The Pixie-Dusted Price Tag: 17 Unforeseen Costs of a Disney Vacation

Plan your Disney vacation wisely to avoid these unexpected budget busters.

Front entrance of Disneyland
Updated June 6, 2024
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Planning a Disney vacation can be a dream come true, but unexpected costs can sometimes mar the experience. 

With some preparation, you can navigate these charges and keep your Disney getaway magical and budget-friendly. 

We'll explore often-overlooked Disney trip expenses, helping you manage your spending and make the most of your visit. Get ready to save money on travel while preserving the magic.

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Travel essentials

and.one/Adobe mother packing luggage for trip

Before your trip even starts, you have to pack everything you need for your vacation.

That could mean finding the perfect Disney outfits for your family, grabbing a small cooler for treats and drinks, and including a stroller for tired tots. If any of these or other things have to be purchased, your trip expenses could go up before ever setting foot in a Disney park.

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Transportation

Halfpoint/Adobe family traveling in taxi on vacation

How do you plan on getting around in Florida or California? A rental car gives plenty of flexibility but isn’t always cheap.

If you don’t want a rental car, you’ll likely still have to pay for shuttles, taxis, or rideshare services like Lyft and Uber.

Consider what makes the most sense for your group regarding your planned activities and where your lodging is in relation to the parks.

Parking

trongnguyen/Adobe crowded outdoor car parking in houston

If you’re planning on renting a vehicle for your trip, remember to include the cost of parking.

Many Disney Resort hotels tend to have some complimentary parking privileges for guests, but you’ll have to pay for parking at the theme parks.

The price can range up to around $50 per day for preferred parking.

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Taxes and fees

Shawn.ccf/Adobe fireworks at orlando disneyland

When researching costs related to your Disney vacation, consider the taxes and fees you might have to pay on top of the listed prices.

Depending on the hotel, there might be a resort fee included. Theme park tickets also typically show an initial price on one screen and then a price with taxes when you’re ready to check out.

Pet sitter

Jasmina/Adobe senior woman enjoying coffee with pet

If you’re leaving a furry friend at home, don’t forget about potential pet-sitting or boarding costs.

It would likely be more affordable if a friend or family member could care for your pets while you’re gone, but that’s not always an option.

Multi-park tickets

satur73/Adobe family gazing castle in disneyland

We all know the park tickets themselves are going to cost a pretty penny. And that’s before you even decide on which parks you want to visit.

At Walt Disney World, you can choose between Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Disney water parks.

You also have options for special event tickets and park hopper tickets to visit multiple parks on the same day. And, the more options you choose, the more expensive it gets.

Peak pricing

Halfpoint/Adobe woman planning trip at home

Disney has ticket pricing down to a science based on the time of the year and the day of the week.

This means theme park tickets vary in price depending on the season. So, it’s worth looking at ticket calendars to see when it’s less busy and costs will be lower.

Extra clothing

whyframeshot/Adobe happy asian family packing for vacation

You can only be ready for so many things, including ever-changing weather.

If you’re hit with a sudden downpour of rain, you might end up splurging on a poncho, rain jacket, or umbrella. Or, if it’s cooler out than you thought it would be, a warm sweatshirt might make your day a lot more comfortable.

Lightning Lanes

Brocreative/Adobe african american boy enjoying carousel ride

Long lines aren’t fun. But you can pay for access to Lightning Lanes, which are separate lines that effectively let you skip the general line.

You can pay for the Genie+ service to access Lightning Lanes or pay for individual Lightning Lane access at certain attractions.

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Food

ArgitopIA/Adobe woman organizing food in tupperware

You can bring your own food (terms apply) into Disney parks, which is an easy way to save money on expensive dining options.

But if you opt for the full Disney experience, you’re likely going to try some of the delicacies located around the theme parks. Even if you only buy a few treats a day, the cost can add up over three or four days.

Tips

cherryandbees/Adobe couple paying bill in restaurant

Disney dining plans offer a convenient way to stay fed while visiting the parks. But don’t expect your dining plan to cover tips, as they typically don’t.

In other words, you should still expect to tip your servers even if you have a Disney dining plan.

PhotoPass

AmeriCantaro/Adobe dumbo elephant flying ride at disneyland

What good is a priceless vacation without some priceless memories to remember it?

The Disney PhotoPass is a service that offers high-quality photos by PhotoPass photographers and devices throughout Disney parks. You can then purchase any photos you want through your Disney account.

Souvenirs

Solarisys/Adobe stuffed toys at orlando disney store

It’s hard to deny the magic of Disney once you’re there in person. And the oh-so-cute souvenirs might just be too irresistible to ignore.

Don’t worry; the kids won’t forget their first pair of mouse ears anytime soon. And you’ll surely get plenty of use out of a collectible popcorn bucket.

Water

KawaiiS/Adobe girl drinking water from pink bottle

It gets hot in California and probably even hotter in Florida. And that means you and your family need to stay hydrated.

The best course of action is to bring refillable water bottles and to make sure you keep filling them up. But if you forget them, you better add water or other drinks to your expense list.

A day at the park can go downhill really fast if it’s hot and you aren’t drinking enough liquids.

Forgotten items

Suzi Media/Adobe family packing luggage for trip

It’s finally time to head to the park because there couldn’t possibly be anything you forgot for your trip, right? 

Hopefully, but it’s also possible you may have forgotten something, like sunscreen or flip-flops to relax by the pool.

These are small expenses, but they all add to your final trip cost, so check and double-check your bags before leaving your room for the day.

Rentals

Serhii/Adobe woman walking baby stroller in park

If you decide not to bring a stroller or forget to bring one, you can rent one.

You can also rent storage lockers if you bring personal items that you don’t want to carry on certain rides or if you’re at the water park. Renting a big umbrella at a water park could also be nice to get some shade on a sunny day.

Special expenses

christopher/Adobe pixar pier at california adventure park

From meeting animals close up to building a custom lightsaber, there’s no shortage of extras you can pay for at Disney. And these really can be memorable experiences for the whole family to enjoy.

Unfortunately, the costs can range into the hundreds of dollars depending on the experience. But if you know the price and it’s in your budget, you can lower your financial stress since you won’t be surprised.

Bottom line

bgspix/Adobe Mickey and Minnie Mouse at Disneyland Paris

A Disney vacation is a magical experience, but it often comes with a hefty price tag. Fortunately, a little financial planning can make your visit all the more magical.

To ensure that you don't get caught off-guard when trying to make your dream Disney getaway a reality, it's essential to prepare yourself financially

Carefully consider and budget for every expense and save for your trip, and you'll be well on your way to enjoying the enchantment of Disney with no money stress. 

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Author Details

Ben Walker, CEPF, CFEI®

Ben Walker, CEPF, CFEI®, is credit cards specialist. For over a decade, he's leveraged credit card points and miles to travel the world. His expertise extends to other areas of personal finance — including loans, insurance, investing, and real estate — and you can find his insights on The Washington Post, Debt.com, Yahoo! Finance, and Fox Business.