20 Secret Bargains of Orlando
When taxes are toted up, the cost of admission to an Orlando theme park-the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Universal Studios Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida, Animal Kingdom, Disney-MGM Studios, or SeaWorld-now amounts to a surprising $48.76 per adult, for one day. Children pay $39.22. While you can reduce the pain a bit by purchasing a multiday ticket, the outlay remains sizable-and unavoidable. Consequently, it has never been more important for a cost-conscious visitor (especially a family) to reduce all the other costs of an Orlando stay-airfare, housing, meals, local transport, and evening entertainment-as much as possible. And that's where we come in. One of us is an actual resident of Orlando, the other a frequent visitor. Together, we've been storing up those cost-saving strategies and tactics for more years than we care to remember, and here's what we've learned:
Note: unless otherwise indicated, you'll need to dial 407 before all the numbers below (even when you're in the Orlando area itself).
1. Timing is everything
The low-cost Orlando off-season is more complex and scattered than in other tourist locales. Lowest visitor figures (and therefore lowest general prices) are in the several weeks just after Thanksgiving and immediately prior to Christmas. The period after Labor Day and up to just before Thanksgiving is almost as slow. January, immediately after the New Year's holiday, is relatively quiet. But things pick up considerably in mid-February and zoom into high gear in March and April. May is so-so; June, July, and August are peak. Schedule your trip for the quiet times, and you'll pay way less than other visitors for rooms and more.
2. A timely package
The pricing of airline packages follows the ups and downs of traffic to Orlando, dipping considerably in quiet months. Thus, in the low-season month of May (and in later off-season times, too), a US Airways Vacations package (call 800/451-6767, usairwaysvacations.com) for round-trip air and six nights in an EconoLodge one mile from the entrance to Disney World, can cost as little as $346 per person from New York, $394 from Chicago, and $311 out of Nashville (many other gateways available on request). But the same air-and-land rates jump in June, July, and August, and then come down in fall.
3. Fly to Melbourne and save
The little-known airport at Melbourne, Florida, 75 minutes by rental car from Orlando, occasionally features airfares lower than those you'd pay to Orlando. We stress "occasionally," not always. It pays to check the fares to Melbourne (like those rock-bottom rates on Spirit Airlines from New York's LaGuardia, phone 800/772-7117, or on Delta Air Lines via its hub in Atlanta) whenever you plan an Orlando trip. And when you check airfares to Orlando, not Melbourne, you should always try the various cut-rate carriers flying there, not only Southwest (800/435-9792), AirTran (800/247-8726), Sun Country (800/752-1218), and the like, but also those low-fare subsidiaries of the biggies: Delta subsidiary Delta Express (800/221-1212) and US Airways subsidiary MetroJet (800/428-4322).
4. Come equipped with a discount card
Before your trip, send for a free "Orlando Magicard," which grants discounts (in some cases up to 50 percent) to parties of up to six people when presented at 83 businesses as far afield as Daytona Beach and Cape Canaveral, including attractions, accommodations, restaurants, car rentals, and shopping malls. Call 800/643-9492 or 407/363-5872 (or log onto Go2orlando.com), and the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau will mail you the credit-card-size Magicard along with lots of other useful information about central Florida.
5. The Good Book also saves
Another moneysaver, which costs $30 but can save you more than the Magicard and many times its purchase price, is the Orlando version of the Entertainment Book, a compendium (the size of a thickish guidebook) of coupons and a detachable card good for discounted dining, movies, attractions, shops, shows, and a few hotels. Examples: two-for-one entrees at downtown's chic Harvey's Bistro and various other fancy eateries; 20 percent off Budget rental cars; half off some hotel rack rates. Phone Entertainment at 800/445-4137 or 407/425-0057, or check out entertainment.com.
6. Head immediately for the real "Center"
Avoid the various "tourist info" and "welcome" centers that have set up shop along many a local road; some are excuses for a time-share come-on or some similar scam. Instead, head to the more helpful but much less high-profile Orlando/Orange County Official Visitor Center at 8723 International Dr. (at Austrian Row), where the very helpful folks can provide a slew of money-saving leads, as well as brochures, maps, and guidebooks.
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