Taking a Large Group to Orlando on a Budget

My family loves to visit Orlando. During the year one or more of us visit at different times. Once a year I take on the task of planning a trip for the entire family to enjoy together. Four generations head to Orlando early each June for 8 days of family fun and togetherness. There is no doubt that Orlando can be an expensive destination. Over the years I have found ways to save on our yearly trips so that everyone can have the experience they want.

Large Group Trip Orlando Budget
Orlando-Train-Station Photo Credit: WBEEM via Flickr

Orlando is best known for Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, but there’s so much more to the area. Vacationing in Orlando with 8, 10 or 12 people on a budget can be pretty easy with the right mind-set. As soon as I realized that hotels just won’t work, especially a Walt Disney World or Universal resort, my planning became so much easier. Having space for a large group can get expensive when you think about needing 2, 3 or 4 rooms to accommodate everyone in a hotel or resort.

Vacation Home Rental

Once I realized that renting at least 3 or 4 hotel rooms could easily explode my budget, I began looking at vacation home rentals in Orlando. Fortunately I found one that my family loves and we have now used many times.

The positive side of renting a vacation home is cost. Even the cheapest hotel room times four rooms can easily cost $500 or more per night. Times 7 nights, well, that’s lots of money. We can rent an entire home that sleeps up to 16 for much less. Each member of the family also has their own space with private areas so there is never a feeling of crowding each other. The home my family really loves, and has used many times, is Characters Corner Vacation Home. I will admit I was a little concerned going into our trip this year since we have added a new baby. Bringing a 5 month old along was definitely something I haven’t done in a long time. My mom, at 85, is also having a much harder time getting around. The home is set up so well and provides everything a family needs (2 cribs, high chair, ground floor bedrooms with bathrooms) that I was worried for nothing! Six bedrooms and two convertible sofa beds, 4 bathrooms, a movie theater and a pool/kiddie pool/hot tub! What more can a family want! Everything you need is in the home to make your family feel comfortable, relaxed and ready to have a great vacation. All dishes, linens, washer/dryer, Wi-Fi, pool towels, etc., are provided and the home is wheel chair accessible.

My new grandson was also able to experience his first pool time without worry that he would get splashed or afraid in a large resort pool with many other people around.

Cleanliness and customer satisfaction are the top priorities for the owners and there is a property manager nearby, just a phone call away in case of a problem. 

Location – Location – Location!

Location is an important factor for us. Characters Corner Vacation Home is ideal. The home is a short 10 minute drive onto Walt Disney World property (2.5 miles away) and a 15 minute drive to Universal Orlando, Sea World and all the restaurants, shopping and attractions on the heart of International Drive (I-Drive).  Multiple large name grocery stores are within a few minutes drive, as well as many restaurants, shops and attractions.

The home is located in a private, gated community so is a very safe and secure spot for a family.

Dining Out vs. Eating In

No one really wants to go on vacation and cook. When a large group also means a large cost to eat out, cooking easy meals is necessary for the budget. When we first arrive at the rental home, one of the first things I do is head to the grocery store. Not only do I buy a few easy fix meals for the week, I buy breakfast for each day as well as bottled water and snacks to take with us on our trips to local attractions. You’ll be surprised how much you can save by eating breakfast at the house and taking along your own snacks and water! Some evenings we may return to the house before dinner. There is a gas grill provided for easy meals like hamburgers and hot dogs. There are also several local restaurants that will deliver to the community. Pizza and a movie in the theater are a great way to spend a relaxing evening together!

Discount Attraction Tickets

Each member of my family likes to do something different. My granddaughter only wants to go to Walt Disney World. My daughter-in-law and son love Universal. I like Sea World. My daughter likes it all! Even though we travel together I am a firm believer in everyone getting to do what they like. Sometimes it’s necessary to split up and go our separate ways. We have a family meeting each year and everyone gets to say what they want to do and where they want to go. I then use discount sites to purchase the tickets and passes based on the list of things each family member wants to do. If only 2 want to visit Universal, I purchase tickets for those 2 only for one day. If all want to go to Walt Disney World, I purchase park passes for everyone making sure to not purchase tickets for every day of our trip. I try to build in days to see other things or to relax around the pool. My favorite site for saving on park and attraction passes is Undercover Tourist.

Free is Always Good on the Budget

There is so much more to Orlando than theme parks! There are many free and super cheap things to do in the area.

