How much does it cost to go to Disney World?

by Shannon Albert 60 comments Like the Facebook page

(This article was published in 2012 and based on prices and info available at that time.)

Lots of people dream of a trip to Disney World but aren't sure how much money to budget. Asking how much a trip costs is almost like asking how much a house costs - it just depends.

Let's take a look at 3 different families who all share the same demographics except 1: their Disney World trip budgets.

Hopefully this will give you a better idea how to budget for your own trip.

Our 3 families each have 4 members - two adults and two children ages 8 and 11 - and they all live in Chicago. They each have different budgets made up of these 5 major expense categories:

  • Transportation - road trip expenses, plane tickets, train tickets
  • Lodging - off site, on site, hotel, condo
  • Park tickets - 3 different levels of tickets available
  • Food - eating in the parks, cooking some meals in your room
  • Souvenirs

Let's see what these families' trip costs looks like.

The Fancy Family

The Fancy FamilyThe Fancy Family does not care much about cost. They just want the best hotel for their family, best restaurants, tickets with the most options and the easiest method to get there. Their only constraint is their schedule because they do want to work around the kids' school calendar.

Travel dates: The Fancy Family has decided to go to Disney World June 9 - 16, right after the kids finish up their school year.

Transportation: There are a few airlines with direct flights between Chicago and Orlando and The Fancy Family will choose a schedule that's convenient for them.
Cost: $350/ticket

Once they arrive in Orlando, The Fancy Family will take a limo to their hotel to make the trip quick and comfortable.
Cost: $127 + 20% tip

Hotel: The Fancy Family will be staying at the Polynesian in a Club Level Theme Park View room. They want to stay in the Hawaii longhouse due to the convenient location plus they like the amenities that come along with being Club Level - the food that is available, the extra service and use of the lounge.

They also like the convenience of the transportation available at the Polynesian and the ability to view fireworks right from the hotel.
Cost: $820/night weekday, $870/night weekend (Friday and Saturday nights) + 12.5% tax

Park tickets: Our no-cost-is-too-high family wants the most flexibility with options for water parks so they are going to get the tickets with the long name: Park Hoppers and Water Park Fun and More.
Cost for 8 day tickets: $402.88 for people 10+, $387.64 for people ages 3-9

Food: The Fancy Family wants to try out a couple of restaurants each day of their trip and they've decided to get the Deluxe Dining Plan which allows them to eat 3 meals a day in either Counter Service or Table Service restaurants plus they'll get 2 snack credits per day.

They could just pay out-of-pocket for their meals but they've decided to buy the Deluxe Dining Plan just to simplify things and allow them to enjoy their trip without thinking about what each thing will cost. Also, it makes calculating this budget much easier on me.
Cost: $85.52/day for people 10+, $23.79/day for people ages 3-9

Souvenirs: This family has allocated $500 for souvenirs during their trip.

Other costs: The Fancy Family has decided to take an Illuminations cruise.
Cost: $325 + tax and gratuity.

They will also plan for some cab rides for those times when Disney transportation isn't the most convenient option.
Cost: About $50

Total costs:

  • Plane tickets: $350 x 4 = $1400
  • Limousine: $127 + 20% tip = $152
  • Hotel: ($870/night x 2) + ($820/night x 5) = $5840 + 12.5% tax = $6570
  • Park tickets: ($402.88 x 3) + $387.64 = $1596.28
  • Dining: ($85.52 x 3 people x 7 days) + ($23.79 x 1 child x 7 days) = $1962.45
  • Souvenirs: $500
  • Illuminations cruise: about $400
  • Taxis: $50
  • Total trip cost for The Fancy Family: $12,630.73

Obviously, the largest expense is the pricey hotel room. Although The Fancy Family wouldn't necessarily be looking for discounts, their travel agent (if they used one, and I highly recommend it for people not wanting to do all of their own research) would have applied a 20% discount that was available during these dates, resulting in a lot of savings. They could also have opted for a non-Club Level room which saves a few hundred dollars per night.

The Moderate Family

The Moderate FamilyThe Moderate Family likes nice vacations but they have to choose which areas they'd like to splurge on and try to be conservative in other categories.

Travel dates: August 25 - September 1. The Moderate Family noticed that prices and crowds decrease around mid-August and their school year doesn't begin until after Labor Day so, even though it will be hot, they think these dates will work best for them.

