Travel

19 Genius Ways To Have A Perfect Disney World Vacation On A Budget

Visiting the most magical place on earth doesn't have to break the bank.

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1. First things first: Book your trip during the off season, if your schedule allows for it.

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Spring and summer break are consistently the most crowded times of year for Disney World, which means inflated hotel prices, jacked-up ticket values, and packed parks. Crowded theme parks are no laughing matter — time is money in Disney World, and spending all that cash just to wait in line all day is a complete waste. Disney's "value season," on the other hand, lasts from mid-August to mid-September and early January through mid-February. Not only do visitors during these times enjoy shorter ride lines and generally cheaper prices all around, but the notorious Florida humidity is practically nonexistent.

2. And consult the Disney World Crowd Calendar for the most detailed information about the best time to go.

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This in-depth chart offers the nitty-gritty, from special events in the parks to how much tickets cost for that particular day. It even gives the scoop on resort crowd levels! Non-subscribers can see 30 days of information, while a $14.95 annual subscription allows access to the full crowd calendar.

Basically, being flexible is a major key for big savings.

3. If you're a AAA member, ask about discounts on hotels, flights, and park tickets.

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That membership can save you a bundle on literally all major expenses for your trip. Call or visit your local AAA storefront to maximize your discounts before you book anything.

4. And look into whether you're eligible for other affiliation discounts.

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Disney offers discounts to Florida residents, members of the military and Department of Defense, employees of certain companies, and more. Check here for more on those.

5. When in doubt about booking anything, call!

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Picking up the phone sucks, but it can save you a bunch of money, whether you're calling up AAA or the Disney hotline (407-WDW-MAGIC). Some special discount codes are available only over the phone, and if you get the right agent on the line, they might upgrade your hotel or ticket type free of charge.

6. If you plan to visit Disney World at least once a year, think about getting a Disney Rewards credit card.

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The card accumulates points for in-park purchases like food, special events, souvenirs, guided tours, and more. If you're going to spend money throughout the year, might as well make it count toward your Disney vacay, right?

7. Stay in a Disney Vacation Club to get the most bang for your buck.

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Okay, these are definitely more expensive right out of the gate than any hotel, but the vacation club — which is just another name for a timeshare — actually works out as a major money-saver, especially for families. The biggest advantages are the cost-effective in-unit washers and dryers, plus kitchens that let you cook all of your own meals. Plus, you don't even need to be a member of the club to book a vacation club property. You can either work directly with a vacation club member looking to fill their room or go through a third-party broker to set up the rental. Find out more information on that here.

8. Remember that although staying at a non-Disney hotel is cheaper, there are drawbacks to staying off-property.

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Disney-area hotels can be very nice, not to mention cheaper, thanks to their non-Disney property status. Some even offer free transportation to the parks and views of fireworks displays — but staying on the property might be worth the inflated room cost, thanks to things like Extra Magic Hours, the Magical Express bus, complimentary MagicBands, quick transportation, and dining plans, which are all available only to those to stay at a Disney hotel. Some Disney hotels, like the All-Star Music Resort, can be as low as $108 a night. If saving money is your primary goal, though, definitely look into off-property accommodations.

9. Buy your park passes from authorized discount sellers, not through Disney.

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Sites like Park Savers and Undercover Tourist are reputable discounters that Disney insider blogs swear by. They buy their tickets wholesale directly from Disney and resell them as multi-day passes for a bargain, as they include tax in the flat price. Buying tickets this way still allows you to get FastPasses and MagicBands the way you would if you bought your passes through Disney.

11. Interested in getting Park Hopper tickets? Buy them for one day shorter than the duration of your vacation.

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A trip to Disney World is exhausting; being on your feet all day, often in high heat and humidity, can tire out even the hardiest travelers. So if you're planning a five-day Disney getaway, get a four-day Park Hopper pass and spend your day off at the pool, Disney Springs, or just relaxing in your hotel room.

12. But if you're really budget-conscious, skip the Park Hopper option altogether.

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Park Hopper tickets allow you to bounce back and forth among Disney World's four parks at your leisure, while non–Park Hopper tickets require that you stay in the same park all day. It's definitely nice to be able to spend the morning at, say, Magic Kingdom and the evening at Epcot, but for an extra $60 a day, it's not necessary. Going back and forth between parks can take up to an hour, so unless you want or need that break in the day, say no to a Park Hopper. If you're on the fence, buy a non–Park Hopper ticket, and if you realize during your trip that you want to come and go as you please, you can upgrade your ticket at the parks.

13. Avoid overpaying for food in the parks by familiarizing yourself with budget restaurants.

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Sure, grabbing a hot dog here and a turkey leg there is cheap, but you don't have to limit yourself to on-the-go food. Table-service restaurants like the Plaza in Magic Kingdom and 50's Prime Time Café in Hollywood Studios offer better-than-average food for decent prices. Pro tip: Order a kid's meal if you're not starving!

14. Plan on eating your biggest meal of the day at lunch.

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Lunch prices are considerably lower than those at dinnertime, for equal portion sizes. This is especially true at sit-down restaurants in Epcot's World Showcase, which has fine dining establishments in its France and Morocco areas, among others.

15. Bring your own snacks and water bottles so you don't get ripped off on the basics once you get inside the park.

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It's as easy as visiting the nearby Publix to stock up on portable food and drink. That's not to say you shouldn't get a Mickey Mouse waffle or a giant ice cream cone, but it means you don't have to if or when hunger strikes.

16. Don't feel obligated to do the Disney dining plan.

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Basically, the Disney dining plan is a way to prepurchase a set amount of meals a day if you book a Magic Your Way trip or stay in a Disney Vacation Club. It makes choosing where and what to eat super easy, allows you to have fancy sit-down meals several times throughout your trip, lowers sticker shock on big meals once in the park, and can be awesome for families. But if your focus is eating economically, the dining plan isn't worth it. Save your money by paying for meals individually at lower-cost establishments.

17. When you take a day off, do one of the many free activities Disney World and the surrounding areas have to offer.

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So you've got an extra day you didn't buy a park ticket for? Great! Spend it strolling along the boardwalk, watching a movie outdoors, scoping out Disney's gorgeous resorts, or riding the monorail.

18. Buy sunscreen and ponchos before you set foot in any of the parks.

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Sunshine and rain come in large (not to mention equal) quantities in central Florida, so be prepared. You can buy a multipack of disposable ponchos for $1 online, and go to a local Costco, drugstore, or grocery store to get some sunscreen without the Disney markup.

19. And finally, avoid buying souvenirs in Disney World proper.

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As with most other things, Disney tacks on extra dollars to souvenirs sold in shops inside the parks. It can be hard to tell children they can't get that set of mouse ears they've had their heart set on, but if they can wait, take them to Disney's Character Warehouse, an outlet store right in Orlando. Another option for patient children? Pretend to buy their souvenir in the store and "have it shipped home," aka find it online at a cheaper price.