- The cost of a typical Disney World trip is $6,033, Insider recently found.
- Walt Disney once said he wanted his parks to be “a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”
- But with sky-high costs, the quintessential family vacation is out of reach for millions.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Marquitta Jones had happy memories of visiting Disney World with her family when she was 14.
More than 30 years later, she was excited to return with her own children. But she was surprised by how expensive everything had become, she told Insider. She found the high cost of park admission particularly jarring.
“Everyone in my party did not want to pay $150 per ticket,” she said, “but I assured them it was going to be an experience to remember.”
After visiting the parks this past March and encountering many additional unexpected expenses, however, Jones said she realized she had been right about it being an experience to remember – “just not in a good way.”
Often thought of as the quintessential family holiday, families of all stripes have been flocking to Walt Disney World for nearly 50 years. Once affordable – the cost of a ticket was $3.50 in 1971, or about $22 today – a visit to the “most magical place on Earth” has become unattainable for the average American family and unfathomable for millions more.
Many middle-class families can no longer afford a Disney vacation
Median household income in America was $68,703 per year in 2019, or $5,725 per month – and that’s before taxes.
Since the average American household spends about $5,100 every month on housing, transportation, food, utilities, and other living expenses, there’s little to nothing left to budget for a pricey family vacation. Even if a family scrimped together $200 every month, it would take nearly three years to save enough for the most economical Disney vacation.
Insider recently published a typical price breakdown for a family of four that visits Disney World for five days. We found that tickets for everyone cost $2,316; four nights in a family suite at a budget hotel cost $2,617; and the least expensive dining plan for everyone came in at $1,100.
All up, the total cost was $6,033. And that doesn’t include airfare and transportation costs, snacks and souvenirs, parking fees, and extra meals not covered by a Disney dining plan.
It’s a difficult sum even for middle-class families, but for the millions of households earning less than $61,000 every year – or the estimated 34 million people living below the poverty line – a Disney vacation is virtually impossible.
Not Walt Disney’s vision
When Disneyland first opened in 1955, Walt Disney said he wanted his theme parks to “be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.” But prices have climbed so high that “all the world” can’t experience its joy – and neither can many people in Disney’s own backyard.
Food prices alone are staggering. A single meal at one of Disney’s most popular restaurants costs $62, and a churro costs $6.19.
“Food prices are outrageous,” Jessica Sarver of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, told Insider. When she visited this past March, “I paid nearly $5 for a bottle of water,” she said, “and for 3 people to eat dinner cost us about $120 to $130 a night.”
And even Disney’s “value” hotels – meant to provide affordable lodging for cost-conscious families – are now too expensive for many.
“We’ve been going to Disney every year for years,” Nancy Babb of Norman, Oklahoma, told Insider. “This last time, none of the hotels in Disney World were affordable enough for my family of five, so we had to stay off-property.”
In his 2019 memoir “The Ride of a Lifetime,” former Disney CEO Robert Iger touted one of Disney World’s value hotels, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, as a lodging option designed “for people who want to come to Disney World with their kids and can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars a night on a room. It’s ninety bucks, and it’s a decent, nice, clean, pleasant place.”
Except rooms at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort are a far cry from being $90 a night. They now start at $259 a night for two queen beds, and if multiple kids don’t like sharing one bed, or you need a place where a fifth person can sleep, the per-night rate jumps to $581. It’s the very expense Iger said Disney wanted to avoid.
Such excessive expenses may seem reasonable to guests if they were required to keep the company afloat, but that simply isn’t the case. For decades, Disney has maintained its standing as one of the most profitable companies in the world, and, even during the pandemic, the company’s 2020 revenues surpassed $69 billion worldwide – more than double the amount Disney generated in 2006.
Disney has become a company, as Iger put it, that “exists in the world of quarterly earnings reports and shareholder expectations” – seemingly even if those things take precedent over affordability to the average American family.
‘They expected the Ritz’
Despite high costs, Disney is still worth the money to some families.
Kelly Reichert of Salt Lake City, Utah, told Insider that the “high price tag they charge” is worth it to her family because of the “magic” they experience with each visit. They’ve gone almost every year since she and her husband were married nearly 20 years ago.
They scrimp and save, use their tax return, or make a trip to Disney the main Christmas present she and her husband give their four children. “We have sacrificed other purchases throughout the years to make our Disney trip happen,” she said.
But other families who used to budget regular Disney visits have since found that their vacation dollars go much further elsewhere. Pete Pirone of Long Island, New York, told Insider his family used to travel to Disney every year at Christmastime, but the high cost “just doesn’t make sense” to him anymore as he’s compared it to the cost of a European vacation or even a few days on an exotic island.
He said he began to recognize the inflated prices of a Disney vacation when his family invited some friends to join them there and noticed how much they experienced “sticker shock.” He said for the amount their friends paid for one night in their Disney hotel room, “they expected the Ritz. What they got instead was a Best Western style room with a view.”
For many, a Disney World vacation represents the pinnacle of family delight. Kids and parents alike shouldn’t have to sacrifice that just to keep hard-earned money in their wallets.
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