Disney just released its 2019 ticket prices, and they’re going up. Way up.
Our kids have never been obsessed with Disney, but we’ve never been anti-Disney either. We’ve been to Hong Kong Disneyland once, Disney World twice, and Disneyland maybe ten times (we were annual pass holders for several years). And we’ve done three Disney cruises in Europe. Especially when the kids were younger, they were constantly watching Disney movies and being subjected to Disney commercials on the Disney Channel, and they would ask to go to Disneyland frequently. So we would drive down in the morning, spend the day, stay overnight, and by lunch the second day, without fail, they would be ready to head home. Then they wouldn’t ask to return for about six months, at which point they had forgotten about the heat and the lines and tantrums.
But we lived less than two hours away. For a family without annual passes who’s flying in from out-of-state, it’s a much more expensive proposition. How expensive? There’s no perfect answer, since every family is different and it varies by date, but the basic elements are the same. For a family of four, you need four plane tickets, a shuttle between the airport and the hotel, a hotel (let’s say for five nights), park passes (I’m assuming Park Hopper tickets for four days), and food. I’m doing the basic calculations below. And then I’m going to list some international destinations where you can take your kids for less. Maybe think about skipping Disney, especially if you’ve been before, and showing your kids the world instead!
How Much Does a Disneyland Trip Cost?
Airfare to Disneyland
For flights, I checked prices five months in advance for June 8-13 (5 nights, not peak season yet but some schools are out) from Kansas City, Denver, Houston and New York to Los Angeles. Looking at basic economy fares (no luggage), Kansas City is at $254, Denver $225, Houston $299 and New York $303, for an average of $270. So I’m calculating round-trip airfare at $1,080 per family of four to Disneyland.
Shuttle to Disneyland
The Disneyland Express shuttle, for the above flight dates, is $48/person round-trip between LAX and Disneyland, or $192 total. Probably cheaper than renting a car and parking.
On Disney’s website, a 2019 4-day Park Hopper ticket for a family of four (all over 10 years old) is $1,520, or $380/ticket.
This is the big variable. We’ve stayed at all of the on-site hotels (Paradise Pier, Disneyland Hotel and Grand Californian) as well as at several of the hotels on S Harbor Blvd. We always prefer to stay in one of the Disney hotels. They’re simply more convenient, and the Disney theme adds to the overall experience. When I think back to visiting Disneyland as a child (from Colorado, so it was a big deal), I remember the Disneyland Hotel and monorail as much as anything at Disneyland itself.
For my hypothetical June dates above, Paradise Pier is pricing at $412/night, Disneyland Hotel is $561/night and the Grand Californian is $869/night, plus taxes for all of those. Choosing Paradise Pier (through Disney’s site) gives a total 5-night price of $2,410. I’ll use that in my overall calculations. But if you want to save money, the other top-ranked hotels near Disneyland (in TripAdvisor’s top 20) are averaging $248/night plus taxes for the same dates. Add in the 15% tax and you’re at $1,426, or roughly $1,000 less.
Disneyland Food Prices
Your kids are likely going to want to do a character breakfast one morning. Most are priced at $39/adult and $23/child right now. Add in 20% and you’re at $150. Other breakfasts I’ll price at an average of $50. You may want a sit-down meal somewhere, or you could run to Starbucks for coffee, pastries and breakfast sandwiches. $50 seems like a reasonable average. So that’s $200 for 4 mornings, and $150 for the character breakfast, or $350 total.
Lunch will likely be in the parks or at Downtown Disney. Again there’s a wide range of options, but I’m going to assume lunch at $60/day during your trip, or $300 total for 5 days (including possibly an airport meal).
Dinner will again likely be in Disneyland or California Adventure, or in Downtown Disney. Looking at menus online, if you’re including drinks, this could easily be $100/day, or $500 total.
Not including souvenirs or snacks, I’m calculating a five-night Disneyland vacation at $6,352 for a family of four. You could spend less by staying offsite and dining more cheaply, or could easily spend more with different flights, different dates, and nicer onsite hotels. I’ve seen ballpark averages between $5,000 and $8,000 for a Disneyland vacation, so this seems like a reasonable figure.
Where Else Can a Family of Four Go for $6,352?
We’ve traveled to 54 countries with our kids so far, and all seven continents. Some trips are expensive. Some aren’t. And a lot of them are subsidized by our use of frequent flier miles. I highly recommend earning miles throughout the year from flying and credit card spending/bonuses, and then applying those to your family trips! But for the sake of the below calculations, I’m assuming that you’re not using miles to offset any travel costs. And I’m looking at June travel, similar to the above Disneyland calculations.
