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14 Ways to Save Serious Money on Your Next Disney Vacation

Walt Disney World truly is one of the most 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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Courtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial Guides

Plan the travel dates for your Disney trip wisely

The 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 your Disney trip 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.

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Courtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial Guides

Know your Disney trip vacation package

When you buy a package for your Disney trip, what you’re really paying for is the convenience of taking care of all aspects of your vacation 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, going the route of a less expensive room-only reservation is often cheaper. Then, you can easily make your own “package” and pay for other expenses separately. Check out these secret spots you never knew existed in Disney parks.

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Courtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial Guides

Use discount codes

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 trip during the off-season, you’ll have more luck finding those discounted rooms.

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Courtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial Guides

Choose your dining plan carefully

All 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. If you’re visiting during the Halloween season, these insider secrets will make your stay spookier.

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Courtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial Guides

Pay full price and dine for free

Here’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.

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Courtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial Guides

Get a hotel outside Disney grounds

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. Here are the differences between Disneyland and Walt Disney World you never knew.

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Courtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial Guides

Bargain for a hotel deal

For 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 to 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.

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Courtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial Guides

Don’t even set foot in a park

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.

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Courtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial Guides

Buy tickets from these vendors

Online 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.

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Courtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial Guides

Don’t buy tickets from these vendors

Unauthorized 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.

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Courtesy Disneyland Resort

Don’t skip dinner

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. These are all of the things you HAVE to book in advance for a Disney trip.

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Courtesy Disneyland Resort

Make lunch your favorite meal

At 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. A bonus tip: Eat breakfast before you get to the park to save even more.

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Courtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial Guides

Bring your own amenities

Buy rain ponchos at a local convenience store. 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. Also, read up on these insider secrets for the best Walt Disney World trip.

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Courtesy, Liliane Opsomer, The Unofficial Guides

Drink free water

You 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 on your Disney vacation. 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. Next, don’t miss these 23 secrets Disney employees won’t tell you.