How To Evaluate A Walt Disney World Travel Package
Hundreds of Walt Disney World package vacations are offered each year. Some are created by the Walt Disney Travel Company, others by airlines, independent travel agents, and wholesalers. Almost all include lodging at or near Disney World plus theme park admissions. Packages offered by airlines include air transportation.
Prices vary seasonally; mid-March–Easter, summer, and holiday periods are the most expensive. Off-season, there are plenty of empty rooms, and you can negotiate great discounts, especially at non-Disney properties. Similarly, airfares and rental cars are cheaper off-peak.
Almost all package ads are headlined “5 Days at Walt Disney World from $645” (or such). The key word is from: The rock-bottom price includes the least desirable hotels; if you want better or more-convenient digs, you’ll pay more—often much more.
Packages offer a wide selection of hotels. Some, like the Disney resorts, are very dependable. Others run the gamut of quality.
Checking two or three independent sources is best. Also, before you book, ask how old the hotel is and when the guest rooms were last refurbished. Locate the hotel on a map to verify its proximity to Disney World. If you won’t have a car, make sure that the hotel has adequate shuttle service.
Packages with non-Disney lodging are much less expensive. But guests at Disney-owned properties get Extra Magic Hours privileges, the opportunity to make dining and FastPass+ reservations far in advance, free parking, and access to Disney transportation. These privileges don’t apply to guests at the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels.
Packages should be a win–win proposition for both buyer and seller. The buyer makes only one phone call and deals with one salesperson to set up the whole vacation (transportation, rental car, admissions, lodging, meals, and even golf and tennis). The seller, likewise, deals with the buyer only once. Some packagers also buy airfares in bulk on contract, not unlike a broker playing the commodities market. By buying a large number of airfares in advance, the packager saves significantly over posted fares. The practice is also applied to hotel rooms. Because selling packages is efficient and the packager often can buy package components in bulk at discount, the seller’s savings in operating expenses are sometimes passed on to the buyer, making the package not only convenient but also an exceptional value.
In practice, however, the seller may realize all the economies and pass on no savings. Packages sometimes are loaded with extras that cost the packager almost nothing but run the package’s price sky-high. Savings passed on to customers are still somewhere in Fantasyland.
Choose a package that includes features you’re sure to use. You’ll pay for all of them whether you use them or not. If price is more important than convenience, call around to see what the package would cost if you booked its components on your own. If the package price is less than the à la carte cost, the package is a good deal. If costs are about equal, the package probably is worth it for the convenience. Much of the time, however, you’ll find you save significantly by buying the components individually.
Walt Disney Travel Company Magic Your Way Packages
Disney's Magic Your Way travel-package program mirrors the admission-ticket program of the same name. Here’s how it works: You begin with a base package room and tickets. Tickets can be customized to match the number of days you intend to tour the theme parks and range in length from 2 to 10 days. As with theme park admissions, the package program offers strong financial incentives to book a longer stay. “The longer you play, the less you pay per day,” is the way Disney puts it, borrowing a page from Sam Walton’s concept of the universe. An adult 1-Day Base Ticket for the Magic Kingdom (with tax) costs $111.83–$132.06, depending on the day of your visit, whereas if you buy a 7-Day Base Ticket, the average cost per day drops to $56.29. You can purchase options to add on to your Base Tickets, such as hopping between theme parks; playing mini-golf; or visiting water parks or ESPN Wide World of Sports.
With Magic Your Way packages, you can avoid paying for features you don’t intend to use. You need not purchase a package with theme park tickets for the entire length of your stay. With Magic Your Way you can choose to purchase as many days of admission as you intend to use. On a one-week vacation, for example, you might want to spend only five days in the Disney parks, saving a day each for Universal Studios and SeaWorld. With Magic Your Way you can buy only five days of admission on a seven-day package. Likewise, if you don’t normally park-hop, you can purchase multiday admissions that don’t include the Park Hopper feature. Best of all, you can buy the various add-ons at any time during your vacation.
Before we deluge you with a boxcar of options and add-ons, let’s define the basic components of Disney’s Magic Your Way package:
- One or more nights of accommodations at your choice of any Disney resort. Rates vary with lodging choice: The Grand Floridian is usually the most expensive, and the All-Star, Pop Century, and Art of Animation Resorts are the least expensive.
