Cost Comparison: ABD vs On Your Own

jimmymc

Professional Adventurer!
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
A few years ago I did a little exercise comparing the cost several ABD trips to the cost of booking everything on your own: hotels, activities, transportation, and meals. The results were pretty consistent: on your own was usually 40% to 50% cheaper, but it was frequently difficult or impossible to do as much in the length of the trip as ABD did. There is a huge value in having your luggage and transportation, not having to plan all this on your own, and the guides being there at every stop to get you what you need or add to the experience. If I can find the old thread where those were posted, I'll link it here: https://www.disboards.com/threads/is-abd-worth-the-discussion-thread.3045636/page-8

In just over a month, I'll finally be going on my first ABD! So I thought it would be fun to give a new comparison with the trip I'll be on: Southern California and Disneyland, also known as Backstage Magic. I never did the comparison for this trip in the past, since many of the activities are impossible to do without ABD. Imagineering and the Disney Studios don't offer this level of behind the scenes tours to the general public, only through ABD and special events like D23. But now that I've spent more time in LA and visited Disneyland on my own, I'll try to create some similar days touring studios, visiting Hollywood landmarks, and having the best Disneyland day possible. With the disclaimer that this will probably be the most modified experience I've done, here is the breakdown for Backstage Magic.

ABD Backstage Magic, May 14-May 19, 2023
$4,199 per adult x 2 = $8,398

Hotels:

All hotels assume 1 Queen/King or 2 doubles, whichever is cheaper, and double occupancy.

Loews Hollywood Hotel, 2 nights = $705.94

Grand Californian, 3 nights = $2,393.82

Hotel Total = $3,099.76

Transportation

For this section, I will assume you're renting a car from the first day to arriving at the Grand Californian, then taking a private transfer back to LAX on your last day.

Car Rental, 3 days = $285

Ride from rental drop off back to Disneyland = $20

Transfer from Disneyland to LAX = $188

Parking at Loews Hollywood = $70

Parking around Los Angeles - $50

Transportation Total = $613

Meals (all prices are for 2):

Day 1
Welcome Dinner at Hotel: $110

Day 2:
Breakfast, hotel grab n go: $30
Lunch at Tam O'Shanter: $160

Day 3:
Breakfast, hotel grab n go: $30
Lunch, Studio Commissary: Not accessible to the public, but a similar meal in the area would be about $50
Dinner, Storytellers Cafe: $110

Day 4:
Breakfast, Jolly Holiday Bakery: $25
Lunch, Disneyland Restaurant: $80

Day 5:
Breakfast, Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe: $25
Dinner, Disneyland restaurant: $120

Day 6
Breakfast, Grand Californian: $30

Food Total: $770

Activities:

Day 2:
TCL Theater and Hollywood Tour: $40
Jim Henson Company: Closed to the public, Paramount Studio VIP Tour is $398
Afternoon Outing: varies, estimate $100 for something around Hollywood

Day 3:
Disney Studios, Archives, Imagineering: you literally can't put a price on this, but let's assume $140 for a D23 membership and $458 for two D23 Expo passes. From there you have a chance at entering the studios, and will probably see some cool artifacts at the expo, but it's not guaranteed access.
Disneyland 4 Day, Park Hopper Ticket with Genie+: $1000 (exactly)

Day 4:
Walk in Walt's Footsteps Tour: $218
Fantasmic Dining Package (closest thing to reserved seating): $120
Additional Lightning Lanes: $40

Day 5:
DCA Tour: Not available to book, so I will substitute with a massage at the Grand Californian: $600
World of Color Dining Package: $148
Additional Lightning Lanes: $70

Activities Total: $3,332

Summary
Hotel Total: $3,099.76
Transportation Total: $613
Meals Total: $770
Activities total: $3,332

Grand Total: $7,814.76

Price Difference: $8,398 - $7,814.76 = $583.24

Things included in ABD but not included in booking on your own:

2 Guides familiar with the area acting as your personal concierge
Behind the scenes access at the Studios, Archives, Imagineering, and the parks that you cannot buy outside of the trip.
Luggage service at all hotels and the airport
Private transportation that does not involve driving yourself or any public transit
Several private meals at the restaurants mentioned above
Separate activities for children

My observations:

In these reports I normally like to mention if I think ABD is worth the extra cost: Given how expensive Los Angeles and Disneyland can be on their own, plus the behind the scenes access, this trip is a no brainer. For even stronger evidence, it's the first trip I'm going on and I'm paying the single supplement. Still well worth the price.

