Walt Disney World sits right at the red-hot center of the family vacation universe. The flagship Florida-based Magic Kingdom park is one of the world's biggest tourism magnets, welcoming over 20 million visitors a year. Sister Disney parks Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios each attract over 10 million guests annually as well.
The record crowds will only keep increasing, even with a recent admissions price hike introduced earlier this year. The resort is an all-time classic family destination, and there are always new reasons to visit. A Frozen-theme ride and a Star Wars fireworks and laser show have been added in recent months, and May 27 marks the opening of the long-awaited Avatar-themed area.
Before booking your dream Disney adventure, you should crunch the numbers as realistically as you can and figure out: How much will the big trip actually cost?
It's not cheap. A single day's adult admission at the Magic Kingdom now costs as much as $124, compared to $105 in 2015 and $79 in 2010. Food easily costs over $10 per person, per order even at Disney's to-go type restaurants, and sometimes over $50 per person for special meals hosted by characters like Ariel and Winnie the Pooh. Don't forget about souvenirs: T-shirts go for about $30, a set of Mickey ears runs around $20 if you get it monogrammed (and you probably will). We haven't even mentioned lodging and transportation yet.
All that said, there are ways to significantly decrease how much you'll spend. "The biggest mistake people make is choosing a hotel that's too expensive," says Jason Cochran, author of the Frommer's EasyGuide to Disney World, Universal and Orlando and editor in chief at Frommers.com. The typical visitor spends 12-plus hours each day touring the parks, so it can seem like a waste to pay top dollar for a hotel. "If you're spending that kind of time out of your room, it doesn't matter if there's a view and it barely matters if it's on Disney property."
So, coming back to the big question: How much does a Disney World vacation actually cost? Because there are so many visitor options, and travelers go in with widely varying expectations, must-haves, and thirst for Goofy tchotchkes, there is no single answer.
Before launching into the particulars, it's worth mentioning that because Disney can be so overwhelming, it may be wise to book the trip with a Disney-certified travel agent. A knowledgeable agent will answer all of your questions, make the most of whatever budget you bring to the table, and eliminate hassles and confusion in general. Using an agent shouldn't cost you anything extra either—they get paid on commission. Just make sure you're getting exactly the trip that you want, and you're not being steered into pricey extras simply because "that's what everyone does." To find a good agent, ask Disney-loving friends for recommendations.
Now, onto sample pricing. We did the math based on four different categories of visitors. In each case, the numbers are based on a four-night vacation for a family of four, with two adults and two kids who qualify for the child admission rate (ages 3 to 9). Lodging prices can vary dramatically throughout the year, and you might find rates that are different depending on your specific dates and whether there are any promotions available at the time. The rates we are citing are based on dates in early or late summer, when prices are fairly high—but not as high as July or the period around Christmas and New Year's.
AVERAGE DISNEY VACATION
According to the Department of Transportation, the average round-trip flight into Orlando in 2016 cost roughly $350, down from $400 in 2014. Obviously, your airline bill decreases by a factor of four if you can find cheaper flights for your family. Hipmunk data indicates that the average Disney hotel costs $388 per night, plus 12.5% in taxes for a total of $436.50.
Disney offers a variety of meal plans for on-site hotel guests, and while some visitors love the convenience, the plans are generally pretty expensive. "I don't find the Disney Dining Plan to be a great value for guests who plan to be on the go a lot," Frommer.com's Cochran says. He describes the value as "borderline" for guests who want to regularly enjoy sit-down meals, and recommends that budget-conscious visitors look out for special deals in the fall, when Disney often includes free meal plans with hotel bookings.
For our average Disney price estimate, we factored in the resort's "Standard" dining plan, which includes one quick-serve meal, one table service meal, two snacks daily, and a refillable drink mug and costs $754 for our hypothetical group. The plan wouldn't cover all meals, so we budgeted an extra $100 per day for food. For admissions, we're going with four days' worth of Park Hopper passes, which are pricier than base tickets, but allow you to visit multiple parks on the same day.
Souvenirs & Extras: $400
CHEAPER DISNEY VACATION
Disney has several basic motel accommodations dubbed as "Value Resort" properties, including the Art of Animation and Pop Century, where rooms cost around $150 a night. Most importantly, they come with the perks of Disney's on-site lodging, including free shuttles to the parks and free transportation to and from Orlando's airport.
This is the kind of lodging factored into this category. We also trimmed back the budget by opting for a more basic meal plan ($553, plus an allotment for snacks beyond the plan) and by scaling back on souvenirs. Admissions costs are the same as the category above, based on four days' worth of tickets with the Park Hopper option included.
Souvenirs & Extras: $200
LOW-END DISNEY VISIT
Staying off-resort will save you significantly not only on lodging, but food as well—because many hotels provide free breakfast, and you can cook or at least eat at non-Disney restaurants. According to Hotels.com, in 2016 the average nightly rate for a hotel in nearby Kissimmee - only 14 miles away - was $114, compared to $393 for a Disney property. And prices in Kissimmee can be found well below the average, from around $40 a night for a basic motel. We assumed that even travelers in this category would want to stay in a decent three-star motel, and we found plenty that come with a pool, complimentary breakfast, and a free shuttle to Disney for about $60 a night plus taxes. On the other hand, we had to up the transportation budget here because of the need for a rental car and parking fees.
To save some money on admissions, we're skipping the Park Hopper option in this category, meaning that guests will only be able to visit a single park each day. We've also reduced the number of days' admission to three rather than four. On the off day, guests might hang out by the pool and decompress, away from the crowds.
Souvenirs & Extras: $150
DELUXE DISNEY VACATION
Disney guests seeking to stay in style, with a decent amount of space and convenient access to the parks, might go with a one-bedroom villa at the Grand Floridian, near the Magic Kingdom and connected to the monorail. It costs $955 per night for our group on theoretical bookings this summer. Even though the vacation is only four nights, we went with five days' worth of admissions because it's often possible to squeeze in some extra rides on one of your travel days. This category also incorporates a bigger budget for food and shopping.
Souvenirs & Extras: $800