Transportation: The Moderate Family wants to fly but will want the best deal they can find. They decide to book Southwest Airlines tickets. The times aren't always the most ideal but they are non-stop. They will also keep an eye out for sales and Ding! fares knowing that Southwest will give them a credit if prices decrease.
Cost: $300/ticket

Once they land in Orlando, this family will make use of Magical Express bus transportation to get to their hotel.
Cost: free

Hotel: The Moderate Family likes nice accommodations but doesn't want to spend a lot on their hotel. They decide to stay at Port Orleans - Riverside which is the most recommended Moderate resort.
Cost: $164/night on weekdays, $179/weekend (Friday and Saturday)

Park tickets: This family wants the flexibility to hop parks but won't be visiting any water parks or extra places. They'll buy the Park Hopper passes for their family.
Cost: $347.88/person 10+, $327.64 for people 3-9

Food: The Moderate Family lucked out and free dining was offered during their stay (and it has been offered during this time for the last few years). This allows them to use the standard dining plan which is 1 Table Service credit, 1 Counter Service credit and 1 Snack credit per person per night of their stay.
Cost: free!

Souvenirs: they've budgeted $150 for souvenirs

Other costs: The Moderate Family decided they wanted to plan 1 special event for their family during their vacation. They've booked the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage for their pirate-loving kids and to give them a unique way to watch Wishes fireworks.
Cost: $57.50/people 10+, $33.01 for people 3-9

Total costs:

  • Plane tickets: $300 x 4 = $1200
  • Magical Express: free
  • Hotel: ($179/night x 2) + ($164/night x 5) = $1178 + 12.5% tax = $1325.25
  • Park tickets: ($347.88 x 3) + $327.64 = $1271.28
  • Dining: Free!
  • Souvenirs: $150
  • Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage: ($57.50 x 3 people 10+) + $33.01 for 1 person under 10 = $205.51
  • Total trip cost for The Moderate Family: $4152.04

This price range is accessible for more people than The Fancy Family's, but for those that are wanting to save the most money possible, there are even more ways to save.

Meet The Frugal Family.

The Frugal Family

The Frugal FamilyAs their name tells you, this family is focused solely on saving the most money possible. They don't get to take family vacations a lot and they need to budget carefully to make this trip affordable. They are willing to take the kids out of school for this trip since they don't take the opportunity to travel often.

Travel dates: October 13 - 21 (October 13, 14, 20 and 21 will be travel days). The kids will miss a week of school but the family will get to enjoy light crowds and lower prices.

Transportation: The Frugal Family used the Fuel Cost Calculator to determine how much it would cost to drive from their home in Chicago to Disney World. The travel time is about 20 hours each way so they'd also need to budget a night of hotel each way.
Cost: $368.68 roundtrip for gas + $200 for hotels = $568.68

Hotel: This family decided it was more economical to stay slightly off-site by choosing a hotel from the Mousesavers Preferred Hotel list. They decide on the Holiday Inn Resort Lake Buena Vista which is located a mile from Disney World and will provide transportation to Disney World for free.
Cost: $80/night

Park tickets: Because The Frugal Family is visiting during a time when a Y.E.S. class is being offered, they will buy their park tickets through Y.E.S. ahead of time.

This family will only need 5 days of tickets since they are spending 4 days driving. They have opted to get the Base tickets for their family.
Cost: $164.27/person (savings of $103.05 per person)

Food: The hotel that they've chosen to stay at will allow anybody 12 and under to eat breakfast and dinner for free which The Frugal Family plans to take advantage of a few times. For lunch, they will pack food they can eat while in the parks (since they have a car, picking up groceries to pack lunches will be easy).

They do want to eat 1 Table Service meal during their trip, but since the portions are big, they will plan to split two entrees between the 4 of them.
Cost for the week: $300

Souvenirs: $50

Total costs:

  • Road trip costs: $368.68 for gas + $200 hotels while driving = $568.68
  • Hotel: $80 daily cost + $11.95 daily service fee x 6 nights = $551.70
  • Park tickets: $164.27 x 4 people = $657.08
  • Dining: about $300
  • Souvenirs: $50
  • Total trip cost for The Frugal Family: $2127.46

Summing it all up

So now when somebody asks how much a Disney World trip costs, we can say "$2000 or $12000 or something in between."

Some things to keep in mind, no matter what your budget:

  • Packages (which were used in The Fancy Family's and The Moderate Family's trips) are convenient because they include everything but may not always be the most cost-effective
  • Booking with a travel agent that specializes in Disney trips is generally a good idea, no matter what your price level (side note: general travel agents are often not a good idea on Disney trips. You can spend 1 hour reading this site and know more than most of them.)

Have other ideas for Disney World trip budgets? Talk about it in the comments.