Planning a Florida vacation but worried about getting slammed with hidden fees? You're not alone. From Orlando's theme parks to the Keys' resort charges, costs can really spiral.
But stick with us, and we'll break down exactly what to watch out for, from parking and activities to tips for saving money. Read on to learn about sneaky vacation costs before they burn through your wallet.
1. Walt Disney World, Orlando
At Disney World, the costs can sneak up on you, and all these vary depending on proximity and convenience. You'll pay for parking daily, whether you choose the standard or the closer, preferred spots.
If you're staying at a Disney hotel, they'll put a hold on your credit card for extra charges, which might tie up some of your funds.
Need to travel outside the resort? The complimentary transportation is great within Disney World, but stepping outside means paying for taxis or other services.
Love shopping? Sending those Disney souvenirs back home or to your hotel isn't free, and don't forget, tipping is pretty standard for services like dining and housekeeping.
But that's not all. Driving to Disney might involve tolls, an often-overlooked expense. Changing your plans can hit your wallet, too, with fees for canceling or not showing up for reservations.
Want those professional photos from Disney's PhotoPass? That'll cost extra. Bringing your furry friend along? Disney’s on-site pet care is convenient but not cheap.
Lastly, the Disney Genie+ service, which offers perks like skipping lines, is an extra charge to consider for a smoother park experience.
For more insights on budgeting for Disney World, refer to NerdWallet's article, "Disney World Costs for a Family of 4 Might Surprise You," which outlines that a trip lasting 4-9 days could cost between $7,000 to $13,000 for a group of 4-6 people.
2. Miami Beach
Prices in many parts of Miami Beach can be high, from food and drink to accommodation and tourist attractions costing significantly more than elsewhere.
Watch out for extra charges like resort fees that some hotels add for amenities you might not even use, so check what's included and budget accordingly.
Parking can be a wallet-drainer, especially near the beach, so consider public transportation or staying in a walkable area.
And those comfy beach chairs and umbrellas? Renting them can be pricey, especially during peak times, so consider bringing your own.
Plus, dining out in Miami Beach can be expensive, so consider local cafes. You might want to try this viral burger while you're there: TikTokers Rave About North Miami’s Pesto Provolone Burger, Calling It The Best They’ve Ever Had.
Also, many activities can be enjoyed at low cost or for free, such as beach lounging, renting bikes, and affordable dining options like Publix subs or pizza slices.
3. Universal Studios, Orlando
When it comes to Universal Studios in Orlando, there's an option for an Express Pass, which, like Disney's Genie+, allows you to skip lines, but it does come at an additional daily cost.
To tackle this, you can explore alternative strategies such as arriving early or visiting during off-peak times. For lower hotel and ticket prices, September is ideal.
For a budget-friendly stay at Universal, consider Endless Summer for efficient shuttle services and early park admission, a benefit not available with offsite stays.
Food and drinks within the park tend to be pricier, so buying essentials online, getting snacks and drinks from the grocery store, and bringing a cold brew pitcher for in-room coffee (avoiding Starbucks) can save money on your trip.
Unlike most offsite hotels, Endless Summer's standard rooms don't have coffee makers, so keep that in mind.
Occasional Uber/Lyft use is more cost-effective than car rental, except for extensive off-site exploration or dining. For airport transfers, Universal's shuttle is slow but economical at around $40 roundtrip per person.
Learn more in our in-depth cost guide for a general Orlando trip: How Much Does a Trip to Orlando Cost? [Including Budgeting Tips For Families]
4. The Florida Keys
Water sports and activities like jet ski rentals, parasailing, or fishing charters can also prove costlier than anticipated.
Also, accommodation costs, especially during peak season, tend to be really expensive and higher than in mainland Florida. Traveling between islands in the Keys may require ferries or private boats, which can add to your overall expenses.
To save on accommodation costs, consider staying on the mainland and taking day trips to the Keys. When planning a road trip, remember that gas prices in the Keys can be higher than on the mainland.
If you're interested in fishing charters, tours, or wildlife encounters like dolphin watching, it's wise to research prices and book in advance when possible.
