A trip to Disney World can be magical, full of deliciousness, an absolute delight, and…expensive.
Between tickets, your hotel stay, food, merchandise, flights, and other costs, you can easily and quickly end up spending a whole LOT of cash (we’re talking some serious money here folks). And things at Disney World have been getting more expensive lately. That got us wondering — is Disney World too expensive for average families now? We’re crunching some numbers to find out.
Average Household Income
We’ll start by looking at the average household income. According to the data from the United States Census Bureau, in 2020 the median household income was $67,521. That was actually “a decrease of 2.9 percent from the 2019 median of $69,560.” It actually marks “the first statistically significant decline in median household income since 2011.”
That is the median income for all households, but note that the numbers are different if you look at just family households or non-family households. And the numbers can also vary depending on some other factors.
Pricing Out Our Trip
Now that we know what the median income was for 2020, let’s take a look at just how much of that median income could be spent up on a trip to Disney World.
The cost of a Disney World trip, even if you just look at hotel and ticket prices, can be extremely high. That cost can get even bigger if you’ll be visiting with a larger group.
Of course, prices can vary depending on a number of factors including how many people you’ll be visiting with, when you’ll be visiting, what type of hotel you choose to stay at (on property, off property, AirB&B, etc.), how many days’ worth of park tickets you buy, and more.
Accommodations & Tickets
For our trip, we’ll price out a vacation for a family of 4 (with 2 kids under the age of 9) for August 4th-7th of 2022, a quick trip just before school starts up again. Based on one search we did, the lowest cost for rooms in August was around $113.67 per night for a space to go camping. For a traditional Disney World hotel room, the cheapest cost was $186.67 at Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort. The most expensive option was for the Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa for $955. There were also some options in between, in the $200-$400 per night range.
For our example, we’ll go with a room that is more in the middle of the range in terms of cost — a stay at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort (a moderate Disney World resort) which is priced at around $266.33 per night.
When looking at booking the reservation, we were then prompted to add on tickets. There were options for tickets for 1-4 days as well as park hopper and sport/water park add-ons. For our trip (which is 3 nights, 4 days) we opted to go for 3 days of park hopper tickets with the Genie+ service added on. Of course, keep in mind that variations can significantly change the cost. For example, it would be very different if you got 1-park-per-day tickets, tickets for more/less days, no Genie+ service, etc.
And keep in mind that traditional tickets start at $109 for 1 a 1-day 1-park-per-day (no Genie+ included) ticket. The prices per day then reduce as you add on more days. But, ticket costs will then vary depending on when you go, as ticket prices differ by day. So, if you visit during a peak period, you’ll be looking at a more expensive cost. Keep in mind that Disney has also noted that tickets may be unavailable to purchase on select future dates. So, if you’re planning a visit during a particularly busy period, you’ll want to get your tickets quickly.
In total, for park tickets and hotel, our sample stay came out to $3,021.52.
That averages out to about $1,000 a night. For a family of four, this is spending $250 per person per night, and we haven’t even eaten, yet!
Now, you have to think about travel costs. We’re regularly looking at how much it costs to fly to Orlando. Let’s say our family is coming from Dallas, Texas to Orlando. The prices for flights aren’t exactly super cheap around that time of year (at least not at this moment).
For our trip, we stuck with non-stop flights only and it came out to about $1,844 round trip for the family of 4. That presumes our family is flying and is coming from Dallas or a location where the flight cost would be similar. If the family is driving to Disney World, or flying from a location where the cost of the flights is more/less expensive, then obviously travel costs will differ.
For our example, we won’t add on the cost of a rental car. But, keep in mind that adding in a rental car would be an additional fee for the car rental itself and then parking costs at Disney World’s hotels or theme parks (if you’re not planning on staying at a Disney World hotel and thus will have to pay for theme park parking).
Disney’s Magical Express will be discontinued in 2022, so for our example we’ll assume that our family will use Mears Connect (which is very much intended to be a paid replacement from Mears, the company that currently operates the Magical Express) to get to their hotel. The cost is estimated at around $118.
Transportations costs total $1,962, and this doesn’t include any extra costs for checking baggage, tipping shuttle drivers, or those other miscellaneous expenses you may run into.
Next, we have to talk about food costs. The food in Disney World ain’t cheap. Even just a box of popcorn will set you back just about as much as it costs to buy several bags of microwavable popcorn in the supermarket (not the same, of course, but just for cost comparison).
If you stick to quick service locations, you’re generally looking at entrees that will cost about $9.99-$19.99 per adult (with many costing around $11.99), and about $6.50-$7.50 per child. We used the menu at Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Inn and Cafe as an example, but note that prices can vary. If you estimate that to about $12 per adult and $7 per child per meal, that would be about $38 per meal. Multiplied by 3 meals a day is $114, and multiplied by 3 days (assuming they’re just heading off to the airport early on the last day) is $342 for the trip. But, that’s a VERY low estimation.
It’s more likely that the cost will be significantly higher depending on the items purchased, the addition of snacks, coffee, sodas, water bottles, etc., and the addition of tax.
