In a place like Orlando, which has endless attractions and entertainment options, you might think it’s going to cost an arm and a leg (and maybe a firstborn) to have a great vacation. Luckily, you can visit Orlando on a budget and still have a fantastic vacation thanks to plenty of affordable and free activities!
After living in Orlando for 25 years, I have figured out all the best ways to save money while having a great time – and I’m here to share my secrets with you!
Here’s what we’ll cover in this budget guide (click to jump around)
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5 Tips to Do Orlando on a Budget
Tip #1 – Take Advantage of the Low Season
Most Orlando travel sites will recommend February and September as the best low-season months to travel. I find that early March, early December, and mid-January are are actually the best times to visit Orlando. A couple of weeks before or after major travel holidays are usually the least busy in Orlando.
If you’re looking for the shortest wait times and best prices at Walt Disney World, plan your visit to avoid the high season (summer and holidays). However, make sure that you are not visiting at the same time as a runDisney race, a festival at Epcot, or an after-hours event at one of the parks (like the Halloween and holiday parties). All of these can increase the crowds during your visit.
Tip #2 – Buy Ticket Packages Early
This may seem like an obvious tip, but I think it is important to mention. If you plan on visiting the theme parks, especially for multiple days, always purchase your tickets ahead of time. The major theme parks regularly offer discounted prices on multi-day tickets and the tickets are always cheaper than gate prices.
For Walt Disney World, skip the Park Hopper option on your tickets. I recommend visiting a single theme park per day. You can save the extra money for treats and souvenirs during your vacation. Even if you want to leave the park for a midday nap or meal, you will be able to return to the same park later in the day. See my Disney World pre-planned itinerary guide for a step-by-step planner.
In addition to theme park tickets, you can purchase a Go City Orlando Explorer Pass for access to smaller attractions at a discounted rate. You can choose a custom pass for your favorite attractions or a multi-day all-inclusive pass.
Tip #3 – Consider a Rental Home
If you are traveling with a large family or group of friends, I highly recommend renting a home for your Orlando vacation. A vacation home is usually cheaper than purchasing multiple hotel rooms.
I recommend looking for vacation homes in the Kissimmee area. There are a lot of great options to choose from and the area is right next to Walt Disney World (with access to major highways to quickly reach the rest of Orlando).
One of the benefits of staying in a vacation home compared to a hotel is being able to prepare your meals. A great tip is to order a meal delivery service, like Home Chef, to the vacation house for your visit. You’ll get everything you need to make a delicious meal without needing to purchase a bunch of kitchen items.
Tip #4 – Save on Food Costs
One of the largest expenses when visiting Orlando can be the food costs, especially if you are purchasing food at the theme parks. One of the best ways to save money is to avoid eating at the parks by packing your own food or stopping at a restaurant before or after your park visit. In addition, cups of water are free at all the parks or you can fill up a reusable water bottle.
For families with children, check out local restaurants that offer free or discounted kid’s meals on certain days. Or purchase a Kids Eat Free Card, which is valid at over 100 restaurants in Orlando. Another option for discounted food is to eat dinner a little early. Lots of restaurants offer happy hour specials for both drinks and small plates.
👉 Read Next: The Best Things to Do in Orlando With Kids
Tip #5 – Skip the Rental Car
One of the reasons I recommend staying on International Drive is because you can save a lot of money on transportation costs. Most of the hotels in the area will offer complimentary shuttle service to the major theme parks (just check with your hotel to see if you need to schedule pick-ups in advance).
The other advantage to staying in a hotel on International Drive is access to the I-RIDE Trolley, which offers unlimited rides for just $5/day. The trolley stops at Seaworld, Fun Spot Orlando, ICON Park, and many other attractions and restaurants.
However, you don’t need to stay on International Drive to save on money on transportation. Lots of hotels throughout Orlando will offer free or discounted shuttle services to the nearby theme parks and smaller attractions.
