PlanningTrip Planning 101

Trip Planning 101: Budgeting for a Walt Disney World Vacation

Spending some time planning your Disney World vacation is one of the best ways you can help make your experience the best it can be. (Don’t think you need to have a plan? Read This.) One of the most critical factors of your trip planning that should be number one on your to-do list is figuring out your vacation budget. Why? Your vacation budget will greatly influence lodging, ticket, dining, and transportation choices. If you don’t have a general idea of how much you can spend it will hinder your decision-making process and possibly lead to some costly mistakes. There’s nothing worse than being 75% of the way through your trip and realizing you are going to run out of money. Here are the seven major areas that you need to consider for your budget for a Disney World vacation.


1 – Lodging

You’re going to need a place to sleep while at Disney World and room rates, whether at Disney or not, vary greatly and are seasonal.  When budgeting for your room expenses remember to budget for taxes and fees. You’ll want to decide whether or not you will stay on Disney property or whether you will stay “off property.” This decision will greatly impact other areas of your budgeting, such as ground transportation from the airport if you are flying (see #2) and parking fees at the parks. We are huge proponents of staying at Disney. Read here on why you should stay on property.

If you have decided to stay on property, then you’ll need to decide on what kind of resort you would like. Disney has three different resort categories: value, moderate, and deluxe. Read this article to better understand Disney resort categories and expenses.

2 – Transportation Expenses

You need to figure out how you are getting to Disney World and then how you’ll get around while you’re there. Do you live close enough to drive? Do you need to fly? Keep in mind the following transportation expenses.

  • Driving to Disney:
    • Fuel, maintenance, and tolls
    • Meals/snacks while traveling
  • Flying to Disney:
    • Airfare for each person, including parking fees at the airport
    • Meals/snacks while traveling
    • Transportation to/from the airport
  • Getting Around Disney:
    • Rental car, fuel, and tolls
    • Shuttle/town car/taxi
    • Stroller or Wheelchair rental
    • Golf cart rental (if staying at Fort Wilderness Campground)
  • Free Transportation to all Guests
    • Disney Transportation: buses, boats, monorail, and Disney Skyliner

Once you decide on your lodging (see #1), you’ll be able to determine what type of ground transportation you will use when you arrive at Disney. Disney no longer provides the Magical Express, but there are a few alternatives to choose from. You’ll also be able to use Disney’s transportation once on property as well. You need to decide if you want your own transportation that would allow you to visit other areas in Orlando that are off Disney property.

3 – Admission: Park Tickets

You’ll also need to budget for park tickets. Read here on choosing the right park admission for your family. You’ll need to decide on how many days you will be in the parks. You may not want to go to the parks every day of your vacation because there are so many other things to do on property. Also, you’ll need to decide if you want to add the Park Hopper option. Finally, consider seriously an annual pass. It may be the right ticket for your family and it will save you quite a bit of money.

4 – Lighting Lane Access: Disney Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane Attractions

There is a new way to “skip the line” at select attractions at Walt Disney World. The Lighting Lane has replaced the old FastPass lane and is no longer free. Guests who are looking to save time may want to consider purchasing access to the Lighting Lane. There are two Lightning Lane paid options that include different attractions. First, you can purchase Disney Genie+ for the day of your visit. This costs $15 per day, per person. With Genie+ you can access the Lightning Lane at select attractions at each park.

A second option for purchasing Lightning Lane is the a la carte method. There are two attractions at each park that are NOT included with your Genie+ purchase and must be purchased separately. You are only allowed to purchase TWO Individual Lighting Lane attractions per day. Pricing on these individual attractions ranges from $7-17 per person, depending on the day and demand.

Take a look at the Individual A la Carte Lightning Lane Attractions below and decide which attractions you like to purchase. When looking to budget for Individual Attractions, the best way would be to over budget and plan on $17 per day, per person, per attraction. You won’t be able to book until the day of, so you won’t know the actual price until you go and purchase them.

Individual A la Carte Lightning Lane Attractions:

Magic Kingdom

      • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train


      • Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

      • Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

      • Avatar Flight of Passage

Keep in mind that you do not have to purchase either of these options to enjoy these attractions. The stand-by queue is available for all attractions. However, if you want to skip the line and (hopefully) get more done, this may be a good option for you and your family. It would be better to budget for these options ahead of time so that you can decide to purchase them while you are there. 


