Orlando, Florida is known for its theme parks and family-friendly attractions but the costs can certainly add up. Between the travel costs, souvenirs, hotel prices, and park entry, this trip will cost you what you might have budgeted for the entire year. But there are some ways to cut down on spending.
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If you live within a days drive of Orlando, driving can be the cheapest, especially since you can stop and see things along the way (like Weeki Wachee or Crystal River). Florida has toll roads, so it might be economical to purchase a pass at the first visitors center upon entering the state. You can also pay by plate, which comes in the mail after you get home and you can pay online.
If you need to fly to Orlando, keep in mind that there are a few airports nearby. All international flights will come through Orlando International Airport, which services airlines coming from Ireland, Mexico, England, Canada, Israel, South America, and beyond. TSA PreCheck or Clear is highly recommended as lines can be very long for security. It’s around 30 minutes drive from the theme parks, depending on traffic.
There are also flights from domestic budget carriers like JetBlue, Frontier, Southwest, and Spirit. These flights can be under $100 but expect to pay for extras like snacks, seat selection, and checked bags. It’s entirely possible to pack carry-on only for your trip.
See our guide to what to pack for your trip to the theme parks.
There are a few options when it comes to getting from the airport into the theme parks. From Orlando airport, guests at some Disney hotels can take Disney’s Magical Express, a complimentary shuttle service. Mears is a popular company for shuttles and taxis that can accommodate groups for the Orlando Airport Arrival Transfer. Lyft and Uber also service the airport. Sanford has Attractions Express, a shuttle that goes to Universal Orlando. Both airports also offer rental cars but expect to pay for parking at your hotel.
Park Tickets and Attractions
Decide before you go which parks you want to visit because each park costs over $100 per day per person. There are some price breaks for multiple days and discounts for membership programs. It might be best to limit yourself to three park days. If you don’t do anything else, book your Universal Orlando Tickets and Walt Disney World Private Guide before you get to Orlando.
There are some ways to save a bit of money for ticket prices. TouringPlans is a great resource in terms of finding the best time of year to visit and other behind-the-scenes knowledge. It’s an annual membership program that is ideal for frequent visitors.
Annual passholders at Universal receive discounts on hotel stays, admission to seasonal events, and special passholder-only perks. At Disney, passholders get free parking and discounts on dining. Both parks provide discounts for Florida residents. If you don’t want to sign up for an annual pass or aren’t a Florida resident, AAA members also receive discounted tickets. Some employers also have programs with cheaper tickets so ask around.
At Universal, express passes cost an additional fee on top of your ticket price but during certain times of year is very useful. At Disney, you can get a fast pass on certain rides for free but must book in advance. Park hopper tickets for both parks are extra as well. At Universal, you’ll need a park hopper ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express.
If you want to catch a show while you’re at Universal, get discounted tickets to Blue Man Group through Groupon. You can also break up the park days with an afternoon exploring the attractions of International Drive.
After park entry, accommodations will eat up the majority of your budget. Staying onsite at Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort can be more expensive than those outside of the gate but come with unrivaled perks. They include transportation into the park and early entry as well as fast passes. Both parks have a range of prices and Disney even has a campground.
Southern Stays: Loews Sapphire Falls Resort
Sapphire Falls takes on a tropical vibe and is accessible to the parks by boat.
Southern Stays: Universal's Aventura Hotel
The millennial-friendly hotel is next to Volcano Bay and has a rooftop bar.
Southern Stays: Loews Portofino Bay Hotel
Inspired by Italy, rooms have balconies overlooking the piazza.
Nearby hotels also have shuttle services and free breakfast with rates at a cheaper price. Crowne Plaza Orlando Universal is a short drive from all parks and offers an outdoor pool, free WiFi, and a game room. DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Universal Orlando is also near the amenities of International Drive and has a free parks shuttle as well as its own rental car desk. Disney Springs has some great hotels that include easy park access as well as Extra Magic Hours. Another option is condo and home rentals like Reunion Resort, which you can find on websites like FlipKey, Booking.com, and Airbnb. Groupon also has discounted hotel stays in the area like CoCo Key Hotel & Waterpark or Grande Villas Resort.
Food and Drink
There are delicious things to eat all over the theme parks so don’t think it’s all fried stuff! Epcot features dishes from around the globe and Universal has fantastic food as well. But eating within the parks will add up. Most hotel rooms come with coffee makers so bring something light like granola bars to eat before you get on the bus.
Make lunch your biggest meal of the day and eat it on the early side before you get “hangry.” If you want to check out one of the restaurants within the parks, make a reservation or look into the meal plan options. If you’d rather snack and try a bunch of items, like in Epcot, pass out gift cards so that you can limit how much money is being spent.
If you’re having dinner out at Universal CityWalk or Disney Springs, make a reservation to avoid long wait times. But if you get outside of the theme park areas, you’ll find reasonable prices and a greater diversity of options. International Drive, in particular, has a number of options, especially around ICON 360.
Souvenirs and Other Tips
At Walt Disney World, a large part of the experience is collecting pins and choosing your style of Magic Band. These bracelets can be used as room keys, credit cards, and park entry. You can still use paper tickets but if you visit often, it can be helpful. At Universal, the lanyards are used to hold tickets and can be purchased with designs of your favorite characters. Both of these items can be purchased before you go.
It’s easy to want to buy every little thing you see but set a limit before you get into the park. For many places, some of the same items are available in the parks as well as in the airport gift shops and online. Pins are an ideal souvenir because they are small and affordable. The wands in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter are incredible but not cheap. You definitely don’t need one for every family member. Broaden your horizon in terms of fan gear to pick up items online.
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