Planning a Walt Disney World vacation can be intimidating. Thankfully, in this day and age, there are numerous resources to aid in the process (you’ve made the first right decision by visiting Touring Plans, after all) – but long before decisions are made regarding what attractions Billy wants to ride, or what characters Emily wants to meet, mom and dad (or grandma and grandpa) have to have that serious discussion regarding the dreaded B word: the BUDGET.
Of course, there are lots of variables that come into play when planning a Walt Disney World vacation, but in general, families should consider a few of the W’s when initiating the planning process:
- WHEN will we go – different times of the year feature different celebrations, crowd projections and yes, even seasonal price changes or special offers.
- WHERE will we stay – with a wide variety of on-property choices ranging from value to deluxe options, not to mention options (GASP!) outside of the Walt Disney World property, this may be the bulk of the budget expenditure, so it is important to consider and prioritize.
- HOW will we get there – planes, trains or automobiles? Depending on the size of your family – or where you’re traveling from – this expense will vary with flexibility and cost.
- WHAT will we eat – with Walt Disney World vacation packages, guests may partake in the Disney Dining Plan (which is a whole other subject entirely; here’s a great post on it) but there are many other options, including discounted dining cards (e.g., Tables in Wonderland) or simply forgoing in-park meals in favor of off-property or “packed-lunch” options.
- WHY (do we have to plan so much) - kidding. Really though, it’s important to consider what other expenses may present themselves, such as extra shopping trips, unexpected purchases like ticket add-ons or special event admission, medical emergencies, or anything else that might pop up.
With these thoughts in mind, here’s a scenario: the Davis family from Kansas City, Missouri, is considering visiting the Walt Disney World Resort during their children Billy (age 9) and Emily’s (age 5) fall break. They have never been to Walt Disney World, but they have a few friends that have, and, of course, they’ve offered some assistance in planning. One particular evening, Susan (Mom) clicks over to the Walt Disney World website and sees a special offer for “free dining.” She calls over Richard (Dad), and since they’ve been saving money ever since Emily was born for this special trip, they happily punch in their credit card information and confirm their trip without much thought since “free” sounded pretty darn good. This is what the Davis family signed up for:
- 6 nights in the “Pirate” themed rooms at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
- 5-day Park Hopper tickets (Susan reasons that they will probably want a rest/swimming day and some time at Downtown Disney)
- The free dining plan (1 table service, 1 counter service and 1 snack per day)
The above package cost them $2,898.92 - and right before they were going to check out, they noticed that Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party would be taking place. Susan quickly added those tickets, since Billy and Emily would be missing their regular trick-or-treating tradition at home. At $62 per adult ticket and $57 per child ticket, this brought their grand total up to $3,152.30 - not inexpensive, by any means, but just about what they thought they’d be paying. They do not add airfare at the time, because they are still deciding if they will drive or fly. The next morning, Richard runs into his co-worker, Tony. Tony and his family visit Walt Disney World twice a year – typically in during summer vacation and the winter holidays. Richard asks Tony if the price they paid was reasonable, and Tony says it sounds pretty good, especially since he and his family usually have to pay for the dining plan. He recommends some restaurants to Richard, but also mentions the fact that with the dining plan, gratuities are not included! Richard did not realize that, so he thanks Tony and tells Susan that night.
That night after dinner, Richard and Susan do some more planning, and use the My Disney Experience website to make some dining reservations. After analyzing some menus, they reason that each table service meal gratuity will average out at approximately $30, so they multiply that by the amount of nights they are staying (6), so they set aside an extra $180. Although that was a bit of surprise to them; they reason it’s still a pretty good value since they were able to get some character dining: Goofy’s Beach Club Character Breakfast at Cape May Cafe, Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner at 1900 Park Fare, and a meal at The Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom.
About 2.5 months out, Richard and Susan check fuel costs versus plane tickets. They search for airline deals and find roundtrip flights from their local airport to Orlando for $350 per person (x4 = $1,403 total). Then, they compare driving down in their SUV (about 25 mpg/ 1,250 miles/ estimated $4 per gallon = ~ $464), a hotel at the halfway point both ways (~$120 per night x2 = $240), plus two meals each way (~$80 x 2 = $160), which put the driving option at $860. Of course, driving would mean an extra day that both Richard and Susan would have to take off from work, but – even so – they decide driving will be a better option for them since they can pack more in their vehicle than in luggage on an airplane. By the time almost all the bases are covered, the Davis family vacation, during a “slower” vacation period, is clocking in at a total of $4,192.
This figure does not include souvenirs (which could amount to about $20-100 per day), special experiences like the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique ($55-189) or the Pirates League ($30 – 75), or add-ons such as PhotoPass Plus ($150-200). This all being considered, a week-long vacation can very easily amount to approximately $5,000 for a family of four (or approximately $714 per day).
Of course, the Davis family could have whittled down many of the costs. For example, they could downgrade their hotel to All-Star Music Resort and remove the Park Hopper option from their tickets; this would save nearly $1000 ($1905 vs $2898, factors to $571/day), but this move would also downgrade the Dining Plan since “free dining” at a value resort includes only the Quick Service Dining Plan. On the flip side, if the Davis family was considering a more deluxe vacation, they could upgrade their stay to the Grand Floridian with a theme park view room, upgrade their tickets to include both the Park Hopper and the Water Parks Fun & More options, and upgrade their dining plan to the Deluxe Dining Plan, adding more than $3500 ($6581 vs $2898, factors to $1,214/day)!
So, what did we learn in this scenario?
- You’re going to be spending money at Walt Disney World, but your family’s priorities determine how you’ll spend it.
- You have the flexibility to change quite a few options (like park tickets), and planning ahead may save some cash (advance purchase of things like PhotoPass Plus).
- Clicking over to add a $12 subscription to the Touring Plans could really be a sound investment when it comes to saving something even more precious than money on your vacation: time!
In all seriousness, for most families, a Walt Disney World vacation is not going to be a small expenditure, but with proper planning, it’ll be a memory worth the work! And the best part about it all is that you’re not alone! :)
What budget considerations do you make when planning a Disney vacation? What are some extras you just cannot do without?