We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – going to Walt Disney World is EXPENSIVE. But it’s also one of those vacations where you can cut costs in lots of ways in order to make it as affordable as possible. Or you can be super extravagant, with all the bells and whistles and special extras, if that’s what you prefer.
So with all the variables, how much should you expect to pay once you get there?
I’m writing this with the assumption that you already have your hotel picked out (not sure if you should stick with on or off property? Read this), your theme park and plane tickets purchased (or you know you’re going to drive/take a train) and you’ve decided whether or not you’re going to rent a car while visiting Central Florida. But there are other costs to take into consideration that you may want to know “on the fly.”
Here are the factors that will affect your costs:
The number of people in your party
I know this first one is kind of obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t consider this factor. A vacation for 4 or 6 people will cost more than a vacation for 2 people. Maybe not necessarily double or triple, but still, the more people that are in your party, the more the trip will cost.
The age of the people in your party
Kids are generally cheaper than adults, babies may be free and senior citizens may get discounts at certain places you go. Do your homework, though – the age that constitutes a baby, child or senior price will vary from place to place.
Where and what you want to eat
If you stay on property and decide to get a meal plan from WDW, most, if not all of your food will already be covered. There’s definitely the convenience factor to that but if you’re on a budget, remember that whether or not you save money on that meal plan depends very much on how much you usually eat vs. how much you plan to eat while you’re on vacation. Eating more than you usually do, simply because you’ve paid for it, is a waste of money and calories. So, with everything else, do your homework and Your Mileage May Vary when the value of a Disney meal plan is being discussed.
If you decide to do your meals on your own, you have lots of options, from DIY to McDonalds to 5-star sit down restaurants that can literally cost hundred of dollars per person. Keep in mind though that if you get food on Disney property, it’ll generally cost more than a similarly rated restaurant off property. Also consider how much you eat; a full 3-course meal will cost more than if you just order a main course. The same goes for what you drink; beer, wine and froufrou drinks cost more than soft drinks, which cost more than a free cup of ice water. Snacks throughout the day are another consideration – bringing your own trail mix will cost a whole lot less than the $5 or $6 you’ll pay at the churro cart. And, of course, bringing food from the outside, be it a PBJ sandwich you made or a Publix sandwich you bought, will cost less than nearly anything available for sale on property.
Single Food Price Examples:
24 pack store brand (“Nice”) water at Walgreens: $3 (13 cents each)
1 name brand bottle water at Publix: $1.50
1 name brand bottled water at WDW: $3.50
Single serve yogurt at Publix: 3 for $5
Single serve yogurt at Walgreens: $1.69
Single serve yogurt at WDW: $3.25
1 Uncrustables sandwich at WDW (just the sandwich, nothing else): $2.75
1 Lunchable with snack and drink at Walgreens: $2.99
You can check out this page from AllEars.net for menus from all around WDW – many also give prices.
Of course, there are thousands of restaurants, from fast food to quick serve to sit down to fancy shmancy, throughout the Central Florida region (these are some of our favorites). For many nationally and internationally known restaurants, you can go to their website and, using Lake Buena Vista or ZIP code 32830, to get an idea of the menu costs at those locations closest to WDW.
Souvenirs, like food, can run the gamut from a key chain or magnet to a model of Cinderella Castle that costs a few tens of thousands of dollars because it’s covered in Swarovski crystals. The Character Outlet shops at the Premium Outlet Malls might be upwards of 50-75% cheaper for certain merchandise but you may not see a full array of sizes or you may be looking at leftover merchandise from a now-ended event (if you drive to those malls, remember that you may have to pay for parking). Some people buy souvenirs off property, such as Walgreens or Walmart – although sanctioned by Disney, it won’t be official “WDW” products, but it should be cheaper.
Souvenir Price Examples at WDW:
Adult T-shirt: $25 to $35
Adult long sleeved hoodie: $45 to $60
4″ x 6″ picture frame: $17 to $22
Key chain: $5 to $12
Plush/Stuffed Animals: $15 to $100+
If you have kids in tow, you’ll have further budgeting because of them. “Can I get this?” will be heard every other step, so if you’re on a budget, be prepared ahead of time. If your kids are old enough to understand budgeting, use it to your advantage, i.e. they have $XX to spend per day, and/or $XXX to spend on the entire vacation.
Check out shopDisney.com to get a better idea of how much souvenirs cost at WDW.
Make sure to budget money for tips and bring it in cash, if you can! Like it or lump it, the U.S. is a tipping culture and it’s important to adequately tip servers, bartenders, drivers, housekeeping, bell services, salon/spa workers, etc. properly. The link in this post explains the tipping culture in general, plus it goes through LOTS of positions in LOTS of countries, so you can use it in other places besides the U.S.
Special Info If You’re Renting A Car or Driving Your Own
Are you renting a car while in Central Florida? Remember that you’re going to have to pay for gas. A sub compact car has a smaller tank than that of a mini van but certain sizes of cars may not work for some families.
If you have internet access, we recommend using GasBuddy to find out where the cheapest places are for gasoline – the ZIP codes you’ll want to concentrate on are 32824 (along the 417), 32827 (immediate surrounding area of MCO) and specifically Semoran. Ave. in 32812 and 32822 (Semoran is due north of MCO and is the dividing street the 2 ZIP codes). The gas stations in this post are the closest to MCO if you’re coming from the tourst/theme park areas. And no matter what, don’t buy your gas at these two places!
You can pay the car rental company ahead of time for a full tank of gas, but we don’t recommend it; you’ll pay more in the end.
Again, if you rent a car or drive your own car here, chances are you’re going to have to pay several tolls on our toll roads here in Central Florida. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Understand how your car rental company will charge you for tolls.
- If you have an E-Z Pass, you will be able to use that for some (not not all!) rolls in Central Florida.
- You can set your GPS for “No toll roads” but what you save in money, you may make up for in time.
Paying for parking
Many hotels charge their overnight guests for parking (click here for more info about that and how to potentially get around it), and you can expect to pay for parking at each of WDW’s 4 major parks (unless you’re staying at a WDW resort hotel), as well as at any major or not-so-major theme park in Central Florida. As of this writing, most charge roughly $22 per park, except SeaWorld, who marches and charges to the beat of its own parking charge drummer. As we mentioned earlier, the local outlet malls charge for a lot of their parking spots, as well.
Oh, And About Asking Other People
Of course, there’s always the option of asking total strangers on the internet how much you should plan to pay for your trip ;-). Just take those answers with a grain of salt and keep in mind that every family/friend unit is different. Although the advice you’ll get online may be similar to the prices you’ll ultimately pay, there’s just as good of a chance that the amount they spent could be totally different from what you are budgeting for, based on all the factors we’ve mentioned above. It’s MUCH more recommended to do your homework, looks up prices and get an idea based on your own intended spending.
But at least with all the guidance above, you’re on the right path :-). Good luck!
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary