A Money-Saving Travel Guide for Orlando
As an Orlando Resident, I know all the ins and outs of the area. I also know what is worth seeing, and what is not. Before heading to Orlando, there are various factors you’ll need to consider. Here is my summer Travel Guide for Orlando:
One of the first things that travelers to Orlando should do is research the area and attractions. What you will enjoy seeing and doing will be different from person to person or from family to family.
It depends on the age of the travelers, the exact budget you have in mind, but above all you need to consider your interests and what will be the best investment of your time. There are many touristy type attractions, but there are also a lot of places that locals frequent, places that are inexpensive, fun and memorable.
There are various options for accommodations in Orlando and the surrounding area. The first is the most obvious-a hotel. Here you have your room cleaned daily and can generally get the closest to the theme parks and specific attractions. Check out the cost per night. Chain hotels will likely be your best option, and you’ll know what to expect.
It’s best to find hotels near Universal Studios, Orlando. My best suggestion is to use www.hotels.com. The reason they can offer rock-bottom pricing is that they have a pool of all of the hotels with extra rooms available, their job is to fill them, as some money is better than no money for the hotels, so you’ll get a great rate in a known hotel.
You’ll get a list with the pricing, and ratings from previous travelers as well as testimonials. This is great for a single person, a couple or a smaller family. You’ll often get shuttles straight from the hotel to the attraction(s) of your choice.
Option 2 is best for larger families. It is a rental vacation home, typically its best if you are staying for 1 week or more to get the best value. This is a large home with a screened in pool, several spacious bedrooms, large living spaces, with a full kitchen, often game rooms in most of these homes, as well as the overall feel of home.
You park your car in the driveway and walk right in. This really lets the kids be themselves, go wild, and if you are sharing with another family, the cost savings can be huge! These homes are made for up to 2-family sharing. Doing the math on an average cost rental home with 5-6 bedrooms is about $1500. Divide by 7 days and then by the two families. That equals roughly $107 per night per family. This can be much cheaper than a hotel and you have so much more space, can cook your own meals, which saves you money on restaurants and have your very own pool and backyard.
Most of these homes also offer free WiFi internet access, large flat screen TV’s, DVD player for movies, often times offer games like Playstation etc. These are all separate things that you would be paying for in a hotel. The only thing to consider is that someone will not be cleaning your room daily, only upon your departure.
There are also Vacation Rental condos for couples or individuals that want a home-feel but don’t need all the space. Great websites to check out are: http://www.villadirect.com/and http://www.orlandovacation.com and www.VRBO.com which is the Vacation Rentals by Owner website, this is for Orlando but can be used throughout the world too!
Many people rent cars simply by calling their favorite company and booking that way. That is probably one of the most costly ways of renting a car. I live in Orlando and actually rent cars here all the time. I’ve tried every single rental car company and various sized cars at each one.
I happen to know that thrifty provides the all-around best service and if you ever have a problem, tell them and they will credit your account. Their cars are great models, many mid-size are leather upgrades with all the features. As a matter of fact, it was through renting and comparing their two 2009 Hyundai Sonata models that we were finally convinced to just buy one!
My favorite website though, happens to be the cheapest, but at the time of booking you do not know which company it will be. The company is called www.hotwire.com. They offer very cheap daily and weekly as well as monthly rates. The only catch is you cannot cancel your rental car and get your money back. Once you book it, you cannot get your money back. I have never had to cancel and the service is great!
Always use your own insurance vs. the rental companies’ insurance to save cost, just be sure yours has what theirs offers. There are other options like www.expedia.com which will also give you deals on flights as well. Any of these will allow you to book and then if you like, upgrade later for a small daily rate. I have found that when I book an economy or compact car, they are often out of them, and they usually give me an SUV or mid-size car instead.
If you have a large family with a lot of luggage, that may not be worth the gamble, but you can always upgrade later at the current rate. I would stay away from Enterprise, U-Save and E-Z Rent a car. Their cars are not always in the best shape and they are located a ways from the airport, requiring their complimentary shuttle to get there. Hertz and Thrifty are also off-site.
There are many dining options in Orlando, for budgets of all kind. If you are going to splurge, just remember that lunches are always cheaper than dinner. If you can get away with it, go to a buffet late morning, like Golden Corral, or a Denny’s. The pricing is very reasonable with a variety of options for adults and kids alike and if you fill up there during the late morning, it can often carry you throughout the majority of the day, provided you have snacks packed too.
