Read award-winning journalist and guest-blogger Miriam Porter's advice on how to have fun without breaking the bank in Orlando.
You don't need to be a single parent to want to save money when traveling. I mean, who doesn't love a good bargain? But since I am a single mom, I have even more reason to find simple ways to save on our journeys. Especially in Orlando, where there are so many exciting adventures to have, delicious meals to enjoy, unique activities to experience — and of course, treasures your offspring will beg you to purchase.
Having visited Orlando with my son Noah many times, here's my advice on how to save money on your next Orlando vacation without compromising on fun.
Please note: Depending on the timing of your visit, some experiences may be temporarily modified or closed. Learn more about healthy travel and what’s open in Orlando, and check with your favorite attractions for their current status.
Save With Advance Ticket Purchases From Visit Orlando
Save money by booking theme parks, attractions and other Orlando activities online in advance. Visit Orlando has tons of awesome deals on their website, so browse through and see what suits your family.
We really loved WonderWorks on International Drive, where we spent half a day exploring and Noah did the indoor ropes challenge. Other deals on Visit Orlando's website include Pirate's Cove Adventure Golf and Dinosaur World. And if you want a bird's-eye view of Orlando from 400 feet in the sky, visit The Wheel at ICON Park® before 4 p.m. and save on admission rates.
Book Transportation & Accommodations in Advance and Online
The sooner you book your Orlando vacation, the better; I recommend four to six months in advance. The earlier you book your resort, hotel or condo rental, the more money you save, because as occupancy rates rise, so do room rates. If you are renting a car in Orlando, you can save with an advance online booking, too. Also, airlines often have amazing sales this time of year — the best flight deal I ever received was purchased around the holidays
Keep in mind it's less expensive to travel during off-peak times when kids are in school. Of course, this isn't possible for everyone's schedule, but Noah often does his homework in airports when I take him out of school to travel.
Consider a Condo, Villa or Townhouse Rental
If you have a big family, you may want to consider renting a condo, villa or townhouse and avoid the rental costs of multiple hotel rooms. This leads to saving money on food, too, as it's easier to prepare meals at your cozy Orlando home instead of always dining out.
Make Some Meals Yourself...
You don't always need to eat at restaurants or resorts in Orlando. When Noah and I travel, we visit grocery stores before checking into our hotel. I request a mini-fridge if there is no kitchenette, and purchase foods that don't require cooking.
On our last Orlando trip, we ate fresh fruit, bagels, cereal and even oatmeal for breakfast. Sometimes I also packed lunch: fresh veggies, hummus, bread and peanut butter, and even premade salads with couscous and quinoa. With the money we save eating some meals in, we can go out for a nice dinner at night.
...and Don't Leave Without Snacks
If you are a parent, this is probably second nature already. Since Noah was little, I have carried snacks in my purse, and they double when traveling. As a vegan mom, I pack granola bars, crackers, packets of nuts and seeds, and fruit that won't squish. Sure, we can buy food at theme parks and attractions, but it's more economical when I limit our purchased treats to a one-a-day indulgence.
Take Shuttles to Theme Parks...
Booking hotels that offer free shuttle services to theme parks will save money and stress on parking, but be aware that some resorts may require a shuttle to be booked 24 hours in advance. Alternatively, if you are staying at an onsite theme park resort, it's possible to walk to the parks.
When visiting Walt Disney World® Resort, we stayed at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort and walked along Disney's BoardWalk to the EPCOT® entrance in 15 minutes. This resort also offers frequent water taxis and buses to EPCOT or Disney's Hollywood Studios®, and shuttles to Disney Springs® at no charge.
When experiencing Universal Orlando Resort, we stayed at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando and enjoyed a fun water taxi ride past waterfalls to Universal Studios Florida. Universal Orlando Resort offers complimentary water taxis and shuttle buses directly to Universal Studios, Universal's Islands of Adventure, Universal's Volcano Bay and Universal CityWalk.
...or Save on Transportation With Ride-Share Services
I was late jumping on the Uber bandwagon, but now that I am set up, I don't know what I would do without the service, especially in the U.S. On our last trip to Orlando, we used Uber to get to nearby restaurants and attractions, saving money on cab fare or rental cars.
Visit Free (and Almost Free) Orlando Attractions
Free attractions in Orlando are the best! Cornell Fine Arts Museum in Winter Park, about 20 minutes from downtown Orlando, is free all year and the place to be to explore ancient paintings, photography, sculpture, archaeological artifacts and more. It's also free to walk around Disney Springs and listen to live outdoor music. (When Noah was younger, he loved building at The LEGO Store's play tables at Disney Springs.)
Learn more: Free Things to Do in Orlando
Nature-lovers will adore Wekiva Island, a unique recreation spot where you can hike, stroll along the boardwalk, go for a swim and picnic about 30 minutes from Orlando. The entrance fee is $1 per person — almost free!
More Ways to Save at Walt Disney World Resort
Walt Disney World has tickets for every kind of visit, and the price per day decreases as you add more days. Disney's FastPass+ and Extra Magic Hours programs can save even more time and money.
You can also find a huge selection of Disney memorabilia at grocery stores and pharmacies, priced more affordably than those at the parks. Similarly, character dining at restaurants inside Disney's parks was not within my budget, so instead we dined with loveable Disney characters at Garden Grove, a restaurant inside the Swan and Dolphin Resort.
More Ways to Save at Universal Orlando Resort
As with Disney, you can save by purchasing Universal Orlando Resort's multi-day tickets. Plus, if it's hot outside and you think you are going to need to replenish liquids often, Universal Orlando Resort offers an unlimited soft drinks package using a reusable cup at refill stations.
We also skipped on the photo package and instead snapped our own selfies at the famous globe, and asked other tourists to take photos of us, too. We repaid the favor by taking photos of them, and everyone saved money. Enjoy your Orlando vacation!
Miriam Porter is an award-winning Canadian journalist who has published thousands of articles in newspapers, magazines and internationally syndicated websites. She currently focuses on travel, social justice issues and veganism, but has also written extensively about parenting, health and children's rights.
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