Orlando on a Budget
7 February, 2016
Orlando on a budget – not a sentence you hear often! Usually a vacation to Orlando, Florida is one in which holiday makers save up for. For many, it’s a lifetime dream to meet Mickey and Minnie, and not a just stop over trip! Whilst pricing flights from Portland, Oregon to Nicaragua, Craig realised that it was cheaper to fly from Orlando or Miami hence our fly by six-night holiday to Orlando!
Orlando on a Budget – Accommodation
The key to managing a trip to Orlando on a budget is staying in the prime location, and that spot is International Drive aka iDrive. Just think of 11 miles packed with restaurants, bars, crazy golf, shops, and hotels. There are over 89 hotels on iDrive: that’s a lot of choice!
Orlando Airport to iDrive
The #42 Lynx bus will take you from Orlando Airport to iDrive for $2 (so cheap!) and takes about 1 hour 20 minutes, depending on your drop off point. An Über will cost approximately $20 / £14. If you are on a budget, don’t even think about a taxi ($60-70)!
Choosing a Hotel on iDrive
After a quick squint at Bookings.com and Tripadvisor you’ll soon realise that many of the hotels on iDrive are stuffy, outdated, and have pretty poor ratings. One of the benefits of these hotels is that they are super cheap. Unfortunately, you get what you pay for. Please do take Tripadvisor reviews with caution, as people are more likely to leave negative rather than positive reviews! I also tend to check Google and hotel social media account hashtags for a balanced view.
Orlando Theme Park Shuttle Buses
You definitely want your iDrive hotel to offer shuttle buses to the Walt Disney Parks (they will drop you off at Epcot, you can use the monorail and buses from there to the other parks) and Universal Studios. In the morning you can expect the journey to Epcot (Disney) to take about 30-40 minutes and 15 minutes on the way back, depending on the time of night (we left at 10pm) and year (we were there in low season). The bus to Universal Studios only takes about 10 minutes, but depending on where your hotel is located on iDrive you might be able to walk!
Hidden Costs of iDrive Hotels
Most iDrive hotels are resorts and charge a daily resort fee, which will not be included in the overall price when booking online. This fee covers things like parking, internet access, in-room coffee service, access to fitness suites if available, local and toll – free calls, and most importantly, shuttle service to theme parks. An Uber will cost you approximately $26 / £18 to Walt Disney World whilst a taxi will cost approximately $44 / £31. For Universal the Uber is slightly cheaper at $6 / £4 (location depending, we were in the middle of iDrive) and $22 / £15 for a taxi.
Warning, many of the shuttle buses leave at 10pm from Walt Disney World. We were extremely lucky as the Magic Kingdom projection show and fireworks randomly took place at 8pm which allowed us to catch a bus back! Thanks Walt!
Where We Stayed on iDrive
We stayed at Avanti Resort which I chose because it was modern, had a swimming pool, and a shuttle bus service to both park areas. I think we were the first customers to enter the doors wearing 18 litre backpacks!
Disclaimer – I pitched the resort and they offered us media rates and an upgrade for a review of our stay. I feel we really lucked out, as Avanti Resort was my number one choice out of all of the hotels on iDrive. I think you’ll understand why…
The Superior room overlooked the turquoise swimming pool, had a massive bed which is ideal for those sweaty nights in Orlando, air con to help with the heat too, a television, bathroom, large sink area with mirror for getting dolled up before a night out at Universal CityWalk! And to Craig’s delight – a hairdryer (not even joking)! Can’t travel without one? Check out Fashpacking Family’s travel hairdryer review.
Other amenities included a coffee / tea maker, fridge, and microwave. If you truly are on a budget, book a hotel that offers these – iDrive has three Wallgreens, which sells food. We bought yoghurt and fruit for breakfast, which saved us approximately $20 / £14 per day on the most important meal of the day!
Avanti Resort also has a bar, Starbucks, shop, cafe, and my favourite – a fitness suite! You really do miss having a gym nearby whilst travelling and let’s face it, there are a whole lot of calories to be consumed in Orlando! What is the dream after a work out? A hot tub. Avanti Resort has one of those too.
Website: Avanti Resort
Address: 8738 International Drive, Orlando, FL 32819
Price: Daily rate ranges from $72 to $80 a night plus tax and daily hotel service fee ($9). We paid $447.50 / £314.50 for six nights at media rates.
iDrive – Blackpool in Orlando
International Drive can best be described as a far more impressive Blackpool (England) and less overwhelming Las Vegas! There are countless food and drink opportunities on iDrive. Here are three saving tips for dining on iDrive.
Firstly, ask your hotel if they have any coupons, the concierge at Avanti Resort had lots to offer us. Secondly, look out for happy hours (Miller’s Ale House had $2 cocktails in the evening!) in bars and set prices in restaurants. Finally, check out the Eat and Play card for discounts on America’s well known and lesser advertised establishments! This card will also give you discounts on activities on iDrive such us Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Orlando Odditorium! Hey veggies, check out this vegetarian food guide of Florida.
International Drive has lots to offer small and big kids alike! We did a bit of flying at iFly, talk about feeling the force. In Orlando the fun does not stop when you leave Walt Disney World or Universal Studios!
Walt Disney World on a Budget
“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible” said Walt Disney, so let’s see how possible it is to conquer Disney World on a budget!
Firstly, you just have to pay the ticket price, there is no way around it and it will be worth every penny.
Prioritise what you want to see. There are four parks under the Walt Disney World Parks bracket. Magic Kingdom Park is where you will see Genie, Minnie, and the likes shake their booty at the parade, soar the heights of Space Mountain, and watch the truly mesmerising fireworks on Cinderella’s Castle. Disney Hollywood Studios is aimed a tad more at adults in comparison to Magic Kingdom. The park highlights for me were The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (leave everything – the credit cards floated out of Craig’s shirt pocket!) and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith.
