I make no apologies for it, but I am one of those grown-ups who love all things Disney. Sorry, not sorry! I’ve been to Disney World as a child and as a grown-up numerous times. I love Universal too – in fact, paid hundreds of pounds to go on a VIP behind the scenes tour in California a few years ago, which was totally worth it.
I’ve travelled through more American states than most Americans, and have a love affair with the country – and think Florida (although a little crazy in places), has the best entertainment (move over Vegas ) and THE best beaches in the world. And I come from Swansea, so that says a lot – like, I’d literally fight you if you dissed Three Cliffs Bay.
And the best bit? I’m off to Orlando in a couple of weeks! I’m going with my boyfriend, my parents, my sister and her partner and two little kids. I’ve spent a year researching it, participating in some awesome Facebook groups and watched hundreds of hours of YouTube videos on Orlando. I’m hooked and like a bargain and have included every single trick and hack I know in this massive guide.
So here is how I booked my Florida holiday, using my money saving expertise (while leaving none of the good stuff out). If you want to keep up with my holiday where I’ll be documenting my trip and sharing my tips (just like this Disney freebie guide), follow me on Twitter, Facebook and sign up to my newsletter! Also, come say hi in the comments and tell me about your Disney World and Florida holidays.
When should you book a trip to Disney World?
Ok, so you’re thinking about going – but when should you do it? This depends on a few things – mostly, if you’re taking children with you.
I’m going with my niece and nephew, so have to go in the Easter holidays – which means the parks will be super-busy, and everything is more expensive – including flights, the villa and the park tickets themselves. I kid you not – Disney World even raises its food prices during these busy times of the year. If you can avoid the school holidays, you’ll save a significant amount of money.
I travel a lot, and if I’m going on a big holiday – I book at least one year in advance. The major reason for this is you pay for bits of your holiday in advance. As soon as payday comes around, I buy a bit of holiday, rather than sticking it all on your credit card, and paying it off for months after you’ve flown back to Blighty. Everything is cheaper when you book in advance too – especially flights, which you’ll see slowly go up in price every week.
Disney really does shove as many people into a park as they can, which means that queueing for rides can take a long time. At the moment, lines for the Seven Dwarves Mine Train can be easily 90 minutes/two hours long. It’s not the end of the world if you have to go during the peak time – like me, but you just need to be organised in advanced with Fastpast+ tickets.
I’m talking six months to the day in advance, as that’s what it takes to get the best restaurant reservations like Be Our Guest and Cinderella’s Castle. If you’re not staying in a Disney World hotel, you’ll need to book fast passes for rides 30 days to the day for fastpasses if you want to cut the queue on the good rides.
Unless you’re staying on Disney property – I believe it is much cheaper to break up your holiday and pay for everything separately, rather than book through a travel agent who will be taking a cut.
We booked a year in advance, but for an expensive time and got them for £500 per person – with one stop, with United. The flights were the biggest cost for us, and this was a decent price.
While £500ish is decent – there are some tricks to find REAL. I’ve flown to New York numerous times for £200 return, and found tickets to LA for £300 – you just need to know what you’re doing.
- Get tricky – Check out my clever little way to ALWAYS get the cheapest flight
- Don’t fly into Orlando – If you are hiring a car, you don’t necessarily have to fly into Orlando International Airport. There are other, cheaper airports not too far away which are a short drive to Orlando. Don’t get me wrong, it is possible Orland International Airport is the cheapest, but its worth checking the prices of Miami International Airport, Tampa International Airport, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach too.
- Use comparison sites – If you know when and where you want to go, then don’t go direct to an airline, use a price comparison site to crunch the numbers and get the cheapest deal. Don’t use just check one site either – check them all. The best ones are Kayak, Skyscanner and Momondo.
- Clear your cookies – Thanks to a thing called ‘dynamic pricing’, looking at flights, and refreshing the page will make it more expensive. The price of flights go up based on demand, so your search history is used against you. A flight you saw at £200, will not be that if you go off the page, then come back. Which is a proper cheek if you ask me! To fix this, clear your cookies.
