How to Budget for a Holiday in Orlando?
Orlando has such an abundance of choice for the holidaymaker, how much money you will spend completely varies on the type of holiday you wish to have and what your priorities are at this destination. Some people budget for at least one main sit-down meal a day, while others count on eating at the fast-food counters and buffet diners to make savings. Many families like to include a lot of shopping on their holidays while others don’t. In most cases, it is a question of common sense. When it comes to saving money and taking advantage of the more budget-orientated opportunities Orlando has to offer, there are a number of good policies to adopt.
Booking Park Tickets Before You Travel
The most important factor when budgeting for your Orlando travels is booking your Disney, Universal, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens tickets in advance. Purchasing your tickets in advance not only allows you to avoid any complications that may occur upon arrival at the parks, giving you peace of mind, but having your ticket expenses established before you travel puts you in a better position to plan your budget for the rest of your trip. There is also the added bonus of escaping the unecessary queuing for park tickets before you even join the queue to gain entry to the park.
Parks Value for Money
Many people wonder whether any of the parks are particularly better value for money than others, however this all depends on what you’re looking for and the make up of your family. Families with younger children may find that Universal's Island of Adventure has less to keep their children amused than Magic Kingdom, however Epcot has fewer rides and offers more activities that can be enjoyed as a family group - it all depends on what kind of entertainment you are looking for. If you're a serious adrenaline junkie with older children or teenagers in your family Busch Gardens or Universal Studios might be your preference. Having said this, all parks are worth seeing, so its best to read up on the parks and decide which takes your fancy most and is best suited to your family.
The value for your money also depends heavily on your ticket type; the Orlando Combo Ticket (covering Universal’s two parks, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Aquatica water park) could well be seen as better value per day than, say a 5-Day Disney Premium Ticket as it could give you up to 14 days of park fun, as opposed to the 8-day value of the Disney ticket. But, a 14 or 21-Day Disney Ultimate ticket is then even better value on a per-day basis. The bottom line is you really need to know how many days you plan to spend in each park before you travel in order to get the best value for your money tickets. We cannot stress the importance of planning this aspect of your holiday enough, particularly if you wish to be as economical as possible.
Souvenir Shopping at the Parks
A rookie mistake when you first enter the parks is to be drawn into one of the many – and distinctly alluring – gift shops which are ready to ambush your wallet at every turn. To be more savvy with your souvenir shopping make an early visit to one of the big outlet shopping centres like the two Premium Outlet centres (at the top of International Drive and in Lake Buena Vista) or Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores on Highway 535 in Lake Buena Vista, which all have Disney merchandise stores that are much cheaper than in the parks. Admittedly, they won’t have all the latest items and designs, but you can save up to 75% on things like T-shirts, toys, and collectable pins.
Food and Dining at the Parks
The question of value for money on a daily basis is much harder to evaluate as, without exception, all of the main eight parks require at least one full day to see and do most of what they have on offer, Magic Kingdom and Epcot really require at least two. While there is little real difference in the cost of meals and dining out at any of the parks, we strongly advise you to have at least one main meal a day outside the parks. For more information on dining out in Orlando check out our Restaurant section.
While we don't advise you eat at the theme parks all the time, they do have some excellent options. For some of the best value, we recommend the following:
- Magic Kingdom – Cosmic Rays in Tomorrowland
- Epcot – Sunshine Seasons Food Fair in The Land pavilion
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Studios Catering Co Flatbread Grill
- Animal Kingdom – Flame Tree Barbeque Restaurant
- Universal Studios – International Food & Film Festival
- Islands of Adventure – Blondie’s: Home of the Dagwood
- SeaWorld – The Spice Mill
- Busch Gardens – Desert Grill
Of course there are other parks to be visited in Orlando aside from the mainstream ones, which offer entertainment for the better part of a day and costs less than half the cost of a day at one of the major parks. Many of the alternative park's shows and exhibitions are distinctly low key in comparison to the main parks and there aren’t any rides as such, but the smaller parks can offer an educational experience and fun for the whole family to enjoy together. Gatorland, for example, is highly Brit-popular and offers a glimpse of the real Florida with shows such as Jungle Crocs of the World, watery fun at Gator Gully Splash Park and unique experiences such as Gator Jumparoo. To find out more about alternative parks in Florida check out the Small Scale attractions here.
Other handy diversions, especially if the weather is bad and not ideal for being at the parks, are the Orlando Science Center (just north of downtown Orlando), which should keep you amused for at least half a day, WonderWorks (a hands-on fun center by The Pointe shopping and dining complex on International Drive), which is great for keeping kids occupied, and DisneyQuest at Downtown Disney, an interactive ‘theme park in a box’ consisting of a host of arcades and virtual reality games that is one of the ‘Water Park Fun and More’ options with a 5 and 7-Day Premium Ticket and is free with all Ultimate tickets.