Same Cost, Different WDW Vacations: $2,000 Edition

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Disney vacations are downright expensive, even if you know all sorts of tips and tricks to cut costs. But Disney vacations are also really customizable, and you can have very different kinds of vacations all for the same budget. All the way back in 2015, Len wrote about what you could get at Disney for various price points. Even back then, people were surprised at how much a Disney vacation cost. And as we all know, prices don’t stay stagnant, especially at Walt Disney World. So I thought it was about time to revisit this exercise and explore together ways to customize your WDW vacation while sticking to a budget.

This post will kick off a series of three articles, each with a different budget. Today’s budget is the tightest. And since I’ll be using my family as an example, and we’re a family of four that lives in the Midwest, the lowest budget is still going to be pretty high compared to that 2015 – $2,000 for our WDW vacation. I’m including transportation, so anything less than that $2,000 price point is almost not worth considering. Next week’s articles will explore some options at $4,000 and $6,000.

I’m a visual learner, and to me, making and sticking to a budget is like filling a suitcase. Only so much is going to fit in. Smaller budget? Smaller suitcase. Huge budget? Pack all the shoes you want to pack! Using a good travel agent (like the ones here at TouringPlans) means they find you good deals and stuff your things into packing cubes so you can fit more in your suitcase. Did I take that metaphor too far? Maybe. But let’s see if we can figure out some good ways to fill our smallest suitcase and have an enjoyable WDW vacation.

Explain the Math!

Some assumptions have to go into our budgeting model to be able to pull accurate numbers. So for this trip, we’ll have a family of four. Two adults, two children (they fall within the age range that Disney defines as kids, 3-9). We have to travel to Orlando from the Midwest. Total cost of the trip needs to fit in the $2000 budget. We’ll travel down and arrive on the Tuesday after Labor Day – that’s one of the cheapest times of the year to visit WDW, so we’ll get the most for our budget that way.

Different decisions will mean that we have to spend different amounts of our budget. We can represent this with the amount of space in our suitcase! And overspending would be like we overfilled our suitcase. Not allowed.

Our budget will have four categories, with different options within those categories:

  1. Transportation: The options here include flights from the Midwest, driving from home (gas money), renting a car upon arrival (which is actually too expensive for the $2,000 budget right now), and any necessary parking which depends on lodging choices. I calculated gas cost based on our family’s car and driving distance, and I found the most reasonably-priced flights, which happen to be $99 per person each way. Flights take out a significant chunk of the $2000 budget.
  2. Lodging: Lodging options could include a value resort, a moderate resort, a deluxe resort, renting DVC points, or staying off-site. When I looked up prices for the dates in September, the cheapest value resort was All-Star Movies. The cheapest moderate resort was Caribbean Beach, and the cheapest deluxe resort was Animal Kingdom Lodge. If I rent DVC points, I would choose a standard studio at Animal Kingdom Lodge and pay $19 per point. And because I’m travelling with kids, I’m not just going to stay at any old motel offsite, but there’s an awesome 3-bed, 2-bath condo just minutes away from WDW that is $100 per night including taxes, plus a $175 cleaning fee no matter the length of stay. Depending on how many nights I stay, I could have a very wide array of prices for lodging.
  3. Park Tickets: I think this is one of the most surprising high-cost items on a WDW vacation: tickets. With a 4-person party and a $2,000 budget, there aren’t many ticket options that make sense. I priced a 1-day, 1-park ticket, as well as a 1-day park hopper. The most expensive option that fits reasonably within a $2,000 budget is a 2-day ticket without park hopper. Thankfully, my family goes to WDW regularly enough that just hitting a park or two during one trip isn’t a big deal. Our most recent trip was just two park days (before we headed out to Vero Beach for a few days – highly recommend).
  4. FOOD: Yep, food is that important. At least to my family. At least to me. And food costs at WDW are all over the map. On the cheap end, I could get groceries delivered to my room, eat breakfast there and pack lunch and dinner. We’ve done the whole peanut butter sandwiches in a lunch bag or easy mac in the room thing. It works. On the other hand, we could do quick service or even table service meals at resorts or in the parks. I pulled an average price for grocery, quick service and table service meals for my family. So one day of $ is 3 grocery-price meals. One day of $$ is 3 quick-service meals, and one day of $$$ is 3 table-service meals.

Option 1: Maximize Park Time

This first vacation option that fits within a $2,000 works to maximize time in the parks. It’s the only option that allows for 2 full days in the parks.

