Trip Planning 101: Transportation – Getting There and Getting Around

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Disney transportation is usually manageable and efficient. Usually.

Let us start with a tried but true observation: Nothing is as simple as it seems.
These words could have been written about getting to and around Disney World, so let us try to demystify the process for you a bit.
The first question that awaits you: Drive or fly? Depending on where you live, the answer may be a no-brainer. If you live in Milwaukee and you’re heading for a four-day trip to WDW, being airborne is the only way to go. Likewise, if you live two or three hours away by car, driving seems like the best option.
But what if you live on the cusp—when the difference between driving and flying time might not be that great? Let’s look at the different factors you’ll need to consider.
Meet Donald, Daisy and their three children—Mickey, Minnie, and Maisie (you weren’t really expecting Goofy, were you?) They live in Greensboro, NC, and have six days for their vacation. Let’s look at their options and calculate how much time it will take.

To drive from Greensboro to Orlando takes approximately nine hours. You won’t need a hotel, but figure on gas, tolls and food—about $200. In terms of time, you can bring snacks, but never underestimate the pull of roadside food (30 minutes for two stops) plus at least two rest stops (30 minutes). So a 9-hour trip can actually become an 11-hour trip, not even counting traffic and delays.

If you’re driving more than 12 or so hours, you’ll need a motel for the night. (12 hours, minimum, plus your other stops, for a total of at least 13 hours).
Plus you need to account for other variables. You’ll need two drivers so you can switch off. And remember to ask yourself: Is this an easy drive for me? Am I comfortable/familiar with it? How bad will traffic be? Am I planning on making stops on the way, or is my main objective just to get down there?
And then there’s the people factor. We’ll assume you’re taking along one or more children. How long can they reasonably be expected to travel without a) making you crazy? b) making each other crazy c) repeating the phrase “Are we at the Magic Kingdom yet?” approximately 678 times?

But now let’s look at flying. You need to get to the airport, which can take anywhere from half an hour to two hours (or more), depending on how far away you live. Once you get there, the fun hasn’t even started; you need to allow for checking your baggage, going through security, getting there early, possibly a delayed flight. So you’re adding on easily up to two hours–and you haven’t even left the ground. We checked out a Delta flight that leaves Greensboro at 6:00 am and arrived at MCO in Florida at 10:21 am–assuming it’s on time.
So that’s 4 hours and 21 minutes. But wait! This isn’t a direct flight–there’s a 1 hour and 18 minute layover in Atlanta, which could easily be longer. Plus, once you actually arrive in Orlando, factor in getting your bags and either renting a car or waiting for the Magical Express (more on that below). Then you need to get from the airport to your hotel, so let’s see what we have now:
Drive to airport: 30 minutes (ish)
Check bags; go through security, sit and wait: 60 minutes
GSO to ATL to MCO—4:21 minutes (theoretically)
Waiting for baggage: 10-20 minutes
Rent a car and drive to WDW (40 minutes (again, could be longer)
So factoring in the REAL time, your four and a half hour flight becomes almost 7 hours of travel. Hmm.
So we have driving (9-11 hours) vs. flying (7 hours.)

So let’s look at our hypothetical family again:
Driving down there is obviously less expensive, even adding in the cost of gas, food, and tolls, but the trade-off is in vacation time and freedom from driving. Once they’re there, they can either use their own car (parking at the parks is free, so they’re looking at mainly at gas) or use Disney Transportation. They don’t need to worry about transportation to/from the airport or offsite either. And they can save a lot of money.
By the time they consider the factors we mentioned above, they could save two to four hours if they fly–not necessarily a deal breaker.
But if those hours, plus not worrying about a long, tiring drive, are worth it to them, then flying might be the better option. If saving money is paramount, driving is the way to go.

So let’s break it down:
Flying: For five people, on Delta: the lowest fare we found was approx. $333 per person
DME: Free
Disney Transportation: Free
Rental car: Rates vary and you should always see if you can book online and use discount codes. Though Mousesavers, at Alamo we found a midsize car for six days for a base rate of $160
Cab–one trip $40
Hours saved flying: Approx. 2-4 each way for a six hour flight

Driving: Gas, snacks: (round trip) Motel for the night if needed: $300
Time lost by not flying: approx. 2-4 hours each way

If they fly, they need to factor in renting a car or relying on Disney transportation. The most economical way to go would be to take the DME to the resort, then rely on Disney transportation if they plan to spend most of their time on property. If they’re planning on a lot of trips outside of WDW, renting a car becomes a viable option

