Most visitors go to Florida to see Orlando’s theme parks or to relax on the beach. Choosing Walt Disney World as your destination is easy, but how do you pick a beach when Florida has some 800 miles of them?
Indeed, the Sunshine State has so much vying for your attention that planning a trip can seem overwhelming. But Florida’s size and diversity also mean that it has bargains galore for the traveler who knows where to go, when to go, and how to mine for discounts.
We have scoured the state to come up with these great money-saving tips, which will tell you where and how to look for the best deals. Also here is information and our advice about transportation, seasons and special events, taking care of your special needs, and picking among the best vacation rentals–always with an eye on saving you money.
Tips for a Family Florida Vacation on a Budget via Frommer’s:
Target Shoulder Season: Avoid traveling during the high seasons, especially in southern Florida where hotel rates can more than double from mid-December to April. Keep in mind also that many airlines have deep-discount promotional fares to Florida during the off-season. Central Florida sees less seasonal difference in prices, given its somewhat cooler winters and the year-round clientele visiting its theme parks. You can survive on $70 a day in northern Florida even during its high-summer season.
Don’t be afraid to speak up: Always ask about discounts: corporate, students, military, auto club, senior citizen, and so on. Most airlines, car-rental firms, accommodations, attractions, and even some restaurants offer such price breaks but don’t necessarily volunteer the information. Be sure to bring identification or your group membership card with you. Most Florida activities and attractions offer discounts, but you’ll need a valid ID to qualify for the bargain rates.
Plan ahead or wait until the last minute: Buy your ticket well in advance. Most airlines offer deep discounts on tickets purchased 7, 14, or 21 days before the departure date–and the cheap seats sell out first. Always ask about restrictions such as staying over a Saturday night. Tickets are usually nonrefundable if you must cancel your trip, but even if you have to pay an extra fee if you alter your plans later, you’ll get substantial savings over the regular fare. On the other hand, you can often benefit by buying at the last minute. You do run the risk of being stuck with a really expensive ticket–or no ticket at all–but when a flight is only half-sold, the airlines may offer deep, deep discounts to fill seats that aren’t sold 72 hours before takeoff. This is a better strategy in the off-season, when flights are more likely to have empty seats.
Be flexible with your schedule. Flying on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday can save you money with some airlines; the prime Friday, Sunday, and Monday flights are often priced higher. Also inquire about night flights; the red-eye may leave you bleary, but if it’s substantially cheaper, it might be worth it–you can make up the sleep later.
Consider a travel agent. If you don’t have regular access to the Internet or if you don’t want to conduct your business online, consult a travel agent. They can get on their machines and find you the cheapest airfares, room rates, package deals, and other travel bargains that you could never find. You’re under no obligation to buy, although most agents now charge a fee for airline tickets, since most airlines have all but eliminated commissions in recent years. On the other hand, agents still work for commissions when selling hotels, car-rental companies, and tour operators.
Reserve your car rental in advance, especially during the high seasons when cars, particularly the small, least expensive models, can be in heavy demand. Not only will you have a car waiting, you’ll avoid paying top dollar for a vehicle that’s larger than you need.
Be sure to ask for discounts if you belong to a national organization such as AAA, AARP, Costco Wholesale, or USAA, which negotiate special rates for their members. But be wary: Some of these specials may be more expensive than the rental companies’ weekly rates or promotional deals, so ask about all possibilities.
If you’re staying for a week or more, book a vacation rental, especially if you’re traveling with children. Condos usually have a sleeper sofa as extra bedding, a kitchen that lets you prepare some of your own meals, and the complexes usually have a pool and often tennis courts and other recreational facilities. Most have weekly rates that are less than paying by the night at hotels. Book early to get the least expensive vacation rental, and shop around.
Stay a block or more from the beach, since vacation rentals not directly on the water usually are less expensive than those directly facing the sand.
If you don’t mind dining before 6pm, take advantage of the early-bird specials offered by many restaurants. The selections may be limited, but they are a less-expensive way to sample the fine fare at otherwise expensive establishments. We’ve pointed out many of them in the dining listings in this book.
If you’re traveling with the kids, inquire about children’s menus or discounts. Most restaurants in Florida offer them–and at resort-restaurant prices, they can be a real boon to your budget.
Stick with the Value Pass over the Park Hopper when buying multiday tickets to the Walt Disney parks in Orlando. Both options permit visits to multiple parks over 4 days, but the Park Hopper pass allows you to visit more than one park during a single day. This can take considerable effort and time, so it’s better to stick to the Value Pass, especially if you are traveling with children. And the 4-day Value Pass will save you about $17 per person.
Buy a combined pass to Universal Studios Florida, SeaWorld, Wet ‘n Wild in Orlando, and Busch Gardens Tampa. You pay one price to get into all three over either a 7- or a 10-day period. The combined passes cost more up front, but you’ll save in the long run.
Invest in inexpensive plastic rain ponchos for the entire family before you leave home. Many major parks include water rides, and it’s miserable to walk around wet all day, even in the summer. Plus, they will come in handy during summer storms, which can come up quickly. In the parks, they cost twice what you’ll pay at home.
If you have young children, bring lightweight, easy-to-carry strollers, since rentals inside the parks can add up. Don’t bring your Cadillac of kiddie carriers: It could be stolen.