- Keep an eye out for error fares – Ah, my very favourite way of getting cheap flights. Every now and then, an airline will accidentally misprice a flight and you can bag yourself a serious bargain. Keep checking Holiday Pirates, which is my favourite site ever. Recently, they found return flights for £289 per person to Orlando.
- Use a loophole – Try out Hidden City Ticketing
I really did my best to try and find a workable price so that all eight of us could stay on property at Disney World. We’re there for two weeks, and the thought of waking up and looking out of the window to see the zebra at Animal Kingdom Lodge is magical. But the price is eye-wateringly steep. I don’t know how people do it. If you have figured it out, please let me know in the comments!
I tried so hard to find a reasonable rate for ANY Disney hotel for the two weeks and was getting quoted between £6,000 – £18,000 for the stay. Some people will say its worth it – I just can’t pay that kind of money. At the time, there was free dining too if we had booked an on-property resort, but it didn’t – for me – seem enough to justify that cost.
Now, of course, I know lots of people who book a night or two at a Disney hotel and then go off-property. It was something we considered, but again, I didn’t want to pay MORE for a night at a Disney World holiday than it will cost for the whole two weeks in a villa.
So yeah, we’re all staying in a villa in Windsor Hills. I did a lot of research into which villa community we should stay in and decided on Windsor Hills – even though it is one of the more expensive ones. The big draw – its five minutes away from the Disney parks. I hear you can even see the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the complex.
Bearing in mind were staying in a luxury villa – five minutes away from the parks, which has a massive communal pool/private pool and everything you could possibly want – the two weeks cost us £1,200 in total. We split that between the three couples (didn’t make the kids pay – so left them out of the maths ;), which is £200 per adult for two weeks. I think that’s incredibly cheap – and don’t forget, there are loads of complexes in Orlando, even cheaper if you’re prepared to do a bit more driving.
Careful of this Disney World villa scam
I booked this villa through Airbnb because it was important to me to be able to read reviews for the property and the owner. I got burned a few weeks earlier with a villa with no feedback.
It was beautiful and cheap, so requested to book it. We were so excited because getting what eight people need and want for the right price isn’t easy. The owner came back saying that it had unfortunately gone – but here are the other villas she has (which were half as nice and twice as expensive).
The advert for the nice villa didn’t leave the website either – it was clearly there to reel you in. So be careful. I also recommend you book it as early as possible. As the days and weeks rolled on, I could see the villas disappearing one by one. We got one of the very last options in Windsor Hills – and we booked about eight months early.
Disney & Universal tickets
Booking the Disney World tickets were stressful. I went directly to Disney to buy my tickets – and my sister and my parents didn’t get around to it. A couple of days later, the price shot up drastically – like around £90 extra per person, which is a sickeningly large amount.
What I did learn from this is a) book your Disney tickets as soon as you can, as they are always rising in cost b) don’t buy direct – there are cheaper and better ways to do it. Which I’ll go into below.
Ok, so there are four main parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom) and two water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach).
Weirdly (but it does make sense to keep you away from the competition) a seven day Disney ticket costs the same as a 14 day one – £369 for adults, and £349 for children. Most British tourists stay for two weeks, and what would make sense is if you got a cheaper seven day Disney ticket, then spent the other days at Universal and other parks. But no – Disney know if they can get you to stay in the Disney parks – you’ll be spending more on parking, food, souvenirs etc.
These tickets allow you to visit all the parks on any day and go to more than one park on a single day – including Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.
You also get get a free ‘Memory Maker’ with each ticket worth £120. You see all those Disney photographers in the park – well, don’t be shy and get them to take your photograph. You then download them for free.
A little tip – you can get them to superimpose Disney characters into the pictures too, so your little one could be holding Tinkerbell for example.
When getting my sisters and parents Disney tickets, we decided to go to a different website as they had not risen to the prices of direct Disney yet. If booking Disney tickets, I’d 100% recommend you get them through American Attractions, because the tickets will either be the same (or a little cheaper) and you can get an extra £6 off per ticket when you enter MoneySavingeExpert’s exclusive code MSE6 – which isn’t to be sniffed at.
