is a Disney fanatic so it’s all she can think about. Me, on the other hand, think I’ll be ready to punch someone after spending a week on a Disney cruise and then a few more days at a Disney park. ;)

  15. Hi Holly,

    Thanks for the shout out! I’m so glad you decided to go for the companion pass — that really is the Holy Grail of travel rewards in the US (and Southwest just announced a few routes to the Caribbean too (Aruba, Nassau, Montego Bay)), so I think that’s a brilliant move.

    Disney tickets are crazy expensive! They are just so smart there to maximize their revenue: They charge essentially $100 per day for the first 3 days and then anywhere from a 4-day to a 10-day ticket costs almost the same as the 3 day. They are just begging you to stay for longer than a weekend so you can spend tons of loot on food and souvenirs…

    We are going to Disney this November:

    http://www.richmondsavers.com/take-your-family-to-disney-world-for-free-step-by-step-instructions/

    and I just bought my tickets and they were $350/adult for the 5-day Park Hopper, but luckily we had planned to use our Barclaycard Arrival points to offset those and part of my oldest daughter’s ticket, so that’s only about $200 out of pocket and my youngest will be just shy of 3 years old, so her ticket is free!

    • Yeah, that’s part of our problem this year. We’re already pretty booked-up vacation wise. We could get away any weekend but we can’t really take another 4 or 5 day vacation on top of everything else we have planned. That’s part of the reason that it wouldn’t be worth it for us.

      • I totally hear you on that! I would never go to Disney unless I could get a solid 4 days out of it (at least).

        It just totally is not worth it to spend $720 out of pocket for the weekend tickets even if the other stuff is ‘free.’ Add in food and such and you’re well over $1,000 for a “free weekend trip”!?!

        It’s great that you’re going all out with the credit card rewards in general though! I know you mentioned on my site that you’re planning on getting the British Airways Visa soon; if you have American Airlines flights or US Airways (post 3/31) at your local airport you’re going to be blown away by the value you can get out of the Avios points.

        I just booked round-trip tickets for my wife and daughters to go from Richmond to NY and each ticket cost only 9,000 Avios round-trip and $5 in fees! That’s a $400 flight for only 9,000 Avios, which are so easy to come by through the BA Visa, Chase Ultimate Rewards transfers or Amex Membership Rewards Transfers.

        We booked our flights to Bermuda for the summer and these 3 to NYC and we’re still sitting on nearly 175,000 Avios!

        • I LOVE AVIOS!

          We just booked 7 tickets to Hawaii from San Diego for 175,000 Avios and $30 out of pocket. $4,200 in travel for $30. Srsly!

  16. I went to Disney with my wife and my family a few years ago. So brutal. I am cringing the day that my future children will be asking me to go. I agree with Amanda though. Wait until they’re a bit older to remember and appreciate it.

  17. I agree it is really pricey for a family. I mean if its for the kids why not just charge for them and adults get in for free. Or maybe disney can allow one adult free with every paying child. It would open up the doors and make it more afforable for the average family.

  18. Disney does not “mother of the year” make, haha. In fact, Disney can be pretty harmful to kids so I think you’re good in that respect! It’s so expensive. Even if your flights and hotel is free with points, that’s a lot of money. I don’t blame you for being too cheap.

  19. A collegue of mine recently commented he dropped $10,000 at Disney last year. Holy crap….

  20. My husband has been to Disneyland many times and now he has a policy of never paying park entrance fees. He grew up in LA so no travel expenses either, just food in the park. We don’t have a magical strategy or anything – he’s just gone so many times for free that he refuses to pay for it now on principle. I’ve only been to Disneyland once but that was when our college (also in LA) sponsored a trip so that was free as well.

    I’ve never been to Disneyworld, either. My family would have had to travel like you outlined and my parents were not credit card hackers (was that a thing in the ’90s??). I grew up very well-adjusted. It will be OK. Those prices are crazy.

    • Thanks Emily- you’re right. I think my kids will turn out okay. I don’t think Greg has ever been to Disney World and he is mostly normal.

  21. We unfortunately used Disney as a bribe to get my son to stop sucking his thumb. So when he came through on his end of the bargain, we had to come through on ours. It was crazy expensive and at least one of us was breaking down in tears at any given moment. And to add insult to injury, after spending all of that money, my son’s favorite part was the hotel pool.

