Road Trip to Orlando: Planning a last-minute vacation on a budget

About three weeks ago, my honey said he needed a break from work and a real vacation. I know how much and how hard he works without complaint, so I set out to make it happen. We started researching good last-minute destinations and deals online then decided on Orlando, Florida because it offered just the right amount of fun and adventure that we both love. Plus... Disney World!! Neither of us had been since we were teens, so we became set on being big kids for a few days and the planning began.

During our 7-day vacation, we visited four different theme parks: Disney's Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and SeaWorld. We did three of them all in one day. Yes, it was as crazy as it sounds, but I'll tell you how we did it. Even though we planned the trip out only a couple weeks in advance, I wish I'd spent a little more time mapping out the visit to Disney. Plus, we're still paying for a wedding, so we definitely wanted to do it all on a budget. I learned a few things along the way that I think may be helpful to anyone looking to visit the "Most magical place on earth."

  • FastPass+ for the win: Before we went to Disney, I reserved three FastPass+ for the Haunted Mansion, Tomorrowland Speedway and Big Thunder Mountain, which allowed us to skip to the front of the lines. In hindsight, I wish I'd picked better rides to use the FastPass+ for because those rides didn't provide the thrill we were seeking and we may have skipped them altogether. We also rode Space Mountain and Splash Mountain, but ended up waiting in those lines for at least 90 minutes. My Advice: Create a My Disney Experience account in advance and reserve your three FREE FastPass+ in advance and save on hours of waiting in lines. You're only able to do three per park in advance, but there are FastPass+ kiosks set up throughout each Disney park where you can sign up for more throughout the day. Definitely pick them for the rides that have the longer wait times. You can download the Disney World App to keep up with wait times at each ride. Besides saving money, one big reason to purchase your park tickets in advance is so you can make FastPass+ selections.

  • B.Y.O.F: The food at Disney was better than I expected. For breakfast we had stuffed waffles from Sleepy Hollow in Liberty Square at Magic Kingdom. I had a Fresh Fruit Waffle Sandwich with strawberries, bananas, blueberries and Nutella spread ($8.29) and my hubby had the Breakfast Egg and Cheese waffle sandwich with ham and tomatoes ($8.99). For lunch we stopped at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe also in Magic Kingdom. I had the Chicken Rice Bowl ($11.99) and he had the Beef Nachos ($12.49) and a Strawberry Lemonade Slushy ($5.99). My Advice: If you want to save some money, pack a lunch and bring it with you. Disney allows you to bring in backpacks, so you can bring in some sandwiches and snacks to keep you fueled and fed throughout the day. We definitely did this for our second theme park day at SeaWorld.

  • Rest & Recovery: As I mentioned before, we visited three of the Disney parks in one day. We had a one-day park hopper pass for the Disney parks, so I was determined to see as many and as much of them as I could. We ended up walking nearly 10 miles that day. Our feet, legs and brains were so tired by the end of it, but it was so worth it! But one thing we made sure of is we got plenty of rest before and after to accomplish it. My Advice: If you have the luxury of time, plan a day of rest in before you go to the parks and a day of recovery after. If you're like us, you'll need it. We literally stayed in bed all day after our day at Disney, so we could prepare for SeaWorld the next day. Also, don’t visit the Magic Kingdom on a Monday (like we did). Save it for the middle of the week when crowds are lighter.

  • Rainy Day Prep: Chances are, it will rain/sprinkle at least once during your trip. An average of about 53” of rain falls in Orlando every year, about half of that comes during the busy summer months. For us it rained a little everyday, and it usually started around 1:00pm. The rainstorms at Disney World were short-lived, but it's best to prepare ahead. We packed an umbrella, but got stuck in a downpour when we were transitioning from Animal Kingdom to Hollywood Studios. We ended up having to run into a gift shop to grab to adult ponchos. My Advice: Just expect that it will rain if your'e going in the summer and pack the ponchos or a light rain jacket. Throw-away ponchos at Walt Disney World are almost $10/each, but you can get them before your trip for as low as $1/each. Bring an extra pair of clothes and socks in case you're caught in the rain. Avoid Animal Kingdom on rainy days because almost all of the attractions are outdoors to it's the most difficult to navigate.

  • FREE Stuff: Who doesn't like free things, well here are a few that you may like! Celebration Button: If you are celebrating a special occasion, you can pick up a free button about what you're celebrating. They are available at the Disney resort hotels or in the parks from Guest Services. You may receive special treatment if wearing the buttons. Visit Disney Springs: In addition to shopping, there are also a ton of great restaurants, attractions and even bowling. You won’t get bored here. Get Free Disney Passes: Qualifying members of the media can apply for two complementary tickets to the Disney Parks and the other theme parks in the Orlando area each year.

There are so many things to see and do at Walt Disney World and Orlando in general, so read as much as you can when planning your trip. You can never know too much, but you can definitely know too little. If you’ve never visited Walt Disney World, you should go in with at least a rough plan of attack.

Also, here's an awesome blog by Disney Tourist Blog with 101 great Disney World tips.

I'd love to hear from you! What are some of your budget-friendly vacation tactics? Where are the best places to visit on a budget? What do you do to prepare for a last minute vacation?