Also, you’ll get the tickets delivered to your door, whereas me and my boyfriend have to go and pick them up at the parks which is a proper faff. You’d think after I dropped nearly a grand, they’d post them for you eh?
If you can’t pay the full amount off initially, get your tickets with Florida Tix, which charge the same as Disney – but you can pay off your tickets whenever you have some cash. You just need to put down a minimum deposit of £10 to secure your tickets.
Florida’s Universal Orlando Resort has two main parks – Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and a water partk, Volcano Bay which looks incredible.
Universal has separate UK and American sites, which each sell different types of tickets. If you’re going for up to four days, go via the US site for standard tickets, which is around £86 for an adult and £80 for children. However, get a two day ticket, that will cost you slightly extra – £103. Volcano bay is £60.
If you to spend a few days in Universal, the UK site offers tickets valid for admission for 14 consecutive days, which cost £241 for adults and £232 for children – which includes Volcano Bay.
We’re not actually going to Universal this trip. I think the kids are a little too small, we’re struggling to do what we want to do anyway- and we’re on a tight budget. However – if we were going to go, I would 100% do this little trick…
My favourite Universal trick
If you’re going during busy peak times, lines can get super busy in Orlando – and whereas in Disney FastPass tickets are free – they aren’t in Universal. Express passes (although often worth the money) are a hefty £76 per person.
With the express pass, you can directly cut the lines and head onto the ride – it will save you a lot of time. ANYWAY – if you stay at any hotel located at Universal Studios, you automatically get a free complimentary Express pass to use at Universal – no matter how long you stay there.
The cheapest hotel to stay at is Royal Pacific Hotel which is about £215 (I checked for March 2018) for a family of two adults and two children – depending on when and how in advance you book.
EVEN if you only stay for one night – you’ll get an Express Pass that covers TWO days, for each person staying in the hotel.
Let’s do the maths. If you’re going to the parks and plan to get express tickets for the family (going with two adults and two kids) the passes will cost you £280. However – if you stay one night at the hotel, it will cost you £215 (don’t forget cashback!) saving a whopping £65 (and potentially saving you a night at your current hotel/villa – depending on that cost).
Like I said, me and the boyfriend travel to the USA a lot – and love nothing more than a road-trip. Seriously, been every year(ish) for about eight years and just love driving around the different states. We’ve picked up a few tricks when it comes to hiring cars.
Firstly if you’re happy to negotiate and willing to take a little risk – you can get a super cheap – yet fancy car. We went to Hawaii for my 30th birthday last year (the best holiday ever FYI!). In the past, we’ve cared a lot about the car we wanted – mainly a convertible Mustang while doing the West Coast – but we didn’t really care in Hawaii.
So we booked the cheapest car we’d be happy with. I want to tell you to get the very cheapest car, no matter what – but I’d hate for you to be stuck with it if they had no other cars. I’ve never heard of that happening, and it has never happened to me – but that’s the risky bit.
Without a doubt, when you get there – they are going to try and get you to upgrade. I guarantee this is going to happen. At the desk when signing in, my boyfriend mentioned that we were thinking about getting a convertible, but it was too expensive. That was enough to get the negotiations going.
This is what will happen: The sales guy will type a load into of stuff into his computer and will come up with an expensive price (which is still likely to be cheaper than it would be if you booked it in the UK). Say no. That is too expensive. He’ll type away again… and again… coming up with lower numbers.
My boyfriend then said, ‘I’ll upgrade, but am only willing to pay $100 more for the whole time – because we don’t mind the car we booked”. The guy goes off to talk to his manager and voila! We had a cheap upgrade. Listen up and listen good – if the salesperson hasn’t asked the manager if its ok – they’re still more wiggle room. Keep going!
And of course, before you go booking your car while in the UK, there are a few rules:
- Book early – The sooner you do it, the cheaper the car will be – like, £100s cheaper.
- Use comparison sites – not just the one either as there are different deals on different sites. Again, I like Skyscanner, Kayak and TravelSupermarket.
- Don’t be put off by cheap sounding car hire companies – Not sure about Dollar? Hertz sound like you’ll get a better car? Nope. Not my experience at all. The cheap ones are owned by the more expensive ones anyway.