  • Tickets: This is the anchor of this plan – I want to be able to afford two days in the parks, which takes almost half of my budget. Ouch.
  • Transportation: Since flights are also expensive, that means I don’t get to fly to Orlando. So we’ll be making the really long (but cheaper) drive. Driving a car also means I’m going to have to pay for parking if I’m staying on-property, so that gets its own wedge too.
  • Lodging: 2 park days means I need at least 3 nights of lodging to take full advantage of those expensive tickets. The only lodging that fits in my budget for 3 nights is the value resort option.
  • FOOD: 3 nights means 4 days of food. If I split that into 6 quick service meals and 6 grocery-sourced meals, I fall within my budget. In fact, I have a little white space! Room to get the kids a souvenir or two, or maybe splurge for one table-service meal.

Option 2: No Park Time

This option is the exact opposite of the first, and goes to show how two vacations can be really really different even if they cost the same amount.

  • Tickets: none! This vacation is all about enjoying the WDW bubble without paying expensive ticket prices to get into the parks.
  • Transportation: Since I’m not paying for park tickets, I can afford to fly down instead of making the miserably long (but cheap) drive with two small children. I will pay that amount to save my sanity if at all possible.
  • Lodging: If I’m not going to the parks, I want to stay somewhere really nice and relaxing. I can’t afford 3 nights in a deluxe resort if I pay out of pocket, but I can easily afford 3 nights of rented points. Done deal.
  • FOOD: I have enough budget left to eat pretty well while I’m at WDW. 3 nights of lodging means I need 4 days of meals. I can afford 3 table service meals and 9 quick-service meals. That leaves zero room for souvenir or other bonus expenses.

Option 3: Quick Trip

Maybe we only have the time for a really quick getaway, but we want to make the most of our time. That means no long drives and only one day in the parks. What kind of vacation can we build around that?

  • Transportation: A quick trip means no 14-hour drive down to Orlando. So we’ve got to dedicate a big portion of the budget to a (hopefully) quick flight.
  • Tickets: Go big or go home. With flights there’s no budget for two-day park tickets. But we could park-hop and still hit two of our favorite parks and totally wear our kids out all in one day.
  • Lodging: With flights and a park hopper taking most of our budget, and a need to stay for 2 nights to make the most of one park day, a value resort is all that fits in the budget.
  • FOOD: We have to dedicate a small amount of money to food in order to make a park hopper day happen, and 2 nights of lodging means 3 days of food. We don’t have to go full bargain basement though. There’s enough wiggle room for 3 quick-service meals and the rest filled out with groceries.

Option 4: Quick Trip, But Please Not A Value Resort

I don’t know about you all, but for our family having two small kids and two adults in one of the value resort rooms is just no fun. So what can we make work with a quick trip that has one park day, but not a value resort?

  • Transportation: Like option 3, a quick trip means no time for driving. Flights it is! 4 round-trips to Orlando, please.
  • Tickets: If I don’t want to stay in a value resort, something has to give. In this case, that’s my park-hopping ability. Removing that from my 1-day tickets saves me over 10% of my budget.
  • Lodging: Stepping up from value prices, I could stay at a moderate resort for two nights and still be within my budget.
  • FOOD: Removing park-hopper and upgrading to a moderate resort almost balances out price-wise, so my food situation is staying the same from option 3. 3 quick-service meals, and the rest filled out with groceries. And that leaves some elusive white space again! Room for souvenirs, snacks, or maybe a haircut for my 3-year-old that desperately needs one (you know, in my ideal world where the Barber Shop is reopened).

What Does This Mean For You?

  1. Budgeting is all about trade-offs. Some things will take up more of your budget and some will take up less. It’s up to you to build the best blend that you can.
  2. At the smallest budget levels, those trade-offs are going to be harder to make. It’s definitely possible to do Disney with 4 people for $2000, but you’re not going to get to do everything. Decide which parts of the trip are most important to you.

If you were picking from the 4 options above, which would you choose? Do you tend to emphasize the importance of one of the aspects of your vacation (like FOOD) compared to others? Let us know in the comments!

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Becky Gandillon

Becky Gandillon was trained in biomedical engineering, but is now a full-time data and analytics nerd. She loves problem solving and travelling. She and her husband, Jeff, live in St. Louis with their two daughters and they have Disney family movie night every Saturday. You can follow her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/becky-gandillon/ or instagram @raisingminniemes

28 thoughts on “Same Cost, Different WDW Vacations: $2,000 Edition

  • August 14, 2021 at 11:47 am
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    There definitely needs to be some kind of top-down YouTube video or stream of you going through this, putting pie wedges together. That would be FASCINATING.

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      • August 15, 2021 at 10:14 am
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        This is a great series! Manipulating the variables for two adults, a longer stay etc gets my brain working! Thank you!

