So you want to enjoy Orlando, but don’t want to take out a second mortgage to finance the trip. No problem! There are plenty of ways to save some green and enjoy your Orlando vacation.
The Best Time to Visit Orlando
Generally, you’ll get the best prices in Orlando (and the fewest crowds) in the winter months. But that doesn’t mean you’ll have to shiver as you explore your favorite Orlando theme parks. Even in the coldest months, Orlando weather stays pretty warm, with an average daily high in the 70s. You’ll also avoid the rainy season in mid-summer by travelling in the winter. When planning your vacation, be sure to check out the Crowd Calendar provided by Undercover Tourist to help you avoid the most crowded days.
Most people elect to fly into Orlando International Airport (MCO), but you can often find better deals elsewhere. When researching flights, also check options flying into Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB), or Orlando Melbourne International Airport (MLB). If you don’t mind a bit of a drive after landing, you may be able to get better air fares by flying into Daytona Beach (DAB), just 50 miles to the northeast, or Tampa (TPA), which is about 90 miles west.
With the majority of travellers flying to and from their Orlando vacations over the weekend, you’ll often find the highest fares on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If you can give yourself a little wiggle room on flight dates, you’ll likely find lower prices on mid-week flights.
As always, we recommend shopping around for your flights, since prices can vary from site to site. Some of our favorite places to search are Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity. No matter which sites you choose, be sure to also check Southwest Vacations, since Southwest’s fares aren’t available anywhere else.
Where to Stay
The next big decision is of course, where to stay while you’re in Orlando. If you’re only planning to visit Disney or Universal, you might choose to stay on site at one of the Orlando Disney Resorts or Orlando Universal on-site resort hotels, but this can be a fairly pricey experience. Even here though, deals can be found, and if you don’t plan on venturing off the property you might skip the cost of a rental car, so be sure to factor that in too when deciding if you can afford to stay on-site.
Of course, Orlando is a tourism hub with plenty of great hotels and other properties to choose from. Check out sites like Booking.com, Groupon Getaways, Orlando Hilton, and Holiday Inn Express to find discounts on hotel rooms. And be sure to search out Orlando vacation rentals through sites like travelmob and FlipKey if you’d prefer more of a homey experience.
Here are a few of our top picks for Orlando area hotels on a budget:
- Comfort Suites on Major Blvd: While this property doesn’t offer fancy extras and special amenities, it’s easily the least expensive on our list. Stay here if you’re looking for a no-frills experience, with clean and comfortable rooms, helpful staff, and included perks like free WiFi, breakfasts, and parking. As a bonus, it’s just down the road from Universal Studios, and offers a free shuttle service to the park.
- Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Orlando at SeaWorld: If Seaworld is your park of choice, you’ll want to check this one out. You’ll find all of the usual freebies like WiFi and breakfast, but also the Splash Zone water play area for family fun, and free shuttle service to SeaWorld that comes with a bonus SeaWorld Quick Queue pass.
- Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Orlando East: This property boasts a 5/5 rating on TripAdvisor, so you know they have to be doing something right. Most visitors report that the friendly and helpful staff is the key factor to this gem of a property. While it’s a short drive to the major theme parks and attractions, the quieter neighborhood gives you access to plenty of restaurants and shops without the noise and crowds you might encounter elsewhere.
- Fantasy World Club Villas in Kissimmee: This is an excellent resort near Walt Disney World, boasting plenty of space to stretch out. With a lazy river, two water slides, 18 hole mini-golf, and plenty of kid-friendly activities to choose from, these townhouses and condos are designed for family fun. You’ll also get access to scheduled shuttle rides to and from Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Orlando and Seaworld.
Things to Do in Orlando
So you’re visiting Orlando, but you want to check out more than just Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld Parks? There are plenty of other options available. To start, we recommend you check out sites like 365Tickets USA, Best of Orlando, and Viator. There you’ll find discounted tickets for all kinds of Orlando events and shows, as well as attractions, theme parks, and much more. If you plan to visit a variety of attractions, you might also find the Orlando Go Card to be a good value.
The first thing to know is that there are other amazing theme parks available. Orlando has more than their fair share of parks, with all kinds of activities for family fun. Here are some you might not be aware of:
- Legoland Florida: Orlando is home to the largest Legoland, with its own Beach Retreat water park, the new Ninjago World, and plenty of rides, shows, and attractions.
- Busch Gardens Tampa Bay: About 90 miles west of Orlando (but easily within driving distance), Busch Gardens Tampa Bay offers thrilling rides, a Serengeti Safari, and a variety of family-friendly entertainment options. And with 8 different roller coasters to choose from, it’s no wonder they boast “Florida’s best thrill rides”.
