Is driving to Disney the best choice?
If you fly into Orlando and stay at a Walt Disney World resort, you may be tempted to use the free Magical Express transportation and not rent a car. But there are pros and cons to having a car.
If you rent a car, and stay on property, parking is free.
BUT – when you drive to theme parks, the parking lots are gigantic and getting to and from your car takes a very long time
HOWEVER, if you want to leave Disney – to swim with the dolphins at Discovery Cove, go to Universal, eat at a non-themed restaurant off site, you have a car at your fingertips.
Why you don’t need car at Disney
- Staying on-site means you have access to the free Disney transportation, which runs to and from every hotel and theme park. The hotels on the monorail – Grand Floridian and Polynesian – are usually very quick trips to the parks.
- If you stay at one of the more remote (and less expensive) Disney properties, like All-Star resorts, there are free buses available. Note, the buses are less frequent and crowded when they come. This can be difficult with a stroller.
- If you stay at the Dolphin and Swan Resort, you can walk to Epcot and Hollywood Studios or take a boat ride to the parks.
Why you might need a car at Disney
- The free Disney transportation can be unreliable. When I was there, the monorail was down, meaning we had to take a time consuming bus to and from the Grand Floridian. Traveling from Epcot to the hotel took over an hour.
- On the other hand, you can take a cab for about $10; that takes about 10-15 minutes.
- The Magical Express leaves 3 hours before your flight. If you are trying to squeeze every last second out of your Disney trip, this seems cruel. I was first put on a bus that was only an hour before my flight, which seemed wrong. When I changed it, I had to take it three hours before, which seemed absurd. With TSA pre-check, I was at my gate 2 hours and 15 minutes before boarding even started.
- BUT – if you don’t have global entry or TSA pre-check, the lines to check-in and get through security at Orlando airport are horrific, and you might actually need all that time.
One final consideration
The bell desk is often quite chaotic at a Disney property and if you leave your bags for the day, visit the theme park and then return to get your bags and take your Magical Express, you have to allow even more time. My friend got someone else’s bags delivered to her 15 minutes after she turned over her claim ticket and I almost missed my bus waiting for my carry-on luggage.
When we rented a car, we loaded it up in the morning, drove to Animal Kingdom and left directly from there saving a ton of time. And that, for me, is worth the price of the car rental.
Just make sure you’re prepared for toll roads: Get a SunPass before you leave home (25% discount on tolls), rent one from your rental car company or keep some cash on hand. If you drive through a toll without paying, don’t worry; the state will send you a bill for the toll plus a $2.50 surcharge.