Hoping to take the kids on a Disney trip this year but wondering how you’ll ever afford it? Here are my top tips for saving money on a Disney vacation. Pick and choose what works for you and your budget, and enjoy!

Find a travel agent that specializes in Disney and get the inside scoop on upcoming promotional rates. Book off season to avoid the crowds and the price increases that come with peak season.

Book offsite – compare rates at priceline and expedia. Be sure to map the hotel to ensure it’s not too far from the park.

If you’d like to stay on site, compare hotels carefully. Some higher priced hotels have such great free activity schedules and fantastic pools you might find yourself willing to save a day’s park pass fee and chill at the hotel for the day instead.

Redeem Air Miles for park passes, hotels, car rentals and more.
Buy park passes online instead of at the gate.
Stock up on portable groceries (think granola bars and fruit) for your room and non-perishable staples for your room (bread, bagels, jam) at a nearby supermarket.

When buying meals at the park, order less than you think you need – the portions are generally huge.  If you have a large group, buy larger portions and plan to share. The Earthquake ice cream sundae at the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop Downtown Disney rings in at a whopping $29.95, but it can easily satisfy a family of five or more, and it’s more affordable than buying single sundaes at $8.50 each.

Check your receipts from Disney businesses – they often they include big discounts at the souvenir shops or restaurants in the park. The Main Street Bakery receipt always includes a 20% coupon for most of the top Disney park souvenir shops if you shop before noon.

If you’ll be driving in and around Orlando or Anaheim pick up an Entertainment Book to save on local, off-park restaurants. Bring your own water bottles – at most restaurants they’ll fill it with ice water for free.  Bring your own lightweight stroller for kids under age 5.

Pack your own princess dresses or other costumes if you think your kids will want to wear them at the park. Buy up Disney themed clothing from consignment stores for the kids to wear while on your trip.
Skip the expensive autograph books in the gift shop and bring a pretty $1 notebook and your own Sharpie for character autographs.

Disney offers a PhotoPass service that sees park photographers taking professional photos around the parks and loading them onto a website for you to view later. Skip this service and let strangers use your camera to take your photo in front of landmarks, then offer to do the same for them. At the time of this post, the PhotoPass at DisneyWorld cost $169.99 for all the images on CD, or $14.99 per single image.

Let the kids make a list of the items they want to buy and wait until the last day to choose one or two items each. Order Disney pins on eBay and let your kids swap with cast members.

Check the character lunches for price differences between lunch and dinner.
Consider splitting up your party for character dinners – do both mom and dad need to have lunch with Ariel, or can just mom and daughter?
If a kids meal comes with a toy or plastic container, ask to order it without the item – it usually knocks a buck or two off the price.

Staying on a Disney resort? If you’re indulging in soft drinks for the week, buy the resort’s refillable mug and enjoy free refills all week. They pay for themselves after just three fills (and pay for themselves over and over and over again when you’re a Diet Coke junkie like me).
Pack inexpensive rain ponchos from home.

If you’re celebrating anything (birthdays, anniversaries, first trips to Disney), let them know at Guest Services and you’ll get a free souvenir button.