28 Orlando on a Budget Tips: Disney, Universal + iDrive

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Is Orlando on a budget possible? Yes! We can show you how to visit the famous parks, spend time, without spending too much money, on International Drive (iDrive), choose affordable accommodation and still have a great time in Orlando on the cheap. This guide will also detail how to do Disney on a budget without skipping out on the fun.  

1. Orlando on a Budget – Accommodation

While planning a trip to Orlando, consider three factors for your accommodation options:

  • Location
  • Budget/quality ratio
  • Shuttle buses to Orlando parks

For us, the prime location was iDrive because staying at Walt Disney World itself was not feasible price-wise and we also wanted to visit Universal Studios. 

Since the two parks are 11 miles apart we decided that Internation Drive was the best option for us since it is in the middle. 

There’s a lot going on at iDrive too! There are plenty of places to eat, drink and attractions such as shopping, museums and game-based activities. 

2. Choosing a Hotel on International Drive 

After a quick squint at Booking.com and Tripadvisor, you’ll see that many of the hotels on iDrive are actually pretty cheap!

Then when you dig deeper you realise that the majority of them are stuffy, outdated and have pretty poor ratings.

Note: Please do take Tripadvisor reviews with caution, as people are more likely to leave negative rather than positive reviews! I also tend to check Google and hotel social media account hashtags for a balanced view.

3. Avanti Resort

We stayed at Avanti Resort (8738 International Drive) because it is modern, has a swimming pool and a shuttle bus service to both Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. 

The hotel is perfect. Location, price and facilities are exactly what you need for your time in Orlando. Great base, safe and clean. 

The room amenities include aircon, TV, and a hairdryer which is vital for Craig when he has a short doo. 

Onsite there is a shop that sells snacks, a small fitness suite and friendly staff at reception. 

Our friends also stayed here on our recommendation. They visit Orlando annually and loved Avanti. 

While Avanti resort is not the most budget Orlando hotel, the bus transfers and its location helped keep costs down. 

⟶ For rates and availability: Booking.com | Tripadvisor 

Avanti Resort | Orlando on a Budget

4. Hidden Costs of International Drive Hotels

Three things you have to consider when choosing your hotel are:

1. The added resort fees which are often not disclosed during the search/booking
2. The additional cost of shuttle buses to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, if any
3. Timings of the return shuttle bus from Walt Disney World – will you make the Once Upon A Time Castle Projection Show?

5. Book During Low Season 

I know this is not feasible if you have little ones in school but we visited Orlando in January and had the parks to ourselves. 

The longest line was Space Mountain and we waited for one hour. The signs during line up tell you how long you can expect to wait. 

We whizzed around Universal Studios two times, going on many of the rides multiple times. We literally got off the ride and went back on it again. 

High season means more crowds, events and heat. Don’t underestimate how the weather can slow your time down at theme parks.

Our January visit required a cardigan for most of the day and did get quite chilly at night. It was just a bit too cold to sit by the pool for any length of time. I did use the jacuzzi at Avanti though. 

During low season, hotels in Orlando are more affordable and offer deals to encourage visitors to fill beds. 

Transport times are quicker too. 

We left the Avanti Resort at 08:10 and were inside the Magic Kingdom at 09:40. This even included taking the boat instead of the second monorail!

We lucked out as the magical Once Upon A Time Castle Projection Show was one earlier than its regular time slot at 22:00. This meant we saw it before heading for the shuttle bus. 

The time slot changes throughout the year, be sure to check what time it starts because you don’t want to miss it.

6. Orlando Airport to iDrive by Bus

While the majority of visitors to Orlando hire a car once they touchdown, the best way to keep costs down is to use the public bus service. 

The #42 Lynx bus will take you from Orlando Airport to iDrive for $2, so cheap! 

The journey takes around 1 hour, depending on your drop off point.

7. Orlando Airport to iDrive by Uber

An Uber taxi will cost anything between $23 – $35 making the public bus the cheaper choice. 

However, Uber rides offer the luxury of door to door taxi service and you don’t have to sit with your luggage. 

It is also quicker at around 30 minutes. 

We took the bus route to International Drive and an Uber back.  

If you are on a budget, don’t even think about a taxi at $60-70!

8. International Drive Hotel Shuttle Buses to Walk Disney Parks

Ensure that your iDrive hotel has shuttle buses that run daily to from International Drive then Walt Disney Parks.

The two are just under 10 miles apart and take two hours to walk between or a $12- $25 Uber ride or $40 taxi trip. 

The shuttle buses drop you off at Epcot and can take around 30-40 minutes.