👉 Read Next: The Top Stuff to Do in the State of Florida
9 Cheap & Free Things to Do in Orlando
The most important part of a vacation is the activities you do. Thankfully, there are numerous things to do in Orlando, including many budget-friendly and free things to do in Orlando. You don’t need to break the bank to have fun and create lasting memories!
Old-time entertainment district
📍 Map It: 5770 W Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy, Kissimmee, FL 34746 | Phone: (407) 396-4888 | Old Town Website | Hours: 10 am – 11 pm daily
Old Town is a re-creation of a classic Florida town that has shops, restaurants, and attractions for the whole family to enjoy. While there are lots of sit-down restaurants to choose from, you also have access to plenty of affordable grab-and-go dining locations.
There is no admission cost and the venue regularly hosts free events, including classic car shows on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Every Sunday, there is an outdoor family movie shown at 7 pm. You just need to bring a blanket and enjoy laying out on the lawn. For music lovers, check the event calendar to see when one of the many live music shows is taking place.
Go-karts and thrilling attractions
Fun Spot is unique amongst theme parks because it offers free parking and free admission! Their pay-for-what-you-ride set-up allows the entire family to enjoy a day together, even when some people don’t want to partake in the attractions.
You can pay per attraction or purchase an unlimited day pass (which costs around $50). For children under 54”, the day pass includes a free “chauffeur pass,” which allows an adult to accompany the child on any attractions they cannot ride alone.
Make sure you check the hours of operation before visiting. Fun Spot has varying opening times depending on how busy the season is.
Harry P. Leu Gardens
Wander through a garden oasis
Leu Gardens boasts 50 acres of manicured botanical gardens for you to wander through and relax in. If you want to explore the entire property, including a tour of the Leu House Museum, give yourself at least 2-3 hours.
There are lots of great restaurants around Harry P. Leu Gardens and you are welcome to bring a bagged lunch to enjoy on the patio of the welcome center. However, picnics on the lawn are not allowed.
If you really want to save money, visit Leu Gardens on the first Monday of each month, when admission is free.
Historic Central Florida animal park
Gatorland is an iconic Central Florida attraction. After you walk through the photo-worthy alligator entrance, you will enter a park filled with native Florida wildlife, exotic animals, and of course, lots of alligators.
These huge reptiles are fascinating to watch and learn about. Gatorland has lots of can’t miss shows throughout the day. Make sure to catch the Jump-a-roo show and the gator wrestling show. They are both one-of-a-kind entertainment!
You can save a few dollars by purchasing your tickets online. Gatorland runs ticket specials throughout the year, so keep an eye on their website.
Outdoor mall filled with Disney magic
Disney Springs is one of the few free offerings at Walt Disney World. This destination has shops, restaurants, entertainment, and more. Parking is also free, which is a plus for the area.
Most of the restaurants at Disney Springs are moderate to expensive sit-down options. However, most of the restaurants also offer quick-service windows that have more affordable food prices.
High energy entertainment complex
CityWalk is similar to Disney Springs, but it is located next to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure theme parks. CityWalk has entertainment for all ages, but I think this is a better location for adults to hang out in the evenings.
Universal Orlando Resort only has one parking location for all the theme parks and parking costs $23/day. However, parking is free after 6 pm. Therefore, I recommend hanging out at CityWalk or making any dinner reservations after 6 pm to avoid the additional cost.
Lake Eola Park
Serene park in the heart of downtown
Lake Eola Park is Orlando’s equivalent of Central Park. You can enjoy a beautiful lake, green spaces, and walking trails in the heart of downtown Orlando. On Sunday’s you can also meander through the farmers market, which features local food and artisans.
One of the main attractions at Lake Eola is the swan boats and the live swans. You can rent a swan boat for only $15 and get an up-close look at the beautiful fountain in the center of the lake.
Add to the experience by taking advantage of all the downtown Orlando restaurants and bars within walking distance of the park. You can sit on an outdoor patio and enjoy the view.