Since you only transfer hotels once, and the second half of the trip is all within walking distance, the luggage service and transportation is less of a deal here, but still convenient.

LA and Disneyland have some fantastic food, so I'm glad there are a decent number of on your own meals rather than group dining experiences. The catered meals can often have limited menus and aren't the best food quality, but on this trip I think Disney did a great job planning those.

Disneyland tickets and the Grand Californian are expensive on their own, which really closes the gap between ABD and on your own.

Your Disneyland ticket is good for your entire departure day, so many people will book at least 1 extra night to take advantage.

In conclusion, this is a special trip you can only do through ABD, and if you can afford it, I think all Disney fans owe it to themselves to take this tour. I can't wait for my trip and will be back with reports in late July.
 
Last edited:

Mathmagicland

Disneyland - the original since 1955
Joined
Jul 26, 2014
A few years ago I did a little exercise comparing the cost several ABD trips to the cost of booking everything on your own: hotels, activities, transportation, and meals. The results were pretty consistent: on your own was usually 40% to 50% cheaper, but it was frequently difficult or impossible to do as much in the length of the trip as ABD did. There is a huge value in having your luggage and transportation, not having to plan all this on your own, and the guides being there at every stop to get you what you need or add to the experience. If I can find the old thread where those were posted, I'll link it here: https://www.disboards.com/threads/is-abd-worth-the-discussion-thread.3045636/page-8

In just over a month, I'll finally be going on my first ABD! So I thought it would be fun to give a new comparison with the trip I'll be on: Southern California and Disneyland, also known as Backstage Magic. I never did the comparison for this trip in the past, since many of the activities are impossible to do without ABD. Imagineering and the Disney Studios don't offer this level of behind the scenes tours to the general public, only through ABD and special events like D23. But now that I've spent more time in LA and visited Disneyland on my own, I'll try to create some similar days touring studios, visiting Hollywood landmarks, and having the best Disneyland day possible. With the disclaimer that this will probably be the most modified experience I've done, here is the breakdown for Backstage Magic.

ABD Backstage Magic, May 14-May 19, 2023
$4,199 per adult x 2 = $8,398

Hotels:

All hotels assume 1 Queen/King or 2 doubles, whichever is cheaper, and double occupancy.

Loews Hollywood Hotel, 2 nights = $705.94

Grand Californian, 3 nights = $2,393.82

Hotel Total = $3,099.76

Transportation

For this section, I will assume you're renting a car from the first day to arriving at the Grand Californian, then taking a private transfer back to LAX on your last day.

Car Rental, 3 days = $285

Ride from rental drop off back to Disneyland = $20

Transfer from Disneyland to LAX = $188

Parking at Loews Hollywood = $70

Parking around Los Angeles - $50

Transportation Total = $613

Meals (all prices are for 2):

Day 1
Welcome Dinner at Hotel: $110

Day 2:
Breakfast, hotel grab n go: $30
Lunch at Tam O'Shanter: $160

Day 3:
Breakfast, hotel grab n go: $30
Lunch, Studio Commissary: Not accessible to the public, but a similar meal in the area would be about $50
Dinner, Storytellers Cafe: $110

Day 4:
Breakfast, Jolly Holiday Bakery: $25
Lunch, Disneyland Restaurant: $80

Day 5:
Breakfast, Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe: $25
Dinner, Disneyland restaurant: $120

Day 6
Breakfast, Grand Californian: $30

Food Total: $770

Activities:

Day 2:
TCL Theater and Hollywood Tour: $40
Jim Henson Company: Closed to the public, Paramount Studio VIP Tour is $398
Afternoon Outing: varies, estimate $100 for something around Hollywood

