How to do Walt Disney World on no budget

How to do Walt Disney World on no budget
Image: The Four Seasons Hotel
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Walt Disney World has long sold itself as the fantasyland for the everyman (and woman) and, as a result, has become the most visited theme park on the planet. But Disney is not immune to the siren call of well-heeled travelers. Just as airlines try to woo business and first-class passengers and their hefty profit margins, and Las Vegas resorts set up ever-more-exclusive hotels within hotels to cater to a high-roller crowd, so too has Disney gone after the upscale traveler who’s looking for more than a turkey leg and a Dole Whip.

“If your standards are really high for food and hotels and service, there are options,” says Robin Hutson, founder of luxury family travel website Luxe Recess. “But you have to know where to look.”

So what does a high-end Disney vacation for a family of four look like?

Hutson’s recommended seven-day itinerary includes a Fireworks View Suite at the Four Seasons Orlando ($23,800),  as well as a $4,000 “food allowance,” private theme park tours ($12,000), and an extra $1,500 for “additional experiences,” like a fireworks cruise. The total budget, including theme park tickets? $43,000 (not including airfare—or souvenirs, of course).

But if the Fireworks View Suite isn’t grand enough, you can opt for the one-bedroom Royal suite ($15,000 per night). Or, if you need a bit more space, there’s the 9-bedroom Royal Suite expansion option. That will run you $41,000. Per night. (Wifi is complimentary.) Feeling more of a Howard Hughes vibe? You can also rent out the entire 16th floor. That will run you about $69,000 per night.

The Four Seasons, which opened in 2014, has been a “game changer” when it comes to enticing travelers with deep pockets to make their Disney pilgrimage, Hutson says. While the resort is not on Disney property, it does its own job of creating a sense of magic for its guests. “Attendants offer gummy gators to children poolside,” Hutson wrote on her blog of the Four Seasons Orlando resort, which also offers custom welcome gifts tailored to your child’s specific Disney interests.

But the offerings aren’t just for children. For adults, there are private cooking classes with the hotel’s chef, or an adults-only pool with underwater audio. When you’re in the park itself, you can have any souvenir you’ve bought sent back to your room, so you aren’t unduly burdened by lugging a plush Simba everywhere you go.

You can, of course, also stay at a Disney property, which has the benefit of being part of Disney’s own transportation system. Lauren D’Ambra, an authorized Disney vacation planner based outside Manhattan, says her business caters primarily to families looking for a high-end experience. While every client varies, D’Ambra says some “VIP types” are deterred from the Four Seasons because of its distance from the theme parks. “Some of my VIPs don’t mind using the regular Disney transportation,” says D’Ambra.

For them, she often recommends the Grand Floridian or the Polynesian, as well as other Disney resorts. D’Ambra says that while booking “club level” accomodations at Disney resorts is certainly a step up from the regular rooms, there are also special, less-well-known suites she often recommends for clients looking to kick things up a notch. The Grand Floridian, for example, has a “Grand Suite,” with two bedrooms and a large balcony overlooking the resort.

The second most important part of planning the ultimate Disney vacation is planning which theme parks you will visit. “It can be overwhelming. It’s a very logistically challenging vacation,” admits Hutson. But there’s no reason to roam aimlessly on your own. You can hire a private tour company that will happily “assist with your stroller, take your picture, run and grab you an iced tea, and guide you through all the rides,” according to Hutson, who says those tours run about $2,000 per day, including gratuity.

If your goal is to spend as little time as possible waiting in lines for rides, Hutson recommends Disney’s own VIP tour option, which runs $425 to $625 per hour, with a seven-hour minimum. Not only will you get squired around the park by an expert, you’ll be able to “enjoy some of your favorite attractions efficiently,” as Disney describes it on its website. Hutson puts it more succinctly. “It’s like having a “human fast pass,” she says.

If the idea of having a “human fast pass” is enticing, how about having two of them? This week, Disney announced a new offering. The “World of Dreams” tour, led by not one but two Disney VIP tour guides. The 12-hour tour accommodates a group of up to six guests. It’s customizable, and even provides access to the elusive Cinderella Castle Suite. The cost? $12,000 for the first day, but only $10,000 for each additional day.

And if you’re wondering whether your pet’s high standards will be met at Disney, fear not! Best Friends Pet Care will coddle your dog while you enjoy the theme parks. For $109 per night (not including add-ons), your dog can enjoy a VIP luxury suite, complete with a webcam, bedtime story, and flat screen TV. To show your dog you really care, add an ice cream break ($4), cuddle time ($8), and a premium bed ($5). VIP luxury suites are not available for cats, who have to settle for “condo” accommodations. That may seem unfair to cats, but then this is a place ruled by a giant mouse.