Florida is an iconic, much-loved vacation spot on the East coast of the US, with each year seeing huge numbers of visitors flock here. In 2019 (let’s never speak of 2020 and 2021 again), Florida saw a whopping 133 million visitors, which was then a record for the state, before 2023 blew that out of the water with almost 138 million, again, a record. They must be doing something right…
Known as the Sunshine State due to its fantastic weather, Florida has incredible beaches, world-famous amusement parks, and amazing natural beauty spots.
For that reason, many travellers assume that a visit to the Sunshine State will be prohibitively expensive. And sure, certain elements can be costly. But if you follow the advice below, you can do things on a budget and still have a wonderful time, getting more bang for your buck in the process. With that in mind, here are some top tips for ensuring that your 2024 holiday to Florida doesn’t break the bank.
Avoid Peak Season
There are a number of ways to cut costs when it comes to the planning of your Florida vacation, and there are also ways to be frugal with your spending while on it, meaning you can make your getaway as cheap and as affordable as you want or need it to be.
One of the most efficient ways to cut costs is to avoid peak season. In Florida, hotel rates in peak season, which is from October through to April, are often more than double that of the low season.
In Florida’s low season, July and August, you can find bargain flights, cheaper hotels and generally see attractions without the huge queues of the busier months. Do be aware that these months are also extremely hot; if you love a balmy, humid atmosphere, then it could just the ticket! Be smart with your flight booking, too – you can subscribe to price alerts on numerous flight comparison websites which will keep you posted regarding sudden discount offers.
Some of the best times to visit Florida to avoid the crowds include Spring, though not during Spring Break (mid March), or Fall, when children have returned to school. Do be aware that Hurricane Season runs from June to November, with September the peak month. By November, frequency has lowered, making the eleventh month an ideal one to visit.
Theme Park Smarts
Planning a trip to a theme park like Disney World or Universal Studios Florida can be quite expensive, therefore planning and budgeting wisely can help to make it more affordable. Here are a number of tips:
- Book in Advance and Off-Peak: Tickets to the parks are generally cheaper if you purchase them in advance and during the off-peak season. Avoid school holidays and weekends if possible.
- Package Deals: Check for package deals that include park tickets, accommodation and perhaps even meals. Travel agents and online travel websites often offer these.
- Accommodation: Consider staying in a hotel off the property, as these could be more cost-effective than resorts and hotels owned by the parks. Using rental property platforms like Airbnb can also help reduce costs. We’re particularly keen on Kissimmee’s westgateresorts.com, the Marriott Grande Vista in Orlando proper, and the Reunion Resort, which is also in Kissimmee.
- Food and Drink: Theme park food can be pricey. Consider bringing your own snacks and refillable water bottles. Some hotels also offer free breakfast.
- Souvenirs: Establish a budget for souvenirs beforehand. It’s easy to overspend on mementos from your visit.
- Multi-Day Tickets: If you’re planning to spend several days at the parks, consider purchasing multi-day tickets. These are typically cheaper per day than single-day tickets.
- Free Activities: Both Disneyland and Universal Studios have free attractions and entertainment within the parks, make sure to take time to enjoy these.
Free (& Almost Free!) Things To Do In Florida
There are loads of free (or practically free) things to do in Florida. The official Visit Florida tourism board have published a detailed list on their website of activities to in the Sunshine which come in for free or under $5. Some of the best include:
A day at the beach – Florida has some of the most famous beaches in the world, and they are perfect for spending the day sunbathing or doing some watersports. For those on a budget, the beaches have another advantage in that they are completely free to visit.
With the sun shining all year round, it is always a good time to visit Florida’s beaches. Some of the very best in a crowded field include Daytona Beach, and its Marine Science Center at Lighthouse Point Park, which boasts sea turtles and a stingray pool. Also popular are St. Augustine Beach, Clearwater Beach and Amelia Island, but honestly, nearly every beach in the Sunshine State is as pretty-as-a-picture.
Catch your own meal at Cedar Key – Scalloping in the Summer is a popular activity and restaurants in the area will prepare your catch for you (if you’re lucky enough to actually land some scallops, that is!).