Let’s say you’ve flown and decide to book Disney’s Magical Express (hereto referred to as DME).
The Magical Express is truly magical in that it can save you bundle of money–there’s no cost—and it’s also convenient–it’s right there at the airport, clearly marked, and easy to find. The downside is that you may have to wait–both at the airport and en route to your hotel, depending on how many stops it makes; it takes about 30 minutes to reach the first hotel. (You don’t have to wait for your baggage, however.) Another fact to consider is that you’re pretty much dependent on Disney transportation or cabs if you take the DME–not the worst thing, but something to bear in mind.
What about other ways to get to your hotel? A cab from the airport to an on-property hotel is approximately $60 each way; that’s a lot of Mickey Mouse ears. If your fare includes airport transfers, you can go with Mears (; 407-422-2222) in a shuttle; if you don’t have a package, expect to pay a per-person rate of about $17-$21 if you’re staying in Disney World. They’ll wait until the van is filled, and make several stops along the way.
You can also get a town car that will hold four people. Mears offers a service for $105 round-trip; other carriers include Tiffany town car service (; 888-838-2161. Round trip fare is $109; one way is $60 to Disney resorts. They also offer a free stop at a Publix supermarket to stock up on groceries en route to your hotel.
Finally, you can get a rental car (check for discounts.) Remember that you’ll have to add in the price of tolls.
So let’s look at our family of five coming from North Carolina. The Magical Express is the best bet if the family is willing to use Disney transportation and to take cabs only rarely. If only one or two people are going, a shuttle is the most economical choice if they’re not taking the DME and time is not the most important factor.
Disney’s Magical Express: Free
Cab: $60 each way
Shuttle: $27-21 per person
Town car: $109 round trip

So there you are at your WDW hotel. Eventually, you’re going to want to go somewhere. If you need to go off property–say to buy groceries—and you don’t want to rent a car, you can take either a taxi or a town car.
Mears’ Yellow Cab charges $12 for a taxi from the Caribbean Beach to the Winn Dixie on Buena Vista Boulevard; $19 from the Polynesian–certainly less than renting a car, especially if you plan to stock up. Mears also offers limos, shuttles, etc. There’s a taxi fare estimator online. You can call ahead, but cabs also stop at the resorts.

If you’re planning on going further afield, tings get a little pricier.
Yellow Cab charges between $73 and $76 one way from the All-Star Music resort to downtown Orlando, for instance; $32-$36 to Sea World.
From the Grand Floridian to Sea World is about $22-$26.
So if you’re only planning on making one trip off property, a cab might do the trick. Otherwise, if you’re planning on spending a fair amount of time off property, you might want to look at car rentals.

But when you’re in Disney World, you’ll probably want to spend most if your time, in, well, Disney World. You have three options for getting around the World: WDW transportation; your own car or a rental car; or outside transportation, like a cab.
If you’re planning on spending your time exclusively at Disney attractions, there’s really no reason to rent a car—you can fill in with cabs when need be, and save yourself the car rental expense. If you have your own car, we recommend that you use it except if you’re going to the Magic Kingdom—take Disney Transportation for the easiest trip. If you plan on renting a car, you can rent at the airport; Orlando is the world’s largest rental car market—24 companies and counting compete for your business. Remember, you can also rent a car for just part of your stay as well.
If you decide that you want to rent a car once you’re at your hotel, where can you go on property? Some of the Downtown Disney hotels (like the Buena Vista Palace and the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista) offer car rental services, as does the Dolphin.
In addition, some of the agencies will pick you up at your hotel. The Walt Disney World Car Care Center, for example, will pick you up from any Disney property and take you to the Center.

WDW TRANSPORTATION (and other ways to get around)
WDW transportation is often a terrific option; it picks you up at your hotel and will take you everywhere on the Disney property, including Downtown Disney. It’s also free, safe, and runs both before the parks open and after they close. You can also take the bus directly from park to park without having to transfer to another hotel (So, for instance, you can go directly from the Magic Kingdom to Epcot.) The downside? Sometimes long waits and long travel times. If you’ve just missed a bus, or you’re planning on having dinner at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and you’re staying at Port Orleans Riverside, you could have a long ride ahead of you.

