ften have a lot of clients asking about how to plan their vacation on a budget. Whether you’re looking to plan a trip to a theme park resort like Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando Resort, sail away on a cruise, or take an all-inclusive trip to the Caribbean, there are always ways to work within a budget.
A general vacation planning rule of thumb: sometimes it will require some flexibility on the time of year or dates to get the best deal. I know families don’t always want to pull their kids out of school, but oftentimes, common vacation times are going to be some of the most expensive times to travel. This is regardless of where you’re traveling. Spring break, summer vacation, and the holidays are always going to be the most expensive (and busiest!!!) times to travel anywhere.
It’s typically best for us to talk about what your top must-haves are for your vacation and weigh the options as well as consider some alternatives… you may have your heart set on a specific island that typically costs a little more, so if we can’t find the right resort within budget, sometimes it helps to consider islands that have a similar vibe with some more budget friendly options. Same goes for if you have your heart set on a specific resort – that resort may be out of your budget for this trip but maybe we can find one that offers some of your must-haves within your price range.
If you’ve got cruising on your mind, you’re usually going to find better deals on cruises out of Florida since most ships sail out of Florida ports – but if you live in the northeast or mid-atlantic, it might actually be cheaper in the long run to book a more expensive cruise out of Boston, New York, New Jersey, or Baltimore to avoid having to fly to Florida PLUS potentially have an overnight stay in a hotel in Florida if you fly down the day before departure (which is recommended), plus the fees to get you to the port from the airport or hotel and back again after the cruise.
Shifting to the topic of the Orlando area theme parks: there’s a misconception that you’re going to save a lot of money if you stay off property. While I’m sure you can find some cheap hotels to save you money (though they’re often not hotels I’d feel comfortable booking for you as a Travel Agent if I’m not familiar with them), I also think there are several points to consider here. How are you getting from the hotel to the parks? If you’re renting a car, that’s an added expense (the rental car itself, the gas, and don’t forget about the parking fee at the parks!) plus you’ve got to find a parking spot and walk or take the tram to the front of the park… you’re losing time this way and most likely money as well. If you’re driving to Orlando and have your own car, you do have to pay to park at your resort, but then you’ll have the option of using the resort transportation for free or park at the parks with your own car (which will be free since you’re already paying to park at the resort). Some off-site hotels do offer shuttle service to the parks – but you’ll find they’re usually at set times, you’ll need a reservation to ride each day, and there’s usually a fee for each time you ride. So you’ll still be paying for transportation PLUS you won’t have any of the flexibility that you’ll have when staying at an on-site resort hotel.
You also won’t get the added perks of staying on-site at the resort – while charging purchases to your room may not be a deal breaker for most, on-site guests get the added benefit of entering the parks early. At Disney World, it’s 30 minutes before opening; at Universal Orlando, it’s an hour early. It may not seem like much, but that time is super important to getting on rides with shorter wait times first thing in the morning before everyone else gets into the parks. At Disney World, if you’re purchasing Genie+ for your vacation package to help skip the lines in the parks, you’ll be able to book your first Genie+ attraction at 7am daily – when you’re staying off-site, you can’t book your first attraction until you enter the park, making it more challenging to book the most highly coveted attractions at your preferred times.
When I’ve done the number crunching with clients considering staying off property before, we have ultimately found that it makes the most sense while still being as cost effective as possible to stay at one of the value resorts on-site, and then perhaps order some groceries to have in the room so you don’t have to buy snacks all the time. Most rooms at the value resorts at both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort only have a small fridge that isn’t meant to keep a lot of perishables chilled for an extended period of time, but you can definitely get a carton of milk and cereal for breakfast to have in your room – or if you like cereal bars and such – that eliminates an entire meal that you’d need to pay for in the parks.
Ultimately, our job as your Travel Advisor is to help you find the perfect vacation options to meet your wants and needs within your budget. We are always on your team to help make this vacation one that you’ll never forget.
Lead Travel Planner & Certified Autism Travel Professional™
Hi, I’m Aly Hirst, Lead Travel Planner with Living with the Magic Vacations! For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a Disney-obsessed gal. Even though I didn’t take many Disney vacations growing up, I can remember requesting the old vacation planning videos that Disney use to send in the mail; I would watch them over and over again to learn every nook and cranny of the Walt Disney World Resort as well as the Disneyland Resort and Disney Cruise Lines. I was thrilled to be given the opportunity in college to participate in the Disney College Program for a semester – who didn’t want to spend a semester of college living and working at the Walt Disney World Resort? (Bonus for me – I moved down to Orlando in January that year so it was the best winter escape for me from snowy New England!)