How Much Does a Walt Disney World Vacation Cost?

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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. howmuch

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? 

  1. You’re going to be spending money at Walt Disney World, but your family’s priorities determine how you’ll spend it.
  2. 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).
  3. 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?

 

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Posted on August 19, 2013

32 Responses to “How Much Does a Walt Disney World Vacation Cost?”

  • Since I booked our trip in February, I’ve spent time nearly every day to ensure we were getting the most out of our investment, and my due diligence saved us a few dollars. It also cost me hundreds more in character meals, pirate adventures, the halloween party and babysitting services. None of which I would’ve even known existed without my extensive, or as my husband deemed it obsessive, research. In my case, ignorance isn’t bliss, but it may well have cost less in the end.

    • by Kristina Murphy on August 19, 2013, at 9:16 am EST

      Emily – your husband and mine must be friends ;) What they call obsession, we call dedication!! Hope you have the most magical trip ever!!

  • I found that when planning the biggest decision was where we wanted to stay. Value, Moderate or Deluxe. A lot of time surfing your website and others to make the best choice. I love the wilderness lodge but can’t spend that much on a room and the value resorts just didn’t do it for me. We ended up going with the Port Orleans Riverside for our trip in February of next year (during value season to save money). I bought trip insurance because coming from the North East I am afraid of snow in February!
    While I have the Disney Dining Plan, I still am not sure if it’s worth the money. I go back and forth all the time. We are doing several character breakfasts and shows, so we’ll see. I booked the photo pass plus because I want to be in some of the pictures with my family as I am usually behind the lenses!

    Jenn

    • by Kristina Murphy on August 19, 2013, at 9:37 am EST

      Sounds like you’ve done some great research, Jennifer!

      • I did and I still am. As this is my families first trip to WDW I feel that I really need to plan, and plan to maximize our money (as most of us have to budget). Before you know it the trip is over several thousand dollars! Since this trip is really for my daughter (who will be 8, my son will be two while we are there), there are some things that we are doing that I want for her like Bibbity Bobbity Boo Botique and Cinderella’s for dinner. Once I decided what I wanted I then went through prices and decided if we could do it or not.

  • This article shows just how important it is to figure out priorities on a WDW vacation and whether they justify the costs. For us, I don’t put an emphasis on staying on-site because you get so much less for the money. We drive so already have a car and find a reasonably priced condo close to the parks. The Dining Plan is a horrible value (since it really isn’t free) even if you stay on site, but this makes it easy. The only huge expense for us is tickets, but our total won’t come anywhere near $4,000. More in the $2,000 range for a week.

    That said, I understand that staying on site is important to a lot of visitors. If that’s the case, I’d ditch the free dining plan and look for discounts that can get up to 30-40% at times. That’s a huge savings and allows the family to not be forced to spend so much time eating to justify the expense.

    Interesting article!

    • by Kristina Murphy on August 20, 2013, at 11:03 am EST

      Thanks for the comment, Dan! I totally agree that families need to look into what makes the most sense for their particular situation – there certainly is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution!

  • This is very subjective, imho. But certainly if you plan right you can get a “deal” for whatever vacation you would like. We like to stay at the Grand Floridian but over my dead body I would pay rack rate. In fact, I time it so I can get the best deal I can in order to stay there within my budget. Thanks to websites like this and others, if you do your due diligence you really can make the most out of your money – no matter your vacation taste!

    • by Kristina Murphy on August 26, 2013, at 3:56 pm EST

      “We like to stay at the Grand Floridian but over my dead body I would pay rack rate”

      HAH! Yes, I totally agree! I have stayed there once, and it was back when I was a Cast Member so it was a pretty reasonable rate.

  • In my opinion, if you are driving to Disney, the best budgeting decision you can make is staying off-property. You can spend considerably less for a much better room and more amenities and be as close to the actual parks as many of the resorts.

    And unless you are making meals the focal point of your vacation, I just can’t see the value in a Disney Dining Plan. I have yet to meet a family with kids who has come anywhere close to using all their credits, mostly because it’s too much food and they don’t want to take the valuable park time to stop for so many meals.

