Beyond Disney: 5 Frugal Ways to Enjoy an Orlando Vacation
Disney World might be the center of many Orlando vacations, but there’s more to Orlando than a famous mouse.
While it might seem like a lot of work to keep an Orlando vacation affordable, the city is actually full of great discounts and money-saving opportunities, but not all of them are well-known. From attractions to travel to accommodations, these are five of the best-kept secrets for an unforgettable and affordable Orlando vacation.
1) When to Vacation
Orlando doesn’t really have an off-season, but if you can travel during non-peak times you can save a lot of money. Value seasons generally happen during the following times:
- Late spring (late April/early May)
- Late summer (late August/September)
- Early winter (early November/early December)
- Late winter (January/early February)
During these times there are fewer crowds and more deals available to visitors, and one thing all these travel dates have in common is that school is in session and holidays aren’t happening. Holidays, spring break and summer make up the city's high season—and I don’t just mean crowd levels—so avoid this peak period if possible.
2) How to Get There
After you have your vacation dates figured out, start scouring the internet for transportation deals. If you're within driving distance of Central Florida, be sure to fill up one last time before crossing state lines, as gas generally costs more in this southern state. If you opt to fly, don’t dismiss budget airlines like Allegiant, which sometimes offer round-trip fares for less than $200—a great deal. Even better, you can often get an airline and car rental combo deal at an even steeper discount.
3) Where to Stay
There are an abundance of hotels rooms in Orlando, which means you can get a great rate on accommodations almost any time of the year. Options range from budget-friendly hotels in the Kissimmee area with $50/night rates, to value-based resorts that start around $85/night. The earlier you book your room, the cheaper rate you’ll receive, so if you can make your plans four months or more in advance you’ll be better off price-wise.
If you’re traveling with a larger family or group, or if you simply want room to stretch out, renting a vacation home or condo is an excellent choice. Not only are they economical (a typical three-bedroom vacation rental starts around $120 a night) you can also save a lot on food as each home comes with a full kitchen.
Pay attention to amenities at all accommodations, as they can really make or break a trip. Competition among hotels is strong, which means free deluxe breakfasts and free shuttles to theme parks like Disney World are often offered. This can save some serious cash, because parking at Disney starts at $14/day.
4) How to Play for Free
People often overlook the simple ways you can play for free (or almost free) in Orlando. There are many gorgeous parks, like the 50-acre Harry P. Leu Gardens, a botanical sanctuary with a butterfly garden, which offers free admission on Mondays from 9am-noon. You can also pay a visit Big Tree Park, home to Florida’s oldest resident, “The Senator,” a 3,500-year-old, 118-foot-tall bald cypress tree. At Lake Eola Park in Downtown Orlando, you can explore fountains and walking paths, and for a slight fee, go on paddle boat or gondola rides.
Many Orlando museums also offer free or cheap admission. Check out the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, featuring art from the Renaissance to the Baroque period; the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, home to an extensive collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany, American Pottery and 19th and 20th century paintings (admission is $5/adults, children 12 and under free); and Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens, which features over 200 Polasek works as well as other mediums. The sculpture garden is free, while museum admission is $5 or less.
To entertain the kids, try visiting Downtown Disney, and play at the LEGO Imagination Center, where kids can enjoy the free LEGO building stations and nearby playground. One more option ideal for kids are the Rock Springs at Kelly Park, families can visit for as little as $5, and explore over 248 acres of outdoor fun, including crystal-clear springs perfect for swimming and tubing.
5) Where to Eat
Believe it or not, there are a lot of budget-boosting places to eat in Orlando—especially if you’re traveling with kids. In addition to selecting a place to stay with a kitchen, be sure to check out restaurants with “Kids Eat Free” programs.
Craving a steak? At Tony Roma’s, kids 12 and under eat free on Sunday with the purchase of an adult entrée. Is Italian on the menu? Children under five eat free at Andiamo Italian Grill, while at Fazoli’s the purchase of one adult entrée will score you two kids meals at 99 cents each Tuesday’s from 5pm-8pm. At Chevy’s Fresh Mex, kids 10 and under eat free every Tuesday, as parents can get two free kids meals with the purchase of an adult entrée. Want something a little bit country? Head to Bob Evan’s, where kids eat free every Tuesday. The best deal may be at Perkin’s Restaurant, where kids eat free Monday through Friday. Firehouse Subs, Gator’s Dockside, Papa Gio’s, Eastside Bistro and Jersey Mike’s Subs all have kids eat free programs too.
Follow these best-kept secrets for an unforgettable and affordable Orlando vacation. Your wallet will thank you!
Ashley Dickey is Reserve Orlando's travel expert, visiting Orlando to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.