5 – Special Experiences, Tours, and Recreation

Editor’s Note: At this time, many tours and experiences are temporarily suspended.

You may also want to enjoy the many different recreation options at Disney—special tours and experiences. There are so many tours and extras you may want to plan and budget for.

6 – Dining

Editor’s Note: At this time, dining plans are temporarily suspended; however, Disney has confirmed that they will return.

If you are staying on property, you’ll need to decide if you will purchase the Disney Dining Plan. There really is no right or wrong answer here. Read our article, “Is the Dining Plan Worth It?” for help in making this decision.

For those without the dining plan, you’ll need to budget for meals while visiting. There are two kinds of meal options at Disney: counter service (fast food) and table service (sit-down meal with a waiter or waitress). Generally, you can plan on a counter service meal costing about $15-$17 per person (a meal and a drink). Not all of these meals come with fries and other extras and rarely come with a drink, so you’ll want to plan for those. And of course, if you want a small dessert plan for that as well. You can check the Disney website for menus and prices for most restaurants on property.

Table service meals have prices that vary greatly. Best to do some homework and decide first how many table service meals you want and which restaurants you want to visit. Again, look on the Disney website for menus and prices.

Disney uses a dollar sign “$” system to rate how expensive their restaurants are. Use these ratings to give you a general idea of how much you need to budget for meals. Here is the breakdown per person:

$ – $14.99 and under

$$ – $15 to $29.99

$$$ – $30 to $59.99

$$$$ – over $60

Finally, don’t forget snacks and extra drinks in your dining budget.

7 – Souvenirs & Photos

Finally, you’ll want to budget for souvenirs and photo packages. You may want to over-budget for souvenirs, especially if it is your first visit to Disney World. You can easily get swept up in all the great offerings Disney puts out there. Besides clothing and toys, don’t forget to include money for things like Disney pins if you think you would like to pin trade.

Also, you’ll want to consider whether or not you’ll take advantage of Disney’s Memory Maker Photo Pass package. For a flat fee, you can download all of your pictures that have been taken by Disney’s Photo Pass photographers. Buying this in advance will save you around $30, but you can always buy the package during your vacation. You also don’t have to purchase the package. Photos can be downloaded individually for a fee.

8 – Understanding Packages

Disney offers special room packages, including lodging, park admission, and even the dining plan. You can save money by purchasing these room packages. Packages can be a source of significant cost savings but be sure you know exactly what’s included and if it’s something you’ll take advantage of. For example, purchasing an annual pass and taking advantage of the discounts that come with it may be a greater value than a package that includes tickets and dining.

Keep on the lookout for our “Trip Planning 101” series, where we’ll guide you through the different areas where you need to spend some time planning and making decisions before your trip. Make sure you sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss out!

Have more questions? We highly recommend booking with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner to ensure you are well taken care of and get all the discounts available to you. For more details and help booking your vacation, call our travel partners, Magical Vacation Planners, at (407) 442-0227. You can also get a no-obligation, FREE vacation quote by clicking here.  Their services are free to you, and they can answer any questions you may have.

For a no obligation, FREE Quote on a Disney vacation package, please contact our travel partner Magical Vacation Planner at 407-442-0227 (407-442-0215 for Spanish). You can also request a FREE quote online by Clicking HERE.


Cindy E. Nykamp

After friends and family made them their go-to people for Walt Disney World advice, Cindy and Chad launched DisneyLists.com in August 2015 to share their knowledge and love of Disney. Cindy wears many hats for DisneyLists.com. As a content creator, she has written over six hundred articles providing news, tips, planning, and more, for trips to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Disney Cruise Line to our followers. She directs a team of authors to bring our fans up-to-date information so that they can have the best Disney vacation experience. Cindy manages DisneyLists.com's Instagram account, sharing photos and videos to bring some Disney magic into our followers' feeds. She is also our chief photographer and has her photos featured on the official Walt Disney World Instagram account. Finally, Cindy regularly represents DisneyLists.com at Disney media events. While attending these events, she gets an insider's view of all the new things that have come to Disney Parks and Disney Cruise Line and passes this information and tips to our followers.
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