    • We have three kids (6-4-3) and love the Dining plan! For us, a sit down meal is a break, and we have done almost every in park character meal over the last two years (my kids just love them). We also love Coral Reef. My sister, on the other hand, hates to do sit down meals at disney because it’s too hard for her kids to sit for that long, and it ends up being stressful. With a good touring plan, there is plenty of time for a nice sit down meal, a mid day nap, and hitting all the attractions we have planned for the day :) – But it is true that we did not use all of our ‘snack credits’ through the week, but on the last day, I let the kids pick whatever they wanted from the candy store on main street, and they were giggling running around deciding what three treats (each) they would get to pick! You gotta know how to use those credits!

      • Yes, I will admit I only look at the value of the actual food eaten. We usually have one big meal a day at Disney and snack it the rest of the time so when you compare the cost of a Dining Plan and what we actually spend on food, the Dining Plan is way more expensive.

        This just shows how subjective the Disney experience is. You mention sit down meals and mid-day naps. Those are my kind of Disney days, but that would horrify most of my friends and their kids who don’t stop from rope drop to park close, every park, every day.

        • by Kristina Murphy on August 20, 2013, at 11:04 am EST

          Agree, Lynn! Everyone’s ‘way’ of vacationing is different, and a trip to WDW is a perfect example of that!

  • Totally agree with Lynn on the off property stay. If you have a family/friend in the military or retired, there is a program available to you where you can stay at a HUGE number of ‘Time Share’ properties for only $359 for a week.

    That is a FRACTION of even value resorts, with all the comforts of home like kitchen, washing machines, etc. My family visits Disney many times a year and it has over halved the cost of our trips. And a lot of them offer shuttle service. Or simply rent a car for a week, still cheaper than a value resort even at off season rates of $680 for 7 nights or so before tax.

  • It’s a splurge but I always get the limo. What the heck once you’re spending thousands whats a little more? That said I spend a lot of time looking for best deals for resort and especially airfare.

  • My wife and I are heading there for the first time as a married couple and first time in about ten years for each of us. We’re on free dining and staying at PC so our total trip including tix, lodging, meals and airfare is just under 2000! We considered off property places or upgrading on property but couldn’t justify it knowing we’ll spend most of the time in the parks or eating :-) (we did upgrade to standard dinning package).

    No kids, free dining, minimal crowds and of course a good touring plan ought to make for a great trip! (Not to mention we got an invite for fastpass+. See you at the parks!

  • My family budgeted $80 on our last trip for cab rides. That way, if there was no bus in sight and we were cutting it close to our ADR, we could just catch a cab and not be stressed out. Or, if the kids were just DONE, we could take a cab back to the hotel instead of waiting for a bus. We ended up using a cab 3 times, and spent $60 out of the $80. We also budgeted $86 for my two girls to have the Alice in Wonderland Tea Party at The Grandfloridian (which they LOVED). I think that your ‘sample’ family budgeted high for tips, though. We always left a 18%-20% tip, and it was generally between $18 – $22 for a tip for two adults, and two children. We also budgeted $30 a day for ‘mousekeeping’ ($5 a day). Another tip, start checking for airfare 3 1/2 months out from your trip, and always look on Tuesday mornings. At about 2 months out I found a great deal with Airtran. We flew our family of 5 from Michigan (my son was only 2, but we still had to pay for a ticket for him) for only $850! The very next week, the cost was back up to $1,300. So checking every week for a big price drop is really important.

  • Being based in the UK, we save for around 2 years for a lengthy trip. The norm being 2-3 weeks in WDW. This year we are staying at POR on the DDP and will be on holiday for 3 weeks. We have 3 week disney uk tickets and plans coming out of our eyeballs. Our flights can be quite expensive. In dollars, our trip is around $4000 each week (yes, i know – its quite a lot). We have 23 ADRs, 5 tours booked, 2 special events and lots to celebrate. We cant afford to do this every year, and we probably wont be back for at least 3-5 years where previously we have been every year, this is our last hurrah before children.

