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Get the most out of your next Disney World vacation

The Characters in Flight balloon soars above Disney Springs in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

DAVID ROARK/DISNEY

By JANEEN CHRISTOFF | TravelPulse | Published: May 16, 2017

Visiting Walt Disney World this summer but not looking forward to hordes of people and hot summer days?

There are ways to ease the mayhem and turn your visit into a relaxing holiday, no matter the time of year.

Ian Ford is a family travel expert and CEO of Undercover Tourist, providing attraction tickets and vacation advice for a living. He also has some tips for those planning to visit the parks this summer, including ways to pinch pennies and have the type of idyllic, fun-packed theme park experience every family dreams of.

When it comes to planning a theme park vacation, there are plenty of subtle costs involved. Everything in the park costs more, so planning ahead, bringing needed items with you and knowing the rules for what you can and cannot carry with you are all important.

Ford recommends guests do their research beforehand: "Check the official websites of theme parks and destinations you are visiting to see what you can bring in. Often families can pack their own snacks and drinks. Plan for a picnic lunch that will beat the high-dollar dining and park crowds."

Accommodation is another worry for families trying to save. However, there are a lot of ways to find discounted accommodations.

"Use the Orlando crowd calendar to see the busiest times to visit," Ford suggests. "These are also when hotel rates are most expensive and rooms sell out more quickly."

For the best savings, Ford reminds to book in advance, even up to a year, but at least several months ahead. You can also use a site like Undercover Tourist to take advantage of offers and discounts on hotels in the area.

Planning to visit during a peak time? Ford recommends taking advantage of some of the extra perks and on-site benefits offered through Undercover Tourist such as extended theme park hours, free MagicBands, the earliest access to FastPass Plus (Disney's free ride and entertainment reservation service), free airport and theme park transportation, and more.

For active-duty and retired members of the U.S. military, savings can be found by staying at the Department of Defense resort Shades of Green, which does not raise rates at peek travel times and advertises discounts year-round. www.shadesofgreen.org

No matter how you book, make sure you keep an eye out for hidden fees that will take some of the magic out of that low room rate or attraction price.

"These could include resort fees or additional charges for hotel parking, breakfast, drinks, toiletries and more. Save a few bucks by bringing along or picking up non-perishable foods and snacks from outside the hotel," Ford warns.

No matter when you visit a theme park, unless you are pulling the kids out of school at a really off-peak time, chances are you are going to have to deal with crowds.

But the best thing about crowds is they tend to have a herd mentality you can beat with modern technology. Undercover Tourist, as well as many other tour companies and the resorts themselves, have developed apps that allow visitors to monitor where the crowds are at any given time.

"Monitor wait times with a free app, made by Undercover Tourist, that provides tons of insider information such as opening hours, special events, character greeting times (and where to find them!), attraction wait times, show times and more," Ford suggests.

If a ride shuts down, then reopens and there's no line, you will be the first to know.

One surefire way to beat the crowds (without using a smartphone) is simply to get up early.

"Plan to arrive about an hour before the parks open to beat the crowd and head to the preferred rides in the first few hours before wait times reach their peak," Ford says.

While cramming in ride after ride is one way to enjoy the parks, don't forget to enjoy some of the slower, more relaxing elements of the experience. Heading back to the hotel and taking a break in the pool to cool off and relax in the middle of the day or at peak times is a great way to spend time together as a family.

"Take a step back in the afternoon and make a trip to the hotel pool, Disney Springs or Disney's BoardWalk, or a midday nap for the sleepy little ones. While the kiddos re-energize, plan the evening activities," says Ford.

The hotel you choose is just as is important as packing the right items for the park and having all of the necessary apps and accessories.

Make sure you consider who you are traveling with and what their needs are before just jumping into the cheapest stay. Every hotel has a different look, feel and price point to consider.

"Out of all the resorts, Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge has the best lobby, hands down," says Ford. "Here, you will find amazing animal views from the savannah-facing rooms, as well as the best buffet on property."

Disney's Polynesian Village Resort is the most kid-friendly on the monorail.

"Here, families will experience a beautiful Polynesian aesthetic with an overflowing lava pool. Additionally, families have great on-site dining options, including the Ohana and Disney's Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show," says Ford.

Mufasa, Simba's father in Disney's "The Lion King," stands majestically over the courtyard of the Lion King wing at Disney's Art of Animation Resort.
MATT STROSHANE/DISNEY

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