Florida Vacation on a Budget

By Jungle Erv September 10, 2018

A Florida vacation is a trip to paradise.

Warm, sparkling sand and gentle surf stretch across hundreds of miles of beaches. Lush palms and vibrant flowers sway in a breeze washing inland from the sea. Fresh seafood fills the restaurants and novelty shops line the boardwalks.

But the beauty of Florida can come with an expensive price tag. Planning a budget-friendly Florida trip can seem impossible, especially one that’s last-minute. Don’t worry — we’ve compiled some of our best tips and ideas to help you build an inexpensive Florida vacation to suit your needs, whether you want a week-long family holiday or a romantic weekend getaway.

How to Plan a Florida Vacation on a Budget

First, let’s look at some of the gorgeous and fascinating attractions Florida has to offer. We’ve divided this section by the primary regions of Florida so you can easily find exciting things to do near you!

The Panhandle

Florida Panhandle has something for everyone

With some of the most beautiful beaches in the state, Florida’s Panhandle region is an often-overlooked destination. Bordering the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the panhandle has something to suit everyone, from a relaxing family beach trip or a party-centered spring break.

1. St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

One way to beat the crowds and expense of resort beaches is to head to state parks. St. Joseph Peninsula State Park is a stunning example — with 10 miles of white-sand beach and warm, sunny water, a day relaxing on the shore of this park won’t be something you soon forget.

If your party includes a nature enthusiast, St. Joseph has enough wildlife to keep them busy for days — over 240 birds call the park home, and if you’re lucky, you might even see a sea turtle nest. To save on accommodation costs, you could stay at the park’s full-facility campground and enjoy a close-to-nature vacation experience.

2. Dog Island

For a taste of island life, head to Dog Island off the eastern side of the panhandle. The Nature Conservancy owns most of the island, so much of the landscape is relatively untouched. If you and your family enjoy a more private beach experience, Dog Island is the place you’ve been looking for.

Walk through quaint shops and explore pristine beaches dusted with shells. The waters are known for excellent fishing and swimming, and the natural beauty of the island is unmatched — look for incredible dune habitats brimming with native plants and wildlife. Dog Island has something to offer everyone, whether you spend a day or a week on its quiet beaches.

3. Grayton Beach

Grayton Beach combines the whimsical beauty of resort towns with the authentic feel of an art community. Bypass the expensive tourist-towns of Seaside and Watercolor and step into the lovely world of Grayton. Stroll down streets made with crushed oyster shells and browse one of the many local art galleries for a unique souvenir, or enjoy a live jazz concert at sunset.

With gorgeous, clean beaches, Grayton Beach has just as much to offer as pricier destinations. For a more secluded beach, head to the nearby Topsail Hill Preserve State Park for natural beauty and emerald lakes nestled among the dunes.

Central Florida

When most people think of Central Florida, they instantly picture Orlando and the various theme parks surrounding the city. While Orlando’s many attractions offer a fun-filled trip, they can be costly. If you’re looking for unique and fun-filled activities in central Florida, try one of these more budget-friendly options.

1. New Smyrna Beach

A one-hour drive from Orlando and just south of Daytona Beach, this quaint town features charming local shops, mouth-watering restaurants, stylish B&Bs and 13 miles of white-sand beach. If you want a break from the beach, New Smyrna Beach is home to many fascinating museums and science centers such as the Marine Discovery Center and the Atlantic Center for the Arts.

An eight-minute drive from town, Smyrna Dunes Park is a lovely peninsula on Florida’s Atlantic coast. Surrounded by water on three sides, Smyrna Dunes Park features five distinct ecosystems (saltwater marsh, scrub zone, dunes, river and ocean) and acres of pristine dunes. The park is pet-friendly and offers plenty of hiking, swimming and beach-bumming opportunities, so you can enjoy a relaxing day on one of Florida’s less-crowded beaches.

2. Liki Tiki Village

Located in the heart of bustling Orlando, Liki Tiki Village is an exciting Polynesian-themed resort guaranteed to thrill the whole family. Spend a day putting around the mini-golf course or splashing in the water park which features a wave pool, a lush lagoon with five waterslides, a waterfall and an erupting volcano. If you wish to stay on-site, Liki Tiki Village provides condominium-style units with individual dining areas, living rooms, kitchens and laundry facilities.

