On a Shoestring Budget
Check out deals on www.mousesavers.com and www.orlandoinfo.com, or use a travel agent specializing in affordable Disney vacations, such as Magical Journeys (www.yourmagicaljourneys.com). AAA members get additional discounts on park tickets and vacation packages, so don't forget to ask about them.
Where to Stay
Disney's budget All-Star resorts feature sports-, music-, or movie-themed pools and playgrounds, park transportation, food courts, and rooms starting at $77 (407-934-7639, www.disneyworld.com). Or stay off-site at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Main Gate East, where guests can stay one night and get the next free. The rooms include in-room refrigerators, and kids under age 12 eat free when accompanied by an adult. Standard rooms range from $69 to $99 per night; Parents readers get a special deal on kid suites, which come with bunk beds ($75 a night; mention rate code: Parent. Call 800-366-5437, www.orlando-family-fun-hotel.com).
Free thrills, including riding up front with the monorail driver; Epcot's Innoventions West, where kids can try out the latest video games; and the Electric Water Pageant (see it from the beach at any of Disney's monorail hotels. If you're not staying at one, you can bus or drive over). Chip 'n' Dale's Campfire Sing-a-Long at the Fort Wilderness campground is another free treat.
Stock up on quick-fix food, and eat in your room whenever possible. In the parks, get pizza and a salad for less than $10 at Toy Story Pizza Planet in Disney-MGM Studios. When splurging on sit-down restaurants, do it at lunchtime (when prices are cheaper than for dinner but the menu is usually the same).
Buy young children an inexpensive souvenir on the first day to keep them from hounding you the whole trip. Convert the older kids' allowance into Disney Dollars as soon as you arrive, so they can monitor their spending and budget when they shop.
Words of Wisdom
"Skip the rental car," suggests Wendy Lewis, a mother of two from Fort Collins, Colorado. "It's cheaper to use a town-car service to and from the airport. Ours even included a stop at the local supermarket so we could stock up on food!"