Orlando is known for many things, but being an inexpensive place to visit is not one of them. And yet, the number one question I get from family, friends and random strangers planning a visit to the area is “what are some cheap things to do in Orlando?“
First of all, “cheap” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Cheap to someone who lives in Orlando is definitely different than cheap to someone who is here on vacation. I am probably not spending hundreds of dollars a weekend to entertain my children, and you probably aren’t either – unless you’re on vacation. But, I get it. What most people mean is “what can I do in Orlando that is cheaper than Disney World?”
6 Things To Do In Orlando That Are Cheap(er Than Disney World)
1. Downtown Disney
If you’re visiting the area and want a taste of Disney without paying for the whole experience, Downtown Disney is a great option. It’s basically a shopping, dining and bar district, but it’s Disney, so there’s plenty to see without spending a dime. Your kids can play at LEGO Imagination Center without technically buying anything. You can take pictures with Buzz and Mr. Potato Head and Disney Princesses without technically buying anything. And if you do buy something, you’ll probably find it slightly less expensive here than at the parks. Pro tip: if you do eat while you’re here, Earl of Sandwich is the best bang for your buck with $6 really good sandwiches.
2. Swim at your hotel
To put it mildly, there is a lot of competition among hotels in the Orlando area. And many hotels here have become places of amusement in their own right. The Hilton Bonnett Creek, which is very reasonably priced and not over-the-top themed at all, has a lazy river! Other hotels feature full-scale water parks, multiple pools and man-made beaches. I am the last person to advocate spending your vacation inside a hotel room, but, well, the hotel rooms here are different.
3. Hit the beach
It amazes me how many people forget that Florida is surrounded on three sides by beaches. Yes, Orlando is pretty much dead smack in the middle of the state, but there are still beaches relatively close by. Cocoa Beach and Daytona Beach are about an hour drive from Orlando, and even the Gulf of Mexico is only about an hour and a half from the Disney area. This is inexpensive and something that definitely falls in the “things we can’t do at home” category for many visitors. If you’ve never seen the ocean, make this a priority on your trip to Orlando.
4. SeaWorld, Aquatica, Busch Gardens
OK, going to an amusement park is not cheap. But going to SeaWorld, Aquatica and Busch Gardens is cheaper than buying 3 days admission to Disney World. For about $110 per person, you can visit all three parks as much as you want during your vacation (or rather, for 2 weeks beginning the first day you use it). This includes a free shuttle to take you between the Orlando area and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. That’s a little less than half of what you’d pay for a three day ticket to Disney without a park hopper option.
If you want an up close and personal look at gators (and really, you shouldn’t come to Florida and not see gators!), Gatorland is your best bet. Tickets are about $20 for entrance into this cheesy but gator and croc-filled park. While you might see alligators elsewhere, you’re guaranteed a photo opp here.
6. Visit a state park
Most locals will tell you that Gatorland is an overpriced tourist trap (but locals are cranky, so take what we say with a grain of salt). That’s mainly because you can see gators in just about every body of water in Florida. A cheaper and more authentic way to see alligators is to visit one of the local state parks, like Wekiva Springs State Park in Apopka (about 30 minutes north of Orlando proper). In addition to possibly seeing alligators, you can also experience the natural springs, one of Florida’s coolest natural resources.
Florida is a great place to visit (and live, in my opinion), even if you find yourself (and your wallet) needing a break from all things Disney. Take advantage of our weather and general obsession with entertaining tourists and you may even have a little money left over to buy souvenirs!
All photos by Britt Reints