- Don’t buy the excess at the airport – Never buy the car hire companies’ insurance. It is a rip-off. Maybe one of the biggest fights me and my boyfriend ever had was over this – I don’t know why he doesn’t listen to me! Ha. Anyway, standard cover is typically included when you book. But when you get there they’ll be like, ‘You need to pay for excess or you’ll end up paying *enter massive/scary amount* if you scratch the car. Don’t fall for it! However, you should get excess, but before you leave from a standalone prover which will cost you a few quid a day. Ours, for example, has cost us £50 for the two weeks.
- Pick the full to full option – Pick a company that will start you off with a full tank of fuel (we’ve found the price of the initial tank pretty reasonable) and return it will a full tank. Full to empty companies make money off you not being able to use up all the fuel in the car.
- Take photos of every scratch – I’m paranoid about this but have never ever had a problem (even when we properly scratched the front of a car once trying to drive a convertible up a steep dirt track road trying to visit a ghost town in the mountains… oooppss). But be prepared just in case the hire company does get funny about it.
- Get a discount code – I genuinely got a 40% off code for Hertz once. Honestly, not 100% sure I was supposed to use it. I just found it online and it was a business code – it worked fine. Here I recommend sitting down for an hour and just trying codes. Pick a car hire company, and google ‘Dollar discount code’, ‘Dollar coupon’, ‘25% off Dollar’ etc – and try them out. Don’t be afraid to test out American ones too, you’ll find they may just work.
- Get cashback – It’s a no-brainer. Sign up to Quidco and TopCashback and hire the car via one of them. We’ve recently paid £300(ish) for car hire in Orlando and have got £30 cashback.
- Don’t pay for the sat nav – Take your own or use your phone – just make sure to download the relevant maps in the UK.
- Don’t pay for the car seat – It’s a rip-off. Go to Walmart, buy a seat for £23 and donate it to charity once you’re done.
Something to think about is once you’re off the plane, the person who is hiring the car needs to LEG it to the car hire booth. I kid you not, we’ve been sat there for FOUR HOURS waiting our turn. It’s awful. I just suggest you get there first, or settle in.
Repeat after me – get your holiday insurance as soon as you book ANYTHING to do with your holiday. Bought a flight? Right – get insurance straight away.
People often think that insurance is to cover them once they’ve taken off on holiday from accidents, but no – it covers you from the second you’ve booked. The airline gone bust? It’s cool – you’re covered. Has Mickey shut down Disney World? Don’t break a sweat (Joking, it would be the worst – but you know what I mean).
Before you get on the comparison sites, make sure to check you’re not already covered but don’t realise it. Many bank accounts which charge a monthly fee has extra benefits such as travel insurance.
That said, I always get my travel insurance with Compare The Market, because you get 2for1 cinema tickets for the year searching for cheap insurance with them.
I also don’t recommend you get the cheapest insurance either. For me, I get the lowest ‘excess’ amount possible, which is about £50 usually. The excess amount is the amount of money you will have to pay the insurer before it will compensate you for any items lost/stolen.
Let’s say your handbag was stolen and was worth £70. You’re not likely to use your insurance if your insurance excess is £250, because you’ll lose money.
Also, check those T&Cs, because insurance companies can play some nasty tricks to get out of paying.
Get a legitimate ESTA asap
When going on holiday to Disney World, you WILL need an ESTA. You should do it as soon as you can, because if you’re turned down (got a criminal record? You may have a problem) or it doesn’t get approved in time (it can take seconds, or weeks) – you aren’t getting into America.
If there’s a chance of you being rejected, consider sorting your ESTA first before you start spending a lot of money.
I also see people get conned all the time by going through dodgy sites that look official that aren’t – that will either take your money and will do nothing, or will apply for an ESTA for you, but will charge you extra money.
This is the official US ESTA site (which looks rubbish right?!) and an application will cost $14 (£10.47), or $4 if you are rejected. Once you have it, you’re good for two years. I’ve used the same one four times now.
When are you off to Florida? What are you paying? LLet’schat in the comments.