Day 3:
Disney Studios, Archives, Imagineering: you literally can't put a price on this, but let's assume $140 for a D23 membership and $458 for two D23 Expo passes. From there you have a chance at entering the studios, and will probably see some cool artifacts at the expo, but it's not guaranteed access.
Disneyland 4 Day, Park Hopper Ticket with Genie+: $1000 (exactly)

Day 4:
Walk in Walt's Footsteps Tour: $218
Fantasmic Dining Package (closest thing to reserved seating): $120
Additional Lightning Lanes: $40

Day 5:
DCA Tour: Not available to book, so I will substitute with a massage at the Grand Californian: $600
World of Color Dining Package: $148
Additional Lightning Lanes: $70

Activities Total: $3,332

Summary
Hotel Total: $3,099.76
Transportation Total: $613
Meals Total: $770
Activities total: $3,332

Grand Total: $7,814.76

Price Difference: $8,398 - $7,814.76 = $583.24

Things included in ABD but not included in booking on your own:

2 Guides familiar with the area acting as your personal concierge
Behind the scenes access at the Studios, Archives, Imagineering, and the parks that you cannot buy outside of the trip.
Luggage service at all hotels and the airport
Private transportation that does not involve driving yourself or any public transit
Several private meals at the restaurants mentioned above
Separate activities for children

My observations:

In these reports I normally like to mention if I think ABD is worth the extra cost: Given how expensive Los Angeles and Disneyland can be on their own, plus the behind the scenes access, this trip is a no brainer. For even stronger evidence, it's the first trip I'm going on and I'm paying the single supplement. Still well worth the price.

Since you only transfer hotels once, and the second half of the trip is all within walking distance, the luggage service and transportation is less of a deal here, but still convenient.

LA and Disneyland have some fantastic food, so I'm glad there are a decent number of on your own meals rather than group dining experiences. The catered meals can often have limited menus and aren't the best food quality, but on this trip I think Disney did a great job planning those.

Disneyland tickets and the Grand Californian are expensive on their own, which really closes the gap between ABD and on your own.

Your Disneyland ticket is good for your entire departure day, so many people will book at least 1 extra night to take advantage.

In conclusion, this is a special trip you can only do through ABD, and if you can afford it, I think all Disney fans owe it to themselves to take this tour. I can't wait for my trip and will be back with reports in late July.
Nice breakdown and analysis! I’d also add the time savings - our traffic out here is horrible! Driving is not for the faint of heart if you’re not used to it. And finding those parking spots is not always easy, plus walking in from the parking where AbD is usually a closer drop off. And, AbD will likely have snacks & waters on the busses.

Enjoy your trip!!
 

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jimmymc

Professional Adventurer!
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
Nice breakdown and analysis! I’d also add the time savings - our traffic out here is horrible! Driving is not for the faint of heart if you’re not used to it. And finding those parking spots is not always easy, plus walking in from the parking where AbD is usually a closer drop off. And, AbD will likely have snacks & waters on the busses.

Enjoy your trip!!

Yeah, that was usually the biggest difference on the older comparisons I did. You could drive or otherwise get to everything, but packing all the activities in the allotted time was difficult to impossible.
 

CaliforniaGirl09

DIS Veteran
Joined
Dec 4, 2009
Nice! I did a back of the napkin analysis like this years ago of all the ABDs I'd done to that point, and Backstage Magic came out as the best "value" for me, too. I want to say my next best was the original versions of ABD Scotland (very different from current itinerary). That was such an amazing trip with so many extras. The worst was the ABD Baltic add on.
 

jimmymc

Professional Adventurer!
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
Nice! I did a back of the napkin analysis like this years ago of all the ABDs I'd done to that point, and Backstage Magic came out as the best "value" for me, too. I want to say my next best was the original versions of ABD Scotland (very different from current itinerary). That was such an amazing trip with so many extras. The worst was the ABD Baltic add on.
Was the Baltic a Disney cruise add on? The only one I've seen that looks worth it was Alaska, just because there are so many great things to do.
 

sayhello

Have Camera, Will Travel
Joined
Oct 28, 2006
Nice! I did a back of the napkin analysis like this years ago of all the ABDs I'd done to that point, and Backstage Magic came out as the best "value" for me, too. I want to say my next best was the original versions of ABD Scotland (very different from current itinerary). That was such an amazing trip with so many extras. The worst was the ABD Baltic add on.
That's so funny, because the Med Cruise Add-on was such an amazing value! I don't know how they went from that to getting the Baltic so wrong!

