Close your eyes and picture a vacation to Florida: do you imagine expensive theme parks, glitzy hotels, overpriced drinks and crowded beaches?
You’d be right, but it’s only half the story - just because a destination is tropical, warm and popular doesn’t mean there aren’t bargains to be found. There are ways to make any trip more affordable, even if you're planning a visit to Mickey Mouse; from accommodation tips to making the most of the boundless wilderness, here's how to do Florida on a budget.
Shop and save
Florida's best-known attractions don't come cheap, but with a little smart shopping, you can still save money. If you know you’ll want to brave the Orlando theme parks, look into discounts online before you go – some offer combination tickets or coupons, while at others, like the massive Universal Studios, it might be worth purchasing a multi-day ticket as the costs can reduce significantly. This is especially good if you're taking the kids and can't get round everything in one day.
Beat the Sticker Shock
While giant, glamorous hotels take up a lot of real estate in Florida, they don't hold a monopoly on accommodation. If you’re suffering from sticker shock, look just outside of theme parks like Walt Disney Resort for cheap, child-friendly hotels with nearby free transport to the park.
If you’re after a beach holiday but feel like you’re drowning in high rates, look outside of Miami. Rented accommodation in Daytona is basic but can be very reasonable, while still offering those sea views or try sunny Apalachicola as an alternative to places like Panama City for cheaper beachfront rooms. Don’t forget to do your research too – comparison sites like cheaphotels.com can recommend hotels in Florida that are better value than most.
If expensive meals are threatening your budget, just ask around and see what the locals recommend for a cost-friendly meal. Head away from the tourist zones and you'll still find plenty of shore-side snack shacks, family-run inns and the whole of Florida’s beautiful back country to explore, without leaving a pan-handled dent in your budget.
The coast is a big part of Florida's appeal, and with good reason, but you don't need to jostle with the tourists on Miami's South Beach.
Check out quieter spots like Sarasota in the south-west, where the shores are reminiscent of the Caribbean, the sands of Manasota Key are blissfully deserted and the mark-ups are minimal.
For families, cities like Tampa and Clearwater are affordable alternatives to more famous names, packed with beautiful outdoor attractions like Busch Gardens and Largo Central Park. In fact, the key to a low-cost Florida vacation is to use the natural surroundings as well: boat trips through the Everglades, hiking around the Inglis Island Trails in the north or fishing in the Alafia River. Many of these activities are free, and if you’re taking a road trip, you can save by bringing your own gear as well.
While a five-star hotel in Miami and a week at Disney World could wilt even the strongest bank account, a bit of sleuthing and willingness to look outside the most famous areas can turn an unattainable tropical vacation into a bargain-budget trip.