Getting your dollars and spending at Disney

One of the bigger issues international visitors face on their trips to Disney is getting and spending their dollars. I should start by saying that I am in no way a financial expert, nor am I offering advice on what to do. But it can be helpful to hear how other people manage the exchange issue, so that’s what I’m intending to share with this post – my experience.

There are loads of options for spending your cash – both in terms of what to spend it on and what method to use. The main methods are cash, credit cards, debit cards, pre-paid cards and travellers cheques.


These days, we take very little cash with us. As we stay in Disney we charge everything from meals, to tips, to souvenirs onto our Keys to the World, and pay it off on the credit card at the end. For that reason, the only cash we need is low denominations for housekeeping, tips and cabs etc. If anything, this actually makes it more difficult. The best exchange rates are usually for the higher amounts, and many places won’t let you request specific denominations – I mainly want ones and fives! In my experience, the best exchange rates are usually offered by a few places – M&S, Travelex (if ordered in advance, not at the airport) and the Post Office, I’ve found to all be typically good. But I absolutely always look up the best option on one of the exchange rates site. I like travelmoneymax – which is independent and comes from Money Saving Expert.

Credit Cards

If you get the right one, I find that a credit card can be the most economic way of paying for our stuff and it’s also the safest as they come with extra consumer protection. Many companies add a percentage ‘load’ onto the exchange rate, but if you get one that doesn’t, and you’re planning to pay back in full immediately (so no interest), then you get the absolute best exchange rate – essentially the straight bank exchange rate without any commission or add-on that you would get with even the best cash rates from the exchange bureaus. There are some credit cards specifically aimed for use abroad and so don’t add the load – they make their money as they tend not to be great rates for use in the UK, and they hope it will be used for both. I won’t recommend any but if you have a good credit rating then I would do my research, apply for one in advance of my holiday and only use it when I travel – I find this is the cheapest way to spend my money on holiday. I always make sure I pay the card off the day I get back though – if you get charged interest then you’re defeating the point of using the card in preference to cash.

If I’m going to need cash as well, I check that before I  go – cash withdrawal fees abroad can be steep from a credit card, so I get it before I go if my card charges a percentage load for cash.

Also worth knowing is that ‘Chip and PIN’ (using your ATM PIN at the till point) is not always used in Orlando – although I think more so now than a few years ago. As it tends to be used everywhere here in the UK for all cards, and has been for a quite some time (in fact I can’t remember the last time I was asked to sign for a purchase), it still surprises me when I’m asked to sign – so remember its sometimes back to old-fashioned pen and paper while you’re there.

Debit cards

This is the one payment form that I always avoid using. You might be lucky – your bank might offer rare good rates on your debit card abroad, but you should definitely find out before you travel. Some not only charge extortionate exchange rates plus a percentage load for every transaction, they also add a fee for every single time you spend on it abroad – up to £1.50! Now if we were just paying off our room at the end, that’s one transaction so it’s not so bad (although we lose out if the exchange rate isn’t good and there will almost certainly be a percentage load on top). But if we were to spend a lot on it, over the course of a fortnights holiday, I’m going to be paying our bank a lot of money!

Pre-paid cards

I’ve never used them, but for my last holiday, I researched them as I left it too late to apply for a new credit card and my ‘emergency’ card was shocking for use abroad. For payment, pre-paid cards work a bit like credit or debit cards – the vast majority of places accept them just as they would any other kind of ‘plastic’ – they usually work on the maestro network. The only difference is that you pre-load them with the relevant currency here in the UK, rather than it coming out of your account, or ‘borrowing’ it from the credit card company. They’re safer than cash as if you lose it, the provider will charge you a small fee and replace it – the money isn’t lost for good. If I was going down this route I’d be looking for a card with a  good exchange rate, that doesn’t charge any loading fees for transactions abroad, and that can be topped up for free.

Travellers Cheques

To be honest, I was surprised these still exist! I haven’t used them since I was younger and my parents sorted out the money. Like pre-paid cards, they are safer than cash as they can be replaced if lost and most hotels will exchange them into cash for you. They come in fixed, pre-printed amounts and you usually pay a percentage of the face value as commission – although it’s also common to find them commission free. The exchange rate still needs to be considered though. I can’t think of a single reason why I would still use these when the other options are available but I know some people like them.

And then spending it…

The three things that I always tell people visiting Disney from the UK are:

1. Remember that sales tax is not included in the price shown! In the UK, our VAT is always included in the price tag so actually most people rarely think about it. I’ve been caught out several times when the amount I’m charged is higher than I’m expecting and I imagine this is particularly important with kids – if they have a budget for spending or want to pay at the counter for themselves – make sure they have enough to cover it. You need to add 6% on top of the given price.

2. Factor in gratuities when you’re budgeting, especially for meals – tips of around 15-20% are normal at Disney restaurants and over your holiday that can add up to quite a bit. It is also common practice to tip a few dollars a day for room housekeeping. For more information, have a read of my ‘tips‘ post.

3. If you do what we do and stick everything on the Key To The World then do remember to check your total during your trip. We go to the front desk and ask for a running total 2 to 3 times during our holiday – our typical holidays are 14 days, which is a long time to be just shoving everything onto account and it is amazing how the little things add up, especially given the extra tax and higher gratuities than we’re used to. You can then convert into £ and have an accurate picture of whether you can carry on spending or need to reign it in for a few days!


I want to say again, I’m not in any way giving financial advice – I’m just writing about how I approach getting my dollars and spending my money in Disney – and let’s face it – there’s a lot to spend it on :)

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6 Responses to “Getting your dollars and spending at Disney”

  1. Kathryn 23. Sep, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    I can definitely recommend a pre-paid card, we’ve used one twice now and would never travel to the US without. I shopped around beforehand and opted for one with no set-up charge or fee, it also has cash back on purchases so I’ve actually made money! It’s important to check the small print though, charges are made if the card is dormant for a year and also if you use it to withdraw money in another currency ie you draw pounds out at home when you have a specific US dollars card.
    Ours is a MasterCard so universally accepted everywhere and can be used at ATMs. It was also easy to top up – just log onto the website and use your debit card to add cash and view all your transactions.
    Ours is a MyTravelCash card, might not suit all but has been great for us!

    • BritMick 24. Sep, 2012 at 3:03 am #

      Thanks for your comment Kathryn – its great to hear from someone that has a tried and tested method!

  2. Dan 28. Sep, 2012 at 12:20 am #

    Disneyland will exchange currency free of charge. They technically will do this at any store, but it is easiest if you do this at the Guest Relations office (City Hall on Main Street). I don’t know how the exchange rate compares with the other places you mentioned. I didn’t realize that different places give you different rates. But the lack of exchange fees is a great perk.

    • BritMick 28. Sep, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

      Thanks Dan, that’s a great tip. I usually need some dollars before I get to the parks – for the airport, taxis or tips etc, but knowing that I can get more if I needed too is really worth knowing, and perfect for those that can wait till then, thanks!


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