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I used to work at Disney World and visit the parks for free. Now that I'm just a guest, I'm way more cynical about the price.

jordyn posing hugging minnie mouse at epcot in disney world
I went back to Disney World for the first time since working there. Jordyn Bradley
  • I worked at Disney World and visited the theme parks for free all the time.

  • Now that I've returned as a regular, paying guest, I'm not sure it's worth all the money.

  • I still had a blast on my vacation, but the cost of tickets, add-ons, food, and souvenirs adds up.

If you're looking for a vacation that's a great value, I don't think you'll ever find it at Disney World.

As someone who used to work at the parks, I still love their childlike whimsy. But I've turned into a more practical (and cynical) guest.

My partner and I recently planned our first Disney trip together and told ourselves we could do it on a budget. But even with all of our efforts, the vacation was still extremely expensive.

We tried to cut the base cost down while booking our trip

We went in early September — when the parks are typically a little less crowded and a little cheaper. And we ended up paying just over $100 a night to stay at Disney's All-Star Sports Resort.

By staying on the property, we had the perk of free bus transportation to the parks and Disney Springs, so we didn't have to pay for a rental car or parking.

As far as the theme parks go, we sprung for three-day park-hopper tickets for a little over $500 each, intending to visit a couple of parks each day and check off all our must-dos, must-rides, must-eats, and must-meets.

Our days were meticulously planned to get as much done as possible

main street usa and cinderella castle in magic kingdom at disney world
The parks get crowded as the day goes on, so we got there early. Jordyn Bradley

To help with our time constraints, we rope-dropped the parks by getting there as early as possible. We also signed up for any virtual queues available for newer rides and made dining reservations for the places we knew we wanted to hit.

Our park days kicked off with high-interest rides and areas, like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Magic Kingdom and Galaxy's Edge in Hollywood Studios.

This helped us significantly cut down on our wait times because the parks only get more crowded as the days go on.

We tried to avoid ticket add-ons, but it was pretty much impossible

jordyn and her partner posing for a photo on the carosel at disney world
We prioritized getting on all our favorite rides, which ended up costing us.Jordyn Bradley

We were pretty set on not paying the extra $20 a person per day for Genie+ Lightning Lanes that offer shorter waits. But it was a bit unavoidable if we wanted to get on all our must-do rides.

We had to choose between paying more or missing out, and our FOMO got the best of us.

Paying more to be able to ride something when I've already purchased a ticket to the park is frustrating, especially since these line-skipping passes used to be free.

When I worked at the parks, I could log on to the My Disney Experience App on my days off, see what attractions had passes available, and be on that ride within the hour.

I'm used to getting discounts all over Disney World

jordyn holding up her nametag in front of disney university at disney world
When I worked at Disney World, I visited the parks for free and got added discounts. Jordyn Bradley

On top of free park entry, when I worked at Disney World, I got 20% off select food and beverage locations — and around the holidays, 40% off select merchandise.

We also received special holiday coupons for things like free Mickey pretzels, ice-cream bars, and churros on top of discounted sit-down dining.

With all those savings, I constantly bought new $30 Mickey ears. But this time, I had to keep my merchandise budget strictly for more affordable things, like pins.

Eating and drinking around the world at Epcot was the most cost-efficient thing we did

Of course, we wanted to do what most 20-somethings like to do at Disney: Eat and drink around the world showcase at Epcot.

I think the Food and Wine Festival is the best way to try many small plates at a fair price. I also bought discounted Disney gift cards from Sam's Club ahead of the trip to better budget our snacking.

Some of our favorite food items were the beef Wagyu don in the Japan Pavilion and the filet mignon from Canada. At $9.75 each, these were some of the higher-priced items at the festival, but they were filling.

I preferred eating a few festival plates for dinner over the sit-down meal we had at Liberty Tree Tavern in Magic Kingdom earlier that day. The meal was tasty, but the "all you care to enjoy" spread cost over $40 a person.

We just couldn't eat enough to justify the price.

I still loved my trip, but I do feel like Disney World is too expensive

jordyn and her partner posing with goofy at disney world
It will probably be a while before I head back to Disney World. Jordyn Bradley

I've never had a bad day at Disney — it makes me feel like a kid again. But the bottom line is that a trip to the theme parks is too expensive.

Disney will always charge a premium for its theming, and I'll still jump at the opportunity to go. But it takes a significant amount of saving up to make the trip worth it.

Read the original article on Business Insider