Disney Springs  is a great way to get a Disney experience without the cost of the theme parks. With shopping, dining, and diverse entertainment, you’ll be able to spend an entire day here. You can even pack a lunch, find a shady spot and enjoy a family picnic!

 Clearwater Beach Morse Museum of American Art offers free admission for children under 12, as well as free admission for everyone on Fridays from 4PM til 8PM (November through April). Morse Museum is technically in Winter Park but is less than 20 minutes from downtown Orlando.

Also located in Winter Park, the Albin Polask Museum and Sculpture Garden is home to exquisite art and serene sculpture gardens. Admission for children under 12 is free, admission for adults is $5.

A one-of-a-kind Holocaust Memorial has both permanent and traveling exhibits to communicate the history of the Holocaust. Admission is free.

For the adults in the group, Orlando Brewing Company offers free tours. Call ahead to find out hours and other information.

Several companies offer air boat rides, alligator tours, and more. While the prices aren’t too high, it could get expensive with a large family so be sure everyone wants to go before purchasing tickets.

What are your best tips when visiting Orlando with a group?




Dates & Menus Announced for 8th Annual WDW Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic

WDW Swan Dolphin Food Wine Classic

Without a doubt, one of the events in Orlando that I look forward to each year. The two day event is full of music, fun and great food! Each of the restaurants located on the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin property showcase their best and each sampling leaves you wishing for a full sized portion, and makes you want to visit the restaurant as soon as you can.

I always like to use this event as an opportunity to meet up with old friends, sip a few cocktails, enjoy delicious treats and listen to great music. It’s an event that everyone should experience at least once. I know that once you go – you’ll want to be sure to be there every year!

The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic will return for its eighth year Friday, October 27, and Saturday, October 28, with exciting new dishes debuting alongside returning festival favorites. Fans can now visit www.SwanDolphinFoodandWineClassic.com to view the 2017 food menu as well as book overnight packages and purchase tickets.

Highlights of the 2017 menu include featured items from the hotel’s signature restaurants: Kobe beef mini burgers with truffle aioli, Applewood smoked bacon and roma tomato chutney from The Fountain; seared Yellowfin Tuna salad from Todd English’s bluezoo; ricotta gnocchi with wild mushrooms, baby spinach and fennel sausage from Il Mulino Trattoria and oven-roasted beef ribeye with mashed potatoes and sauce bordelaise from Shula’s Steakhouse. Returning dishes include the popular dragon sushi roll from Kimonos and fish ‘n’ chips with sea salt and vinegar potato chips from Garden Grove.

Also returning this year will be Carnival Corner and Chinatown, offering specialty cuisine in immersive themed areas, as well as the Sunday Bubbles Brunch on Sunday, Oct. 29. Original dessert offerings will once again be served by World Champion Pastry Chef Laurent Branlard. For a full list of current menu offerings, please visit www.swandolphinfoodandwineclassic.com

The Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic offers guests unlimited tastings at more than 50 stations featuring culinary selections from the hotel’s award-winning restaurants and wine from more than 30 wineries amidst a festive backdrop of live entertainment on the hotel’s scenic causeway. Upgraded ticket options allow guests to enjoy access to a beer garden featuring a wide selection of craft beers and Oktoberfest-inspired cuisine. The event also includes hands-on seminars with the hotel’s chefs and certified beverage experts.

Overnight and multiple-night package options are available for the eighth-annual Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic and can be booked by phone at 1-888-828-8850:

  • One-night packages start at $424, and include room accommodations and two tickets to the outdoor festival (seminar tickets and beer garden tickets may be added for an additional fee)
  • Two-night packages start at $824, and include room accommodations and two tickets to the outdoor festival for both nights (seminar tickets and beer garden tickets may be added for an additional fee)

Individual ticket options are also available for the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic and can be purchased at www.SwanDolphinFoodandWineClassic.com (pricing is inclusive of tax and service fees):

  • Advance-purchase, event-only tickets to enjoy unlimited tastings on the causeway are $115 per person
  • Upgraded tickets, including unlimited tastings on the causeway and access to the beer garden, are $140 per person

With 17 restaurants and lounges, and a distinguished culinary and beverage team, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel continually earns national recognition for its food and beverage program. The hotel features more than 70 certified wine sommeliers and 1,400 wine selections.

For the latest information about the event, guests can visit www.SwanDolphinFoodandWineClassic.com, like www.facebook.com/swananddolphin or call 1-800-227-1500.

