Orlando on a Budget: An Oxymoron?

I like to consider myself experienced when it comes to budget travel. This might stem from a general over-confidence but hear me out! I love to travel, but I have 3 kids and a small budget. Therefore, I have experience. With this, I set about to explore Orlando on a budget possibilities.

Orlando on a Budget (Family Fun Canada)

Photo Credit: Charity Quick

As a family, we mostly camp (and by camp, I mean tent) or engage in that time-honoured travelling tradition of visiting friends and family members who will let you stay with them for free. Last fall we set about planning what my kids call a “real” vacation,  meaning flying somewhere and staying in a hotel. Five weeks before our scheduled time off, we found the cheapest flights I’ve ever seen to Orlando; we might have had a hurricane to thank for the low fares.

As we were desperate for a “real” vacation, we booked the flights, then set about the task of budgeting/paying for the trip. Our main purpose was to visit Walt Disney World and the nearby Kennedy Space Center. Now, people don’t naturally think of Orlando when they’re trying to save money. Theme parks aren’t known for offering thrifty entertainment. So, on the one hand, Orlando on a budget is definitely an oxymoron. But, there are ways of vacationing in Orlando for less than you could be spending! You can go and enjoy a relaxing family vacation in a warm location, and forget all about the theme parks. But with a little creative budgeting you can make it happen.

Orlando on a Budget (Family Fun Canada)

The amazing Holiday Inn pool area viewed from our room – What you can’t see is the the hot tubs and the large water play structure! Frugal Bonus Tip: Pack goggles – because they are expensive at hotel gift stores. Photo Credit: Charity Quick

1. Stay Off-Site

If you can manage it with your family schedules, travel off-season for better accommodation deals (and smaller crowds, too). While this might not always be possible, remember that some American schools go back in August, making the end of summer less busy than it could be.

Through following an emailed newsletter filled with current Orlando deals, we scored a nice deal at a Holiday Inn across the highway from Disney World. It had lots of room for our family of five, plus an amazing swimming area, and it was less than half the price of the least expensive Disney Resort hotel we could fit in.

An even better idea, especially for larger families, is to rent a vacation home. You would also need to rent a vehicle, but you can often find nicer surroundings, more room, laundry, and a full kitchen for a similar price to a hotel. If you’re willing to drive a few extra minutes, it’s amazing how the prices drop!

2. Buy Your Own Food

Whether you’re in a hotel or a vacation home, buy at least some of your own food. Eating out as a family is prohibitively pricey, no matter how careful you are. Plus, it’s easier to manage nutrition when you don’t eat out for every meal. If you’re not renting a place with a kitchen or kitchenette, confirm whether your hotel has a mini-fridge and a microwave. At the very least, a small fridge will make things much easier. Make a quick trip to a grocery store and grab some bread and sandwich fixings, cereal and milk, and stock up on fruits and vegetables.

If you don’t rent a car, cab or Uber to one of the many grocery stores in the area or there are a few grocery services that will deliver directly to your hotel for a fee. Garden Grocer is a popular option, although there are a number of options available.

We ate breakfast in the hotel room and packed lunch and healthy snacks for the day. We also budgeted for a treat during the day (Dole Whips at Disney World!) and to buy dinner out, usually at a quick-service location. Sometimes we shared meals if they were large enough.

Orlando on a Budget (Family Fun Canada)

Frugal Bonus Tip: Make them share. Photo Credit: Charity Quick

Our personal family rule to save money is not to buy drinks. We pack water bottles and refill as needed along the way. Five people can drink through a lot of money in a day, not to mention get unnecessarily hyped up on sugar. The main exception to this rule: coffee. Yes, I make it in the hotel room, as bad as it might be. But when we’re out and about, by mid-afternoon, I do sometimes break down and buy myself a coffee. Mama’s gotta enjoy vacation, too.

Orlando on a Budget (Family Fun Canada)

Don’t forget to splurge occasionally. (Dole Whip Floats for the win!) But Frugal Bonus Tip: The kids had to buy their own. They appreciate it more that way. Photo Credit: Charity Quick

3. Choose Your Theme Parks Days Prudently

Let’s assume that you’re willing to spend some money on an Orlando vacation, but want to make the smartest budget decisions. Central Florida is bustling with theme parks. There is Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Studios Resort, SeaWorld Parks and Resorts, and Legoland Florida, and those are just the big names! As there is so much to do, it’s advisable to pick and choose your activities carefully, especially if you’re hoping for any rest while on vacation.

There are a number of ways to save some money on your theme park tickets, and you might find special promotions depending on the time of year. But consider picking one or two parks and sticking to it, as all of the big theme parks offer a discount for more days.

Due to sheer size, the most obvious place this works is Walt Disney World. A one-day adult ticket for one of the four Disney parks, for example, will cost at least $99 USD. Our family decided we needed a five-day ticket, which worked out to $74 USD, per person, per day. We had one extra day where we did not have any plans, and we could have visited Universal Studios. But adding a sixth day to our Disney ticket was only $9 USD extra per person, instead of more than $100 USD per person for one day at Universal Studios. (Of course, if Universal is your first choice, their prices also have a better daily value when you add more days.)

Sure, this turns into a “spend money to save money” scenario. Creative budgeting at it’s best!

Orlando on a Budget (Family Fun Canada)

Don’t think you have to see everything in Orlando — that’s too stressful, anyway. Frugal Bonus Tip: Take a picture of the beautiful balloons, don’t buy them. It lasts longer that way. Photo Credit: Charity Quick

4. Think Outside the Theme Parks

Should you chance to be in Orlando without having young hearts set on visiting Disney World or Universal Studios (in other words, the kids are too young to know any better), think outside the theme parks.

Consider the Crayola Experience where you can explore and celebrate creativity, create your own crayon colour, and learn how crayons are manufactured. Visit Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and take a selfie with the famous characters you see. Walk through a 360- degree ocean tunnel at the Sea Life Aquarium or view Orlando from 400 feet in the air on the Coca-Cola Orlando Eye. Even better, look into combination tickets and save a little more!

More Money Saving Tips

  • If you venture away from the most popular of the theme parks, look into a GO Orlando card. You will find a few things you already wanted to do and the card will save you a bundle.
  • There are many great websites, such as VisitOrlando.com and MouseSavers.com which offer discounts on everything from attraction tickets to restaurants.
  • Don’t forget to schedule a few days for downtime, or enjoying the amenities at your hotel, resort, or vacation home. Sometimes it’s easy to get so busy that you forget to relax. And a day by the pool is free!
  • Buy some themed souvenirs at home and bring them out for the kids instead of buying the rather souvenirs from the theme parks.
  • Grab a few rain ponchos from the dollar store and pack them in your luggage. They’re light and easy to pack, and SO much cheaper than buying one (or 5) in the parks.
  • Also remember that forgotten camera batteries or sunscreen will come at a higher price in the theme parks, too.

So, Orlando on a budget might be relative, but it isn’t impossible. By deciding beforehand what expenditures can you be strict about, where you are willing to splurge and with a little resourcefulness, you can make it happen!

Orlando on a Budget (Family Fun Canada)

Most important Frugal Bonus Tip: Don’t forget to have fun, relax, and enjoy your family! It IS possible to have a bad time at the Happiest Place on Earth . . . and that would be a waste of money. Photo Credit: Charity Quick

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