If you’re staying at a hotel that is on the monorail or offers boat service, those are also great options and will ultimately save you a lot of time. (If you’re staying off property, most hotels offer shuttles that go to—or stop near–the parks. They do fill up quickly and often make many stops.)
So when does it make sense to take a cab?
Well, if you’re going off property, say to Sea World, and you don’t want to go through the hassle of renting a car for one day, go for a cab, with prices starting at about $20. If you’re going from one resort to another, they’re far from each other, and you have dinner reservations, it might also make sense to spring for a cab. What you end up spending you can make up in time saved and peace of mind.
The Lynx bus (central Florida’s public transportation system) can be boarded at the Ticket and Transportation center (TTC). Standard fare is $2 one way, and if you’re going to International Drive (home of numerous outlets and restaurants), that’s one option. You need to factor in long travel times and waiting times though.

So this family’s options for getting around are:
Rental car: (Alamo and National tend to have the lowest rates, but again, check for the most up-to-date rates) $160 for six days
Cabs: approx. $20-70 per trip
Disney transportation: Free
Lynx Bus $2 per person
So it really depends how often they’re planning on going off property. For one or two trips, we say take a cab.

What are your thoughts on getting to Disney Word and then getting around one you’re the? Any great tips? Let us know!

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Evan Levy

Evan Levy likes baking cupcakes, hanging out with her family, and all things Disney.

8 thoughts on “Trip Planning 101: Transportation – Getting There and Getting Around

  • October 16, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    I’m from central Long Island, NY and fly to Orlando from Long Island McArthur Airport in Islip. This airport alone makes flying worth it-it’s only a two and a half hour flight (direct) and the airport experience is perfection compared to the NYC airports (low crowds as Southwest is the only carrier and easy parking). When we get to Orlando, we never rent a car when going to Disney-we use Magical Express and rely on Disney transportation. My family likes to split up and we don’t find Disney transportation terrible in the least. As far as going to offsite attractions, we do these on entirely separate trips where we do only Universal.

  • October 16, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    This past month we decided to stay off-site our first night since we were flying in late. In doing so we had to rent a car… but didn’t want to keep it for our entire trip. We ended up getting an awesome weekend rate of $14/day with Alamo (I kept checking for last minute specials). This way we were able to go to the grocery store and attend mass on Saturday night without any worry or hassle. Bright and early Sunday morning we checked in at Bay Lake Tower and hubby drove the car over to Alamo at the WDW Car Care Center. They shuttled him back. Easy-peasy.

  • October 17, 2011 at 5:59 am

    I have used the Amtrak Auto Train which leaves each afternoon (4:00pm) from Lorton, VA right off I95 when you enter Virginia. You load you car up and it arrives around 8:30am in Sanford, FL, which is about 35 minutes from Disney. What a hassle free way of driving and our kids alwasy look forward to the trian ride as well.

  • October 17, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Don’t forget the added benefit of driving for those who are terrified of flying – being grounded for the entirety of the journey! My husband HATES to fly, and although we have calculated that the break even point for us on flying vs. driving almost anywhere to be roughly 5 or 6 hours, if a trip is under 10 hours, we drive. Luckily Disney is about 14 hours away so we always fly!

  • October 17, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Wow! You need a hotel for anything over a 12 hour drive?? You wouldn’t have lasted long in our household. My dad REFUSED to stop on the 18 hour drive to Sarasota…straight through. Even now, we make the 16-hour drive to Orlando without staying overnight. The key is to leave REALLY early…like 4am early. And I’m one of those terrified flyers…we’re talking, have to be medicated to even get on the plane terrified. For some of us, NOTHING makes flying a “good deal”. :o)

  • October 17, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    My recent experience with Transportation was disappointing trying to get the bus from POR to Magic Kingdom on a Sunday evening. Crowd was much larger than one bus would fit, and when it arrived, it was full. Just bailed and took our rental car instead. While not having to trudge or tram to/from our car, I found when I looked that the bus stops weren’t necessarily right at the gates of the parks, either.

  • October 18, 2011 at 6:48 am

    If you are planning a vacation in orlando city, chances are, you already know that there are lots of places to see. orlando is a treasure house of beauty for people who love nature. Orlando airport transportation offers you the taxi services in affordable charges and it is one of the best luxurious taxi service provider in the city.

  • October 29, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Do you have to have a transponder to pay tolls now or can you still pay cash? We are renting a car at the airport and staying offsite, near Downtown Disney. We don’t what to have to pay to use the rental car’s transponder or pay-by-license plate.


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