Is it Worth It?

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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:

The cost of a room with a castle view might be worth it to some people, but not everyone.

  1. Is staying in a concierge level room worth it?
  2. Is the Disney Dining Plan worth it?
  3. Is Victoria & Albert’s restaurant worth the money?
  4. Is it worth waiting an hour to go on Toy Story Midway Mania?
  5. Is it worth it to get a preferred room?
  6. Is Cinderella’s Royal Table worth booking?
  7. Is the Grand Floridian Resort worth the money?
  8. Is it worth paying extra to get Park Hopper tickets?
  9. Is the Wild Africa Trek worth it?
  10. Are PhotoPass pictures worth the money?
  11. 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.

Staying at a deluxe resort might be worth it to you at some times of the year, but not others.

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?

If you frequently bowl at home, Splitsville might not be worth it to you, but if you're looking for new Disney experiences, Splitsville could be worth it.

    • 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.

The $60 caviar supplement at Victoria & Albert's is 100% worth it to me. Never in a million years would it be worth it to my mother.

    • 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 gypped 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.

Waiting half an hour to see Duffy would not be worth it under most circumstances, but my daughter loves him so much that it was completely worth it for my family.

  • 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.

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Posted on January 2, 2013

27 Responses to “Is it Worth It?”

  • Yes, the most frequently asked question and your answers are bang on. The value of a particular thing can only be evaluated in the context of each person’s values.

    But Queen beds in the Moderates? Which ones? I exclusively stay in Moderates and the beds don’t seem Queen to me, but I don’t have a Queen at home so I am not sure.

    • The Queen bed conversion has been ongoing. At this point, the only moderate that does not have Queen beds is Caribbean Beach.

  • I guess that I don’t mind the “Is it worth it?” questions. Because there are very few (if any) situations where there is a straight-forward value proposition, it is pretty much assumed that the answers will be based on personal opinions. Usually people’s answers will explain WHY they feel something is or is not “worth it”, which provides the information necessary for people to come up with their own answer. I’m in no way disagreeing with your points to consider, which are spot on.

    • I have much less of an issue with answering the “worth it” questions from people I know personally. If I have some sense of who is doing the asking, then I can give them a targeted opinion. But on the interwebs, working with people I don’t know, I fell badly if I give information that will inadvertently be all wrong for them.

      For example, I don’t personally like the Spirit of Aloha Luau, so I don’t generally recommend it. However, if you’re a dancer, you might really enjoy it. But if I don’t know that about you, I’m giving bad advice.

      I’m particularly nervous about recommending wonderful, but expensive, things in this down economy.

      Clearly I need more time with my therapist to figure why this all weighs so heavily on me. :-)

      • Definitely, it is much easier to answer “worth it” questions from people you know, but even then you can still get it wrong – people are funny, and can surprise you at times.

        I guess that when I see “Is xxx worth it?” I read it as “What are the benefits/drawbacks of xxx?”. I try to frame my answers around “we found/felt yyy because” so that it at least sounds less dogmatic and offers something to think about.

        Except for Spirit of Aloha. It is definitely not worth it. The gods have spoken, now obey. ;-)

  • If my opinion was based solely on value, I would say most Disney things are not worth it. But as unique experiences, many Disney experiences are absolutely worth it. Those are the ones worth paying for, but which one is for you is the hard part.

    For example I had two experiences that I was quite concerned about the cost, but when I was done I was glad to spend the money. The Wild Africa Trek with my daughter and surfing in Typhoon Lagoon. Those were great memories for me, not just another thing to do at Disney.

    When friends ask I don’t usually answer “is it worth it”, I just explain my experiences and hopefully it helps them decide.

    If you feel a personal connection to the activity, I say do it!

  • I too would find this a difficult question to answer for someone else. I think it depends greatly on one’s expectations. Personally, when we travel to WDW we tend to choose/plan based on convenience and having a more laid-back approach to touring the parks, especially after having a child. We know we’ll be back again some day. However, someone who expected the vacation of a lifetime, full of special experiences & doing as much as they possibly can, would have a much different response than I. So perhaps a helpful question to ask in return would be, “What are your expectations?”

