Planning a trip to Orlando on a budget can be rough, I’m not going to lie. There are so many things to consider including, travel style and where to stay. Add in theme park tickets and dining and you’re head will probably be spinning.
Happily, I’ve been there, done that. Several times. Dozens of times, in fact. The easiest way to plan a trip to Orlando is learning from those with experience and taking advise where you can get it. I’m happy to share my best tips for planning a trip to Orlando on a budget with you. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Know Your Budget Before You Begin Planning
The first thing you need to do is to know your budget. Second, stick to that budget. Seriously. It will help you so much in the long run. When it comes to dining, especially at theme parks, prices are inflated. Before any trip, I like to purchase a gift card for the amount of money I’d like to spend. With each swipe of the credit card kiosk, the balance is staring me in the face.
What I’m not saying is to skimp on fun dining experiences. When we visit Disney World, we like to mix a few higher-end dining experiences in with the quick service meals. This way, I’m able to keep on budget plus eat well.
2. Orlando Has an Off-Season. Take Advantage of the Deals.
When I planned my first visit to Orlando, I had no idea there was such a thing as off-season. But there is, and it’s wonderful! Wonderful for my sanity, wonderful for my bank account because resorts and hotels lower their prices to draw in guests.
Think peak season as this: weeks surrounding major holidays and summer months. Generally speaking, the week before a holiday week and when the kiddos are in school are great times to visit. Personally, when we road trip to Orlando, I like to visit in late April and late October/early November. The second week of December is also really good, too. If your dates are flexible, check theme park crowd calendars to decide your dates.
3. Look for Hidden Fees in Orlando Resort Pricing
The first time I planned a visit to Orlando with my family, I was thinking, “Ok, this isn’t so bad. The resort prices are decent.” Then I started reading about all of the potential extras. Sure, a four or five-star resort may seem very affordable at $100 per night. But then consider added resort fees (upwards of $30 per day) and parking fees (anywhere from $15 to $30 per night) and the total price per night starts climbing.
There are offsite hotels near the theme parks that have the trinity of free: wifi, parking, and breakfast. While they won’t be five star resorts, if that’s what you need to book to stay within budget, don’t hesitate. Tip: read the reviews on any hotel or resort before booking. Then filter through them. Many times a bad review is simply an internet troll.
4. Look for Resort Freebies
I promise, I’m not trying to scare you. There are plenty of ways to save during your visit. The best way is to look for freebies in your resort. Choose the right one and you may want to consider days off from the parks to take advantage of resort activities. Not only will you save on park tickets, you’ll give your body a much-deserved break. Hello, aching back and feet!
Here’s a great list of the best freebies at Walt Disney World.
Want to know the best freebies at Universal Orlando? Here’s where to find free stuff at Universal Orlando Resort.
5. Double Up on Cash Back when Booking
My husband is all about getting the most from every booking we make so I’ve learned a ton when it comes to getting cash back in addition to getting perks by using credit cards.
First off all, use a reputable booking portal. I use Ebates to book everything from hotel rooms to shopping for makeup to making Amazon purchases. Then, start snooping around. Look for hotel deals on Hotwire, Priceline, and even Ebates Hotels. Make sure you add in the correct number of guests so you don’t get the incorrect type of room. Ebates also tells you, before you’re redirected to a portal, what percentage of cash you’ll get back for booking.
Another great deal for Ebates is Travel Thursdays – you’ll save even more when you book on a Thursday. Plus, you can still get hotel and loyalty points by using Ebates, too.
Here’s the deal with Ebates: there’s no cost to sign up – and every new account gets $10 back from Ebates or a Walmart gift card!
If you have a credit card that gives points/cash back for booking – use it. Just make sure you can pay it off immediately to avoid credit card fees.
6. Where to Get Inexpensive Theme Park Tickets
I get asked this question all of the time and my first response is this: DO NOT BUY SECOND-HAND TICKETS. EVER. First of all, it’s illegal. Secondly, if you get caught theme parks have the right to prosecute you.
Having written that, there are several ways to go when it comes to buying theme park tickets. You can purchase tickets with a theme park package or buy them right from Guest services when you arrive. Or you can purchase tickets from a reputable third party like Undercover Tourist. If you’ll only be at a theme park for one day, buy at the gate – you’ll be paying less. Two or more days? Undercover Tourist.
If you’ll be in the Walt Disney World theme parks for more than 11 days in any calendar year, consider buying a Disney World Annual Pass. You’ll save money on parking, dining, and shopping. Also remember that both major Orlando theme parks offer a free area that doesn’t need a ticket: Disney Springs and Universal CityWalk.
7. Uber or Car Rental?
99 times out of 100, we road trip to Orlando, so renting a car or using Uber is out of the mix. We have flown, however, and used Magic Express when visiting Disney World. Hey, it’s a free service and takes you straight to the on-property resort that you’ve booked.
If you’re flying in and want to explore the Orlando and Lake Buena Vista area, consider whether Uber or renting a car is your best choice. If you think you’ll be doing plenty of driving, car rentals in the Orlando area are affordable. But, if you’re only planning on going to a couple of places, Uber is the way to go.
Disclosure: Ebates sponsored this post to give you fine folks the scoop on how to save money when visiting Orlando. All opinions are my own!