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Disney, Beaches and More: Your Guide to Florida Travel on a Budget

Dan Ketchum

When you travel to the Sunshine State for your family vacation, a few things are certain: There will be mosquitoes, you’ll need tons of sunscreen and you will have no shortage of activities.

In fact, when you’re planning a Florida vacation, you might find yourself overwhelmed with the state’s wealth of tourist attractions, from Orlando to the Keys. If you’re not careful, you might find your budget a little overwhelmed, too.

Here are some exciting things to do in Florida and tips to experience all the sights and sounds on a budget.

How To Save On a Fort Lauderdale Vacation

Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly escape, a romantic getaway or a fun girls’ or guys’ trip, you can find plenty to do in Fort Lauderdale. The area has 23 miles of beaches, a thriving art scene, a plethora of restaurants and bars, a lively nightlife, casinos and more. To save on your trip, pick affordable hotels and dining options, and make the most of the free activities available.

Fort Lauderdale: Where To Stay

The Nobleton Hotel was rated the No. 3 hotel in Fort Lauderdale by Trip Advisor, with a perfect five out of five review from guests.

“You could not find a better place to stay,” wrote one reviewer. “It is immaculately clean and fresh. It is about one block from the beach with direct access.”

Best of all, it won’t cost a fortune to stay there, with rates starting at $89 a night.

Fort Lauderdale: Where To Eat

Most of the menu at local staple the Floridian Restaurant on Las Olas clocks in at under $13. Despite the value price, Chef John’s diner-style menu comes recommended by Rachael Ray herself.

Fort Lauderdale: What To Do

There are plenty of things to do in the area that won’t cost you a dime, such as strolling along the 2 1/2-mile Broadwalk, snorkeling among the reefs in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, catching the sunrise at Deerfield Beach and taking free trolley rides along Las Olas Boulevard.

If you plan your trip right, you can also catch free live musical performances, like the weekly Friday Night Sound Waves Concert, and check out free festivals and events, such as the Wreck Bar’s weekly Live Mermaid Show.

How To Save On a Key West Vacation

Key West is a one-of-a-kind tropical island city, known for its beautiful beaches and relaxing atmosphere. Although it’s not known to be a budget-friendly destination, there are ways to cut costs when you visit Florida’s southernmost locale.

Key West: Where To Stay

If you’re touring the Keys, your hotel budget just got a lot more strapped. Worry not — a hidden gem called Captain Pip’s Marina & Hideaway in Marathon has rates starting at $84 a night.

Key West: Where To Eat

Bien serves up Caribbean and Latin food and has a wide selection of hearty sandwiches on the menu — most of which cost less than $14.

If you’re in the mood for Mexican, head to Bad Boy Burrito, which offers a variety of burritos, tacos and more, with most items costing around $10.

Key West: What To Do

If you’re in Key West, you can have a fishier — in a good way — experience at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This includes exploring the incredible diversity of ocean life and the educational Eco-Discovery Center, all for free.

How To Save On a Miami Vacation

Miami is probably known as much for its nightlife as it is its pristine sandy beaches. The city is also a large cultural hub, with unique neighborhoods that include Little Haiti and Little Havana. Although Miami can be an expensive place to stay and enjoy, if you do some research, you can enjoy the city on a budget.

Other Vacation Options: Discover the Best Hidden Gem Destinations in Every State

Miami: Where To Stay — Airbnbs

Some Airbnbs offer the same perks as a hotel — like pool access, beach access and more — for a fraction of the price. You can get a place to yourself for as low as $55 a night for a Miami Beach apartment on the water.

Miami: Where To Stay — Hostels

It might not be ideal for kids, but if you and your partner are feeling adventurous and cost-conscious, spring for the freewheeling style of a Florida hostel. South Beach’s Posh Hostel offers complimentary drinks every night and a round-trip shuttle from Miami airport for free.

