Knowing how much money to take to Florida can be a minefield, and I don't think that there is one set answer for this. I set aside £1,500 (about $2,300) when I went in 2012 but I did buy myself an iPhone and had about £300 left over. I go absolutely mad with shopping when I'm over there – I literally wait for my trip to Florida to stock up on my favourite make up (MAC at the outlets), Converse (which I always end up selling despite trying to convince myself that I am a Converse kinda girl), Wilton baking supplies, random crap from Dollar Tree, so many sweets and much (much, much, much more). I bring two suitcases home. When I went with Tony last year, we both brought two suitcases home as we'd been buying a lot of wedding things.
Parking at the theme parks runs at $14-$15 per day (around £10). If you visit two theme parks from the same company on the same day (two Disney parks, two Universal parks, etc) then your parking is transferable. Some of the theme parks let you park for free from around 5pm, although this really is hit and miss and won't apply to Magic Kingdom. If you're staying at that resort then you get free parking for your stay.
Eating out can be done for as little or as much as you want. A great money saving tip is to fill up at a breakfast buffet in the mornings, and these generally keep you going until dinner (dinner being the evening meal in this case), with perhaps an ice cream or something to tide you over. You can also take snacks with you into the parks, and if you're very prepared, you can even pack a full on picnic to leave in a cooler box in your car. You can also sign up to restaurant's mailing lists (here's a handy list for you to sign up to) before your departure and they will come with money off coupons. And there's free coupons in the weekly paper (Orlando Sentinel).
Another great money saving tip is to buy water, Caprisun and bottles of Coke from the supermarkets and keep them in a cooler box in the car. Getting back to the car in the sweltering heat and having a frozen or cool drink waiting for you is amazing. You can of course take a drink with you into the park, but I found that mine became warm quite quickly.
Contradicting what I said earlier, having a large meal at lunch time will also save you money as restaurants generally offer a cheaper menu at lunch time. We've also found that places will offer “Happy Hour” buy one get one free on alcoholic drinks, lasting between 1pm-7pm. That's some happy hour!
You can also grab an Orlando Eat Play card for £12, which gives you many discounts in participating restaurants. This year will be the first time using one, and it even covers McDonald's!
As for how to take the money, I can strongly recommend the FairFX currency card. It costs £9.95 when you sign up, but if you sign up via this link IT IS FREE when you top up with £50. The currency card is a prepaid card, and the rate you get is whatever it is the day you top up. So if you're going in awhile, you can check the rates daily and top up then. Today is has been $1.69 per £1 – when we went last year it was just $1.52 per £1. FairFX also offers a better rate than in store cash exchange, and you have the added protection as it is a MasterCard. The minimum top up amount is £50, and the maximum in one go is £2,500. You can check your balance online and using their mobile app, and too up straight away if you need to. As many places have wifi, if you don't have enough money on your card you can just top it up easily before making your next purchase.
There is a $2 charge for withdrawing cash – I usually get anything from $200-$500 in cash (from a currency exchange) before I go away, and put the rest on the FairFX card.
If there is money left over on the card when you get back, you can do one of three things:
- Leave it on there for your next visit
- Spend it in stores over here – there is a 1.4% out of currency fee. If you withdraw it from an ATM there's also the $2 withdrawal fee.
- Pay £10 to FairFX to get the money put back into your bank.
I do a combination of 1 and 2, depending on when my next visit is.
The FairFX currency card is also available as a Euro currency card.
We did run into a problem with the FairFX card not working in Red Lobster, and when we asked online, no one else had that problem in Red Lobster – but this is where your back up cash comes in useful.
I would suggest a food budget of at least $100 a day for a couple, but if needs be, you could get away with a lot less.
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