It’s the happiest place on Earth, but also tends to drain your wallet faster than you can say Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo. And yet a long-dreamed of Disney vacation is hard to beat: Where else can you flaunt a mouse-eared cap, set sail with pirates, check into a haunted mansion, and travel from China to Morocco – all in one day? Here are twenty tips to help you make the most out of your Disney vacation without breaking the bank:

  • Get the most out of your time and money and order a free, customized park map. Before you go, order a customizable park map– you’ll be able to highlight all your favorite rides and dining spots, pre-planning your days and maximizing your time and fun. Plus, the map makes for a great, free, and even framable keepsake.
  • Book your trip during value season.Value season at Disney World is not only the less expensive, but also the least crowded. From approximately January 2 to February 11, and August 14 to September 29, you’ll find the lowest priced packages and the shortest waiting lines.
  • Book a hotel outside of Disney World. Our family loves the luxe Omni Orlando at Champions Gate, where rates for a four star diamond resort including free breakfast for kids 12 and under, start at just $149 per night. Located at equidistance between both Universal and Disney, this property is a good base for families looking to visit both parks. You’ll want to dedicate some days to simply playing at the amazing pool, with its slick slide and lazy river.
  • Traveling with a large party? Book a townhome, villa or Condo. Pleasantstays.comoffers a variety of unique, affordable properties in the Orlando area. If you are traveling with a large group, it’s decidedly less expensive and a lot more fun to stay in a rental home away from home.
  • Stay at one of the Value Resorts. If you really want to stay on the Disney property (which indeed can save on time in terms of getting to and from the parks), stay at one of the Value Resorts. A room at the Pop Century Resort, for example, during value season, starts at just $89 per night.
  • Staying on the Disney property has its benefits, including complimentary airport transportation service on Disney’s Magical Express between the Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World Resort hotels, complimentary transportation (bus, boat and monorail) within the resort, free parking for guest with vehicles, and extended theme park hours, known as Extra Magic Hours, which allow you to play in the parks before or after regular hours on designated days.
  • Add the Disney World Dining Planto your Disney package upon booking. The dining plan includes one full-service meal, one counter service meal, and one snack each day. The cost varies by season, with prices starting at $45.99 per day, per adult and $11.99 per day, per child.
  • Extend your stay. Staying for a few extra days might sound like a non-cost effective way of doing Disney, but tickets to the parks are usually the largest package expense and 7-day tickets cost only a fraction more than 4-day tickets. Make a trip to Disney your one and only trip for the year (i.e. cut out summer trips to the local water park) and spend more time having fun with Mickey and his pals.
  • Stock up on your own snacks/food.If you have a rental car, stop at a local store between the airport and your hotel and stock up on sandwich fixings, drinks, and snacks. All onsite Disney resorts have in-room fridges.
  • Bring water bottles from home.You’ll not only save money but also the environment by refilling reusable water bottles at the many drinking fountains around the park.
  • Carry healthy snacks with you at all times.Avoid falling victim to the sugar highs of expensive ice cream and other treats around the parks. Keep some easy-reach and healthy snacks on hand – think popcorn, trail mix, cheese and crackers – to keep rumbling tummies filled.
  • Bring your own souvenirs from home.A common spending pitfall at Disney is the vast array gift shops, which contain all sorts of fun but pricey Disney memorabilia. Satisfy your child’s souvenir cravings by shopping before you hit Disney: many dollar stores have cute Disney-themed items. Wrap up a little token for each day of your stay and surprise your kids with one per day at breakfast.
  • Bring a small spiral notebookto use as an autograph book. Your kids will love collecting the John Hancocks of all their fave characters.
  • Buy insuranceif you will be visiting Walt Disney World on a package vacation during August and September Hurricane season can also wreck havoc on inland Florida. In 2004, Disney was affected by two hurricanes and two hotels suffered damage.
  • Bring your own princess dress.The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is an insanely popular spot with the little girl set, a place where they can create their own wands and jewelry boxes and get their nails and hair done just like their favorite princess. Bring your daughter dressed in her own gown and matching wand from home and bring and treat her to just one of the many princess accessories and/or beauty treatments.
  • Photocopy both sides of your park tickets.You will need the info on both sides to obtain replacements.
  • Download the Disney Dining App on your phone. The popular Disney World Dining app ($1.99, VersaEdge Software LLC) includes full menus for all 160 restaurants, making it easy to determine which restaurants to visit and which to skip.
  • Find the shortest lines with the Disneyworld Wait Times App. The Disneyworld Wait Times App (Free) will help you avoid long lines and make the most of your Disney days.
  • Brings some books, board games and coloring books/crayonsfrom home for down time. These will be a lifesaver when waiting for dinner reservations and will prevent you from having to run to the nearest gift shop.
  • Take advantage of the free fun. Many of the fun and unique attractions at Disney are free. Head over to the Polynesian Village Resort’s beach at 9 p.m. for the Electrical Water Pageant, watch the Wishes fireworks from the Grand Floridian Resort boat dock, spend an afternoon soaking up rays and splashing around at your hotel pool. Most importantly, let yourself be a kid again – have fun, relax, and enjoy looking at the world of Disney through your child’s eyes.