If you add in character meals, buffets, or even just regular table service meals, you’re looking at more costs. We’d say you’ll want to essentially double that budget to be more realistic. So, for our family, we’ll say that food costs will be around $680.
Again, remember that this can vary a LOT. Things could be much more expensive if you add on specialty drinks, more table service restaurants, buffets, lots of snacks, etc. Things could also be much cheaper, however, if you buy snacks at the grocery store to use throughout your trip, you pack a water bottle that can be refilled with free water, you split meals, you pack sandwiches or other cheaper options from a local grocery store to eat for lunch/dinner, you stick to quick service spots, etc. So, there’s a lot to consider there.
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So, the total cost of our trip is as follows:
- Hotel & tickets with Genie+: $3,021.52
- Flights: $1,844
- Transportation to and from hotel: $118
- Food: $680
- Total: $5,663.58
The comes out to about 8.39% of the median household income. And keep in mind this doesn’t factor in any tips that might be expected for housekeeping service, table service restaurants, or shuttle drivers. We recommend you plan to bring about an extra 10% of your food budget to absorb some of these miscellaneous expenses so it doesn’t into your Dole Whip budget.
But Wait, There’s MORE to Pay For
Of course, there are more costs to consider, and this is where things can also get really expensive. First, there’s merchandise, which is one thing where guests can spend a pretty penny very quickly.
But, there are also all kinds of perks or extra things that you’ll need to pay to get access for. For starters, there are runDisney races. The races themselves can be pricey to sign up for and they can fill up/sell out FAST. If you want early access to register for the races, you can get it, but you’ll have to pay for it. Club runDisney is a special paid membership that provides guests with early access to specific races (depending on your membership type), certain virtual experiences, and more.
Club runDisney memberships are not available to purchase right now, but when they were available they were pricey. The cost of the Club runDisney Gold Membership was $478.63; and Platinum Membership was $798.43. There were other perks too but that’s still one hefty price for the main benefit of early registration. But, if you wanted to ensure that you’d get early registration and hopefully be able to book your spot in those popular races before they fill up, this was the way to do it.
Want extra time in the parks at night? Well, you can have that too…if you pay to stay in select qualifying hotels. Previously, Extra Magic Hours (which was a benefit that provided Disney World hotel guests with extra time in the parks on select dates) were available to ALL Disney World hotel guests, regardless of the level of the hotel where the Disney guest was staying (value, moderate, or deluxe).
Now, Early Theme Park Entry is available for all guests staying at Disney World hotels (and select other hotels). This allows all qualifying hotel guests to enter any Disney theme park of their choosing 30 minutes early every single day.
But, if you want extra time in the parks at night, Extended Evening Hours is what you’ll need. This allows select guests to spend extra time in certain parks at night on specific days. This special perk, however, is only available for guests staying at some of Disney World’s most expensive hotels — the deluxe resorts and deluxe villas.
So, if you’re staying at a value resort like Disney’s Pop Century Resort, or even a moderate resort like our fictional family at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, you’ll be able to enter any theme park 30 minutes early (with Early Theme Park Entry), but you won’t be able to take advantage of those Extended Evening Hours. If you really want ALL the time you can get in the parks, you’ll have to consider shelling out some extra cash to stay at the deluxe resorts.
Want to experience a Halloween party in Magic Kingdom and go trick-or-treating? You can do that, but it’ll cost ya. In previous years, Disney has offered the Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party during the fall. The party featured a fan-favorite parade, trick-or-treating, ride overlays, and more. This year, Not-So-Scary was canceled and Disney’s After Hours Boo Bash event took its place. Boo Bash featured less of the entertainment and special offerings from Mickey’s Not-So-Scary, but still gave fans the chance to experience trick-or-treating in the Most Magical Place on Earth and see some unique characters. It also offered some things Not-So-Scary didn’t, like free popcorn, bottled drinks, and ice cream novelties.
Despite offering less in terms of entertainment, Boo Bash was FAR more expensive than Not-So-Scary. Tickets for Not-So-Scary in 2019 began at $79 in advance for adults and $74 in advance for children. Tickets for Halloween night, October 31st, were priced at $135 for adults and $130 for children. Tickets for Boo Bash started at $129–$139, plus tax for August/September nights. October tickets started at $159–$169, plus tax. And tickets for Halloween night were $199. Essentially, even the cheapest Boo Bash tickets were nearly as expensive as, if not more expensive than, the most expensive Not-So-Scary night from 2019.
Overall, the price for Boo Bash was more in line with other After Hours events, rather than being similar to the Not-So-Scary pricing. For some, that cost might be more than worth it. But, for others, it might simply be too much, particularly when traveling with a large group.
The price for this year’s new holiday After Hours event — Very Merriest After Hours — was also more expensive than the holiday party we’ve seen offered at Disney World in the past (Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party). Compared to Boo Bash, Very Merriest had more in terms of entertainment, including holiday fireworks, the holiday parade, and more. But, it was still different in some ways when compared to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
Disney Genie+ is something we already mentioned above when calculating our trip, but it’s definitely something we feel is worth mentioning again. Previously, Disney World offered a free FastPass+ service to help guests skip the standby lines. It was available at no additional cost to all guests. FastPass+ has, however, been discontinued and the new PAID Genie+ service (and the related Individual Attraction Selection or pay-per-ride service) has taken its place.
