Florida is a must-visit destination for any family, packed with family-friendly attractions from Disney’s flagship theme parks to water parks, animal attractions and unique experiences like the Kennedy Space Center. It only has one downside in my opinion – the fact that international flights for the family, accommodation and attraction tickets can all add up, making it hard to keep the trip within budget. I’m keen to save money when I travel and to help other families save money to, so I’ve compiled this comprehensive guide on how to save money when visiting Florida, but a lot of this advice will help anyone save money when traveling with kids.
Purchase your attraction tickets in advance and save money at the big parks
Purchasing Florida tickets in advance is essential to save money. Buying on the day will almost always be considerably more expensive. Buying bundles, multi-day and multi-park tickets will also save a lot of money so by checking in advance, you can get great deals for Universal Orlando tickets as well as other Florida attractions, in some cases saving hundreds of pounds per person.
You can save a ton of money at the big parks by packing your own food. Disney allows you to take food and non alcoholic drink into their parks, and if you’ve got a stroller then I’d recommend packing a travel cooler in the bottom of it, perfect for sandwiches and cool drinks. Water fountains are far more common than here in the UK and you’ll have no trouble filling up a water bottle, so take a travel bottle with you.
Pick the right travel dates
Spring and Autumn are the best times to visit Orlando, avoiding the USA holiday season (avoid spring break in the USA too). If you’re looking to travel in the school holidays, American schools go back earlier than the UK, so by targeting the last half of August or the first week of September (depending on when your school goes back for the year) you will find it cheaper and less busy.
Shop around on your flights
Don’t just compare airlines, but compare airports too. You may find that driving a few hours more in the UK can significantly reduce your flight costs. You may even find that it’s cheaper to fly from the UK to a connecting airport such as Dublin or Amsterdam and then get an onward flight to Florida. Changing airports often results in reduced fares compared to direct flights and may only add a few hours to the journey.
In the USA, explore Orlando Sanford, which is a much smaller airport than Orlando International, but often has cheaper flights and is much quicker to get through as well. It only ends up being an extra 20 minute drive or so, but most tourists don’t think to check flights to it.
Even further afield, you might be able to pick up a bargain flight to Jacksonville, Tampa, Ford Lauderdale or Miami, all of which are about a three hour drive from Orlando and have many attractions in the area too.
When comparing flight prices, make sure you follow the price through to the checkout to double check if it includes baggage, meals or seat choices, otherwise the prices can rise unexpectedly when you go to purchase.
Car hire, location and accomodation tips
Staying in a hotel can end up being expensive, but Florida has some amazing villas within 30-40 minutes drive of all the big parks. If you are willing to brave driving on the wrong side of the road, you have a lot more flexibility for location and access to much more budget friendly accommodation. Some of the villas for hire are expansive five or six bedroom plus homes with private swimming pools, and they can cost as little as two hotel rooms! You can really get the price down if you travel with extended family or friends who are willing to split the cost, plus you get to stay in what seems like a mansion by British standards.
Self Catering and Shopping
If you’re looking to travel to Orlando on a budget and save some money, going self-catering is the way to go, and getting to see the American supermarkets can be a lot of fun as they sell a lot of brands you won’t find over here. The kids won’t be moaning about this shopping trip, trust me. That being said, eating out at many restaurants around Orlando is quite cheap, so you don’t have to cook every night, but avoid eating at the parks if you don’t need to.
You can also get a wide range of brand names in the USA considerably cheaper than in the UK. Whilst going shopping for designer clothes, shoes, hand bags and electronics isn’t exactly money saving, if you were planning on buying something new anyway, you may want to wait for your trip and save some pennies.
Check out local attractions as well as big names
There is so much to do in Florida that you’re never going to fit everything in to one trip, which is why it’s fun to go to again and again. One thing you can consider is to stagger how many premium attractions you visit. There are a whole host of local attractions, from science attractions like Wonderworks, to Everglades boat rides or getting close and personal with alligators at Gatorlands. By choosing smaller attractions you save money, get to speak to local people and support the community and local businesses rather than just the big corporations, so it’s a win for everyone!
If you’ve now got a grip on the budget, it’s time to start planning and I’ve got a guide on everything you need to know about getting your ESTA visa and packing for your Florida holiday!