Tips for Making the Drive to Walt Disney World

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The great American road trip is back! Many of us are preferring to travel by car, if we travel at all, right now. If you’re considering taking a road trip to Walt Disney World, you’ll want to prepare before your trip. Save yourself some time and some stress and plot your trip ahead of time. To help you with your planning, I’ve pulled together some of my favorite tips for a road trip to Walt Disney World.

Plot Your Road Trip to Walt Disney World Ahead of Time

You may know how to get from point A to point B, but make sure you take time to research what will be along the way. I am a big fan of using Google Maps. Besides planning your pit stops such as filling up for gas or stopping for lunch, it’s a good idea to really familiarize yourself with the route. I’ll share some tips for planning pit stops in just a moment, but what I want to point out here is to just familiarize yourself with the general plan. What are the roads involved? Will there be tolls? What alternate routes are available?

Of course the great news is there’s lots of GPS-enabled apps available. From Google Maps to Waze, you’ll be able to get real-time traffic and other alerts. Although these GPS apps are an invaluable tool, it can be hard to adjust on the fly if you’re not familiar with the route and alternatives. I don’t know about you, but I always worry about having to glance down at my phone to make sure I know what road to turn on or what exit to take when I am not familiar with the roads.

Merging on World Drive towards Magic Kingdom

 Plan a Few Pit Stops

One of the advantages of a road trip to Walt Disney World is that you have the comfort of your car. Even if you rent a car you’ll have more space than other means of travel, and you can pack a bunch of stuff like groceries,  bedding, and other comforts that you can’t pack when traveling by plane. But, it takes longer and the active mental focus of driving can strain the driver, so plan out some pit stops for food, gas, and restrooms.

First, I use the Directions function to get direction and a route. Then I look for any large cities or towns along the way. I click on that city, which changes the view in Google Maps, and then I select “Nearby”. From here you’ll able to search for restaurants, gas stations, coffee shops–practically any type of establishment to see what is nearby. Just make sure what you find is near the road you’ll be traveling along.

Google Maps Example Jacksonville Florida

Most likely you’ll be using a major highway for at least one part of your trip. Here are links to rest areas along some of the highways most people use to travel to Walt Disney World.

Select Some Podcasts to Listen to on the Road

Chances are you have your favorite Disney music ready to go. I love having a playlist or two ready to go anytime I drive somewhere. But, I also fine that being in the car is the best time for me to listen to a podcast. Here are some suggested Disney podcasts for your listening pleasure.

Consider a Stop at a Florida Roadside Attraction

You may want to just drive straight through as much as possible to get to Walt Disney World as quickly as possible. But hear me out, the wait times are at an all-time low. Consider making things a little more leisurely this time around. Do something different and stop at a roadside attraction. Here are some of my picks for best roadside attractions in Florida. Of course, a lot of this majorly depends on where you’re heading from, so I am offering a wide variety of options.

The most famous roadside attraction in Florida is arguably Weeki Wachee State Park. With its underwater swimming mermaid show and beautiful natural springs, and a small water park, it is a great roadside attraction. It is, however, southwest of Orlando so it is not on the way to Disney for most travelers. Also, the park is temporarily closed, so be sure to check their website for updates.

Frances Dwight feeding the fish as a part of the underwater show at Weeki Wachee Springs Photographed on December 14, 1948

If you’ll be traveling through the panhandle of Florida you absolutely must stop at Goofy Golf. This miniature golf course is in Fort Walton Beach and has been in operation since 1959. That’s 12 years before Walt Disney World even opened!

Another must-do if you are traveling through the panhandle is the Florida Caverns State Park. This is perfect for those that love natural beauty. Normally you can explore incredible underground caverns. However, right now this part of the park is closed. You can travel the trails and enjoy the picnic area which are lovely and a great way to stretch your legs and take a break from the road.

Another famous roadside attraction is Silver Springs. Just over an hour north of Orlando, Silver Springs State Park is famous for it’s glass-bottom boats. You can also rent kayaks, canoes, or stand-up paddle-boards. This once privately owned attraction is now a state park. It is an incredible opportunity to see Florida’s natural beauty. It is open to limited capacity right now so be sure to keep this in mind when planning to visit.

Driving along A1A for an hour or two is still on my must-do Florida list, and I was born and raised here. Consider planning some time to travel along A1A, on Florida’s Atlantic coast. While Florida has a network of scenic byways, A1A is the only one designated as a National Scenic Byway. You don’t even have stop anywhere, just the drive itself is scenic enough. But there are plenty of coastal town cafes along the way.

On the east coast, if traveling along I-95 consider making a slight detour to the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. This lighthouse is a Florida icon and is featured in lots of photography. There is a nominal admission charge which includes access to climb to the top of the lighthouse, and admission to the small museum. The views are spectacular.

Fort Matanzas National Monument Photo By Saginaw66

Of course, the oldest city in America is quite the side trip when embarking on a road trip to Walt Disney World. Whether you choose to visit the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum or Fort Matanzas National Monument, you’re in for a real treat. Both sites are full of history and unique views. If you don’t want to carve out extra time in your travels, consider at least driving through part of St. Augustine on your way. It is truly the most special city in the state.

Tips and Information

  • Remember to budget hotel and theme park parking costs.
  • Pack sanitizer or wipes, accessible in the cab of your car.
  • Keep a few masks accessible in your car for pit stops and fuel stops.
  • Pack snacks and fluids.
  • Travel on a weekday if possible to avoid higher traffic.
  • Please drive safely and make sure your vehicle is in good repair before hitting the road.

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Dani

Born and raised in the land of sunshine and dreams come true, Dani is a proud Orlando Native who loves sharing her hometown with others. She's worked in nearly all of Orlando's theme parks, on board Disney Cruise Line, and in hotel management. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @thisfloridalife

6 thoughts on “Tips for Making the Drive to Walt Disney World

  • August 23, 2020 at 10:16 am
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    I use GasBuddy app to see who has better gas prices when it’s time to refuel. Works great!

    Reply
  • August 23, 2020 at 11:37 am
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    Drink plenty of water and try to get some healthy food if possible. You could really do yourself in (don’t ask me how I know) if you don’t drink enough and just eat garbage. If it’s a long drive, you are already sitting for a long time. The restrooms on the way are not always the cleanest, and right now it can make you nervous. You want to feel good and be able to hit the ground running from the first day of your trip.

    Reply
    • August 23, 2020 at 1:52 pm
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      These are great tips, thanks Sonia!

      Reply
  • August 23, 2020 at 2:10 pm
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    One additional suggestion: get good, old-fashioned paper map(s) that cover the area you will be driving. Online maps are good but can be limited. Sometimes you need a broader view.

    Reply
  • August 23, 2020 at 4:27 pm
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    I did a road trip 3 years ago, 2017, with my daughter. I made the point to always stop at Starbucks when possible.

    Starbucks reliably have the cleanest and best facilities at home.

    It worked very well! The Starbucks along the way we’re always very clean.

    Reply

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