Just a short drive away from Orlando’s biggest attractions, Liki Tiki Village provides a less-crowded resort experience that has enough water and relaxation to satisfy everyone on your vacation.

East Coast

Florida East Coast feature clear water, white sand, and grey-green palms

Florida’s Atlantic coast features clear water, white sand and grey-green palms. Beyond beaches, the region boasts many unique attractions as well. Here are three of the most budget-friendly sites to visit on your next Florida vacation.

1. Amelia Island

On the north end of Florida’s eastern coast, this charming island has it all. Miles of beaches, ancient oak trees and flourishing wildlife bring unmatched natural beauty to Amelia Island. Part of a chain of barrier islands, Amelia Island has a quaint small-town feel. Stop by one of the many eye-catching local shops or explore historic Fort Clinch State Park. You can also look for shark teeth on the beach.

2. Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park

American composer Stephen Foster wrote the Florida State Song, and his life and career are commemorated in the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park. Tour the museum and watch demonstrations of crafts such as blacksmithing, quilting and even stained glass making.

The park comes equipped with a full-facility campground, rental cabins and the lovely White Springs Bed ‘n Breakfast. Wander around the grounds on one of the many trails or canoe down the nearby Suwannee River. Throughout the day, listen for one of Foster’s iconic songs chiming from the 97-bell carillon.

3. St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park

See more than huge reptiles at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. Featuring hundreds of different animal species including springing lemurs, ancient Komodo dragons, bright toucans and all 24 species of alligators and crocodiles.

One of the park’s top attractions is the zip line experience that weaves through the farm. Swing eye-level with tropical birds and fly above gigantic crocodiles for an adrenaline-pumping adventure. The park offers a variety of educational shows such as “Florida’s Forest Friends” and “Scales and Tails,” and make sure to check out the daily alligator feeding.

West Coast

Florida West Coast offers a variety of attractions

Bordering the gentle and warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Florida’s west coast offers a wide variety of affordable attractions. From mermaids to circuses, the west coast has something for every type of vacationer.

1. The Ringling

There aren’t many places where you can cram into a clown car, tour a golden villa and study modern art. But The Ringling isn’t like most places — simultaneously a colorful circus museum, a massive art collection and a preserved, historic home, The Ringling has enough to keep you interested for days on end.

Marvel at restored railroad cars, whimsical costumes and a sprawling, 44,000-piece miniature recreation of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Wander through the gorgeous art galleries and tour Ca’d’Zan, the opulent, Venetian-style home of John and Mable Ringling. Stroll through the extensive rose garden and roam among the soaring Banyan Trees.

2. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

Weeki Wachee Springs isn’t a typical state park. Float down the clear Weeki Wachee river and splash in the Buccaneer Bay Waterpark, and watch mermaids perform underwater feats and sing musical numbers.

Affordable and packed with attractions, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is a worthwhile destination on your Florida holiday. On the relaxing boat tour of the Weeki Wachee river, keep your eyes peeled for blue herons, bald eagles and endangered West Indian manatees. Swim and slide in Buccaneer Bay, Florida’s only spring-fed waterpark. But be warned — since the water comes from a natural spring, it stays a chilly 74 degrees F year round, which can feel like a shock on a hot summer day!

Southern Peninsula

Southern Peninsula is home to a wide variety of landscapes

The southern tip of Florida is home to a wide variety of landscapes from lush marshes to the bright Florida Keys. But it’s possible to visit on a budget — try one of these affordable attractions on your next Florida vacation!

1. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

This sprawling area was the United State’s first undersea park, and with dense mangrove forests and teeming coral reefs, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a thrilling destination for any vacation.

Take advantage of one of the park’s numerous excursions, ranging from scuba and snorkeling tours to glass-bottomed boat rides. Rent a sea kayak or paddleboard to explore the sea at your own pace, or hike on one of the park’s short trails. If you enjoy camping, pitch your tent at the full-facility campground.

2. Everglades National Park

Visit one of the most important ecosystems on earth with a trip to The Everglades National Park. With over 1.5 million acres of protected wetland, the park provides many hiking, kayaking and camping opportunities. Climb to the top of the 65-foot tall observation tower in Shark Valley, and keep your eyes peeled for alligators, manatees and even dolphins.

For a breathtaking view of the beauty of the Everglades, book an airboating adventure and venture deep into the winding mangrove forest — feel the warm ocean wind on your face and experience the beauty of America’s sub-tropical wilderness firsthand.

