How to Get to Disney Cheap

By Nancy Schretter, Editor

Disney family vacations are one of the most popular topics for our Family Travel Network readers. So is how to get to Disney on a budget. Here are 12 ways to get to Disney on the cheap so you'll have plenty of money to spend at the parks on your Disney family vacation.

1. Go off-season. For budget shoppers, the best time to visit Disney is during their "value seasons." Typically, these tend to be the non-holiday periods from early January to mid-February and after Labor Day until right before Christmas. Sometimes free dining plans are included with Disney resort stays during this time period, so keep an eye out for special offers. Free nights at Disney resort hotels and other perks may be offered during these slower seasons and the lines for rides are shorter, too. Check the Disney Parks website, the Family Travel Network, and the other sites such as MouseSavers.com, AllEars.netand DISboards.com for more information on Disney specials and deals.

2. Be flexible on travel dates. Sometimes booking engines may have features to help you search out the best price, such as those available at Travelocity and Orbitz. Rather than stating specific dates, note that your travel dates are flexible on Travelocity and Orbitz and the booking engine will attempt to show you the lowest prices available during a specific month or travel period. If you'll be traveling by air, think about using airfare sales to help determine your family's vacation destination rather than the other way around. Sites like Airfarewatchdog and Kayak can help. Just plug in your departure city and check out the list of available deals.

3. Choose the right Disney land for your family. Some families assume that they'll be missing the best of everything if they don't go to Walt Disney World, but California's Disneyland can provide a cheaper and equally enjoyable vacation experience for some families. See this story on The Family Travel Network for a comparison of the two parks.

4. Check out alternative airports. Investigate airfares from all airports within driving distance - especially if they are served by a low-fare airline. A one-hour drive can often deliver savings of several hundred dollars per ticket, making your dream family vacation suddenly affordable. Check sites such as FareCompare.com, FareCast.com andAirfarewatchdog.com for deals and sign up for each of the airlines' electronic newsletters, so you can find out about sales as soon as possible. The Airfarewatchdog blog will also help you uncover money-saving airline promotion codes. In addition, make sure to research airfares on low-cost airlines such as Southwest and others, as they do not appear on many popular booking sites.

5. Make it a road trip. When airfares to Orlando for the entire family add up to much more than your family can afford, take to the road. As National Lampoon's Vacation movie showed, road trips can be some of the most memorable family vacations. If you'll be driving down the East Coast, take a look at Drive I-95 for detailed mile-by-mile maps showing services and attractions on each side of the road. Also consider getting to Orlando by rail. Amtrak often offers some excellent deals for families and their Auto Train to Florida accommodates all shapes and sizes of automobiles.

6. Join the club and play your cards wisely. Membership can provide big rewards when it comes to a Walt Disney World vacation. Check with your employer, credit union and credit card companies to see if they provide Disney discounts. If you're a member of AAA, AARP, Costco, Sam's Club or other buying cooperatives, call to see what deals they offer. For families that live close by, Disney pass programs and Florida residency discounts provide significant savings. In addition, if you or your spouse is an active or retired military member, you can take advantage of special Disney discounted pass programs. You can also stay at the Shades of Green Resort, a Disney hotel reserved for active and retired military members, Department of Defense civilians and U.S. Public Health Officers. You'll have access to some of Disney's largest rooms at inexpensive prices, as well as tennis courts, heated swimming pools and more. Getting a copy of the Orlando Entertainment Book and an Orlando Magicard can also score vacation savings.

7. Search for packages and compare costs. Walt Disney World, Disneyland and tour operators typically offer vacation packages - some with excellent savings on flights, tickets, meals and hotels. Check the Disney Parks website, along with sites such as Travelzoo, Travel-ticker.com, Funjet, and airline vacation companies such as Southwest Vacations, US Airways Vacations and others. Compare the package price with the total cost of individual components to make sure you're getting a deal. Some resorts offer family packages and "kids eat free" specials, so make sure to take a look at resort and hotel chain websites to find these deals.

8. Weigh the Disney perks. Carefully evaluate your family's vacation style and choose the lodging and dining options that best fit your needs. It could save you money in the long run. For example, staying at Walt Disney World allows guests to purchase the Disney Dining Plan, which can help with budgeting and deliver savings of up to 35% on adult dining. Inexpensive lodging is available on the Disney property, ranging from $46 per night for a ten-person individual campsite to $82 per night for rooms at value resorts during Disney's low season. Disney guests also have access to extra magic hours in the parks, eliminating parking costs ($14 per day) and providing free transportation throughout the parks as well as from the airport to your hotel aboard Disney's Magical Express - a huge cost savings for those who don't have their own car. Check the Disney Parks website for more information.

9. Bid at an auction. Sites like Priceline.com and Hotwire.com can yield huge bargains, but at a cost. You typically won't know the specific hotel you're purchasing until you've already paid for it. Families should be particularly cautious when bidding on hotel rooms, as the standard room offered is based on double occupancy and may not contain the bedding you require. Those who plan to purchase from Priceline.com should first visit biddingfortravel.com and Hotwire bidders should check out betterbidding.com. These sites will help you to better understand Priceline's and Hotwire's parameters, research your options, learn what bids have been successful, and become an educated bidder. Using this tip, many readers have told us they've saved up to $200 per night on the cost of four-star Orlando area hotel rooms.

10. Rent a vacation home. Many highly desirable Orlando resort communities contain condominiums, villas, and vacation homes that are rented by their owners. Rates for these properties can be up to 40-50% less than those charged by nearby hotels. The Vacation Rentals By Owner website is an excellent tool for finding vacation home rentals in Orlando. Other good websites to check include HomeAway.com, All Star Vacation HomesRedWeek, PerfectFamilyVacation.com, Zonder, FlipKey,Rentalo and 10Kvacationrentals.com. RedWeek.com is a good source of timeshare vacation rentals in the Orlando area. If your dream rental is still out of your price range, consider bringing along some friends and splitting the cost. Vacationing with another family whose children are around the same age as your own provides built-in playmates for your kids, as well as additional hands to help with the cooking. If you'd like groceries delivered to your suite or vacation home, check outGarden Grocer. They can deliver food, baby diapers and supplies, sunblock, and other items directly to you at prices comparable to what you'd find at home.

11. Stay in a tent or an RV. Disney's Fort Wilderness Campground offers the least expensive accommodations within Walt Disney World. Staying here comes with all the official Disney perks (extra magic hours at the parks, access to the Disney dining plans, free parking and transportation, etc.) and the cost is so cheap. A family of up to 10 can stay at an individual campsite at Fort Wilderness for as little as $46 per night. Rates for campsites with a full RV hook-up start at $61 per night. In addition to low-cost rates, families will also enjoy Fort Wilderness's petting zoo, evening Disney movies under the stars, and sing-along sessions with Chip and Dale - all free of charge for Disney guests.

12. Consider a home exchange. Free accommodations and even car rentals are possible anywhere in the world if you're willing to do a home exchange. Remember, families living in Orlando want to go on vacation, too. This option has been working successfully internationally for many families for over 14 years and numerous organizations are available to help.HomeExchange.com, for example, has over 25,000 listings and Intervac International Home Exchange has over 20,000 potential exchange homes in their database. Additional sources include the International Home Exchange Network andHomeLink.

To uncover more money-saving tips for your Disney vacation, read this companion feature on The Family Travel Network. The insider tips detailed in that article can easily save your family hundreds of dollars on your trip. If you're looking for ideas on doing Orlando on a budget, this The Family Travel Network story will show you how.

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