From the sandy shores of the Gulf of Mexico to the bustling Miami nightlife; from the laid back luxury of Key West to Orlando’s world-famous theme parks, there’s so much to do and see in Florida that the hardest part may be deciding exactly where to go. The next hardest part, of course, is paying for it. There’s a reason so many people visit the sunshine state (and the reason that so many visitors eventually end up moving there upon retirement). Florida is warm all year round, there are as many golf courses as there are alligators, and with more than 1,350 miles of coastline, it offers the most beach of any state in the continental United States. California is a distant second with 840 miles of coastline.
In other words, there is endless opportunity to vacation all year round virtually anywhere in Florida. But Florida is also famously expensive. Whether you’re sitting down to a fancy dinner at Delray Beach or you’re shelling out for a hotel at the heart of Panama City during spring break, it’ll cost you. And if you’re going to Florida for the reason that most people go to Florida—which is to see Disney World—you’d better believe it’ll cost you.
By the way, if the Magic Kingdom does figure into your plans, we strongly advise checking out our 10 Ways to Save on a Disney Vacation.
If you’re looking for ways to save no matter where you’re going in Florida, read on…
1. Travel During Off-Peak Months
This is usually the first thing we advise no matter where you’re going. But the advice is a bit more nuanced when it comes to Florida. This is because Florida is a popular tourist destination all year long.
This probably why different online travel sites identify completely different peak and off-peak travel seasons. Creative Travel Guide says that the peak season for visiting Florida generally falls between April and November. This includes the massive influx of younger visitors during spring break and accounts for the countless families that travel down to Florida for theme park based vacations while their kids are off from school in the summer.
Frommers, by notable contrast, warns that “hotel rates can more than double from mid-December to April. Keep in mind also that many airlines have deep-discount promotional fares to Florida during the off-season.”
If you’re getting mixes messages, so are we. So what’s the takeaway? Mostly that fares and hotel rates vary throughout the year depending on certain factors. Be sure to avoid the period that overlaps with college Spring Break (usually late March through April); avoid the winter holiday season (generally between early December the New Year); and avoid the high summer months like June and July, when most kids are out of school.
Late August is typically a great time to visit because so many kids are returning to school. However, this comes with a couple of important caveats. First and foremost, the summer months in Florida can be exceedingly hot. If you plan to travel during this time, be prepared for some pretty fierce temperatures. Indeed, you may want to schedule a number of enjoyable indoor activities.
Beyond that, most travel sites do agree that January and February are great times to visit Florida. The temperatures are milder, the crowds are smaller, flight and hotel rates are lower, and it’s a great way to escape the cold temperatures at home.
2. Price Compare Airports
It goes without saying that you’re comparing flight prices. Different carriers offer different deals to Florida, and if you’re traveling from most places in the U.S., affordable flights can be plentiful as long as you know when and where to look. Flying on off-peak days and hours can also help. But there is also a strategy unique to Florida. The Sunshine State has an unusual preponderance of airports. Florida is a massive state with numerous metropolitan areas. As a result, there are airports everywhere.
Depending on your destination, there may be at least two to three different airports that you can fly into, and prices may indeed vary. So be sure that you do a full scan for airports near your intended starting point. If you’re willing to be flexible about where you land, you could save a lot of money on flights.
3. Get the Discounts You Deserve
Make sure that you inquire about special discounts every step of the way from booking flights and hotels to securing performance tickets and theme park passes. Most of the biggest attractions in Florida feature special pricing for visitors of every background.
Creative Travel Guide says “Always ask about discounts: corporate, students, military, auto club, senior citizen, and so on. Most airlines, car-rental firms, accommodations, attractions, and even some restaurants offer such price breaks but don’t necessarily volunteer the information. Be sure to bring identification or your group membership card with you. Most Florida activities and attractions offer discounts, but you’ll need a valid ID to qualify for the bargain rates.”
Do your research in advance, book experiences ahead of time, and make sure you have all the proper documentation you’ll need to take advantage of these deals.
4. Stock Up On Coupons
In addition to discounts that are designed for specialized groups, most of the top attractions in Florida actually carry discounts for all visitors. You just have to know where to look for them. For starters, don’t ignore those old-fashioned paper brochures that you see in hotels lobbies, visitor’s centers, and tourism board offices. There are valuable savings hidden within.
Creative Travel Guide says that “The ubiquitous give-away booklets (such as Florida on the Go) you’ll see in racks at the tourist information offices and elsewhere may look like junk mail, but they’re loaded with discount coupons you can use at hotels, motels, restaurants, and attractions throughout the state.”
Gather up anything that looks interesting and scan for cut-out coupons. You’ll generally get a few dollars off the entry to most attractions. It’s usually not much, but when you’re traveling, every dollar counts.
