If you haven’t read this post yet, you wouldn’t know that Florida is practically my (not so guilty) pleasure. It was the first ‘big’ holiday that I went on solo (and by solo I mean with my boyfriend and best friend), and have returned to last year – and, as of last week, planned a trip to go back this year, too! An insanely spontaneous trip that erupted out of me checking flights and hotels out of habit (using tricks that I shared in my Thrifty Traveller’s Guide to Securing Cheap Flights post) and coming across an ABSOLUTE steal of a price.
I thought since we were (and are now) in the midst of planning our itinerary, one really fun thing I could do was document the process through a step-by-step guide to all things you’d need for a Florida holiday: from the cheapest places to get flights / accommodation / vehicles / park tickets and anything else you might have set your heart on.
Just talking about all these exciting holiday topics is getting me ready to go out and explore – so I’d love to know any tips, tricks or ideas you guys have when it comes to booking big trips, whether that’s cross-Atlantic to Florida or not!
Where to Start
As a destination, Florida is somewhere that every travel company offers package holidays to. Package holidays are great things, and truth be told, Clare, Scott and I have always bought our Florida trips through Thomson’s package.
In 2013, we went in-store and did the whole thing with a travel agent, making sure that we were comfortable and confident that nothing was being forgotten or left behind. But, in 2016 – and this year, we’ve done it solo.
I find Thomson’s site incredibly easy to navigate, and when used in conjunction with other brands like Thomas Cook, you can soon enough pit them against each other to find the best price. What I love most about booking packages is that you’ll usually find car hire included, and even though it’s only the basic insurance package – it doesn’t cost as much to upgrade as it would if you were purchasing the best insurance AND the car from scratch, but I’ll go into that a little later.
That’s not to say that you can’t book your trip piece by piece. You might find it easier, or the prices even cheaper, to book everything individually – where you can resort to sites like Skyscanner, Kayak or the actual airlines like Thomson for airfare-only prices.
If you want some extra tips and tricks on booking flights, I wrote an in-depth post on how I save thousands each year by relying on a few tried and tested tricks when buying flights from any and all holidays. You can check that out right here.
Although I reserve package holidays for long-haul flights like America, I’ve been pondering the thought of booking it piece by piece in future, opting instead for accommodation like an Airbnb instead of the traditional hotels you’ll be set up with through a package.
Choosing a hotel in Florida is super easy because there’s an absolute ton to choose from. This is where you’ll have to choose what you’re aiming to get from your holiday, and because of that, where you’d like to ideally be located. Scott, Clare and I love choosing a hotel on International Drive – because we find that its location gives us great access to everything we need.
Since we didn’t drive on our first trip in 2013, we were able to use the iRide trolley to get around, with free transfers to Universal (we were so close that we chose to walk instead) and Disney offered by the hotel – you’ll find that almost every single one offers these free transfers, but make sure to double check that they do if you aren’t driving since Disney property is still a good 20 minute drive away!
When we returned in 2016 we still chose to return to International Drive because of the access to grocery stores, great restaurants – and being minutes from the i4 for Disney or exploring the state of Florida. We love to stay at the Rosen Inn, either at their “International Drive” location (which is at the corner of International Drive and Sand Lake Road – mere seconds from the i4 slip road, which is very handy for driving!) or their “International Palms” location, which is a little further down International Drive – at a beautiful outdoor mall that offers a Ben and Jerrys sundae parlour that became a holiday tradition!
Another great thing about International Drive is the price. Although you could opt to stay on Disney property, and I’m positive that you’d have an absolutely incredible time – it would probably cost more than staying off-site (though you’d gain benefits like Extra Magic Hours and Disney Dining Passes through staying with them, so it really depends on what you’re looking to get from the holiday). The same can be said for staying on Universal property, it would be more expensive than International Drive, but you’d gain access to the parks earlier and later than other guests – and also be given complimentary all-day fast passes, which traditionally cost up to $100 per guest, per park for people not staying on site.
