This Orlando Travel Guide shares everything you need to know before visiting the home of theme parks, including where to stay, what to do and how to save.
Theme parks galore, this is a haven for those with kids or who are big kids themselves. But it’s not just the parks that attracts so many tourists every year – though it does help! I expected to spend a fortune during my stay in Orlando; you may be surprised how cheap a visit to Orlando can be.
Of course, there are the fabulous theme parks to get lost in every day. But there are also beautiful nature reserves, expansive lakes to sail across, great restaurants, a hub of family fun at the International Drive and lots of things to do in Orlando – that aren’t theme parks.
Budget: There are very few dorm bed styled hostels in Orlando but there are some cheap private rooms, even for families, starting at $35+
Midrange: There are a number of resorts around Orlando, offering numerous activities, on-site shops, pools, lakes and more. An apartment in these “mini-towns” cost $50 – $120.
Luxury: High end hotels cost upwards of $150 but private villas with your own pool can cost from as little at $90 a night.
Disney and Universal Resorts are more than this – budget Disney resorts start at $112.
Transport: I-ride trolley costs $3 for a day pass, $5 for 3 days, $7 for 5 days, $9 for 7 days or $16 for 14 days. Monorails between the disney theme parks are free but remember parking at any theme park will cost $17 a day. Most hotels offer morning and afternoon shuttle buses to and from the theme parks, many for free. Renting a car starts at $60 a day but is a great way to enjoy a day trip from Orlando to escape the crowds.
Average cost of food:
Like most other tourist destinations in the United States, you can spend whatever you like on food, with some great cheap options and some very expensive restaurants.
There are several Walmart’s and fast food joints across the town, ideal for those renting a villa or staying in a complex apartment.
Food in the parks can be pricey but you are allowed to bring in snacks and bottled drinks with you. Food in the park that you grab and go will cost you around $5-$8 whilst sit down meals in parks will set you back between $10-$20 per person for a quick service meal whilst sit-down meals cos upwards of $35.
A host of chain restaurants can be found on International Drive, ideal for family dinners; keep an eye out for cheap prices and any vouchers available from your hotel.
Best time to visit Orlando
Orlando is a popular destination all year round but there are certain times of the year that are better than others.
For warm weather and quieter crowds, the best time to visit Orlando is from February to May. September to November is also popular but avoid the school holidays when possible.
June to August is super busy, with hotel rates spiking and hurricane season beginning. Avoid these months if you can.
October is a fantastic time to visit if you want to experience the Halloween festivals – both Disney and Universal have special Halloween events throughout the month whilst restaurants, hotels and neighbourhoods decorate for Halloween almost as much as they do at Christmas.
December is my favourite time to visit Orlando. The festivities are magical and the weather is cool, perfect for those that love Christmas but aren’t a fan of getting too hot.
Where to stay in Orlando
Days Inn Orlando Convention Centre/International Drive, offers clean and large rooms starting at $60 a night and offering a free shuttle bus to Universal, Sea world and Walt Disney World.
For those wanting to be a little further from the theme parks, check out Ramada Gateway Hotel Kissimmee, with a spacious pool, mini golf, free shuttle buses to theme parks and shopping centres and clean rooms starting at $30.
Those with kids who don’t want to pay the fortune in a Disney hotel, should check out the CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort. Rooms are bright and colourful and the pool includes some great water slides and a jungle gym. There is a theme park shuttle service and family rooms start at $83.
For a bit more luxury and space, check out the Grande Villas Resort; with spacious apartment rooms which include kitchens and living room areas, this is the perfect place to relax and unwind whilst cooking for yourself a few nights will save some cash, studios start at $49 whilst one bedroom villas start at $70 and two bedroom villas start at $104.
One thing I love about Orlando is that you can rent a whole villa with a private pool for relatively cheap. There are some top websites to choose from such as VRBO (previously HomeAway), Holiday Lettings or Agoda Homes.
Save money in Orlando
America is not the best place to start if you are travelling on a budget but there are many ways you save money travelling the USA.
- Offseason – Visiting during the January to March or September to November will help you save money on accommodation and travel.
- Stay closed to Disney – Generally speaking, hotels nearer Disney World offer better deals than the hotels nearer Universal Studios.
- Discounted tickets – Head to Undercover Tourist or Park Savers to get discounted rates and multi-day deals for both Disney, Universal, Sea World and Legoland tickets.
- Skip the park hopper – If you are spending multiple days in Orlando, skip the park hopper ticket to save some money.
- Orlando Explorer Pass – If you intending on visiting a few attractions in Orlando, pick up the explorer pass. You can customise the pass for however many places you want to visit and can save up to 35%.