You should also reach out to the local Chamber of Commerce for any of your planned destinations to ask about coupons and discounts that might not be listed online or elsewhere. The friendly and helpful information desk workers at most destinations will be happy to answer your questions and point you in the direction of great deals that might not be listed in the brochures.
5. Get Your Theme Park Merch Offsite
Planning to go to one of Florida’s countless amazing theme parks? Because of the warm weather year-round, most of these theme parks are open to visitors in all seasons. But they aren’t cheap. And nothing that you’ll buy inside of these theme parks is cheap either. That goes doubly for the merchandise your kids will beg you to buy at Disney World or Legoland. Don’t be fooled by theme park prices.
According to Live Share Travel, you can actually save a lot of money on that kitschy merch that tells everybody you’ve been to Florida. You just have to buy your souvenirs outside of the theme park gates. While the theme parks have all kinds of cool branded souvenirs, you can usually find the same exact stuff for just a little less outside of Disney, Universal, Sea World, or any of Florida’s other super popular tourist attractions.
Live Share Travel, says “if you’re looking for souvenirs, venture off the parks and visit the Disney Character Warehouse at the Orlando Premium Outlets or Walmart for themed merchandise – at a fraction of the cost.”
6. Pack Your Own Lunch
Food is another thing that should cost you a whole lot less if you get it outside of the theme parks. If you’re traveling with children and your plans largely involve hitting highlights like Legoland and Busch Gardens, you could save a ton by prepping food and bringing it along.
According to Frommers, “Most parks allow you to bring in outside food, so bringing in food and water shouldn’t be an issue. If trying the park food is important to you, you can limit yourself to one meal per day in the parks. Plan your meals ahead of time by researching restaurants in the area, reading reviews, and picking a select few dining experiences you feel are truly worth the price.”
Get yourself a good insulated travel backpack so you can bring food with you and picnic in the theme parks. It beats waiting in line and paying top dollar for fast-food.
7. Check Out Florida’s Many State Parks
Now that you have a good insulated backpack, fill it up with supplies and hike one of Florida’s many stunning state parks or wildlife preserves. While things like food, lodging, and nightlife can be costly in Florida, one thing that isn’t costly is the state’s amazing array of natural attractions. A few great outdoors experiences can really help to offset the crowds and cost of those busy theme parks. In fact, many state parks can be accessed for nothing at all.
According to Florida Travel Blog, it’s wise to “Check around the area where you plan to stay for a state park. Admission varies from a couple dollars to a carload of people for 5 bucks! The Florida Parks system has 175 places that have springs, rides, water sports, exhibits, tours and much more. All are inexpensive family fun.”
Check out this directory of Florida State Parks to find a natural attraction near your destination.
8. Go Somewhere a Little More Low Key
As we mentioned, Florida has a ton of options wherever you plan to go in this massive state. And while places like Miami, Orlando, Key West, and Disney World are notoriously expensive, there are also countless lesser known destinations in Florida that offer their own little slice of paradise. Instead of vacationing where most tourists flock each year, trying seeking out a hidden gem like Dunedin—where the Toronto Blue Jays conduct their Spring Training; Perdido Key—with pristine, white-sand beaches at the northwestern edge of the state; or Amelia Island—a world-class destination for seafood lovers.
Like anywhere else in Florida, you can find both expensive and affordable ways to experience any one of these places. But by choosing a destination a little out of the ordinary, you can avoid the kinds of crowds that drive up prices for everything from flights and hotels to shopping and restaurants.
9. Ask Your Hotel About Bundling Amenities
Once you’ve chosen a destination, it’s time to start working deals. If you plan to stay in one of Florida’s countless hotels or resorts, you may have access to more than just the amenities on the grounds. Many hotels have partnerships with attractions and vendors in their region. You may be able to bundle the cost of several desirable experiences with your hotel room and enjoy a reduced rate on both lodging and activities.
According to Frommers, you should “Inquire about golf, tennis, and other packages. Many Florida establishments offer them, and you will pay less than if you ante up separately for the room and activities. Sometimes you can even get a rental car thrown in. We’ve mentioned the hotels and resorts that regularly offer package deals in the accommodations listings in this book. Their offers change frequently, however, so you’ll have to ask.”
10. Join Hotel Rewards Clubs
And while you’re at it, don’t forget to join the rewards club for any hotel you might be considering. While you can sometimes save money by bundling through online travel agency sites like Priceline and Booking.com, often the very best deals on rooms and suites are available only when you book directly through the hotel. Go online and sign up for a few hotel loyalty programs—it’s generally free—and factor any resulting discounts or perks into your price comparison.
Thinking of driving to Florida? We love a good road trip. But gas is extremely expensive right now. Before you hit the road, take a look at these 6 Ways to Save on Gas With a Credit Card.