Next, you hop aboard the monorail and buses to the other parks. 

9. International Drive Shuttle Buses to Walk Disney Parks

Alternatively, you can reserve a spot on this shuttle bus which picks up from hotels at 9am and drops you back off at 6pm. 

10. International Drive Hotel Shuttle Buses to Universal Studios

Depending on where you are based on International Drive you might be able to walk to Universal Studios. 

Alternatively, hotel shuttle buses take around 15 minutes. 

Uber costs around $11-15 and taxis are $22-30. 

11. International Drive Shuttle Buses to Walk Disney Parks

Alternatively, you can reserve a spot on this shuttle bus which picks up from hotels at 9am and drops you back off at 6pm. 

12. iDrive Coupons 

International Drive can best be described as a far more impressive Blackpool (England) and less overwhelming Las Vegas!

One of the benefits of staying here is that there are countless cheap food and drink opportunities.

You can find coupons for money off at a number of restaurants, bars and at your hotel. Just ask the concierge.

→ Hey veggies, check out this vegetarian food guide of Florida.

13. Happy Hour on iDrive

Many of the bars on International Drive put on happy hours where popular drinks have money off or you can buy 2-4-1. 

For example, Miller’s Ale House had $2 cocktails in the evening. 

Look out for the signs outside on the strip. 

14. Discount Cards

Check out the likes of the Eat and Play card for discounts on well known and lesser advertised establishments.

This card will also give you discounts on activities on iDrive such as Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Orlando Odditorium.

International Drive has lots to offer small and big kids alike.

We simulated flying at iFly, talk about feeling the force.

In Orlando, the fun does not stop when you leave Walt Disney World or Universal Studios!

15. i-Ride Trolley 

There is a hop-on/off bus which runs along International Drive from 8:00 AM to 10:30 PM. 

The air-conditioned iTrolly stops the top attractions and restaurants. Ideal for the hotter seasons, families and those who prefer not to walk. 

You can book here and show the driver the e-voucher on your first ride. 

Things to do on International Drive Orlando

Disney on a Budget

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible” said Walt Disney, so let’s see how possible it is to conquer Disney World on a budget!

Firstly, you just have to pay the ticket price, there is no way around it and it will be worth every penny.

16. Prioritise Your Disney Trip

Prioritise what you want to see.

There are four parks under the Walt Disney World Parks bracket.

  • Magic Kingdom Park is where you will see Genie, Minnie, and the likes shake their booty at the parade, soar the heights of Space Mountain, and watch the truly mesmerising fireworks on Cinderella’s Castle.
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios is aimed a tad more at adults in comparison to the Magic Kingdom. The park highlights are The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Before riding, leave everything – the credit cards floated out of Craig’s shirt pocket!
  • Epcot takes you on a tour of the world without leaving Orlando.
  • The fourth park is Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, which we chose to skip.

How can you see so many parks in one day?

17. Disney Park Hopper Ticket 

Time means money, money buys time. This is especially true at theme parks. 

The Walt Disney Park Hopper allows you to jump between the four parks using the monorail and bus service.

Weigh up the price of the park hopper ticket and what you are prioritising during your visit. You can see today’s prices here.

Disney | Orlando on a Budget

18. Value Your Time – FastPass+

Take advantage of the complimentary FastPass+ service which allows you to select three rides. The software then gives you an allocated time slot.

To access FastPass+ just sign up for My Disney Experience and input your ticket number.

19. Prioritise Your Time at Disney 

After reading out guide and studying deciding where you want to go during your trip to Disney you should have a good idea of how to plan your trip best. 

We went to Magic Kingdom first, Disney Hollywood Studios (#8 bus), then back to the Magic Kingdom for dusk.

If I was to do it again I would head to Hollywood Studios in the morning, do the rides using the FastPass. Then I would make my way to Magic Kingdom in daylight then stay for the night show, the park really does light up!

Disney Orlando | Orlando on a Budget

20. Food and Drink at Disney

You won’t be surprised to hear that food is expensive and there are lots of hot dogs, burgers, and turkey legs (yes!) on offer.

Good news budget lovers, you can take your own food into the park! So pack your sandwiches and snacks.

We took an empty bottle into the parks and filled up at the water fountains.

Stay hydrated, it’s a long day and it can get hot. 

Don’t expect alcohol on the premises of Magic Kingdom. Check out Disney Springs if you are looking for a party. 

Disney Money Saving Tips | Orlando on a Budget

21. How Much Does Disney Cost?

Our one day at the Walt Disney Parks set us back $83 in total:

  • Minnie ears: $23
  • Hot dog x 2: $14
  • Churro x 1: $4
  • Burger and fries x 2: $24
  • Tea/Coffee: $free – the girl was going off shift and couldn’t be bothered!