  • What a great article! But man it’s a little bit scary seeing everything all in one article,Disney sure isn’t cheap! One thing i’ve noticed is that there seems to be an increase in angry people in the parks when the prices keep going up like they do. I’m a Florida resident and a passholder so i make frequent day trips. I often hear families tell their obviously exhausted children that they paid X amount of dollars and by goodness they’re going to stay in the parks and get the most out of them.

    I think it’s important to remember that breaks are crucial! Kids (and grown ups too) get tired and need a rest so that they can make those thousands of dollars worth every penny :)

    • by Kristina Murphy on August 20, 2013, at 11:21 pm EST

      Kat – thanks!! I am also very thankful to be a FL resident – it definitely helps to know that there’s always another Disney trip on the horizon. Your advice about breaks is so important too – I think a lot of people feel like a break wastes time, but I definitely think it helps with a more enjoyable trip (AKA more QUALITY time together). ;)

    • Hey Kat, as our trip is approaching in about 8 days, I am glad to be reminded of the importance of breaks. Via our touringplans.com personalized plan, we are including at least 2 and a half hours for R’n’R (not the coaster) each afternoon (except for DHS day oddly enough. Turns out with a good plan, we could pull it off pretty easily. Oh, and we also aren’t seeing any characters on our trip so that helps! Cheers!

  • Excellent advice, Kristina! Thorough and fun to read. It’s why this site and the books are so valuable. Thanks again :-)

  • We have stayed both onsite with free dining and offsite paying for food OOP. To keep costs in line I always check out Disney’s special offers and compare it with what it would cost to trade my timeshare for an Orlando property. For short trips, especially if we are flying, sometimes it’s more cost efficient to stay onsite (at a value with free dining). For 7 days or longer trips, it’s been more cost friendly to drive and use our timeshare. I would also consider renting DVC points to stay deluxe without the deluxe price. For food I like to buy a $50 Disney gift card each month using my Target Red debit card (you get a 5% discount). The best way I’ve found to cut ticket costs is to by 10 day no expire water park & more tickets to use over a minimum of 3 trips. I bought mine 2 price increases ago so it comes out to about $200 per per trip. I can get a 7 day trip at Wyndham Bonnet Creek for 4 Disney adults, with driving costs, $900 for meals & groceries, tickets, for about $2500. Not bad!

  • Things I can’t do without are things that buy us time, freedom and flexibility. They are worth every penny. We stay at a place like Port Orleans, where you can park close to your room. We always rent a car so we can get around the property without waiting for the shuttles. I also like the park hopper with water park option. For our trip last October, we liked being at rope drop at say, AK or HS, then leaving after lunch to swim at Typhoon Lagoon. After a nap, we were ready to have an evening in MK. Another day might have been MK in the morning and Epcot on the evening. I am a big planner, but in the interests if having a happy vacation (including teen and preteen sons)…sometimes it’s good for us to take into account our spontaneity. Things I can do without: souvenirs. Last trip we only left with a book about imagineering. Is it just me or is all of the gifts and stuff looking pretty junky lately? Oh, and although we do spend plenty on food at WDW, we always bring our camping water bottles along to refill in the water fountains when we are in the parks.

    • by Kristina Murphy on August 26, 2013, at 3:56 pm EST

      Good tips, Rona! I think you’ll like my very opposite post coming soon, keep an eye out on the blog.

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  • We’re (family of 5) going in Nov for 7days staying at AoA & using the Disney dining plan so that we can have several character meals. For us I believe the character meals will be worth the dining plan purchase as I have an 8yr old, 4 1/2yr old, and 1yr old. They’re all about seeing their favorite characters! We also purchased the Pirates & Pals Fireworks Voyage & I wondered if this excursion was worth the expense?

  • Melissa – we stayed at AOA last December – it was GREAT! We recently found a site that offers many additional money saving tips. http://www.jasoncouponking.com/disney