Vote of the Week: Are You Priced Out of an Orlando Vacation?

February 27, 2015, 1:58 PM · Who much money do you need to afford a Walt Disney World vacation?

A reader who works at the resort emailed an interesting piece of information she'd picked up during a recent staff meeting. She wrote that the executive in the meeting said that Walt Disney World's target household income for its visitors is $80,000 a year and up. Given that the median household income in the United States is about $54,000 a year, this report would seem to confirm what many Disney fans have been saying in recent years — that Walt Disney World has become out of reach for many middle-income Americans.


About one-third of American households have a combined income of $80,000 a year or more, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. That would put two-thirds of Americans outside of Disney's reported target market. (You can blame Disney for its rising prices, or you can blame a U.S. economy where workers' incomes haven't kept up with their productivity increases since the 1970s. But that's another vote, for another time.)

Obviously, $80 grand isn't a hard cut-off. I can tell you from personal experience that $80,000 in Orlando buys a lot more than $80,000 buys in Southern California. (And this is where our readers in New York City and San Francisco reach for a drink... before realizing that they can't afford one.) Many families who earn less than that find ways to get to Walt Disney World and enjoy a vacation there. But with each price increase, that becomes tougher to do.

Disney isn't the only option in Orlando, either. The first trade-off many Disney fans make is to stay off-site, instead of at an on-property Walt Disney World hotel. Some theme park fans even opt for skipping Disney and putting together days at Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Legoland, the beach, or other area attractions to enjoy their Central Florida vacations.

Golden goblin
Standing on some fat stacks at Universal Orlando

But with Universal raising its prices to keep pace with Disney, even the "non-Disney" Orlando vacation option is becoming more expensive. Disney and Universal are the attractions that make the Orlando area unique among vacation destinations. If you can't afford to visit either of them, you're probably asking whether you should look elsewhere for your vacation.

How are you feeling these days about the affordability of an Orlando-area theme park vacation? Is it still a great deal for you, or are you finding it more difficult to make happen? Or have you decided to look elsewhere for your family vacations? It's Vote of the Week time.

Tell us in the comments what you're doing to make your vacation affordable, whether it's to the Orlando area or elsewhere this year. And, as always, thank you for being part of the Theme Park Insider community.

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Replies (27)

February 27, 2015 at 2:12 PM · Orlando hasn't completely been removed from our vacation destinations, that being said I must preface it. We live in southern Saskatchewan, Canada and as such Orlando vacations have always been a treat that happens only every 4-5 years, and we try to rent off-site condos simply for comfort and space. We find that even doing this though Orlando is starting to get up there, our last trip in 2013 cost just short of 10K and at that time the Canadian dollar was worth a lot more then it is now. We have found that we are spending less time at Disney in favour of the other parks and going to the coast. We try to go in February so if you wish you can take in a pre-season baseball game, go Yankees, or a Magic's game. As our kids have gotten older they are less likely to want the Disney attractions in favour of the more thrilling rides at Universal.
February 27, 2015 at 2:18 PM · Robert, you talk\type a lot about American households but also remember, there are many foreign visitors....

The strong US dollar could slow down outside visitors to Orlando.

February 27, 2015 at 2:26 PM · To stay on-site cheaply, invest in a non-DVC timeshare and trade floating points with DVC. Many timeshare owners want to dump their worthless investments. You can pick up some good values for almost nothing. You only have to pay for the yearly maintenance fee. Unfortunately, some maintenance fees are quite costly so do your research. When you make the trade, you will have to pay a transaction fee and the DVC resort fee. DVC resorts that usually come up in listings are typically Old Key West and Saratoga Springs. Only on occasion do slightly newer and more popular resorts like Animal Kingdon Lodge and Boardwalk show up. Seldom do Bay Lake Tower or the newest ones come up. Obtaining a DVC reservation gives you the same privileges as a DVC owner. I got Magical Express and Magic Bands included, no extra charge. You can add-on the Disney Dining Plan with the DVC reservation.

Of course, failing in getting DVC is not the end of the story. You can trade for some top Orlando resorts to stay although you'll need to rent a car to get to your destination. Timeshare resorts are much more comfortable than hotel suites. They are one, two, or three bedroom configurations with full sized kitchens and washers/dryers for convenience. Pools usually have spas and slides. Most have activity centers for the kids (no extra charge).

Save by not doing too much. Concentrate on a few attractions like only Disney or Universal as that seems to be the trick. Spend more time at the resorts as you're paying for that too. The Resort amenities should be used to your advantage like the pool. If your room has a refrigerator, I highly recommend eating breakfast in your room. You can keep some lunches like sandwiches refrigerated for bringing into the parks. Bring your own water bottles (or empty if you're going to Universal). I will bring my own soda bottles, which will cost up to $4 in the parks.