Wekiwa Springs State Park
Natural Florida swimming hole
Wekiwa Springs State Park is the closest natural springs in Orlando, and one of my all-time favorite day trips. This is a great location to relax and enjoy the beauty of Central Florida. The springs create a natural, refreshing swimming hole.
The park also has hiking trails and canoe/kayak rentals. The rentals can be pricey, so I recommend just hanging out in the swimming area. Next to the water is a huge grassy lawn where you can sunbathe and enjoy a meal from the concession stand.
The water is a little too deep for children to stand in, so I recommend bringing a tube or floaties for the little ones. You can purchase a cheap tube from Publix, which is right down the road from the park.
👉 Want More? See my full list of free things to do in Orlando.
Resort Hopping at Disney
Explore themed resorts
This is the real way to do Disney like a local. We tend to avoid the crowds at the busy theme parks and instead enjoy our time eating, drinking, and walking around the resorts. If you are already staying at one of the Disney resorts, this is a great way to enjoy the day while saving some money.
Walt Disney World does not offer buses between the resorts, but it does offer other free transportation methods, like the monorail, boats, and the new Skyliner (a gondola ride). Thanks to these options, you can get to almost every Disney resort and three of the four parks.
One of the most well-known resort hopping activities is the “Magic Kingdom Bar Crawl.” You don’t actually go to Magic Kingdom, but you ride the monorail to the three resorts around the park. At each stop, you grab a drink and walk around the resort before heading to the next one.
👉 Want More Orlando Activities? Don’t miss my full guide to all the best stuff to do in Orlando.
Where to Stay in Orlando on a Budget
You can find affordable accommodations in any area of Orlando, but there are a couple of neighborhoods that have more options than others. You can check out my complete guide to where to stay in Orlando for a more detailed breakdown, but here is the quick summary of the best areas and places to stay on a budget:
If you plan on visiting most attractions, International Drive is the perfect central location for your budget trip to Orlando. This strip of hotels, entertainment options, bars, and restaurants gives you exactly what you need for a great vacation.
The main benefit to staying near International Drive is not needing a rental car. The I-RIDE Trolley is an affordable transportation option that can get you to Fun Spot, SeaWorld, and other attractions (in addition to the plentiful shops and restaurants). As a bonus, most hotels offer complimentary shuttle service to the theme parks.
If you plan on spending most of your vacation at Disney World, but you want to save money by staying off-property, look no further than Kissimmee. Kissimmee is known as the “back door to Disney” due to its proximity.
U.S. 192 is the main road along the south side of Disney. This used to be the main strip of hotels for families visiting Disney World in the ‘80s, but it is now home to lots of budget-friendly accommodations.
In addition to affordable hotels and motels, Kissimmee has a large vacation home market. There are plenty of homes to choose from and give your family lots of space to relax during your vacation.
At the Theme Parks
Universal Orlando Resort and Disney both offer resorts at different price points for families. The biggest advantages to staying “on-property” at the theme parks are free, easy transportation throughout the resort and early access to the parks.
Some of the affordable resorts, like Universal’s Endless Summer Resort and Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, have kitchenettes with microwaves and refrigerators. By having breakfast and snacks in your room, you can save money and spend more time enjoying your activities.
👉 Keep Reading: Check out my full guide to where to stay in Orlando.
Cheap Eats in Orlando
Orlando has become a true melting pot of cultures. The best part of this diversity is the countless cuisine offerings throughout town. There are plenty of budget-friendly food options to enjoy.
Walt Disney World
Endless magical food options
Disney truly has an endless number of food options to the point where they can be overwhelming. However, there are some hidden, budget-friendly gems if you know where to look. Some of my favorites include:
- Casey’s Corner (Magic Kingdom) – hot dogs and fries under $10
- Pecos Bill Cafe (Magic Kingdom) – entrees under $11
- Aloha Isle (Magic Kingdom) – iconic Dole Whip under $5
- Les Halles Boulangerie (Epcot) – sandwiches under $10, snacks under $5
- Kabuki Cafe (Epcot) – sushi snacks under $6
- Pizzafari (Animal Kingdom) – pizza and salad under $10
- Flame Tree Barbeque (Animal Kingdom) – platters large enough to split under $20
- Woody’s Lunchbox (Hollywood Studios) – sandwiches under $10
Chinese steamed buns
King Bao offered a selection of flavor-packed steamed buns and loaded tater tots. The individual baos cost under $4 each or you can purchase a combo of 3 baos and a drink for $9.
