A woman and her family descend the Splash Mountain log flume
Photo courtesy of Megan Zander

We're A Family Of Four On $87,000, & This Is How Much We Dropped On Disney

by Megan Zander

Raising a child supposedly costs you a quarter of a million dollars, but it can honestly be more daunting to face the idea of spending $80 on bottle nipples in a single month. Expense Report gives us a look into the spending, scrimping, and wishing that defines parenthood, from what moms spend on birthdays, to childcare, to sleep, to self-care (we wish!), and beyond.

For many parents, taking your kids to Disney World is at the top of the childhood bucket list, right up there with taking pictures on Santa's lap or learning how to ride a bike. But the cost of a family trip to Disney World is a real ride through Frontierland — hold on to your wallet.

My partner grew up visiting the house of mouse every summer as a child, so for him, taking our own twin boys to Disney World is a way of sharing his childhood traditions with them. I grew up in a family that didn't have spare funds for travel, so for me, taking my kids to Disney World is about treating my own inner child as much as about giving them an incredible experience to remember.

Still, even if you're determined to get your family to Cinderella's castle, it's no secret that Disney World is hella expensive. What's the total cost for a week of joy for a family of four at the Magic Kingdom? I kept track of everything we spent on a recent trip to Disney World to figure out the down-to-the-penny price tag on a week of Disney memories.

Family: A mom and dad in their thirties

Location: Connecticut

Annual family income: Approximately $87,000

Number of children: Two, age 5

Flight $1,367.80

Although these weren't awful prices for roundtrip, non-stop flights to Orlando, it was a lot cheaper when we took the boys to Disney World as 18-month olds. Sure, they probably have zero memory of the trip, but since kids under 2 can fly for free as lap infants, we saved a fortune in air fair. At least we flew JetBlue this time, so we didn't have to pay to check bags (one each is plenty) and the snacks are decent, so I don't have to pack anything extra for the boys. Big kisses to the flight attendant who brought their drinks with lids.

Airport Parking: $140

Courtesy Meg Zander

We paid to park our car in the airport parking garage for seven nights. Admittedly, this is a bit of a splurge, as we could have parked in one of the farther lots for $6 a night and taken the free shuttle to the airport like we did on trips before we had the rugrats. But with two kids, four suitcases, a backpack, a Vera Bradley duffle that I'd really rather not drag on the ground, and a double umbrella stroller, it's so much easier to simply walk everything right across the street from the garage into the airport.

Transfer to Hotel: $0

We booked a package through Disney, which included transportation on their Magical Express buses from the airport to the hotel (and back at the end of the trip). Getting an Uber or renting a car probably would have been faster than waiting the 15 minutes for the bus, but this way we didn't have to worry about traveling with carseats or driving while on vacation. Plus Disney took our luggage to our hotel room for us, so we didn't have to go to baggage claim after the flight. With two curious boys who think the luggage belt is a ride, this was a nice bonus.

Hotel: Seven Nights @ Wilderness Lodge, $3,165.75 (including taxes)

The hotel was by far the biggest expense of our trip. Disney has three tiers of resorts, each at different price points: value resorts, moderate resorts and deluxe resorts. We considered staying at All-Star Music, a value resort, which is the cheapest tier, for this trip. Had we done that, the cost for hotel would have been $1,099.84.

The value resorts have the benefits of food courts, which was really tempting with young kids who can be picky eaters. But the resorts are big, which means the lines for the buses going into and coming back from the parks can be longer and waiting is not my kids' strong suit, especially in the hot Florida sun.

Courtesy Meg Zander

We decided the extra cost of the Wilderness Lodge was worth it. The beds are bigger (I was hoping to avoid "he's kicking me" night drama), there's more space in the room for the stroller and the pool area has a splashpad that I knew the kids would love, since they're not super strong swimmers just yet. Plus we had the option of taking a bus to all the theme parks, and a bus or boat to the Magic Kingdom (the Wilderness Lodge faces a lake, with a waterside bar and restaurant, as well as a boardwalk through the jungle). Starting off the day with a boat ride just seemed like something Cinderella would do, so I followed my dreams.

