But, amid the often sunny-meets-relaxed razzle dazzle, there are plenty of opportunities for budget-conscious travelers to feel right at home in the Sunshine State. And these money-saving measures can often lead to enriched experiences, be it taking in Fort Lauderdale’s skyscape via water taxi, laying out on one of Florida’s free beaches or seeing the southern half of the state via one of the most modern, high-speed train systems on Earth.
As you soak up the Florida sun, here are 13 ways to save some dough along the way.
Pick the right airport to cut travel costs
Florida has more than 100 public-use airports. Sixteen of them serve international passengers, with the airports in Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa being among those with the most flight options. When considering flight options, look beyond the cost of the individual flights and consider the taxis and/or car rentals required to get to your final destination – it adds up quickly.
Florida is nearly 500 miles north to south and, for example, a drive from Jacksonville to Miami takes five-plus hours. Choosing the cheapest flight you can find without considering location can put an almighty dent in your budget when you land.
Opt for a free beach
Approximately 90 percent of Florida’s beaches are open to the public and there are more than 1350 miles of coastline to explore. Some of Florida’s top white sand beaches that remain totally free to access for visitors include Clearwater Beach, Daytona Beach, Panama City Beach, St. Augustine Beach, Destin Beach and Amelia Island.
Visit between September and October for the best deals
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30. If you’re traveling in this timeframe, keep an eye on the weather forecast. While hotel and tour bargains are to be had during the entirety of hurricane season, September and October are much more pleasant temperature-wise than their oft-sweltering summer counterparts. The right travel insurance can hedge against a hurricane scuttling your vacation plans, but it comes at an extra cost – shop around to get the best deal.
Pack sun-bathing essentials to avoid paying heavily upon arrival
Sunglasses, sunscreen, a bathing suit, a hat, a blanket and, of course, sunscreen – all of it is essential for a Florida beach adventure and keeps you safe and/or not looking like a tomato. Brings as much of the aforementioned as you can as anything beach-y is priced at a premium once you get anywhere near an access point.
Skip the boat rental and opt for a water taxi
If the cost of a day at sea, on the river or along Florida’s Intracoastal waterway (someone in your group will have to captain the vessel or you’ll need to hire a captain) would implode your budget, consider a water taxi in regions with river and coastal landscapes. Among your options are the Naples Bay Water Shuttle, Tampa’s Pirate Water Taxi and Fort Lauderdale’s Water Taxi.
Zip from Central to South Florida on the Brightline
When traveling around the Sunshine State, getting from Orlando to South Florida used to involve either an hour-long flight or an almost four-hour drive. In 2023, the Brightline high-speed train drastically expanded its track from South Florida (with stops in West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Aventura and Miami) to Orlando, and the entire trip takes just three hours.
One-way tickets start at just $79 and, for an even more luxurious experience, you can opt for a first-class ticket with free food, drinks and premium lounge access.
Explore Florida’s state parks for discounted outdoor activities
There are 175 state parks throughout Florida ranging from mangrove-clad to unobstructed ocean vistas. For $60 you can snag an individual annual pass, or $120 for a family/group annual pass for admission of up to eight people at one time.
Among the state park highlights to explore are the Devil’s Millhopper sinkhole in Gainesville or embark on a glass-bottomed boat ride in Ocala. In most instances, on-site rentals – like kayaks, canoes and e-bikes – are much cheaper than what’s available just outside their gates.
Book theme park tickets ahead of time for the best deals
From Busch Gardens in Tampa to WonderWorks in Panama City Beach and, of course, Walt Disney World, you can save some serious money by being strategic and timely when purchasing Florida theme park tickets. In general, booking as far ahead in advance can save money compared to at-the-gate transactions.
Consider weekday visits over weekend treks – you’re more likely to get better deals and it won’t be as crowded. And, while a park hopper option may always seem like a good deal, think carefully about whether you have time to use it enough to make it worth the money.
Stay inland to save on hotels
Whenever you stay in a coastal Florida city – Naples, Key West, Sarasota and more – an ocean-view room will always come with a premium price. And hotels next to the ocean will usually cost significantly more than their equivalent just a block or two inland.
So unless you plan to spend most of your trip sitting in your room, look beyond the beach for bargains. For example, The Freehand in Miami Beach is tucked just a block away from the ocean in one of the best parts of town and has private suites, dorm rooms and one of the coolest cocktail bars in town, The Broken Shaker.
Embrace a cheap Publix meal (or five)
Avoid spending a fortune eating out every day by snagging a to-go meal at Publix – Florida’s beloved, homegrown supermarket. Among the favorites are the “Pub Sub” (a handmade sub from the Publix deli), its buffalo chicken dip and bakery-made key lime pie. The store itself is a cultural phenomenon and the money you’ll save by dining al fresco is a budget bonus.
Take a stroll (or splash) through Florida’s most scenic landscapes
Some of the best views in Florida are found when you’re just moseying around. Hollywood’s (yes, there’s one in Florida too) oceanfront boardwalk is dotted with independent shops and white sand views. In Daytona Beach, the Volusia County Sun Splash Park has access to beachside walking paths and an interactive water fountain.
Explore Florida’s history in a free museum
Not all museums in the Sunshine State come with a fee. Among them is the National Museum of Naval Aviation, home to the US Navy Blue Angels, in Pensacola. On-site are more than 180 classic aircraft, including a handful that survived the Pearl Harbor attack. In Gainesville, the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art on the University of Florida campus is one of the largest art museums in the state, with pre-Columbian and African artifacts on display.
Hike Florida’s tropical landscapes without an admission fee
Beyond Florida’s state parks and national parks – including Dry Tortugas National Park and Everglades National Park – there are plenty of local parks with no admission fee. Among them are the Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando, featuring 50 acres of paths as well as butterfly and palm gardens. In Kissimmee, the Disney Wilderness Preserve has birdwatching, a self-guided nature trail and hiking options, all without costing you a dime.
- Basic room for two: $150-200
- A slice of key lime pie: $6-10
- Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): $200-250
- Brightline ticket from Miami to Orlando: $79-149
- Coffee: $3-5
- Tank top from a beachside souvenir shop: $15-20
- Fresh seafood dinner for two: $60-80
- Craft beer pint at a Florida brewery: $6-10