When you travel to Walt Disney World at least once a year like we do, well-meaning friends will ask, “What makes you want to go back so often?” And after the inevitable response (“You clearly haven’t been to Disney in far too long, or you wouldn’t ask me this”), the follow up question is usually, “By the way, how much does it cost to take a trip to the most magical place on earth?” This is actually a much easier question to answer than you might think. But let’s break it down.
First off, how many people are traveling? This does make a difference. When you travel to Walt Disney World as a couple, certain costs are going to be slightly higher per person, such as your accommodations. Most rooms on property can comfortably fit up to 4 or 5 people, so of course the more people staying in one room, the lower the cost will be per person. While you may save money by sharing a room with family or friends, group size has no bearing on park admission or food, so regardless of the size of your party, you’ll be paying the same cost for park tickets and meals.
How long are you staying for? I always recommend at least a week, regardless of how often you visit. There are four major theme parks, not including the water parks and Disney Springs. Depending on your family and interests, you might only need a day in parks like Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but in Magic Kingdom, it’s a good bet you’ll need at least two days to do everything you want to do. It’s important to determine the length of your stay before you start in-depth planning: how much time can you be away for? How much time do you need to comfortably see and do everything on your wish list? The length of your vacation is not only going to affect the price of your hotel, but the cost of your park tickets, not to mention your meals, which can easily turn into one of the most expensive aspects of your trip.
Meals are by far the most intricate part of the Disney vacation equation. Do you and your family traditionally eat three meals a day, or can you skip breakfast or do smaller snacks throughout the day? Are you ok eating quick service, fast food meals for most of your trip, or do you enjoy relaxing together at sit-down restaurants? Depending on these and other personal choices, you’ll need to set a budget for yourself and determine if the Disney Dining Plan is the way to go. It all depends on the type of meals you want to experience. For a couple, a good rule of thumb is that if you can get by paying $100 or less each day for your food in the parks/resorts, then the meal plan isn’t cost-effective, and you’re better off paying as you go. But if you and your family enjoy more expensive dining experiences (character buffets or steakhouses, for example), get the dining plan. It’ll be well worth it: buffets can run you up to $64.99 per person, and the regular meal plan works out to about $60 a day per adult, and $20 per child. So to summarize: for a couple, you’re looking at a minimum total of $100 a day for food, and for a family of four, you should leave yourself with a budget of $160 per day. If you opt for the Disney Dining Plan, keep in mind that you’ll need to budget for tips for your table service meals.
When you book your vacation, everything will be put together as a package through the Walt Disney World website, so it can be difficult to understand the breakdown of individual costs. Your park tickets may seem complicated, but they’re actually really simple. Your base tickets will be increasingly cheaper the more days you’ll be in the parks. Once you’ve bought your fourth day of tickets (and let’s be honest, there are four parks so you need at least four days), the cost of adding an additional day is only $10 per person. So don’t hesitate to grab that 7th day in your week-long vacation; the time you spend wondering if it’s worth it will be more than the $40 it will cost your family of four for the vacation. Do you want to be able to jump from park to park each day? Then you’ll want a Park Hopper, an extra $64 per person tacked onto your total park ticket cost, so you can visit as many parks as you want in any given day. I always choose this option, because I never know where the day is going to take me, but if you’re planning out your vacation in detail in advance, you might not need it. Do you want to do the water parks? If you’re already adding the Park Hopper option, then the water parks are really a no-brainer: admission to both adds only $26, bringing the total cost of your add-ons to $90 per person. With this, you’re free to visit any and all of the Walt Disney World parks each and every day of your vacation.
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Where do you want to stay? There are three levels of resorts in Walt Disney World, and your choice will depend on what you want to get out of your resort. Are you going to spend much time at your resort? Or are you going to be in the parks most days, using your resort only as a place to rest your head at night? If so, then you probably can grab one of the value level resorts (i.e., Pop Century, All-Star Resorts). Regular rates are as low as $85 per night, in low season, though this will vary depending on the type and location of your room. Mid-level or moderate level resorts (Caribbean Beach Resort and Coronado Springs, among others) are closer to $175 a night, and making the jump up to deluxe level resorts such as Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Contemporary Resort will set you back $400-$600 a night.
ALWAYS look for the deals. At certain times of the year, you can choose between getting a dining plan for free with the purchase of a Disney Magic Your Way Package, and getting up to 30% off your hotel room. Which one you pick should be based on the criteria laid out earlier. If you think you can get in under the amounts mentioned per day for your meals, then grab the discount on the hotel. If not, free dining never hurts!
I have left out travel expenses, because of course transportation costs to and from Florida will depend on where you are traveling from and how you are traveling. I have also left out souvenirs. Personally, I always allow for $100 a day for souvenirs. That may seem really low for you, or it may seem very high; budget according to your own circumstances.
So, that was a lot of information, and what does it all mean? How much does it really cost for a vacation to the most magical place on earth? Well, the bottom line is this. If you are traveling as a couple, the best deal I have ever been able to score for two people, with the free dining plan, staying at a value level resort for one week in mid-November or early December, was about $1500. For a family, you can get a trip during this same time of year at the same type of resort for around $2500. If you keep everything above in mind while organizing and booking your Walt Disney World vacation, you should have minimal surprises come up along the way, and be able to plan a stay that’s a perfect fit not only for your budget, but for the unique vacation experience you and your family have been waiting for.