It is no secret that staying on Walt Disney World property is not exactly cheap, by any means, and with changes in recent years offering less incentive to spend more to stay on property, it is understandable if this article comes as a bit of a surprise. And, once you have your Disney resort booked, the cost of park tickets for the whole family is sure to add up. But is , at least compared to other destinations?
To compare Disney pricing to other vacations, I’ve set up a model to make it as simple as possible. For this model, we’re looking at the cost of two adults and two children for four nights traveling May 14-18, 2022. Choosing these dates will allow each vacation to include two weekend nights and two weeknights.
Our fictional children are 12 and 10 years old. The Disney vacations will assume the family purchases four-day theme park tickets, with no Park Hopper options, Genie+, Memory Maker, etc… For the purposes of this comparison, we’d liken additional package options to tour add-ons, upsold combination tickets for museums, taking a taxi vs. a subway, etc…that all vary by the individual family and spending preferences.
To make up for the cost of theme park tickets, our comparison will include five activities of varying price points in each destination, assuming these activities would be shorter than a day in a theme park and they could fit in one extra attraction while still having free time. I am also not including the cost of dining in our stay, because this could vary between any budget a family would like to stick to (perhaps just with some extra planning.)
Let’s see what we can find out!
Vacation #1: Standard Room at Disney’s All-Star Sports ($2,598)
In this scenario, our family has an average room rate of $143/night under Disney’s current special offer at All-Star Sports. With a four-day ticket with admission to one park per day, our family would be spending a total of $2,598. As far as resort amenities, our family would enjoy quick-service dining, children’s activities at the pool, and a standard room with two double beds, and a coffee maker, along with Disney’s complimentary transportation to and from the theme parks.
Vacation #2: River View Room at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter ($3,235)
This vacation compares our same family at a moderate resort at Walt Disney World, in a slightly more expensive room where the standard option was not available for those dates, using the same special offer. This resort offers more “elevated” theming than Disney’s value resorts, along with the same complimentary bus transportation, and additional boat transportation to Disney Springs. In addition to all of the amenities at Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort, Port Orleans includes double sinks in Guest rooms, a full-service bar and restaurant, a pool with a waterslide, and additional recreational offerings like fishing and horse-drawn carriage rides (for added fees.) Room rates with this offer ran $284/night for a total vacation cost of $3,235.
Vacation #3: Outer Building Garden View at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa ($4,969)
If our family chose to stay in a deluxe resort, in this case, the , in an outer building with no view, the total cost of their vacation would run $4,969. The arguably has the most amenities of any , with Monorail transportation to the and EPCOT, boat transportation to the , bus transportation to the other parks and , multiple full-service restaurants, including the AAA Five Diamond Victoria and Alberts, additional shopping, spas, and recreational offerings, and more. Where the is the most splurge-worthy hotel, we also priced a deluxe resort stay at ‘s Lodge for the same dates, which came out to $3,721, and provides close access to the nearby .
Now let’s take a look at some non-Disney vacations to see how they compare:
Vacation #4: Cape Cod ($1,784*)
A room at the Surfside Hotel & Suites in Provincetown, located on Cape Cod, includes all of the in-room amenities of a Disney value resort for $1,269. In addition to the pool, the hotel is located on the beach with a bar and restaurant on-site. As for nearby attractions, over the course of their stay our family might go for a whale watch ($218), visit the Provincetown Museum ($52), the Whydah Pirate Museum ($52), the Provincetown Art Museum ($25, children under 16 are free!), 2-4 hour bike rentals from the Bike Shack ($56), and a sightseeing trolley tour ($82). Total, our family vacation in May would cost $1,784.
*It should be noted that May is shoulder season for Cape Cod, and if we are comparing the true value of a Disney vacation to others, it might make more sense to compare to Provincetown in the summer when all of the seasonal attractions are open, and the beach weather is more consistent. We priced the same room for four nights in July and got a total vacation cost of $2,304 before adding the cost of things to do, which brings the total vacation cost to $2,764.
Vacation # 5: Savannah, GA ($1,788)
The Holiday Inn (Historic District) is comparable to a Disney moderate resort or perhaps a Disney value resort depending on the dates that you book. It has similar amenities, with an on-site restaurant and the added bonus of being located right in the historic district in walking distance to some shops, restaurants, and attractions.