1. Costa Rica
Costa Rica has become popular the past few years, with good reason. It’s not far from the US. English is widely-spoken. There are animals and beaches and cloud forests and activities like zip-lining. The food is great. And it’s generally safe and easy. We’ve visited twice, heading to Herradura and Punta Islita. In June you could fly from Houston to San Jose non-stop for $447, or from LA for $458, or New York for $407 non-stop. That’s an average of $437/person, or $1,748. Two hours from San Jose is the Los Suenos Marriott. It’s $245/night. Go for six nights! Six nights with a $34/day resort fee and taxes is $1,865. We paid $230 for round-trip transfers. Day trips with guides/drivers were generally $160. Assume two of those, plus something like zip-lining, and you could be at $700 for activities.
The breakfast buffet at the hotel, if it’s not included in your room rate, is $28/person. The hotel has resort prices for lunches and dinners, but there are also great, inexpensive restaurants a short walk down the beach. I’m going to assume $250/day for food, but you could easily eat for less. Six days = $1,500.
Total = $6,043
Have you always wanted to see Paris? Did you realize that you could visit, even in June, for less than it costs to go to Disneyland? Airfare in mid-June (five months from now) is $479/person from NYC, $640 from LAX, $966 from Kansas City, $1,034 from Denver and $984 from Dallas. So the flights are going to vary considerably depending on where you’re coming from. The average of those fares is $820, but let’s use $1,000/person on the assumption that you don’t live in a city with non-stop flights. For a family of four that’s $4,000 – the majority of your budget. Hotels in Europe can be difficult for a family of four or five, so rent an apartment. There are hundreds available in mid-June, and I found a great one that sleeps four in the 12th arr. for $1,127 for six nights. Metro tickets might be $100. Food isn’t expensive – we typically have croissants for breakfast and sandwiches or crepes for lunch. And for dinners we frequently have picnics at the Eiffel Tower (Champ de Mars). Assume maybe $100/day for food, or $700 including your travel day. That leaves you with $425 for museums, walking tours, cooking classes or anything else you may want to do – and more if you were able to get your plane tickets for under $1,000 each.
Total = $6,352
3. Banff, Canada
We love Banff! It’s stunning, there’s a lot to do, and it’s Canadian – so there’s poutine! Pricing tickets to Calgary in mid-June from the same five departure cities as Paris, I’m finding average fares of $386, or $1,544 for four. And most of those are non-stop flights. A car rental for the week is $270. The Fairmont Banff Springs and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise are amazing properties, but to come in under budget you could go with the Rimrock Resort Hotel at $346/night, or $2,397 for six nights including taxes. The US Dollar is strong right now. I’d budget $150/day for food, or $900, but you can likely do better than that.
A lot of activities are going to be outdoors – and free. If you want to rent canoes on Lake Louise, budget $200 for two for an hour. A wildlife safari is roughly $50/person. I’d budget $800 for activities over the course of six days to be safe.
Total = $5,911
I hesitate to put Iceland on this list, as it’s already getting all of the tourists that it can handle, but it’s an extraordinary destination. Pricing tickets in June from five cities, I find average fares of $733 for good flights, or $2,932 for four. And there are other flights with longer connections that are far lower.
Once you get to Iceland it’s expensive – but no more expensive than Disneyland. The second-ranked Reykjavik hotel on TripAdvisor is $334/night including breakfast, or $2,239 for six nights with taxes. A car for the week is $297. With the car you can do day trips to the major sites, including waterfalls and geysers – virtually all of which are free, other than gas. The Blue Lagoon is roughly $191 for two adults. Kids 13 and under are free. Lunches and dinner can easily add up to $100/day, but for six days ($600) that’s still within your budget, with a little left over – although you may need to get groceries once or twice to make it work.
Total = $6,259
5. Sydney, Australia
I wanted to include to Sydney to show that you can even get to Australia for the same as a trip to Disneyland – and stay one more day. Airfare (again from an average of five cities) in June is $764/person, or $3,056. Early June is the end of fall in Australia, so the weather is going to be a little cooler, but it’s still Australia, and still amazing, and less expensive than the summer. I’ve never stayed at the Langham, but it’s highly-ranked on TripAdvisor and in a great location, and only $1,872 for six nights in June. Then you’re just talking about entrance fees and other activities ($500), local transportation ($200, including to/from the airport), and food, which I’m going to budget at $120/day ($720 total), but can really be as cheap or expensive as you want it given that Sydney has everything to offer.
Total = $6,348
And don’t limit yourself to those destinations. Depending on airfare from your home cities on the exact dates you want to travel, you could likely get to Bali, Rome, Hong Kong, Santiago, Dubai, Panama City or literally hundreds of other cities for under $1,000/ticket, so with a wide range of lodging and food options everywhere, you could visit much of the world for less than it costs to spend five nights at Disneyland. Sure, go to Disneyland or Disney World once. But then take your kids everywhere else! It’s worth it!