- Skip the car rental – Renting a car in Orlando is a great way to explore and recommended if you are in Orlando for more than 10 days. However, with Uber and Lyft becoming more and more popular in the area, it is beginning more affordable to rely on these ride sharing companies, local buses and the shuttle buses.
- Souvenirs – Whether you are a Mickey fan or Potter fan, you are likely going to want to buy some souvenirs. However, avoid buying them inside the park. Many items can be purchased on Amazon before you go, similar souvenirs can be found in Walmart or head to Disney’s Character Warehouse at the Orlando Premium Outlets. We have a guide to the best Disney Souvenirs to help you prepare.
- Alternative Airports – Save money by flying into Sanford International airport, Tampa or Jacksonville
- Chain hotels – The USA has many budget chain hotels. These are basic and make sure to check reviews on Yelp and Tripadvisor first, but you can save some serious money staying in places like Econolodge, Travelodge, Days in and Super 8.
- Hotels with kitchenettes – When booking a hotel or motel, check if there is a kitchenette. If there is a room or hotel with a kitchenette, then opt for that choice, especially if you are staying somewhere for an extended period of time. This means you can save loads of money cooking food yourself rather than eating out.
- Farmer markets – Heading to farmer markets or ethnic grocery stores can save you money on snacks and food.
- Early Bird – When eating out, either aim to have a big lunch or head to a restaurant before 5. Many places offer an early bird option, where you can save money when eating between 2 – 5pm.
- Coupons – Pick up the local newspaper to find coupons for attractions and restaurants each week. If you plan on visiting a chain restaurant or cafe (such as Starbucks), check for vouchers or gift certificates on Ebay.
- Reward cards – If you travel a lot, why not get a rewards credit card for your favourite hotel chain. Hilton and Marriott have great sign up offer, so you can collect points each time you spend money on the card and then redeem free stays and upgrades worldwide.
- Compare rentals – If you intend on road tripping, make sure you compare prices for a rental car on websites such as rentalcars.com or hotwire.com.
- Turo – Another option if you are looking to rent a car is by using getaround.com or turo.com. This is a similar concept to airbnb but for cars; you can rent a car from owners and this can work out cheaper than renting from a rental company.
- Avoid checked luggage – If you are flying in or out and visiting for a short period, avoid having checked luggage. You can book budget flights to save money but these don’t always include checked luggage.
- Hotel Tonight – This app can be used in the big cities such as New York, LA, Chicago, Miami and Vegas. It offers last minute rooms, particularly great if you are thinking of a weekend away.
- Download a Wifi Map – This map is fantastic at finding available Wifi Spots in your area. These aren’t just Free Wifi Spots too, they have a database of passwords to make your connection reliable and safe.
- Avoid Public Holidays – Hotel and travel prices rise around the 4th July and Labor Day, so avoiding travelling at this time. If you do want to travel at this time, book everything in advance.
- Avoid hostels – Hostels are a great way to save money accommodation everywhere else in the world but not in the US. There aren’t many hostels and most are overpriced. If you are travelling by yourself, you are better off using a budget hotel or look for a bedroom on airbnb.
- Free attractions – Take advantage of the free attractions in Orlando – we have a guide to the free things to do in Disney World and the free things to do in Disney Springs.
Best things to do in Orlando
Walt Disney World
Kennedy Space Center
Everglades National Park
Wekiwa Springs State Park
Blue Springs State Park
Lake Eola Park
Fun Spot America Orlando
Harry P. Leu Gardens
The Mall at Millenia
The Florida Mall
Orlando Museum of Art
Vineland Premium Outlets
How to get to Orlando
Fly – When arrive at Orlando International Airport and are staying with a Disney resort, remember to arrange a pick from the airport through Disney’s magical express. There are several shuttle buses that operate between the airport and Kissimmee, the theme park areas and the cruise port or taxis are available from the arrival hall. Rental cars are also available from the airport.
Bus – The GoToBus offers direct buses between New York and Orlando as well as Miami and Orlando.
Train – Amtrak offer various train journeys to and from the Station Building, connecting you to the cities and towns of Florida as well as the rest of America.
How to get around Orlando
Orlando is massive, with lots to do spread across the whole city. Car rental is advisable (especially for those with children), but be aware that parking at Disney or Universal theme parks will cost you $17 a day.
The I-RIDE Trolley runs up and down international drive between 8am to 10.30pm, costing $3 for a day pass. Monorails can get you between the Disney theme parks whilst most hotels offer morning and evening shuttle buses to and from the major theme parks.
Taxis are easily accessible but will charge extra when dropping you off at a theme park; best to get dropped off at Disney Springs and catch the free buses from there.