14 Ways to Save Serious Money on Your Next Disney Vacation

Walt Disney World truly is one of the magical places on earth. It's also one of the most expensive. These expert tips from The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World give you the DL on saving big at WDW.

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Plan your travel dates wisely

Courtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial GuidesThe most expensive times to buy vacation packages at Disney World are mid-March through Easter, summer, and holiday periods. If you’re flexible about when you can travel, plan it during the “off” months. Not only do you save money, but you save time standing in line for rides that could otherwise have 90-minute long waits. Want the least stressful vacation possible? Here’s what not to do.

Know your vacation package

hub-in-front-of-castleCourtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial GuidesWhen you buy a Disney vacation package, what you’re really paying for is the convenience of taking care of all aspects of your trip in one swoop. Many vacations packages include extra features that you’ll never use, but drive the price of the whole deal way up. If you choose to buy a package, make sure you understand what you’re paying for (i.e. make sure you will actually use the extra perks). Otherwise, go the route of a less expensive room-only reservation are often cheaper. Then you can easily make your own “package” and pay for other expenses separately.

Use discount codes

Dumbo-RideCourtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial Guides Disney hotels often release discounts to get rid of unsold rooms. Sites like mousesaver.com can help you find those codes. They usually appear two to six months in advance of your reservation. If you can be flexible and schedule your vacation during the off-season, you’ll have more luck finding those discounted rooms. These are secrets your hotel doesn’t want you to know.

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Choose your dining plan carefully

Blaze-PizzaCourtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial GuidesAll Disney Magic Your Way packages come with the option of a Magic Your Way dining plan (original name, right?), and you can’t get a dining plan without the vacation package. The Magic Your Way Plus dining plan (one counter-service meal, one sit-down meal, and two snacks per day) is a fan-favorite—60 percent of visitors who got the plan said they’d buy it again, according to the guide. However, it can be risky. Skip just one meal during a stay of five or fewer days, and you will lose money. Stay away from meal plans if you have picky eaters, or if you’re unsure if your kids can even eat one full-sized meal every day.

Pay full price and dine for free

Morimoto-Asia-table-serviceCourtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial GuidesHere’s another reason why you should go to Disney off-season. When you buy a full-price room and full-price tickets for everyone in your party, you get a free Disney Dining Plan for your entire stay. This deal is offered throughout September (a particularly slow month as kids go back to school), though sometimes you can grab the deal in late August and other parts of the year. Check with a Disney representative to find out when those exact times are.

Get a hotel outside Disney grounds

Mickeys-Friendship-FaireCourtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial Guides If you can live without the convenience and atmosphere of a Disney resort, any offsite hotel is automatically cheaper. We’re talking as low as $50 a night. There are tons to choose from, and increased competition means more opportunities for discounts (think AAA and AARP members). Plus, these locations are often 30 minutes or less from the parks. Others offer shuttle service for free or a small fee.

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Bargain for a hotel deal

Animal-Kingdom-LodgeCourtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial GuidesFor hotels outside the Disney grounds, scour the web for reasonable rates at online travel agencies like Expedia and Travelocity. Then, see if your travel agent or the hotel itself will match the price. It’s actually cheaper for the hotel to sell you directly, so use that to your advantage when negotiating. Travel agents can usually find lower prices than what you find online, and if they can’t, they can make up for it with perks like free breakfasts and better views. Here’s how you can keep your valuables safe once you’re at your hotel.

Don’t even set foot in a park

Grand-Floridian-HotelCourtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial Guides If your family is the outdoorsy type, try Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground instead of the traditional parks. It’s affordable and offers the most recreational options anywhere at Walt Disney World, including a beach, bike and boat rentals, tennis and volleyball courts, and more. Don’t worry, it still has that magical touch with its musical revue show, movie screenings, and a water parade.

Buy tickets from these vendors

Big-Thunder-Mountain-RailroadCourtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial GuidesOnline ticket wholesalers sell brand-new park admission tickets, and they save you anywhere from $4-$60 per tickets. The Unofficial Guide recommends The Official Ticket Center, ParkSavers, and Maple Leaf Tickets. Check out other ways you can vacation for less.

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Don’t buy tickets from these vendors

Scenic-magic-kingdomCourtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial GuidesUnauthorized resellers buy unused days on legitimately bought passes and try to resell them as new tickets. Let’s say you want to go to a park two days from now. They will sell you a ticket that they know expires in two days, but you assume the pass has the normal 14-day expiration date. So if you decide to go to a park a day later than you planned, you will unfortunately find out your ticket has expired.

Don’t skip dinner

11-Ways-to-Save-Serious-Money-on-Your-Disney-VacationCourtesy Disneyland Resort If you don’t show up to an Advance Reservation the day of your meal, you get hit with a per-person no-show fee. It’s $10-$25 for all Disney sit-down restaurants, but can go up to as much as $50 per person at classier locations like Victoria & Albert’s at the Grand Floridian Hotel.

Make lunch your favorite meal

12-Ways-to-Save-Serious-Money-on-Your-Disney-VacationCourtesy Disneyland ResortAt most restaurants in the parks, a lunch serving is about the same size as a dinner entrée but significantly cheaper. If you’re splurging on a meal, make it your midday meal. (And when you start feeling that post-lunch dip, try one of these energizing tips.) A bonus tip: Eat breakfast before you get to the park to save even more.

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Bring your own amenities

Mad-Tea-PartyCourtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial GuidesBuy rain ponchos at a local convenience store (you should keep them in your car anyway). Bring your own stroller instead of renting one. Make your own snack bags rather than wasting time and money on overpriced ones. Basically, don’t buy inside the park what you can buy—or make—yourself.

Drink free water

Beauty-and-Beast-floatCourtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial GuidesYou can get a free cup of ice water at all Disney restaurants, but only if you ask. When beverages are at least $3 each and the special souvenir cups cost twice that, opting for water is an easy way to save cash. For more tips on saving money and time while having the vacation of your dreams, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa.

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