A budget vacation to Florida is often a dream holiday for many a family. Many families save up for years to go on a once in a lifetime to trip to Orlando and visit Disneyland, SeaWorld and Universal Studios. Whereas others will immediately write off their chances of ever going by assuming it is too expensive when in fact with a bit of research and breaking your holiday down it is definitely possible to achieve a budget holiday to Orlando in Florida.
Theme Parks and Attractions
In Orlando there are that many theme parks; it could take you months to explore. Within Disney alone there are 6 theme parks to enjoy:
Magic Kingdom – Disney’s flagship park featuring 4 themed areas, filled with rides and attractions with the opportunity to meet all of your favourite characters, enjoy themed parades throughout the day and also magical firework displays.
Epcot – Epcot is a wonderful Disney Park where the theme is divided between technological innovation and international culture. The first part of the park you encounter you’ll discover that all the rides and exhibits are technologically based before moving further into the park where you will then begin to amble around a lake taking in various cultures from around the world with the opportunity to try various food and drink as well take in the attractions on offer.
Hollywood Studios – Disney’s movie park where you will have the opportunity to ride show based attractions, meet characters from your movies, take in shows and take advantage of a back lot movie tour to discover how your favourite movies are really made.
Animal Kingdom – At Animal Kingdom you can discover different areas of the world whilst you enjoy learning about the many species of animals on show and enjoying the many thrilling rides. The off-road safari ride is also a must do at Animal Kingdom as you get up close and personal with animals from the Sahara.
Typhoon Lagoon – A water park based on a tropical paradise with one of the largest wave pools in the world.
Blizzard Beach – Disney’s newest water park is a snow based water park where you can take advantage of rides such as ski lifts and ride the summit plummet, a 120-foot free-falling slide.
Please note that if you are visiting Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom by car that there is parking charge of around $20 a day though you can drive from one park to another on the same day for no extra charge.
Also in the Disney World area there are two additional attractions in Disney Springs and Disney Boardwalk which are well worth a visit as you can take advantage of a bit of retail therapy or enjoy a memorable dining experience. It is also worth noting that it is free to park at Disney Springs as well as riding a boat around the lake.
Should you fancy a break from Disney, there are also many more theme parks and attractions in Orlando which are not Disney Themed such as:
Situated on International Drive, Sea World is a theme park which blends sea life with thrill seeking rides and exciting shows. Here you can see Killer Whales, Sea Lions, Dolphins and ride the Antarctica ride which culminates with a visit to see the Penguins.
If you are fan of fast rides then Sea World may also be the place for you as you can enjoy rides such as Kraken, Manta and Journey to Atlantis. If you like a slower pace of life then you may wish to take in many of the shows on offer which include Killer Whales and Dolphins.
Universal Orlando Resort
The ever expanding Universal resort now boasts 3 theme parks consisting of:
Universal Studios – A very popular movie theme park where you can enjoy interactive experiences from your favourite movies and television shows. Most notable rides and attractions include the Famous Studio Tour, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Despicable Me Mayhem Attraction and The Walking Dead Attraction.
Universals Islands of Adventure – If you are more of a thrill seeker then Universal Islands of Adventure maybe the place for you. This park also encompasses Harry Potter World as you can catch the real Hogwarts Express between Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios.
Volcano Bay – Enjoy the thrills and spills of a water park including the main attraction the Ko’okiri Body Plunge which is the tallest body slide in the USA.
If you are from the UK and enjoy a day out at Alton Towers then this theme park will be for you with many thrill seeking rides to choose from. Set in Tampa Bay to the west of Orlando this Theme Park offers a fun day out for the whole family.
If you wish to diversify your day out at Busch Gardens there is also a zoo with over 300 different animals to visit including Lions, giraffes, gorillas and elephants.
As Orlando is packed with theme parks and attractions then it is no surprise that the main tourist road in Orlando is also filled with attractions to keep the entire family entertained. Among the many sites you will see on International Drive are the following:
Orlando 360 – where you can take in breath taking views of the Orlando skyline
Ripley’s Believe It or Not – Fun filled interactive museum full of strange facts and records
Madame Tussauds – Get up close and personnel with all your favourite celebrities
Sea Life Orlando – Discover and interact with hundreds of sea creatures. Please note that as Madame Tussauds and Sea Life are owned by the same company they often offer a discounted combo ticket on their website.