Tips for a Fun Florida Vacation on a Budget

Once you decide where you want to go, the real work of planning an inexpensive Florida vacation begins. Below, we’ve gathered some of our best tips for keeping your fun Florida trip low-budget and enjoyable.

Besides transportation, you can divide your Florida trip expenses into three main categories — accommodation, dining and entertainment. With a little research and preparation, it’s easy to combine high-quality with affordability.

1. Accommodation

Finding budget-friendly accommodation can seem impossible. But you can get both affordable and nice accommodations — here are a couple of tips to help you find the best bargain for your trip.

  • Plan Around Off-Season: Rates are typically lower during Florida’s slow tourist months, during October and November in the fall and in May and June in summer. By planning a trip for the slow months, you get the benefit of both lower costs as well as fewer crowds.
  • Rent Off-Beach: While staying directly on the beach seems beautiful and romantic, it is also pricey. Finding a rental or hotel just a couple of blocks from the shore can be significantly more affordable, and you’ll still be within walking distance of warm sands.

By traveling during the off-season and renting a little inland, you can drastically cut the expense of your vacation.

2. Dining

Another considerable travel expense is meals. While Florida offers a variety of five-star restaurants and eateries, premier food isn’t easy on the budget. Below are some ideas on how to cut dining costs during your stay in Florida.

  • Pack a Cooler: Bring a cooler with you on your vacation. Especially during beach days, you can pack it full of inexpensive, healthy and portable foods like sandwiches and fruit. A beach picnic is fun for the whole family, and it reduces the number of meals you have to purchase from a restaurant or stand.
  • Eat Like a Local: For some of your meals, consider driving a little beyond the tourist-heavy portions of your town or community. Once you leave the touristy town centers, prices tend to drop significantly — small, local hole-in-the-wall restaurants often have incredible and under-rated food, too.

It’s hard to resist the tantalizing array of restaurants lining Florida’s boardwalks, but by limiting your trip to two or three fine-dining experiences, you’ll dramatically cut the costs of your trip.

3. Entertainment

Florida is known for its incredible theme and marine parks, but it also has many other more affordable attractions.

  • Take Advantage of Freebies: Florida offers a plethora of inexpensive or free museums and historical exhibits. Walk a pier or explore a lighthouse, or book one of the many inexpensive ecotours that are offered throughout the state.
  • Visit State Parks: One easy way to enjoy Florida’s natural beauty is to spend time in state parks. Coastal parks provide pristine beaches that are cheaper than their public-access counterparts, and they’re also significantly less crowded.

Florida is more than theme parks — spend time appreciating its lesser-known attractions for a beautiful, unique and affordable vacation.

Why Choose an Airboat Tour?

experience the wild beauty of Florida with Jungle Erv's

Experience the wild beauty of Florida firsthand with an educational and fun-filled airboat tour. At Jungle Erv’s Airboat Tours, we know and love the Everglades. Our family has been here since the 1920s, and our guides and boat captains are Everglades natives. Several have served with the U.S. Coast Guard, and they are dedicated to making your adventure safe and enjoyable.

When you tour with Jungle Erv’s, you’ll explore our private property at the Tamiami Trail, so you don’t need to worry about sharing the river with other boats. We also have boats that seat up to 12, so you can keep your entire group together.

Included with a swamp boat or safari tour are a live alligator show and access to our spectacular Mangrove Boardwalk. We’re committed to providing our clients with a full day of fun, and we’ve earned our reputation of the best airboat tours of the Everglades.

Call us at 1-877-695-2820 to learn more, and feel free to contact us with any questions. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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A Letter From

Jungle Erv

Welcome to the
Florida Everglades!

I am Jungle Erv- son of the alligator man. My great-great-grandfather was a moonshiner and fisherman. My grandfather preached the Gospel to the Islanders. My mother traded deer meat with the Seminole Indians when she was a little girl. My father was the world famous alligator man. Why choose Jungle Erv’s Airboat Tours? My grandchildren are 6th generation Gladesmen. Jungle Erv’s captains are all U.S. Coast Guard licensed. Get the BEST value with our FREE boardwalk and educational gator show. You do not need to sign a waiver to ride on Jungle Erv’s Airboat Tours. Hope to see your smiling faces as we journey through the wild Everglades!