How to Plan a Trip to Walt Disney World

Keep the costs of flights, hotels, rental cars and, of course, park tickets in mind when planning your Disney trip.
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Written by Carissa Rawson

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We already know that a trip to Walt Disney World is one of the most popular vacations around. With an average of over 58 million visitors per year, odds are you have at least a friend or two who’ve visited. But did they mention how many moving parts there were when planning their trip? From flights, to park tickets to hotels, booking a vacation at the happiest place on earth is no laughing matter.

Let’s take a look at how to plan a trip to Disney World and ways to save money on your vacation.

1. Find and book cheap flights

Depending on how far away you live, you’ll likely need to book flights for your Disney trip. Orlando International Airport (MCO) is the nearest airport to Disney World, located just 20 minutes away by car. Finding flights to and from Orlando is typically easy, with more than 600 flights per day operated by over 20 different airlines.

As with many things, flexibility is key when it comes to finding cheap flights. High-season airfare is nearly always more expensive than shoulder or off-season rates.

Of course, with so many different airlines flying into Orlando, you have plenty of options when it comes to redeeming airline miles for flights. Whether you’re looking to book with American, Delta, United, Alaska, Southwest or even JetBlue, you can find multiple flights per day from each carrier.

Budget airlines such as Spirit and Frontier also offer flights to Orlando, but you’ll want to consider the additional fees associated with these airlines. Your airfare may cost less, but paying more for seat selection and a carry-on bag can eat into the discounts.

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Many of the airlines that operate award flights use a dynamic or semi-dynamic pricing scale, so you're best off using your miles to fly during non-peak travel times.

2. Consider whether you need a rent a car (because you can probably skip it)

Disney Skyliner transports guests between Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot to four resort hotels – Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney’s Pop Century Resort and Disney’s Riviera Resort. (Photo courtesy of Disney) 

If you're flying to Orlando and going straight to Walt Disney World, you might consider a rental car. But for most guests, a rideshare like Lyft or Uber is the best transportation between Disney and the airport. You'll avoid the hassle of driving and finding (and paying for) parking. Once on Disney property, there's a robust network of mass transit, including a monorail, boats, buses and even an aerial gondola called the Skyliner — all of which are free to ride.

But if you must rent a car, consider using websites like Autoslash to search for your ride. Autoslash will scour multiple booking sites and a variety of loyalty programs to find the best rates for your dates. Even better? After reserving a car, you can enter your reservation details in their price tracker to get notified if the price goes down. If it does, you can cancel your original reservation and get in on the better deal.

Another way to search for rental cars is with Costco Travel, which includes a waived additional driver fee for eligible drivers.

Finally, if you’d rather maximize the number of miles you’ll earn on your booking, consider using a travel portal for your rental car. The Chase Sapphire Reserve® card, for example, offers 10 Ultimate Rewards® points per $1 spent on rental cars via Chase's travel portal. The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, meanwhile, offers 10 Capital One miles per $1 spent on rental cars booked through the Capital One travel portal.

3. Book Disney World hotels (or hotels nearby, off-property)

The pool complex at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort. (Photo courtesy of Disney)

There are more than 30 Disney-owned hotels at Disney World. According to Disney price tracking site Touring Plans, rooms run as low as $128 per night at the affordable Disney All-Star properties, but that's assuming you're booking during the low-season (and at among the cheaper of Disney's hotels). Contrast that with nightly rates for one of Disney World’s most expensive Deluxe hotels, Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, which start at $780.

NerdWallet analyzed hundreds of Walt Disney World hotel room rates and found out that they're actually much higher. Here's how Disney World hotel prices break down, based on the classification of hotel type:

Trip duration and pricing tier

Average Disney World nightly hotel rate (Saturday night)

One night (Value)

$286.

One night (Moderate)

$366.

One night (Deluxe)

$877.

One night (Average across all price tiers)

$510.

Consider staying off-property

If $286 for the average rate at Disney’s cheapest rooms still feels to expensive, thats because it is. Disney hotel room prices far exceed the average prices of other hotels nearby. Orlando’s average daily room rate is just $186.49, about 35% less than the cheapest Disney resort, according to Visit Orlando’s 2022 Travel Industry Indicators.

And happily — whether your style is ultra-budget accommodations or high-end luxury — Orlando is chock-full of hotels off Disney property that you can book using cash or points, meaning you might be able to book a stay for no cash money at all.

