Walt Disney World is known as the most magical place on earth, but the sticker shock from prices at the world-famous park is enough to put a damper on your dream vacation.
Don't get discouraged. There are more than a few ways to save money on a trip to Disney World. From the time you book your tickets to the last fireworks show of your last day, here are tips you can use to make your trip more affordable.
1. Visit in the off-season. When you're planning your trip, try to visit in the off-season. For Walt Disney World, that falls during late August, September and January. While theme park tickets are more of a challenge to find at a reduced rate, accommodations will be more affordable during these times. Late August and September is the back-to-school season, so if you have younger children, or aren't traveling with kids at all, this is a great time to visit. You'll find smaller crowds, more available dinner reservations and lower rates at hotels on Disney property.
2. Consider your priorities. Before you book a trip to Disney World, decide on the priorities of your trip. Are you looking for a chance to have a weeklong vacation with a stop at every theme park? Consider off-resort accommodations, but enjoy the perk of lower priced tickets (the longer you stay, the less you pay per day). Or is your family more interested in staying at a Disney hotel? Look into the lowest-priced "value" hotels and a budget-friendly meal plan. By deciding on the goals of your vacation first, you can plan where to splurge and where to save.
If you're traveling in from out of town, it's very tempting to stay at a Disney resort. Not only is it convenient, with free shuttles running to and from the parks all day and plenty of dining options, but it seems like you're really part of the "magic" of Disney when you stay on property.
However, there are a lot of options for those who are open to staying off property. If you are traveling in a large group, renting a vacation home will almost certainly be much easier on your wallet. Plus, you can share expenses, such as the cost of parking at the theme park, groceries and a rental vehicle, if needed. Keep in mind that Disney does offer a free transportation service, so taking advantage of that will save you a lot of money as well -- just make sure to look into pick-up and drop-off locations well in advance.
3. Choose your meals wisely. You can purchase one of Disney's dining plans if you are staying at a Walt Disney World resort. They offer a quick-service, regular or deluxe dining plan. Consider your group or family's dietary preferences to figure out which plan might work best.
There are a few simple strategies that you can use to save money on food during your trip. Eating breakfast at your vacation rental or hotel room can save you a lot of money in the long run -- coffee, fruit, milk, cereal and energy bars are inexpensive and can be stored in a small minifridge. This way, you can avoid the cost of theme park food for one meal of the day and save any dining plan meals for later in the day.
Pack snacks and water bottles to keep you hydrated and full throughout the day. This can cut costs considerably over the course of your trip.
4. A few other tips. You don't have to do the Disney PhotoPass. Professional photos are nice, but not necessary, and the packages and prints are quite costly. You can always ask a Disney World employee to snap a photo of you and your group with your own camera. After you return home, order prints at Wal-Mart or Target for a fraction of the price.
If you are a frequent traveler to Disney parks, you may want to open a Disney Rewards Visa card. The rewards you earn from everyday spending can be redeemed at Disney locations and stores. Before opening a new credit card, check your credit score and credit health and make sure it's a smart move financially.
Lastly, buy souvenirs and gifts off-resort. You can save so much money by avoiding premium theme park prices. Plus, purchasing these items online allows you to use coupon codes and click through a cash back shopping website first.
Now you're ready to book your next frugal Walt Disney World vacation.
Jon Lal is the founder and CEO of coupons and cash-back website BeFrugal.com, which saves shoppers an average of $27 per order thanks to coupons plus an average of 7 percent cash back at more than 5,000 stores. Lal founded BeFrugal in 2009 with the mission to provide shoppers with maximum savings for minimum hassle. The company operates from its headquarters in Boston and serves customers globally. You can follow along with Lal on Twitter at @jon_lal.