About the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort

In the heart of the Walt Disney World Resort, the award-winning Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort resides amongst the greatest theme parks and attractions in Central Florida. The resort is located between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and nearby Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park and Magic Kingdom Park. Guests can discover 17 world-class restaurants and lounges, sophisticated guest rooms with Westin Heavenly Beds and the luxurious Mandara Spa. The resort features five pools, two health clubs, tennis, nearby golf, complimentary transportation throughout theWalt  Disney World Resort, the extended park hours benefit, where each day, one of the four Walt Disney World Theme Parks is open extra time for guests to enjoy select attractions (Valid Theme Park admission and Resort ID required) and Disney FastPass+ service, where guests can reserve up to 3 select theme park experiences up to 60 days in advance of their visit. The resort can be reached at 800-227-1500, www.swandolphin.com or through Facebook at www.facebook.com/swananddolphin.




Volcano Bay and TapuTapu Coming to Universal Orlando this May

Volcano Bay Universal TapuTapuTapuTapu™ Puts The Wonders of Volcano Bay™ Right At Your Wrist.

 All images via Universal Orlando.

Due to open at the end of May, Volcano Bay is Universal Orlando’s nearest park. When you visit Volcano Bay™ you will be granted the powers of the TapuTapu™, a waterproof wearable bracelet specifically designed for the park. With just a touch of your wrist you’ll be able to hold your place in a Virtual Line™ at the rides and discover wondrous surprises.

Unlike Walt Disney World Resort’s MagicBands, the TapuTapu will be given out when you arrive at the park and must be returned before you leave. It looks as if it will be used for a system similar to Disney’s FastPass+.

Arrive – Enter Universal’s Volcano Bay™ where you’ll be welcomed as a part of the Waturi family.

Receive Your TapuTapu – Pick up your TapuTapu wearable as you enter the park. It’s yours for the day.

Look for the Symbol – Look for this symbol throughout the park and use your TapuTapu to get a return time, play and more.
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Hold Your Place in the Virtual Line™ – Touch your TapuTapu on the symbol at a ride entry totem. That checks you in to the Virtual Line™ and gives you a return time.

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Relax and Play until your TapuTapu Alerts You – Your TapuTapu will tell you when it’s time to head back to the ride.

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Touch to Ride – Touch the symbol on the totem again and proceed through the ride entrance.
Discover Interactive Surprises – You can also use the TapuTapu where you see the symbol to play with interactive surprises around the park.

Return Your TapuTapu – Don’t forget to return your TapuTapu wearable when you exit Volcano Bay.

Designed specifically and exclusively for use in Universal’s water theme park, TapuTapu™ will make your experience throughout the entire park as hassle-free and fun-filled as possible. It will allow you to virtually wait in line for Volcano Bay’s dozens of unique attractions and discover various TapTu Play™ experiences throughout the park with just a simple touch.

Here’s what we can all expect to see when Volcano Bay opens:

The Volcano

At the heart of the island stands Krakatau™, the mighty Fire and Water Volcano. Towering 200 feet above the tropical landscape, Krakatau streams waterfalls during the day and fiery lava effects at night. Inside the cavernous volcano the Waturi people dare you to brave a variety of heart-pounding water slides.

Krakatau™ Aqua Coaster

Honorary Waturi can experience the power of Krakatau™ on this amazing ride. Four-person canoes slide upward through the mists and into the dark twists and turns within the volcano before emerging with a plunge through a shimmering waterfall.

Ko’okiri Body Plunge™

Join in the centuries-old tradition of honoring the volcano god, Vol, by braving the incredible Ko’okiri Body Plunge. Featuring a 70-degree fall through a drop door and 125 feet of screaming, white-knuckle fun, this dizzying descent ends with a watery tribute from Vol himself.

Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides™

Join Kala and Tai Nui where sea and sky meet and take a leap of faith from high atop the volcano. Twin trap doors simultaneously drop two guests down clear, intertwining tubes before sending them joyfully splashing into the turquoise waters below.

Punga Racers™

A favorite among Waturi children of all ages, Punga Racers send single riders on their manta ray mats sliding down four lanes through underwater sea caves.

Wave Village

This peaceful escape overlooks the sparkling waters of Waturi Beach at the base of the volcano.

Waturi Beach

Locals know — the surf’s always up at Waturi Beach. Swim, splash and relax right along with them in the sparkling waters and warm waves of this sparkling lagoon at the foot of mighty Krakatau.