    • August 14, 2021 at 5:45 pm
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      Ha, Justin – as I was writing this article I commented to the TouringPlans staff that I realized it would be way better as a video. I was thinking one of those magic whiteboard/doodling types, but the top-down would work too. I’m glad we’re on the same page. I’ll see if I can make something happen like that!

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    • August 18, 2021 at 5:56 pm
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      Where can I read /learn about renting points?

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  • August 14, 2021 at 2:07 pm
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    Love your math based articles! Looking forward to your $6000 article to see how it compares to what we did at our 2018 trip which we did for a little less than that (and I literally kept track of every penny spent…including pressed pennies!).

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    • August 14, 2021 at 5:46 pm
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      Ha! If I had to make wedges for pressed pennies … they would be very small. But I love that you kept track to such a level of detail. Sounds like something I would do.

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  • August 14, 2021 at 3:43 pm
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    Love this article!

    I did almost this exact calculation a few years ago when my husband and I went without kids. We decided to maximize park time and food, and because we weren’t spending much time in our room, we stayed at a basic hotel literally across the street from WDW entrance. With all the money we saved we could afford a jaunt over to Universal for two days (including staying at an on-site hotel with express pass), so fun! However, I will never do 6 days in a row of park touring again, something to keep in mind. Even if your budget allows for lots of touring days, build in at least one rest day for every three park days so you (and your feet) can recover.

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    • August 14, 2021 at 4:02 pm
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      Definitely! No way I would do everyday in a park! However, sometimes our rest day is a trip to a Disney water park. The kids can still have fun burning all that youthful energy while I lay out in a deck chair and occasionally nap behind dark sunglasses!

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    • August 14, 2021 at 5:48 pm
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      Oh, you’re absolutely right Tiffany. Especially with younger kids, even 4 park days in a row is too much. Of course, that also depends on your touring style. We’re rope-drop-til-close folks, and there’s no way you can keep that up for a long string of days in a row.

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      • August 26, 2021 at 9:23 pm
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        YES!
        rope-drop-til-close folks
        #same
        Although I did learn what Disney Rash is this year. Taking breaks on slow-moving and/or air-conditioned attractions helps.

  • August 15, 2021 at 1:22 pm
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    For driving down, instead of value resort, off property may be a better option?

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    • August 15, 2021 at 1:57 pm
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      Yes, April, depending on which accommodation you’d choose that’s definitely true. For my family, we’d probably try to rent a condo or something with at least 1 bedroom. And because of that, prices for short rentals (thanks mostly to cleaning fees), plus parking at the parks, makes value still the cheapest option. But if you pick a hotel/motel near the parks but off-property, it should absolutely be cheaper.

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      • August 15, 2021 at 2:35 pm
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        Agree with this. We have found some week-long 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom rentals in the middle of summer for under $800, but nearly $200 of that was for booking and cleaning fees.

      • August 18, 2021 at 9:55 am
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        When I was a kid (1980s), my job was to read the unofficial guide and make our family’s park plans. (Highlighting which ones my dad and I would want, but my mom or brother would think are too rough, etc.) But for a family of 5, we had to do off-resort, normally a condo, I think. The kitchen alone probably saved so much $.

        But once married, my husband and I have chosen to stay in “the bubble” when we do WDW — French Quarter a few times, then DVC rental for Animal Kingdom Lodge, and this upcoming trip, the Swan/Dolphin (the mostly-deluxe priced like a moderate)!

        Classic budget-hacks always are part of my repertoire: like always carrying cold-brew tea-bags to flavor and caffeinate the free water, bringing a jar of peanut butter and shelf-stable-bagels (breakfasts on the way in to parks) and LaraBars or similar snacks, to help us eat meals at off-peak times and not just buy snacks when hangry.

        Oh, and my current favorite “money saving tip” – learn to make cocktails so that you’re not as tempted by most. The book _The Twelve Bottle Bar_ is a great start, but this week we’ve been re-exploring _The A-Z of Forgotten Cocktails_, (a friend donated some rarely used liqueurs, which opened up a few possibilities).

  • August 15, 2021 at 2:29 pm
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    I do this when planning trips. But sometimes I do the opposite. Look at what I want first and then see if I can work those things into a budget I can live with. Sometimes that is a big no, sometimes it takes trimming but works.

    You might also look at places like Costco travel. We snagged a 5 day vacation (included 4 days of tickets) in a resort that gave us the express passes for less than 3k. I used points for airfare to keep it in my budget. We then bought 1 day of Disney tickets separately to see the new Star Wars section. It was wonderful!

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    • August 15, 2021 at 9:00 pm
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      Ah, airfare points is such a good trick, Vickie. I’m currently sitting on 73,000 Southwest points, which are waiting for my kids to get vaccinated so that we feel comfortable traveling again.

