Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.
Your kids have finally reached that age, and you’ve asked all your friends what a Disney World vacation is like. Now, it’s time to start planning the Disney vacation that’s perfect for your family. But there’s one big, looming question: What kind of dent will this make in your budget?
There are a lot of different ways to do Disney World, but just as we did for Disneyland in California, we want to give you an estimate of what it can cost to visit Disney World in Florida.
Disney World has more than 20 different official lodging options, four theme parks, two water parks, a shopping and entertainment district and more. You’ll also find hundreds (literally hundreds) of hotels where you can use your points within a 30-minute drive. Add in more than 200 places to grab a meal — including almost 100 table service restaurants alone — and you’ve got some planning to do.
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To give you a jumpstart on figuring out what a Disney World vacation costs, I’ve put together three different vacation budgets. One is for the most price-conscious among us. Then there’s the middle-of-the-road plan that should be a good fit for many families. And if you’re looking to go all-out, there’s a blueprint just for you as well.
I based my pricing assumptions on a family of four, where the two children are under the magical age of 10 when kids are still kids in the eyes of Disney pricing. With four different theme parks, not to mention Disney Springs and the water parks, five nights is a good length of time for a big Disney World vacation, so all of my plans include five nights of hotels and four days of park tickets. I did not consider Disney dining plans for meals or other discounts like those for Florida residents or members of the military.
To make matters more complicated, pricing during the COVID-19 pandemic has been altered in a few fundamental ways. First, hotel room prices are generally (but not always) lower. If you’re planning to park your RV at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort, those prices have been remarkably stable, and higher than you might expect. But value stops like Disney’s Pop Century Resort and Disney’s All-Star resorts are cheaper on select nights.
Disney World also just reintroduced Park Hopper passes, with variable pricing based on the length of your tickets. For quite some time during the pandemic, the “biggest” ticket Disney World sold was a seven-day ticket. That meant folks going for longer trips might have had to purchase two tickets to cover their entire range of dates, especially since new annual pass sales haven’t returned either.
Starting in 2021, Disney World will again sell a 10-day ticket. Under the newly amended Park Hopper policies, you’ll still need a park reservation for Disney World, which can be hard to come by on peak dates. There’s no guarantee you’ll be able to successfully “hop” to a second park on any particular day. Entry will be based on whether the park is at capacity when you arrive. While that’s been the case in the past, the significant reduction in capacity in response to the pandemic increases the likelihood parks will hit capacity. Lastly, be aware of amended park hours. The parks close much earlier than you might expect on certain days.
With all that in mind, figuring out your budget may take a bit more elbow grease if you want to visit Mickey while masks are still required.
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Disney World on a budget
There’s not a lot at Disney World that’s free. Unlike Universal Studios and some other theme parks, however, your Disney World park tickets will normally give you access to the FastPass+ ride queue skipping system. While we don’t have a date on when FastPass+ will come back, we imagine it will be much later in the pandemic. That means you’ll be able to reserve up to three rides per day ahead of time where your family will only have to wait in a relatively short line. With just the basics, I was able to put together a family trip for $2,900 to $3,350. There are ways to drop this number even further, which we’ll dig into.
On a bare-bones budget, we assumed you’d be willing to travel to Disney World during off-peak times. Months like January, February and September can be a great time to find a bargain on rooms at Disney World (park tickets are cheaper then as well). I chose a room at Disney’s Pop Century Resort, a value hotel. Prices ranged from a low $650 to just under $1,000 for four nights during the slowest times. In Disney speak, a value hotel includes basic comforts like beds and a bathroom, along with Disney perks.
Disney World hotels also have extensive themes that can make the experience more enjoyable. If you have hotel points that you can use to stay off-site or at the on-site Marriott-affiliated properties Dolphin and Swan, you can reduce this out-of-pocket expense to almost zero — just know that many hotels in Orlando charge a resort fee even on award bookings. (Here’s how to avoid resort fees.)
Disney All-Star Movies, Music and Sports resorts are also generally in the same price range as Pop Century, if one of those themes excites your kids more.
Total lodging cost: $650 to $1,000
This trip plan allows a visit to each Disney World park but uses the cheaper tickets that allow entry into only one park per day. You wouldn’t be able to double back to a park on a different day of your trip, so plan to make the most of each day. Now that Hollywood Studios has a number of new attractions, it’s actually much easier to spend a whole day there. Buying park tickets directly from Disney World would cost almost $1,800. However, I was able to find tickets for about $100 cheaper going through Undercover Tourist, a popular website TPG recommends for discounted theme park tickets. Buying through Undercover Tourist also means that the tickets will code as travel purchases for the purpose of earning (or using) as many points as possible.
Wherever you buy your tickets, just make sure it’s a reputable dealer. There are absolutely people out there trying to rip you off selling counterfeit Disney tickets.
Lastly, keep an eye out for special types of tickets Disney may introduce in the future. In the past, you could find a Mid-Day Magic ticket that would pair nicely with sleeping in or a stop at Disney Springs in the morning before entering the parks a bit later in the day that can save you cash.
Total park ticket cost: $1,703.26 (non-Park Hopper tickets, two adults and two children)
Related: Best credit cards to use for theme park tickets
How you eat at Disney World can make or break your budget pretty quickly. If you’re staying at an off-site hotel using points, I assume you found one that had free breakfast. That’ll significantly help your budget. If you don’t have access to free breakfast, my bare-bones budget allots $20 per day. That’s a combination of buying some grab-and-go items at the grocery store and eating breakfast at Pop Century. (Here are some ways to get groceries delivered to your Disney resort.) Our choices for restaurants are somewhat limited due to the pandemic, but we were still able to find a handful of reasonable budget options.
For meals in the parks, these venues won’t break the bank:
- Magic Kingdom: Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe and Pinocchio Village Haus
- Epcot: Regal Eagle Smokehouse, Lotus Blossom Cafe and the outside fish-and-chips counter at Rose & Crown Pub (weekends only right now)
- Hollywood Studios: Backlot Express and Ronto Roasters
- Animal Kingdom: Harambe Market and Flame Tree Barbecue
Epcot is a great place to eat on a budget since there are plenty of small-bites options in the various countries throughout World Showcase. If you are there during something like the Food and Wine Festival, then your choices are even more varied.
If you’re bound for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Ronto Roasters can be an affordable late breakfast or early lunch choice — their sausage wraps are pretty good.
My budget for food consists of one entree for each adult and a kid’s meal for each child. The kid’s meals come with drink choices. At Animal Kingdom you’ll find plenty of options to grab small plates of tasty options, such as the Yak & Yeti stand (not to be confused with the table service option), Smiling Crocodile and Caravan Road. The bare-bones budget has parents drinking free ice water. Plan another $4 to $5 if you want a fountain drink, depending on the location.
Lastly, I added in a little fun, budgeting in one treat per family member per day (think: Mickey-shaped hot pretzel or ice cream bar). That’s probably not enough for a whole day, but you can pack some snacks in a backpack for other refueling stops. Save money and get my favorite park treat by ordering a Dole Whip at Aloha Isle!
Total food cost: $537.54
Parking, transportation and souvenirs
We’re on a budget, right? That means taking Disney’s Magical Express complimentary bus shuttle to and from the airport. You’ll need to allow a bit of extra time, but Disney will take care of delivering any checked baggage you have directly to your hotel room as long as you tag your bags appropriately. If you choose to bypass the Magical Express, parking fees at value resorts such as Pop Century and All-Star will run you $15 per night, and you should budget at least $150 for a rental car for five nights, and you may even have trouble finding one. Paying the parking fee at the resort means you won’t have to pay to park your car at the theme parks.
If you’re trying to save money, rely on Disney’s vast network of buses to get you to and from the parks. Pop Century is also connected to the Disney Skyliner, which is a fun way to get to Epcot and Hollywood Studios.
That really only leaves souvenirs. I budgeted $25 per day, which would get something for each child in each park. How much you can spend on souvenirs varies greatly. To save even more money here, consider some of the many locations just outside Disney World property that sell cheap souvenirs (like Disney’s Character Warehouse at the nearby outlet stores), though you’ll have to pay for a taxi to get to these if you didn’t rent a car.
Total parking, transportation and souvenirs cost: $100
Cost for a Disney World family trip on a budget: $2,900 to $3,350
Disney World on a moderate budget
With a bit more money to spend, I focused on dates that were more likely to line up with school schedules. I avoided some of the most expensive times, like Christmas or Thanksgiving, and looked at dates in March, traditionally part of the spring break season. Those prices are especially low right now due to some promotions Disney World is running, so I also did some searches in early December, when pricing is higher but not completely nuts. Using those parameters, I was able to find a five-night Disney vacation for $4,500 to $4,800. Here’s how that breaks down:
Moving up the levels of Disney World hotels, I chose the Coronado Springs Resort. Disney categorizes this as a moderate resort. I stayed there in 2019, shortly after they completed room renovations, and the rooms are comfortable. You won’t find a ton more space than Pop Century, but you will find a smarter room layout. Keep an eye on the pricing for the beautiful, brand-new club rooms in the Gran Destino Tower.
They’re sometimes less than $100 extra per night and can make sense from a budget perspective if you eat breakfast, snacks and even dinner there.
