For many families, a trip to Walt Disney World is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Families sometimes save for years and years to be able to afford this trip (often even coming from overseas) and want to make the most out of their trips.
I have rounded up a list of splurges and upgrades to help you make the most out of your Disney trip, whether it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing or just something extra you’re planning for your family’s annual trip.
As a disclaimer, all of these experiences cost money, and some a significant amount. All the information I am providing is accurate at the time of this writing (July 2019) and is subject to change. Contact your travel agent or Disney directly to find out more information or to book any of these experiences!
Let’s start off with something I have talked about many times before- Memory Maker! Memory Maker is a photo service that you can purchase from Walt Disney World.
Throughout the parks and Disney Springs, there are PhotoPass photographers poised and ready to capture your family in front of popular backdrops like Cinderella Castle, the front of Epcot, the Tree of Life, etc.
While these photographers are more than happy to capture family photos using your own cell phone or camera, you receive a little bit of magic when you purchase Memory Maker. Cast members might add a little pizzaz to your photo, you might receive special messages from characters, and all of your ride photos will auto-magically be synced to your account, which you can view in your My Disney Experience app. You’ll also have access to unlimited downloads for 45 days (after which they expire).
My husband and I were gifted the money for Memory Maker during a trip a few years ago, and we were so surprised with the number and the quality of the photos we received. We are usually budget vacationers, so we haven’t splurged on it since, but it was definitely a fun experience to have!
Here are a couple of our photos! (Can you tell which shirt I bought on the trip and wore almost every day because I loved it so much? 😉 )
Fireworks Dessert Party
What could be better than eating desserts while watching a Disney fireworks display from an exclusive location? Well, Disney World actually offers many different dessert fireworks parties for you to choose from!
- Fantasmic! Dessert & VIP Viewing Experience – watch the forces of good and evil battle it out at Disney’s Hollywood Studios with this dessert package featuring on-the-go dessert options like chocolate-covered strawberries, cheese and crackers, and a make-your-own dirt pudding! Drinks (alcoholic beverages are available for guests 21+) are served in a souvenir cup.
- Ferrytale Fireworks: A Sparkling Dessert Cruise – don your Mickey Vision glasses as you watch the fireworks show over Cinderella Castle from a ferry boat on the Seven Seas Lagoon and nibble on tasty treats. There’s also a scavenger hunt for the kiddos!
- Frozen Ever After Dessert Party at Epcot World Showcase – a must-do for any Frozen-loving family! Enjoy sweet Frozen-themed treats (like Elsa’s Blue Velvet Cupcakes, Anna’s Warm Cottage Pudding with Salted Caramel Glaze, and Olaf’s Warm Double Chocolate S’mores Pudding Cake!) while you watch IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth (retiring September 30, 2019, and being replaced with a new nighttime show). After the show, your party will be escorted to the Norway Pavilion to ride Frozen Ever After, the popular boat ride that takes you through the Frozen story.
- Fireworks Dessert Party at Tomorrowland Terrace – indulge in a buffet of fruits, cheeses, savory snacks, and desserts at the Tomorrowland Terrace in Magic Kingdom while watching the fireworks show above Cinderella Castle! This experience offers both sitting and standing areas with a view of the fireworks show.
- Pirates & Pals Fireworks Dessert Voyage – Ahoy, mateys! Celebrate a pirate’s life with this themed cruise and dessert p-arrrrrgh-ty (sorry, sorry, I couldn’t help it!). Hang out with Captain Hook and Mister Smee while eating yummy desserts and snacks, and then drop anchor in the perfect spot to watch the fireworks show above Cinderella Castle! You may even find a surprise guest awaiting your return to the shore at the end of your voyage.
- Rivers of Light – We Are One Dessert Party at Animal Kingdom – enjoy a buffet of savory snacks and themed desserts before settling in for a spectacular view of the Rivers of Light nighttime show from your specially reserved seats!
- Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – after visiting Star Wars Launch Bay, munch on Star Wars-themed desserts as you take in the amazing show Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular from a reserved viewing area. You’ll also receive a special Star Wars souvenir to take home.
- Other themed and seasonal dessert parties – check here for updates!
Take a break from your whirlwind Disney days with a dinner show! There are two to choose from:
- Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show – enjoy an all-you-can-eat tropical feast of Polynesian delights with this dinner show at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort! This dinner show features drummers, dancers, and a fire knife performer. Menu options include pulled pork, ribs, roasted chicken, and veggies; kids’ options include pizza, tots, and grilled chicken or fish! Desserts are also included.
- Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue – I have heard so many people rave about this show at the Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort! I think that the Disney site describes it best: “a hilarious, high-spirited hootenanny the whole family will enjoy, accompanied by a finger-lickin’ countrified feast!” Menu options include fried chicken and smoked BBQ pork ribs, salad, baked beans, cornbread, and strawberry shortcake. Yee haw!
If you have little ones (or big ones!) who would love to dine with the Disney characters, you’ll be happy to hear that there are plenty of options for character dining! In fact, there are too many to describe to you in detail… so, instead, I’ll drop the link to check out all the character dining experiences right here and, below, I’ll list details of which characters* you can expect to meet at each dining experience!
- 1900 Park Fare at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, The Mad Hatter, Tigger, and Winnie the Pooh
- Akershus Royal Banquet Hall: Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Princess Aurora, and Ariel
- Chef Mickey’s – Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald Duck, Goofy
- Cinderella’s Royal Table – Cinderella
- The Crystal Palace – unspecified friends from The Hundred-Acre Wood
- Garden Grill Restaurant – Chip and Dale
- Good Morning Breakfast with Goofy and His Pals – Goofy and (unspecified) pals
- Hollywood and Vine – Disney Junior characters; Minnie and friends at seasonal dining parties
- Ohana – Lilo, Stitch, unspecified other Disney friends
- Story Book Dining at Artist Point with Snow White – Snow White, Dopey, Grumpy, the Queen
- Trattoria al Forno – Ariel, Prince Eric, Rapunzel, Flynn Rider **these characters appear at breakfast ONLY**
- Tusker House – Donald Duck and friends
Other seasonal dining opportinities are often available, so I encourage you to check the official Disney website (linked above) to check out all of your options! When booking dining reservations, always double-check that you’re booking character dining (hey, it never hurts to be sure!).
*Character availability is subject to change.
On select nights throughout the year, Disney offers Special Events throughout the different parks. These events include:
- Disney After Hours – with the purchase of an event ticket, you will have access to the park for a set number of hours after the rest of the guests leave, giving significantly reduced wait times for many popular attractions.
- H2O Glow Nights at Typhoon Lagoon – enjoy access to all of the water park’s attractions, hang out with the gang from Toy Story, and purchase specialty food and drinks (and there’s an adults-only area, too!).
- Disney Villains After Hours – gain access to Magic Kingdom for 3 hours after the park closes and enjoy many popular attractions with low wait times. You’ll also get to see an exclusive stage show featuring villains like Jafar and Maleficent.
- Holiday Parties – there’s a lot to talk about here, so check out the next section to learn about these!
Twice a year, Magic Kingdom gets beautifully dolled up and ready for the holidays: Halloween and Christmas! And, along with those decorations, you’ll have the opportunity to experience two very special nighttime parties, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party!
For Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween party, the whole family can dress up (that’s right, grown-ups, you can wear a costume, too!) and spend the evening watching a spook-tacular parade, riding select rides with short wait times, and trick-or-treating in the Magic Kingdom (and, guys, I’m here to tell ya: they pass out the good candy… and a lot of it!). Disney has also announced a new castle and fireworks show that is exclusive to the Halloween Party and can’t be seen any other time.
At Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, you can listen to Christmas music played throughout the park, see snow falling during the parade, and enjoy yummy seasonal treats that are included with the cost of admission! Select attractions are also open during the Christmas Party, so you can experience some of your favorite attractions with limited wait time.
These parties are unique because, while you’ll need a ticket to get into the party, you don’t actually need a park ticket in order to gain entrance, so you can take a rest day at your resort and then head to the parks for the fun without using a park day from your tickets. Prices vary by date, but you can check out the Disney website for more information about Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
This is by far the most expensive item on the list, so it’s coming in last (and pricing information is included for this one so you’re not sticker shocked when you look up the information)! The VIP Tour experience is for groups up to 10 and allows you to plan your perfect Disney day, beginning with private transportation from your location to the park of your choosing!
Your VIP Tour Guide will gather your wants and wishes in advance and will create a unique touring plan just for your group. You will be able to ride your favorite attractions with little to no wait and have special seating for any parades or shows you want to see!
This dream-come-true VIP tour experience costs between $425-$625 per hour and have a minimum charge for seven continuous hours per day, which means that this experience will cost from $2,975 to $4,375 for your 7-hour tour. (Price does not include park tickets; those have to be purchased separately.) You can add more time and pay the hourly rate for up to a 14-hour day.
So, as you can see, you have plenty of options for upgrading your Disney trip and lots of things to splurge on! Check out all of the options listed above and let me know which one (or ones!) sound most appealing to you!
Personally, I love the idea of a dessert party and a VIP tour day… but one VIP tour day costs about the same as a while Disney trip for me, so that one will probably stay on the bucket list for the foreseeable future! 😉