Visitors to Orlando, Florida, are the bread and butter of the local economy. The city is designed to make you spend, spend, spend. But there are ways to minimize costs without minimizing the experience. Local Orlando experts shared these tricks to help you save money during your vacation.
Take advantage of concierge services.
Concierges are the mystical keepers of travel secrets. They know and love Orlando, and want to share that knowledge. Yet, many hotel guests walk right past the concierge desk without even a glance. Be smart, and use your resources.
Lourdes Gee, concierge at the Villas of Grand Cypress, Orlando, explains, "We know when the theme parks and attractions offer discounted tickets or specials, like for Florida residents. We always keep updating our desk."
[Read: The Best Hotels in Orlando.]
Sandra Ferrarese, chief concierge at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort, says she often reminds guests, "We have complimentary transportation ... to the four Disney parks throughout the day."
One conversation with a concierge could help you find a great affordable restaurant, a two-for-one coupon for a show, a special rate for an excursion or a little-known local gem. In fact, after you check in and stow your luggage, your first stop should be the concierge. Consult these gurus, and watch how your money stretches.
Choose a resort with perks.
Some hotels and resorts are pricier than others. However, if you consider what the resort offers, you may actually stretch your budget by choosing a slightly more expensive option.
"A good way of saving money is you don't have to leave whatever resort that you picked," says Gary Gotling, director of sales and marketing at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. "Make sure you have a resort that you can enjoy." So, check out what amenities, such as golfing, pools or nature trail access, each hotel offers.
Dropping a day at the theme parks can save a family hundreds. That money can be applied to an upgraded resort package and still leave you with some cash to spare. So, take a day off.
From stomach-twisting coasters to fantastical lands, Orlando’s theme parks know what thrills you.
Visit during the off-season.
The problem with summer is every kid on the planet is out of school, and guess where they all come for vacation? That's right: Orlando. The parks are wall-to-wall humanity. Imagine 3 million sweaty, irritable tourists waiting in a three-hour line to ride a three-minute roller coaster – no fun. Wasted time is wasted money. Plus, the price of every hotel skyrockets in busy season.
[Read: The 7 Best Orlando Museums.]
The solution is easy. Hit Orlando in the off-season. "You can often find some of the best values and fewer crowds in the months of May and September," says George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando, the area's official tourism organization. January and February are also safe bets. Avoid holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. And don't even think about March and April, unless you want to navigate around partying college spring breakers who join the usual tidal wave of people.
Skip the parks.
Yes, tens of millions of visitors flock to the theme parks yearly for magic and thrills. But there are plenty of free and cheap things to do in Orlando away from the roller coasters and cartoon characters. The beautiful white sand beaches on both the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico are just a one- to two-hour car ride away. The city also has numerous affordable museums, attractions and shows that won't break your budget.
Richard Tribou, travel editor for the Orlando Sentinel, suggests, "Forget going to water parks. Go find the Orlando area's natural springs such as Kelly Park. You rent a tube on the drive in and spend a great day." You also get to experience a bit of real Florida, surrounded by forest, wildlife and fresh air, a welcome distraction from the plastic mirage of the parks for a fraction of the cost. "It depends on if you want to spend $80 per person [at a water park] or $5 for a carload [at a local green space]," Tribou says.
Buy ahead of time, and consider bundles.
Smart shoppers know that buying ahead of time and in bulk can save money. The same is true for travel. Much like how plane tickets skyrocket when purchased on the departure day, theme park entry prices are higher if you purchase at the gate.
[Read: The 6 Best Places to Shop in Orlando.]
"A lot of theme parks do advanced purchases with tickets where you can get a little bit of a better discount," says Jeff Silsbee, guest experience manager at Disney's Port Orleans Resort French Quarter and former director of guest services at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando. "And [ticket] bundling. If you know you're going to be here for a couple days, don't buy just one day at a time. Get a three- or four-day ticket, and it'll end up costing you less per day." You can even find deals ahead of time that bundle park tickets, hotel stays and dining packages.
You can also maximize your experience by purchasing extras with your bundle. "Get the best bang for your buck by looking at fast passes and express passes," Silsbee says.
Yes, these passes usually cost extra. However, the benefit is you experience more of what you paid for by getting on rides faster. In the busy season, you could potentially squeeze five theme park days into three because you didn't waste your time waiting in those infamous snaking ride lines. If time is money, then this is a huge savings.
To experience more of what Orlando has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.
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