You certainly care what it costs to get here. But if you come by plane, there are discounted air carrier deals. If you drive your car, the plummeting price of gasoline has gotten more bargain-priced in recent months.
But once you get here, the price tag really goes up.
If you have a family, or even if you are single or a couple, your second biggest expense as an Orlando visitor is no secret. It’s almost always the cost of where you stay overnight.
That’s the case whether you are visiting Disney or Universal or anywhere else in the area.
So it was with some interest recently to read how one family with two kids saved money during a visit to Epcot.
It’s always nice (not to mention convenient) to stay at one of the Disney Hotels.
The Swan and The Dolphin are favorites (not only for us, but others as well).
But they are expensive.
Alternatives to costly hotel rooms
The family I am referring to found what they called a good alternative.
“After seeing how insanely high the rates were at Disney properties, we looked for a nearby alternative. In this case, it was the Wyndham Grand Bonnet Creek,” the couple write on TripAdvisor.
Why was it a good alternative?
- They got a rate for four nights by paying for just three of them.
- They found a kid-friendly place.
- The hotel had a good pool (always a great selling point in a semi-tropical climate).
- Their room was clean with king-size beds and a bunk bed.
- The hotel was close to Disney.
- Shuttle transportation was free and frequent to Disney and theme parks, though it was not as convenient as simply driving there and paying for parking.
- The hotel was clean and well-run
- The hotel had a satisfying and reasonably priced buffet.
- Parking was $13 but comparable to other areas. And probably those accustomed to free parking might not be entirely happy.
- A nice touch was the mini-fridge that made it easy to store food and drinks.
- Another nice touch was something missing: no overpriced mini-bar.
- And finally: Poolside rooms on high floors let them see EPCOT fireworks at night.
And any negatives?
“The pool area was nice, albeit a bit overrun by folks from the Wyndham vacation club next door. On the plus side, you could go over to the vacation club and use the water slide or lazy river at adjacent properties. They were a bit annoying about keeping track of how many towels one had out at a given time, but it was manageable,” the family found.
The family gave the hotel the ultimate compliment.
They would return.
A hotel is far from the cheapest way to visit Orlando’s theme parks.
But if you are staying here for more than a single day visit, you will have to find a place to stay overnight.
And if you do that, you have some choices:
- Stay with a friend or relative.
- A hotel-hotel.
- Alternatives such as rental homes or hostels or sites such as couch surfing.
- Other creative alternative such as camping and swapping houses.
Friends are often best
So you have a friend or relative?
Your decision becomes easy, though you may not always get the privacy you want, and conditions are sometimes crowded.
Most visitors these days still prefer hotels.
When it comes to visiting theme parks, they are convenient, easy to book and usually predictable in the amenities offered.
Where you stay depends a lot on your own situation. Whether you are alone, with someone or having a family in tow…so whatever we tell you has to be applied to your own situation.
With that in mind, hotels-motels are still likely to be where you will end up. So since it is likely that may be your choice, here are a dozen ways to save money on hotels (with a look at alternatives later).
Before looking at that, however, you need to know how Disney classifies its own hotels.
Disney Hotel differences
Value Resorts include (among others): All Star Movies, All Star Music, All Star Sports, Art of Animation (Family Suites Only), Pop Century and The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness
Moderate Resorts include Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness, Port Orleans Riverside and Port Orleans French Quarter
Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resorts include Animal Kingdom Lodge, Boardwalk Inn, Beach Club, Contemporary, Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge, Yacht Club, Old Key West and Saratoga Springs Resort 6 (again, among others).
Here are the half dozen money saving tips for Disney hotel properties:
1.It always pays to at least check for special offers. Disney had one on the table just last month that offered savings up to 30 percent on some hotel rates. Even the lowest priced value resorts had savings up to 20 percent. Keep in mind that at some of Disney’s resorts, the very cheapest rates are often between Sunday and Thursday. Weekend rates can be 20 percent or higher. Sales also have end dates.
2. You probably want the cheapest room you can find. Why? For the simple reason, most visitors don’t spend that much time there. So it’s NOT a good idea to pay more for a room with a view. Your room is only for sleeping, taking naps perhaps or a break from the many varied activities you will find to do
3. Search for current deals and discount codes on other websites. Some discounts are available to the general public, while others have requirements such as being a member of specific organizations or the military. Disney Visa credit cardholders and Disney's annual pass holders also occasionally qualify for discounts.
4. When booking hotel rooms at Disney, you have to factor in other costs. Remember that they offer free transportation from the airport, free parking at the park, discounted meal plan options and even extended park hours that are sometimes offered. That means that some rooms may cost more than others, but you have to add in the additional costs.
