Let’s face it – when you add up hotel & transportation costs, dining out, and theme parks, an Orlando vacation is about as pricey as it gets. Severals days at the theme parks alone can add up to hundreds, even thousands of dollars. If you figure a week or more at a hotel, $100+ per day theme park tickets, pricey park food and restaurants, souvenirs, and airfare costs, and you can easily be looking at upwards of $5000. According to Money Magazine, the average Disney vacation now costs $6360!
To help ease the overall cost a bit, here are a few tips for getting the most out of your vacation without breaking the bank!
1. Avoid holiday & school break periods
Flights and hotels will be much pricier during these busy periods. In fact, many Universal and Disney properties will be completely sold out during these peak weeks. Also, ride queues will be much longer, meaning you will miss out on loads of attractions due to wasted time waiting in lines. Surely, this is not the best bang-for-your buck time to visit the theme parks! The fall and winter months (outside of Christmas) is the best time, budget and crowd-wise, to plan your trip!
2. Book an on-site resort property with a complimentary shuttle to the parks
Whether you are planning on visiting Disney, Universal, or both, a property with free transportation to the parks will save you loads of money. Car rentals are super pricey, and thus, the extra cost for a resort with shuttle service easily pays for itself. Cabana Bay is a wonderful Universal resort with free shuttle service. You will also get hour early admission to the parks. This alone will enable you to enjoy 2-4 extra rides before the park even opens! Also, all Disney properties offer free park transportation.
3. Check for hotel package deals
Before committing to a hotel, check the hotel’s website for special package deals. Whether you are seeking a spa treatment, a dining package, or a rental car, there are various money saving packages available. Discounted Florida resident deals also available. Various Disney resorts offer packages which include amenities such as airline transportation, park tickets, dining, and more. Check the WDW website and each individual property for more details. Also look into Universal’s special package deals.
4. Go out for a big lunch instead of dinner
Lunchtime restaurant visits are much easier on the wallet. At this time, you will enjoy lower priced entrees, better service, and a more enjoyable crowd-free ambiance. On top of that, research shows that eating the biggest meal of the day at lunch is best for your digestive system. There are both quick and full service restaurants within both parks, or you can temporarily leave the parks to enjoy a more frugal off-site dining experience. Sweet Tomatoes is a wonderful budget friendly all-you-can-eat salad/soup buffet located super close to the park.
5. Consider a Disney/Universal dining plan
Dining plans are a great option for families more interested in the parks than restaurants. If you want to take advantage of the parks more and skip the fuss of making restaurant reservations, deciding where to eat, and wasting a bunch of time, a dining deal may be the way to go. The Disney plan includes 2 meals & 2 snacks each night of your stay, and a refillable mug. Most resorts offer a package which includes a dining deal. Check the WDW dining page for more details. Universal offers a similar deal.
6. Skip the fast passes
Fast passes really do not really do much in terms of enhancing your theme park experience. This is especially the case if you are visiting during one of the slower periods. Instead, download the Universal Wait Times app and plan your day accordingly. This handy free app gives you the current wait time for each ride, so you can avoid lengthy queues. You will save both time, and thus, money by using this app.
For more popular rides, consider lining up as soon as the park opens. Then spend the afternoon enjoying the less popular rides. You will get on more rides without paying the fast pass price. Another great idea is to ride as a single rider. The fast pass lines are basically non existent, thus making this a great time saving choice if you are willing to separate from your party!
7. Book hotels and flights in advance
It always pays to book flights and hotels way in advance. Also, if you can book mid-week, pricing is typically cheaper. Keep in mind that crowded weekends and holiday periods will be priced accordingly. Christmas, Easter, 4th of July, Spring Break, and the entire summer season should be avoided!
8. Buy multi day tickets
If you plan on visiting any one individual theme park more than once, you will save money by purchasing multi day tickets. As is the case for both Universal and Disney, the more days you visit, the more you save. As an example, a 1 day Disney ticket costs $109 as of early 2020, while a 4 Day ticket amounts to $85 per day ($338 total). Also be aware that resident deals are available. Of course, an annual pass (the best value) is the way to go if you live in Florida!