Sayhello
 

CaliforniaGirl09

DIS Veteran
Joined
Dec 4, 2009
Was the Baltic a Disney cruise add on? The only one I've seen that looks worth it was Alaska, just because there are so many great things to do.
Yes, it was a Disney cruise add-on. The original Alaska add-on was definitely worth it--they had helicopter rides, etc. The Baltic add on was mostly city tours, which you could have done on the ship for under $50 a person. There were very few "VIP" touches--if any. In other words, almost everything you could have done on your own. The only thing I remember that might have been VIPish was a behind the scenes look at the Amber room. The frustrating thing was that we didn't get private access to the amber room or the ability to take pictures when the "signature" excursion on the ship did! And we had a huge group. It was 49 people.
That's so funny, because the Med Cruise Add-on was such an amazing value! I don't know how they went from that to getting the Baltic so wrong!

Sayhello
But I think you went on one of the originals, early-on, right? I think they included a bunch of stuff in yours (Palo, water, tips on ship, etc) that they didn't on ours, and the prices went up pretty astronomically quickly. The same thing happened with the Alaska add-on. It was a great deal the first year or two and then they raised the price and took all the cool things out of it.

It's the ABD modus operandi. That's why I try to go on trips the first year. They make them great to get people excited and sell them, and then they gradually start chipping away at the expensive parts of the trip.
 

sayhello

Have Camera, Will Travel
Joined
Oct 28, 2006
But I think you went on one of the originals, early-on, right? I think they included a bunch of stuff in yours (Palo, water, tips on ship, etc) that they didn't on ours, and the prices went up pretty astronomically quickly. The same thing happened with the Alaska add-on. It was a great deal the first year or two and then they raised the price and took all the cool things out of it.

It's the ABD modus operandi. That's why I try to go on trips the first year. They make them great to get people excited and sell them, and then they gradually start chipping away at the expensive parts of the trip.
Yes, I went on the second one that ever went, so you're right. It was the original concept, as conceived by the designers before the execs watered it down. And before they realized they could charge a fortune for them. It's sort of like when I bought an annual pass for Disneyland the first year they were available - for $100! That didn't last!

And I'm the same as you. I used to avoid taking trips the first year to let them work the kinks out, but quickly learned that the itineraries were at their best when new and as the designers designed them, before they got gutted and eventually became pale versions of themselves.

Sayhello
 

bonnielynn

DIS Veteran
Joined
Jan 15, 2005
A few years ago I did a little exercise comparing the cost several ABD trips to the cost of booking everything on your own: hotels, activities, transportation, and meals. The results were pretty consistent: on your own was usually 40% to 50% cheaper, but it was frequently difficult or impossible to do as much in the length of the trip as ABD did. There is a huge value in having your luggage and transportation, not having to plan all this on your own, and the guides being there at every stop to get you what you need or add to the experience. If I can find the old thread where those were posted, I'll link it here: https://www.disboards.com/threads/is-abd-worth-the-discussion-thread.3045636/page-8

In just over a month, I'll finally be going on my first ABD! So I thought it would be fun to give a new comparison with the trip I'll be on: Southern California and Disneyland, also known as Backstage Magic. I never did the comparison for this trip in the past, since many of the activities are impossible to do without ABD. Imagineering and the Disney Studios don't offer this level of behind the scenes tours to the general public, only through ABD and special events like D23. But now that I've spent more time in LA and visited Disneyland on my own, I'll try to create some similar days touring studios, visiting Hollywood landmarks, and having the best Disneyland day possible. With the disclaimer that this will probably be the most modified experience I've done, here is the breakdown for Backstage Magic.

