The cost of a Disney trip can be shocking, often being much higher than people anticipate. This post takes a look at Walt Disney World vacation price ranges for each element of the trip, from park tickets to hotels to dining and beyond. Hopefully, it will help you avoid sticker shock when you make that Walt Disney World vacation quote request, or will help you to come up with a more reasonable plan if you’ve already received the quote and realize it isn’t feasible.
Frankly, this is a tough post to tackle. Even with hypotheticals it’s impossible to pin down the actual cost for every set of circumstances. Rather than try that, we’re going to look at some ranges and prices for each aspect of the trip, come up with totals based on those, and let you extrapolate for your own conclusions based upon that information. Given that the thing most readers report surprise over to us via comments and emails is cost (crowds and lines are a very distant second), I felt this a topic worth addressing, even if I can’t give any hard numbers for everyone.
As a blunt preface: a Walt Disney World vacation is an expensive proposition. It’s undeniable that Walt Disney World vacation costs have skyrocketed in the last 5 years, and with record attendance, that trend doesn’t seem likely to reverse itself anytime soon. Despite this, I think that the comparative cost of a Walt Disney World vacation is not out of line with many other destinations.
Sure, you could travel to one of America’s National Parks and pay a $10 entry fee for your entire vehicle for a week, camp on-site for $15/night, and cook food by campfire for $25/day for a party of 4. You could also travel to New York and spend the cost of theme park tickets on daily entertainment, pay $150/night for ‘adequate’ accommodations, $55/night for parking, and an exorbitant amount on food. The point isn’t that a Disney vacation isn’t expensive, but that expensive is a relative term.
This post assumes a 5-day, 4-night Walt Disney World vacation for a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 kids) that is not within driving distance to Walt Disney World, with no rental car unless otherwise specified. Airfare is not discussed as it varies so widely based upon origin city that there’s really nothing meaningful to say–just know that it’s another cost that’ll probably add another $200-500 per person to your trip.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the range of costs you should expect to incur for each element of your Walt Disney World vacation…
After precipitous increases for several years that have seen the cost of a 1-day Walt Disney World ticket for the Magic Kingdom more than double in price since 2004, people’s expectations for park ticket prices come as no surprise–especially among infrequent visitors who last went when tickets were more affordable. Note that all groups are following our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets, so we aren’t going by gate prices.
Frugal: For this tier (we’ll call it ‘frugal’ since that has a more positive connotation than ‘budget’), we’re opting for 3-day base tickets without the Park Hopper option. The other 2 days of the vacation, the family will enjoy some of the free offerings around Walt Disney World, such as Downtown Disney and visiting the Boardwalk, among other things. Total cost: $1127.80.
Value: At this tier, we are getting base tickets for all 5 days, meaning the family can spend every day in the parks. Note that the difference here isn’t as large as you might have expected because there is a promo to get a 5-day ticket for the same price as a 4-day one (which may not always be available). Total cost: $1245.80.
Moderate: For this tier, we are stepping up to 5-day Park Hopper tickets, so the family can leverage park operating hours to their advantage (for example, heading to Magic Kingdom and staying until midnight on a day started out at Animal Kingdom when that park closes at 5 pm). Total cost: $1485.80.
Deluxe: Now we step up to the Cadillac (actually…let’s pretend this blog is trendy and say ‘Tesla’) of park tickets: the 5-day Park Hopper with Water Park Fun & More. I’m a big advocate of this ticket…but not for a 5-day vacation. It’s great for a 7-10 day trip. On a 5-day visit, there’s more than enough to do in the 4 theme parks and other areas of Walt Disney World. For those who like to make it rain, Disney-style, this is an option for a 5-day trip. Total cost: $1597.80.
I’m betting many of you were a bit taken aback when you saw the cost of the ‘frugal’ option, shocked that it was so high. Perhaps you were also surprised that the higher tiers were comparatively not much more expensive. That’s the thing about Walt Disney World tickets: the per day cost decreases dramatically the longer you stay. For example, the total cost of a 10-day base ticket for this family would be $1465.80, which is actually cheaper than both the moderate and deluxe options above. The cost of tickets will probably be the most surprising aspect of your vacation, especially if you’re going for only a few days. This makes the relative ‘value’ of a 7-10 day Walt Disney World vacation significantly better than a 3 day trip.