Universal Studios on a Budget

Universal Studios is for the big kids.

As soon as you walk through the bars and restaurants of CityWalk you get the vibe that the innocent kid was left in awe at Disney and now the cheeky teenager is out to play!

Universal | Orlando on a Budget

22. Prioritise Your Universal Studio Plans

There are two sections at Universal Studios – Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida.

Friends who have been during high season say you need two days for both. January served us well, we managed to get around both islands, twice!

I was keen to take a ride on the Harry Potter train (obviously!) so we prioritised the big roller coasters on Islands of Adventure then left Hogsmeade on the spectacular Hogwartz Express.

Craig isn’t a fan and he even thought it was neat. Harry must have done some of his magic because there was no line for the train.

Harry Potter Train Universal Studios | Orlando on a Budget

We dined in San Francisco, rejoicing that there were more than just burgers, and had drinks (yes alcoholic ones!) to the Blues Brothers on 5th Avenue.

The Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit was conquered three times and Marge Simpson took a shine to Craig’s tattoos!

The Simpsons Universal Studios | Orlando on a Budget

23. Universal Express Passes 

It wasn’t an invisibility cloak that got us around the park two times in one day – it was the Universal Express Passes.

This is a premium pass which can be added to the price of your ticket. 

It allows you to skip the lines one time per participating ride at Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. 

Yes, it costs more but it saves you time and frustration. 

24. Single Rider Options 

While there is no monetary saving by riding alone, it saves time for more rides! 

Head to the single rider lines if you don’t mind riding with strangers. We did this for the busy Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey on the Islands of Adventure.

25. Lockers at Universal Studios

Most rides go loop da loop and/or up and down at force, so the park enforces a no bag policy on rides.

Some rides don’t even allow you to have anything in your pockets but do have free lockers in each section.

Save time, don’t bring a bag or head straight to the lockers, store your belongings and hit the free highs!

Universal Studios Rides | Orlando on a Budget

26. Food and Drink at Universal Studios 

Two ‘foot long’ hot dogs were the same price as two main meals at an Italian restaurant on iDrive, yikes!

Again, be prepared and take food with you.

A beer will set you back $8 and the Butterbeer is worth every penny!

Harry Potter Land Universal | Orlando on a Budget

27. How Much Does Universal Studios in Florida Cost?

We spent $85 during one day and one early evening at Universal Studios. 

  • Croissant x 1/panini x 1: $21
  • Beer x 2: $16
  • Frozen cocktail + beer x1: $18
  • Butterbeer x1: $10
  • Hot dogs x 2: $20

28. Orlando on a Budget Tips

  • Avoid high season
  • Shuttle to the parks
  • Prioritise which parks
  • Fork out for fast passes
  • Use the single rider option
  • Take lunch and snacks
  • Don’t take kids!

Pin to your Florida board for later 

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Final Words

Although a trip to Orlando bit a chunk out of our budget, we both agree that the experience was priceless! I suppose deep down we are all like Peter Pan, and Orlando gives you the chance to never grow up! Well until the credit card bills come in. 


Thank you to Universal Studios, Walt Disney World, and Visit Orlando for media passes as well as Avanti Resort for the media rates and upgrade. An honest review as always.

Gemma and Craig are full-time workers with a life-long travel habit. Flirting with 30 and let loose on the world! Gemma writes, Craig looks good in the photos.

Comments 36

  1. Started reading you blog when I started research on Medellin, always an easy read and good way to pass time on relaxed eve! Even though the Medellin chapter was a while ago it still has helped, actually staying in Laureles and loving it still after a couple of weeks. Keep up the good work:)

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  2. Of course, Disney and Harry Potter is a must when visiting Orlando! Looks like you and Craig had a great time there. The Avanti hotel looks so nice! Was it humid when you went? Anyway this is a great post, it’s do-able for budgeters if they can resist the urge to splurge! I can’t wait until Harry Potter opens up in Universal Studios in LA, I’ve been wanting to try the butter beer!

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  3. What a great idea for an article. Going to Disney World usually means spending tons of money, but you have some great tips here to help save money. Prioritizing time is not something that I thought about before, but it makes tons of sense. Great tips!

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  4. Looks like you both had so much fun at Disney! There are tons of great budgeting tips here, too. Great catch on the daily resort fees in iDrive and I’m with Craig! I love when a hotel room has a hair dryer! 😉 Thanks for sharing!

