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How to enjoy Disney World for less

Disney World is notoriously expensive, but there are ways to get around some of the largest expenses associated with visiting the Happiest Place on Earth.

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    A part of the signage at the main gate of The Walt Disney Co. is pictured in Burbank in this California (May 7, 2012). Disney World has long been a favorite vacation spot, but it can be pricey.
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Since we live in New York, my four-year-old daughter hasn't yet confronted us with the mighty D-word. That's right: Disney. However, as she's getting older, we've been seriously contemplating a trek. But the price tag can be a bit intimidating.

Think you can't afford a Disney World vacation? Think again. Here are a few ways to ease the financial burden, as well as some smart tips that will keep more dollars in your pocket. (See also: 8 Affordable Amusement Parks That Are Just as Fun as Disney)

1. Travel

If you're going to fly, try booking early — really early. You can also save on airfare by flying into different airports, experimenting with different arrival dates (think mid-week versus weekend), and using tools like Kayak's flight search to both track and compare prices. (See also: 10 Flight Booking Hacks That Can Save You Hundreds)

Recommended: Have kids, will travel: 8 tips for family trips

2. Accommodations

A lot of people think they need to stay in the Disney resorts to have the best experience. But that just isn't true. You can have a great time and save money by investigating hotels that are just a few miles away.

My family always stayed at an Embassy Suites. The place came complete with an awesome pool, complimentary breakfast, cocktail hour, and other fun family events. We also had a small kitchenette in our room and lots of space for a family of four at a fraction of the resort price.

Concerned about transportation to the parks? Many nearby hotels offer free shuttle services that run all day, possibly eliminating your need to rent a car. Yes, the Disney hotel package deals can look appealing — but do your research. Map out a few hotels that meet your budget and other criteria. Then call them to see what kinds of perks they offer.

3. Tickets

There's really no "off season" at Disney, but the crowd is less intense from mid-January through March. Weekends also tend to be bustling because locals flock to the parks for quick getaways. Mousesavers.com shares that during peak times, not only are hotels and tickets more expensive, but Disney even raises its food prices.

According to these sites, the best times to visit (with regard to both crowds and prices) include:

  • Mid-November through mid-December (except Thanksgiving)
  • Mid-January through mid-February
  • First three weeks of May
  • Late August through September

If you don't have a lot of flexibility with timing, you can still save on tickets. Sites like Undercover Tourist offer tickets at reduced rates. You may even be able to score a deal by heading to the local Orlando Walmart for discounted multi-day tickets.

And don't forget to check out Disney World's Special Offers page. The parks give discounted rates to military, Florida residents, and more. Call ahead to see if you qualify or check with other groups (for seniors, union members, AAA, etc.) that might offer discounts.

4. Food

When you're walking around the parks all day, you're going to get hungry and thirsty. Think ahead by packing your own snacks and beverages in a small backpack versus buying them individually at the park. A single bottle of water costs several dollars, so bringing your own (or a reusable bottle to refill at fountains) is a solid idea.

With meals, pick and choose your splurges. There are plenty of off-campus restaurants you can enjoy on your way to and from your park visit. Try clipping coupons before you go or look for offers directly on the restaurant's website. Packing some sandwiches and snacks can ease your hunger at lunch. And if you choose a hotel that offers a free breakfast, you're going to save big on the most important meal of the day.

5. Other Ways to Save

I have a friend who paid for her first trip to Disney (hotel and tickets) entirely through credit card points. Use any cash rewards credit card or airline rewards card to rack up on miles, and you can save up enough to pay for your trip in no time. (See also: Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards)

You'll probably be tempted to get all sorts of trinkets and other souvenirs. Setting a budget ahead of time can help with those impulse buys. And who says you have to buy stuff in the park? Check out the nearby Disney Character Warehouse for authentic souvenirs at low prices.

This article first appeared at Wise Bread.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

 
 
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