Five Weeks To Disney: The Economics of a Disneyworld Vacation
In fiveish weeks, Big Daddy and I will be loading up the car, packing the dog and the guinea pigs off to the kennel and strapping the girls in for a 1700 mile round trip road trip. Oh, and we’ll be spending a week at Disneyworld, lest you think we just like driving a lot. Disneyworld seems like Mecca for families with kids. It’s kind of the vacation gold standard. Your kids probably want to go and you probably wanted to go when you were a kid and depending on the sort of adult you are, you probably want to go.
I’ve visited Walt Disneyworld Resort in Orlando Florida four times with this trip being my fifth (Big Daddy’s third, the Princess’s second and the first for Littlebit and Baby Bee). A lot rides on Disneyworld vacations. If your kids are anything like mine, they’re really into Disney characters. You want them to have a great experience with the familiar faces they love so much, but lurking just under the surface of the good time you’re hoping to have is how much your vacation is about to cost you.
Disneyworld, despite the dozens of blog posts on the topic, isn’t really a vacation you can do on the cheap. I’m sorry to break that news to you, but it’s true. The sky is just about the limit when considering what you can spend on your Disney trip and while there are more affordable options, the cold hard truth is that your trip is going to be expensive. Big Daddy and I like to go on vacations and we go on at least one a year (and usually shoot for two). A week at the beach doesn’t really come close (and is probably half the price) of a similar length Disney trip. A Disney trip starts to feel like an investment and people plan obsessively to wring the most available fun out of their stay.
So, you’re planning your first family trip to Disneyworld? Here’s a few economic factors to consider
1) Depending on your family size, the cheapest class of hotels may not be the cheapest hotel. Make sense? It’s true. Disney operates three classes of resort hotels; Value, Moderate and Deluxe. I was pretty sure that booking us into a value resort would be the best financial choice, but I discovered two things about Disney resorts. First, standard size Disney rooms will only allow you to book for four people UNLESS you have a child under two traveling with you. Those $75/night room specials you see will NOT accommodate your family of five IF one of your children is over the age of 2. Second, it was cheaper or us to book into a standard room at a Moderate resort than it was for us to try to book into a room that would accommodate five at a value resort. The available suites at the Value resorts cost more per night than the “standard” room that would accommodate five at a Moderate resort. If you’re using Disney’s website to pre-plan or book your trip, be sure to scroll through ALL your options and don’t assume a value resort will be the lest expensive choice
2) Disney considers your 10 year old an adult. A Disney adult is any person aged ten and up. Disney doesn’t care how little your eleven year old eats or how small your twelve year old is. At Disney, a ten year old is an adult concerning ticket prices and the dining plan.
3) You probably won’t save money paying full price for the dining plan BUT you CAN save money if it’s offered at a discount. Our dining plan is costing us a little over $600 for seven days of meals and, after tabulating out the costs, we can’t eat at Disney for less than that. Our nearly $100 a day gives us a counter service (aka fast food) meal, a table service (aka a sit down) meal and a snack every day. Drinks and dessert are included. There are tons of complicated math you can do and even spread sheets you can download to see if the dining plan, at full price, will save you money. It probably won’t. I have attempted to price this out using the most expensive option every single day. The savings are negligible, particularly since we don’t usually eat dessert and therefore there’s no value to having it included in the meal price.
Disney offers a variety of dining plans at different price points and you’d have to do the math to see if it could work for your family. There are other benefits to the dining plan beyond cost. Since our dining plan was included in our package price, I’m happy to say that it’s already been paid for making our out of pocket costs during the actual trip lower.
4) You can put for your Disney vacation package bit by bit until the final due date which is fifty days before your trip. Apparently, you can book your room 499 days in advance and packages can be booked 180 days in advance, giving you a lot of time to pool your nickles and dimes to pay down your balance. You can make as many payments as you like in any amount, including using Disney gift cards (also, in any amount). You have 18 weeks to make payments on your balance, which may make the cost of the trip easier to swallow.
5) Disney vacations really aren’t discounted, so you have to make hay while the sun shines. To save money on your Disney, you have to get a little bit creative. For example, vacationing during Disney’s value season means your dining plan and hotel rooms will cost less. Disney has about a dozen different “seasons” and the cost of your room can vary by $100 per night depending on the season in which you wish to travel. Off season or value season travel is usually when crowds are lowest and Disney offered discounts are higher. For example, being able to take advantage of free dining would save my family of five just around $1400. Our discount wasn’t as steep and we got the dining plan for all members of our party at the child rate, meaning we saved $800. Disney planning veterans will tell you to be careful about assuming that the dining discount is the best deal. Disney doesn’t allow you to stack deals, so the % off at your hotel might save you more money.
Additionally, some retailers will offer discounts or perks on gift cards. We were able to stack a Target employee discount an a red card discount to save 15% on our purchase of $3400 in gift cards to pay off our trip. We saved just about $500 on our trip (but it took more than an hour on the phone with a Disney representative to use 70+ $50 gift cards to pay off the balance of our trip).
Of course, you can save money more traditional ways by staying off site for less money, not eating in the park as often as you can, etc. Every strategy has a plus and minus to it, so be sure to think about what makes the most sense for your vacationing family.