There are (broadly speaking) two ways to book your Disney World vacation. You can book your room and tickets separately or you can purchase them together from Disney as a package. In this post, we discuss when and why you’d want to book a vacation package.
A Quick Disclaimer
This post is pretty deep and maybe not very higher return on time-investment (some of it is “common sense”). It’s intended mostly for hardcore budget travelers or those who really want to understand the Disney World booking process. These days, we don’t concern ourselves much with this area, and instead find it more sensible to rely on an authorized Disney Vacation Planner.
Packages and Non-Package Bookings
When booking your Walt Disney World vacation, you’ll have to choose between booking a package and booking different parts (room, tickets, flights) individually.
Generally, a “Disney vacation package” is booked through Disney and includes a room and park tickets for your party. (We discuss ticketless packages below.) You can book a package, with or without a dining plan, easily online, by calling Disney at (407) W-DISNEY or through an authorized Disney Vacation Planner.
You can book flights through Disney as part of your package, too, but we can’t see any good reason to do this, and we haven’t done this in over a decade. If you choose not to book a package, but you still want to stay at a Disney hotel, you’ll be making a “room-only” reservation. Also, you can book a package without tickets (a “ticketless package”), which we cover at the very end of this post.
Rules and Restrictions - Packages vs. Room Only
(Note: You should always confirm the restrictions on your booking directly with Disney or your travel agent before booking. This information is provided purely for reference and should not be relied upon without confirming it elsewhere.)
Package Rules and Restrictions
Packages require a $200 deposit and can be modified or cancelled without penalty up to 30 days in advance of your trip (airfare is always nonrefundable). After that, cancellations fees and restrictions apply. Full payment is due 30 days in advance of your trip.
Room-Only Rules and Restrictions
Room-only bookings require a deposit of the first night (so, often higher than $200), but are modifiable and cancellable up to six days prior to arrival. Full payment is due at check-in.
Generally, the same restrictions apply to a room-only reservation regardless of whether you book it through Disney or some third party site (like Expedia). (But, of course, you’ll always want to confirm that.)
Already, it’s easy to see why we prefer room-only bookings. But really, these details aren’t a huge part of our analysis when deciding whether or not to book a package…
Deciding On A Disney Vacation Package
There’s really only one reason to ever book a full vacation package through Disney—money. (Okay, ocassionally you’ll see availability for a specific room when booking a package but not when booking a room-only…but that’s rare.)
Setting aside the unnecessarily complex rules governing packages and room-only bookings, the difference between the two is a matter of accounting. There’s no special “bonus” for buying a package. All Disney hotel guests get the same perks, regardless of how they booked. The question just comes down to which way you can save most.
Why To Ever Book A Disney Vacation Package
So why ever book a package through Disney? Disney routinely offers discounts that are only good on package bookings. The biggest example of a package discount is Free Dining. You can only take advantage of Free Dining offers if you buy a vacation package, complete with a room and park tickets, from Disney. (You can read more about free dining in our post covering the Disney dining plans.)
In general, it’s always going to make sense to compare Disney’s vacation package prices—even when they have discount offers—to the cost of booking separately. Most of the time, it’s easy to beat a standard package price by purchasing discounted Disney World tickets and booking your Disney World hotel at the best rate possible.
Furthermore, usually when Disney has a package discount available they have a room-only deal available that offers a similar discount. This means you’ll often be able to beat a package discount by booking a corresponding room-only discount (from Disney directly) and purchasing your tickets from a discount ticket broker.
Evaluating a Disney Vacation Package - Example
I’m going to go ahead and do an example of this “on the fly” (with no prior preparation). Hopefully the excitement comes through in my writing…
I’d like to have some offers to play around with, so I’ll be looking at booking a package from March 11, 2019 to March 15, 2019. I use a family of four (kids 13 and 8 years) for my examples. I put my dates into the Disney website online, and already I’ve got some options to review.
Comparing Package Discounts
I’ll go ahead and check out All-Star Sports. I’ve got five options to compare on the Disney website alone—full price room, discounted room, full price package, and to discounted package offers. The standard package price for a standard room with five-day tickets is $2,472.43.
Disney often complicates things by having overlapping package offers. This is a sort of strange concept, because they’re just giving you different prices for the exact same stay.
In this case, the “Kid-Size Gift of Magic Package” deals comes out to $2,260.36. The “Magical Family Memories Package” comes out to $2,196.44, which makes that the price to beat.
Comparing Ticket Prices
Now we’re going to evaluate the price if we purchased the tickets and room separately. We’ll start with tickets. Five day tickets (for our dates) for a family of purchased through Disney cost $1,750.14. Through Undercover Tourist, the tickets cost $1,620.94.
Comparing Hotel Prices
We’ll obviously be purchasing tickets through Undercover Tourist if we don’t book the package, so now we just need to see if we can book our hotel for $575.50 or less (the difference between the Undercover Tourist tickets and the “Magical Family Memories Package” price.
Disney World Room Only Prices. The non-discounted price for our room at All-Star Sports booked directly through Disney is $698.04. Booking under the “Gift of Magic Room Offer,” the room costs $593.37. Notice that, if we book our tickets and room separately through Disney, we’d spend $2,343.51.
In this case, Disney’s best offer is the discounted package. But can we save by booking the hotel through a third party?
Booking Our Room Through Priceline. Using Kayak, I’m able to see a good deal on Priceline. Clicking through, I see it is indeed correctly priced, and the total comes out to $558.01. Ding! Ding! Ding!
Booking our tickets through Undercover Tourist and our room through Priceline gets us the best deal, as it comes out to $2,178.95—beating the “Magical Family Memories Package” price by about $18, or half a t-shirt at the Magic Kingdom.
Recapping Our Example
It’s sort of crazy bow many different prices you can come up with for the exact same vacation, but there it is. One thing to know is that because we booked our room through Priceline, we wouldn’t be able to add a Disney dining plan to it without rebooking (i.e. paying more) through Disney (this is the very next section of the post).
We don’t see great value in the dining plans anyways, but obviously if you were excited about the prospect of one, this is a situation where your best option would be to book a Disney vacation package.
This is also why we usually rely on our Disney vacation planner these days. She can only book at Disney’s rates, but most of the time those are good enough to not be worth the hassle of deal hunting, especially if you’re looking at value or moderate resorts.
Finally, we need to talk about ticketless packages.
A ticketless package is a package of a room and dining plan for your party. It does not include tickets. Ticketless packages cannot be booked online—you’ll need to work with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner (our preference) or call Disney’s travel specialists at (407) 939-1936.
A ticketless package can make sense if you want to purchase discount tickets and want to purchase a Disney dining plan. You won’t be able to get Free Dining using a ticketless package, though.
Ticketless packages are also sensible for people who have a Walt Disney World annual pass, but would like to take advantage of the Disney dining plans. Ticketless packages are subject to the package rules, which might make them less appealing.