  • I’m sending this link to my husband, because he’s constantly hearing me talk about how unrealistic it is for people to ask “is it worth it?” on public wdw forums- for the exact reasons you outline above. You make some great points here! My current dilemma is dealing with the situation when different people in the immediate touring group have differing opinions on what’s “worth it”. Fortunately, as the main planner in the family, I can usually spin things my way ;). Haven’t attempted V&A yet, but perhaps next time….

  • While this may make you laugh, your article actually helped me to figure out whet her some of these very things are “worth it” to me, on this trip, in March, with the particular person (DD7) that I am going with. Thanks for a great article!

    1. It is worth it to me to rent points to stay at BWV so we can walk home quickly from Fantasmic! and Illuminations and also easily get back to the hotel to swim/rest in the afternoon.

    2. It is worth it to me, this time, to get Park Hoppers but it wasn’t last time and it might not be next time.

    3. I am getting the dining plan this time, but didn’t the last two times.

    Thanks!

  • by Gretchen from Buffalo, NY on January 2, 2013, at 5:49 pm EDT

    Your answers and mine were exactly the same!

  • I think when people say, “is it worth it,” they’re really asking about the benefit side of the equation. Costs tend to be pretty clear (in time and/or money), but benefits are often less so. With so many options at Disney, it’s hard to know what you’re getting for your money.

    Along the lines of, “Can a reasonable facsimile of this experience be found elsewhere,” I find it useful to compare Disney experiences to things that are available locally. If you think an occasional $100+/person dinner at a fancy restaurant in a 5-star hotel near where you live is “worth it,” then you’re more likely to think that Victoria and Albert’s is “worth it,” too. If you go to the zoo and think, “man, I’d really like to get on the other side of that enclosure” and ask the zoo staff lots of questions, you’d probably like Wild Africa Trek.

    Hotel rooms can be compared to familiar benchmarks, too. A Value room is a lot like a nice motel room, while a Deluxe room is on par with what you might find at a Sheraton. Of course, the amenities and location aren’t really comparable to what you have at other hotels, but it’s easier to understand things like pool and lobby quality based on pictures and reviews.

    My personal answers:

    1) Never done it.
    2) No.
    3) I’d like to try the chef’s table with a group, though jacket & tie isn’t my normal Florida attire.
    4) No need if you use a touring plan.
    5) Savanna view at AKL yes, otherwise no (and there are often upgrades available for obstructed view Savanna View at a reduced or no cost).
    6) An alternative question: “Is it worth it to brainwash your kids from an early age to get way more excited about Donald, Pluto, Chip, and Dale than about princesses?” (I’d say yes.) The lines for meeting princesses can be BRUTAL outside of character meals. If I’m with someone who needs to meet Cinderella, I’d probably cough up the money for the meal.
    7) Not my style.
    8) Depends on park hours.
    9) Yes, definitely.
    10) If you’ve got a group and are doing lots of character meets, yes.
    11) Depends on park hours and who I’m with.

  • You’ve laid out a great way to think about the benchmark concept – a comparison with something familiar.

  • by Heather Louise on January 2, 2013, at 6:54 pm EDT

    It is so much easier to evaluate these experiences now that I have one trip to WDW under my belt (thank you for all the help and wisdom you shared that made it an amazing trip). For a first timer, it helped so much to read many perspectives and opinions on experiences for which I had no frame of reference. Nothing we did, did we regret (not even the almost two hour wait in the rain for pictures with the 7 Dwarfs) however there are definitely some things that I am quite content with having done once and do not feel the need to do them again.

  • by Bookish Belle on January 2, 2013, at 7:43 pm EDT

    LOVE this post — I don’t really know what to say when people ask me if something in Disney is “worth it.” GenerallyI try to focus on the why I think something is or isn’t worth it than the yes/no answer. But, ultimately, I don’t think anyone can answer this question for you — except you!

  • Erin – I am so glad you are writing frequently on the Touring Plans blog page! Your articles are very in-depth, informative and “worth” the read (wink, wink) and are so substantial and helpful!

