CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It's the trip of a lifetime. One every family wants to take but many think they can't afford.
A trip to Disney World can cost as much as a trip to Paris but WBTV has learned it doesn't have to.
"Our friends think it isn't affordable but it really is," said Natalie Ogden who travels with her husband and two children to the Magic Kingdom every year.
"Once you do it enough times you become like pros and you learn where you can save," her husband Ken added.
They use websites like Mousesavers to find ways to trim their budget. Mary Waring runs the site which includes 300 pages of tips and tricks.
"I do the research for you. You shouldn't have to. Our team tracks down the deals that Disney doesn't advertise and we know which hotels have the best prices and what time of year will give you the most value for your money," Waring told WBTV.
She points out that the least expensive on-site breakfast that includes a visit with the characters is at Disney's Grand Floridian resort.
"No matter where you stay you can go to that breakfast and it's in one of Disney's most lovely hotels," Waring said.
As for where to stay, Waring says one of Disney's "value" resorts is a great value in the off-season.
Disney staff showed WBTV what one of the rooms and suites in a value resort looks like. It was sparse but clean and roomy. The suite had two bathrooms and a kitchen. Just like any other Disney hotel it had a very kid-friendly swimming pool and activities.
"We want everyone to be able to stay here without concern for their budget," said Disney spokesperson Yadira Ambert.
"Our value rooms can be as affordable as $89 per night or even as low as $69 with some meal plans. We also have a deal on tickets where the longer you stay on property, the less you pay for your tickets to the parks," she added.
Right on the home page of the Disney website you can customize your vacation based on your budget.
The Ogdens, however, have found a way to cut the cost of their annual trip in half. They travel at a time when the dining plan that Disney offers, which essentially turns your vacation into an all-inclusive, is free.
"It's usually right around the end of January. I find out a few months before through websites like Mousesavers when it is and we book our trip then. We get two meals a day for free. It saves us hundreds of dollars," Natalie Ogden said.
They do have to pull their kids out of school to travel during this time but they say it's worth it considering the savings.
For more money saving tips please watch the two videos at the top of this page. You'll see more information from Disney insiders and learn how to save on souvenirs while at the parks.
Below are some Disney budget travel tips sent in by WBTV viewers:
Package deals often appear to be great (and sometimes they are, so always make the comparisons before you book anything), and definitely take less time to book, but if you devote a couple of hours to doing some homework on the pieces of your trip, such as lodging, tickets, and meals (on websites like MouseSavers.com, for example), it is possible to come out ahead. Set your trip budget, decide what's most important to you (where you stay, what you eat, which attractions to visit, etc.) and then work on it piece by piece. Contrary to what a lot of people say, there are Disney discounts out there, and by working on the parts, the whole becomes a little less expensive. My family's motto is, "every $50 we save with our planning is another meal paid for." You don't have to sacrifice Disney magic just because you are on a budget. A little careful planning can make all your dreams come true!
I guess my #1 money-saving idea is to stay on property and wait for the Free Dining Plan to be offered. This saves you money on gas and on food.
My number one tip is to buy the Disney Photopass pre arrival CD. You pay 100 dollars prior to your arrival. Any picture that is taken at the resorts, meals, rides, and most importantly with the characters is yours. It is also less stressful for me since I can enjoy my daughter's time with the characters, rather than worry about taking the perfect picture!
We book a 2 bedroom condo that sleeps 6 in January for our March/April trip using one of the sites that does not allow you to see you location until after you pay (Hotwire). As long as you book a 3 star or higher condo you will always be pleased with the accommodations. The deals for theses condos are unbelievable. The condo allows you to cook meals in the full kitchen which saves you a ton when you are staying at Disney for a week. They also have in suite washer and dryers which is a wonderful amenity with four kids.
We have a Disney Visa card, and with it accrue points throughout the year that we can then turn into a Disney cash card that is good at all of the Disney parks for admission, food, gifts, and other purchases. The card offers several times throughout the year special deals where you can earn triple points, which obviously helps increase the value greatly.
We also stay off site, although we would love to try some of the Disney resorts in the future. We were able to stay off site at a 4 bedroom townhouse for $89 a night this past May by searching the web for deals on properties.
Even though flying would cut down travel time greatly, we choose to drive and pocket the extra savings. Even with the cost of gas up, we still come out cheaper this way compare to airline tickets.