The cost of your hotel is the single biggest variable in a Walt Disney World vacation, with prices ranging from $30/night for an off-site hotel near Disney to $1,000+ for an on-site Disney hotel. Let’s take a look at the different options…
Frugal: Staying off-site is the only true budget option, and fortunately, the Orlando area has a surplus of hotels, which drives down cost. In reviewing Hotwire’s Hot Rate option for a variety of dates, I consistently see a 3-star hotel in the “Disney Maingate West” area for around $40/night. There are cheaper hotels elsewhere with lower ratings or farther from the parks, but I think this is a good compromise in quality and location. There are some shady hotels in the Orlando area, so unless you want experiencing the mean streets of O-Town as part of your vacation experience, splurge a bit. A 3-star hotel is actually probably going to be nicer than the Value option below (minus theming). Total cost: $202.90.
The caveat with the frugal option here is that it necessitates a rental car and also means you’ll incur parking costs at the theme parks. Parking is $17/day, and a rental car is going to be around $25/day and up after taxes. If you’d rent a car regardless, that cost is going to be incurred regardless of where you stay, but note that parking is complimentary if you stay on-site at Walt Disney World. I suspect some of these off-site hotels have theme park shuttles, in which case you could save by booking one of those cars and simply taking Uber or a taxi from the airport to your hotel.
Value: For anyone looking to get the true “resort” experience at Walt Disney World, this is your lowest entry-point. Depending upon when you travel, rack rates for the Value Resorts at Walt Disney World range from $95 to $200/night. The more popular your travel time, the more expensive the rates. There are often 20% off promos for these rooms, and the ‘Free Dining Plan’ offer is common late-summer through early-winter, so that can change the equation. Sample off-season rack rate cost: $504.
The Free Disney Dining Plan is especially valuable for that party of 4. With a room rate averaging around $125/night those times of year (averaging weekdays and weekends), this room is still considerably more expensive than the frugal option above. However, it includes more than enough food for your entire party each day of your vacation, plus transportation to and from the airport (meaning no rental car is necessary) and parking (if you decide to get a rental car anyway). If you go this route, basically the only other things you’d need to budget are airfare, souvenirs, and park tickets.
Moderate: Same idea as the Value Resorts above, except for the middle tier of on-site Disney hotels. Rack rates for these hotels will range from around $185 to $285 depending upon when you go, with 25% off discounts being the norm, and a superior Free Disney Dining Plan offer (you get a table service meal at this tier). Sample off-season rack rate cost: $787.50.
The addition of a table service meal per day to this ‘Free Dining’ offer alone doesn’t make it ‘worth it’ (you’re going to be paying ~$215/night that time of year), but that plus the nicer amenities and theme to the resorts might be. If I were doing ‘Free Dining’ for a party of 4, I could easily justify doing a Moderate Resort instead of a Value Resort, but your mileage may vary.
Deluxe: The on-site Walt Disney World Deluxe Resorts are the hotel tier where there’s the most variance, with it costing $325/night just to get you in the door, and prices quickly going upward from there. At Wilderness Lodge, average rates are around $375/night. By contrast, average rates at the Grand Floridian are $600/night. Prices can go up from there. Sample off-season rack rate cost: $1,742.63.
Resort discounts of up to 35% off are available for this tier at select times, as is the Free Disney Dining Plan (same version as at the Moderate Resorts). If you’re earnestly considering a Deluxe Resort after seeing those price points, you’re probably not going to have too much sticker shock from the rest of your Walt Disney World vacation, though…
When the words “budget” and “dining” are mentioned in the context of a Walt Disney World vacation, the first topic that typically enters the conversation is the Disney Dining Plan. If you are trying to do your Walt Disney World vacation on a tight budget, considering the Disney Dining Plan is a mistake.
Without question, purchasing the Disney Dining Plan will cost you more than it would cost you to eat at Walt Disney World on a tight budget. What the Disney Dining Plan offers is peace of mind in paying for your food in advance and knowing that you don’t have to worry about it when you arrive. If you can budget money (i.e., if you’ve completed the 5th grade), you are miles ahead by doing so and skipping the Dining Plan. Some people can save money using the Disney Dining Plan, but those are people who like to eat “aggressively,” not those who are trying to be frugal. With that little cautionary note out of the way, let’s take a look at a few options in terms of eating on a Walt Disney World vacation…
Frugal: Purchase groceries and bring your food to the parks. Many people don’t realize that, unlike sporting events and your local library, you can bring outside food into Walt Disney World. Not only that, but they’re pretty liberal with the rules: you can bring a soft-sided cooler (now don’t get too carrier away, you can’t bring in a pony keg to make ‘it’s a small world’ more enjoyable). Figure that the cost here can be as low as what you’d eat at home. I’d ballpark this around $40/day.
