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Orlando Theme Park Fun on a Budget

The Deal Detective is’s resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She’s always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.

Nik writes, “Hey, I love your column. I am a single mom who really has no budget for a vacation. This year my daughter has one birthday wish to go to Orlando and stay in Portofino Bay. I thought instead of saying no outright, as it is way beyond our means, I thought I would ask you if it was doable. Want to go for four to five days in August. Thanks.”

Oh, I can still remember the excitement of birthdays in my youth, and I must commend you for trying to make your little girl’s dream come true. I know it’s not always easy, especially when dealing with the high prices of major theme parks. However, I think we may be able to find a way to make your daughter’s wish a reality. So, I’m going to skip that ultra-expensive Mouse-centric park and focus instead on the more affordable Universal Studios.

If you have your heart set on staying in Portofino Bay, you will pay more than staying at a nearby hotel downtown. However, there are several perks to staying at a Universal Orlando resort, such as water taxis to the theme parks (Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida, and the Universal CityWalk), front of the line access to all rides, and special discounts.

For instance, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, the creme de la creme of the three hotels available through Universal, is offering a Stay Four, Play More package valid through January 3, which includes four or more nights, two unlimited theme park tickets (entrance to both parks for seven consecutive days), and access to the CityWalk entertainment complex. The deal starts at $274 per night in August, which will end up costing about $1,096 before taxes. Plus, if you travel August 16 through September 30 or November 29 through December 17, your daughter gets free lunch and dinner during your entire four-night stay.

When you consider that unlimited theme park tickets cost about $100 per person when you purchase them online ($125 at the gate), your hotel costs about $225 per night. Another on-site hotel option is the Loews Royal Pacific Resort, which is offering the same package starting at $219 per night, or about $876 for four nights, which saves you about $220 total.

As I mentioned above, if this is still too hefty of a price to pay on lodging, there are other ways to save. You can opt to stay at a Universal partner hotel such as the Hotel Universal located in the heart of downtown, which offers free shuttle transportation to Universal Studios, and rooms start at $99 per night in August. If you stay four nights and buy two unlimited theme park tickets, you’ll spend about $600 on your vacation (not including taxes, meals, or airfare).

As for airfare, since I don’t know where you’re departing from, I priced round-trip tickets from New York City to Orlando in August starting at $229 per person (taxes and fees included). The total cost for your trip if you stay in the cheaper option of hotel will be about $1,060 for four nights including hotel, tickets, and airfare.

Most kids can’t be that close to Mickey without paying him a visit, and a one-day pass to Disney World typically costs $75 per adult and $63 per child. You may be able to find discounts and deals at

You can also save a bit of cash with the Orlando Magicard that offers discounts on activities, dining, and entertainment all over the city. Wherever you stay, be sure to also ask about the Orlando Family Welcome Pack, which includes coupons and discounts tailored to a family’s visit. For other ideas of ways to save in Orlando, Eileen Ogintz offers her advice.

I hope this helps, and I wish your daughter a very happy birthday. As for my other readers: Are you Orlando-obsessed? Do you know insider’s secrets to how to get the most for your money? Can you offer Nik tips on how to cut corners to give her little girl her birthday wish? Please share with everyone any and all tips below.

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