And when it comes to wildlife encounters, be mindful of ethical concerns and choose responsible operators to support conservation efforts.
5. Everglades National Park
Within Everglades National Park, there are additional charges for camping, concessioner-operated tours, and rentals aside from the entrance fee, which ranges from $20 to $35 per person.
Boat tours, particularly airboat rides, are popular, but prices can vary significantly, reaching between $40 and $60 per person. You can check out the full list of fees here.
If you're interested in guided hikes or camping within the park, joining organized tours or setting up camp comes with additional fees. For more planning tips, read our guide: Everglades National Park: A Complete Visitor’s Guide.
6. Clearwater Beach
Parking near the beach in Clearwater can be costly, especially during peak season. To save on parking fees, consider using the Clearwater Jolley Trolley, a free electric shuttle along the beach route.
Renting beach umbrellas and chairs can quickly add up, especially for families. A cost-effective alternative is bringing your gear or finding shade under the palm trees.
For water activities like jet ski rentals and parasailing, it's a good idea to research options and book in advance to potentially secure discounts.
Dolphin-watching tours can be thrilling, but they come with a price tag of around $30 to $50 per person.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium offers a Dolphin & Wildlife Boat Tour, which is a 60-minute eco-boat cruise. The price for this tour starts at $19.99 per person, though it may vary by date.
While souvenir shops may tempt you with beach-themed trinkets and clothing, be mindful of inflated prices near the pier.
Lastly, while food trucks offer convenience, their prices can vary. When dining at these mobile eateries, be prepared for slightly higher costs than traditional restaurants.
7. St. Augustine
St. Augustine's horse-drawn carriage rides in the historic city offer charm but can be costly for brief tours. Alternatively, consider exploring on foot or by bicycle for a more economical experience.
When visiting Fort Mose, North America's first free Black settlement, note that admission to park grounds is free, as is the museum entrance for kids under 6, but it's $2 for adults. Donations are also appreciated to support this important historical site.
Dining in tourist-centric areas often leads to higher prices. A better option is to seek local eateries away from the main attractions for more affordable and authentic meals.
Be mindful of parking meter fees in the historic district to avoid fines, and consider using public transportation or walking as more practical alternatives.
Lastly, Fort Castillo de San Marcos, a notable Spanish fort, charges an entrance fee for adults but offers valuable historical insights and stunning views.
8. Daytona Beach
Daytona Beach also becomes a hotspot during spring break, increasing accommodation and activity costs. For better deals, consider visiting outside the peak season.
Parking near Daytona Beach can be as expensive as in Clearwater, particularly during busy hours. A cost-effective alternative is public transportation or staying within walking distance of the beach.
The free Volusia Beaches app offers useful information about beach regulations, amenities, and any additional costs you might encounter.
Booking accommodation well in advance is advisable if you plan a spring break trip to Daytona Beach. Expect higher prices and large crowds during this period.
Visiting Daytona International Speedway, known as the "World Center of Racing," can be a thrilling experience, but remember that ticket prices for races, especially during the NASCAR season, are usually high.
You can check the Daytona International Speedway site for the most current pricing. If you're keen on attending an event at Daytona International Speedway without the hefty price tag, explore practice sessions or free events at the Speedway.
Lastly, if you're interested in surfing, the costs of lessons and board rentals can add up. Opting for group lessons or renting boards for shorter periods, like half a day, can be more budget-friendly.
Keep Your Vacation Fun Without Going Broke
Planning a Florida getaway is thrilling, but hidden expenses can dash hopes for relaxation. While theme parks, activities, accommodation, and dining can carry premium price tags, some savvy planning goes a long way.
Focus your trip around free beaches or parks to offset costs. Research transportation passes and pack food and essentials rather than paying marked-up rates.
Booking stays and tours in advance can also lead to great deals, especially during peak seasons.
Most importantly, set a realistic vacation budget ahead of time so you don’t overspend in the excitement of sunny Florida. Staying aware of extra fees allows you to indulge responsibly while making precious memories.
You can soak up Florida’s beauty with a balanced, money-conscious approach without breaking the bank.