Tampa Botanical Gardens – For something a little different, a $5 entry fee will gain you acces to Tampa’s 17 acre grounds, full of exotic plans and wildlife.
Sunset at Keywest – Hard to look at that one and not see Kanye West, right? Anyway, if you and the family are keen to participate in the daily celebrations held at Mallory Square, where visitors gather to watch the sun set and enjoy the free entertainment on offer, including live music, comedy and magic shows, then this one is for you.
For more cheap things to do, check our Visit Florida’s roundup here.
Opt For The Orlando Explorer Pass
The Orlando Explorer Pass lets you choose 3, 4, or 5 attractions from over 15 options. This includes the Kennedy Space Center, Miami Seaquarium, water sports rental, and various tours. It’s an excellent way to save money if you’re interested in these experiences.
Use SunRail Or Other Transit Options:
When in Orlando, consider using the SunRail service. It connects a multitude of places including shopping locations and eateries, and it’s cheaper than taxis or car rentals. In cities like Miami, the Metromover is free to use and makes stops at popular city spots.
A huge part of the vacation budget in the United States gets spent on eating out, often on three meals a day. When you’re travelling as a family, that’s some serious dollar being spent in restaurants, cafes and diners.
According to Budget Your Trip, the average cost of eating out in Florida is at least $44 a day, per person. For a family of four, you could be looking at spending $200 a day in restaurants; and we think that might even be a modest estimation.
Instead, to save these huge expenses, it might be a prudent move to book self-catered accommodation. If you do end up eating out, be aware that American meals, particularly breakfasts, are huge relative to what we’re used to in the UK, and it’s common practice to ask for a doggy-bag to take home the rest. Don’t waste money by leaving half of your meal in the restaurant!
Rent A Car
Florida is a huge state, and the best mode of transport will, of course, depend on the itinerary of your trip. Even if you are just staying in Orlando only for the amusement parks, however, everything in the state (and the States, for that matter) is vast and spaced out. As such, renting a car is imperative. Public transport isn’t great in Florida, so renting a car is the most economical decision. Most car rental car companies allow one-way car hire, allowing you to drop off the car at a different location to where you began your journey, which is ideal for those on the move.
Budget car rental in Florida costs an average of $140, though the cheapest car rental providers in the state, either Wild Card or Thrifty, currently start their prices at just $17 a day, available for pickup from Orlando International Airport. Do remember not to buy gas (petrol) from the rental company – it will always be more expensive than at a station.
Consider A Campervan Or RV
While Florida has an abundance of manmade attractions and bustling big city scenes, nothing quite beats the breathtaking natural beauty on offer in the Sunshine State. Consider a road trip through Florida to truly appreciate its diverse scenery.
Why not consider combining your rental car and hotel budget and instead spend your money on a campervan? The savings when it comes to hotels vs campervans is significant, and the freedom of the open road experienced in an RV unbeatable.
If you’re not yet convinced, then check out these IDEAL ways to plan a road trip through Florida for more inspiration and logistical information!
Visit Less Touristy Cities
While Miami and Orlando are the top choices for many holidaymakers, Florida has more to offer. Explore lesser-known cities like Sarasota, Fort Myers, or Naples, which are beautiful and often less expensive.
Go Coupon Crazy
It’s no secret that the Americans love their coupons. With a little research and forward planning, you can make major savings on Orlando’s attractions by using voucher and coupon sites, which provide discounts on everything from tickets to refreshments.
Skip The Official Souvenir Shops
Finally, do be aware that in the amusement parks which Florida is so famous for, the price of souvenirs is massively inflated. While it’s all too easy to get caught up in the atmosphere of Disneyworld and end up splashing out on official Mickey Mouse t-shirts and other merchandise, the same souvenirs can be bought much cheaper at nearby local markets. Everyone wants to receive a souvenir when their loved one goes to Florida, but this can end up costing you more money than you budgeted for. The message here is simple; skip the ‘official’ souvenirs and shop locally for some real bargains.
The Bottom Line
Whether you are a thrill seeker who loves high octane roller coasters or you simply love laying low and soaking up some rays on the beach, Florida has everything you could ever want from a vacation destination. And if you follow the advice above, visiting the Sunshine State and getting the very most from it needn’t even break the bank!