Orlando may be a city of fun but how do you have a luxury travel break in a destination where an average day out can run to several hundreds of pounds? When a day at a theme park costs as much as a spa day and hotels can be hundreds of dollars a night is it even possible to have an affordable break in the city? If you follow our Orlando money saving tips it is.
Our two-week family break to Orlando last October was my most recent holiday mission and after hours of cruising different websites to compare deals and prices, I stumbled upon a number of great tips and ideas that will save you both time and money.
What was surprising was that after taking ten visits to the Sunshine State, and despite considering myself something of an Orlando veteran, some of these tips were a revelation to me – going to show just how quickly things change in travel.
So here are affordable luxury Orlando travel tips I’ve discovered to help you save and keep your cool as you navigate the thrills and spills in this city of fun.
Orlando money saving tips
1. Book a villa stay for larger groups
I have only stayed in a hotel once in Orlando in the last 17 years, simply because in a villa you have lots of space with all the home comforts, plus the benefits of things like a pool and a hot tub to relax in after a long day racing around a theme park.
But aside from the lifestyle perks, it can also be more cost-effective than a hotel stay, and even if you don’t want to cook when on holiday, it’s really cheap to eat out in Orlando – see tip four.
2. Compare your airports, not just airlines
Orlando has two airports served by flights from the UK, Orlando Sanford and Orlando International Airport. Sanford is a smaller airport and an extra 20-minute drive, but we usually opt for this one as invariably we have found getting through the airport much swifter.
Norwegian Air has gained considerable ground in the UK to US flight market, with a number of direct routes from London, as well as premium upgrade options. But beware of Norwegian’s lead-in prices, as their lowest advertised fares do not include baggage or meals, which will cost from £50 extra.
Or if you are quite content with a road trip, Orlando is a three-hour drive from Jacksonville, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Miami – but remember to weigh-up the cost of fuel and the convenience factor.
3. Time it right
Spring and autumn are the best times to visit Orlando to avoid the US holiday season, and you can enjoy great weather and fewer crowds. Have to travel in August? Aim for the latter half of the month, when a lot of American children are back at school.
4. Buy your tickets before you travel
Organise theme park tickets before you arrive to save on higher prices at the gates. Often tickets bought online in the UK are pre-packaged for 14 or 21 days for more value. With theme parks hiking prices at least once a year, it makes sense to lock in your ticket prices.
Compare packages carefully too as there can be quite a difference between combo tickets and buying individual tickets for each park brand. Also, be realistic about what you will be able to cover during your break as you may soon find that an all-in-one pass isn’t going to be as well used as you first thought.
5. Look at local attractions for just as much fun
Tickets for the major parks are notoriously expensive, but Orlando is home to some amazing attractions that are equally as fun for the young and young at heart.
During our break, we spent time at the science attraction Wonderworks, got up close to some alligators at Gatorland, and even took to the water with Boggy Creek Airboat Rides – more on those experiences coming up in a future post.
But what we loved about visiting these attractions is that it gave us the chance to meet local people and experience some good old southern hospitality, which was insightful, refreshing and made for authentic travel experiences in between all the big commercial attractions.
We organised all our tickets through American Attractions Collection, which offers a range of tickets for attractions and sights in Orlando, New York and Las Vegas. And with dining savings such as VIP Dine4Less and Kids Eat Free cards added into the mix, it saved us up to 25% at selected restaurants – which we made full use of for nights off from our villa kitchen. And with more than 40 restaurants to choose from you don’t have to dine at the same place more than once.
It can be difficult to compare the attraction ticket providers as many have different packages and offers, but the VIP Dine4Less card proved great value at some steakhouses available through the programme, and the food was fabulous too.
5. Avoid theme park prices on food, drink and parking
Did you know Disney’s theme parks allow you to take food and non-alcoholic drinks into their parks? You can take coolers or backpacks with or without wheels into the parks but they must be within: 24” (61cm) long x 15” (38cm) wide x 18” (46cm) high.
