Ok so I’m somewhat of a self-declared expert on Florida holidays but I’m currently in the middle of planning my fourth trip there this summer (my 7th trip to a Disney Park) and with being a single mum I definitely know what it’s like to plan on a budget. Single parent families are almost always hit with room surcharges too, so I’ve researched all the options, working out the cheapest and best value alternatives. So here is my guide to planning the holiday of a lifetime on a budget! I hope you find it useful!
I have found that the cheapest way is to book it all yourself, avoiding package deals & travel agents – you will save about £1,000 on a fortnight’s holiday. On the other hand using a travel agent will usually mean you can pay by instalment but booking directly means paying for it outright, so it’s finding what works best for your circumstances.
It goes without saying that peak times, when schools are off, are much more expensive (and crowded!) and it’s best to avoid if possible. September – October and mid – late January are great months to go but if you have kiddos of school age you won’t have much alternative. If you have to go in the summer months the last 2 or 3 weeks of August are usually quieter & cheaper than July but this can vary so examine all possibilities.
Also be prepared for hurricane season if you go from June until August – being caught out in a thundering rainstorm is to be expected. Florida will get a degree of rain all year round so remember to pack a light weight raincoat or poncho from eBay before you go, or you’ll pay over the odds for them in the parks.
Definitely book your flights first as the basic laws of demand & supply come into play, prices will increase closer to departure dates, therefore the earlier you can book the better. A lot of airlines will have January sales so that can be an excellent time to book for the summer – try to be flexible with dates, tweaking dates by a day or two can save you hundreds. Flight comparison sites that allow you to view prices over a whole month are a great tool to see the cheapest dates. (It is worthwhile looking at various flight comparison website for the best deals – in my experience Sky Scanner, KAYAK, Momondo & Get A Flight are the cheapest.
I always check the prices from Belfast & Dublin as prices can vary from a couple of hundred pounds per person, so do check out all close-by airports. Similarly there are two main airports in Orlando, Sanford & Orlando International, be sure to include those in your search.
You will see options for direct flights or 1 stop, 2 stops etc. Direct flights are the ultimate goal but considerably more expensive so it can be worth looking at 1 stop (usually stopping in UK mainland or New York). I have done 1 stop before and it’s fine, even with a young child – just make sure you have enough time to catch the next flight but aren’t waiting in airport for an unreasonable amount of either. A 3 – 4 hour wait is perfect – but be aware if you are changing over in the USA you will have to collect your bags and go through security again which is very time consuming (Last time I done that I had 3 hours in Newark airport and I never sat my butt down once from one plane seat until the next – I was either queuing or walking the whole time and just made my plane with the skin of my teeth)
Hotels & Dining
Staying at Disney or Universal is by no means the cheapest option but can have fantastic benefits too – but I’m going to talk about Disney as it has more theme parks than Universal so the chances are you will be spending more at the Disney resort. Speaking from experience if you have a small child or toddler they will be exhausted from the heat – being close to your hotel is so convenient to take them back during the day for a nap or to refresh. You also have access to free transport around the whole resort – so you can get to all parks right from the entrance of your hotel.
You can opt in to Disney Dining plans when you stay (Disney’s answer to all-exclusive), you will get vouchers which can be exchanged in any Disney restaurant or cafe against food – it can potentially save you money in the long run, but do look carefully at the various options. If you choose the more expensive plan you will need to eat at table-service restaurants and frequently eat the most expensive food on the menu to get your moneys worth out of it. If your a vegetarian, like me, or your kids prefer nuggets to fillet steak you will end up spending more than you need with the plan. However, at various times throughout the year Disney will offer special deals which include free Disney Dining – this is a no brainer as food in Disney ain’t cheap!
Other popular areas to stay in Orlando are Kissimmee and International Drive – personally I have only stayed in I-Drive as it is a more central location with a buzzing atmosphere. Endless Hotels, restaurants, shops and activity centres line each side of this famous 11 mile long stretch of road. All major attractions like Disney, Sea World & Universal are only minutes away. I-Drive is considerably cheaper to stay and eat at than Disney or Universal. (Definitely check out Perkins & iHop for food if you’re there 😋)
The cheapest way to book hotel rooms is definitely through booking.com – they are consistently cheaper than other sites (and I have tried them all, believe me). With almost all hotel rooms you will charged on the basis of 2 adults sharing – so your a single parent you can take your imaginary, hot “boyfriend” slong too 🙄 (read Andrew Garfield or Adam Barlow from Corrie). I usually travel with another single parent family and we opt for a condo or villa to drop the surcharge – we each can have our own bedrooms for privacy and still have a communal kitchen & dining area for chilling.
This year we are going to do the same but rent using AirBnB (you will £25 off using this link) as the prices are even better. I will update on my verdict after our experience but I’m excited to try something new, AirBnB seems to be the hip way to globe trot now 😀.
Without a doubt pre-buying ticket bundles for all the attractions / parks from this side of the pond is much more cost and time effective than buying them in the US or directly at the gate.
My advice is to sit down & plan where exactly you want to go and when, being realistic with what you can fit in and seeing what bundle works out the best value for you. You will probably need to factor in a day or 2 relaxing at the accommodation during the course of your stay. Walking about the theme parks is exhausting in the heat – don’t be surprised to clock up 6 or 7 miles a day doing this.
I always get a Disney, Universal & Seaworld combo ticket as it has all the major attractions that you simply must see when there. Shop around Attraction Tickets Direct, Orlando Attraction Tickets & Floridatix to see what offers the best value for you.
The cheapest way about town is definitely hiring a car! Last time we chose to hire an SUV and it was a god send, with no waiting on public transport we could come & go as we pleased. Filling up on fuel was peanuts as they don’t have the extornate levels of taxation we have. Word to the wise – sort hire and insurance before you go, when you collect your wheels the sales guys are notorious for pushing all sorts of extra insurance you don’t need. One last pearl of wisdom if you go down this route, you will be asked what time you will be leaving car your car back at – allow extra time!! We were heavily fined being 30mins later than our ETA.
Luckily if driving is not for you getting about Orlando on public transport is very convenient. Even getting from the airport to your destination is relatively easy – there are taxi-bus companies leaving the airport steadily – book before you go for the best rates.
Most hotels on I-Drive will have a shuttle to the major theme parks, sometimes these are free or have a small charge. There is also the the I-Ride trolley which is a cheap & convient method of transporting up & down International Drive (beware if you have a pushchair as it has to be put down every time you board & can be a right pain in the arse) , there is also the Lynx bus service which can take you anywhere you need that’s off I-Drive – you can buy passes for the I-Ride and Lynx on attraction ticket websites, again best to do that before you go for the keenest rates. Please note that taxis are riculously expensive!
You need travel insurance, there’s no other way about it! Good travel insurance will not only cover any medical costs you may incur but also lost or damaged luggage, flights that are cancelled or extenuating circumstances that prevent you from travelling. Note that last time we travelled we had to seek medical treatment twice – with little ones you can never be too safe.
So that’s my guide to booking Florida on the cheap, of course tips for flights and accommodation can be applied to any destination you may travel. Do let me know where you are heading this year and if you have any other tips for holidays do share in the comments below.