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SUPER cheap Florida vacation ideas?

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 
With our home buying tax return, we want to spend a tiny bit of it. I do mean-tiny-on a real vacation for our family for the first time since our marriage. I have 4 children ages 2-9. I want to take my oldest to the Kennedy Space Center and see the ocean again. This will be between May 17-June 4 when my dh has time off of work.

Has anyone done a super cheap FL vacation? No airfare-we will drive. I would like to go to a Disney/US like place for like a day or so. Not too long-I'm sure it's too expensive but otherwise spend our time doing cheap/free things like hanging out at the beach and such.

Anyone have any experience with cheap FL vacations?
Good books/websites?
Best free/cheap places to go near Orlando or the Kennedy Space Center?
Best deals?
Anything I should know?
Ideas for cheap meals?
post #2 of 23
Disney has a program where you volunteer your time and get a free 1 day pass. http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/dis...t-A-Disney-Day
post #3 of 23


We love Florida and were there last year with a 2 year old. We stayed in a condo so we could do our own cooking and found it at vrbo.com. But that's only if you are staying a week or more. We stayed at Clearwater Beach which is my favorite beach in FL. It's on the gulf side and has beautiful soft white sand. It is about a 40 minute drive to Busch Gardens and 2 hours to Disney. If you're looking to save money I would suggest skipping Disney all together. We went to Busch Gardens and the Magic Kingdom and would not go back to Disney World. DW is more expensive and has TONS of people. Busch Gardens was cheaper and my little one could walk onto every ride without waiting. At Disney you're lucky if you wait only 30 minutes.

We packed lunches and brought them in to both parks in back packs without advertising it. I'm not sure what the rules are. Food in both parks is crazy expensive.
post #4 of 23
Thread Starter 
Would Universal Studios be just as bad as Disney? We desperately want to go to the Harry Potter theme park when it opens, but it may not open until the month after we go...I bet it would be killer packed, too.

I will definitely check out Busch Gardens. I remember my SIL saying ages ago she went and it was great.

Thanks for the condo suggestion. I want to stay away from anything too touristy, so I'll check out Clearwater Beach. My SIL loves Panama City, but I'm worried about Spring Break craziness with my kids and such. That should be over by the time we go, though, at least.
post #5 of 23

Wrong thread oops!

Edited by Tumble Bumbles - 4/9/11 at 2:59pm
post #6 of 23
If you want a bit of the Disney vibe without spending the money on an admission, you could just visit Downtown Disney which has lots of fun stores, from total Disney ones to a Lego store. My DD doesn't have a problem looking and not buying, but your mileage may vary.

The Disney resorts can also be fun to stroll around -- Boardwalk and Yacht & Beach area has a really fun, family vibe in the early evenings, with strolling magicians and entertainers out, pizza on the boardwalk, a fabulous ice cream shop, etc. Just tell the guard at the entrance to the resort that you're there for dinner.
post #7 of 23
Do you have a tent? I have found that my crew can camp 3-4 days in pretty rustic conditions in just about any weather. After that Momma needs a good hot shower, a cup of top notch coffee, and to do some laundry.
post #8 of 23
Thread Starter 
GREAT ideas! Thank you everyone.

Camping also sounds great. I don't know how great camping is in FL, though. Are fire ants/mosquitos a big problem like they were in NC?

And dh and I decided to try Busch Gardens/SeaWorld instead because it's cheaper and they have a good deal right now.
post #9 of 23
Camping in FL is fine at the right time of year. I don't know that late May/early June qualifies. It depends on how well you hold up in heat/humidity. Fire ants- sometimes, I use ant bait if I see any when setting up camp- mosquitos- depends on the weather. Also, while it isn't spring break then, it is graduation time for many schools just so you are aware of that. I haven't been to the Space Center, one of my kids went on a school trip and thought it was ok, but not fabulous. I'd skip it unless your child REALLY wants to go. Sea World and Busch Gardens, the kids really liked. If you do go to Sea World, get there when they open. Get the map with all the show times and make a plan or you will not get to see everything. I chaperoned my child's school trip and my group got to see all the shows because the kids didn't want to go on the rides which had long wait times.
post #10 of 23
Thread Starter 
Honestly, I hate heat/humidity. It's one of the reasons we moved away from NC. Dh and the kids love it, though.

Good call about graduation-we had that problem when we went on vacation to get married. Which reminds me I totally forgot that my anniversary is the first day of his vacation!

My oldest is totally obsessed with astronomy, so the Space Center I think she'll like unless anyone can think of other cool astronomy related trips? I'm at a total loss in the area!
post #11 of 23
There's MOSI in Tampa (right around the corner from Busch Gardens) and its great for hands on fun! Cheap compared to the theme parks and way more than enough to keep everyone occupied for the day!
post #12 of 23
Thread Starter 
MOSI looks fun! Thank you! I didn't see that anywhere.
post #13 of 23
We (kids included) LOVED the Space Center! Lots of fun and learning and they give you a 2 day pass for a reasonable rate. We went both days, and thought it was well worth it! Also when we went to Disney recently, we packed lunches and snacks most days. Our hotel didn't have a kitchen or fridge, so we did pb sandwiches, etc. Also brought donuts, cereal bars, etc for breakfast. Not the healthiest fare, but definitely a lot cheaper than buying in the parks. So we saved some $ that way.
post #14 of 23
The last time we camped new Orlando was New Years, and the mosquitoes were terrible so I'm not sure there is any time of year that they wouldn't bother you.

