Another money-saving list? I wouldn’t say so. The truth is that those money-saving lists do very little to help a vacationer achieve the goal of visiting Orlando on a budget. You might end up saving a few bucks at one place only to spend more money somewhere else. Why? Because businesses have been studying consumer behavior since the dawn of civilization. They know that you want to spend as little as possible, something that is detrimental to their goal of making money. Therefore, the best approach is to work the system the other way around. How do you do that? By identifying yourself as one of the following Orlando tourists styles:
- The Disney Traveler (DT): Sole purpose is to enjoy Disney or Universal theme parks
- The Exhaustive Traveler (ET): Wants a little bit of everything
- The Florida Resident (FR): Lives in Florida and makes multiple trips to Orlando each year
There are 5 primary areas of expenditure for a typical Orlando tourist: Accommodation, Shopping, Transportation, Food and Entertainment. We will explore each category in detail from the point of view of a family or group of 4 or more individuals:
That Roof Over Your Head
Irrespective of the category that you fall under, the best choice is to go for a condo in a resort on International Drive. This location is important as you will be close to all major theme parks and well connected to all other areas in and out of Orlando. This option is better than a Disney property as you will have more space, amenities and convenience at half the price. You can even look at timeshares in Orlando to get a good deal. If you really want to save money then opt for resorts in nearby Kissimmee where prices go down considerably. I recommend Disney Properties only if you are a hardcore DT who will spend all your time at the Disney World Resort. In that case it would be wise to buy the annual pass which will help you save up to 40% on selected Disney properties.
Whatever you do, don’t even think about going for a hotel as you will need to rent more than one room for the entire family and you will not be able to save money on food, more on this in the next section.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Eating and accommodation are two areas where you can stretch the buck to the max. If you take my advice and go for a condo then you will already be on the path to save money on food because a full kitchen will give you the option to eat-in. Upon arrival, visit Wal-Mart or a Publix to stock up on groceries. Every time you eat-in you will save anything between $50 and $70. The coffeemaker alone will help you save significant sums. This may sound silly and trivial but you won’t think so when you realize how little you have spent on eating because of all these amenities.
But wait a minute! You are in Orlando and you want to enjoy some of the great restaurants that the city has to offer. You can save your dollars here as well. Sign up for sites such as Groupon.com and Restaurant.com before you leave home and once you are in Orlando pick up free publications such as “I Love Orlando” that contain discount coupons to a number of restaurants, shops and attractions.
Now, comes the hard part. How to save money at the parks? Sharing and prior-preparation is the name of the game here. Disney knows that once you are inside the park you will stay inside and therefore, eat inside. This logic leads them to set menu prices that are at least 25% more than average prices outside the parks. In essence, every time you eat at Disney you are letting go of an opportunity to save money. Therefore, the only way to keep those dollars from bleeding out is to take food with you. Here are some options that you may want to consider:
- Pack some granola bars and other snacks that do not require heating or cooling
- Freeze some water bottles and put them in a soft cooler along with juice boxes and sandwiches to keep them cool and fresh
- If you don’t mind tap water then use the fountains at the parks to fill your bottles
- Carry Gatorade snatches or something similar to make your own drinks
However, there will be times when you just want to have a meal at the park especially if you are an DT or FR. Worry not, there is a solution to that problem as well. The meals are overpriced but they are also huge in size. This is especially true for Non-Americans as American portions are big to begin with. How is this relevant? Huge meals give you the option of sharing. Instead of ordering a 3 course meal order just the main course and the desert or order three courses but split them. I am not trying to imply that you should starve yourself. Even after splitting you will have satisfying meals that won’t make you feel groggy and bloated.
Over-the-counter meals are cheaper than sit-down restaurant meals but the problem is limited options and unhealthy food. Again, the portions are huge and you can easily share a single meal between two people. In fact you can order add-ons such as buns and extra cheese to make additional burgers and cheese rolls.
There is of course the option of eating at places outside the borders of Disney and Universal. In fact all-you-can-eat buffets are a great option for lunch where you can stuff yourself and then eat a light dinner. If you do step out of the gate then make sure that you get your hand stamped and if you leave the parking area then carry your ticket.
Many tourists buy into the cards and dining programs. An option is the Disney Annual Pass which is a viable option for DTs and FRs who will spend most of their time inside Disney. With this pass you will be able to save between 10%-20% on each meal at selected restaurants.
Death By Parking Fees
What would be your biggest car related expense in Orlando? Parking fees! The going rate is $14/day at Disney. The only way you can escape this expense is by purchasing the annual pass. If you are an FR or DT then I suggest you take that option. However, if you are an ET then just pay the parking fees for a couple of days. I could advise you to NOT rent a car but the following points don’t allow me to do so:
- You can use the buses, in fact you can buy an unlimited one week use pass for $14 but you will be tied to the bus schedules and routes
- Grocery shopping is easier when you have a car
- It’s easier to travel with young kids if you have a car
If you are not an American citizen then you would need to buy insurance when you go for a car rental. To avoid this use your rental company’s local site where you reside. For instance, if you are from the UK and want to use Priceline then use priceline.co.uk to get special rates that include insurance.
I Want Mickey in My Room
Families with young kids often rent a stroller for $30/day as soon as they arrive in Orlando. Don’t do so! I am not saying that you should not use a stroller, just don’t RENT, BUY one. A cheap umbrella stroller will cost $15 at Wal-Mart.
How can you save money on souvenirs? If you are an FR or DT with an annual pass then you will get discounts of up to 15% on souvenirs. If you don’t have the pass then there are other ways to save:
- Orlando Premium Outlets sell Disney merchandise at prices that are significantly lower than what you will find at Disney. These malls are also a good place to buy discounted non-Disney merchandise
- Decide on a budget before you leave and tell your children about it. Then buy souvenirs at the end of your trip when your kids have made up their minds and know what they can purchase within that budget
Roller Coasting Your Way to Savings?
Saving money on entertainment is the hardest part. For an FR or DT the best course of action is the annual pass. Also, don’t try to do both Disney and Universal in one trip. There is enough to do at just one major park. On days when you are not at a theme park you can take advantage of your resort’s amenities.
Knowing which category you fall under will best help you identify the areas where you can save money. If you follow my advice then you may end with a bill that is $1500 less than what you would have had to pay if you did not read this article. It’s all about planning and educating oneself.
About The Author: This guest post was contributed by Sagar whose interest lies in helping people to save money on their vacations. One of his attempts to do so involves running a website that educates people on the problem of whether they should buy a timeshare.