Take advantage of the off season prices. This may not be available to the non-local so plan accordingly.

February 27, 2015 at 2:32 PM · Just takes us longer to save. As DVC members we still have our rooms covered but we are finding that we are staying a shorter period of time and trying to maximize low attendance periods.
February 27, 2015 at 2:37 PM · Any vacation we have to fly to (from AZ) is pricey, but I can tell you that a week to WDW with 4 kids is still cheaper than a week of activities on Maui, as we have done both in the last few years. We are in those few limited years when our kids are old enough to be fun to travel with but not off to college yet, so we will splurge on family vacations for a few years before scaling back as they take off.
We don't do Sea World or Legoland in FL as we have both within driving distance in So Cal, but we will for sure be doing a couple days at Universal as well as WDW when we return to Orlando.
February 27, 2015 at 2:39 PM · Luckily we have enough friends and family working at all the parks, since we live in Orlando and I have previously worked at Disney and Busch, that we can get freebies to the parks. Otherwise they would have become out of our price range, save for one trip every year or two, a couple price increases ago.
February 27, 2015 at 2:40 PM · For my wife and I a vacation in Orlando is somethign we can only contemplate every 4 or 5 years as we need to stay 2 weeks to get round all the parks and have some downtime. We are also of a certain age these days and so we want to do it in some comfort and stay in a Disney Resort, (Universal simply doesn't often enough to keep us occupied for two weeks and isn't any cheaper than Disney). As a result the sort of holiday we want, including flights, accommodation, theme park tickets and spending money, costs upwards of £5000. We are budgeting £6000, maybe £7000 for a trip in 2017, but at that cost it might well be our last visit as well.......
February 27, 2015 at 2:43 PM · We travel from the UK and try to vacate in Orlando every two years. However with the increase of flights as well as the theme parks it is getting to a point where it may not be possible to go anymore. We like to go to the theme parks so if the prices of those keep going up as well as the flights it will not be possible.
February 27, 2015 at 4:05 PM · I'm trying to convince my husband right now on another trip to Disney at the end of this year. It's been since 2011 since we've taken a long trip there. My work has taken me there for one-day trips, but we like leaving a couple years between trips so that there's been enough change at the parks to keep it fresh. Since 2011, we've done Europe, which was uber expensive (our honeymoon, so we splurged) and we did Hawaii (piggybacked on a work trip, so it was comparable to Disney in the end). We're budgeting about 4K to do what we want to do (value resort, Includes time at Universal, Sea World and a 3-day Disney cruise). Saving up for it isn't easy, but it's doable for us within a year...and we're definitely above that 80K average. If a trip like that were to cost much more than 4K, I don't think it would be a realistic trip anymore for us. So if we went this year, we probably wouldn't be back until 2018-2019... post King Kong, Volcano Bay, Avatar Land, Frozen ride, and maybe Ministry of Magic/Pixar Place/Star Wars. I'm almost dreading to see how much ticket prices will change based off those attractions.
February 27, 2015 at 4:49 PM · Way too much. Just flying 4 of us is out of the question now. To spend that much, we would rather go someplace truly exotic instead.
February 27, 2015 at 5:08 PM · I think it may also have something to do with how Americans travel versus most of the world. I remember seeing a lot of Europeans (being stationed there a few times) who'd be more than happy staying in a tiny, cheap room with a communal bath in the hallway, and eating lots of simple DIY meals. The HoJos on west 192 was normally packed with Brits, mainly because it was cheaper. $100 a day for Magic Kingdom doesn't seem so bad (though it definitely is) if you save on lodging and food. Not that that's a smarter idea, just different... I loved Wilderness Lodge the few times I was able to stay there, mostly due to my ex's job at DRC, but I've stayed at the Continental on Irlo Bronson as a young airman. Wouldn't do it now though!
February 27, 2015 at 5:16 PM · I am not a fan of lines and crowds, so I wish prices would increase much more. That type of increase will never happen though.

This recent increase is simple supply and demand. Not all can afford a trip to Disney, not all can afford a lot of things. Such is life.

February 27, 2015 at 5:29 PM · I put myself in the "not yet" category....

Personally, I haven't thought Disney onsite hotels are worth their price for a long time. For most of them, there's just not enough extra value received for the price you pay to justify staying onsite vs. off. The cost of the tickets is high, but not enough to turn me away yet. Honestly, I get twitchy if I spend more than about 1 day in the resort, so I won't be spending a lot on tickets there anyway :-).

