Orlando budget vacation – our itinerary

Our family holiday in the winter sun

We visit Florida every year to look after our private villa, so we often want to have an Orlando budget vacation and just enjoy the winter sun without too much stress or theme park expense.  In this post I will go through our basic itinerary so you can get some ideas for your own Florida holiday.

Step 1: Book our villa – we’re not joking!


Orlando budget vacation: Fantastic morning view from your villa in the Florida winter sun

Clearly we are biased, but it’s impossible to do Orlando on a budget without having your own family base.  Renting a villa saves a huge amount of money when all types expenses are considered.  You can stay in (or pop to the community tennis courts), enjoy the pool, sunbathe, cook your own meals (when you feel like it), entertain yourself in the games room, or just laze your day away reading a book.

All of this with the same sort of costs as being at home.  Just add food and drink to your private villa’s refrigerator and cupboards!


Relaxing underwater in our heated pool and spa

In the evenings once the little ones are asleep you can turn on the spa and crack open a domestic beer or chilled wine – as long as you’ve remembered to pop in to Publix or Walmart and stock up on essentials.  If you’re all watered-out then how about winding down with your family and friends inside with a mini-party and checking out what’s on the HD Cable for a few hours?


Say cheese – the Burton family enjoying their pool in Tuscan Ridge

We’ve had a few guest book comments telling us that their children learnt to swim in our pool.  Kids don’t seem to be able to get enough of the water and sometimes they don’t want to be at a theme park all day when they can be messing around in their own pool.  Send a pool selfie back to your friends at home to make them jealous.  Why not?

Staying in and enjoying our private villa in Tuscan Ridge: total of 4 days for free.

Step 2: Restaurants and Disney hotels are a theme park in themselves

Everything in Orlando’s Disney World is completely overwhelming and finished to an incredibly high standard for holidaymakers.  Their hotels and restaurants are a perfect example of this.

Pop down to Downtown Disney (soon to be Disney Springs) to sample the T-Rex and Rainforest cafe menus. You don’t have to buy the biggest steak on the menu – the three of us were full up on a kid’s meal and sampler menu. There are also some little rides to sample and lots of entertainment in the form of Disney characters. You can also catch the ferry over to the Boardwalk from the top end of Downtown Disney.


Enjoying the T-Rex cafe surroundings


Outside the Rainforest Cafe in Downtown Disney

With a full stomach it’s time to whizz off to some of the better Disney hotels to enjoy the surroundings and extreme scale.  We recommend the Art of Animation (full of the Cars cast including Lightning McQueen) and Animal Kingdom Lodge, complete with it’s own safari viewing area.

Enjoying Disney hotels and restaurants: total of 2 days for less than $150 worth of food between three of us.



Lightning McQueen at Art of Animation


Outside the Yacht club hotel in Disney

Step 3: Enjoy the theme parks and attractions that are better value

You don’t have to blow the budget on the Disney and Universal theme parks all the time.  There are plenty of areas to enjoy that aren’t $100 a pop.  Try Gatorland for a unique view of Florida’s alligators, or the Florida state parks for an adventurous day out in the wild.

One of he biggest Aligators in Gatorland Florida

One of the biggest Aligators in Gatorland Florida


Riding a Gator at Gatorland – great parenting!

Enjoying Gatorland and other lower priced parks: total of 2 days and less than $100 for a family of three

Step 4: Take advantage of Seaworld’s return visit offers

Personally our family enjoy Seaworld, despite the ongoing controversy surrounding the park.  They have a wonderful Christmas theme in December and if you take advantage of their return visit for $10 a person you can spread out the park over a couple of visits. There is easily enough to do in Seaworld to last two full days.


Shamu’s Christmas show


Dolphins at Seaworld


Our boy Rowan meeting Shamu at the Christmas themed days

Seaworld: total of 2 days and $150 for the three of us

Step 5: Hire or rent the biggest car you can (maybe not an Orlando budget vacation)!

OK, maybe this is contrary to the idea of an Orlando budget vacation, but sometimes you can get a lot of fun out of having the biggest and best car you can get from your car hire company – and just enjoying the driving out in Florida. Sometimes you can drive a bargain at the Airport, so hold out and negotiate for a Cadillac Escalade next time!


Cadillac Escalade in front of Dave’s Florida Villa

Orlando budget vacation - car hire

Car rental – Little and Large

Step 6: Get out and about around the Four Corners area

Shopping at malls (it’s easy to get carried away with the shopping in Florida – we prefer the Mall At Millenia), enjoying the picturesque Celebration, travelling out to see the classic American cars at Old Town, Historic Kissimmee, or even further afield at Florida’s gorgeous beaches, it’s all completely free apart from the cost of the fuel to get there.

Celebration, Kissimmee, Malls, Old Town: total of 4 days and less than $40 for the bike hire and fairground rides!



Old Town Cruise night


Splish splash in the public fountains at Celebration


Enjoying a 2 seater bicycle in Celebration

We hope this has given you inspiration for your next holiday to Florida – just make sure you contact us first to book our Florida Villa.

Florida Holiday Hints and Tips – Car Hire

Getting out and about in Florida to see the attractions almost always requires a rental / hire car, especially if you rent a villa. Only the central hotels and Disney hotels run shuttles to and from Disney, Universal and Seaworld, and even this limits when and where you can visit if you don’t have a car rental. Public transport is limited.

Hire or rental is generally cheap, we paid around £20 a day for a compact 4 door car in 2012. Watch out for the convertibles – great for 2 people but with a family the boot can often end up too small for all the luggage. Our Ford Mustang on one visit only had room for 2 large suitcases. You also won’t get a guaranteed model unless you go to a specialist, so that dream Mustang you always wanted relies on a bit of luck! Dollar gave us a Mustang in Vegas and Orlando but it does depend on who their supplier is.

When you turn up at the airport be sure to send a member of your party in advance to the hire / car rental desk. Orlando international airport run an annoying double baggage pickup system where you have to abandon your cases (again) to go on the train between terminals. Very frustrating. If you send an advance party you can avoid the queues at the hire car desks, which can be large, and save time. The car hire desks are one floor below where you arrive into the airport lounge.

Watch out for extras. Especially when you’re tired after a flight and only want to get home to your Florida Villa! We were once sold extra insurance we didn’t need, and specifically told we needed it. If this is the case then complain and get a refund at the end – it worked for us.

A car seat is expensive so take your own as the infant luggage allowance. We put ours in a cardboard box for the plane hold.

Sat Nav generally costs the same as buying a unit. Don’t bother – we found everywhere we needed without using a sat nav, there aren’t that many roads you need to use in Florida. It can add to the fun and atmosphere of the holiday!

Toll pass – we didn’t bother with toll roads and especially not the toll pass. It’s only a pain getting to and from the airport, but still can be avoided. The main I-4 is not a toll road. If you are venturing further then maybe consider it for long distances.

So once you’re done then exit the airport and the car rental place is across the first road and on the ground floor of the car park. Easy enough. Be careful exiting the airport and read ahead with the signs – Florida signs often don’t give much advance warning!

Getting around with a hire car is very easy. You will probably get annoyed with all the red lights – especially on the 192 (a reason why we picked a Tuscan Ridge location for our disneyworld villa) but remember you can turn right on a red signal unless there are specific signs saying “no turn on red”. Fuel is cheap (just over 2 GBP per US Gallon) but the cars use more fuel especially with all the stop start driving.

Watch out for rain storms – the roads get incredibly slippy as soon as it rains.

Just remember you are on holiday and relax when you take to the road!