Like flight rates, hotel rates will often vary according to season, but you can sometimes find rooms for as low as $32 per night — even on a weekend.

There are also plenty of options when it comes to hotel loyalty programs, including choices from Marriott, Hilton, IHG, Hyatt, Choice Hotels and Wyndham. You’ll even be able to find a few properties within walking distance of Disney parks.

The Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort

The Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort (Photo courtesy of Disney)

And then there's Walt Disney World’s Swan, Dolphin and Swan Reserve resorts, which are owned by Marriott but actually are on Disney property (in fact, the Walt Disney World Dolphin and its sibling hotel, the Swan, are the only two non-Disney run hotels on Disney property). Both are located near Epcot and offer a water taxi to the park’s entrance (it's also an easy walk). As part of the Marriott Bonvoy program, Marriott loyalists can earn and redeem Bonvoy points to stay here (and you can flex your Marriott elite status here).

4. Brace for the high costs of theme park tickets

Disney World theme park tickets are expensive. Costs vary depending on how long you stay, with multi-day tickets costing less per day than a single-day ticket. Disney also sells add-ons like Park Hopper tickets that let you visit multiple parks each day or access to Lightning Lane entrances, which are priority queues for certain attractions.

Factor ticket price into your budget in advance. The Disney World website features a calendar that’ll display how much your tickets will cost based on your travel dates, but here's what you can expect to pay, on average:

Disney World price per person

1-day, 1-park ticket advertised price range

$109 to $189.

Average 1-day, 1-park ticket price

$160.

Genie+ (add-on option for Moderate and Deluxe trips)

Starting at $15.

If you’re looking to save money on your Disney World tickets, consider buying from authorized resellers such as Undercover Tourist. These websites will shave a few dollars off the price of your ticket. You can also opt to redeem points for your theme park tickets, but choices are limited for Disney World.

5. Budget for Disney meals

The Ronto Wrap is filled with spiced grilled sausage and roasted pork. (Photo courtesy of Disney)

The Ronto Wrap is filled with spiced grilled sausage and roasted pork. (Photo courtesy of Disney)

Are you a fan of fancy dining? Budget for a few sit-down dinners during your trip so you can enjoy some of the spectacular food Disney World has to offer.

NerdWallet priced out the average meal prices depending on restaurant type, across an analysis of hundreds of Disney menu items. Meals consisted of an entree and drink and — at waiter service restaurants — an appetizer or dessert. But even on the low end, expect to pay nearly $20 per meal. Here's how average meal prices broke down:

Restaurant pricing tier

Average Disney World meal price per person, per meal

Value (counter service or cart)

$19.

Moderate (waiter service, casual restaurant)

$59.

Deluxe (waiter service, fancy restaurant)

$93.

Other ways to reduce the Disney World cost of food include packing your own snacks. Disney explicitly states that guests are allowed to bring outside food and nonalcoholic beverages into the parks, with just a few stipulations (such as no glass containers).

6. Account for other miscellaneous expenses

An extra tip on how to start planning a trip to Disney world: Don't overlook miscellaneous expenses.

Miscellaneous costs vary based on your travel party and the type of vacation you're looking for. Do you have kids? Don’t forget to factor in extra money for toys and snacks. Other common expenses include transportation, parking, tips, souvenirs and the inevitable last-minute ponchos/sunscreen/spare shoes.

It can also be tempting to book other add-on activities, such as those found in Disney's ‘Enchanting Extras Collection,’ which include animal encounters, educational classes and recreational activities. Such activities include behind-the-scenes tours like a 60-minute, Caring for Giants tour at Animal Kingdom, which costs $35 per person. A similar (albeit fancier) experience is the 3-hour, private Wild Africa Trek tour which costs $199 per person and involves hiking, off-roading in a safari vehicle and traversing on a rope bridge. Other extras include fireworks cruises and mini golf.

Sure, there are plenty of free or cheap activities to do on Disney property (even outside the parks), but be realistic about what you'll actually book.

If you want to plan a trip to Walt Disney World

There’s no doubt that Disney World vacations require a lot of planning. Before you go, be sure to consider all the factors that go into the trip, including flights, hotels, rental cars, park tickets and extras. With a little foresight and good budgeting, you’ll have your Disney World trip figured out in no time.


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