I have been pondering how to write a post about saving money in the Orlando area for quite some time now, and have decided that it is going to warrant more than one post! Our family has been to the Orlando area two times. The first time we went in 2008, and we went again this year. Our first trip was our biggest, and at the time, I thought it would be our only trip there. I planned for nearly nine months; the six of us spent 9 days, but we did EVERYTHING, and that's not too much of an exaggeration! So, here are a few tips from someone who's been there, done that...I would LOVE to get your input on this one so that we can all help each other.
Next to theme park tickets, crazily enough, one of your biggest expenses will be food. This is often something that we don't plan well for enough, if at all, and the theme parks count on this. Once you are inside the parks, there will be a great temptation to pull out the credit card and spend $50-$75 or more per meal. I know for many folks, eating out is a big part of the vacation, and they'll go in extra debt to do it. It's very hard to say "NO" when you are at the happiest place on earth! Resist! Personally, I would rather spend my money seeing/doing something new and save in the food department...and then enjoy myself the day the credit card bill arrives. While I may be a minority on this, I can give you some great tips on how to save. Many of these are from experience, a few from others:
1. Stay off site in one of the bazillion hotels close by and get one that has free breakfast included! Eat a lot for breakfast!!
2. Be sure to fill up your refillable coffee mug that you brought with you while you are at breakfast!
2. Get a hotel/rent a home that at minimum has a mini-fridge and a microwave, if not a full kitchen and take advantage of them! The second time we went, I had a voucher for a free hotel stay, and it didn't have either. The first thing we did was make a Wal-Mart run and I bought a cheap styrofoam cooler, milk and a few other frig items. We used ice from the ice machines in the hotel. Saved a BUNCH of money.
4. If you are flying, consider ordering a case or two of water or juice from Sam's, Cosco, Walmart or Amazon and having it shipped to your hotel...no baggage fees! Drinks are incredibly overpriced everywhere you go.
5. If I understand correctly, you are now allowed to bring food into the Disney theme parks (woot!). This will be a great help to us frugal types who think that paying 4 bucks for Coke is highway robbery. Eat your big breakfast at the hotel, bring lunch into the park, and eat supper after you leave the park.
6. Before you go, purchase an attractions book for the Orlando area. http://www.attractionsbook.com/ This will give you lots of dining options.
7. Also check at http://www.restaurant.com/ for some great deals in Orlando.
8. If you don't want to carry around a water bottle, you can ask for a cup of water at a restaurant. They should give you a cup for free even if you aren't buying a meal.
9. If you do carry a water bottle, consider packing some individual flavor packs in your purse to add a little flavor to your day.
10. If you are driving, (or even flying), consider bringing your crock-pot to the hotel. Another option is buying one at a thrift store when you get there. At your first Wal-Mart run, buy canned soups, pastas or other easy crock-pot heat-ables from the deli section of the grocer and a loaf of fresh bread. Voila! A nice, inexpensive warm meal waiting for you when you get back at night! (I've never had a problem with the hotel staff on this one.)
11. The greater Orlando area has some lovely free parks and gardens (another post). Consider packing a picnic lunch and heading out for a day of reprise in the midst of the chaos.
12. If you are driving, stop at one of the many visitor centers when you cross into Florida and pick up lots of free visitor guides that are filled with coupons. Don't forget your free cup of OJ!
13. Go to http://www.plasticjungle.com/ and look for restaurant gift cards at a discount. Combine these with coupons you picked up and you have an even better deal.
14. Water fountains are a requirement. Enjoy.
If you do choose to stay on site:
15. On-site hotels often offer a deal where you buy a souvenir beverage mug the first day of your trip and get free refills (at your resort only) during the length of your stay. This little perk can save significant bucks if you prefer to get soda or coffee. However, bringing your own is still cheaper, and it's a long walk back to your resort!
16. Make lunch your big meal of the day. If you'd like to try some of the nicer Disney World or Universal restaurants, especially those in Epcot's World Showcase (the best place to eat at the parks, IMHO), book them midday, when prices are considerably lower than for evening hours.
17. Consider sharing entrees, which are typically huge. Kids can eat off mom and dad's plate.
18. Obviously be on the lookout for restaurants offering deals where kids eat free.
19. Want to try a classy, atmospheric restaurant? Book a 3 P.M. seating time and just have dessert. You'll experience the ambiance, get a pleasant sugar high and spend far less than the cost of a full meal.
20. Check out http://www.mousesavers.com/ and http://www.affordingthemouse.com/ for other ideas!
As I mentioned, I'd really love your input on this! Any other ideas on ways to save on food??
Thanks for continuing to vote for me! Much appreciated:)