Total lodging cost: $1,200 to $1,500
The bare-bones budget included tickets that only allow access to one park each day (four-day tickets). That’s generally fine. But if you’re not a Star Wars fan, you’ll have trouble filling a day at Hollywood Studios, and little ones infatuated with princesses may prefer more time at Magic Kingdom than Animal Kingdom. So for the moderate budget, we picked Park Hopper tickets. These tickets allow you to enter more than one park each day. They also tack on another $400 to our price (really about $350 when you adjust for seasonality).
If you really don’t think you’ll be switching parks, buy the standard tickets. With restricted hours and capacity, changing parks will definitely be more difficult for a while. Disney will always allow you to upgrade to a higher category of tickets; you only need to pay the difference.
Since this is a five-day trip, you can consider adding Park Hopper Plus. For another $80 total across a family of four, you can spend a day at one of the water parks, or play miniature golf along with a few other options.
Total park tickets cost: $2,323.34
Disney World has so much to offer when it comes to restaurant experiences. Even when you’re on a budget you can find interesting tastes at all of the parks. At a more moderate budget, you can really eat well and have fun doing it. I budgeted for one breakfast at Coronado Springs. It wasn’t our favorite breakfast but it will do in a pinch. I also budgeted for a Starbucks breakfast in the parks for a couple of mornings. Along with coffee, you’ll find a full array of breakfast sandwiches, fruit and sugary treats. A moderate budget would include choices like these for lunch and dinner:
- Magic Kingdom: Tony’s Town Square (or Diamond Horseshoe, when it’s open) and The Plaza
- Epcot: Katsura Grill and Via Napoli
- Hollywood Studios: Fairfax Fare and Ronto Roasters
- Animal Kingdom: Satu’li Canteen and Yak & Yeti
If you’re looking to add some character meals on a moderate budget, consider stretching a bit and dining at Be Our Guest or Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom. Keep in mind that character meals have taken on a much different look during the pandemic. At the time of this update, Crystal Palace is still closed but Be Our Guest has a modified experience. Be Our Guest can be pricey at dinner but you can sneak by at lunch without breaking the bank, and Crystal Palace can be a lot of fun for young kids.
In Epcot, both Katsura Grill and Via Napoli have plates that can be shared, including the humongous Mezzo Metro pizza at Via Napoli. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater can be a fun change-up at Hollywood Studios for not much more money. Satu’li Canteen in Animal Kingdom made our list of best restaurants at Disney World; it’s really hard to go wrong there. The budget includes purchasing some snacks in the park, but it’s still a good idea to consider packing snacks in a backpack, as the price of Disney treats can put a dent in your wallet quickly.
Total food cost: $809.42
Parking, transportation and souvenirs
Even on a moderate budget, Disney’s Magical Express can make a ton of sense. What you might sacrifice in time you make up in savings. A ride from the airport to Disney World can easily set you back about $100. If you’re taking Magical Express you won’t have to worry about parking costs. If you rent a car instead, plan on $20 per day to park your car at Coronado Springs.
I did plug in some budget allowances for taking a few Uber or Lyft rides (though no Minnie Vans, since we think they’re no longer) that take you all around Disney property with ease. It’s a great way to travel if you’re in a rush or just worn out after a long day and don’t want to wait for the bus. Bus lines are considerably longer in many cases due to social distancing. For large, sprawling properties like Coronado Springs, it can be a relief to be dropped off right at your door.
I bumped up the souvenir budget a bit, but not by enough to buy custom lightsabers for your kids. Spending $35 a day can score you some of the “cooler” toys but not the most expensive Disney has to offer. Adjust that number up or down according to your plans.
Total parking, transportation and souvenirs cost: $230
Cost for a Disney World family trip on a moderate budget: $4,500 to $4,800.
Disney World on a luxury budget
If you’re willing to pay up, in some cases dearly, Disney has some real treats to offer. Whether it’s convenience, character meals or once-in-a-lifetime souvenirs, Disney can take care of you. My high-end Disney World budget includes ample amounts of convenience and character time and might even have enough space for one of those really expensive “gotta have it” souvenirs. The luxury budget comes in at $7,700 to $8,700, with a bit more of a range on pricing due to the pandemic. A big chunk of that is spent in lodging. Let’s dig in:
Deluxe resorts are some of the best that Disney has to offer. For families with children, the Magic Kingdom is the place where so many Disney memories are made. The “Monorail resorts” — Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Polynesian Village Resort — are only a short train ride from the Magic Kingdom (and a quick transfer to Epcot), and consistently in high demand. During the spring, Polynesian Village is usually more affordable than Contemporary or Grand Floridian, but none will be cheap. For now, the main hotel at Polynesian Village is closed for renovation but the villas and bungalows are open.
