This blog is top of mind because we are currently struggling in our planning process with this issue. We have two groups going down in November, the first group (Chris and his family of 4) are going to be driving from his home in Southern Pennsylvania. This will be a 15 hour trip for them, taking over night and into the next morning. The rest of us will be flying, taking approximately 6 hours, from leaving our home to arriving at our hotel in Orlando. Factors that may help you in your decision to fly vs. drive will be:
- Miles from Orlando
- Price of gas vs. Price of air fare
- Amount of time willing to be on the road
If you choose to fly, there will be the added decision of whether to use Disney’s mass transit or to pay for a rental car. What is Disney’s version of mass transit? There are a couple aspects, so let us explain:
“Disney Magical Express” is offered to Disney patrons that fly into Orlando International Airport. This service is completely free for people who are staying on Disney property and provides bus transportation from the airport to your resort. As a part of this service, Disney will pull one checked bag, per guest, from behind the scenes and deliver them directly to your room. This is a great time saver since you will not have to wait for you bags and you can get straight to the fun of touring the parks. Something to be aware of is that you must ride the Magical Express from the airport to your resort in order to catch the bus back to the airport at the end of your trip. We are not sure the logic behind this rule, but wanted to make you aware. If you do not have a rental car and do not have access to Magical Express, you will have to catch a cab, and that is approximately $60 each way. The Magical Express is obviously a great option for people not driving.
On Property Transportation
Now once on site there are several different free methods of getting around, minus a car. First you have the iconic mono-rail. This futuristic transportation method is a favorite for old and young Disney goers. However, this is a very limited form of transportation since it only travels to Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Magic Kingdom area resorts, and the Transportation and Ticket Center. Thus other methods of transportation will have to be used for getting around. The second mode of transportation is Disney’s ferry boat system. Again like the mono-rail this is very limited in where it takes you.
- Magic Kingdom Ferry: Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground and Wilderness Lodge
- Epcot & Hollywood Studios Ferry: Boardwalk Inn & Villas, Yacht & Beach Club and Swan & Dolphin Hotel
- Downtown Disney Ferry: Port Orleans, Old Key West and Saratoga Springs
There is also a large ferry that runs between the Magic Kingdom and the Transportation and Ticket Center. The ferries are very nice but again very limited in the locations in which they service. Last but not least is the bus system. As far as bus systems go it is probably one of the best in the nation. However, that is really not saying much since its competition is the government. The WDW bus system runs between every park and every hotel. If you decide not to drive or rent a car this will be your primary means of transportation. What are the pros & cons?
– It is free
– It drops you off right in front of the gate as opposed to the back of a very large parking lot where you need to wait for a tram or walk
– You can’t get lost (this can be a problem on Disney roads, they can be a little tricky to navigate)
– Typically runs every 15 minutes (this can be a pro & a con)
– May have to wait in significant lines at the end of a busy day
– May be very crowded and you and your children may have to stand
– Some of the bus rides can be as long as 30-40 min
– Strollers and bags can be difficult to load
While the bus system is free and does rival bus systems across the country, there are significant issues to consider. They do run every 15 minutes, that is a fairly good average unless you have to wait in a queue for 2 or 3 bus loads of people before it is your turn. Once you get on that very crowded bus (with your stroller and 3 kids), you could need to stand or be separated from your party. Then with the 30-40 minute ride back to your hotel it can be a nerve racking experience. Is this the typical experience? Probably not, at least if you are not visiting during peak season. However, they are certainly scenarios you should consider.
Renting a car is another viable option, especially if you are considering visiting Sea World or Universal Studios during your stay. This does not mean that you must rent a car throughout your entire trip. Located on Disney property is Alamo Rental service (the official rental service for Walt Disney World). Alamo will send a shuttle bus to your hotel and pick you up and take you back to the rental office. They will also take you back to your hotel after you are done with the rental. This way you will only have to rent a car for one or two days rather than renting it for your entire trip.
In our experience the main points you should consider when deciding on transportation is resort location, time of year and budget. We find that Disney transportation is adequate and that the extra money for a rental car every day is not a must. On our last trip we stayed at the Boardwalk and between ferry service and walking to the parks we only have to ride a bus to Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. However, this year we are staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and will be required to ride the bus to every park. We are on the fence, but leaning towards car rental to save on time and hassle. We hope this helps with you planning process, feel free to shoot us your itinerary and we can give you some feedback on car rental vs. bus system.