6 Budget-Conscious Ways to Do a Disney Trip

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In my book Football, Faith, and Flannery O'Connor: A Love Letter to the South, I write about how special a Walt Disney World vacation can be, and part of what makes Disney so wonderful is that families can enjoy the parks and resorts together regardless of budget.

For those families who are hoping to make a vacation to the Disney Parks a reality, here are six budget-conscious ways to do it. Enjoy!

6. Plan Ahead...Way Ahead.

One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give anybody who wants to do a Walt Disney World or Disneyland trip is to plan ahead. Thinking about your trip in advance not only saves money, but it allows you to build excitement for the whole family.

Back in the '80s, when there were fewer options for accommodations and experiences, guests had no choice but to book trips about a year in advance. My family would book our trip for the next year before we left the resort. We've sort of kept that tradition alive in that we start talking about our next trip not long after we get home from the last one.

Planning far in advance allows you to break the budget for a trip down into smaller chunks over time. I build Disney trip money into my yearly budget and set aside a little every pay period. It makes paying for a trip when the time comes so much easier because I'm not having to scramble to come up with a lot of money all at once.

Another factor to consider is taking a Disney vacation during the value seasons: January-February and August-September. These are the lowest priced, and often least crowded, times of year.

Pop Century is my favorite among the Value Resorts. Pop Century is my favorite among the Value Resorts.

5. Stay at a Value Resort.

Nothing beats staying in one of the resorts on Disney property, for a myriad of reasons. Many Disney guests think that they have to stay at one of the pricey deluxe resorts. That was the case for the first 17 years at Walt Disney World, when the company opened Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort. Six years later, Disney opened the All-Star Sports Resort, the first of five value resorts, which offer immersive Disney theming at a  more affordable price. The five value resorts are All-Star Sports, All-Star Music, All-Star Movies, Pop Century (my favorite), and Art of Animation (though it's significantly more expensive than the other value resorts, it still counts as one).

Now, make no mistake -- the value resorts have fewer appointments and luxuries than the higher-priced hotels, but guests can still experience the fun pools, dining and shopping, and immersive theming of any of the Disney hotels. Plus, most importantly, the benefits of staying on property -- resort transportation, Extra Magic Hours, and all the rest -- apply to all the resorts, regardless of price.

Take time to explore some of the other resorts on the days when you're not in the park, but you can save tons of money by enjoying a value resort room.

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4. Go Camping, Disney Style.

Another really fun and affordable option for lodging is Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, located just a quick boat ride from the Magic Kingdom. Whether you're pitching a tent or rolling an RV onto the property, Fort Wilderness means camping as only Disney can present it.

Fort Wilderness doesn't really count as "roughing it" by any stretch of the imagination, but camping Disney style is loads of fun. Two pools, trading posts, a beach, watercraft for rent, playgrounds, and walking trails mean that guests won't lack for things to do. In fact, I've heard that one could spend a week at Fort Wilderness and not run out of things to do, and I'm inclined to believe it.

Clean restrooms and showers, along with laundry facilities make camping at Fort Wilderness convenient for everyone. If tent and camper living aren't your style, try the cabins, though they're quite a bit pricier than the campsites.