While preparing drinks and snacks may seem a pain, you’ll be grateful for it when you’re queuing for rides. Plus, if you save 12-2pm for ride time, and eat lunch outside these peak hours, you can enjoy a few more rides while other park guests are hitting the restaurants.
Water fountains are dotted throughout the parks, so stay hydrated and invest in a water filtration travel bottle and fill up as you go, without long waits and paying $4.50 each time.
Just visiting a Disney park for the fireworks? Hit the car parks after 8pm as invariably the parking payment booths are closed so you won’t have to pay a $20 parking fee.
6. Maximise your time
For a family of four you will likely spend thousands of pounds on your holiday, so it’s important that you make the most of your time.
A word of warning, even with a two-week break, you are not going to see and experience everything each park has to offer, and that’s even when you exclude the water parks.
With Universal Studios tickets, you can only book fast passes when you’re inside the parks or upgrade to an Express Pass. Meanwhile, the super useful My Disney Experience app allows you to pre-book your passes up to a month in advance – which we strongly recommend you do to avoid of two to three-hour-long queues. The app also acts as a map, allows you to check wait times, and you can even order food for pick up.
If you’re anything like me, you still want to return home feeling as though you have had a relaxing break. So plan the top four things you want to do in each park, so your party won’t leave disappointed and it will leave plenty of time for relaxation too.
The adult rides tend to be tucked away at the back of the parks, in the north and northeast. While most people tend to head clockwise around the park, dare to be different and cut straight to the back of the park to hit these most popular rides first.
And most importantly after all the park action, schedule a rest day in between park days for leisurely time by the pool with a good book.
7. Save on driving
There is an overwhelming number of car hire agents to choose from for your break. Pay particular attention to the car size to avoid being stung at the airport if you find you have to upgrade because you have too much luggage.
Also, remember that car hire agents are always tasked with upselling, so before you fall into the trap of upgrading – simply ask to see the car you’ve booked first to be sure you will definitely need a bigger car.
Before you go ahead and book car hire, always do a quick search for any discount codes or cashback offers. Hertz offer regular voucher codes, so savings can be considerable.
When it comes to excess insurance, it can be cheaper to book this separately. You’re not obliged to book through the car hire company. Booking with a standalone insurance firm can be as little as £2 per day, while car hire companies can charge £25 per day for the same insurance.
We booked our car hire through a global online travel company, but check the terms carefully as some travel companies will charge you locally, which will be subject to the exchange rates at the time.
Invariably you will hit toll roads on your journey from the airport to Orlando, so be prepared and get some change as failing to pay a toll could land you with a fine of $60.
8. Shop when you land
Orlando is awash with shopping malls, outlets and flea markets where you can pick up everything from souvenirs to designer buys at discounted prices.
Pack enough clothes for a few days and hit the shops to pick up some bargains to take home.
I always pick up a new pair of Converse and Levi jeans when I visit Florida and save up to 50% on prices back in the UK. The state also has one of the lowest sales taxes in the US so all the more reason to make the most of it.
The Orlando Premium Outlets and Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores feature luxury brands such as Hugo Boss, Levis and Dooney & Bourke. Not hiring a car? Some of the outlets also run free hotel shuttle services so you can still get your shopping fix.
And if you’re looking for souvenirs, venture off the parks and visit the Disney Character Warehouse at the Orlando Premium Outlets or Walmart for themed merchandise – at a fraction of the cost.
Other options include The Florida Mall and The Mall at Millenia for all your favourite designer brands including Michael Kors, Coach and Armani. Always check deals pages on mall websites so you know what offers are available at which stores to maximise your savings.
9. Member of the AA in the UK? Your breakdown cover could get some extra discounts
Members of the AA can use their membership card for discounts in the US. Where you see signs for the AAA (American Automobile Association) discount accepted, simply show your Arc Europe sign on the back of your card to receive a discount.
Have any Orlando luxury travel tips of your own to help other visitors save money on their holiday to Orlando? Share them with us below.