Winter Florida Getaway with Kids: Budget Breakdown
Updated: Feb 12, 2020
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If you’re like me and you live in a cold climate where the sun seems to be in hibernation along with the bears, you desperately seek refuge away from the long winter months. But where do you go if you don’t have much time, not a lot of money, and you’re bringing the kids along who aren’t quite the adventure travel enthusiasts you hope that they can be someday? One logical choice is Florida!
Florida is Americana at its finest. Highways, strip malls, beaches, boardwalks with loads of chintzy merch for sale, cotton candy, amusement parks, chain restaurants, and old-folk condo communities. Florida is not my favorite state (sorry Florida). Yes, there are pockets of culture, but for the most part it’s flat, hot, and oh-so cliche American. You kinda know what you’re getting when you go to Florida and that’s part of its charm.
What makes Florida the perfect winter getaway, especially from New England? It’s far enough away to be warm without being too far, flights are abundant and cheap compared to going anywhere else, and there’s a lot to do for kids. When we were planning our budget trip to Florida, the biggest decision was whether or not to splurge on an amusement park, the most expensive part of the whole trip.
We knew that just going to the beach and staying in a hotel with a pool would be plenty fun enough for my 4 and 7 year olds. My son ended up being so excited to get in the water, he jumped into the pool with his sneakers on! When we really sat and thought about it, my boyfriend and I decided that we wanted to give them an extra treat. Living in Vermont, amusement parks are something they don’t get to experience much, and Florida is basically the mecca for them. We felt we had to do it! Go big or go home…..but still stay on budget.
With so many parks to choose from, we decided Disneyworld was too big, overwhelming, and expensive, especially given their ages. We contemplated Sea World but we weren’t sure if there would be enough age-appropriate rides for them. Similar in cost to Sea World, we settled on LegoLand. Legos are something the kids are both into, and we thought there would be enough there for both of them to enjoy.
Our main objectives were...
to was to get away from winter
get a little sun
enjoy putting our feet in the sand
give the kids some time to swim
indulge the kids in a day at an amusement park.
Break them into traveling. This was only their second plane trip.
We kept our 4-day itinerary very simple:
Daytona Beach (Days 1 and 2):
Because we wanted to save LegoLand for the grand finale, we started our trip at the beach. Why Daytona? With so many beaches to choose from in Florida, it boiled down to cost and distance. We originally were going to fly into Fort Lauderdale and spend our whole vacation down there. Being a little further south, it would have been warmer. But it turns out that Fort Lauderdale and its surrounding area are about twice as expensive as Daytona Beach. We decided to fly into Orlando, rent a car, and drive to Daytona.
Daytona; in its heyday, was probably quite the impressive place to visit. If you’ve been there before, you know it’s a little run down. Everything is a bit dated and appears to need a fresh coat of paint. But that’s okay with us! We just wanted a decent place to lay our heads where the kids could swim and enjoy the sand. Fancy, shiny, and new was not a priority.
Daytona worked out great! Between the heated pool, the beach, the boardwalk, the nice Hampton Inn with free breakfast, the amazing little Italian restaurant we found down the street, the chocolate factory, and the lighthouse, we had plenty to do to occupy our time. The kids had a blast.
Winter Haven and LegoLand (Days 3 and 4):
Our choice to visit Daytona allowed us to also fit in our trip to LegoLand. With traffic, the drive was about 4 hours, a little longer than we would have liked, but still manageable. In retrospect, finding an amusement park in Orlando would have been closer and more convenient, but no big deal.
We again stayed at the Hampton Inn with free breakfast and a heated pool. Finding a theme here? We hung out at the hotel on our arrival day, and spent a full day at LegoLand the next.
Here’s what I loved about LegoLand:
Large enough to fill an entire day of activity, but not so big you couldn’t fit it all.
Entertaining for both my 4 year old and my 7 year old. My 7 year old son was in 7th heaven. He loved just about everything about LegoLand except the lines. Although my daughter did not partake in the rides, there were plenty of rides for younger kids to enjoy, and she had fun with other aspects of the park. She loved the playgrounds, pressing buttons at mini-Land (a massive reproduction of U.S. cities and a Star Wars world), and she loved Imagination zone (an indoor recreation area where she could build with Legos ‘til her heart’s content).
The Pirate’s Cove show was really entertaining for the kids and adults. Plus it gave some much needed down time to sit and rest from all the walking.
It was impressive to see so much made out of Legos, to see such a variety of activities for the kids, and it was really clean, and nicely laid out with nice views of the lake. It was just a really nice and entertaining place to spend the day. Being easy on the eyes made up for it being hard on the legs (cue 4 year old who wants to be carried everywhere).
What I didn’t love about LegoLand:
They took every opportunity to charge extra for things. Parking cost $23 (more for covered parking). Strollers cost $17. Fast passes for lines cost more (none were included in the ticket). Lego stores were at every turn, enticing you to go in and spend more money.
Lines were really long. Some wait times were up to an hour or longer for rides that were less than 5 minutes long. We went just after Christmas so perhaps this was a busy time of year. We did find enough lines that were short enough for my 7 year old to tolerate. In some of the lines, there were stations to build with legos to occupy the kids.
Efficiency was an issue. They would load people onto the rides and kids would just sit there for quite awhile before they would get going. Often times the rides wouldn’t hold many kids, just compounding on how long everything took.
Many of the rides and activities shut down in the rain. I can understand this, but even playgrounds shut down and didn’t open back up right away when it stopped raining. I’ve heard they give you a pass to come back the next day if it rains, but we only had one day to spend there, so that wasn’t helpful to us.
I don’t think these complaints set LegoLand apart from other amusement parks, but I'm not a parks enthusiast. Although I think the negatives are worth noting, for the most part, they were to be expected.
Breakdown of Costs and Budget Tips:
Flights: Flying out of Burlington, VT is usually expensive because it’s not a main hub airport. To enjoy discounts, we usually have to drive 4 hours to Boston. Not this time! My boyfriend works for JetBlue and I am on his benefits. He and I were free and the kids could fly standby at a discounted rate. Flying standby is always a risk, but it worked out for us this time around. For better flight times and convenience on the way home, we purchased tickets on Frontier. They have some great deals.
Burlington-Orlando for 4 people: $116
Orlando-Burlington for 4 people including checked bags: $454
Car Rental: Alamo gave us our best deal and was super convenient:
$262 for 4 days
Hotels: My boyfriend covered two nights at the Hampton Inn with his Hilton points. I covered two nights with my Hilton points. Hilton hotels are really nice; points accumulate fast, and we leveraged our points to stay for free on this trip. I highly recommend the Hilton Honors card for this reason, if you can get it.
Amusement Park for 4 people: $342. This included a small discount we got through my boyfriend’s connection with JetBlue. I’ve heard you can get more discounted tickets through Costco. That might be worth checking out! $23 for parking. I refused to pay the $17 for the stroller so I ended up getting a lot more exercise than I bargained for as my 4 year old refused to walk for half the day!
$342 for 4 people plus $23 for parking
Food: We did not add up all we spent in food but we saved money by filling up on the free breakfasts at the hotels, eating out once per day and saving leftovers, and buying smaller snacks/meals at gas stations or places like that. Our favorite place to eat was in Daytona at an authentic and very affordable Italian restaurant on Atlantic Avenue called Porto Fino. Highly recommend. It was across the street from the Hampton Inn Hotel.
While our vacation was only a short four days, it was just the reprieve from winter we all needed. There is something therapeutic about digging your toes into the sand and listening to the sound of the waves crash that just feeds the soul.