Simple and delicious Tex-Mex
Gringos Locos is a late-night staple in the downtown area. It is a pretty cheap option to refuel after a night at Wall St Plaza.
Stromboli’s New York Pizzeria
Authentic New York pies
📍 Map It: 13518 Summerport Village Pkwy, Windermere, FL 34786 | Phone: (407) 654-5291 | Stromboli’s Website | Price Range: $$
With a price point under $20 for a large pie, these made-to-share pizzas will delight the entire family. In addition, find pizzeria favorites like calzones and, of course, strombolis.
Hot sandwiches and cold beer
Offering sandwiches, salads, and flatbreads, the Gnarly Barley is a local joint that pairs delicious, affordable eats with cold beer.
***As of September 2021, the Gnarly Barley is temporarily closed while it moves to its new location. The new location is expected to open this fall.
Hot Krust Panini Kitchen
Affordable pressed sammies
There is nothing better than the first crunchy bite of a hot panini. At Hot Krust, all paninis are under $10, so you’ll want to come back again and again.
Ana’s Brazilian Kitchen
Authentic homestyle Brazilian cuisine
📍 Map It: 8865 Commodity Cir Suite 5, Unit 101, Orlando, FL 32819 | Phone: (407) 760-3240 | Ana’s Website | Price Range: $$
Orlando is lucky to boast a thriving Brazilian population, which gives us delicious authentic food. Ana’s Brazilian Kitchen is an affordable option to enjoy some traditional cuisine.
Simple Venezuelan delights
I love Venezuela arepas, and Q’Kenan has the best in town! Their arepas and empanadas are filling and affordable (all less than $7). Get the cheese empanada, you won’t regret it.
📍 Map It: 1508 E Buena Vista Dr B22, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830 | Phone: (407) 318-9128 | Blaze Website | Price Range: $
Blaze offers counter-service signature and create-your-own pizzas. This is a great option for a family who can never decide on which pizza to order. Most of the personal pizzas cost only $10.
Earl of Sandwich
A Disney Springs icon
Earl of Sandwich has been located at Disney Springs for as long as I can remember. I used to get lunch from here when I worked at “Downtown Disney” 10 years ago. All the sandwiches are under $10. I recommend the Turkey Holiday sandwich, which has a cult following amongst Disney fans.
FAQs About Budgeting for Orlando
Can you do Orlando on a budget?
You can easily visit Orlando on a budget. The wide variety of accommodations and attractions allows you to customize your vacation to fit any budget.
How much should I budget for Orlando?
An affordable budget for a week-long trip to Orlando for two people is $1500-$3000, depending on which and how many attractions you plan to visit. Taking advantage of free hotel transportation and continental breakfasts can help to save money.
What is the cheapest way to plan a trip to Orlando?
The easiest and cheapest way to plan a trip to Orlando is by working backward. Determine your budget first and then choose your activities. With the remaining budget, you can choose your hotel and dining options.
How do you do Disney Orlando on a budget?
To visit Disney on a budget, purchase a ticket package in advance. The per-day price will be cheapest when you buy a multi-day ticket and skip the Park Hopper option. Bring your own food and a reusable water bottle to the parks to save on food costs. Buy souvenirs at local grocery stores and convenience stores instead of at the parks.
As you can see, Orlando is filled with budget-friendly options for a great vacation.
Before you leave, 👉 be sure not to miss my list of the best stuff to do in Orlando for a complete breakdown of the best things to do in town.