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How you can afford a trip to Disney

Elaina is a Phoenix-based freelance writer, blogger and co-founder of the Kidlee baby book app. Check out her blog, Fun Finds For Mom, for product reviews, recipes and fun activities for moms and kids.

Insider tips on Disney deals

Think a Disney family vacation is out of the question because of the cost? Not if you plan ahead! We asked the experts to share their tips for enjoying a trip to Disney that won't break the bank.

Mickaey and Minnie greeting a Family

Insider tips
on Disney deals

Think a Disney family vacation is out of the question because of the cost? Not if you plan ahead! We asked the experts to share their tips for enjoying a trip to Disney that won't break the bank.

Know how much you need

If a trip to the Magic Kingdom is in your future, the first thing you need to do is create a budget. So how much does a Disney vacation cost? We asked Siera Duiser, a travel agent with Destinations to Explore, an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, for the average cost of a three-day Disney vacation for a family of four. “Disney has three categories of resorts to fit every budget,” said Duiser. “The average cost for a non-discounted mid-range resort three-day package including hotel, tickets and dining for a family of four would be $1,700 (plus airfare).”

If that figure doesn’t fit your budget, don't fret. Duiser says there are also lower-priced options available at value resorts, and Disney discounts are available throughout the year.

Time it right

If you can travel during one of the "off-seasons," such as early in the year or in the fall, Duiser says you’ll not only get the best deals, but you’ll also enjoy better weather and fewer crowds. The most affordable times of year to visit Disney parks are January through mid-February and August through mid-November. “Although the cost of the tickets does not change, the resort rates fluctuate throughout the year,” Duiser said.

Use a travel agent

Duiser says one of the benefits of booking a Disney trip with a travel agent is that they should automatically apply any future discounts to your reservation as soon as they become available, which can add up to significant savings.

Working with a travel agent may involve a few extra perks too. Duiser says she provides her clients with an Orlando discount card, theme park guide maps and autographed pictures of Mickey or the princesses for their kids. She even runs specials throughout the year where clients can receive a gift card for booking with her — not a bad way to score a little extra spending money!

Sign up for Disney deal alerts

If you’re not using a travel agent, how can you make sure you don’t miss out on any Disney deals? Sign up for the MouseSavers newsletter and follow MouseSavers on Facebook to stay on top of the latest Disney special offers.

Plan meals in advance

Most travelers put serious effort into getting the best deals on their airfare and hotel, but it's just as important to plan ahead when it comes to Disney dining. If you're planning for a few character meals (experiences where Disney characters meet and greet guests in the restaurant) or buffets, Duiser says the Disneyland Dining Plan and Disney World Dining Plan can help you save big on dining expenses.

Gavin Doyle, editor and founding partner of DisneyDose.com, recommends eating at a Starbucks or fast-food restaurant before entering Disneyland to save money on breakfast. Disney also allows guests to bring food and non-alcoholic beverages into the park, so feel free to bring a backpack with snacks and cold water bottles. Doyle suggests eating a big lunch around 1-2 p.m. because the lunch menu prices are lower than the dinner menu prices, and by eating later in the afternoon you won't be as hungry for a big dinner.

Start saving

Unless you have a Fairy Godmother who can turn a pumpkin into a private jet, you'll need to save up for your magical Disney vacation. Here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Create a separate vacation savings account. We like the MouseSavers' recommendation of jump-starting your savings account by depositing a lump sum such as a tax refund. Build your vacation fund with automatic transfers from your checking account.
  • Trim small recurring expenses. (Skipping a $4 latte x 5 days a week x 50 weeks = $1,000! Eliminating a $10 lunch x 1 day a week x 50 weeks = $500.)
  • Give the kids Disney Dollars for birthdays or the holidays. Disney Dollars are the cash equivalents of one U.S. dollar and can only be used at U.S. Disney Store locations and at almost all locations in Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Resort and Disney Cruise Line. Find out how to order Disney Dollars here.
  • Get the whole family involved. Give the kids their own Disney piggy banks to save birthday and holiday money. Hold a garage sale and have everyone clean out unused items, with all proceeds going toward the family vacation. Designate a Disney coin jar to toss spare change and have the kids roll coins and deposit into the vacation fund. Make it a fun family endeavor and you'll be off on your Disney vacation before you know it!

Expert tips:

Travelzoo senior editor Gabe Saglie suggests visiting the HR department where you work to see if they offer any deals on theme park tickets, talking to friends who live in Southern California or Orlando to see if local Disney deals are available, and checking Travelzoo for regularly published deals on Disneyland-area hotels within walking distance to the park for under $120/night.

More Disney travel tips

Tips for Disney World first-timers
Disney World vs. Disneyland: A parent's guide
Family's guide to a 3-day Disney adventure

Image Credit: www.disneyland.disney.go.com
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