ABD Backstage Magic, May 14-May 19, 2023
$4,199 per adult x 2 = $8,398

Hotels:

All hotels assume 1 Queen/King or 2 doubles, whichever is cheaper, and double occupancy.

Loews Hollywood Hotel, 2 nights = $705.94

Grand Californian, 3 nights = $2,393.82

Hotel Total = $3,099.76

Transportation

For this section, I will assume you're renting a car from the first day to arriving at the Grand Californian, then taking a private transfer back to LAX on your last day.

Car Rental, 3 days = $285

Ride from rental drop off back to Disneyland = $20

Transfer from Disneyland to LAX = $188

Parking at Loews Hollywood = $70

Parking around Los Angeles - $50

Transportation Total = $613

Meals (all prices are for 2):

Day 1
Welcome Dinner at Hotel: $110

Day 2:
Breakfast, hotel grab n go: $30
Lunch at Tam O'Shanter: $160

Day 3:
Breakfast, hotel grab n go: $30
Lunch, Studio Commissary: Not accessible to the public, but a similar meal in the area would be about $50
Dinner, Storytellers Cafe: $110

Day 4:
Breakfast, Jolly Holiday Bakery: $25
Lunch, Disneyland Restaurant: $80

Day 5:
Breakfast, Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe: $25
Dinner, Disneyland restaurant: $120

Day 6
Breakfast, Grand Californian: $30

Food Total: $770

Activities:

Day 2:
TCL Theater and Hollywood Tour: $40
Jim Henson Company: Closed to the public, Paramount Studio VIP Tour is $398
Afternoon Outing: varies, estimate $100 for something around Hollywood

Day 3:
Disney Studios, Archives, Imagineering: you literally can't put a price on this, but let's assume $140 for a D23 membership and $458 for two D23 Expo passes. From there you have a chance at entering the studios, and will probably see some cool artifacts at the expo, but it's not guaranteed access.
Disneyland 4 Day, Park Hopper Ticket with Genie+: $1000 (exactly)

Day 4:
Walk in Walt's Footsteps Tour: $218
Fantasmic Dining Package (closest thing to reserved seating): $120
Additional Lightning Lanes: $40

Day 5:
DCA Tour: Not available to book, so I will substitute with a massage at the Grand Californian: $600
World of Color Dining Package: $148
Additional Lightning Lanes: $70

Activities Total: $3,332

Summary
Hotel Total: $3,099.76
Transportation Total: $613
Meals Total: $770
Activities total: $3,332

Grand Total: $7,814.76

Price Difference: $8,398 - $7,814.76 = $583.24

Things included in ABD but not included in booking on your own:

2 Guides familiar with the area acting as your personal concierge
Behind the scenes access at the Studios, Archives, Imagineering, and the parks that you cannot buy outside of the trip.
Luggage service at all hotels and the airport
Private transportation that does not involve driving yourself or any public transit
Several private meals at the restaurants mentioned above
Separate activities for children

My observations:

In these reports I normally like to mention if I think ABD is worth the extra cost: Given how expensive Los Angeles and Disneyland can be on their own, plus the behind the scenes access, this trip is a no brainer. For even stronger evidence, it's the first trip I'm going on and I'm paying the single supplement. Still well worth the price.

Since you only transfer hotels once, and the second half of the trip is all within walking distance, the luggage service and transportation is less of a deal here, but still convenient.

LA and Disneyland have some fantastic food, so I'm glad there are a decent number of on your own meals rather than group dining experiences. The catered meals can often have limited menus and aren't the best food quality, but on this trip I think Disney did a great job planning those.

Disneyland tickets and the Grand Californian are expensive on their own, which really closes the gap between ABD and on your own.

Your Disneyland ticket is good for your entire departure day, so many people will book at least 1 extra night to take advantage.

In conclusion, this is a special trip you can only do through ABD, and if you can afford it, I think all Disney fans owe it to themselves to take this tour. I can't wait for my trip and will be back with reports in late July.
Love this!! Really helps making the decision to spend the money and what you get for it.
 