We took a walk around Epcot, this park takes you on a tour of the world without leaving Orlando! The fourth park is Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, which we chose to skip. How can you see so many parks in one day? Glad you asked, we had the Walt Disney Parks day hopper ($64 / £45), which allows you to jump between the four parks (using the monorail and bus service) if you have the time.
Time means money, money buys time. This is especially true at theme parks. The longest we queued for a ride was one hour for Space Mountain. Before you enter a ride a sign will tell you how long the wait is. Do take advantage of the FastPass+ where you can select three rides and Disney will give you an allocated time slot. You need to sign into My Disney Experience for this and use your ticket number. The time of year will also have impact on your wait time, we went in January and it was not busy at all. We left the Avanti Resort at 08:10 and were inside Magic Kingdom at 09:40, this even included taking the boat instead of the second monorail!)
Prioritise Your Time
We went to Magic Kingdom first, Disney Hollywood Studios (#8 bus), then back to Magic Kingdom for sun down. If I was to do it again I would head to Hollywood Studios in the morning, do the rides (three worth a go) then head to Magic Kingdom whilst it’s still daylight then stay for the night show, the park really does light up!
Food and Drink at Disney
You won’t be surprised to hear that food is expensive and there are lots of hot dogs, burgers, and turkey legs (yes!) on offer. Good news budget lovers, you can take your own food into the park! So pack your sandwiches and nibbles! We took an empty bottle into the parks and filled up at the water fountains. Stay hydrated, it’s a long day and it can get hot (a nice temperature in January, cold at night)! Don’t expect alcohol on the premises of Magic Kingdom; check out Disney Springs if you are looking for a party!
Day total: $83 / £58
Minnie ears (ok so not a priority!) ($23)
Hot dog x 2 ($14)
Churro x 1 ($4)
Burger and fries x 2 ($24)
Tea / Coffee ($free – the girl was going off shift and couldn’t be bothered!)
(See the need for the fitness suite?!)
Website: Walt Disney World
Address: Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, FL 32830, United States
Price: A one-day adult theme park ticket with park hopper $165.08 USD / The more you play, the less you pay!
Visit Orlando 2016 Deal: Enjoy your 5th day free in 2016: Visit Orlando
Universal Studios on a Budget
Universal Studios is for the big kids. As soon as you walk through the bars and restaurants of CityWalk you get the vibe that the innocent kid was left in awe at Disney and now the cheeky teenager is out to play!
There are two sections at Universal Studios – Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Orlando. Friends who have been in high season said you need two days for both, January served us well, we managed to get around both islands, twice!
I was keen to take a ride on the Harry Potter train (obviously!) so we prioritised the big roller coasters on Islands of Adventure then left Hogsmeade on the spectacular Hogwartz Express. Craig isn’t a fan and he even thought it was neat. Harry must have done some of his magic because there was no queue for the train.
We dined in San Francisco, rejoicing that there were more then just burgers, and had drinks (yes alcoholic ones!) to the Blues Brothers on 5th Avenue. The Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit was conquered three times and Marge Simpson took a shine to Craig’s tattoos!
It wasn’t an invisibility cloak that got us around the park two times in one day – it was the Universal Express Passes. We also used the single rider option for the busy Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (back on Islands of Adventure). The single rider might mean that you don’t get to sit with your friends but who actually speaks to each other on rides anyway?
Food and Drink at Universal
Two ‘foot long’ hot dogs were the same price as two main meals at an Italian restaurant on iDrive, yikes! Again, be prepared and take food with you. A beer will set you back $8 / £5.60 and the Butterbeer is worth every penny!
Prioritise Your Time
Sweet, the park is so empty. Until you get to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Be wise, if playing Quidditch is your main goal in life, get in early and head there first. It’s easy to see why everyone is in love with this area; visitors who buy wands can test their magic on the shop front windows!
Lockers at Universal Studios
Most rides go loop da loop and / or up and down at force, so the park enforces a no bag policy on rides. Some rides don’t even allow you to have anything in your pockets but do have free lockers in each section. Save time, don’t bring a bag or head straight to the lockers, store your belongings and hit the free highs!
Day total: $85 / £60
Croissant x 1 / panini x 1 ($21)
Beer x 2 ($16)
Frozen cocktail + beer x1 ($18)
Butterbeer x1 ($10)
Hot dogs x 2 ($20)
Website: Universal Studios Orlando / Universal Studios for UK Citizens
Address: 6000 Universal Blvd, Orlando, FL 32819, United States
Price: Universal 2-Park Bonus ticket (go as like for for 14 days) UK citizens: £146 per adult / £139 per child. Express pass: £46 – 68 per person
Visit Orlando Deal 2016: Enjoy your 3rd day free – Visit Orland Website
Orlando on a Budget Tips
- Avoid high season
- Shuttle to the parks
- Prioritise which parks
- Fork out for fast passes
- Use the single rider option
- Take lunch and snacks
- Don’t take kids!
Visit Orlando are aware that people of all budgets holiday in their city so can suggest twenty activity ideas under $20 such as SAK Comedy Club and kayaking at Wekiva Springs.
Although a trip to Orlando bit a chunk out of our budget, we both agree that the experience was priceless! I suppose deep down we are all like Peter Pan, and Orlando gives you the chance to never grow up! Well until the credit card bills come in.
Thank you to Universal Studios, Walt Disney World, and Visit Orlando for media passes as well as Avanti Resort for the media rates and upgrade. Without their partnership, this trip would not have been possible. An honest review as always.
As Walt Disney said “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them”, so what are you waiting for – making it happen or waiting for it to happen?
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