Frommer's lists exact prices in the local currency. However, rates fluctuate, so before departing, consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanda.com/currency/converter to check up-to-the-minute rates. For help with tip calculations as well as currency conversions, download Frommer's convenient Travel Tools app for your mobile device. Go to www.frommers.com/go/mobile and click on the Travel Tools icon.
As a whole, Orlando is no more expensive than any other major city in the U.S. That said, in the theme-park zones, expect to be charged high prices for just about everything (that $1 bottle of water in the outside world will cost $2.50 and up in the tourist areas). If you plan on spending most of your time at the parks, budget accordingly.
When it comes to carrying currency, although many Orlando establishments do accept traveler's checks, I still recommend using a credit card, debit card, and/or cash because it's far less of a hassle (but if you do opt for traveler's checks, make sure they are denominated in U.S. currency -- foreign-currency checks will likely be refused). Be sure you have enough petty cash to cover airport incidentals, tipping, and transportation to your hotel (you can do this before leaving home, or you can get cash at an airport ATM).
In Orlando, the easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM (automated teller machine), sometimes referred to as a "cash machine" or "cashpoint." The Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks span the globe. Go to your bank card's website to find ATM locations at your destination. Be sure you know your daily withdrawal limit before you depart. In addition, international travelers should check with their bank before departing to ensure that their PIN (personal identification number) will be valid in the U.S. (though most major U.S. banks generally accept the same four-digit PINs commonly accepted worldwide). It is also a good idea to alert your bank of your travel plans in an effort to avoid any possible difficulties using your card while in the U.S.
ATMs can be found on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom and at the entrances to Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom (where you'll find another one located across from the TriceraTop Spin in DinoLand). They're also at Pleasure Island (soon to be Hyperion Wharf), in Downtown Disney Marketplace, at Disney resorts, and in the Crossroads Shopping Center. There are also ATMs near Guest Services at Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, SeaWorld, and Aquatica. Outside the parks, most malls have at least one ATM, and they're in some convenience stores, such as 7-Elevens and Circle Ks, as well as in grocery stores and drugstores.
There are frequently extra charges for using nonbank ATMs or bank ATMs not affiliated with your home branch. Depending on your institution, those charges can range from $1 to $3.50 per transaction -- the average is $2.75 across Florida. To compare banks' ATM fees within Orlando, use www.bankrate.com. Visitors from outside the U.S. should also find out whether their bank assesses a 1% to 3% fee on charges incurred abroad (most will, unless they are associated with the Global Alliance).
Be very careful when using ATMs, especially at night and in areas that are not well lit and heavily traveled. Don't let the land of Mickey lull you into a false sense of security. Goofy and Pluto won't mug you, but some of their estranged neighbors might. Cuddly characters aside, this is a big city and the crime rate here is the same as in comparable locations. When entering your PIN at an ATM, make sure you shield the keyboard from others in line. And if you're using a drive-through, keep your doors locked.
In addition to getting cash out of an ATM, you can also buy Disney dollars while visiting Walt Disney World. This currency, with images of Mickey, Minnie, Pirates of the Caribbean, and so on, comes in $1, $5, and $10 denominations. The dollars are good at WDW shops, restaurants, and resorts, as well as Disney stores everywhere. This is a great way to give a preset allowance to kids for their souvenirs. If you have any leftover dollars, you can exchange them for real currency upon leaving WDW or keep them as a souvenir. Note: Pay close attention if you have a refund coming. Some items, such as strollers, wheelchairs, and lockers, require a deposit, and Disney staffers will frequently use Mickey money for refunds. If you don't want it, just let them know and they'll be happy to give you real cash.
Credit Cards & Debit Cards
Credit cards are the most widely used form of payment in the U.S., and most Orlando establishments accept the following: Visa (Barclaycard in Britain), MasterCard (EuroCard in Europe, Access in Britain, Chargex in Canada), American Express, Diners Club, and Discover. Credit cards also provide a convenient record of all your expenses and offer relatively good exchange rates. You can withdraw cash advances from your credit cards at banks or ATMs, but high fees make credit-card cash advances a pricey way to get cash.
It's highly recommended that you travel with at least one major credit card in Orlando. You must have a credit card to rent a car, and hotels and airlines usually require a credit card imprint as a deposit against expenses. International visitors using chip-and-PIN cards (or smart cards, as they are often called) will have to have their cards swiped (they still have a magnetic strip), and in most cases sign for their purchases (no PIN required), as the U.S. has no plans to implement a chip-and-PIN system anytime soon.
Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld parks, shops, restaurants (but not most fast-food outlets) and resorts (Disney and Universal) accept all five major credit cards mentioned above. Additionally, the WDW and Universal resorts will let you charge purchases made in their respective park shops and restaurants to your hotel room, but you must settle up when you check out. Be sure, however, to keep track of your spending as you go along so you won't be surprised when you get the total bill.
Debit cards are also a commonly accepted form of payment in most Orlando stores and restaurants as well as select resorts. Debit cards draw money directly from your checking account. Be aware that fees (generally $1-$3, though sometimes a percentage of the transaction) are usually imposed on most debit transactions, both foreign and domestic. Also note that most resorts deduct up to $200 (or more) from your debit account each and every day of your stay, greatly reducing the amount of money you have available in your bank account (until it is credited back some 10 or so days after you've settled your bill and checked out), so be sure to ask exactly what the policy is before handing over your card at check-in. Some stores enable you to receive cash back on your debit card purchases as well. The same is true at most U.S. post offices.