Value: Eat a huge breakfast in your hotel before you leave for the parks each day, then have a counter service meal in the parks in the early afternoon costing around $10/person, bring snacks to get through late afternoon, and have dinner in your hotel each night. The cost here will be $40 per day for the in-park food, plus the cost of whatever groceries you’ll need for the other meals. I’d ballpark this at around $70/day.
Moderate: Eat a small breakfast at your hotel consisting of items you pack like Cliff Bars and other nutrient-rich items, and then eat your remaining two meals in the parks at counter service restaurants. Pack snacks to eat between meals. I’d ballpark this at around $85/day.
Deluxe: Here’s where you splurge and get the standard Disney Dining Plan. This includes a counter service meal, table service meal, and snack per person, per night of the trip. Use the snack for breakfast and expect not to need any other food for the day, since you get a lot of food on the Disney Dining Plan. Alternatively, you could eat only at Disney restaurants, pay as you go, and likely spend a bit less. The total cost for this will be around $180 per night after the tip on that table service meal. (Note: the Dining Plan is offered by night, not by day.)
Obviously, taking advantage of the Free Disney Dining Plan promo really alters the equation here (and you can now see why the Moderate Resort becomes a much better value). If you are going when Free Dining is offered, it can be a great deal for the Moderate and below tiers. If you’re not going at a time when Free Dining is offered, the vast price difference between the ‘moderate’ and ‘deluxe’ tiers above should make clear why the Disney Dining Plan is not recommended for those who are on tight budgets. Even if you add a table service meal to the moderate tier, you can dine at Disney for far less than $180 per day. This is why it’s important to remember that something being good for budgeting (which the Dining Plan arguably helps do) is not the same as being good for those on a tight budget.
Even within the different tiers of vacations we’ve priced out for the hypothetical family of 4, there’s a pretty substantial range to the price of their Walt Disney World vacation. Still, we thought it worthwhile to give a rough approximation of totals…
Again, I want to reiterate that the totals within each of these tiers can vary substantially. The total for the frugal option doesn’t include a rental car or parking (figure another $151 for that), despite both probably being needed unless you luck out with a shuttle. Likewise, the on-site hotel pricing is based on early September, when prices are at their lowest of the year; these low-price dates were chosen to offset the fact that dining costs are added in, despite the possibility that the ‘Free Dining’ promo might drop those amounts to zero. Regardless of what your actual costs appear to be when you crunch the numbers, it’s always a good idea to build a 15-20% cushion into the budget for unforeseen expenses–that’s a savvy move with travel in general, regardless of the destination.
That’s also important here because the numbers above are most likely on the low side. I have heard on multiple occasions that the average Walt Disney World vacation cost for a family of 4 is $5,000. For an average cost, that seems insanely high to me, but I can see how costs could easily skyrocket. Really, with so many caveats, it might seem like these numbers are rendered meaningless, and this post is just an exercise in futility (like most things I do…). The info and numbers here should at least provide a good baseline so that those of you who have never planned a Walt Disney World vacation have a ballpark idea what kind of costs you’ll encounter. I’ve seen numerous (clickbait) blog posts with headlines promising “How to do a Walt Disney World Vacation for Less than $1,000” and I feel that’s incredibly misleading and disingenuous. For 95% of guests, $1,500 is the bare minimum needed just to get in the door, and even that’s really pushing it.
Obviously, this isn’t a one-size fits all post. Frugal traveler-hackers may scoff at the “high” prices here, and luxury travelers may find that they spend significantly more than the amounts set forth here. There are obviously going to be outliers on both ends of the spectrum. In our case–and likely in the case of many readers of this blog–we can be outliers on the low end of things ourselves, as the sunk costs of Annual Passes make our tickets $0* and our on-site hotel cost with an Annual Pass (or Cast Member discount, if a friend helps us out) as low as $67/night. However, this really isn’t helpful information to those planning their first trips.
With all of that said, I hope this topic can be an open dialogue about Walt Disney World vacation budgets, as the way we vacation certainly differs for others. There might be other answers and hacks that can bring the cost down or offer alternatives to what I’ve presented here. To that end, Disney veterans who are willing to present some information about your own budget, such as how many people, duration of trip, hotel, dining, etc., when you visit would be much appreciated. Like I said, this post is only meant to be a rough baseline, and the more actual data points and examples newbies have before starting to plan for their own trips, the better. So thanks in advance if you choose to help.
Do you veterans have any data points of your own to help newbies out? If you’re a Walt Disney World first-timer, do you have any questions after reading this? We love to hear from readers, so if you have any thoughts or questions, post them in the comments!