By Nigel G. Worrall
With so many world-class theme parks, attractions, outdoor activities and water sports, not to mention malls and outlet stores, it’s no wonder Orlando vacations can be tough on the pocketbook. But for those who plan ahead and are willing to do their homework, there are plenty of ways to save money on an Orlando getaway.
1) Make Yourself at Home: Planning to stay in Orlando a week or more? The best bet for lodging isn’t to downsize to a smaller hotel or choose one with fewer amenities… On the contrary, visitors can save big without sacrificing comfort or convenience by booking an Orlando vacation rental home instead. Florida Leisure Vacation Homes offers a multitude of full-size family homes for rent on a weekly or monthly basis, just minutes from the theme parks. These quiet neighborhood homes offer all the peace, privacy and tranquility a vacation should, and allow visitors to choose from a host of features including private screened swimming pools and Jacuzzis, barbeque grills, washers and dryers, oversized flat screen TVs, wireless Internet, and game rooms equipped with game systems, pool tables, foosball and air hockey. Homes with three to seven bedrooms as well as spacious common areas allow plenty of room for extended family and friends. Selected vacation rental homes are pet friendly, saving you money on boarding and letting those four-legged members of the family join in the vacation fun, too.
2) Rethink Restaurant Dining: Dining expenses can add up quickly, particularly for a large family, so consider stocking up at a local grocery store, then cooking breakfasts and dinners in your vacation home. Purchasing meals, snacks and bottled beverages at theme parks can be especially costly, so pack heavy snacks such as trail mix, nuts, and protein bars to munch on during the day, and be sure to carry a refillable water bottle for each member of the family. If the idea of cooking doesn’t quite jive with vacation, opt for no-cook, no-fuss meals like soups and sandwiches.
3) Get Social: Social media isn’t just a tool for keeping in touch with friends, it can be a great way to cash in on fantastic vacation deals. Before traveling to Orlando, begin following the attractions, restaurants and shops on your itinerary with Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare, which may offer same-day deals and travel tips for fans and followers. And, be sure to sign up to receive alerts concerning Orlando deals from sites like Groupon and Living Social. Travelers may not find bargains on major parks, but specials for spa treatments, water sports, dining and smaller attractions like miniature golf are abundant. Prefer to search for deals the old fashioned way? Purchase a book full of destination coupons for $35 at entertainment.com and save on rental cars, dinner shows, airboat rides, museums, shopping, dining and more. Similar offers can be found using Visit Orlando’s free Orlando Magic Card, which can be printed, mailed or picked up at the Orlando’s Official Visitor Center.
4) Give Yourself a Gift (Card): If dining out is a top vacation priority, purchase Orlando restaurant gift cards in advance at sites such as restaurant.com. Past deals have included a $25 gift certificate to B.B. King’s Restaurant & Blues Club at Pointe Orlando or Chez Vincent in Winter Park for just $10. If shopping is high on your list of vacation priorities, purchase gift cards in advance for stores including Bloomingdales, Banana Republic, Bass Pro Shops, Gap and Old Navy at plasticjungle.com and save as much as 26 percent.
5) Pack Light: With most airlines charging a hefty fee for each checked bag, and some now charging for carry-on luggage, it pays to pack light. Consider bringing only enough clothing to last two or three days, then washing clothes midweek—another benefit of renting an Orlando vacation home. Leave heavy toiletries such as shampoo and conditioner at home and purchase inexpensive bottles at a grocery store or drug store that you won’t mind leaving behind. Plan to wear the heavier, bulkier shoes to travel, and pack the lighter flip flops and sandals.
6) Take advantage of free or low-cost attractions: Those on a tight budget can still enjoy Orlando—and may just discover some area gems that the die-hard theme park goers never will. Stroll through the lakefront shops at Downtown Disney Marketplace, marvel at larger-than-life characters made from LEGO® bricks at the LEGO Store and enjoy free entertainment in the outdoor amphitheatre. Not far from Disney, the quaint Celebration Town Center is worth a stroll, and offers numerous special events and festivals each year. Orange County boasts a wealth of parks such as downtown Orlando’s Lake Eola Park and historic Fort Christmas, east of Orlando. Many offer camping, fishing, swimming, playgrounds and recreational activities. A number of Orlando museums offer free admission to small children, students and seniors or may not charge admission on certain days of the week. For example, the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in picturesque Winter Park, home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of Tiffany stained glass, charges just $5 for adults, $1 for students and is free for children 12 and younger. It offers free admission 4-8 p.m. on Fridays November through April.
7) Skip the Souvenirs: Before visiting the theme parks, make a pact with the kids to forgo the overpriced T-shirts, toys, picture frames and other items that inevitably turn into household clutter. Instead, let kids bring their own digital or disposable cameras or let them take turns using the family camera to capture images they can use to create a scrapbook or keepsake back at home.
Don’t let a small budget keep your family from enjoying an Orlando vacation. Begin your savings adventure by booking your Orlando vacation home today.