For the parks: Universal has more rides, SeaWorld has more shows/exhibits and I think the prices are pretty comparable. We haven't been to Busch Gardens - we live south of Cocoa so we don't go past Orlando regularly. We did SeaWorld when our oldest( 5yo) was young, but are doing Universal this year and it's a bit challenging with a 19mo. There are a few things she can ride (she loves them all, she just doesn't meet height requirements) but SW was better for her.
post #15 of 23
Check out the State parks www.floridastateparks.org
There are parks all up and down the coast, and camping is much cheaper than hotels, and probably more fun with kids anyway. This time of year is good, not too hot or humid, and the mosquitoes aren't bad if you're camping at the beach (the sea breeze keeps them away). You could make a trip down the east coast and hit St. Augustine (beautiful old Spanish mission town with a huge fort and wonderful restaurants), the Kennedy Space Center, and Cocoa Beach to watch the surfers. I love that stretch of coastline!

I live in the Panhandle, which has prettier beaches, in my opinion, but not much to do besides fish! The east coast has a lot more attractions. You can probably find a cheap hotel in the Disney area for a couple days, if you want to do that too. There is tons of kid-friendly stuff in the Orlando-Kissimee region, but my preference is the state parks, beaches and nature centers along the coast. Maybe you can do a little of both. Have fun - it's a wonderful state!
post #16 of 23
There is a college in the Cocoa Beach area- the name escapes me at the moment, but they have planetarium show that is exceptional...and it's fairly cheap to attend. There is a pretty expensive fee associated to go to the Cape Canaveral. The amusement parks - Disney, Universal, Seaworld are extremely expensive and there are lots of other things to do in the Orlando area for considerably less $.
You might also want to check out entertainment.com/online and join. You can sign up for a month at $4.95 and print out coupons for major discounts to several different things to do in the area. You can cancel the membership anytime. Someone mentioned Wonderworks - it's a fabulous place for kids in Orlando. They have a 2 for 1 coupon on that site, also possibly a 20% off up to so much as well.. .and lots of other attractions.
When we travel for any length of time, we always use it.. it's well worth the $ to pay the fee, print the coupons I want and cancel the membership. We went away for 10 days and everything we did we used a buy 1 get 1 free coupon. My DBF and I did 10 days all over the northeastern state of FL and Orlando for less than $800 and that was eating out every meal in a regular restaurant, hotels, all attractions. We did at least one attraction a day and many times 2-3.
You might also check roomsaver.com for pretty great rates for hotels. I can say that we have stayed several times in Kissimmee (just next door to Orlando) at the Howard Johnson Maingate East - at less than $40 a night for a room with 2 double beds. For another $5 a night you can get a larger room and also they have microwaves and fridges in their suites. They have heated pools, laundry, very clean and no bugs!!! We've been very satisfied with them and they offer free shuttles if you want to do the parks.
post #17 of 23
If you don't mind the drive, look up Bahia State Park in the Keys.

We didn't camp there, but there were very pretty sites at one of the campgrounds. Do your homework first and make sure its the right campground...there was a swimming area near it/or part of it that was more of a structured feel (near a snackbar and more public swim area), then there was the dunes area that was much more secluded and private, right near the long stretch of beach.

I really liked Bahia and we'll probably go there again and camp this time.

On the way we went to the everglades nat'l park...very pretty, much different than what I had imagined!!

But be warned- other lodging options in the keys were ridiculously expensive!!!
post #18 of 23
if your considering sea world (we went to the one in san diego)...i bought sea world tickets off ebay....they were 2 day passes. we used the one day off of them and then I sold the remaining day on ebay when we returned from our trip and recouped all but $10 of my initial purchase! so 4 of us went to sea world for $10 (not to mention the food, which is pretty darn expensive)

good luck and hope you have fun wherever you end up!
post #19 of 23
Along the Disney line of thought...when we go we always allow for a pool day, a beach day, and a day to JUST ride the monorail and visit the different Disney hotels. They are like mini theme parks in themselves!
post #20 of 23
Not sure if you already know this- but you're going to be in town for both a shuttle and rocket launch, which is pretty awesome!
I really want to take my son, but we just can't get down there for late May.
They have a schedule on their website, be sure to check it out!

Also- definitely do the Give-a-Day if you want to hit Disney for one day. It's a big money-saver.
And Universal Studios was offering 7-day tickets for $99 but have pulled their promotion from the website. However, some AAA offices and the AAA-Ohio website are still selling them. Big savings. You can use these tickets anytime- buy them now, use them three years from now, etc. They just expire 14 days (or close to it) after you use them for the first time.

Oh- and for accommodations- there have been lots of deals lately. Check travelzoo, disboards.com
There was a SAHM who posted some great threads there about her amazing budget trips to central Florida with her DH and 6 children. They bought restaurant.com GCs to use down there, planned lots of free and cheap activities, etc. for two whole weeks.
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