When I was little, I used to think that you could only go to Orlando if you won the lottery. It seemed like this amazing, far away, expensive place, that I never dreamt I’d get to go to. I remember that Mum and Dad got one of those promotional VHS tapes about Disneyworld that you used to get, and I just used to sit and watch it over, and over. It’s a little tragic when you think about it, however, I didn’t watch it again after I pretended to be one of the people in the parade, did a cartwheel, fell over, landed on my elbow and broke it in two places. Good one 7 year old me!
Anyways, myself and my broken elbow have now been to Orlando three times, and although yes, it isn’t one of the cheapest holidays around, it can still be done on a budget. No need for wistful VHS tape watching (though does anyone have a VHS player anymore?)
We went to Orlando in June, and when we booked our holiday which was done on a bit of a last minute basis, we knew that the holiday had to stay on budget. After all, we are getting married next year and we all know that weddings cost about 21 million pounds (slight exaggeration) so we wanted to go, have fun, but not spend a fortune.
I was pretty pleased where we managed to save money, and today I thought I’d share some of our money saving tips when it comes to booking a trip to Orlando.
So let’s get started!
Package Holiday vs Booking It All Separately
So there’s obviously two ways of booking a holiday to Orlando; either doing it as a package through a travel agent or booking every thing separate. Now when we were looking, it didn’t make a huge difference price wise either way, however, we booked everything separate as we wanted to go for 9 nights, and package holidays are usually for 7, 10, or 14 nights.
Places like Thomson’s and Thomas Cook had some really cheap deals when we started looking in April for June, and you often see good deals for holidays far in advance too. What I would say, is have a good browse of the websites, and also go in store too, as in store they have to match their online price, and sometimes can offer you a bit more discount or give you a personal recommendation.
However, today, I’m going to talk about booking everything separate and how we booked everything, I’d recommend comparing prices of a package holiday vs booking it all separately and seeing which one comes out cheaper.
We booked our flights through a website called Student Universe, and I’m not sure how I was subscribed to their emails, seeing as I haven’t been a student for over five years, but I got an email one day about cheap flights, went on their website and well I found out about their ‘youth’ tickets. So they do cheaper flights for students and youths (18-25) and we saved about £80 each which is a pretty big amount. Sadly, I’m now too old for the youth ticket, but as long as you are within the age range, when at the time of booking, you can travel with those tickets. Our flights were booked through Delta but it was a Virgin plane both ways, and everything ran very smoothly. I downloaded the app which had our flight reservation, then I downloaded the boarding passes to my phone. I was able to check in 24 hours before our flight on the Virgin website and yeah it was all absolutely fine. So definitely worth a look to save yourself a bit of money.
So hotels in Orlando, are pretty cheap. Of course the price can creep up if you’re staying on site at somewhere like Disney, but if you want to do the holiday on a budget, then places like International Drive, Lake Buena Vista and Kissimmee are the best places to stay, as you’ll be near to the parks as well as other attractions.
We stayed in two hotels for our trip, one budget one, and one more expensive one. We stayed for the majority of our trip at The Rosen Inn Nearest Universal which was on International Drive. So we were about a 20 min drive from Walt Disney World, a 5 min drive from Universal Orlando Resort and walking distance to lots of shops and restaurants. I thought it was a pretty perfect location. The rooms were big, clean and had everything you could want such as ; a fridge, coffee maker, TV with lots of channels, free wifi, USB sockets for your phone and a compact bathroom. I did get a media rate for staying at the hotel, but it’s about £60 per night, which between the two of you isn’t too bad. There are two double beds in the rooms, so you could even share with four people. The hotel has a pool with sun loungers, a gym, games room, and free parking. It also had a free shuttle bus to Universal, which is handy!
We stayed for a couple of nights at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort within the Universal Orlando Resort. This was a more expensive hotel, though not totally out of budget, and if you’re going to be spending a lot of time at Universal then I’d definitely recommend the hotel as you got early park access, a water taxi service to the park, the rooms were gorgeous, the pool was huge, and there was lots to do.
