A question that gets asked time and time and again by Florida first-timers (or even second, third and fourth-timers!) is if they should hire a car or not. Florida is such a vast state with varied and abundant activities of try, and unlike the relative quaintness of the UK, where most things are in walking distance, the same often can’t be said for Orlando. But is a car necessary when spending your time largely frequenting the theme parks? Well, this year my family and I stayed in a Walt Disney World Resort for the first time after previously staying in nearby hotels or villas and hiring a car to get around. Because the majority of our holiday would be spent in and around Disney with three days over at the Universal parks, we decided this time not to hire a car and make full use of Disney transportation. As a result, I felt this would be a great review post to help those of you having this classic ‘to drive or not to drive debate’ and give you an honest opinion on how we found getting around.
So let’s start from the top with Disney’s Magical Express
As a Walt Disney World Resort guest, there are many perks available to you, including Dinsey transportation. This begins from the very moment you get through customs at Orlando International Airport where you can opt to receive free transfers to your hotel via Disney’s Magical Express. We loved this Disney extra; the service was prompt and organised with coaches arriving every 20 minutes. It saved us money and time having to organise transfers from the airport and after a long day of travelling we could sit back, relax and not worry about having to navigate Orlando roads. We found using Disney transfers allowed the magic of our Disney holiday to begin from the moment we arrived with the cheerful staff, onboard Disney cartoons and colourful character coaches. It definitely saved a few family arguments too, completely avoiding the stressful situation of driving on the wrong side of the road, the inevitable backseat drivers and bickering over the navigation of unknown freeways to find our hotel after over 20 hours of travel (If you’re anything like our family, tempers soon fray with lack of sleep!).
The transfer to Walt Disney World takes around 45 minutes plus the distance to your hotel thereafter which can be anything from 10-30 minutes. We found the drive really pleasant and enjoyed the opportunity to relax in the knowledge that finding our hotel was not in our hands as none of us has the greatest sense of direction! Upon departure at the end of the holiday, each hotel has a designated Magical Express bus stop where you wait for your allotted time to be picked up and taken back to the airport. The day before your expected departure, you will receive a notice on your room door giving you a time to get your coach. We found the whole thing to be a very efficient service which appeared to run really well and we’d definitely recommend it for Walt Disney guests who are considering not hiring a car.
A few things to note about the Disney Magical Express…
Firstly, and most importantly, it only operates from Orlando International airport so if you fly into Sanford you will have to make your own way to your hotel, so something to keep in mind when booking flights.
Secondly, you are not automatically booked on to use the magical express coaches so you will have to notify Walt Disney Travel Company so they know you intend to use this service. It’s really simple, but it is your responsibility to remember to do it!
The final thing to be aware of is tipping, I know this may seem obvious to those of you from the USA but, for holidaymakers from the UK where tipping isn’t generally a thing unless you really like your server at a nice restaurant, it’s something you need to be aware of. It’s polite to give your Magical Express Driver around $1-2 per bag in your party as they will help you load and unload your luggage on and off the coach. In fact, there’s a lot of things you should tip for in Florida so ensure you have small change at the ready from day one of your trip and if you want more of a comprehensive guide to tipping check out this article I found that really helped us.
Ok, so that’s getting to Walt Disney World covered but what about getting around once you’re there?
Now I don’t know about you, but often the word public transport makes me cringe – the thought of sweaty, hot, overcrowded buses in summer or being stuck in the cold and rain waiting for a bus which should have arrived 30 minutes ago brings back bad memories of school buses. However, Disney public transport is a little better. I mean, I’m not going to lie to you, there is some waiting around on occasion and the buses can get crowded at busy times. However, 9 times out of 10 you will get a seat and if you don’t, the buses are fairly quick so you can expect a maximum 20-minute bus journey. The buses also have great air conditioning so even if you are packed on like sardines, you don’t tend to overheat.
It saves you a lot of money on parking. Disney parking fees have skyrocketed since our first visit in 2003 when it was $6 for the day. Unfortunately, you’re now looking at $25 per day so that’s way over $300 for a two-week trip. If you stay in a Walt Disney World Resort, the parking fee is waived, however, you do have to pay for parking at your hotel per night. The price of this varies from $13 per day to $24 per day depending on if you’re staying in a value, moderate or deluxe hotel, so even if you’re saving a little bit of money, it still works out fairly expensive. As I see it, using the buses means you’ve got $300 more to spend on Disney merch, woohoo!
It’s nice to let someone else do the driving, especially if you aren’t the most confident at navigating on the wrong side of the road. Being able to sit back, relax and not have to concentrate, especially late at night after a full day at the parks when your feet feel like you’ve run a marathon and you could just about fall asleep standing up!
It’s much more eco-friendly. Now let’s not beat around the bush, we all know that these big American theme parks (and all theme parks around the world in general) have a lot to answer for when it comes to taking steps to look after our planet, however, Disney do deserve a pat on the back for consistently moving towards improvement. The buses are part of this move to being more eco-friendly as the whole 300+ fleet is run on R50 50% renewable diesel made from cooking oil and food waste. So for those for you opting to use the bus service, you can pat yourselves on the back for looking after our planet a little while still enjoying Disney.
You do have less freedom – let’s face it, with a car you have an element of spontaneity which is lost when using the bus service. We missed being able to come and go as we pleased, park hop and explore Orlando on a whim. Though for us, using Disney transport was definitely worth it, we did mourn the loss of our freedom a little.
Waiting for buses – Like when relying on any public transport, there are times you will have to wait for a bus. If you drive, when you make a decision to leave, you can do it immediately and it is a luxury you will likely miss a little. However, what I will say is each resort has it’s own bus so other than driving around the big resorts to pick up at different bus stops (this only takes about 10 minutes), the journey to your selected park is very direct. We found we never had to wait longer than 10 minutes for a bus in the morning, however at kick-out time when the parks shut for the evening we did on occasion have to wait 30 minutes for a bus which when you’re tired and just want to collapse onto Disney’s exceptionally comfortable beds, can feel like an eternity.
The cost of getting elsewhere…
If you’re staying in Disney and maybe have a few days planned to visit universal, you will save a lot of money by ditching a hire car and using Disney Transport. We used Uber for three return trips to Universal and one round trip to Wallmart and this cost us just over $100, so if you consider what I said about the cost of parking, we saved a lot. However, we did sacrifice exploring I-drive which previously had been something we’d really enjoyed doing and if you aren’t on a Disney Dining Plan, eating outside of the parks will save you a small fortune. Additionally, if you wanted to visit the beach, Miami, or even some of the further afield parks like Busch Gardens, this can become hideously expensive if relying on Uber and taxis. I think when deciding whether to ditch the hire car, you need to be realistic about what plans you have for your holiday. If you’re staying mainly in Disney and are on a Disney Dining Plan, to me it’s a no-brainer to utilise Disney Transport, but if you want to spend time exploring, a car may work out better in this instance.
I hope this quick rundown of Disney transportation will help you come to a decision on car-hire for your next trip to Orlando. Once again if you have any questions or would like to know more about other Disney related topics don’t hesitate to email me at email@example.com. If you liked this post and are keen to inhale more Disney tips and reviews check out my other posts here and subscribe to never miss another post!