Lego Land – Discover the Lego themed theme park including Splash Park
Wonder Works – Interactive science based upside down house situated on International Drive
It is well worth carrying out your research prior to travelling to Orlando, Florida as there are many combination deals out there which will lessen the expense of your trip for example if you wish to visit both Sea World and Universal Studios then it is likely that you will find a multi-day, multi park deal which can offer quite a saving.
For the lesser known theme attractions in Orlando it is also worth researching prior to your visit and also picking up coupon booklets as you travel round Orlando. Websites such as undercover tourist and Orlando on the Cheap can assist in offering significant discounts on many attractions as well as further discounts for eating out and shopping.
If you are planning a holiday and are travelling from abroad you are likely to have a choice of two airports to fly into Orlando International Airport (MCO) or Orlando Sandford International Airport. Both airports are located within an hour’s drive of International Drive with it likely to take you around 45 minutes from Sandford Airport and 20 minutes from Orlando International Airport.
Most international airlines fly to both of the above mentioned airports including Virgin, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, Thomas Cook and Norwegian Airlines. Flight time is usually around 9 hours and many flight deals can often be found by booking direct with an airline or searching flight comparison websites such as SkyScanner.
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When booking a long distance holiday to somewhere such as Orlando, I would tend to start carrying out my research around 12 months in advance in order to find the optimum time to visit though if you are extremely flexible with your time you can get some fantastic deals by booking last minute.
Please remember that before travelling to the United States you will require an approved ESTA Form. These can be filled in online and can take a few days to approve. Please bear in mind that each ESTA Form costs around $14 to complete per person and if you are booking a last minute deal, make sure you have a valid ESTA Form or you may be refused entry into the country.
When travelling to Orlando, your choice of accommodation will be dictated by what your mode of transport will be for getting around, how many of you are in your party, what you wish to visit and most importantly what your budget is.
If you are not hiring a car and will be relying on shuttle buses and taxis to transport you around then you will ideally want to be centrally located on International Drive as this is the area where many of theme parks, attractions, shops and restaurants are located. On International Drive you will find accommodation to suit everyone’s need from high end hotels to budget price motels most of which usually provide their own shuttle bus service.
If you are hiring a car then it may be more beneficial to look further away from International Drive as you will get more value for your money and the cost of fuel is much cheaper than mainland Europe. There is plenty of choice as you move away from the main attractions to areas such as Kissimmee as you could perhaps choose to stay in a more luxurious hotel at a cheaper rate, an apartment in a gated community or perhaps even a villa with its own swimming pool.
If you are travelling as a family with children or even bringing extended family along such as Grandparents, I would definitely the Villa option as this will provide everyone with their own space to relax plus you will have your own swimming pool.
You could even save money by purchasing and cooking your own food which can be a relief if you children are fussy eaters and Villas are more reasonably priced than you think as you can pick one up from as little as £70 a night depending on when you travel.
Famous for its shopping, Orlando has many Malls and Outlets where you can shop to your hearts content and grab a bargain.
Premium Outlets – Located just off International Drive has hundreds of branded shops at discounted prices including Sketchers, UGG, Adidas, Levi’s etc.
Mall at Millenia – For the shopper with a larger budget. Here you will find many of your high end stores such as Chanel, Boss, Hollister and Abercrombie and Finch. Mall at Millenia is also home to the Cheesecake Factory which has more than 50 Cheesecakes on their menu.
Florida Mall – Orlando’s largest shopping centre and more of mainstream mall. This mall offers shops such as JC Penney, Desigual, H&M, Build a Bear and Disney store. This mall is also home to the M&M World store which is one of only 4 in the world which is well worth a visit if you are a fan of M&M’s.
Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores – Probably the cheapest of all the retail outlets mentioned this retail park is well worth a visit to pick up a real bargain. Here you will find discounted stores such as V F Outlet, Converse and Carter plus many more. There is also an abundance of café’s as you amble round and a play area for the kids to keep them entertained.