For a more bohemian vibe, SoBe Hostel and Bar offers free breakfast with its $16 to $75 per night rate, even when booking at the last minute. The most seasoned travelers know that hostels are among the best-kept secrets for globe-trotters — you’d be hard-pressed to stay in a hostel and come home without a handful of amazing stories to tell.

Miami: Where To Eat

You’re in Florida, you’re on a budget, you’re hungry — but you didn’t travel thousands of miles to eat at the same chain restaurant you could visit at home. It’s time to think like a local.

In Miami, famous local chain 100 Montaditos offers 40 different styles of the Spanish sandwiches for $1 a pop — not to mention $2 beers — on Wednesdays, plus buy one, get one half-off family platters on Sundays. Or maybe you’d prefer a traditional frita Cubana (Cuban hamburger) at El Mago de las Fritas, which you can nab for $3.50.


Miami: What To Do

With a thriving art scene, you’re likely to be able to find a free art walk or fair no matter when you visit. Some regular events include the Wynwood Art Walk, which happens every second Saturday of the month, and Viernes Culturales, which happens on the third Friday of every month.

You can also take free yoga classes at North Miami Beach Yoga Studio, catch a free concert at the New World Center or take a free trolley ride. And of course, there are always the beautiful beaches that are a major draw of the city.

How To Save On an Orlando Vacation

If you’re wondering about what to do in Florida, a trip to Orlando is likely at the top of your mind. Orlando has become almost synonymous with Disney World — which is a notoriously expensive place to go on a family vacation. Whether or not you take your family to the theme park, there are ways to save on a trip to Orlando, including choosing your hotel wisely and avoiding common tourist traps.

Orlando: Where To Stay — Hotels

For families doing the Disney thing, hotel insiders know there are deals to be had at Disney-affiliated hotels. Although many on-site resorts are expensive, the over 25 different hotel locations offer a range of options from “value” to “deluxe.” The secret is, even value-tier resorts come with all the perks, including free use of Disney’s Magical Express shuttle service, free parking at the theme parks and admission to extra Magic Hours. Value category hotels like Disney’s All-Star Resorts start at $99 per night.

Orlando: Where To Stay — Airbnbs

If you’re budget-minded but want to forgo the traditional hotel route, it might be time to hop on the Airbnb train. Although rates and rooms vary, you can stay at a three-bedroom townhouse near Disney World in Orlando for $85 a night.

Orlando: Where To Eat

Le Cordon Bleu alum Bernie Schwab keeps most of his entrees below $8 at Bernie’s Gourmet to Go, and Mediterranean Blue keeps things fresh and healthy with Greek gyros and salads for about $8 each.

Orlando: What To Do — Free Disney Activities

There are ways to enjoy Disney that don’t require a ticket. Take in free Disney sights like the monorail, Boardwalk, Downtown Disney and Magic Kingdom Fireworks.

Want to tell your kids you’re going to Disney without spending any money, and also secretly encouraging them to go outside and learn something? You’re not dreaming — the Disney Wilderness Preserve in Kissimmee is just the ticket. There are more than 11,000 acres and over 1,000 species of observable wildlife, all at the same cost: free.


Orlando: What To Do — Other Free Activities

Travel is all about stopping to smell the roses, so check out Leu Gardens’ 50 acres’ worth of botanical wonders and butterfly havens just outside of Orlando. Get there on the first Monday of the month, and admission won’t cost you a dime.

As a free and sneakily educational alternative to Space Mountain, check out the stars — both real and projected — at Eastern Florida State College’s observatory and planetarium and exhibits just outside of Cocoa Beach. The observatory is about an hour drive from Orlando.

Orlando: What To Do — A Disney Alternative

Kids love Legos — just as much as adults hate stepping on them. For a theme park experience that rivals Mickey without the Disney World prices, check out Legoland Florida Resort. Buy an online Super Saver ticket starting at $84.99 or get a one-day plus water park ticket online for $109.99 to get access to both the entire park and its sister water park. In comparison, just one day at Disney’s Magic Kingdom Theme Park alone starts at $109 per child (on a value weekday).