  22. I’m totally with you Holly but for me I hate Disney. I just serious do not get the obsession. I know people think, “well, you’re not a kid!” But honestly I DID go as a kid and do not feel my life is enhanced because of it. And I, like you have a huge problem with how expensive it is. It just doesn’t seem like the “average” family can really afford it and are they going in debt because they think going is their parental duty? I know I’m probably going to be outnumbered here, but I think like one commenter said, your kids will probably remember just spending good times with you. When I was a kid and my mom wasn’t around, I would have been happy playing board games with her. Or go hand out at a park. Anyway, just my thoughts. :)

    • I don’t get it either. It seems like there are a ton of shops with a few rides here and there. It’s mostly just an opportunity for photo ops and to buy a bunch of crap!

  23. I went to Disney on Spring Break two years ago. Crazy! My friend also went the same time and loved it. They woke up early, went on a bunch of rides, got fast passes, went back to swim at her hotel and then went back to the theme park. We couldn’t get to any park before 10 or 11 am because that’s how we are. lol Spent lots of time in lines. I would go again, just not at Spring Break. That said, I do think the best time to go to Disney, especially Magic Kingdom, is when the kids are young – it’s more magical. We’ve been twice. Last time my kids were 11, 9 and 4. My 4 year old loved it but she was too short for several rides and can’t really remember the trip that well but we have pics. haha. All the character breakfasts and everything are best when the kids are young. If there is an ideal, I’d say it’s when your kids are around 6 and 4. It’s not for everyone and not the end of the world if the kids don’t go. I hear what you’re saying about the whole contrived and commercial side of it. Flights are hotels are cheap (we fly from Buffalo) but the park tickets are the killer. We have a rewards program in Canada (Air Miles) where you can get them from but you have to cash in a lot of miles.

  24. Well your youngest is a little too young to really enjoy Disney. I might do Disney with the kids when they grow up. I know what you mean by it being crazy at those theme parks though, especially in the summer time. There are long lines in hot weather, expensive souvenirs and food…

  25. I don’t blame you, Holly. I’ve been, as a kid and again as an adult, and it’s kind of a letdown. The rides are only so-so and, as you noted, you pay a small fortune for mediocre carnival food. I might be singing another tune if my future kids start claiming that they’ll need therapy if I deprive them of Disney or something, I guess.

  26. I went to Disney when I was seven and I only remember bits and pieces of the trip. Honestly, I think my mom enjoyed it more – for some reason she wants to go back. I’m also not an amusement park person and think it’s overpriced. I would have been fine going somewhere else.

  27. I went to Disney with my sister when my nephew was 2.5. He could care less, he would get tired very fast and my sister would have to head to the hotel early every day. On the other hand, my niece who was 8.5 at the time was loving it! So her and I would stay in the park late and had a great time. I think you still have plenty of time before they will really enjoy going to Disney.

  28. That place is too freaking expensive and over-rated. Yes, you get to go there for free, but the food certainly is not and will probably cost you just as much as plane tickets would. I am also too cheap.

  29. I would wait until the kids are a bit older and really remember it. Also I am pretty sure you can find a way to make a sponsored review of your trip and get free or heavily discounted tickets :)

  30. Honey Smith says:

    I lived in Orlando for 6 years and it was at the age when I always knew someone who worked at the parks (for a long time I had a roommate). So I don’t remember ever paying. I have paid a couple of times now when I go back home to visit (since we are past the age where we have “connections” who make $8/hour) but we never do the Magic Kingdom. I like Epcot. Most people who live in the area have season passes, which are expensive, but I know lots of people who go almost every week, so they definitely get their money’s worth.

  31. Amusement park tickets are ridiculous – Legoland is around $60-70 each, and same as Sea World. This being said, I would probably indulge my hopefully future kids since I had fond memories of it growing up, but not until 1) they’re old enough to remember and 2) be able to go on all the rides. :)

  32. Growing up, Disney was never even an option. In my late 20′s my Mom’s sister became a Disney Vacation Club Member (like a Time Share), and she started inviting us on an adult female getaway once a year. We did that for about 4 years. Staying on the property was great, but those club memberships are ridiculously expensive! Even with the “free” stay on the property, Hopper passes and food/drinks got to be pretty pricey. We typically went during one of the concert series, and could see live entertainment in Epcot every night for no extra cost. We’d hit a couple of other parks during our stay, but usually didn’t last more than a half day at any. If I have kids one day, they’d really have to want to go before I could see it being worthwhile. The kids and parents always seem so miserable there!

