Ah, Disney World. Who doesn’t want to spend a little time at one of the most magical places on earth? Unfortunately, magic doesn’t come without cost. Visiting any of Disney World’s parks, let alone all of them, is not cheap.

That said, you don’t have to break the bank to head down to Disney. You can start setting up your budget by asking yourself three foundational questions:

  • When are we going?
  • Where are we staying?
  • How are we getting there?

With these questions in mind – plus one or two extra – you’ll be able to keep your trip to Disney World affordable as well as fun.

When Are You Going?

Carving out the time to go on vacation isn’t easy for anyone. When you manage to find a good stretch of time to spend away from work, you’ll want to seize it as quickly as possible—most of the time, that is.

It turns out that most major holidays – A.K.A., the days the majority of people have off or want to use for vacation – make for some of the worst times to go on vacation. Why? Because everyone’s on the road all at once. This means there’s plenty of opportunity for your vacation to be a social one, sure, but there’s just as much of a chance that you’ll have to face down traffic jams, long lines, and inflated prices on everything.

Disney World, in particular, sees significant guest fluctuation based on what time of year it is. If you plan your visit carefully, you can manage to swing a trip during the off season and avoid those longer lines – not to mention the higher travel prices.

  • January and February – in the six weeks after New Year’s has come and gone, most adults will be heading back to work and their kids back to school. As a result, Disney World empties out. That makes this span of time ideal for someone who wants to save money and still enjoy the nostalgic wonder of Disney.
  • Early May – for much the same reason, early May serves as a great time to pack the kids in the car and head down to Disney. While the temperatures in Florida will be ramping up, most folks will have just come back from their kids’ spring break vacation. While Memorial Day may cause a bit of hustle, you’ll still be able to enjoy lower hotel prices and fewer crowds as you make your way around the parks.
  • September – if you head down to Disney in September, you’re trading fewer crowds and less expensive hotels for the swampy weather that defines Florida’s peak hurricane season. Hotels will have deals that are practically unbeatable, and Disney offers “free dining” packages to draw in what crowds they can. Visiting Disney in September may be a toss up, weather wise, but it will sure be easier on your bank account.

Where Are You Staying?

The Disney Resorts that are strategically placed around their parks are gorgeous testaments to the company’s success. That said, they’re not cheap to stay in. If you want to shell out up to $600 a night, you can give one of these resorts a go. Otherwise, there are less expensive options available to you.

– Out-Of-Park Hotels

One easy alternative to the in-park hotels are the multiple off-site hotels that offer shuttle services to the Disney parks. While these hotels won’t have the Disney charm, they cost up to $100 less per night to stay in, depending on what time of year you’re visiting.

– Airbnb, FlipKey, and HomeAway

The rise of Airbnb and its peer apps have also made it easier for the residents around Walt Disney World to open their homes to eager park attendees. While you need to have an open mind to step into a stranger’s home, the prices for Orlando’s Airbnbs are significantly less than the cost of its hotels. Once again, availability and price will vary depending on what time of year it is, but you should be able to find a place to stay in Orlando – if not near the Disney Parks – for less than $100 a night.

– Staying With Family

Finally, the easiest way to spend money on a place to stay while visiting Disney is to make the most of any friends or family you have in the area. If someone you work with has a condo in the area, ask if you can rent it for a week. Alternatively, combine a trip to Disney with an opportunity to connect with distant family members. You can visit the parks together for much less money than you would spend to stay in a fancy hotel.

How Are You Getting There?

Once you have the time of your visit and your residence figured out, you can decide how you’re going to get to Disney World.

– Planes

Flying into Orlando is the best way to start off a visit to Walt Disney World. Most tickets cost anywhere from $100 to $250, depending on what time of year it is, and you won’t have to worry about any of that money going to fluctuating gas prices or roadside restaurants.Take a look ahead of time to find the cheapest flight from the airport near you, and you’ll be right as rain.

Take care to have a rental car available to you at the airport or alternative transportation arranged, too. This is the one downside of flying to Walt Disney World. While the upfront cost makes the price worth it, car rental and renter’s insurance in Florida can cost you if you don’t do your research.

– Automobiles

The cost of taking the family car from your home to Disney will, again, vary based on the time of year you’re setting off in. The summer months tend to see higher gas prices, but so do most major holidays. Not only that, but if you live further away from Florida and will need to take more than one day to manage your drive. You’ll have to consider the extra cost of additional hotel rooms and food in your travel budget.

So, driving to Walt Disney World may not be the best option for you unless you live within a reasonable distance of Orlando, Florida. At the least, check to see how much it would cost you and your family to drive from your home to Walt Disney World before committing to the drive.

Saving Money on Tickets

With all of the basics out of the way, how can you save money on Disney’s staggering park prices?

– Use Undercover Tourist

For an “undercover” tourist, this service makes stellar rounds as a legitimate and authorized provider of Disney World tickets. You’ll be able to find Disney World tickets at a reduced price and deals that might including extra days at the parks.

– Check for Discounts

Disney World will also occasionally announce ticket discounts through its social media accounts and other mediums. Check through these avenues before completing your purchase to see if you can find a more affordable ticket option.

– Forgo Park Hopping

There’s so much to do in even just one of Disney World’s parks that park hopper – an expensive ticket add on – isn’t always worth the extra cost. Leave it behind and dig into the nooks and crannies of your chosen park instead.

Saving Money in the Disney Parks

At last, with your tickets in hand, hotel booked, and travel finished, you’ve made it to the park. How can you save money while touring through some of the most magical places on earth?

– Skip the Dining Plan

Not only do Disney Dining Plans make you wait in line to enjoy a meal at the parks’ restaurants, but you will be losing money with one of their dining plans unless you get the plan for free. Skip the plan and focus on ways to save on each meal individually.

– Ask for Cups of Water

Cups of water are free at Disney World, whereas bottled water costs upwards of $2. On a hot day – or at just about any time of year – just stop someone in dining services and get a cup of ice water for your family to enjoy instead of doling out the extra cash.

– Avoid Buying Park Merch

While it’s always tempting to spend money on the mouse ears that your kids desperately want, taking in too many little gifts can rack you up some serious bills. Instead, try to buy some of these things beforehand. Local Disney outlets all across the United States make the ears, shirts, and similar merchandise available for a reduced cost.

Don’t let Disney World’s expensive reputation keep you from making the trip down to Orlando, Florida. With a bit of planning, budgeting, and clever maneuvering, you’ll be able to have the Disney World trip of your dreams for a fraction of the cost.