Universal, on the other hand, has always seemed to provide EXCELLENT onsite hotel value when you factor in unlimited express, the ability to walk to the parks, pet-friendly, etc. Admittedly, I do have the advantage of being able to tap into Florida resident or annual passholder discounts. And, speaking of the annual pass, it also remains a good deal for us. We've had our Preferred passes for years and intend to keep them as the price of renewal is considerably lower than if we were buying them from scratch again. And the discounts/benefits we get with those passes have always seemed to more than justify the renewal expense.

What I worry about, though, is that as Universal adds hotels that have different price points and levels of onsite benefits (i.e. not all express, not all pet-friendly) we WILL eventually be priced out of our favorite RPR. It hasn't happened yet, but it IS a concern.

Also, while I love to see the investment that's being put into Universal, I worry that with more hotels the parks will become more crowded and our lovely, relaxed vacations will become more like Disney stress-fests. I dread the day I feel like I have to make a reservation for every meal at Universal.... Luckily, I think that's still some years away :-).

February 27, 2015 at 10:11 PM · I used to work at Universal. If it wasn't for that I would never have been able to get into ANY of the Orlando parks. SeaWorld and Busch Gardens were free at the time with my Universal ID. So all I had to do was purchase a FL resident annual pass to Disney, which was crazy expensive (to me anyway).

Now that I've moved half way across the country I will probably never get back to Orlando. Not because of time or ability to travel. It's just too expensive. I could save, but it's not worth it too me. I've spent many years going to all the Orlando parks, but the rising cost isn't justified by my desire to go back there. And the parks would have to make much more significant changes than they are to entice me back.

There are so many parks across the U.S. alone that I want to get to that are way cheaper than the Orlando parks. So there really is no NEED to go back to Orlando.

February 27, 2015 at 10:15 PM · This is why the DVC was so important to join early. While the prices of everything have gone up, you are locked in with your price for 50 years. Glad that my family took the risk!
February 28, 2015 at 12:43 AM · That 80K figure is a little misleading. Sure, if you want to stay at the deluxe Disney hotels and partake of the expensive add on experiences, etc., you probably need to be in that income bracket. But it's hardly necessary to do all that in order to enjoy the parks.

As for Universal, it's just as expensive as Disney -- more so, when you compare their on-site hotels to Disney's value resorts. Let's face it, running a theme park and building/maintaining complex themed attractions costs a bloody fortune. They will never charge the same as a Six Flags, where the latest star attraction cost $10-20 million (at most) to build. At a theme park, major attractions cost $100 million (at least).

February 28, 2015 at 6:35 AM · It's getting more expensive for us - a family of four from the UK. We did Disney etc when me and my sister were young but now we're wanting to go back and do it all again. We've done Universal & SeaWorld for quite some years now. We roughly go to Florida once a year, we don't just stay in Orlando though we head to Ft Myers Beach too. It's getting more expensive we've noticed though. We just don't want to spend two full weeks in Disney. So we stay off-site in a beautiful 4star resort hotel for £50 a night in the area. Just me and my sister went to Magic Kingdom for one day in November and while we know it works out cheaper the more days you buy, we just want the one day. We did everything in Magic Kingdom, every ride, waited in a 90 minute queue for Dwalfves ride and even sat about for hour before the fireworks. We're very fortunate but each time you feel the pinch a little bit more
February 28, 2015 at 10:38 AM · Thanks for two great articles about rising costs. I was really hoping Universal would skip this round and stop the madness. Oh well.

Priced out is a little confusing. As a theme park fan, of course I'm going to force myself to save for a theme park vacation. What else would I spend my money on? :) However, in the past I may have thought about a theme park vacation and a non-park vacation in the same year. Lately it has been more of an either/or decision because of costs.

The bigger issue for me has been friends and family. Living in SoCal, a trip to Disneyland was always planned with visiting friends and family. Now, I won't recommend that option unless they mention it first as I don't want to burden people (and myself) with the crazy costs. I know a lot of extended families travel together to Orlando and I'm wondering what impact it might have if one of the families can no longer afford the trip.

February 28, 2015 at 11:42 AM · I would say that for a family of four to go to Orlando and do it right, that is six days at Disney and two at Universal, it is comparable to taking a vacation outside of the 48 states, meaning less than a trip to Hawaii but more than Mexico. I would like to go there once a year, but the cost makes in once every three. I would not want the price to be lower, as the crowds are too thick as it is. There are many ways to make the trip much, much more affordable. The first is to drive. And by this I mean to go either Disneyland or World, whichever is closer. Stay off property. Wait for discounts. By doing that, it makes a trip comparable to a decent vacation inside the 48 states and still doing the six and two in Orlando. The other thing is some airlines offer crazy low rates at odd times, but that is typically only for southern California. Finally, travel off peak like the third week of October or first week of March. That is not an option for us due to school, but there are many ways to make it work. So, we drive, use a Disney credit card, and can go once every 2.5 years for eight days in the parks. For the uninitiated, it can be overwhelming, since every park has a system that you must be familiar with to have a good time. It does cost a lot, but can be managed. Once we spent $8000 and another $2000 with the same eight day structure.
February 28, 2015 at 1:01 PM · W.D. executives are behaving more and more like the gangsters from Goodfellas: every year the price gets higher, the lines get longer and the customer's experience gets worse.

