Are you thinking of taking that dream trip to Disney World? There are a lot of things to consider, so take a look at this guide for some money-saving tips for travelling to Florida.
I love Florida and would go every year if we could afford it. I even went on my honeymoon there. But exchange rates haven’t been kind to us Brits over the last 15 years. On my first visit, we received $2 for every £1. Now we only get around $1.3, so it’s more important than ever to make sure you get a good deal.
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.
Money-saving tips for travelling 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.
When should you travel?
Obviously, travelling outside of the school holidays will save you a lot of money.
If you visit in the summer, 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 to help you decide.
You can also take a look at the Undercover Tourist which will tell you when to expect the park to be at their busiest.
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/
Be careful if you search for the ESTA site on google. There are a few unscrupulous companies out there that look like the genuine ESTA site. They will then charge you extra money to put in an application.
Do not forget to book travel insurance! It won’t cost you a fortune and is essential especially when you consider medical costs in the States. And always be open and honest about any medical condition you may have.
Make sure the insurance is tailored to your needs. If you’re taking expensive tablets and phones with you, then insurance for your gadgets may be wise. Also, have a think about whether you require cancellation insurance. Most insurance companies offer you some compensation if you have to cancel your holiday due to unforeseen circumstances, but the basic level is only around £750. If you want the full cost of your holiday reimbursed, expect to pay a bit more for your premium.
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.
Booking a flight to Orlando
There are two airports to choose from when flying into Orlando – Orlando International and Sanford. Although Orlando International has better facilities and is more central, you may be able to get better deals through Sanford.
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.
Something many people neglect is ways to save money when parking at the airport before you leave for your holiday. A park and ride car park will usually be the cheapest option for you.
Next, take a look at cashback sites to see if your provider is on there. The major sites, such as APH, can offer as much as 20% back.
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.
Why you should consider booking a villa in Florida
I have stayed in hotels in Europe, UK and America. Yes they come with the advantage that you don’t have to do any cleaning and food is just a telephone call away, but they also come with quite a few disadvantages. My main gripe is noise. My last stay in a hotel in Florida wasn’t pleasant. I’m sure in the room next to us, there must have been at least 20 people who all loved to be up at 5 am!
A villa comes with so many plus points. Most have a swimming pool, free WiFi, a games room and lots of TV channels. Best of all, you don’t have to listen to your neighbours stomping around in their bedroom. If you really want to have some time to relax after a day of walking around the parks, then a villa is the way to go.
And if you have a large family or friends you can travel with, staying in a villa could work out much cheaper than a hotel.
Where to find recommended villas in Florida
There are plenty of places to choose a villa. Major sites such as James Villa Holidays have some great choices but generally charge more. You can find some much better prices if you approach villa owners directly.
Our last villa, we found on a Facebook page called It’s Orlando Time Villas. The page states: Every villa is verified for ownership, taxes paid up to date and also that they have a State Licence so all our members can feel assured that they are booking a genuine villa.
The villa we stayed at was excellent, the owners were very helpful and it came with plenty of recommendations. We will certainly be using the page again when we return to Florida.
I have also used Airbnb to book a villa in Orlando. Although you probably won’t find as good value compared with going to villa owners directly, you will have extra protection and a lot more choice.
If you decide on villa the roads around Orlando are great, so it’s fairly easy to reach the major parks no matter where you are. As a rule of thumb though, when somebody says it takes X amount of time to drive to a park, I would add at least 5 minutes to that. The majority of villas are based around Clermont, Davenport and Kissimmee which are around a 20-minute drive to Disney.
Car hire in Florida
Transport in Florida is generally quite good and it’s easy to travel to and from the parks. However, if you want a bit of extra freedom, a car is the way to go. If you choose to stay in a villa, then a car is a must-have.
Check some price comparison sites (like Travel Supermarket) to get an idea of cost. Make sure you choose a suitably sized car – that includes luggage too. You don’t all want to pile in at the airport, only to realise you can’t fit your suitcases in.
Next, take a look to see if you can find some special offers. Most car rental companies are on cashback sites, so expect to receive around 10% back.
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 check-in booster seats for no extra cost. And some of these seats allow you to store extra items. So you could take extra luggage for free!
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.
If you are taking your smartphone with you, you could download http://navmii.com/. It’s free and can be used without eating up any of your data.
But if you would prefer a more traditional SatNav to guide you, and you already own one, download the US maps and take your device with you. Expect to pay within the region of £30-£40 for your new maps. Before you purchase, Google your provider and ‘voucher’ (for example type ‘tomtom voucher’) as I found an £8 off code in a matter of seconds. And remember to use a cashback site before you download!
Alternatively, take a look over at eBay. You can rent a SatNav with US maps for around £23. It will be sent to you in the post, but you will have to pay for return postage. Although a decent enough idea, I would be slightly worried that it would be lost in the post and I would end up travelling without one.
There are plenty of US SatNavs you can buy on eBay, starting at £25 – although this depends on how up to date they are.
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!
And don’t forget, you could always sell your SatNav once you’ve finished with it.
Which parks to visit?
All of them! Seriously, they all have something to offer.
Disney is a must as they have 4 large parks and 2 water parks. There’s plenty to do for the whole family and the parades are always a lot of fun. Plus, you could stay for the fireworks at the end of the evening, which puts anything we do to shame.
To see everything, you will need at least 2 full days at each park. Be warned though – it can be very tiring. We don’t have the stamina for full days and tend to spend 5-6 hours there.
Universal also has 2 large parks and 1 water park. These parks are aimed more towards thrill-seekers, although you’ll find plenty of rides for the not so brave.
Busch Gardens is home to Orlando’s fastest roller coaster as well as some other massive rides. There is also some impressive wildlife to visit if you fancy a more relaxed day.
However, Busch Gardens is around 2 hours from Orlando, so you will need a whole day if you decide to go.
And please make sure that that you put Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay into your SatNav. There is also one in Virginia which will take you 12 hours to get to!
Legoland is situated around 30 minutes from Orlando. Unsurprisingly, this is a park aimed towards families. One day should be enough to see most things, but you could go for 2 if you want to be thorough. There are some good shows and plenty of chances to meet your favourite lego characters.
Getting the best price for park tickets
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.
I often find that going directly to the theme park sites will find you the cheapest ticket prices. However, third-party sellers often throw in some useful extras with their tickets.
Take a look at my post on where to find the cheapest tickets. 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.
Another great way to save money when you’re visiting Florida is the Kids Eat Free Card. Exactly as it sounds, your kids eat free with every adult meal bought. There are lots of venues included across Orlando, with the main restaurants being McDonald’s and Subway.
This card can save you a lot of money if you plan to eat out quite often. Although there is an initial cost, you can make your money back quite quickly.
Some third-party theme park ticket providers will give you the Kids Eat Pass Card for free when you make a purchase with them, so this is something to consider.
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.
Or, take a look at Revolut too. They offer great rates, but will only allow you to withdraw £200 for free unless you upgrade your account.
I hope that my money-saving tips for travelling to Florida have given you some useful help. Anything else you need to know, just ask below. Enjoy your trip!