  33. I have never been to Disney in Orlando, and probably won’t ever go. It’s too big, too expensive, and too humid. We did, however, go to Disneyland when our daughter was 4. It was wonderful for her because she loves all the princesses and thought it was awesome. Although, she would have also thought King’s Island was awesome. I never went as a kid and was really curious to see it. I believe Disneyland is a little cheaper. although still very expensive, and it is small enough to do in one day. California Adventure is nice, but little kid’s like Magic Kingdom best anyway. They also let you take in water and food in a backpack. I’m not sure it it’s against the rules, but we did anyway and no one seemed to care. Would we go back? Probably not. I think just going somewhere is the important part. I felt maybe I missed something as a kid for not going, but it’s really just another theme park.

  34. My inlaws are big Disney people (like “Disney bathroom tile” people). So they gift Disney tickets to us from time to time, which helps!

    Maybe a Disney cruise?

  35. Wow! Absolutely jaw dropping, our daughter is 2.5 and my son is almost a year so we have quite a while before we start looking into Disney, but now I don’t know if I even want to go. It sounds like if we paid full price it would be a couple grand! Heck daycare already costs us $450/week.

  36. I completely agree that if the value isn’t there, you shouldn’t buy in. If you’re going to feel guilty and think everything is a rip off the whole time (it is), then you can find something else that would be just as fun for the family. Maybe a water park?

    That being said, you often have to overpay to have fun. For our honeymoon, we spent a lot on a nice hotel. It was expensive and my brain has blocked out how much it was per night, but we had a truly wonderful time and if the alternative is staying at home, that kind of sucks, too!

  37. Even though it is extremely expensive, my family trip to Disney was an amazing experience, and it is not about what you can wear, but it is about the experiences that will last.
    Thanks for the cool article!

  38. I do not get the Disney World obsession, at all. Maybe that’s because I was deprived as a child because I only went once, when I was 6, and can barely remember a thing. I remember riding the Dumbo ride and having a few items stolen from our hotel room, or so my Mom says.

    Also, why do adults love Disney so much? I know a few people who go to Disney or on their cruises with no children at all.

  39. lol, Disney is so ridiculous. I don’t have kids but if/when we do I’ll send them to Florida to visit their grandfather and let him pay. My dad and step-mom have annual passes to Disney. For Florida residents you can get yearly passes to the parks for dirt cheap.

  40. We used to go to Disneyland in the off season before our son started school. It was wonderful with small crowds and lowered expenses. No that he’s 12, we buy season passes to the local Great America theme park and spend hours floating down the Lazy River ride. We may go to Disneyland again someday, but there are plenty of less expensive places that are just as fun.

  41. Spring for it in a few years when they are older and will remember it plus they’ll be old enough for Epcot.

  42. I would definitely skip Disney and head to Holiday World. Much closer and your kids are at the age where they would love it and for an amusement park it’s the best deal around with free parking, free soft drinks, and free suntan lotion and they have a waterpark included in the admission price.

    • That is a great idea, Holly. I think it’s only a few hours away and I’m sure the kids would have a blast. They can’t “miss” Disney if they’ve never been there, right? I have heard a lot of great things about Holiday World too. Free drinks and sunscreen sounds heavenly. And its cheap enough that it would be okay if the kids didn’t love it as much as I thought. That’s what worries me about Disney too. I’m afraid we would drop a ton of cash and only have a mediocre time.

  43. When I was in the 2nd grade, I got called to the office at school randomly during a normal weekday. My parents were there and surprised all 3 of us by saying we were going to Disney World. We changed into some clothes and drove straight to the airport. I was so surprised. I want to do something similar for our kids one day because it’s definitely a good memory for me, but the kids definitely have to be the right age and I’ll have to churn some serious stuff ahead of time to not make me cringe every day at the cost. I’ll never understand those people that go every year. There are a lot of other places to see in the world!!

  44. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

    Holly, it’s worth it! DO IT!

    Well, maybe it’s worth it for our fam. because we get free park tickets and an unlimited fast pass with a relative that obtained one. ;)

    We did the free flights, “Dolphin” Starwood property right on the lake and enjoyed the heck out of it. But I don’t know if I could pay $1,000 to go for 3 or 4 days. We get in free, cut in all the lines (legally), and had a blast.

    If you want all the best deals, though, check out http://www.mousesavers.com/ . That’s the only way to buy tickets and not get COMPLETELY ripped off.

  45. Be thankful that Disneyland is actually a lot cheaper than themeparks in Australia.
    A day at a waterpark in Sydney would cost over $200 per person once you pay for entry, food, lockers and parking!

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