How to vacation in Orlando on a budget

Theme parks aren’t all Orlando has to offer. Here are cheap ways to enjoy this sunny city

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orlando on a budget

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Orlando is one of the top destinations for Canadians. The warm weather, theme parks, and resorts are a natural draw for families, but many people worry about trip costs. The sunny city has a reputation for being an expensive destination, but according to Forbes, Orlando was the most affordable destination in the U.S. in 2016 —What gives?

It really comes down to what you plan on doing in Orlando. If you plan on going to every theme park, then yes you should expect to spend quite a bit. However, if you’re going for a relaxing family vacation, there are plenty of budget-friendly activities. Either way, with these tips, you can keep your trip costs under control.

Before you depart

Saving money begins before you even leave. First, determine when you plan on visiting Orlando. During the summer, flight and hotel prices will be much higher compared to the spring or fall. If you can travel during the off-season, you’ll see instant savings.

Regardless of what time you plan on travelling, it’s in your best interest to start looking at flights and hotels early. Since flights fluctuate in price, your best bet is to use a flight comparison site such as Skyscanner or Google Flights. Both sites allow you to set price alerts so you don’t need to monitor prices constantly. When you do get alerted to a price drop, book your tickets right away.

Although booking your accommodations early may not save you money, what it will do is guarantee you more choice. The more popular hotels and resorts are usually at full capacity during the peak season, so if you have a particular property in mind, book early.

Deciding on attractions

If you’re travelling with children, it’s likely they’ll demand a trip to Walt Disney World. Admission to the park is quite expensive if you’re buying a single-day ticket. However, when purchasing multi-day tickets, prices drop. If by chance you travel to Disney before May 20th, you can take advantage of the Special Canadian Resident Ticket Offer which gives you 25% off four-day or longer tickets. Check out my post on how much it costs to go to Disney World for full cost estimates.

SeaWorld also offers discounts for Canadians, while booking Universal Studios tickets online will save you $20. Purchasing multi-park tickets will save you more money, but your overall costs will go up.

Finally, don’t forget about the inexpensive attractions in Orlando. Admission to the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Kings Bowl Orlando, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Orlando Odditorium, Madame Tussauds, and The Coca-Cola Orlando Eye are all less than USD $25.

Websites you’ll want to bookmark are VisitOrlando.com and MouseSavers.com since they offer discounts on everything from attraction tickets to restaurants.

Picking your accommodations

There are plenty of different accommodation options at various price points around Orlando, so what you want to do is focus on location.

One of the most popular areas to stay is on International Drive since it’s close to restaurants, shopping, and just a quick drive to Disney World. Speaking of Disney, mega fans may opt to stay at one of the Disney-owned properties. If you decide to stay on-site, look into meal packages since you can save a fair amount.

If you’re travelling as a family, you should consider staying in Kissimmee, which is a short drive from Disney and known as the “vacation home capital of the world.” Ranging from two-bedroom villas to a 14-bed mansion, Kissimmee has more than 10,000 vacation homes to choose from.

That makes vacation homes appealing to families are the amenities. You’ll get access to your own swimming pool, spacious living areas, a full kitchen, dining room, and large bedrooms. Kissimmee also offers everything from full-service resorts to smaller hotels so you really won’t have a problem finding something that fits your budget.

Additional money saving tips

– Although rental cars are pretty reasonable, many hotels offer free shuttle service to the airport and theme parks so you may not need to rent a car.

– If you’ve chosen a hotel or vacation home with amenities, be sure to set aside a day to enjoy them. Many hotels have Jacuzzis, water slides, fitness centres and much more, so make sure you use them.

– Besides setting a day aside for your amenities, it’s well worth making a trip to downtown Orlando to check out the local food scene. The Mills 50 District, known locally as Little Saigon has some of the best food in the city.

– Speaking of eating out, you’ll want to pay attention to restaurants advertising “Kids Eat Free.” This is a pretty common offer where kids get their meal free with a paying adult. If you’re visiting in September, you can take part in Orlando’s Magical Dining Month where select restaurants offer three-course meals at a discount.

– This last tip will help you save money, but it might cost you more in the long run. Orlando has two outlet malls: Orlando International Premium Outlets and Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets. Both offer 25% to 65% off major brands. If you sign up online for their VIP Club, you’ll get access to even more deals and coupons.

– Download the Visit Orlando app since you’ll have instant access to discounted tickets and any current deals. The app also includes a map of highlights that you can view in augmented reality.

Final word

Orlando is one of the most family-friendly destinations in the world, but like all your other vacations, you need to budget accordingly. One thing’s for sure, your visit to Orlando will leave you with lifelong memories.

Barry Choi is a personal finance and budget travel expert at Moneywehave.com.  He has been quoted in The Financial Post, The Toronto Star and more. You can follow him on Twitter: @barrychoi

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