If you're planning to combine a vacation in Orlando with a cruise leaving from Port Canaveral, there are many ways to stretch your travel dollars. Here are 10 great budget-saving travel tips help you find deals, save money, and get the most out of your Orlando pre- or post-cruise vacation.
1. When To Go: Orlando has many different seasons, some of which offer more discounts than others. Value seasons generally occur after New Year's until mid-February, the April/May shoulder season, mid-August through early October, and from after Thanksgiving through mid-December. These time periods also tend to offer good cruise deals. Make sure to also consider the weather when you plan your vacation. July and August tend to be the hottest and rainiest months, November through January are the coldest months, and Florida's hurricane season generally occurs from July through mid-October.
2. Where To Stay: There are plenty of great places to stay in Orlando for those on a budget. Options range from budget accommodations starting at about $65 per night to value-oriented hotels with rooms in the $80-$90 per night range. Vacation homes, home exchanges, bed & breakfasts and campgrounds are other choices for cruise vacationers to explore. Remember to consider the free benefits available to guests staying at one of the hotels at Walt Disney World or Universal Studios in your decision, such as extended theme park hours, complimentary transportation and more. Walt Disney World in particular has some great wallet-friendly properties. Larger families might also want to consider vacation homes available through All Star Vacation Homes, HomeAway.com or VRBO.com. Timeshare rentals available through sites like RedWeek.com can also be a good deal.
3. How To Get There: Watch for airfare sales, shop wisely, and try to be flexible on vacation dates and departure airports. A one-hour drive can often deliver savings of several hundred dollars on an airline ticket to Orlando. Check online aggregator sites such as Kayak, Fly, Farecompare, and Farecast as well as Airfarewatchdog.com, Travelzoo and Cheapflights for information on airfare deals and specials from a variety of airports. If train travel is a possibility, check Amtrak’s schedules. Bus lines might be another good option.
4. Eating Out: When selecting places to stay and eat out in Orlando, make sure to consider accommodations with kitchen facilities and look for "Kids Eat Free" deals if you’re traveling with children. In addition, make sure to investigate dining plans available with theme park packages at Walt Disney World. The Orlando Entertainment book can provide savings on meals, as well as deals on attractions and other travel expenses. Consider making lunch your big meal of the day when dining out. Lunchtime meal prices are often considerably lower than those at dinner. Many people also carry a backpack loaded with snacks, sandwiches and drinks when they go to Disney World parks. Food can be brought into the parks and stored in a locker there. If you're planning to have dinner at Disney's Be Our Guest restaurant in the New Fantasyland, make your reservations far in advance - it's a popular option. Chef Michael Deardorff serves up a scrumptious feast. For lunch, try the Croque Monsieur or the Grilled Steak Sandwich, while recommended dinner options include the Pork Rack Chop and the Pan-Seared Salmon. The cream puffs and cupcakes here are delicious.
5. Visiting Attractions: There are many ways to enjoy the world-class attractions in Orlando without breaking your vacation budget. One of the best ways to save money is to buy your theme park tickets in advance and skip the Park Hopper passes to cut costs. Remember that at most Orlando attractions, children under the age of 3 are admitted free of charge. The Go Orlando Card also provides discounts to over 50 attractions, activities and tours.
6. Getting Around: Transportation to major Orlando attractions is sometimes offered by Orlando hotels as a free hotel or resort amenity, but check in advance to make sure. If you are staying at the Walt Disney World Resort, the Disney transportation systems provide free door-to-door access to all theme parks, water parks, Downtown Disney, and all of the Disney resort hotels. If you are staying at a Disney World Resort hotel, also consider using Disney's Magical Express to transfer from the airport to your hotel. It's included free of charge.
7. Taking Advantage of Freebies: Entertain the kids at the Peabody Orlando hotel, where twice a day visitors can watch the March of the Peabody Ducks. Daytime admission to the Harry P. Leu Gardens is free on the first Monday of every month. This 50-acre botanical park features a butterfly garden and the largest camellia collection in eastern North America. There are lots of free activities available at Walt Disney World. Check out Walt Disney World Insiders site for more information.
8. Using Insider Secrets: If you are planning a theme park visit, staying at an on-property hotel can be a big plus. For example, guests at Universal Orlando's three hotels enjoy free Universal Express front-of-the-line access. This can be invaluable for theme park visitors, especially in peak time periods. Guests at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel can take advantage of Extra Magic Hours. Each day, one of the Walt Disney World Theme Parks opens an hour early or stays open up to two hours after normal park closing as part of the Extra Magic Hours program, available only to those staying at hotels on property.
9. Researching Your Stay: For those planning on visiting Walt Disney World, a free vacation planning DVD and free customized maps are available for each park so families can identify the shows, attractions and rides of most interest. Go to www.disneyworld.com and click on "My Disney Vacation." For more information on planning your Orlando pre- or post-cruise vacation, visit the theme park websites and sites such as AllEars.net, MouseSavers.com, WDWInfo.com, www.disboards.com and VisitOrlando.com.
10. Saving Money by Packing and Shopping Wisely: Last-minute purchases of needed items can add up quickly. Make sure to pack plenty of sunscreen, Band-Aids, water bottles, rain ponchos, a backpack to take snacks and drinks to the parks, and maybe even a waterproof disposable camera or a stroller if you’re bringing young children. Stroller rental fees inside the parks can be high, so if you can't bring your own, purchase an inexpensive stroller or rent one outside the parks.
For more Orlando family vacation tips, visit the Family Travel Network at http://www.familytravelnetwork.com.