Welcome to the best city in the world, Orlando. This budget travel guide for Orlando has practical tips for enjoying the City Beautiful on a budget.
When I graduated college in 2013, I moved to Orlando for the best internship ever, The Disney College Program & then stayed here after so as a Floridian and previous Walt Disney World castmember and Universal Orlando team member I have tons of expert tips for visiting Orlando on a budget.
I often get asked “When is the best time to visit Orlando” “What tips do you have for visiting Disney and Universal Orlando” “How do I get a cheap flight to Orlando” “How do I get cheap tickets to Disney and Universal” “Where should I stay in Orlando”
So I’m going to cover everything you need to know in this expert guide to visiting Orlando on a budget. I will blog about Disney World and Universal Orlando in a separate post, otherwise this one will be super long.
First things first, when planning your trip to beautiful Orlando it is important to know that there’s more than one airport in Orlando, so depending on which airline you are flying with you may not be flying into the main airport, Orlando International Airport aka MCO. Most airlines fly to MCO, but a few budget airlines only fly to Sanford Orlando Airport aka SFB. These airports are about 45 mins from eachother, and while the flight may cost a little less to use a budget airline & fly into SFB you really want to weigh your options because SFB is pretty far, plus flying into MCO has a lot more perks and benefits, including free transportation to Walt Disney World hotels. MCO is also centrally located in Orlando making it 20-24 mins from Downtown Orlando, about 20 to 30 minutes from Walt Disney World, about 20 mins from Universal Orlando Resort, and about 15-25 mins from I-drive. SFB is about 50 mins from I-drive, so that should tell you how far it is.
Quick tip: If you’re wondering why the estimated times of arrival have such big gaps: tolls. But, I’ll tell you how to beat those pesky Orlando tolls later in this post.
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When to visit Orlando, FL:
The weather in Orlando is always perfect. (Be prepared to hear me sing the praises of Orlando this entire post, ya’ll.) You know how the rest of the country has seasons like winter, summer, spring & fall? Well, Orlando doesn’t really participate in that. We have 2 seasons. Can you guess what they are? Hot & hotter. Even though I’m a Floridian now, I am originally from Ohio so when I took my first trip to Orlando as a kid I fell in love with the weather.
But, our perfect weather, plus the endless amount of things to do here, brings us constant tourists ALL. YEAR. LONG. So the best time to visit would be when everyone else is at work and school (so try to avoid spring break, summer break & the Holidays). I’m not saying it wont be busy during those time, it just wont be as busy as it usually is. The best month to visit Orlando is September, the humidity isn’t as bad (still hot, though) the lines at the theme parks aren’t as long because everyone has gone back to school/summer vaca is over, plus with tourist numbers being lower around this time hotel prices are also lower. Plus, there’s typically discounts in every category from dining to attractions floating around during this time.
Getting around Orlando:
Depending on what you’ll be doing and how long you’ll be in Orlando the transportation method I recommend will vary.
If you’ll be in Orlando for a while and plan on going all over the city and surrounding areas then I definitely recommend getting a rental car. Taking an uber to and from the airport alone can run you about at least $60 roundtrip (that doesn’t even include the price of taking uber everywhere else you’ll be wanting go during your trip). For that price you can rent a car for an entire week, but beware of tolls! Orlando tolls are not cheap and they are EVERYWHERE! I recommend either programming your GPS to AVOID TOLLS or purchasing your own sunpass from Walgreens so you can just drive right through the toll booths without having to stop and pay the attendant or machine. Avoiding tolls will take a few mins longer, but it’ll save you money in the long run.
If you’re coming to Orlando solely for Disney then I have good news for you. First, make sure you fly into Orlando International Airport (MCO) when coming to Disney because this airport offers a free shuttle, The Magical Express, to and from all Disney World hotels. Walt Disney World also provides free shuttles between all of its hotels, theme parks, water parks & Disney Springs, so a car isn’t needed at all if you’re only coming for Disney.
Where to stay in Orlando:
There are tons of accommodation options in Orlando. If you’re traveling with a big group then truthfully an Airbnb or a vacation rental would be your best bet. You can save $40 instantly on your Airbnb stay by clicking here. If you’re coming for Disney then I definitely suggest staying at one of the many Walt Disney World hotels. They literally have options for every budget. They are broken up into value resorts, moderate resorts, and deluxe resorts. The good news is that it’s still Disney and even the value resorts, which are not expensive at all are beautiful and you still get access to all of the perks including Extra Magic Hours, The Magical Express shuttle, & the option to book your fast passes 60 days in advance. Click here to view rates & save even more on Walt Disney World Hotels.
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Where to eat in Orlando:
There are tons of good restaurants in Orlando. We have all of the typical food chains, but we also have tons of restaraunts for vegans, steak lovers, sea food lovers, everyone. But eating out for every meal can be expensive. If you’re staying in an AirBnb while in Orlando, I definitely suggest you cook majority of your meals. You will save tons of money this way. Depending on which restaurants you choose you can easily spend $30 or more dollars on each meal plus snacks during your trip, and this adds up fast especially if you’re eating out for all of your meals. That can be at least $50 per day per person on meals alone. So the better choice is to make your own meals while traveling (which is why airbnb is so popular) and cut your food budget in half. There’s nothing wrong with eating out while traveling, but I enjoy homecooked meals. Plus, when you have groceries at your condo/airbnb everyone can eat on their own terms whenever they’re ready. You don’t have to wait for everyone to get ready to go out to dinner because everything is already right there. & I don’t know about ya’ll, but when I’m hungry I’m ready to eat at that exact moment or else I get hangry lol
Foodie tip: While in Orlando there are a few things you MUST eat. You HAVE to get a Dole Whip from Walt Disney World and a Butterbeer from Universal Orlando. Also get the Big Pink Donut from Universal, it’s huge and delicious.
Fun things to do in Orlando:
If you’re coming to Orlando for any of the theme parks ALWAYS check online because often times you can save money by purchasing your tickets in advance online. Plus it’ll save you some time from waiting in those long ticket lines.
When most people think Orlando they immediately think theme parks, especially if you’re a 90’s kid like me. But theres so much more to do beyond the theme parks.
There’s tons of shopping & malls: Millenia Mall, Florida Mall, Orlando Premium Outlets, Orlando Prime Outlets. If you visit during basketball season it is worth it to go to an Orlando Magic game. The seats are pretty cheap and the games are so much fun! & If you’re looking for a beach Orlando is only an hour from Cocoa Beach, Daytona Beach, & New Smyrna Beach.
What’s your favorite tip for visiting beautiful Orlando on a budget? Be sure to share, tweet & pin this post!