Reader Question: Can I Afford a Christmas Vacation in Disney?

Pete,

Thanks for your blog and guide book. It’s been a real help in planning my next Walt DIsney World vacation! My wife and I have been throwing around the idea of bringing the kids (DS7 and DD10) to Walt Disney World for Christmas! My wife is a teacher. She and the kids’ last day of school is Friday, December 18th and they return to school on Monday, January 4th. This is a really long break and a great opportunity to visit Disney for Christmas for the first time! Here’s the problem…we’re on a budget. Our budget is right around $5,000, $5,500 at most! We live in North Carolina, so we could drive down. $500 of that budget will be used for transportation, leaving us with $4,500 to $5,000. We’d like to stay until the 27th or 28th and get back for NYE. Can we pull it off? Should we stay off site to save some money? I’d hate to miss anything!

Thanks,

Don, NC

Hey Don!

You definitely can’t pass up on this opportunity! I’m determined to help you experience Disney during Christmas!

My sister is also a teacher, but doesn’t start her holiday break until December 23rd, so your kids and wife are very lucky! We usually fly down to Disney on December 24th and stay through January 1st or 2nd.

There’s a few reasons to stay on-site at Walt Disney World during Christmas. With Christmas week being the most crowded time of the year, on-site guests are at an advantage. For one, staying on-site gives you access to Disney transportation. Sure, you could park at Downtown Disney and hop on a bus, but nothing beats leaving your resort and stepping on a direct route to the parks. Many of the parks often see phased closures. We’ve been to Magic Kingdom when it’s hit a Phase 3 closure. At Phase 3, only resort guests, AP pass holders, guests with dining reservations and guests with reservations for the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique or the Pirates League (Magic Kingdom) will be allowed into the park. As resort guests, no matter how crowded it has gotten, we’ve never been turned away. One year, my sister’s friend was down in Orlando with her family. They were staying off-site and decided to spend Christmas at Magic Kingdom. My sister received a text message on Christmas morning saying that she and her family had been turned away.

Disney is also wonderfully decorated during Christmas. You can easily hop on the monorail and explore the resorts, but nothing beats staying on-site during the holiday season.

On-site guests also get Extra Magic Hours. Guests can experience the park one hour before it opens or a few hours after it has closed. Wait times are usually much lower during Extra Magic Hours, giving you a great opportunity to experience the more popular attractions.

Most importantly, though…

Disney World is running free dining from December 15th through December 21st. So long as you check in by December 21st, stay at least 3 nights, and include at least 2-day tickets with a park hopper, you are eligible for free dining for the duration of your trip (with a maximum of 14 days.) Having free dining, especially during Christmas, can cut down immensely on your expenses. For this reason, I’d recommend getting down to Disney and checking in by December 21st.

Free dining does have its restrictions, however. Many resorts are excluded from the offer – including Bay Lake Towers, Villas at the Grand Floridian, Villas at Polynesian Village, Port Orleans French Quarter, Port Orleans Riverside, All-Star Movies, Little Mermaid rooms at the Art of Animation, campsites, and 3-bedroom villas.

There are many conflicting reports on Disney’s free dining. Many would argue that it’s not worth it; but after crunching the numbers, it would really help your trip!

Let’s say you arrive on December 23rd, stay at Disney’s Pop Century resort, and check out December 28th. To keep apples-to-apples, let’s set you up with a 5-day park ticket and a park hopper. I’d always recommend a park hopper. It serves as an “insurance policy.” Let’s say you get to Magic Kingdom and it’s packed. With the hopper, you can hop over to a less crowded park!

With the reservation, 5-day ticket and park hopper, you’re at $2,645.06. Let’s assume that your family eats breakfast, lunch and dinner, and maybe a snack here and there. If you’re driving down, you can pack water and some snacks – stop at Costco’s and pick up some chips and a pack of water. For your trip, I’ve allotted 14 Quick Service meals – 3 a day, with 2 on the 23rd when you arrive, 2 on Christmas Day, and 1 on December 28th before you leave. On the 25th, I’d recommend eating at a Table Service restaurant for dinner. Assuming you do this, you’ll spend right around $812 on Quick Service meals (~$17 per adult, ~11 for children for 14 meals,) and around $80 for a nice Table Service meal. Your total vacation would come out to around $3,537.06, plus the cost of snacks, souvenirs, etc.

Let’s take that same timeline and add a meal plan. With the Quick Service plan, your trip would cost $3,355.06. With the Table Service plan, it would cost $3,650.81. Both meal plans would still be right in line with your budget.

Now, let’s take a look at the cost of your trip if we add a few days and cash in on the free dining offer. Let’s book you at the Pop Century from December 21st to December 28th with a 7-day park ticket and a park hopper. Your total comes out to $3,148. That’s around $400 cheaper for a longer vacation, more time in the parks and you get free dining!

To answer your question – yes, you can definitely afford a great Christmas vacation at Disney on a $4,500 budget – regardless of what you choose to do! I would definitely look into going to Disney from December 21st through December 28th – that provides you with the most savings and the most bang for your buck. Plus, the parks don’t get terribly crowded until December 23rd, when the Christmas crowd starts to file in. While the parks certainly won’t be empty, they will be far less crowded on December 21st and 22nd before the crowds pick up for the holidays. You even have some wiggle room within your budget – you can afford a moderate hotel or even add more days onto your vacation! Definitely keep me updated! I’d be more than happy to help you plan your trip!

So there it is, folks, the first Christmas-related question! I’d like to include a quick reminder that the 180-day mark is quickly approaching! June 28th starts the race to book your ADRs, so start planning out your restaurants!

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