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How to Have a Low Cost Disney World Trip

Cheap Disney World vacation

Growing up, Walt Disney World was one of my family's favorite vacation spots (though, who am I kidding? At nearly 30, it is still one of our favorite places to go!). 

By the time I started college, I had visited the House of Mouse more times than I could count since my family went at least once during the summer with several smaller weekend getaways scattered throughout the year.

When I began to make the trip with my sister or my friends (without my parents or their pocketbook), I quickly realized how easy it was to blow a budget at Disney World. After the first few times flying solo at WDW, I came home with far less money in my pocket than I had originally planned.

Where had I gone wrong? As I got older and wiser, I realized that Disney World will always have something for me to buy, try, or eat beyond my original budget. It's just a matter of reigning in unnecessary spending and re-alloting that money to what really matters to you. 

Feeling quite British at the afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian

If you want to treat your kids to a lunch at Cinderella's Castle, go for it. It's pricey, but worth the money if your children will make lasting memories. Just consider that you can't eat like that for every meal every day if you want your budget to stay in tact.
As we've started planning in earnest for Britton's first Disney trip in December, Landon and I are trying to make the best trip that we can while still feeling comfortable with what we're spending. 

Here are a few ways to save money at Disney World: 

Use Disney gift cards. Many grocery stores sell these nowadays, and even allow you to use your store perks or rewards system to get a discount on them. Sam's Club or Costco sometimes reduces their Disney gift cards by a dollar or two off of the marked price, which doesn't seem like much at first, but can quickly add up if you pay for your entire trip with gift cards. 

Go during the low season. Save money on rooms and time in line when you travel in January, February, September, or (early) November. Avoid the week of Thanksgiving, the week between Christmas and New Year's, and any weekend that has a special event occurring (Star Wars, Food and Wine Festival, etc.). Note that some rides may be closed for refurbishment in January, so check before you book to make sure your favorite ride is up and running! 

It's blurry, but my sister and I were having a blast on our sisters only trip a few years back!

Have breakfast in your room. All Disney hotel rooms now have a mini-fridge in them (with microwave). Bring oatmeal packets, cereal and milk, protein bars, or pastries for a quick breakfast for mere pennies. Eating breakfast in the parks, even at the bakeries, can quickly add up to a $25 meal for a family of four. Use that toward a character breakfast or a turkey leg later in the day! 

Go to a late character breakfast. If one of these fun-filled, but expensive, dining sessions in on your "must-do" list, make your reservations as late as possible (usually 10:30 or 11:00 a.m.). Have a light breakfast in your room before heading to the park, then let your character breakfast do double duty as a hearty breakfast and a big lunch during this brunch time. The breakfasts are incredibly filling, so your family will be happy and full well into the early evening. As an added bonus, the character breakfast cost is significantly less expensive than a lunch or dinner character experience.

Buy tickets from an authorized Disney ticket re-seller. By doing this, you will usually save around $10 a ticket off the gate price; sometimes re-sellers will also kick a free day or other perks in there too. The best known Disney re-seller is Undercover Tourist, though there are others out there. Be careful, though, as there are plenty of non-authorized ticket sellers trying to scam vacationers out of their money. Especially avoid anything on Craigslist or eBay. 

Utilize the "free stuff" at Disney park restaurants. Most counter-service places will give you a glass of hot or cold water for free. Bring your own packs of hot cocoa, instant coffee, powdered lemonade, or powdered juice packets, and you have a quick, free beverage! 

These restaurants also usually provide peanut butter and jelly packets for free in their condiments section; order two slices of bread (around $0.80), and your picky eater just got lunch.

If you're media, you can request free park passes. Certain media personnel (including writers associated with local and nationwide print and online magazines and newspapers) are entitled to 2 Park Hopper passes per 12 month period. If you're a freelance writer, you'll need a letter of assignment in hand before you can apply for the tickets. As of right now, Disney doesn't consider travel bloggers for this media perk--though you could probably convince the PR department if you have a gigantic following. These are usually extremely limited, so you need to apply as far in advance as possible. Since I work as a writer for several Charleston media outlets, I was able to use my yearly media passes when I attempted the 4 Parks/ 1 Day Challenge with my sister this past June.

I was so proud of my media passes that I took a picture of them and put it on my Instagram!
If you have to stay onsite, stay in the value resorts. I, for one, love staying onsite because that way I never have to leave the Disney magic. While the value resort prices may be anywhere from $10-$40 more per night than an offsite hotel, I'm willing to pay the difference for the free bus shuttle, Disney guest services, and the many amenities onsite. Plus, when you add in parking money you'll need once you actually get to the parks, the margin between the onsite and offsite hotels looks a lot less daunting. My value resort of choice is Pop Century because of its history-based themeing, dedicated bus service (it doesn't have to share with any other resort!), and its availability of rooms (it's the largest resort in the Disney chain).

Do you love Disney World? What's your favorite way to save money while on vacation?