9. Consider a condo rental for longer stays
As dining out can be one of the costliest trip expenses, it may help to book a condo with full kitchen. Pick up some quick frozen/microwave meals and you can easily whip up a quick breakfast before you leave, as well as an easy dinner after an exhausting day at the parks. This will easily save you hundreds of bucks, especially if traveling with a large party. Windsor Hills is a wonderful affordable choice. Amenities include a pool, fitness facilities, and a shuttle.
10. Vacation with family & friends
Plan your trip at the same time as family/friends and split various accommodation, transportation, and dining costs. This tactic can go a long way towards saving a few bucks.
11. Drive rather than fly
In almost all cases, a road trip is much cheaper than flying. More time consuming yes, but it can also save you hundreds of dollars. Plus, there are no extra fees for luggage and you can pack a cooler with snacks/meals as opposed to dining at multiple restaurants along the way. If you do fly, Southwest is the way to go, not only for the cheap flights, but also for the check 2 bags free policy.
12. Skip the bottled water
By law, all foods stands in Orlando have to serve you water. If you do not feel like waiting in long lines, consider wearing a camelbak. These handy backpacks are most often used for hiking, but also come in super convenient for a full day walking around in the hot blasting sun at Orlando theme parks. Enjoy endless free water minus the long wait. Universal allows up to 2L of water to be brought into the park.
13. Pack a few snacks & essentials
Be sure to come to the parks prepared to avoid any unnecessary park expenses. Sunblock, sunglasses, snacks, water, poncho will likely all come in handy. Universal allows any small snacks that do not need heating, along with medically required and special dietary needs foods. Disney also allows guests to bring food, as long as it does not need to be heated/refrigerated and is not stored in a glass bottle.
14. Dress appropriately for a full day at the parks
Wear comfortable clothes. Also do not wear sandals. The painful blisters will drive you to purchase an unnecessary pair of gym shoes! While not as fashionable, gym shoes are so much more comfortable.
15. Know which rides/attractions to skip
First time visitors will definitely want to know the best-of-the-best in order to get the best bang-for-your-buck experience. Some rides are just better than others. Seeking out the best rides and experiences first will save you time, and thus, money. Check out my guide to the best rides at Universal and the best rides in Orlando.
16. Skip the park hopper option at Disney
If you are a first time visitor, you will want to spend at least a full day at each park. Therefore, a park hopper add on is an unnecessary expense. The parks are big enough that you do not need to waste time & money going from park to park. Universal on the other hand requires park to park tickets to access the Hogwarts Express. If you are a Harry Potter fan, you will definitely want to enjoy this fun themed transportation between Universal and Islands.
17. Limit souvenir purchases
Almost every ride will have you exit through a wonderful gift shop filled to the brim with exciting themed souvenirs from the ride you just got off of. It can be so tempting not to buy the entire store. But think about it – how many of these souvenirs are you actually going to display in your home? Or will they just sit in storage? Instead buy one nice photo frame or scrapbook, take lots of pics, and enjoy the budget friendly photo mementos from your trip.
18. Skip the waterparks
As you can imagine, Disney water parks can get ridiculously crowded during the summer season. The theme parks are a much better value in my opinion. While you can find water parks all over the country, the theme parks are so uniquely themed to Disney. Instead take a day off and enjoy the beautiful pools you are likely paying for at your resort. Cabana Bay has 2 beautiful pool areas with a waterslide, a sand beach, and a lazy river.
19. Check for special deals & specials
Both Universal and Disney have a section on their website dedicated to deals and specials. Look into the special hotel package deals and special theme park ticket deals.
20. Check Groupon for discounts
I always find great restaurant and attraction deals on Groupon. If you are willing to try something new, consider scanning the Orlando deals. From dining, to mini golf, to hotels, you can find just about anything today on Groupon. Also sign up for their emails for special discount codes.