Orlando: More Money-Saving Tips

Staying at an inexpensive hotel or Airbnb and opting for free activities are just some of the ways to save on a trip to Orlando. Here are some other money-saving tips:

  • Choose the right travel dates: Saving money at Disney World starts in the planning stages. Shop smart on accommodations, avoid the crowds and find more dinner reservations by booking a trip for the August or September back-to-school seasons or save money on off-season travel in January.
  • Use a grocery delivery service instead of always eating out: When you’re staying at the park, use a grocery delivery service to get the essentials — like to-go beverages, milk and bread — delivered right to your hotel room for a fraction of the cost of eating out.
  • Know where to buy souvenirs: Always grab your souvenirs off-resort to avoid inflated prices.

How To Save On a St. Augustine Vacation

History lovers will enjoy a trip to St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city. The quaint city has brick-lined streets, centuries-old buildings and European flair, plus high-quality restaurants, art galleries, shopping options and 42 miles of beaches. There’s no need to bust your budget visiting this destination — read on to find out how to save on accommodations, dining and entertainment.

St. Augustine: Where To Stay

St. Augustine’s Smart Stay Inn has rooms starting at $63 a night and received excellent reviews on Trip Advisor, with one reviewer calling it the “best little secret in St. Augustine.”

A free breakfast is included in the stay — and it’s not just a stale muffin and black coffee. The complimentary breakfast options include scrambled eggs, sausage, waffles, cereal, yogurt, pastries and more.

St. Augustine: Where To Eat

When you’re in the South, eating biscuits and gravy is pretty much a must. The Maple Street Biscuit Company takes the traditional dish to the next level with its inventive biscuit sandwiches, like the “The Five,” a flaky biscuit topped with all-natural fried chicken breast, pecan wood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese and sausage gravy. Best of all, all the sandwiches are $10 or less.

For a taste of the local seafood, try the Uptown Scratch Kitchen food truck, which has a rotating menu that typically includes a fish of the day, plus options that can include fish ‘n’ grits, seafood etouffee and “not your average” fish ‘n’ chips. Most entrees cost around $16.

St. Augustine: What To Do

It might require more patience than the kids have, but fishing at the St. Johns County Ocean Pier on St. Augustine Beach is something both you and your wallet will enjoy. Fishing fees are $3 for adults and $1.50 for children, and you can rent a pole at the bait shop nearby.

How To Save On a Tampa Vacation

Tampa Bay calls itself the “hip, urban heart of Florida’s Gulf Coast.” The sunny city has miles of waterfront, fine dining options and plenty of family-friendly attractions. If you’re planning a trip to Tampa, find out how to make your dollar stretch the furthest when you’re there.

Tampa: Where To Stay

An Airbnb might be your best bet for an affordable place to stay in Tampa. You can find a nice two-bedroom bungalow that costs only $29 a night.

Tampa: Where To Eat

When President Barack Obama visited Tampa in 2012, he paid a visit to the West Tampa Sandwich Shop — and if it’s good enough for the former president’s palate, it should be good enough for you. According to Time Out, Obama went for the “tripleta,” a pork, steak and ham sandwich ($5) and the honey-glazed Cuban ($4)  — now called the Honey Cuban “Obama Sandwich” — which is what the restaurant is best known for.

For the best pizza in town, head to Due Amici, where you can get pizza by the slice starting at $3.

Tampa: What To Do

When in Tampa, check out the Lowry Park Zoo. Youth admission is only $24.95 when you purchase your tickets in advance. The ticket also includes free parking.

As you soak up the sun wherever you go in Florida, you’ll also learn an important lesson: Cheap is good, but free is even better.

Click through to find out the most expensive tourist destinations in the U.S.

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Joel Anderson and Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Disney, Beaches and More: Your Guide to Florida Travel on a Budget