It's true that staying at a non-Disney resort is a way to save even more, and that totally works for some families. My kids are early risers, and tend to pass out around 2 p.m. To avoid vacation stress, we like to stay at Disney hotels because we get to take advantage of the Extra Magic Hours that allow resort guests to go into parks an hour earlier than everyone else. Plus, as I mentioned before, driving on vacation isn't our idea of relaxing. So for us, being closer to the parks, having transportation provided and having early access to the rides is worth budgeting extra to stay on Disney property. One of the ways we try to save is by planning trips during less crowded times of the year, like mid to late August or January, when hotels can be a bit more affordable than, say, spring break or the peak of summer vacation.

Tickets: 4 x 7-Day Park Hopper Passes, $2,044.80 (includes tax)

We paid for tickets to the four main parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Since we sometimes like to start the day in one park and end in another, we opted to add on the park hopper option. My boys are tall enough to go on some thrilling rides now, like Splash Mountain, so I get why tickets are so expensive. But my wallet still misses when they were under 3, and could visit the parks for free.

Food Total: $1,817.00

From home: $35.45 (Granola bars $ 4.98, Easy mac $3.98, Applesauce pouches $6.98, Oatmeal $2.59, Lucky Charms $3.98, Pringles $4.68, Lara bars $4.98, Water $3.28)

I know from experience that eating all meals and snacks in the parks and hotels adds up fast. We saved by packing breakfast and snacks because $6 for a soft pretzel every time one of the kids got hungry was not in the budget. I had a box of Prime Pantry stuff sent directly to our hotel, which saved space in our luggage, but my partner is all up on his Disney rumors and hears they may charge guests a fee to do that now. Still, it could be worth it, especially if your a family with picky eaters or food sensitivities. It might even still lead to a savings — Disney food is delicious but really expensive, and of course there are only so many Mickey waffles you can eat.

Courtesy Meg Zander

I brought some of our own food because I'm all about keeping more presidents in my pocket, but bringing our own food had other benefits, too. For instance, a lot of Disney food is pretty rich. My partner and I honeymooned in Disney and didn't bring any of our own snacks. A steady diet of popcorn and cupcakes tasted great, but made for chaos in my digestive system. I felt better eating snacks and a breakfast more like what I was used to at home and enjoying a more decadent dinner, and I believe my kid's tummies did better on this eating plan, too.

Plus, the lines for Disney snack carts can be long and slow moving. Even stopping to grab a "quick" coffee or bottle of water can end up taking 15 minutes, which can lead to trouble if you're trying to make it to a fast pass on time. Having snacks in our backpack didn't just save us money, it made it easier to keep the fun going and feed the kids as soon as they got hungry, rather than having to wait in line.

Food In-Resort/Airport: $1,781.55

Most days we ate one quick-service style meal (think fast food, where you order and pick up your food on a tray) and one traditional sit-down meal. Why a full-service sit-down so often? Because Disney World is one of the few places on earth were you can take children to a place with white table cloths and not only does no one bat an eye — it's expected.

Courtesy Meg Zander

We could save by sharing entrees, but that's just not our style. The kids each order their own meal, but they're good eaters, so I don't complain. I know nearly two grand on food for a week is a lot, but it could be worse — my partner and I don't drink, so this is just lunch, dinners and desserts, no alcohol.

Pre-Trip Souvenirs: $168.96

Target Dollar Spot $19 (Cars Lanyard Set $3, NomNoms Lanyard Set $3, Coloring/Sticker books for plane $2, Light-up spinning toys $6, Glow bracelets $1 for 10, Plastic Elsa/Olaf $2 , Stickers $2)

My kids are at the age where we can't step foot a store without them wanting something. Rather than argue with them every day of the trip about how the experience was worth more than any glittery sword/tiara/Christmas bauble/tunic/light-up wand, my plan was to buy a bunch of tiny, cost-effective Disney stuff from Target and sprinkle it out during the trip, then let them get one actual souvenir while we were there. While there were a couple unexpected purchases by way of clothing and face paint, for the most part saving on souvenirs total worked and I will absolutely be doing this again ... or at least until they're old enough to call me out on it.

