What is the cheapest trip to Disney World? How to save without sacrificing the magic

·6 min read

It's easy to spend a lot of money at Walt Disney World.

Tickets alone to Disney Very Merriest After Hours can cost a family of four roughly $1,000. Add a sit-down dinner, some souvenirs and a hotel for the night and the budget balloons. Multiday vacations cost even more.

There are, however, lots of easy ways to save without skimping on the experience, which for some families may only come once in a lifetime.

From choosing where to stay to what to skip, here is how to get the most bang for limited bucks on a trip to Disney World.

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Where to stay at Disney World

From motels to Airbnbs, timeshares to five-star resorts, there are accommodations for every budget minutes away from Disney World, but to maximize time and benefits, one of the best options is to stay on property.

That's because Disney resort guests get early theme park entry, which can be key for beating long lines for rides later in the day, especially for folks who don't want to spend extra money on Disney's new Genie+ or Lightning Lane add-ons.

Disney transportation is free for everybody, but resort guests have the added convenience of regular service to the parks and Disney Springs from their hotels. Guests who bring their own cars have to pay for parking at the resorts, but they don't have to pay additional parking fees at the parks.

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By far, the cheapest option for staying on property is a campsite at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort. Campsites for traditional tents, pop-up campers and camper vans start at $66 per night in the off-season. Peak dates and larger campsites for RVs cost more. Perks of staying at Fort Wilderness include free evening sing-alongs with Chip 'n' Dale, lakeside views of the nightly fireworks at Magic Kingdom, and all the bells and whistles of staying at an official Disney resort.

Guests who prefer traditional rooms can choose from four Disney value resorts: three All-Star properties with average nightly rates listed at $126 in the off-season and Pop Century which averages $168 nightly off-peak. Standard rooms at both resorts sleep up to four adults. The All-Star resorts have been recently renovated and have similar layouts to Pop Century. One big difference is Pop Century has direct access to Disney's Skyliner, which connects the resort to EPCOT, Hollywood Studios and several other Disney resorts.

There are a number of non-Disney hotels near Disney Springs that also offer early park entry and accept rewards points for booking, like Holiday Inn Orlando and DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Orlando. Some even pop up in Express Deals on Priceline.

Another option for redeeming rewards points is staying at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, which are operated by Marriott and within walking distance to EPCOT. In addition to early admission at the parks, Swan and Dolphin guests are eligible for extended evening theme park hours, which are otherwise only open to guests at deluxe Disney resorts and villas and Shades of Green.

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Shades of Green is an Armed Forces Recreation Center on Disney property that is not open to the general public. Eligible guests include military service members, Armed Forces retirees, disabled veterans and their families. While Shades of Green is not a Disney resort, guests can enjoy both early admission and extended evening hours as well as discounted rates on stays and park tickets.

One more option is booking a Disney Vacation Club stay through a rental company like David's Vacation Club Rentals or DVC Rental Store. These companies serve as a middleman between guests and Disney timeshare owners renting out stays at official Disney resorts. Cancellations may not be as flexible as booking directly through Disney. And while guests are able to score significant savings on deluxe Disney resorts, these rentals aren't cheap.

Guests walk down Main Street, U.S.A. at Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
Guests walk down Main Street, U.S.A. at Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

Discount Disney tickets

Costco members can buy discounted vacation packages for Disney World, which include park tickets and hotel stays. AAA also offers deals, but starting prices for tickets on their website may match Disney's prices online depending on the desired date. Some employers may also offer discounted park tickets through corporate benefits programs, though restrictions vary.

Thrifty travelers may be tempted to purchase discounted park tickets through third-party timeshare sellers promising steep savings in exchange for sitting through a sales pitch, but those can take precious hours away from vacations. Disney's official timeshare program, Disney Vacation Club, does not offer discounted tickets for listening to presentations.

How to save on food

Unlike other theme parks, Disney World welcomes guests to bring in their own food and non-alcoholic drinks.

Guests who drive to Disney can pop into numerous grocery stores off property. Amazon Fresh and Instacart also deliver groceries.

To save money, guests can eat breakfast in their hotel rooms then pack simple lunches and snacks for the park.

Water bottles can be filled at fountains or wherever fountain drinks are sold.

At the parks, quick service restaurants have the most budget-friendly meal choices. Guests can plan ahead and budget accordingly by checking out menus online.

While some adults may be inclined to order off kids' menus to save money, those portions are notably smaller and offerings are generally more basic. Instead guests may want to consider buying and sharing multiple snacks throughout the day so they can try different things without spending too much.

Skimp on souvenirs

The dazzling array of souvenirs at Disney World can break the bank. Fortunately Shop Disney runs various sales year-round, and retailers from Walmart to Gap sell licensed Disney merchandise, which also goes on sale.

Guests can keep an eye out for deals before their trips to avoid going hog wild when they arrive at Disney World.

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More ways to save

Disney Visa Card from Chase customers can save 10% on select merchandise, dining and experiences. They can also earn rewards dollars throughout the year that can be redeemed across Disney World.

Another way to save is through Disney gift cards, which are as good as cash at the parks. Target RedCard members can save 5% on gift Disney cards. Sam's Club and BJ's Wholesale members can also pay a little less than face value. Gift cards purchased for full price at Kroger can rack up fuel points for savings on gas.

One tactic that won't cost a thing is asking for Disney gift cards for holidays or birthdays. Those can be saved up to help pay for trips.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Disney World on a dime: How to save as much as possible at the parks

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