Take a moment to think of cities whose name alone conjures up images of sun soaked beaches, tantalizing nightlife and some of the most exciting theme parks known to man. More likely than not, two of Florida’s foremost leisure destinations – Miami and Orlando – stand out prominently in your mind. The former was tied with Washington D.C. for fourth place in Forbes’ list of America’s Most Entertaining Cities (2009). Not surprisingly, Orlando and Tampa were well represented in Forbes’ list of the Top 25 Most Visited Tourist Destinations in America (2009), with Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Universal Orlando Resort/Islands of Adventure, SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay all making the cut. Even West Palm Beach, known for its historic neighborhoods and lively festivals, has been cited as one of the country’s best places to live and work. Has this whet your appetite for an affordable vacation in the Sunshine State this year? If so, heed the tips below to savor the best of sultry Florida without putting a dent in your bank account.
1. Book early!
If you’re a price-conscious traveler, it’s definitely in your best interest to book as many months in advance of your trip as possible. The travel industry has seen a marked shift in a year’s time: Whereas travelers could afford to wait until the last minute to book the lowest rates on accommodations in 2009, they are now being saddled with higher rates closer to check-in. Though the internet might seem like the best option for finding the lowest rates, you can lock in even bigger savings by picking up the phone. For example, by calling getaroom.com’s Call Center, travelers can take advantage of unpublished rates typically 10-25% and as much as 50% lower than those listed online. A wealth of hotel deals are up for grabs in properties including the Walt Disney World Swan Resort in Orlando, the Majestic Hotel South Beach in Miami, Sunset Vistas Beachfront Suites in Tampa and The Bradley Park Hotel in West Palm Beach.
2. Complimentary is key.
I think we’d all agree that while cheap is good, free sounds a lot better. Orlando properties including the Regal Sun Resort, Royal Plaza Hotel and Sheraton Vistana Villages offer free internet access plus complimentary shuttle service to all four Walt Disney World theme parks. If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll be save a bundle on food costs thanks to Kids Eat Free programs offered by the Regal Sun Resort, Royal Plaza Hotel, Comfort Inn Lake Buena Vista, and other select hotels. If the hotel doesn’t carry an entertainment book, you might be able to snag one at a pit stop convenience store. These handy books are chock full of restaurant coupons and convenient discounts on Florida attractions ranging from the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa to Gatorland in Orlando. If you’d rather scour the internet for bargains, try sites like orlandocoupons.com.
3. Purchase theme park tickets early and online.
You’ll no doubt save time and money by purchasing park passes online before arrival. For example, by purchasing Universal Orlando tickets online, you can save $10 off the gate price on all multi-day tickets as well as receive a coupon book with up to $150 in savings with any multi-day park-to-park ticket purchase. Here’s an unbeatable deal for Tampa-bound travelers: Florida residents with a 2010 Busch Gardens Fun Card need only pay less than the cost of a 1 day visit ($69.95) to get into Busch Gardens free for the rest of the year. Walt Disney World also offers discount programs for Florida residents, including 4 Days for $99 with the 4 Day Dream Pass. Even if you’re not a Florida resident, you can lock in substantial savings with a Walt Disney World Pass, which allows year-round, unlimited admission to all 4 Disney parks plus discounts on dining, sports and recreation, tours and much more.
4. Take advantage of membership discount programs and Twitter deals.
If you’re a member of AAA or AARP, you can enjoy a wealth of membership benefits including reduced hotel rates. By simply showing your card, you can save on everything from car rentals and apparel to sports and dining. Plus, AAA and AARP members are eligible for discounted admission rates at most theme parks. For example, with your AAA card, you can save $3 on regular all-day admission to Adventure Island in Tampa, Busch Gardens, SeaWorld Orlando and Wet ‘n Wild. In addition, by following your favorite travel companies on Twitter, you can gain access to exclusive travel deals available only for a limited time.
5. Enjoy a bevy of free Florida sites and attractions.
Who says traveling to Florida has to be all about roller coasters and Mickey Mouse? Travelers can frequent some of the state’s most popular sites and attractions – starting with its unspoiled beaches – without having to shell out a dime. The state is also replete with verdant parks of varying sizes – from Tropical Park in Miami to Big Tree Park in Orlando – where you can enjoy such family-friendly leisure activities as fishing, hiking, bike riding and canoeing.
While the temperature in Florida is on the rise, your travel expenses don’t have to be. With a little planning, a Florida vacation could wind up being much more affordable than you’d expect. So head for the Sunshine State and have a whale of a time – just don’t forget to bring the sunscreen along!