- Base Ticket for the number of days you tour the theme parks (must be at least 2-Day Base Tickets for packages)
- Unlimited use of the Disney transportation system
- Free theme park parking
- Official Walt Disney Travel Company luggage tag (one per person)
Magic Your Way Dining Plan
Disney offers dining plans to accompany its Magic Your Way ticket system. They’re available to all Disney resort guests except those staying at the Swan, the Dolphin, the hotels of the Disney Springs Resort Area, and Shades of Green. Guests must also purchase a Magic Your Way package from Disney (not through an online reseller), have Annual Passes, or be members of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) to participate in the plan. Except for DVC members, a three-night minimum stay is typically also required. Overall cost is determined by the number of nights you stay at a Disney resort.
You must purchase a Disney package vacation to be eligible for a dining plan, as a family of five from Waldron, Michigan, learned:
We read through the Unofficial Guide and noticed that it said not to book a package during slow season. We were overwhelmed with the decisions that we had to make, so we booked the resort first, then the tickets, and then we wanted the dining plan. Well, they wouldn’t add the dining plan on because we had already booked everything.
See our Disney Dining Plan page for more information, including breakdowns and frequently asked questions about each plan.
Doing the Math
Comparing a Magic Your Way package with purchasing the package components separately is a breeze.
- Pick a Disney resort and decide how many nights you want to stay.
- Next, work out a rough plan of what you want to do and see so you can determine the admission passes you’ll require.
- When you’re ready, call the Disney Reservation Center (DRC) at ☎ 407-w-disney and price a Magic Your Way package with tax for your selected resort and dates. The package will include both admissions and lodging. It’s also a good idea to get a quote from a Disney-savvy travel agent.
- Now, to calculate the costs of buying your accommodations and admission passes separately, call the DRC a second time. This time, price a room-only rate for the same resort and dates. Be sure to ask about the availability of any special deals. While you’re still on the line, obtain the prices, with tax, for the admissions you require. If you’re not sure which of the various admission options will best serve you, consult our free Disney Ticket Calculator.
- Add the room-only rates and the admission prices. Compare this sum to the DRC quote for the Magic Your Way package.
- Check for deals and discounts on packages and admission.
Regarding the economics of the dining plan, it’s illustrative to know how the cost of one day on the plan is spent on each component. We’ll spare you the math, but an approximate value for each item across every 2017 Disney Dining Plan is as follows:
- Each counter-service meal is worth $19.42
- Each table-service meal is worth $40.41
- Every snack is worth around $3.08
- The refillable mug is worth $5–$6, depending on trip length
Throw Me A Line!
If you buy a package from Disney, don’t expect reservationists to offer suggestions or help you sort out your options. Generally, they respond only to your specific questions, ducking queries that require an opinion. A reader from North Riverside, Illinois, complains:
My wife made two telephone calls, and the representatives from WDW were very courteous. However, they only answered the questions posed and were not eager to give advice on what might be most cost-effective. I feel a person could spend 8 hours on the phone with WDW reps and not have any more input than you get from reading the literature.
If you can’t get the information you need from Disney, contact a good travel agent. Chances are the agent can help you weigh your options.
Purchasing Room-only Plus Passes versus a Package
Sue Pisaturo of Small World Vacations, a travel agency that specializes in Disney, also thinks there’s more involved in a package-purchase decision than money.
Should you purchase a Walt Disney World package or buy all the components of the package separately? There’s no single answer to this confusing question.
A Walt Disney World package is like a store-bought prepackaged kids’ meal, the kind with the little compartments filled with meat, cheese, crackers, drink, and dessert: You just grab the package and go. It’s easy, and if it’s on sale, why bother doing it yourself? If it’s not on sale, it still may be worth the extra money for convenience.
You have two budgets to balance when you plan your Disney World vacation: time and money. Satisfying both is your ultimate goal. Research and planning are paramount to realizing your Disney vacation dreams. Create your touring plans before making a final decision with regard to the number of days and options on your theme park passes. Create your dining itinerary (along with Advance Reservations, if possible) to determine if Disney’s dining plan can save you some money.