The coupons on-site at the restaurant will give you 10% off. Also, plan to eat at places where kids eat free! This will save you money as well on your total dining. Some great places are listed at these websites:
Search online as well for free coupons like buy one, get one free entrees by doing a google search for Orlando restaurant coupons. Cheesecake Factory has large portions and is reasonably priced for the family. If you are eating at a Disney Theme Park, you might be able to get away with sharing one entrée between two people.
The portion sizes are very large and often kid’s meals come with a snack that you can put in your bag and save for them, for later. Try to bring you own drinks at all times, like bottled juice and water. This will save a tremendous amount in restaurants. Buy a case of water from a local grocery store like Publix, or use reusable containers and just refill.
For Dinner, if you want to try something different, dinner shows can be quite affordable. They are a fun show along side of a dinner so you’re getting entertainment too. Here are a couple with special offers like 50% off. At just $24.95 per person visit http://www.alcapones.com/ for their coupon.
Visit http://www.greatorlandodiscounts.com/catalog/index.php?cPath=23_85 for the Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner coupons.
If you are staying at a vacation rental with a kitchen, make use of it as much as you can. This should be the go-to place for breakfast. Use cereal, fruit salads, pancakes, eggs etc.
Fill up on that before heading out for the day. Try to prepare and take your own snacks, stored in Ziploc bags. A little planning at the rental house will save you a lot of money in the end!
There are so many wonderful attractions here in Orlando. Obviously Disney, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld are obvious and come to mind. Apart from those, there are many others that are budget-friendly. The beach is always free. If you’re visiting anytime from spring to fall, the beach is a great place to head.
There are several local beaches like Cocoa Beach near Cape Canaveral. Also, St. Augustine (the Nation’s Oldest City) has a great beach and wonderful architecture, like the local shops, the University; it’s just a wonderful place to spend the day. The beaches there are one of my favorites.
Others include New Smyrna beach and Clearwater. Apart from towels, and a cooler of food and some sunscreen, you’re set for a day on the cheap.
Another great thing to do on your Orlando Vacation is to check the NASA site at http://www.nasa.gov/missions/highlights/schedule.html for a schedule of their shuttle and rocket launches. A recommended area to view these is Jetty Park in Cape Canaveral area. The park is clean, has great beach facilities, offers fast food, and has a wonderful view (the best in my opinion) of the launches, and the best part is it’s free!
The park itself has a $7 fee to park and use the facilities, but that very minimal considering some theme park parking is $15 alone! Enjoy a beach day and watch the launch! You can also head over to Kennedy Space Center any day of the week and check out space shuttles first hand. They have a variety of information and activities for kids.
Some fun things to do other than the usual theme parks are head to International Drive and spend the afternoon in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. If you have kids that enjoying skateboarding, they can head to Vans Skate Park which is indoors and they provide all of the equipment for a reasonable fee.
If you are looking for great shopping, Orlando has some nice malls like Mall of Millenia or Festival Bay Mall, but the best place for deals is to go to the Outlets. The three best are: Orlando Premium Outlets, Prime Outlets International, and Pointe Orlando.
For details visit: http://www.internationaldriveorlando.com/thingsToDo/shopping.asp
Visit Lego Land Imagination Center in Buena Vista where kids can not only view large Lego sculptures, but create their own as well. Check it out: http://stores.lego.com/en-us/Orlando/LandingPage.aspx
Orlando has many great golf courses as well. Because it gets so hot, you’ll want to book an early morning tee-time and wear plenty of sunscreen. Instead of listing them all, view this website for more info on public courses: http://www.1stopforgolf.com/golf-courses/usa/florida-golf-courses/orlando-golf-courses/index.htm
Many other ideas include heading to Lake Eola park downtown Orlando and taking a swan ride on the lake, visiting the downtown local shops, vintage and antique stores, and catching a game at the Citrus bowl. You can dine at Cerviche and see free live flamenco dancing Thurs-Sat at 10pm. You can also do a little mini putt at night or head to the Wet ‘n Wild Water Park to keep cool.
Here is one final budget-friendly website, appropriately named Orlando Attractions for any info you may want to peruse: http://www.orlandoattractions.com
Enjoy your Visit to Orlando on a budget this summer!