Our Disney World and Universal Orlando trip for a family of five cost about $7,000 for six nights.
Park tickets and accommodations were pricey, but our Disney hotel suite was worth the splurge.
We don't regret buying Genie+, but we wouldn't go to the parks in summer again.
In July, our family of five checked a Disney World and Universal Studios trip off our bucket list.
We tried to keep our trip budget-friendly by staying at the cheapest Disney resort we could find, limiting our add-ons (no character brunches or photo packages), and ordering groceries to our resort.
Here's what we spent:
Disney resort and park tickets: $4,226.73 for five nights at the Disney All-Star Music Resort and three park days for five people.
Universal Studios: $1,100.34 for one park day for four people plus transportation.
Food: $800 between a grocery order and a few restaurants.
Transportation: $482.90 for flights from Indianapolis, airport parking, and an airport shuttle. We covered most of our flights with airline credits we had earned — the full airfare would have topped $2,000.
Add-ons: $350 for MagicBands, Genie+, and souvenirs.
After reflecting on the trip, here's what was worth our time and money and what we'd do differently next time.
Using a free travel planner was a huge win
Since no one in our group knew the ins and outs of Disney, we opted to use a Disney travel planner.
These planners are generally free because Disney pays them a commission.
Our travel consultant didn't cost us a dime, and they had great recommendations. They also handled all of our reservations.
We'd book a family suite at a Disney resort again
As a family of five, we could've stayed at a cheaper hotel near Disney World and then paid for parking and a rental car. Or we could've tried squeezing into a double room at a Disney resort.
Instead, we opted to pay a little more for a family suite at Disney's All-Star Music Resort.
Our two-bedroom, two-bathroom suite had everything we needed: beds that pulled out of the wall, a kitchenette, and tons of cubby space.
The kitchenette wasn't really designed to fully cook meals in, but we made it work with our grocery order.
We also appreciated the Disney touches that came with our room, such as the personalized welcome screen in our room and the s'mores and movie screenings each night.
Genie+ was worth the price, but we'd skip the Universal Express passes again
Many people suggested we pay for Genie+, Disney's fast-pass system that lets you skip some lines in the park.
Prices vary, but Genie+ can sometimes cost from $15 to $35 per person per day. It took us a bit of work to figure out the booking system, but avoiding long, hot lines with kids made it worth it.
Universal Studios' closest equivalent is Express Passes, which would've cost $266 per person. We chose not to buy them.
Although we had to wait longer for some Universal rides, we used single-rider lines for some to skip crowds. The only downside was we couldn't sit together.
Building a rest day into our itinerary was key
Theme parks make for some extra-long days for little kids.
Putting a rest day in the middle of our week gave all of us a chance to recharge by our resort's pool and spend time together.
We got our money's worth out of our resort and saved money since we didn't have to buy park passes on our rest day.
On the other hand, we'd visit during a different time of year
In July, Orlando is a hot, sticky mess.
We were drenched in sweat at 8 a.m., with heat indexes reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit by the afternoon.
Next time, I would go to Disney World in spring, fall, or winter. We may also be able to get lower prices that way since summer is one of Disney's most popular seasons.
We'd also change up our park itinerary
As Disney World newbies, we planned for two days at Magic Kindom to find our footing and take full advantage of the sprawling park.
Next time, I'd spend no more than a day there, return to Animal Kingdom (my favorite!), and then check out Epcot or Hollywood Studios.
I'd also spend more days at Universal Studios on a return trip. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is extraordinary — and I loved the Velociraptor, Incredible Hulk Coaster, and Bourne Stuntacular.
We didn't have time to do everything in Universal in just one day.
Overall, we enjoyed our trip but won't be Disney regulars anytime soon
Theme parks are just one of the many experiences we want to expose our kids to. National parks, museums, and international travel are also a priority to us.
At about $7,000, our trip to Disney and Universal cost more than double what we've spent on other vacations.
Still, I'm glad we could give our kids a magical week.
We won't be annual Disney World trekkers anytime soon, but we'll probably be back.
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