Yes, you can travel to Orlando, Florida, last minute (during Canadian March Break no less) and have a cheap vacation. Here’s how we did it.
Fairfield Inn Suites by Marriott Orlando at SeaWorld, a TripAdvisor Award of Excellence Winner.
TownePlace Suites Orlando at SeaWorld, rated 4.5 our of 5 on TripAdvisor.
Holiday Inn Express Suites Orlando at SeaWorld, a TripAdvisor Award of Excellence Winner.
Springhill Suites Orlando at SeaWorld, a TripAdvisor Award of Excellence Winner.
All Canadians take pride in being able to say that winter doesn’t bother them, but even the hardiest of Canucks will tell you that when it’s been a long, cold winter there’s nothing like escaping to Florida for a week of warmth and sunshine.
Such was the case recently when my wife and I decided that, despite our original intention of not heading south this winter, we could use a seven-day dose of Florida sun. There was just one problem. We hadn’t planned on this trip, so we hadn’t budgeted for it.
Naturally, as a member of the ThriftyTourist.ca staff, my goal was to do a nice Florida vacation that was as inexpensive as possible. I’m happy to report, that’s exactly what we did. Here’s how.
Since we were travelling last minute, we decided that our best bet at landing a cheap flight to and from Florida for our vacation would be if we chose Orlando, Florida as our destination since it’s the most visited city in Florida. We immediately jumped on Kayak and Expedia to check out the cost of flights.
We live near Toronto, so we investigated flying out of Pearson International Airport first. Prices for flights were around $1300 each, CDN, return, for a total of $2600 CDN. We had had luck in the past getting a cheaper flight to Orlando, Florida by flying out of Buffalo on Southwest, so we checked that next. Bingo.
We were able to score airfare for $545 US each, return, for a total of $1090 US. With the exchange rate, the cost of flights combined worked out to $1475 CDN. We drove ourselves to the Buffalo Airport and back, which cost us a tank of gas ($50 CDN), and we had to pay for a week of parking ($100 CDN). So after subtracting those two costs, our bottom line savings on our cheap flights to Orlando, Florida equaled $975 CDN. Kaching!
Figuring out where we wanted to stay was dependent on what we wanted to do in Orlando, Florida. Our main objectives were to relax, lounge, swim, see some animals, not think too much and try and be as thrifty as we could with our budget. Doing Disney or Universal did not fit this profile. We had been to both parks in the past and really had no desire to deal with the crowds and all that walking. Agreeing on this steered us into a direction that checked off all the boxes for a cheap vacation to Orlando Florida.
As anyone who has visited an Orlando theme park knows, the cost of admission can get pretty steep especially when you’re visiting multiple parks. Here’s where we scored a nice price break.
We each bought a Discovery Cove – Day Resort Package ticket. This gave us access, for one-day, to Discovery Cove where we could see dolphins and exotic birds, go snorkeling, float down a lazy river, have breakfast and lunch included plus unlimited snacks and drinks throughout the day. But that’s not all.
Our Discovery Cove – Day Resort Package tickets also included 14 days of unlimited visits to SeaWorld, where we could see animals and go on rides, and 14 days of unlimited visits to the Aquatica waterpark and its waterslides, lazy rivers and wave pool.
To visit these two Orlando, Florida parks individually would have cost us $150 US for two tickets to SeaWorld and $120 US for two tickets to Aqautica. So, if we had bought admission to each of the three parks separately, it would have cost us $300 US (Discovery Cove) + $150 US (SeaWorld) + $120 US (Aqautica) for a total of $570 US, which, with the exchange rate, equals approximately $740 CDN.
Instead though we purchased the Discovery Cove – Day Resort Package tickets for $163 US each, gaining access to all three of the Orlando, Florida parks, for a combined price of $326 US. With the exchange rate, it equaled approximately $470 CDN, a savings of $100. But, we actually saved even more money because we visited the Aquatica waterpark on four days. Four trips to the Aquatica waterpark would have cost us $120 X 4 = $480 US, which equals approximately $625 CDN.
In total we visited the parks six times. When you divide that into what we paid in Canadian dollars for our Discovery Cove – Day Resort Package tickets, the cost of our daily park excursions was less than $40 CDN per person per day. One thing to note: the price tickets to Discovery Cove vary throughout the year, so the cost for your ticket may be more or less than what we paid.
Discovery Cove, SeaWorld and Aquatica are all very close to each other. With this in mind, our goal was to see if we could get a nice Orlando, Florida hotel that was (a) affordably-priced and (b) located as near as possible to the parks so that we wouldn’t have to rent a car for the week.
To investigate this, we went on Google Maps to see which Orlando, Florida hotels were nearby. It turned out there were four hotels that were across the street from SeaWorld (on the same street International Drive) and within a 15-20 minute walk from all three parks.