The main lesson here is to beware of hidden fees when traveling. Check with your credit or debit card issuer to see what fees, if any, will be charged for overseas transactions. Recent reform legislation in the U.S., for example, has curbed some exploitative lending practices. But many banks have responded by increasing fees in other areas, including fees for customers who use credit and debit cards while out of the country -- even if those charges were made in U.S. dollars. Fees can amount to 3% or more of the purchase price. Check with your bank before departing to avoid any surprise charges on your statement.
For the budget conscious (and those who prefer not to completely deplete their financial portfolio), here are a few helpful suggestions and reminders:
- Become a member. Joining travel-related programs (including, but not limited to, AAA), participating in select reward programs (such as hotel and airline reward programs), and obtaining the Orlando Magicard (through the Orlando CVB) can save you a fair amount of money on hotel stays, restaurant meals, attraction tickets, and merchandise at select retailers (even in the theme parks) -- but you have to remember to present your credentials when making reservations, checking in, and/or paying your bill to see the savings.
- Bring your own stroller. Or consider purchasing an inexpensive model while you're in town -- the rental fees at the theme parks can easily exceed the cost of a new stroller in just a couple days.
- Pack snacks and drinks. While it is part of the Disney experience to purchase the occasional Mickey bar, pail of popcorn, turkey leg, or souvenir cup filled with the soda of your choice, bringing your own supplementary stash of snacks and bottled water (purchased at area grocers, not at your hotel) into the parks will save you a bundle in the end. Theme-park prices for such items are beyond believable.
- Budget for souvenirs. Also an integral part of the Disney experience is souvenir shopping. If you want to save a few dollars, it's helpful to create a budget for souvenir shopping before you go. Make sure to allow for the occasional must-have one-of-a-kind item that you and your kids will likely discover along the way, in addition to the traditional T-shirts and trinkets that you'll see everywhere. Even the little items add up quickly, so keep track of your spending as you go.
- Remember those baggage fees. If you do decide to splurge on souvenirs, remember that the items you purchase will have to be packed (leave room in your luggage or pack a spare bag just for such purchases) -- and keep in mind the high cost of baggage fees if you're traveling by plane.
- Time your meals. When dining at the parks, try to eat your big meal of the day at lunch, when prices are generally lower (though there are a few exceptions). Character meals and dinner shows, like souvenirs and specialty snacks, are part of the whole Disney experience, but choose wisely -- the characters, experience, and prices vary considerably. If you have toddlers, head to the Crystal Palace (Magic Kingdom), Tusker House (Animal Kingdom), Cape May Café (Disney's Beach Club Resort), Chef Mickey's (Disney's Contemporary Resort), or 1900 Park Fare (Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa). If you have school-age kids, add Cinderella's Royal Table (Magic Kingdom), Princess Storybook (Epcot's Akershus Royal Banquet Hall), and 'Ohana (Disney's Polynesian Resort) to the list of choices. Note: Breakfast is the least expensive meal (relatively speaking), followed by lunch, followed by dinner (which can reach as high as $60 per adult and $36 per child depending on the experience). Dinner shows, while definitely entertaining, are best saved for kids ages 8 and up; the younger children (especially toddlers) tend to lose interest -- which, given the price tag, would be less than ideal.
- Consider the Disney Dining Plan. This option is only available to those staying at an official WDW hotel -- but it can add up to substantial savings when compared to purchasing your meals a la carte. At times, the Disney Dining Plan has been offered as a free perk when purchasing a Disney vacation package, so be sure to check www.disney.com for details.
What Things Cost in Orlando (US$)
Taxi from airport to Walt Disney World (up to four people) 60.00
Shuttle from airport to Walt Disney World (two adults, two kids) 122.00-135.00
Double room at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (very expensive) 440.00-1,145.00
Double room at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge (expensive) 250.00-615.00
Double room at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort (moderate) 154.00-309.00
Double room at Staybridge Suites Lake Buena Vista (moderate) 129.00-289.00
Double room at Disney's All-Star Music Resort (inexpensive) 82.00-179.00
Six-course fixed-price dinner for one at Victoria & Albert's, not including tip or wine pairing (very expensive) 125.00-200.00
Adult all-you-can-eat buffet dinner at the Disney theme-park restaurants, not including tip or wine (moderate) 23.00-40.00
Roll of ASA 100 Kodak film, 36 exposures, purchased at Walt Disney World 16.00
Tube of sun block in the theme parks 12.00
Evening movie tickets at AMC, Pleasure Island 8.00-15.00
Adult 4-day + Park Hopper admission to Walt Disney World 298.00
Child 4-day + Park Hopper admission to Walt Disney World 279.00
Adult 1-day, one-park admission to Walt Disney World 85.00
Child 1-day, one-park admission to Walt Disney World 79.00
Adult 1-day, one-park admission to Universal Orlando 85.00
Child 1-day, one-park admission to Universal Orlando 79.00
Adult 1-day, one-park admission to SeaWorld 79.99
Child 1-day, one-park admission to SeaWorld 71.99
Adult five-park, 14-day Orlando FlexTicket 274.95
Child five-park, 14-day Orlando FlexTicket 254.95
Admission 1-day to Discovery Cove with Dolphin Swim 199.00-319.00
Adult admission to Orlando Science Center 17.00
Child admission to Orlando Science Center 12.00
Adult admission to Gatorland 23.00
Child admission to Gatorland 15.00
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.