While in Savannah, let’s say our family takes a Historic Homes Tour with Savannah Walks ($84), a narrated sightseeing cruise aboard the Georgia Queen ($125), a visit to the Telfair Museums ($54), an Old Town Trolley Tour ($118), and First Squares Food Tour ($224). This brings our total for the vacation to $1,788 making it the least expensive so far compared to a Disney vacation accounting for Provincetown’s summer inflation.
Vacation #6: The Grand Canyon ($1,588)
The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon is comparable to either a Disney moderate or deluxe resort depending on the room. It’s close to the Grand Canyon visitor center making it an ideal place to stay for our fictional family. On top of the room rate, we have them paying for entry to the Grand Canyon ($40, children under 15 are free!) and the Grand Canyon Skywalk ($268). Many other family-friendly activities in the area are free (primarily bike and hiking trails), however for adults only, you could add inn helicopter tours or whitewater rafting for adults. This brings our total Grand Canyon vacation to $1,588.
Vacation #7: Chicago, IL ($1,626)
With our family staying at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Chicago near Magnificent Mile, we have their total room cost at just over $800. While there are much more expensive hotels in Chicago, I purposefully chose a more affordable option (similar to a Disney value or moderate resort) under the assumption that activities here will be more expensive.
For activities, our family is going to a Chicago Cubs game ($180), seeing a Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof ($360), visiting the Field Museum ($94) and the Art Institute of Chicago ($50, children are free!), and the Shedd Aquarium ($140), bringing the total cost of their Chicago vacation to $1,626.
Vacation #8: Skiing in Colorado ($5,984)
Many travel professionals compare the cost of a Disney vacation to the cost of a ski resort vacation, so before we finished this post, we wanted to check those numbers! We priced the Vail Ski Resort in Vail, CO, and found our family would be paying an average of $854/night or $3,416 total for the least expensive accommodations. (We also changed the dates for this comparison to March based on the skiing season.)
Equipment rentals average $61/day, so $244 total for a family of four. Lift passes for a child ticket for four days run $524, and $760 for an adult. And, if you needed to add ski lessons into the mix, you would be looking at an additional $200-500 depending on the age of the skier and the package. In total, minus the optional ski lessons, this ski resort vacation would come to $5,984, assuming everyone has their own skis and no one needs lessons. (I chose to use Vail based on the availability at the resort, similar trips in New Hampshire or Maine ski resorts would be about $1,000 less.)
So, which vacation is the most affordable? And, which one is the greatest value?
The Grand Canyon vacation, and likely other National Park trips and Washington D.C. are the most affordable simply because so many of the activities in those locations are free, something that is really unheard of at Walt Disney World.
The Cape Cod vacation is a tricky one to decipher, because in the off-season it might seem like a great value compared to a Disney vacation, but if some seasonal businesses are still closed then and the weather is hit or miss for the beach, is the value really there? A peak-season visit to Cape Cod is on par with the cost of a stay at Disney’s All-Star Sports, and the greater value in this situation can be chalked up to the kind of experience that you are most interested in.
Savannah and Chicago both look like excellent values for a family vacation, offering a variety of activities nearby centrally located accommodations. For these two destinations, you may need to do some extra planning, especially in finding kid-friendly events later in the evening, where you would not have that problem in Disney World. The value here is truly subjective, but there is no argument that the costs are cheaper.
Our ski resort vacation is easily the most comparable to a Disney vacation due to the setup of this kind of travel. If you book onsite accommodations, you would be paying a premium for them just like at Walt Disney World. And regardless of where you stay, you are going to need to spend hundreds of dollars per person on lift tickets, and perhaps even more for equipment rentals or lessons (which we would compare to Disney Genie or Memory Maker costs.) If the most comparable vacation in terms of how it’s paid for is a ski vacation, we have to say Disney is the greater value as it comes out ahead price-wise, but we are obviously biased (and I have to be up front and say that I don’t ski, despite living in New England. I would take the stay at the Grand Floridian any day!)
The greatest value is really up for interpretation, though. The per-hour value, assuming you stay for your entire visit, to the Field Museum is only $3/hour, while the Magic Kingdom would be $9/hour most days, and a Broadway show would be $40. We can’t tell you which of those experience offers the most value to an individual, though, as it will vary based on personal tastes.
In short: Walt Disney World Vacations are expensive. Ski vacations are more expensive, and off-season beach vacations are less expensive, but only you can determine which one is the greatest value for your family.