- Adventure Island: Also in Tampa, Adventure Island is a fun water park with water slides, a splash zone, the Rambling Bayou lazy river, and a beach area for sand volleyball and other family activities.
Other Attractions and Things to Do
Maybe theme parks aren’t your thing, or you’d like to mix it up a bit and check out some other fun attractions.
- NASA: NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is a great place to visit while you’re in Orlando. Whether you’re just in time to attend an actual launch, or you just want to check out the visitor’s center, there is plenty of space-themed fun to be had.
- Sports Teams: In addition to the NBA’s Orlando Magic, there are several other teams for sports fans to check out. If you’re into soccer, you can catch a game featuring the Orlando City SC (MLS) or Orlando Pride (NWSL) at Orlando City Stadium. The Orlando Solar Bears ECHL hockey team play at the Amway Center, and if you happen to be in town during the MLB’s spring training, you can catch the Atlanta Braves at the ESPN Sports Complex at Walt Disney World.
- Golf courses: For those whose idea of a good time involves 18 holes of golf, there are a multitude of options in the Orlando area. TravelGolf highlights some budget-friendly options like Ridgewood Lakes Golf Club, Southern Dunes Golf & Country Club, and Eagle Creek Golf Club. For something a little different, check out footgolf, a mixture of soccer and golf, available at the Diamondback Golf Club in Haines City.
- Chocolate Kingdom: If you’d like to indulge your sweet tooth, a Factory Adventure Tour at Chocolate Kingdom might just fit the bill. You can even make your own custom chocolate bar if you choose!
- Orlando Kart Center: For those with a need for speed, the Orlando Kart Center is a great place to visit. Their Arrive & Drive races provide you with everything you need to experience a race on their huge, technical track.
- Coca-Cola Orlando Eye: Soaring 400 feet above the city, the Orlando Eye offers some of the best views around. In addition to the standard package, they also offer a champagne experience, combo tickets with other attractions, private capsules, and more. Pro tip: book through their website to save 10% off your tickets!
- Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens: Roughly half an hour south of Orlando, you’ll find the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens. The park is home to over 400 animals from nearly 150 species, including the largest collection of venomous snakes and non-venomous reptiles in the southeast. They’ve also got a children’s barnyard zoo, a tropical splash ground and the ZOOm Air Adventures course with ziplines, rope bridges, and other ways to explore the tree tops!
- Orlando nightlife: As you might expect, the city heats up after the sun goes down, with plenty of nightlife options to choose from. We suggest touring the Universal CityWalk just outside the gates to Universal Studios, laughing it up at the Orlando Improv comedy club, or checking out ICEBAR Orlando for a uniquely frosty experience.
- Orlando Science Center: If you’ve got something a little more educational in nature, the Orlando Science Center offers hands-on fun for kids of all ages. This indoor gem is also a great option if you encounter a rainy day on your vacation.
- Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium: For a bit of quirky fun, check out the Odditorium. They have 600 exhibits and artifacts featuring 16 themed galleries. And don’t forget to check out our Ripley’s coupons and promo codes page to save some green.
- Shopping: Orlando has a wealth of great malls and shopping centers available. Specifically, many enjoy the premium outlets where you can find bargains on your favorite brand names. Check out the Orlando International Premium Outlet Mall and the Orlando Premium Outlets on Vineland Avenue to see what great deals you might find.
Dining on a Budget
While you’re in Orlando, you’re going to need to eat, right? Meals tend to be one of those items some vacationers forget to budget for, so make sure you include a reasonable per diem for food. Of course, meals at theme parks tend to come at a premium, but there are always ways to find bargains.
One great option is to make sure you book a suite or vacation rental that includes a full kitchen. While we’re sure you won’t want to cook every day, preparing just a few meals yourself can really make an impact on your budget. You can also stock snacks and drinks at your “home base” for in between activities.
If you’re spending time in Walt Disney World, there are some great tips you should know to save on food. First, be sure to check out the 10 Best Cheap Eats at Walt Disney World from Disney Fanatic for a guide to some of the best budget bites in the park. Also, make note of these 5 Clever Ways to Save on Meals from WDW Info.
Likewise, there are tips and tricks for saving some green at Universal Studios. If you’re spending a lot of time there, you’ll want to check out the Universal Dining Plan, which allows you to prepay for your meals and save. Also, be sure to check out TripSavvy’s lineup of Universal Orlando’s Top 10 Best Quick Service Restaurants to see where the best bargains can be found.
And outside of the big parks, there are plenty of local eateries to satisfy every taste and budget. The Orlando Sentinel has a nice roundup of cheap eats in the area, so be sure to check it out if you are in need of ideas. And of course, we always recommend sites like restaurant.com or Groupon for deals on dining out.