River Village

 The scenic River Village has fun for people of all ages, including the very youngest Waturi.

Honu ika Moana™

Just like the ancient Waturi people who rode the ocean waves on friendly sea turtles and whales, guests can enjoy these two twisting, turning, multi-person slides. Honu sweeps up two massive walls, while ika Moana sprays water on riders from the center of the raft.

Tot Tiki Reef™ & Runamukka Reef™

The little ones can frolic among the splashy slides and fountains of the Tot Tiki Reef toddler play area, while Runamukka Reef delights older children with its bubbling geysers, water guns, slides and dump cups.

Kopiko Wai Winding River™

Take a slow ride on the Kopiko Wai Winding River. Sprays of water surprise along the way, and beneath the lava rocks, Stargazer’s Cavern reveals the magical night sky above.

Rainforest Village

 Rainforest Village stretches along the shores of an action-packed river and features the perfect mix of relaxation and exhilaration.

Ohyah & Ohno Drop Slides™

Test your mettle and get into the Waturi spirit. Ascend cliff side and plummet down the twisting waters of Ohyah before dropping out four feet above the pool below. To achieve even greater bragging rights, brave the rope bridge and plunge down Ohno, a serpentine adventure that ends six feet above the pool below. Be sure to yell your battle cry on the way down.

Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides™

Ready for the high adventure of the Maku Puihi lava tubes? This six-person rafting adventure is a favorite of Waturi families, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Choose one of two paths or try them both—just be ready for a thrilling ride. Puihi careens through a dark, winding tunnel before the stomach-flipping thrill of zero gravity hang time. Maku slides you through a deep volcanic gorge before spinning wildly around bowl-like formations.

TeAwa The Fearless River™

Up for an adventure? Take a thrilling whitewater ride along TeAwa The Fearless River. Race along a roaring, watery onslaught of churning rapids and choppy waves hanging tight to your inner tube.

Taniwha Tubes™

There’s a place where the puka trees grow abnormally tall. Inspired by their twisting roots, the Waturi built four twisting water slides called the Taniwha Tubes. Riders can try all four twisting tracks, but beware — mischievous tiki statues spray jets of water when you least expect it.
I know I’m looking forward to this newest addition to the Orlando area – what do you think?



The Orlando Area on a Budget

Orlando Area Budget Travel

Bringing in over 50 million visitors each year, Orlando is most well-known for Disney, but there’s so much more to this great city than the Mouse! Orlando is a great city to visit year-round, whether you’re traveling solo or with a family. There are so many things to do and see! Vacationing in Orlando on a budget is pretty easy because there are quite a few free things to do.

You’ll spend the most money on lodging, and transportation to get here, plus transportation to get around if you rent a car. Orlando is not right on the beach, but there are several beaches within driving distance. What I like to do is map out each attraction I want to spend time at, and then map out each day so I can maximize my time (and money!). This means if there are three things in close proximity of each other, I’ll do those in one day. The next day, I’ll do others that are nearby. It helps save gas (and headaches) if you aren’t driving zig zag all over the place!

Beaches

Like I said, the beaches aren’t super close but they’re definitely worth a drive! The closest beaches are:

Daytona Beach: Located just above Cape Canaveral, Daytona Beach is one of the most visited on the East Coast.

Cocoa Beach: Not quite as popular or touristy as Daytona, it can be a bit more relaxing but does get busy during high season. Cocoa Beach is located just below Cape Canaveral.

New Smyrna Beach: Gorgeous beach! At low tide, the beach is up to 500 feet wide.

Clearwater Beach Morse Museum of American Art offers free admission for children under 12, as well as free admission for everyone on Fridays from 4PM til 8PM (November through April). Morse Museum is technically in Winter Park but is less than 20 minutes from downtown Orlando.

Also located in Winter Park, the Albin Polask Museum and Sculpture Garden is home to exquisite art and serene sculpture gardens. Admission for children under 12 is free, admission for adults is $5.

A one-of-a-kind Holocaust Memorial has both permanent and traveling exhibits to communicate the history of the Holocaust. Admission is free.

Chalk Artists in Orlando

Everything Else

Disney Springs (previously Downtown Disney) is a great way to get a Disney experience without the cost of the theme parks. With shopping, dining, and diverse entertainment, you’ll be able to spend an entire day here. However, you might want to pack a lunch because everything definitely has Disney pricing.

