Dream Vacations on a Real-Life Budget

Walt Disney World

Disney World

Save on airfare Avoid mid-February to mid-April and late November through December to slash $100 per ticket, says Mary Waring, founder of mousesavers.com, a site for Disney deals. Look for $150 round-trip fares (with taxes and fees) from the East Coast, $200 from the Midwest, and $300 from the West Coast.

Sleep cheaper You can't beat the convenience (and free ride from the airport) of staying at a Disney resort. Rooms at Disney's All-Star and Pop Century resorts start at about $84 per night. If you have more than two kids, consider one of the themed family suites at Disney's Art of Animation Resort, opening this month. Starting at about $250 per night, they sleep six and have two bathrooms, a living room, and a mini kitchen. Many Orlando hotels offer free shuttles to all the theme parks, so they're a smart pick if you want to check out Universal Studios or SeaWorld too. The SpringHill Suites Orlando at Lake Buena Vista (starting at $99 per night) and Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate (starting at $177 per night) are good choices. If you're traveling from May 24 to September 28, you might even be able to snag a room at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes (where children are greeted at a special check-in desk and given a rubber bracelet for free ice cream during their stay) for as low as $199 per night.

Eat well for less Most full-service restaurants serve the same dishes at lunch and dinner, but they're about one-third less before 4 p.m. so have your "big meal" earlier in the day, suggests Len Testa, coauthor of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2012. Plus, Disney doesn't mind if you bring your own snacks into the park. You can have a shopping order delivered to your room from gardengrocer.com and stash it in your mini fridge (standard in most hotels). If you stay at a Disney resort, look into Disney's five types of dining plans. But read the details at disneyworld.disney.go.com and go to allears.net to see the menus with prices for all the restaurants. "Some families come out ahead on the deal, and others lose money," says Waring.

Find freebies Take advantage of the awesome pools at your resort -- and skip the $60 "water park add-on" to your theme park tickets. "The waterparks are great for tweens and teens, but younger kids will have just as much fun at your hotel pool," says Testa. Check out the street performers at the BoardWalk Inn Resort -- your kid might even get to be part of a juggling or magic show.

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