You could also opt for a villa instead, which would most likely be located towards Kissimmee, it’s just a matter of seeing which type of accommodation works best for the holiday you’re planning.
Cars and driving can be a bit intimidating if you’re planning your first trip to the States – but trust me, it’s an absolute breeze to drive over there and I found everybody so kind and courteous that I never felt an absolute buffoon when I inevitably did some things the traditional British way – ha!
The first time we drove, which was last year, we only decided to rent a car as an afterthought – so we didn’t manage to benefit from the free car hire offered through Thomson’s package since we had declined it during the booking process. This meant we ended up doing the whole rental process ourselves, from choosing a provider to getting insurance – and paid a lot more than we did while booking in 2017 where we accepted the free hire!
When renting a car, you’ll automatically be granted the basic insurance package – but it’s so important that you upgrade this for a bunch of reasons. The basic insurance won’t include things such as the Collision Damage Waiver (be sure to read up on that here), Extended Protection or the option of including an additional driver (depending of course who you’re booking with)! Out of habit, we upgrade to the highest insurance package – which, when the car hire is free anyway, only puts you back £100 between the entire party – because it will cover you for each and every eventuality almost.
Also, when driving in the States, if you’re from another country and under the age of 25 you’ll have to pay a Young Driver Surcharge of averagely $28 per driver per day. This can be a bit tedious but for the experience of driving in America, it was definitely worth it!
And finally, Florida as a State has quite a few toll roads dotted around that you’ll probably pass depending on where you’re going. If you’re strictly travelling around the Universal – International Drive – Disney World area, you probably won’t see many to any, but if you’re looking at travelling further afoot whether that’s to the Kennedy Space Centre, one of the coastal beaches or another city like Miami, you may find yourself crossing a few. You’ll be offered a SunPass Transponder which would sit on your dashboard and automatically deduct the cost of any tolls you’ve gone through from a pre-paid amount, meaning you won’t have to stop at each and every one rummaging for loose change.
The transponder will set you back a few dollars, and you’ll have to decide ultimately whether it’s worth the investment to save you stopping, or if you’d prefer to stop if and when you see one, and pay the ¢50-$1 in cash instead.
My favourite part of any trip to Florida – the theme parks. I absolutely love visiting both Universal and Disney and could spend the entire time just lost among the themed food, incredible rides and extravagant set designs. My favourite is Jurassic Park in Universal Studios, it’s so immersive and I love all the green trees with the sneaky dinosaurs peeking out through them! Ha!
My go-to place to get park tickets has to be between FloridaTix, AttractionTix and Attraction Tickets. When deciding between ticket packages, you’ll likely not see any difference between the prices – so look instead for the little extras they offer. This year we bought our tickets from Attraction Tickets, who included an “Orlando Dine 4 Less” card (which offers money off food at these places) and discount vouchers at The Florida Mall. We absolutely love shopping at the Orlando malls, so this was fab for us. *FloridaTix is currently offering the same deal on Universal tickets!* But last year, we bought our tickets through a different vendor and got gift cards to use on the Universal property – each with a complimentary $20 loaded onto them, which was really nice!
I’ve never seen bonuses offered from Disney vendors, but I’m holding out hope – ha! Because of this, I tend to get those tickets through Disney directly – as you can be safe in the knowledge that everything will be find and dandy!
Additional Things You’ll Need to Think About
Like any trip, when you’re booking you’ll have to think about the other things you’ll need. Florida is a really humid state, so make sure you’re planning ways to keep yourself hydrated and protected from the sun – whether investing in really good sun lotion, or purchasing one of those transportable electric fans to keep you cool. Looking after yourself when travelling is one of the most important things, so don’t let it go by the wayside amidst all the fun of adventuring!
I’d love to hear any tips or tricks you guys have when it comes to planning a Florida holiday, is there anything you’d do differently or disagree with? Make sure to let me know below!
I hope you all have a great day!