If you’re planning to combine a vacation in Orlando with a cruise leaving from Port Canaveral, there are many ways to stretch your travel dollars. Here are 10 great budget-saving travel tips help you find deals, save money, and get the most out of your Orlando pre- or post-cruise vacation.
1. When should I go?
Orlando has many different seasons, some of which offer more discounts than others. Value seasons generally occur after New Year’s until mid-February, the April/May shoulder season, mid-August through early October, and from after Thanksgiving through mid-December. Some of these time periods also tend to offer good cruise deals. Make sure to also consider the weather when you plan your vacation. July and August tend to be the hottest and rainiest months, November through January are the coldest months, and hurricane season in Florida generally occurs from July through mid-October.
2. Where should I stay?
There are plenty of great places to stay in Orlando for those on a budget. Vacation homes, home exchanges, bed & breakfasts, and campgrounds are other choices for cruise vacationers to explore. Larger families should consider vacation homes available through All Star Vacation Homes, HomeAway.com or VRBO.com. If you’re interested in bidding for hotels on Priceline, check out BiddingTraveler.com. Timeshare rentals available through sites like RedWeek.com can also be a good deal.
3. How do I get there?
Watch for airfare sales, shop wisely, and try to be flexible on vacation dates and departure airports. A one-hour drive can often deliver savings of several hundred dollars on an airline ticket to Orlando. Check online aggregator sites such as Kayak, Sidestep, Farecompare, and Farecast as well as AirfareWatchdog.com, Travelzoo and Cheapflights for information on airfare deals and specials from a variety of airports. If train travel is a possibility, check Amtrak’s schedules.
4. What about meals?
When selecting places to stay and eat out in Orlando, make sure to consider accommodations with kitchen facilities and look for “Kids Eat Free” deals if you’re traveling with children. In addition, make sure to investigate dining plans available with theme park packages at Walt Disney World. The Entertainment book for Orlando (Entertainment.com) can provide savings on meals, as well as deals on attractions and other travel expenses. Consider making lunch your big meal of the day when dining out. Lunchtime meal prices are often considerably lower than those at dinner. Many people also carry a backpack loaded with snacks and drinks when they go to the parks.
5. What are my budget-friendly options for attractions?
There are many ways to enjoy the world-class attractions in Orlando without breaking your vacation budget. One of the best ways to save money is to buy your theme park tickets in advance. Remember that at most Orlando attractions, children under the age of 3 are admitted free of charge. The Go Orlando Card also provides discounts to over 50 attractions, activities and tours.
6. How do I get around?
Transportation to major Orlando attractions is sometimes offered by Orlando hotels as a free hotel or resort amenity, but check in advance to make sure. If you are staying at the Walt Disney World Resort, the Disney transportation systems provide free door-to-door access to all theme parks, water parks, Downtown Disney, and all 23 resort hotels. If you are staying at a Disney World Resort hotel, also consider using Disney’s Magical Express. For those staying on International Drive, the I-Ride Trolley is another good transportation option for getting around the area.
7. Take advantage of freebies.
Entertain the kids at the Peabody Orlando hotel, where twice a day visitors can watch the March of the Peabody Ducks. Admission is free to the Harry P. Leu Gardens on every Monday morning from 9 a.m. to noon. This 50-acre botanical park features a butterfly garden and the largest camellia collection in eastern North America. Check out the Walt Disney World Insiders and DISboards.com sites for more information on all the freebies available in Walt Disney World.
8. Use Insider Secrets.
If you are planning a theme park visit, staying at an on-property hotel can be a big plus. For example, guests at Universal Orlando’s three hotels enjoy free Universal Express front-of-the-line access. This can be invaluable for theme park visitors, especially in peak time periods. Guests at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel can take advantage of Magic Hours. Each day, one of the Walt Disney World Theme Parks opens an hour early or stays open up to three hours after normal park closing as part of the Magic Hours program. Many Walt Disney World Resort hotels also offer length-of-stay refillable drink mugs good for unlimited free refills of coffee, soda, iced tea and hot chocolate. At SeaWorld Orlando, kids can bring their own autograph book for Shamu & Crew characters to sign near the front gate. Free autographs are available from characters at the Disney parks as well.
9. Research your stay.
For those planning on visiting Walt Disney World, a free vacation planning DVD and free customized maps are available for each park so families can identify the shows, attractions and rides of most interest. Go to www.disneyworld.com and click on “My Disney Vacation.” For more information on planning your Orlando pre- or post-cruise vacation, visit the theme park websites and sites such as AllEars.net, MouseSavers.com, WDWInfo.com and VisitOrlando.com.
10. Saving money by packing and shopping wisely.
Last-minute purchases of needed items can add up quickly. Make sure to pack plenty of sunscreen, Band-Aids, water bottles, rain ponchos, a backpack to take snacks and drinks to the parks, and maybe even a waterproof disposable camera or a stroller if you’re traveling with young children.
Nancy Schretter is Managing Editor of the award-winning Family Travel Network.