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  • August 15, 2021 at 8:38 pm
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    Wouldn’t it be cheaper to fly than drive? IRS Mileage rate is $0.56/mile. 1135 miles from Chicago to Orlando. That comes to $635.60, or $158.90/person for a family of 4.

    Driving your car costs you more than gas, which is why the IRS milage rate is set as it is. Maintenance and depreciation on your car also needs to be taken into account.

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    • August 15, 2021 at 8:44 pm
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      Part of the IRS mileage rate is your time involved in driving. So you have to determine what your time is really worth.

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    • August 15, 2021 at 9:02 pm
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      That’s definitely a good point, Karl. For _most_ people 😉 We happen to drive a Subaru, which gets excellent gas mileage and never depreciates! Ha. But seriously … we own two and they’ve both pretty much held their value remarkably steady. But for those non-Subaru-owners, you should definitely take that into account.

      Of course, we live slightly closer than Chicago. I bet we could get cheaper flights from Chicago than from St. Louis, which is where I budgeted from, so that’d throw off the math too.

      Reply
  • August 16, 2021 at 2:56 am
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    Just an idea about lodging. We go on ebay and get a condo at Bonnet Creek, which is on Disney property. Last time we went, it was off season, we got a 2 bedroom condo for 5 nights and 6 days for $450.00. Bonnet Creek has lots of pools, a lazy river and mini golf all for little or no cost. It has a full kitchen and we picked up groceries which really cut down the food costs. BTW the 2 bedroom condo sleeps up to 8 people and there is no additional cleaning fee.

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    • August 26, 2021 at 9:13 pm
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      Rosemary C Ash
      Wyndham Bonnet Creek is our favorite too! It’s under the Disney gates, so it’s an amazing location for driving yourself or Uber. It’s not considered a Disney resort, so no specific perks; but for how we plan we haven’t needed the perks for the price. (If you are saving hundreds of dollars PER NIGHT vs a Disney room, that’s a healthy transportation budget or budget for upgrading meals inside the parks.) Parking is included if you book a Club Wyndham condo. The condos at WBC are nice! The finishes are high-end. We’ve gone during high season times (summer and spring break) and paid double your example. Our latest was a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom condo (additional living room, dining area, full kitchen, laundry, and balcony) for $220/night – final price; taxes, parking, etc. all included. But that was split between two families, so $110/night for vacation planning. Plus, that price gets everyone their own room with a door (no snorers waking everyone up). Whirlpool tub in one bathroom. 😀 The amenities are great too. Pool with a water slide. Poolside eateries plus more restaurants. A spa (a massage after multiple days at the parks is a must). If WBC is a secret, I’ll take it every time we go to Disney. 🙂

      Reply
  • August 16, 2021 at 8:46 am
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    $2,000 is a lot of money for your average family of 4. It’s really sad that Disney offers so little for it and you have to work so many different options and the best option is only seeing 1/2 the parks. Travel and lodging cost the same no matter where you go once you arrive.

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    • August 16, 2021 at 10:43 am
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      I’m not sure about that. Travel costs would be roughly the same beyond flying vs. driving, but lodging costs vary greatly depending on tier of resort or if staying offsite and the level of those accommodations.

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  • August 16, 2021 at 9:23 am
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    Why is my comment – entered twice – not coming up – it was a good comment – nothing negative – we are subscribers to touring plans – frustrating not to be able to get in this conversation

    Reply
    • August 16, 2021 at 9:51 am
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      It looks like we’ve posted everything – which comment is missing?

      Reply
  • August 16, 2021 at 9:43 am
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    Getting low, low airfares is not possible for all. We live in the rural midwest. If we travel to a larger city with lower fares, it would take time and gas, possibly a hotel to arrive the day before the flight, and airport parking costs (some hotels have free parking if you stay the night). When we do Disney, we do a big trip – the World, Cruise, Cocoa Beach, NASA, etc. Driving takes too much vacation time – 2 days there and 2 days back – we just can’t do straight through – we are too tired the arrival day and it is a wasted day for rest. We just have to add airfares as a big part of our budget. Save, budget, plan. We would rather do a favorite value resort at half or even greater savings than some resorts. It is sad that the cost of Disney has risen so much in the 40+ years we have been going regularly. But that being said, Disney also provides a great product that we have always been pleased with. We do wonder if this feeling is about to change. With Magical Express soon to end, extra hours greatly reduced (does anyone else remember being in the parks at 1 am!) and the possibility of having to pay for fast passes – is Disney about to price itself over what this family is willing to pay? There are fewer and fewer reasons to stay on property and in the bubble. If you stay off property, we find a rental car almost a must, and then you have park parking fees, as well as the cost of the rental car. It is interesting to read others budget considerations.

    Reply

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