Secrets for doing Disney World or Disneyland on a budget

Prices are up, but there are ways to save

Almost every kid -- and kid at heart -- loves a trip to Disney World or Disneyland, but have you seen the latest price hikes for 2013?

That magic is getting more expensive. You'll pay $95 for an adult ticket to Florida's Magic Kingdom.

So we enlisted the help of a Disney specializing travel agent, to bring those costs down.

Agent shares her secrets

Lesley Sawhook is not just a travel agent, she is a Disney fanatic whose house is filled with Disney souvenirs and photos everywhere.

She has visited the parks twice a year for the past decade, so she has a number of ways to cut the costs of that vacation.

Go for multi-day

Her first tip: She says never buy a one day pass: You can't see it all in a day, and you are overpaying.

In fact, she says, the worst value is a one day Florida Park Hopper pass, at nearly $150 per person. You simply can't enjoy 4 parks in one day, so she says don't attempt it.

And despite what some billboards and websites claim, Disney does not offer discounted one-day passes.  Most of those are from Timeshare companies, with all the rules and extras that come with them.

She says unless you go for a season pass, your best bet is to buy a multi-day ticket, of between 3 and 7 days.

"When you average out that ticket price," Sawhook explained, "it's as low as $40 per day."

Plus that way you are not rushed to cram it all in.  You can leave the park and return to your room for a rest during the busiest and hottest hours of the afternoon.

Save on hotels

Hotels? Sawhook says you'll find the best deals in Florida at Disney's Value Resorts, such as the Pop Century Resort and All Star Resort, avoiding July, Spring Break in late March through mid-April, and Christmas. Rooms go for top dollar during those times.

"The value resorts can be as cheap as $69 per night in the off season," Sawhook said.  Plus, during the off season, she says you can often get the Meal Plan thrown in for no charge or a deep discount.

Sawhook says you can find lower rates at non-Disney hotels away from the park, but warns you lose a lot of time commuting each day.  

It's almost impossible, for instance, to take an afternoon break when you are staying off site.  Plus, if you are driving in from an off-site hotel, you need to factor in an extra $15 per day for parking at Walt Disney World.

So she prefers staying on-property, unless you have a large family that requires a condo with full kitchen (big suites are much more available off sites).

Save on dining

What about eating?  Sawhook says contrary to what many first-time visitors believe, Disney's prepaid Dining Plan is a good value, especially if you want a character dinner.

"I've run the numbers. We save about 25 percent when we do the dining plans." They even include snacks at the park, which is what can really drain your budget:  just an ice cream sandwich can cost $5. Most dining plans include these.

Sawhook's other meal savings secrets: Buy a $5 kid's meal for lunch at park cafeterias, even if you are a grownup. (That doesn't work at sit-down restaurants, however)

And bring in snacks, and bottled water: It's allowed, as long as you don't bring glass or alcohol.

Water can cost you $3 at the park. It's just 50 cents per bottle if you bring some that you picked up at the grocery store. Another little secret: Cups of tap water are free at Disney restaurants and cafeterias, though it won't say so on the menu board.

Save on souvenirs, websites

When it comes to shirts and souvenirs, Lesley Sawhook suggests buying them in advance at Walmart, Target and dollar stores.

As an example, she held up two water spray bottles with a fan on top, something everyone has seen if they have visited the park on hot summer days. 

"This generic spray fan has the same lanyard you get in the park, for just $3.99 or $4.99 at Target or a dollar store" she said. "You're going to pay close to $20 for it in the park."

Same with shirts: For $4.99, we found an official Disney Mickey Mouse T-shirt on the clearance rack at a souvenir store a mile down the road. They were $20 in the park.

Other tips

To get the most value out of your visit, Sawhook says extend your day into the evening: It's cooler and the lines are shorter.

You'll find the shortest lines just before closing time, when other families are watching the Electrical Parade and fireworks on Main Street.

For more money saving tips, visit the website of download the app from "Undercover Tourist," which has a huge Disney section, or check the website mousesavers.com, which is focused on saving money at Disney.

"You really can do Disney on a budget," Sawhook said. "Absolutely."

One final tip:  If you can visit Disney when school is in session, such as October, you'll find better weather, smaller crowds and many more deals.  

So consider an off-peak time if your

kid's school schedules allow it, so you don't waste your money.

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