You can get some great deals on package holidays, but I’ve found they can be slightly restrictive. If you fancy more freedom, then booking your own holiday is the way to go.
Booking your own holiday to Florida
This post will focus on the Orlando region, but many of the tips can be used for the whole of Florida. The example prices below are for a two week holiday in November and should be used as a rough guide only.
Choose a date
A great start is to figure out what time of year you go. Visit in the summer and expect daytime temperatures to average 33 degrees. However, the parks and attractions will be very busy. If you prefer cooler weather, October/November reaches the high to mid 20’s. The parks will be much quieter too. Take a look at average temperatures in Florida.
Check that your passport is valid for the dates you travel. If you’re British, contrary to popular belief, your passport only needs to be valid for your length of stay in the States and not an extra six months. Check out the government website for the latest guidance.
An essential item that can be easily overlooked. The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) replaces the little green card you used to fill in before landing in the US. If you qualify under the Visa Waiver Program (us Brits do) you need to complete an online ESTA. It will cost you $14 per person and is valid for two years or until your passport expires (whichever is sooner). You can apply here https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/
Booking a flight
Take a look here at booking cheaper flights. Check regularly and check often and you’ll see ticket prices fluctuate. Generally, the earlier you book, the cheaper the price. Also, consider that you may have to pay extra if you’re travelling as a family and want to sit next to each other. This can be around £25 for each seat but can vary.
When you’ve found an idea of prices, take a look at cashback sites to see if your provider is on there.
Also, check any offers on your credit or debit cards. I have Nationwide, Santander and Halifax cards and they all have specific special offers. Check your bank’s website or your online account for more details. You can usually combine cashback from these cards with the money received from cashback sites. I found a space with APH for £66.91 for my two weeks in November. APH was listed on TopCashback and I also found I had an offer on my Nationwide credit card for 12%. In total, I received £13.18 from TopCashback and £8.03 from Nationwide, taking the grand total to £45.70 for the two weeks.
Take a look at some travel insurance comparison sites such as https://www.moneysupermarket.com/travel-insurance/ to get an idea of prices. When you’ve found some good prices, pop over to a cashback site and see if the best value providers are listed.
Hotel vs Villa
During my last two trips, I have stayed in a villa. Partly because I had some nightmare neighbours in the last hotel I stayed at, but also because it worked out cheaper for us. You usually get your own swimming pool, games room, WIFI and PlayStation, so if somebody wants to spend their time at home relaxing, they can.
For example, I booked a car through Affordable Car Hire for £355. I received £35.50 through TopCashback and £53 when I used my Nationwide card. That meant I paid just £266.50.
If you have a family with young children, you may need to hire children’s car seats. Take a look at the current laws in Florida. Some rental companies will charge you a set rate of between £50 and £70. Others charge £11 per day, which would cost almost £150 for two weeks! If you really must hire car seats, take a look at Alamo and Avis. They have the lowest set price, although their car rental may be more expensive. Some airlines allow you to take car seats on the plane, so check if this is a possibility.
You could also hire a car seat for just one day. There are plenty of Walmarts all over Florida and it would be cheaper to buy a seat from there compared to two weeks rental.
I get easily confused by maps, so a SatNav is a must for me. I would avoid hiring one from a car rental company though as it will set you back between £120-£150. Enough to buy your own.
Your final option is to buy one when you arrive in Florida. Walmart sells them for around £50 and you could always sell yours on eBay when you return to the UK. Your only issue is finding Walmart in the first place!
Don’t be sucked in by the “get 14 days for the price of 7” – that’s pretty standard. I’m sure you’ll want to visit the majority of parks, but that won’t be cheap. Take a look at sites like Orlando Attraction Tickets and see the different combinations you can buy. We paid £1830 for tickets to all the Disney parks and Legoland. If you wanted tickets for Universal and Disney, expect to pay close to £2800!
Check how much your company will charge you when abroad. If you don’t plan on using your phone much and want it just for emergencies, make sure they know you’re going away so your phone can be activated to work in the States. If you’re planning to use your phone a bit more, for best value, check out 3. They offer SIM cards with just a one month contract. Many of these cards come with “Feel At Home Around The World.” This means you can use the internet and phone or text the UK at no extra cost. However, if you were to call a US number, you will be charged.
If you want to call numbers in the US, then one of the best options would be to purchase a SIM card when you arrive at your destination airport. Expect to pay over $30.
Never change your money at the airport as the exchange rates are terrible. Withdrawing dollars from a cash machine (ATM) using your debit card will often come with a charge. The best options are either to take a look at a prepaid card for spending abroad or my favourite – the Halifax Clarity Card. This card allows you to withdraw money without fees.