Genie+ costs $15 per day per ticket in Disney World. With Genie+, you get to look at the list of rides and select the next available return time to ride an attraction and use that attraction’s Lightning Lane (a.k.a. FastPass lane). You can make one selection at a time throughout the day (though there are some special rules to know about). So, if you’re hoping to SKIP the standby lines, that’s something you’ll have to pay extra for.
BUT, select highly popular rides are NOT available through the regular Genie+ service. Instead, to ride those select attractions (there are 2 at each park) you’ll have to pay to use their lightning lanes individually through Individual Attraction Selection (or pay-per-ride). The price for these pay-per-ride options can vary by date, park, and more. Guests are only allowed to get a maximum of 2 of these pay-per-ride selections per day.
For example, in EPCOT, if you want to ride Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure you can either (1) try to join the virtual queue for FREE; or (2) pay for an Individual Attraction Selection for the ride. If you want to skip the virtual queue system or if you’re unable to secure a spot in the virtual queue, you’ll need to pay to use that ride’s Lightning Lane.
We’re seeing extra costs or more expensive routes taken in other areas too. For example, at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Disney is converting some of their traditional rooms into Disney Vacation Club Rooms. Starting in spring 2022, Big Pine Key is set to be transformed into 200 Resort Studios, which will open in summer 2022. Of all the rooms, studio rooms are the most comparable to regular hotel rooms, though they do have some more unique amenities and can be more expensive. So, if you’re hoping to stay at a “traditional” hotel room at the Grand in the future, you’ll have less selection to pick from.
Disney was also previously set to build a new Disney Vacation Club resort — Reflections — A Lakeside Lodge. But, we haven’t heard anything about this project in QUITE a long time and some reports seem to indicate that construction has been paused and the project may have been canceled. Still, it is telling that Disney’s next planned resort was a DVC resort, not a traditional resort with “standard” and typically less expensive rooms.
If recent history is any trend, Disney’s focus doesn’t seem to be on value resorts or “cheap” options. The latest hotel opened on property was Disney’s Riviera Resort, another Disney Vacation Club Resort. Even when we look at the newest value resort on property — Art of Animation — it’s clear how Disney is skewing toward larger (and typically more expensive) rooms.
Out of the 4 sections in Art of Animation, only 1 is really focused on standard rooms. The other sections are filled with family suites, which are more expensive than your standard value room (due to the nature of these rooms and the amenities they feature).
We’re also seeing price increases at restaurants throughout Disney World. The differences might only be $1-2 dollars (or slightly more) per item, but over time and across multiple meals, that can add up. So, if you’re planning on dining at one particular spot in Disney World that you eat at every year, be prepared in case your bill comes back higher than you might expect.
It’s $Expensive$ But People Want to Go Anyway
Alright, so it’s clear, Disney World can be expensive. But, regardless of how much it might cost, it seems many families are still interested in going. We can tell that first and foremost by the crowds we’ve seen in the parks. But, participants in various surveys and article research have further confirmed it.
According to a poll from Insider, which had just over 1,000 respondents, “people who make less than $75,000 per year are the most likely to consider visiting Disney destinations.” Specifically, people who said they made between $50,000 and $74,999 per year were “seemingly the most eager to visit Disney.” Those who earned between 25,000 and 49,999 were the 2nd largest group who indicated they would “consider visiting a Disney park this year.”
But, some people did indicate that Disney has simply gotten too expensive for them. More than 50% of respondents to the poll (both those with kids and those with no kids) said they felt like Disney trips were “too expensive ‘in general.'” Thirty-two percent of poll participants with kids said they’d like to go on a trip to a Disney property, but can’t afford it.
Insider noted that the median household income in the U.S. was “$68,703 per year in 2019, or $5,725 per month.” Insider shared that the average U.S. household spends around $5,100 each month on “housing, transportation, food, utilities, and other living expenses,” leaving little to nothing left to use on a pricey family trip. If using those numbers, that’s about $600 bucks extra a month, or $7,200 a year. But, as most of us well know, life loves to throw curveballs. You need new tires on your car, you need to pay down that credit card, you need to buy new winter clothes for the kids this year. Suddenly that extra money is getting chipped away and now a lot less than you first expected.
Considering that the median household income from 2020 was LESS than 2019, that leaves even less in the vacation budget.
A trip to Disney World can be VERY expensive, but there are also ways to save money when planning your trip. That might include renting DVC points, looking for special hotel and ticket deals, not Park Hopping, bringing snacks and/or meals that you can buy from the grocery store, skipping out on “extras” like the After Hours events, and more. But, if you’re looking to visit Disney World and experience all of those bonuses and perks, just be aware that it might cost you more than you might expect.
How much do you think people should budget for their Disney trips? Do you think Disney is too expensive? Tell us in the comments! And stay tuned for more Disney news.
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How much do you think families should budget for a trip to Disney World? Tell us in the comments!