Disney World on the cheap for Chicago families

A Disney vacation is hard to beat: Where else can your family eat breakfast with Winnie the Pooh, fly away with Dumbo, travel around the world at Epcot, set sail with the Pirates of the Caribbean and check into a haunted mansion all in one day? The happiest place on earth comes with a price, but plan ahead and you’ll save a few dollars.

Here are six tips to get your family on the savings track to Disney World:

1. Book your trip during the low season. You’ll find the lowest-priced packages (and as a bonus, the shortest waiting lines) during non-peak travel times: Jan. 2-Feb. 11 and Aug. 14-Sept. 29.

2. Think about adding the Dining Plan to your Disney package. The plan includes one full-service meal, one counter-service meal and one snack each day. The cost varies by season, with prices starting at $45.99 per day per adult and $11.99 per day per child.

3. Spend the night off the Disney property. We love the luxe Omni Orlando at Champions Gate, where spring rates for a five-star room start at $169 per night. Located between both Universal and Disney, this property is a good base for families looking to visit both parks. You’ll want to dedicate some days to simply playing at the amazing pool, with its slick slide and lazy river.

4. Bring water bottles from home. Save not only money, but also the environment, by refilling them at the many drinking fountains around the park. Also keep some easy, healthy snacks on hand so you can keep rumbling tummies filled and avoid falling victim to the sugar highs of expensive ice cream and other treats around the parks.

5. Avoid the common spending pitfall: the gift shops. Satisfy your child’s souvenir cravings by shopping before you hit Disney; many dollar stores have cute Disney-themed items. Also bring a small spiral notebook to be used as an autograph book. Your kids will love collecting the John Hancocks of all their favorite characters.

6. Many of the fun and unique attractions at Disney are free. Head to the Polynesian Village Resort’s beach at 9 p.m. for the Electrical Water Pageant, watch the Wishes fireworks from the Grand Floridian Resort boat dock, or spend an afternoon soaking up rays and splashing around at your hotel pool. Most importantly, let yourself be a kid again-have fun, relax and enjoy looking at the world of Disney through your child’s eyes.

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