In addition to the 4 shopping centres mentioned above there are many other places to you can visit for a spot of retail therapy, most notably International Drive which has an array of designer shops and larger than life Souvenir shops dotted along the strip.
If you are looking for generally cheaper items then a mention should also be given to Walmart. Here you will be able to pick up items such as Levi Jeans, Toys or souvenir items plus much more at a discounted price.
Hiring a car in Florida is a relatively easy process and both airports are served by most of the main car hire companies such as Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo etc. The cost of hiring a car is fairly reasonable however there will be a considerable increase in cost if you are not returning your hired vehicle to the same destination as where you picked it up or are under the age of 25.
When hiring a car it always advisable to check what your insurance covers you for and I would recommend that you are fully covered before driving your car away to avoid the possibility of hefty bill upon your return. It is possible to buy vehicle hire insurance before you go away, by searching on price comparison websites and I would recommend doing this to ensure you are fully covered prior to travelling.
When you are hiring a car in Orlando at the airport, the customer service team are likely to try to persuade you to pay a fee in advance for all the toll roads you will use during your stay. If you are not planning on venturing far out of the Orlando area and are in possession of a Sat Nav then I would not recommend purchasing these as these roads are few and far between and easily avoidable on most journeys
It is also worth noting that fuel is extremely cheap in comparison to most European countries and most cars are also automatic. If you are not used to driving an automatic car it will take a little getting used to however you are likely to find it much easier to drive than a manual car.
As for driving in the USA there is nothing to fear, the roads are generally quieter, the lanes are bigger and car parking spaces are wider than spaces you will find in most places in Europe. There are also a couple of nuances to get used to such as being able to turn right at traffic lights when on red if nothing is coming and not being able to overtake a school bus when parked up and collecting school children but you’ll soon get used to it.
Nearby Places to Visit
Kennedy Space Center
Located on Florida’s east coast around an hour’s drive from Orlando is the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. Kennedy Space Center is interactive museums where you can learn about previous space missions, explore shuttles and rockets plus if you plan your trip carefully you may be able time your visit with a scheduled launch.
For details of scheduled launch dates you can check out the Kennedy Space Center but be warned it does get very busy at the Space Center on launch days.
Fun Spot Kissimee
Fun Spot Kissimee is an old style amusement park located in the centre of Kissimee. Opening mid-afternoon each day this theme park is filled with plenty of roller coasters to keep you going well into the evening.
Situated just outside of Tampa is Clearwater is a coastal resort where many of the rich and famous hang out. With its golden beaches and pier this is definitely a chilled out place to hang out for a day. There is also the opportunity to board an exciting boat ride where you can go Dolphin spotting and admire some of the residences of local celebrities.
Based in Orlando, Gatorland is a fun day out for the whole family where you can get up close and personal with alligators and crocodiles as well other snakes and critters. There is also an opportunity to go Zip lining or on a Road Adventure.
Orlando is a destination filled with that many attractions and theme parks that the whole family could be entertained for months. As there is so much to do it is worth sitting down with your family and prioritising exactly what everyone would like to do on their trip to Florida.
From here I would break the holiday down and set a budget each element of the holiday. A generic example is shown below based on a 14 night stay for a family of 4:
Flights – £2,000 (This figure can be achieved with research, booking at the right time and be flexible with which airport you depart)
Accommodation – £1,050 (14 x£75)
Car Hire – £500 (including additional insurance)
Theme Parks – £1,500 (this will fluctuate quite drastically dependent on park selection, exchange rate at purchase and deals you can identify)
Spending Money and Petrol Money – £2,000 (I would budget a generous £200 for petrol and then budget around £130 a day. This figure may also increase if you are eating out as a family for breakfast, lunch and evening meal)
On my family’s budget above we would be looking at around £7,000.00 for an entire 2 week holiday to Florida for a family of four. Having set this out I would then set about trying to find the best deal I possibly could in regard to flights, car hire, theme parks and accommodation with the aim to come under my budget. In addition to the above it is always worth checking whether there are any package deals to take advantage of with either airlines or tour operators before making your booking.
Therefore, a dream holiday is a more than achievable family budget holiday but the key to maintaining a budget will be in the research.
If you have any comments regarding the above article or anything to add, please feel free to add your comments below and I will endeavour to respond.