    This was interesting to me after spending an evening with another couple who said “when we do Disney, we do Magic Kingdom from opening to closing and blast it all out in one day. Then we’re done. We’re exhausted.” I wanted to scream “NO NO — that’s because you’re not doing it right!!!!!!!!” But I controlled myself.

    Reading your article so soon after that discussion was interesting to me. I guess for them, that’s all they want out of Disney, whereas I — the uber-planning, OCD, borderline crazy WDW lover — want many days and and many experiences.

    Our first time, we went full-out with the Deluxe Dining plan and ate at pretty much every fabulous place there was! I didn’t even bother to find out if the plan saved any money. I didn’t care. Our first Disney trip was all paid for before we went and we lived in exhausted luxury for 6 whole days!!!! IT WAS SO WORTH IT!

    As you pointed out, the idea of something’s worth is so subjective.

    Next trip, we are renting DVC points and getting a studio at VWL so we can eat most every meal out of our little room. We don’t want to be tied down to a dining reservation schedule and want to be a little more relaxed and spontaneous this time. It is just going to be a different experience for us.

    I agree with Heather Louise above that there are some things to do once — and that’s enough. But they were worth it for that one time!

    Anyway, just sharing. Love your articles! Keep them coming! Thanks!

    • Thank you for the kind words.

      You touch on another good point – Your own perception of the worth of something might change over time. A change in your family (older kids), income (more or less), or life experiences (you’ve moved to another area of the country with different restaurants) will alter your perception of the benefits of many Disney experiences.

  • Erin,
    Thanks so much for this great article. I agree !00% with your explanation of “worth.” Now, I just wish my non-Disney friends would understand why WDW (tickets, DVC, paying for plane tickets) is SO worth it to us as a family!

    Also, you’re allowed to give me advice any time on what’s worth it. You’re a girl after my own heart!!

  • Erin,

    This post should be required reading for people in the tp chat.
    It’s one of the most well-written & well thought-out posts I’ve read here & it clearly & concisely explains why the answer to such questions is almost always, “It depends.”

    For instance, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to answer a chat poser with, “You know your children better than any of us do.” ;-)

    There are no “right” answers to any of these.

    Anyway, thanks for a great post.

    ejj

  • Hey Erin,

    Great article! Coming from Australia for 3 weeks, including a DCL cruise, my budget is around $20K. So for a lot (if not all) of these type of questions I face the answer is Yes. Absolutely worth it. Given the opportunity cost of skimping to save a few hundred bucks could mean never getting to do it again.

    For all you lucky folk who can visit Disney without the $9000+ airfares, consider yourselves lucky!

    Cheers,
    Ben of BNE

  • Hi Erin,

    I was immediately intrigued by your post, as the title contains the EXACT same wording as one of my Moms Panel interview questions! No conditions, no qualifiers, no “Is (something specific) worth (a specified quantity of time, money, effort.” Evidently, my random rambling in attempting to answer was completely inadequate, as I was not selected for the 2013 panel. But I feel a little bit better knowing that even Erin “Moms Panelist Extraordinaire” Foster has difficulty with that question! Well, just a tiny bit better. Actually, I really don’t feel that much better about not being selected. But I sure enjoyed reading the article!

  • Great post! We just got back from Disney and while we were there did the Wild Africa Trek. I was worried about spending that much money on one activity, but thought it was totally worth it. In our case, us and the other couple with us both have children too young for the trek so it would be years before either of us could do it on a family trip, but since this was an adult Disney trip it worked out beautifully!

  • by Christina C. on April 10, 2014, at 4:59 pm EDT

    I see that most people here have answered no to #2. My family of 5 will be in Disney May 3 – 11. This is personally my 4th trip. I have never, before this upcoming trip, purchased the DP. However this time we are. What makes it worth it to me? #1 Meals are paid for. I don’t have to worry about the cost once we are at Disney. #2 I can eat at any restaurant without being concerned that it is outside of our budget #3 I can order anything off the menu without fear of what the bill will be. All of this has opened up a whole new Disney to us. We have reservations everyday at some great places that we would have never dined at w/o the DP because once there we would have not let ourselves spend the money. So, my answer to #2 is yes. Hope I’m right.