KLondon

Mouseketeer
Joined
Dec 19, 2002
I've done this exercise a few times, as well - starting with our first ABD trip in 2007 (Knights & Lights). As OP has laid out, you can do a similar trip much cheaper on your own but...

- You'd be hard-pressed to fit everything in - i.e. ABD buys you time to do more
- Some ABD activities are simply impossible for mere mortals to do on their own
- You would be staying in lesser accommodations (you may or may not care)

So in terms of value-for-money, there is a perspective that says ABD is worth the cost. But in absolute dollars, that's cold comfort when I'm looking at the ABD price increases for 2022 and 2023 (and my unscientific observation that trips are including more 'on your own time' than in the past). :(
 

ngl

DIS Veteran
Joined
Jul 1, 2009
Thank you for this post. We are debating doing our first ABD next summer (2023). It is a big number to swallow. I have taken many ABD and Tauck itineraries and replicated as much on my own for our US trips and had great success. Also just did similar itineraries for Paris and London (cities we were very familiar with as my husband ran in a business in Paris & London before we had kids). However, I am just not as comfortable taking that plunge for Italy. Like you mentioned, lots of moving parts. We did Tauck Bridges land trip in Alaska in 2018 and no way could we have covered that ground on our own. I appreciate your breakdown of all of this. Really good food for thought!
 

jimmymc

Professional Adventurer!
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
I've done this exercise a few times, as well - starting with our first ABD trip in 2007 (Knights & Lights). As OP has laid out, you can do a similar trip much cheaper on your own but...

- You'd be hard-pressed to fit everything in - i.e. ABD buys you time to do more
- Some ABD activities are simply impossible for mere mortals to do on their own
- You would be staying in lesser accommodations (you may or may not care)

So in terms of value-for-money, there is a perspective that says ABD is worth the cost. But in absolute dollars, that's cold comfort when I'm looking at the ABD price increases for 2022 and 2023 (and my unscientific observation that trips are including more 'on your own time' than in the past). :(
For me the choice often comes down to doing the ABD or doing a longer trip, frequently for less money. If you only have one week then most ABD trips are going to get you the most out of that time, but if you have more vacation then you can do more on your own for less money. There are exceptions, especially something like the Backstage Magic, but for most of the trips to Europe or Asia my opinion is to take more time and book things on your own.
 

*pixie*

DIS Veteran
Joined
Jan 13, 2008
@jimmymc, thanks so much for this! We were on the fence about booking, but this made the decision easy. We are booked for September 2023!
 

jimmymc

Professional Adventurer!
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
@jimmymc, thanks so much for this! We were on the fence about booking, but this made the decision easy. We are booked for September 2023!
This one really is a no-brainer, if you want the best experience at Disneyland this is the tour to book.
 

Candycane83

DIS Veteran
Joined
Feb 11, 2012
I've done this exercise a few times, as well - starting with our first ABD trip in 2007 (Knights & Lights). As OP has laid out, you can do a similar trip much cheaper on your own but...

- You'd be hard-pressed to fit everything in - i.e. ABD buys you time to do more
- Some ABD activities are simply impossible for mere mortals to do on their own
- You would be staying in lesser accommodations (you may or may not care)

So in terms of value-for-money, there is a perspective that says ABD is worth the cost. But in absolute dollars, that's cold comfort when I'm looking at the ABD price increases for 2022 and 2023 (and my unscientific observation that trips are including more 'on your own time' than in the past). :(
Southern California and Disneyland is the first and only ABD I’ve taken so far and agree, there’s so much that is simply impossible to do outside of this tour. Now that I have experienced this, I am looking into our next trip 😅 I do want to see this type of comparison with other trips especially European ones.

I did feel this tour also had more on your own time because obviously in Disneyland it’s needed lol! There was also no specific junior adventure activity… so am very curious about a “regular” trip.
 

jimmymc

Professional Adventurer!
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
How was your trip?
I'll do a full trip report sometime soon, it's been a very busy summer. But my overall thought is that if you are a fan of the parks and like seeing behind the scenes, it's worth skipping an Orlando trip or two to do this tour.
 







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