If neither of those hotels take your fancy, we found that Trivago, and Booking.com were great for looking at hotels. Also just be aware that some hotels charge a resort fee which is on top of your hotel price, but this should say in the small print, so be aware of that, also I’d look for hotels with free parking to save yourself money there too!
I used to think that Orlando was a very small place and everything was very close, however once I visited I realised that wasn’t the case. Walt Disney World is about 20 mins away from International Drive, Universal is about 5 mins away and they’re not really walking distance unless you’re on site. So there’s two options; either hire a car, or rely on public transport such as shuttle buses and taxis.
We decided to hire a car, as we wanted the freedom of being able when to go and leave parks. We got our car through Rentalcars.com where we hired a economy car for 10 days through Alamo for $200ish. Through some websites, it wanted to charge us $400 so this was the cheapest we found it. This included insurance (which some car companies/package holidays will charge you extra for, so something else to look out for) but we did have to re fill the petrol once we had finished. However, petrol is so cheap, it cost $20 to fill the whole tank which we used over the 10 days, which we didn’t think was too bad at all.
Now the parking at the parks can get a little pricey as it’s $20 a day. However, as there was no Disney shuttle buses from our hotel, it would cost that anyways to get a taxi, so the parking price wasn’t too bad. We did however get an Uber to Universal rather than drive and pay for parking, and this cost just $6 each way.
If you’re on a real budget or really don’t want to drive, then I’d recommend looking for a hotel with free shuttles to both Universal and Disney.
Okay so this is going to be the biggest expense of your Orlando trip, park tickets are pretty pricey and there’s not really many ways of getting around this. However, they are totally worth it.
From doing some research, I found that Attraction Tickets Direct are the cheapest (and reputable too) place to buy tickets for Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort. If you divide the price of a 7 or 14 day ticket per day, it doesn’t work out too bad. The Disney tickets also come free memory maker (free downloadable photos of your trip) as well as fast passes for the rides too that you can book through the Disney App. However, these tickets will be posted to you, so make sure you have enough time for them to be posted.
We were very kindly given some park tickets by Disney and Universal, but we did buy a top of days from the Disney website, as these could be activated from my email at the parks, as we left it a little too late to have tickets posted to us!
Food & Drink
Eating and drinking at theme parks is never going to be cheap, however the rest of Orlando is pretty cheap for dining out which is good for the bank balance. Some ways to save a few pennies are; to go to Walmart (there are lots dotted around Orlando) or a drugstore and pick up things such as snacks, cereal, crates of water, soft drinks etc… to take to the parks with you. Rather than buying drinks within the park (which were $3/4 a time) we bought a plastic flask and filled it with water, then would top it up with water from the water fountains throughout the day. However, if you are going to buy a drink in the parks, ask for it without ice as you’ll actually get a full cup then!
Food wise, again taking snacks with you is a good shout, eating before you go into the park, when you come home etc… you can also save money with breakfast as most hotel rooms will have a fridge, microwave and kettle meaning you can make basic things like cereal, coffee, pop tarts, etc… which saves a bit of money. Also when you check into your hotel, look for vouchers and leaflets at reception as usually these will feature vouchers for local places to eat.
Obviously this bit is completely up to you, but I thought I’d just say that to shop around for the best rate for exchanging your money. Also I’d recommend hitting the Premium Outlets for some bargains, but Florida Mall is also good and most things are cheaper over in the US.
I think that if you budget, and are careful with your money, you can do an Orlando holiday on a budget, the park tickets and flights are the biggest expense, but totally worth it.
I can’t even really describe why I like visiting Orlando so much, the theme parks are like a little bubble where you forget about the real world, and you just have such an amazing time.
I already want to start saving to go back!
Do you have any tips for doing an Orlando holiday on a budget?