Customer: "When are you going to add another E-ticket attraction?" Executives: "@%#$ you, pay me!"

Customer: "Can you do something to expand capacity at your most popular rides?" Executives: "@%#$ you, pay me!"

Customer: "Why do you shut down whole areas of the park at times when the parks are still crowded?" Executives: "@%#$ you, pay me!"

Customer: "Couldn't you have taken just a small portion of the $1.5 billion spent designing MagicMoney+ and used it on one or two new E-ticket attractions, instead?" Executives: "@%#$ you, pay me!"

Customer: "W.D. executives, don't you know that your jobs depend on maintaining the long-term goodwill of your customers? Can't you see that you're near the tipping point where you lose that goodwill?" Executives: "@%#$ you, pay me!"

March 1, 2015 at 2:46 PM · A neighbor and I live in Kissimmee and have annual passes. We used to decide on the spare of the moment to head to Disney but not anymore. With all the pre-arranged rides forget it. Other local seniors feel as we do - Disney has forgotten how much we used to enjoyed going to the parks. Many of us are not renewing our annual passes. With the construction mess at Downtown Disney it is impossible to get there unless you want to walk forever. Well, guess what - some seniors have walkers and can't do that. So, we have decided to find other forms of entertainment and there are plenty to go around. We went online and found such great things as the museums in St. Petersburg, Ringling Bros., Weeki Wachi Springs, the Lipizzaner horses at their winter residence just to name a few. Even the murals at Lake Placid, Bok Tower and the list goes on and on. Yes, we have to drive but we don't mind driving. Goodbye Disney!
March 1, 2015 at 4:16 PM · Wow that's pricey go for the local parks close to home instead
March 1, 2015 at 5:08 PM · We are from Canada and like to visit Orlando every year in the off season. We are still lucky to have no expiry tickets for Disney, however like the comments from those in the UK it is starting to get more costly every year. We do other things, like spend time on the beach, etc. We love Florida, however we are finding that we may have to reconsider our yearly vacation plans as well and start spending more time on the all inclusive vacations which are considerably cheaper.
March 1, 2015 at 5:21 PM · I can still afford to go to Orlando even though I am retired. I buy a yearly pass for Universal and a 10 day no expiration to Disney since I only spend 1 or 2 days there. Driving to Florida is cheaper than flying since you don't have to rent a car after arrival. Most important is that I stay off site. There are good rooms to be had for well under $100 a night. Last year I spent sixty dollars a night for a hotel rated number 66 out of over 300 hotels in the area. It was 5 minutes from Universal.

Last of all I gave up playing golf in Florida. To play a good course it now is in the one hundred dollar neighborhood. We have two Arnold Palmer designed courses near Detroit you can play for under $35. Try to find that in Orlando.

March 2, 2015 at 8:54 AM · I'm not priced out of an Orlando vacation, but I do not see a reason to visit in 2015 with very little new coming from any of the theme parks. After nearly 5 straight years of something major being added in at least one of the parks every single year, 2015 is a reason to save up for a trip in 2016-17. It really has nothing to do with the prices, which in the grand scheme of things have increased very little, it has to do with the fact we were just there in October 2014, and there's not a single new attraction at Busch Gardens Tampa, Sea World, IOA, USF, or any of the Disney parks to make us feel the need to visit in 2015.

Depending on what gets announced for 2016 (and if Universal does target 2017 for Ministry of Magic), we might stay away for another year, which would be the longest we've stayed away from Central Florida since my wife and I started dating 18 years ago. It really has far more to do with the lack of new attraction over the next year or 2 than the prices.

March 2, 2015 at 4:07 PM · I visited both the islands of adventures and universal studios Orlando last may with my father. We stayed on site at the hard rock hotel and went during the week day (tuesday-friday) to save money. For the two of us, we spent around $1,500 on the vacation. We had a great time and were planning on coming back again this may. Now I have been coming to Universal Orlando for many years (I live in North Georgia) and I was blown away at the number of foreign guests at the park. While in line at most attractions it felt like we were in a foreign country with all the different dialects around us! There is no doubt that Universal is a unique experience and one that everyone should get to have. However, it does seem to me that the trend is moving away from the traditional middle class family and being marketed more towards higher income families and foreign tourists. Either way, I love visiting the park and will continue to due so as long as me and my family can afford it.
March 3, 2015 at 6:05 PM · we're doing just one week instead of our usual two this year

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