The hotels were the TownePlace Suites by Marriott Orlando at SeaWorld, Holiday Inn Express & Suites Orlando at SeaWorld, SpringHill Suites by Marriot Orlando at SeaWorld and the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Orlando at SeaWorld.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this write-up, our decision to go to Orlando, Florida for a cheap vacation was somewhat last minute so we didn’t get a super price on the hotel. We did our investigating on Expedia and then booked the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Orlando at SeaWorld, on the AirMiles website, for an average nightly rate of $178 CDN.
We didn’t have enough AirMiles points to book the hotel for the entire week, so we paid for the week instead. We did however earn 235 AirMiles points for booking our hotel through the AirMiles website.
By booking a hotel that meant all three parks were easily accessible on foot, we accomplished our goal of not having to rent a car for the week which saved us between $300-$400 CDN, according to the Budget Rent-A-Car website.
Another great thing about our hotel location was there were two drugstores (Walgreens and CVS) across the street which made it convenient for sunscreen, snacks and souvenirs (I was able to buy a t-shirt for $9.99 US). There was also a Publix grocery store that was a 15-20 minute walk away.
Dinner time was convenient too. Across from our hotel was a TGIFs, Buffalo Wild Wings, Mellow Mushroom Pizza, Panera Bread, Applebees, Wendy’s, KFC, a Thai restaurant, a Chinese restaurant and a Starbucks.
Breakfast was included with our hotel booking, so we never had to go out for the most important meal of the day. Instead, every morning of our affordable, Orlando, Florida vacation we started out with a hearty, healthy hot and cold breakfast.
Buying lunch at any Orlando, Florida theme park is an expensive proposition. Cheap food is not something you see on the menu. A drink and a burger and fries can easily set you back $15 US. So what did we do? We brought a knapsack each day and loaded it up with snacks and bottled water.
Because our hotel included breakfast we were able to snag a free banana, apple and bagel to bring along for lunch. We went across the street to the CVS and bought a 12-pack of bottled water ($2.99), cheese strings, a multi-pack of mini Kit Kat bars and some trail mix to round out our lunch menu.
By packing our own lunch we saved $25 US a day ($32.50 CDN) on food and drinks. Times that by six days and that’s a total savings of $195 CDN on lunches. Not too shabby.
Without having a rental car, we had to find a way to get from the Orlando Airport to our hotel, which was approximately 17 miles away. We took an Uber.
Our flight arrived at the Orlando Airport in Florida at around 10:30 PM, so the cost of the Uber to our hotel was $30 US (I’m assuming because there weren’t as many Uber driver’s working at that time of the night).
To catch our flight home, we had to leave the hotel for the airport at 1:30 in the afternoon. In this case, the cost of that Uber was only $20 US. The cheapest other way to get to the Orland Airport from our hotel was the SuperShuttle. It was going to be $30 US, so we went for the money-saving Uber option instead.
On a few nights we scored some great deals on dinner. Between 5:00-7:00 PM, TGIFs and Buffalo Wild Wings had some awesome deals on food and drinks. One night we went to TGIFs after 10:00 PM and they had half-price appetizers as well.
We also saved approximately $30 US on our Discovery Cove – Day Resort Package tickets by purchasing them through a website called the Undercover Tourist. This website is long-established and also sells discounted tickets to other Orlando-based theme parks like Disney and Universal too.
We had planned to explore International Drive in the evenings, where there are a wide variety of attractions, restaurants, clubs, and a couple of outlet malls but we never got around to doing it. If we had we would have bought a ticket or pass on the iRide trolley. It’s a great deal. A single-ride ticket is just $2.00 US. A one-day pass, which entitles you to unlimited off and on privileges, is just $5.00 US a person. They also sell three-day, five-day and seven-day passes which will reduce the cost of your ride ever further. The iRide trolley stopped right outside our hotel, so it was super convenient too.
If you end up staying in one of the four hotels where we stayed during our cheap vacation to Orlando, Florida and you’re planning to go to check out International Drive, visit the Gifts & Tourist Info store located next door the Mellow Mushroom Pizza restaurant, first. They can a bunch of complimentary discounts and free drink and appetizer coupons for many of the businesses located on International Drive.
Considering our vacation to Orlando, Florida was a last minute trip, it ended up being everything we wanted it to be—relaxing, fun, and affordable.
One great way to save on local fun things to do in Orlandois to peruse Groupon, the money-saving website that features local discounts in 150 cities. Visit the Orlando “Things to Do” Groupon page or Orlando “Food and Drink” Groupon page and you’ll find savings of anywhere from 40-90% on attractions, tours, boat cruises, theatre tickets, dinner spots and accommodations. The Groupon Orlando pages are a smart place to start when you’re first planning your trip and even when you’re in the middle of your Orlando visit because new deals get added weekly and even daily many times.
Be thrifty and practical! This information was accurate when published, but can change without notice. We recommend you confirm all details with the provider in question before planning your excursion.
Photo Credits: Southwest, Discovery Cove, TripAdvisor, Undercover Tourist, VisitOrlando.com.