How to enjoy Disney World on a budget
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla - You might not be able to do Disney on a dime but you can save some money on your next trip.
Disney World is just a few hours and a tank full of gas away for most southwest Floridians but a trip to the Magic Kingdom can really add up.
If you're dream is to do Disney on a budget, Disney expert Len Testa says he can help.Testa co-authored the Unofficial Guide to Disney World, which has sold more than 4 million copies.
"It's entirely possible that a family of four on a three day trip could save $150-$200," said Disney expert Len Testa, "just by knowing a few simple things."
Tip #1 - When to go
Wait until Aug. 5 to book your trip. That's because Disney considers that the end of summer and hotel prices drop faster than the Tower of Terror.
"If you were to stay at a Disney hotel on Aug. 4, you'd pay at a value resort, you'd pay about $160 a night," said Testa. "If you stay the next night you'll pay about $100 a night. So about a $50 difference just on the one day."
Tip #2 - Staying off-site
Consider staying off-site. We found America's Best Inn on Highway 192 in Kissimmee for $45 a night ($175 for the week) with a free shuttle to and from Disney.
Testa recommends the Super 8 on 192 which is nine miles from the Magic Kingdom. He says the rooms, which go for $57 a night, are clean and comfortable.
Tip #3 - Disney value hotels
If you want to stay on Disney property look at their value resorts. They don't have all the bells and whistles but they're nice and you can find a good deal.
"Disney's really competitive with value resorts most of the year," said Testa, "with anything off site."
If you book by Aug. 14, for a stay from Aug. 15-Sept. 27, you can save 15, 20 and 30 percent at some of Disney's value resorts, like the All Star Sports Resort, for $70 a night; that's a 20 percent savings.
By staying on Disney property, you can take advantage of extended park hours, their free shuttles and you can skip the $14 parking fee.
Tip #4 - Parking
If you drive, save your parking receipt. You only have to pay for parking once so hold onto your receipt if you plan to go to other Disney parks that day.
Tip #5 - Disney tickets
Florida residents get the best deal on tickets but the discount only kicks in if you buy a three-day pass. A one day ticket costs $95 with tax ($89 base), two days $187 with tax ($176 base) but a three day Florida pass is $179 with tax ($242 for non-Florida residents) - that's like getting an extra day for free for Florida residents.
Tip #6 - Discounted tickets
Even if you're not a Florida resident you can still find deals. The Web site Undercover Tourist offers discounted tickets, which can be a big expensive for many families.
You can also try another non-Disney business called the "Official" Ticket Center. The owner, Bruce Carter, buys in bulk and is authorized by Disney to sell tickets at a discount.
A five-day pass from him is $6.50 cheaper than buying directly from Disney. That's a $26 savings for a family of four.
"Depending on what ticket you're looking at there's small savings up to large savings," said Carter. "But every dollar helps."
Tip #6 - Watch out for unauthorized ticket sellers
A number of places on 192 and International Drive offer to buy and sell cheap Disney tickets. But be careful, says Testa, because you could get stuck with a time share presentation or worse.
"Literally until you get to the front gate of Disney World and you try to use the ticket," said Testa, "and at that point you'll know whether you got ripped off or whether you got a deal."
Tip #7 - Military Discount
Members of the military can get deep Disney discounts. US military personnel can get a four-day park hopper for $138 between now and Sept. 30.
Tip #8 - Mouse Savers
Check out Mouse Savers for Disney deals, including discounts on dozens of hotels not owned by Disney.
Tip #9 - Rental homes
If you have a family of five or more, Testa says renting a condo or house could be cheaper than booking two hotel rooms.
Testa uses All Star Vacation Homes. When we interview him, he was staying at a three bedroom rental 15 minutes from the Animal Kingdom. For $175 a night he gets three bedrooms, triple the space of a Disney value resort and a kitchen to cook his meals.
Tip #10 - Pack a lunch
Testa recommends packing a lunch, bringing your own water bottles and filling them up at water fountains inside the park and eating dinner outside Disney.
"The best way to save money while you're in the parks," said Testa, "is to bring snacks and bring your own bottles of water."
Tip #11 - Lunch vs. Dinner
If you have your heart set on a Disney restaurant, Testa recommends going there for lunch instead of dinner to save money.
"You're going to get almost the exact same kind of food," said Testa. "So, the same cuts of meat, the same soups, the same salads. The portions will be generally smaller but the prices could be as much as 30 percent less."
Tip #12 - Souvenirs
Unless your kids want something special inside the park, Testa recommends buying souvenirs off-site.
"Most kids aren't going to know the difference," said Testa.
Tip #13 - Gas
You're wallet will know the difference if you fill up your tank on Disney property. When we went in July, we found gas was four cents cheaper on Highway 192 than it was at Disney.
Tip #14 - Fast Pass
Since time is money, look at getting a free Fast Pass in the park to cut long lines.
Tip #15 - Disney Mobile App
Testa's team developed a free smart-phone app that will calculate wait times for all rides and even tell you the order you should ride them.
So, at the end of the day with a little bit of planning, experts say you can make your Disney dream come true while saving a few extra bucks.
"It's expensive," said Testa, "but you can still find decent values."