I settled on a standard room at Polynesian Village. At certain times of year, you might consider booking a club room at Polynesian or Contemporary (here’s more on Club Level at Disney). This room cost was significantly higher: more than double our moderate choice and five times the price of our budget lodging example. Convenience costs money at Disney World.
One way to have deluxe accommodations at a friendlier price is to rent Disney Vacation Club points from a member. Not familiar? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
Total lodging cost: $3,000 to $4,300
Disney World sells a more expensive version of Park Hopper tickets, dubbed Park Hopper Plus. While it does come with more extras than a standard Park Hopper ticket, such as access to the Disney water parks, you probably won’t use them on a four-day trip, so we stuck with the regular Park Hopper option. If you plan to stay longer, Park Hopper Plus can make sense.
Total park tickets cost: $2,408.54
There are some really awesome dining experiences at Disney World that many people overlook. After all, with the roller coasters, princesses, fairy tales and faraway lands, the last thing on some people’s minds is a great meal (plus, most kids won’t sit still long enough for a great dinner). Disney does a pretty good job of weaving these together.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some bad examples (Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, I’m looking at you). But, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that you can eat a great meal at Disney and keep your kids happy. Increasing the food budget at Disney World means including some of the best Disney has to offer:
- Magic Kingdom: Cinderella’s Royal Table for dinner and Jungle Navigation Co. LTD Skipper Canteen
- Epcot: San Angel Inn and Takumi-Tei
- Hollywood Studios: The Hollywood Brown Derby and Sci-Fi Dine-in Theater
- Animal Kingdom: Satu’li Canteen and Tiffins
If princesses aren’t your kids’ thing, they might prefer Chef Mickey’s instead. It’s also a few bucks cheaper with characters such as Mickey, Donald and Goofy. Skipper Canteen has punchy cast members just like on the Jungle Cruise, but plenty of great food that parents will love.
If I blindfolded you and led you into Takumi-Tei, you’d have no idea you were in Disney World. One of Epcot’s newest restaurants, it’s some of the best sushi I’ve had, let alone the best in any theme park. Don’t get me started on the Omakase Tasting Menu.
Think your kids won’t be able to stay put while you savor sushi? Think again. The staff at Takumi-Tei spent almost an hour teaching our kids how to make origami.
At Hollywood Studios, the Brown Derby is such a classic lunch spot. The food is great and the staff understands that kids want to get back out into the park. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater may not blow you away for food quality, but the drive-in movie theme and the cast members reminding you to eat your vegetables is sure to put a smile on your face.
Note: Takumi-Tei and Cinderella’s Royal Table really drive up the budget, at over $200 for a family of four. Skip these if you need to trim your spending somewhere.
Total food cost: $1,580.97
Parking, transportation and souvenirs
If budget isn’t your primary consideration, then the Magical Express Bus isn’t for you. It ties up time both on arrival and departure. And make no mistake — at Disney World, time is most definitely money. You can order an Uber Black to Disney World for around $100, and you can find plenty of car services that will allow a grocery stop along the way if you need special groceries for little ones (though it may be easier to just have groceries delivered right to your room).
Other than the Magic Kingdom, which will be a short monorail ride away, the luxury budget allows your family to use Uber and Lyft as much as you want (and, if we’re hoping against hope, maybe a return of Minnie Vans). I also built in a generous budget for a lightsaber or princess dress. Or maybe both.
Total parking, transportation and souvenirs cost: $720
Cost for a Disney World family trip on a high-end budget: $7,700 to $8,700
With a spread of $5,000 between our bare-bones and luxury budgets, you can see how many different ways there are to spend your way through Disney, and there are countless variables I didn’t touch on here. Suffice it to say there’s a Disney World vacation for many different budgets.
If our tightest budget example seems out of range, you can absolutely trim significant costs by turning heavily to points and miles for things like park tickets. You can also spend less on food by packing lunches you bring into the parks each day. Plus there are lots of fun things to do at Disney World without a park ticket if you don’t want to buy tickets for each day.
A little bit of planning ahead of time will save you from sticker shock when you get your credit card bill, but it’s fair to say that a family trip to Walt Disney World will usually cost a family thousands of dollars — how many thousands is entirely up to you.
Featured image courtesy of Walt Disney World
SPONSORED: With states reopening, enjoying a meal from a restaurant no longer just means curbside pickup.
And when you do spend on dining, you should use a credit card that will maximize your rewards and potentially even score special discounts. Thanks to temporary card bonuses and changes due to coronavirus, you may even be able to score a meal at your favorite restaurant for free.
These are the best credit cards for dining out, taking out, and ordering in to maximize every meal purchase.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
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