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      Ha ha – vital! I am baffled by why hostel rooms don’t have full length mirrors, do backpackers not like to check their outfits out?

  5. Great tips. Looks like you two had a blast. The hotel looked really nice and it is great that you were surrounded by actives and food rather than having to pay or use a long bus ride to get to it, in turn spending more money.

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  6. As someone who has lived in Florida, great advice. The parks can be outrageously expensive and worse with kids. I still regret not doing the photo series on parents looking miserable at Disney while wearing Mickey Mouse Ears.

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  7. Never thought I would ever read the words ‘Orlando on a budget’, but you made it totally doable! Also I completely agree on having a plan when roaming a theme park, prioritising is key!

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  8. I really want to go and try out my wizardly skills. Good tip on heading over there first. Getting somewhere before the crowds adds so much value added time to a visit.

    I also like that you put in the pricing and times to getting there from the airport. Uber is certainly a game changer!

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  9. Agree wholeheartedly with the Avanti, and Miller’s Ale House was a firm favourite! There’s a Mexican on iDrive called Chuy’s which was amazing.

    Avoid Senor Frogs, tries too hard to create an atmosphere and food is really bland. Epcot is a park I’d avoid too if you have to choose!

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  10. Thanks for posting this as planning first visit to Orlando (also hoping to add New York to start) and travel agent has suggested the Avanti Resort. Sounds like it’s a good base for Disney but without the rip off resort price tag.

    Can I ask how easy is it to get to all the parks once you’ve been dropped off at Epcot by the bus and what’s the best one to get timewise? Was thinking of the 8am there and 8.15pm back as I’ll have an 8 yr old in tow and 10pm might be a bit much after a full day exploring. Are those busy?

    Also, can you book several days in advance or is it a case of only accepting bookings the day before for the bus?

    Is there a supermarket nearby (as would get cereal and milk for breakfast)?

    Which block / building is the quietest do you know? Someone suggest block 2 as it’s the most recently refurbished but is that facing towards the busy road?

    Sorry for the 50 questions – it’s just great to read a “human” perspective rather than the bog standard guidebook review of the parks etc

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      No problem at all. We were there during low season so our experience will be a little different, the busses were never busy. We just booked the day before but it would be worth emailing Avanti and asking about high season (let me know what they say!) There are mini-markets close (that’s mentioned in the post, we just bought breakfast for the room). That’s positive that you won’t be staying for the last bus as I imagine that would be the latest and the only disappointing part is that in high season it leaves before the fireworks (which are lovely!) Duration of journey is covered in the article “We left the Avanti Resort at 08:10 and were inside Magic Kingdom at 09:40, this even included taking the boat instead of the second monorail!” I honestly loved Orlando! Room wise, the other block (which I assume is block 2) was under construction and we heard no noise from our room but again, it was low season. You are very far away from the main road though, there’s a car park just to the back on this block.

  11. Thanks for the answers. Aye, I’m tied to school holidays unfortunately (as it is, madam will miss the last 2 days of term). I’d prefer to go in September but don’t think they’d allow that so October it is but hoping it’ll be a wee bit cooler than July and want to see the Halloween decorations.

    Love traveling (did a lot before my daughter came along) and keen that she gets to see different countries. We’ve mostly been in Europe the last few years so this is the longest trip she’ll have been on (I can hear the “are we there yet?” already!).

    Enjoy your next trip!

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      Haha, I’m a school teacher so I feel your pain. I hope to be like you when we start a family, no such thing as ‘settling down’ when you have itchy feet! Did Avanti get back to you?

  12. I’ll be honest and say I haven’t contacted them yet (the day job and an Iron Maiden concert got in the way!) but will do if we book that hotel (still weighing up whether to stay nearer Disney and do the Disney dining etc or on I drive ATM).

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  13. Thanks for sharing some of the ways you can get around when planning a vacation to Florida. I like the tip to take shuttles to the parks and a bus to the airport. My family also wants to visit Port Canaveral, so we will have to work out transportation to that location as well.

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      Craig did that day trip! You can read about it here. He’s a bit space fan. If you are too keep following us, we might be going to Huntsville space camp in October!

  14. Hey Gemma. Interesting and concise enough to help; I’m already jumping with joy. But please I’m still a little confused…how much does it cost to get in the park per adult? Thanks.

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      Which park? You can click on the links to both Disney and Universal in the article for up to date information on the park entry fees. Have fun! It’s a great trip.

  15. Great article – thanks for all the tips. I’m visiting orlando in the spring and have booked the Avanti. Can you please tell me if you can walk to universal from the resort?

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