Orlando Brewing Company offers free tours. Call ahead to find out hours and other information.

Black Hammock Adventures offers air boat rides, alligator tours, and more. While the prices aren’t too high, it could get expensive if you have a large family. With that being said, it’s an adventure of a lifetime so it’s worth the cost if you can swing it!

What’s your favorite thing to do in Orlando that doesn’t break the bank? Let me know in the comments!


Previous Posts in the 2017 Traveling on a Budget Series:

Doing Maui on a Budget

Doing Key West on a Budget




9th Annual Downtown Food & Wine Fest (Orlando) Feb. 25 & 26

Ninth Annual Downtown Food & Wine Fest at Lake Eola Set for February 25 and 26, 2017

Lake Eola Food Wine Fest Orlando

The Ninth Annual Downtown Food & Wine Fest is set for Saturday, February 25 and Sunday, February 26, 2017 for more than 30,000 foodies and wine lovers to experience unique local cuisine paired with wines from around the globe. 

Located in the heart of downtown Orlando at Lake Eola on Robinson Street, the two-day Fest features mouth-watering dishes from 30 of Orlando’s premier restaurants, 50 domestic and international wines and live entertainment.  A portion of the proceeds benefit UCF Foundation, Inc. and Valencia Foundation.

Headline entertainers include Gavin DeGraw and KC and The Sunshine Band. Additional live music artists to be announced on www.downtownfoodandwinefest.com.

Date / Time: Saturday, February 25 (noon to 9 p.m.) and Sunday, February 26, 2017 (noon to 7 p.m.)

Location: Located in the heart of downtown Orlando at Lake Eola along Robinson Street

Fest Admission: 

One-Day General Admission

Admission is $20 per person, per day with advance online purchase. Admission at the door is $25 per person, per day.

Two-Day General Admission

For all-weekend Fest fans, a two-day ticket is available for $35 per person with advance online purchase.

Wine Tasters Club

A limited number of Wine Tasters Club passes will be available for purchase for $20 per person at the Fest.  Club members will enjoy up to five 2 oz. pours of their choice throughout the Fest and a souvenir lanyard.

Ultimate Fest Experience

A limited number of Ultimate Fest Experience packages are available for $115 per person, per day and includes a VIP parking pass, general admission, Wine Tasters Club, $20 value in food and beverage tickets, access to the private stage-side VIP tent, private wine/beer bar with premium wines (food and beverage tickets required) and access to private bathrooms reserved for VIP guests.

Food & Beverage Tickets:

Food and beverage tickets are available at the Fest for $2 each; food and beverage offerings range from one to four tickets.

“One of my favorite things about Downtown Orlando is the variety of restaurants and event options,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. “The Downtown Food & Wine Fest combines both by adding to the array of event options residents and visitors can attend, as well as, helping to enhance the vibrancy of the area all the while increasing awareness of our local businesses and strengthening economic growth in the area.”

Steve Carver, senior vice president and market manager, CBS RADIO Orlando commented, “Through the power of radio and the strength of our partnerships with the Orlando Downtown Development Board (DDB), restaurateurs, foodies and fans will come together to celebrate the sights, sounds and tastes of Orlando.”

Top restaurants are scheduled to present culinary tastings to complete in the Golden Fork Awards as honored by a panel of Orlando elected officials, food writers and reporters and celebrity chefs.

2016 Foodie AwardBaoery’s Asian Tacos

2016 Sweet Treat Award: Siro Urban Kitchen’s Black Cherry Liquid Nitro Gelato with Balsamic Drizzle

2016 Best of ShowPrimo by Chef Melissa Kelly

Stay Connected

For more information on the Downtown Food & Wine Fest:

About Event Producer: CBS RADIO

CBS RADIO is one of the largest major-market broadcast media operators in the United States and the undisputed leader in news and sports radio.  CBS RADIO produces original audio and video content, live events and exclusive programming broadcast via on-air, online and mobile platforms.  A division of CBS Corporation, CBS RADIO owns 117 radio stations in 26 markets – including all of the top 10 radio markets as ranked by Nielsen Audio – as well as an extensive array of digital assets. CBS RADIO distributes its programming via AM, FM and HD Radio stations, Radio.com and CBS Local Digital Media apps, making engaging with audiences easier than ever before. For more information on CBS RADIO, please visit www.cbsradio.com