5. The best discount offers are often during “value days.” These are typically times when children are in school. Usually right after Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you are single or a couple, fine. But if you have a family, how about considering giving the kids a break from school to save money (we are not encouraging school absenteeism, but you might consider it)?
6. Book your room through on line travel provider. Remember that most of the time, sites like Expedia and Travelocity offer rooms at the same price you might get at Disney (this makes sense since such sites purchase large blocks of discounted rooms). But there are some deals and when Disney is sold out, these sites are good alternatives for rooms (there are many options for money-saving through on-line providers, which are complicated enough so that we’ll get into them at a later time).
Off-Disney hotel options
If you are looking at hotels-motels off-site at Disney, here are six suggestions.
- Start a bidding war between often competitive hotels. Book a cancellable reservation as you normally would, then call another hotel and ask if they could offer a better deal. They often will. Some people are not comfortable with this approach, but if you want to try it, get the front desk directly because they usually have the power to make an instant deal. Don’t expect the reservations hotline person to help because they usually can’t negotiate lower prices.
- Join a group such as AAA, the American Automobile Association. That qualifies you for special rates for hotels. Yes, admittedly an old-fashioned concept but never out of state. Some major chains such as Marriott and Sheraton routinely give out such discounts. Sites such as Budget Travel found that AAA rates are often closest to rates on major websites. AAA membership costs can be $80 a year, so you probably will have to use it more than once to get your money’s worth on that single perk.
- If you are a single traveler, you will want to try independent hotels. Most chains are biased against single travelers since rates are based on two guests. Smaller hotels are more likely to cater to singles.
- Join Rewards Programs. A vast majority of hotels, especially hotel chains, have free rewards programs. They eventually lead to free rooms. It can cost nothing to join.
- You can get better deals at some hotels if you are a return customers and visit the same place year after year. Hotels often offer better deals to return customers -- as long as they know you are a regular.
- Bundling is almost always a good strategy. You do this through websites that offer, say, cheap airfare combined with hotel reservations and perhaps a rental car.
Don’t forget airport hotels
One other option that sometimes get overlooked because it is regarded as too expensive: airport hotels. Orlando’s own 445-room Hyatt Regency Orlando International Hotel (hyatt.reservationcounter.com or 844-860-8067)gets high ratings for rooms with balconies, recreational amenities such as a gym and spa, and very decent restaurants. Rates are not bargain basement but often under $200.
Finally, another old-fashioned idea: keep an eye out for not only deals but also coupons. Hotels responding to the increasingly competitive market are particularly getting active in this area. Newspapers and online searches are worth a look here.
Local tourism bureaus should also not be overlooked. They often have room discount coupons and their personnel are often aware of special deals. You only have to ask for them.
Some other alternatives.
---Camping is fine if you/and or your family likes the great outdoors. Disney’s best known is Camp Wilderness, where rates are well under $100 a night. But there are comfortable cabins available. And there are enough of a variety of campgrounds in the area so that you don’t necessarily have to sleep in a tent.
---Rental homes. Nearby Kissimmee in recent years has become a hotbed for rental homes. More and more people are turning to them in lieu of hotels. Their advantages include more space such as kitchens (saving money for meals, of course, if someone does not mind cooking). And many rental homes have pools and gyms and other amenities that are similar and often superior to hotels.
---Hostels are another option. They are not common here and some motels claim (falsely) that they are low-priced hostels. The best bet is the Palm Lakefront Resort & Hostel, near Disney (www.orlandohostels.com or 407-396-1759). It has air conditioning, and free amenities such as parking, wi-fi and breakfast. Also, a friendly staff.
---Have you thought about renting an RV or recreational vehicle? Yes, even with the reduced price of gas, it still takes a lot to fill the tank. But the advantage is having everything you need right at hand.
---There’s also house swapping. Sites such as HomeExchange.com make it an easy process.
---Finally, a few words on couchsurfing (www.couchsurfing.com).
They advertise is as “stay with locals and make travel friends.” That is often the case, and the price is right. But you do have to be selective in your choices and you might want to know about their limitations.
These were outlined in a recent first-timers blog by someone who wanted a room near Disney to “crash” for just one night.
Respondents said it was unlikely he would find anyone because the concept is usually not workable for one-night stays in areas of high demand. But even more damaging was the request for a last minute booking. The Disney area is very competitive in this area. Providers get bombarded with requests.
An alternative at a low cost that has emerged in recent years is also airnb (www.airnb.com). It has over 1.5 million listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries. And a lot of them are in Orlando.
Either one beats paying full price for a fancy hotel. ###