I've literally never seen them so happy.

Disney Souvenirs: $149.96

Courtesy Meg Zander

Minnie Ears $24.99

As a Disney vet, I usually come prepared with my own Minnie Ears, and had only planned to buy a new pair if I happened upon the Rose Gold ones (wishful thinking — they're beyond sold out). But the cute beaded Minnie Ears I purchased 3 years ago from Etsy said farewell getting off Big Thunder Mountain, and my kids demanded I get a replacement pronto.

Mickey Mouse Light-Up Bubble Wand $20

These musical bubble wands are strobing all over the place, and Remy would not rest until he made one his. He decided on day one that he wanted it to be his sole souvenir, and when he didn't change his mind by day 3, we got it for him. The downside is that since it streams bubbles away from you, it's more of a toy for the kids behind you, but he seemed happy enough with it.

Stuffed DoleWhip $14.99

Lolo fancies himself a chef and loves all things food. He descended upon this stuffed ice cream like Bachelorette fans on a new Arie Insta post. I had to get it for him.

It's A Small World Kid's Shirt, $24.99

A note on this insanely cute red shirt that my son went wild for — Small World is his hands down favorite ride. While there are shirts for adults, this was the very first kid's shirt we've ever seen for the ride, and he was Jessie Spano on caffeine pills levels of excited to have it. Which is fantastic, except for the fact that it could only be found in the girls section. WTF, Disney? Since when are theme park rides gendered? Not cool. Moving on.

Kid's Splash Mountain Shirt, $24.99

Remy went on the ride for the first time and #MomPride made me buy the shirt before I could stop myself.

Men's Jungle Cruise Shirt, $10 (on clearance because my partner is a bargain hunter)

Face Painting: $30

We didn't plan on the boys getting their faces painted while in Disney World — they've been at local fairs before with face painting and shown zero interest. I don't know if it was the fact that Disney face painters are really good at what they do, or just because they saw a lot of kids rocking awesome looks but a few days in to the trip they both started pleading for face paint. I wasn't thrilled by the idea, since facepaint washes away, it's not something they can take home, but their sweet pleading wore me down. We waited for a day where it wasn't super humid and late afternoon, so I didn't have to stress over the lack of sunscreen. Lolo wanted to be Pluto. Remy asked to be Elsa. I've literally never seen them so happy.

Additional Clothing $54.11

It's a Small World Skater Dress $54.11

Did I need to buy this custom made, admittedly expensive dress featuring my son's favorite ride in order to enjoy vacation with family? No. Was it worth every penny?


Toiletries $33.60

Travel deodorant $1.49, Men's travel deodorant $1.49, Travel mouthwash $1.99, Travel Shampoo $.99, Travel Conditioner $1.49, Sunscreen $17.97, Sunscreen stick $6.99, Gum $1.19

When I went back to review our expenses for this trip, I was surprised at how much I spent on toiletries. I love standing in front of the rows of tiny soaps, picking out ones to put in my suitcase. For me it's part of the excitement of getting ready to go away. But it's also cash I honestly don't need to blow. Sunscreen is a must, for sure, but there' no reason I can't pack my full-sized shampoo and deodorant next time I travel. The gum isn't frivolous though. They don't sell gum in Disney to keep it off the sidewalks, so if you want to channel your inner Violet Beauregarde, it's BYOG.

Courtesy Meg Zander

Total Cost of 7-Night Disney World Vacation for 4: $8,792.02

Seeing the total cost of a week in Disney gives me the same sense of shock that comes with opening my phone to an unexpected dick-pic. It's blatant, bold, and there's no getting around it. It's no wonder for many families the dream of a Disney vacation remains just that — a dream. Still, even though the trip was pricey AF, for my family, between the time spent together and the memories made, the experience was beyond worth it, and one we'll definitely save for again.

Want to read more Expense Reports? Check out:

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