To car hire or not to car hire?

Wow, whether or not you need to hire a car when you visit Orlando is a really contentious issue! People seem to get quite passionate about it! And I thought it was time that I voiced my thoughts on the issue.

Clearly, coming from the UK, it’s not a case of whether to fly or drive – the flying part is pretty essential, so it is a decision on whether you need to get a car when you arrive. The decision should very much come down to two things; the other transport available to you and what your plans are while you’re there.

Alternative transport

Where you are staying is important in terms of what ‘complimentary’ bus services that they offer – you’ll be relying on it if you don’t have a car as the regular public transport will not get you where you want to go easily, so you really you need to discount it altogether. Although some people do use the I-Trolley, which is cheap, it can be hard to find/get to a stop. If you are staying in a Disney hotel you can get a free transfer from the airport to your hotel, using the Magical Express. You simply register for it and check in at the airport and then you get delivered to your hotel, nice and easy.

From a Disney hotel, the transportation to the Disney parks is, in my opinion, excellent. Depending on your hotel you will have regular buses, ferries and/or monorails to each and every park and Downtown Disney, every 20 minutes. It is efficient and while you’ll hear the odd person complaining about it, in general it is an excellent service that then delivers you to the door of the parks. If you use a car for this, you may have to park quite far away and get the little tram towards the entrance, or in Magic Kingdom’s case, park at the transportation and ticket centre and still need to get the monorail or ferry over to the Kingdom. For me, the transport is actually preferable to using a car – while not everyone thinks it is necessarily preferable, I think most would agree it is more than fit for purpose.

If you are staying in a non-Disney hotel and are thinking of relying on the transport it is really important that you thoroughly check out what the ‘complimentary transport’ actually is. Some of them are excellent, going to all the parks multiple times a day. Many however will only drop you off in one place, such as one park’s car park and then let you use Disney transport to move to the park you want to visit – clearly this will add time to your journey, but if you’re trying to save money on a car, it can be worth it. However we have had some really bad experiences with complimentary transport too. We stayed at the Comfort Inn on International Drive and they only went and came back three times a day, which meant it was impossible to come back to the hotel to change for dinner etc. The last bus back wasn’t late enough as it didn’t give us enough time to see Wishes and then get over to Epcot for the bus. And once the last bus didn’t turn up at all leaving an entire bus load of people having to find their own way back. We were already unhappy and actually moved into a Disney hotel as soon as we could! So my biggest tip would be to thoroughly check out the transport offered and make sure it is adequate for your needs.

What your plans are

One advantage of not staying in Disney, if you will be relying on the transportation provided, is that this transportation will usually go to all the major parks – certainly Disney, Universal and Sea World. The two common attractions that are sometimes missing from this list are the Kennedy Space Centre and even more commonly, Busch Gardens, which is even further out, in Tampa Bay. If either of those are in your plans, make sure you have a way to get to them – cabs will be expensive, but shuttles are available.

If you are staying in Disney and not planning to go off-site very often, then I really don’t think you need a car – the Disney transport is more than adequate. However, for Brits, given our length of holiday it is more likely that even if you stay in Walt Disney World, you’re likely to be visiting the other parks in the area and possibly the shopping malls. If you only plan to ‘leave’ once or twice, as we do, getting a cab or shuttle can still be cheaper. However if it is more often than that, then you might want to start seriously considering hiring a car. Disney will not transport you anywhere other than around Disney, so if you plan to leave the World multiple times, you need to consider how you’ll get there.

The only time that Disney slightly lets you down within Disney, is if you plan to go to other hotels directly from your own resort, for instance if you’re planning on a lot of resort dining. There are no resort to resort buses, so if you are wanting to go to another hotel, you need to get there via a park. Most people will be out at the parks in the day and therefore go to that resort directly from there for their meal. If not, you’ll need to travel to your closest park or Downtown Disney and transfer to the bus taking you to the appropriate resort – and do the same on your return. Many people opt to take cabs for this. I have no problem getting two buses, so if we’re going from resort to resort, we usually use the transport available to us. It is also often not as bad as it sounds. For instance if we’re having a meal we might then go to Downtown Disney for a mooch about before returning to our hotel for the night. If we’re eating at one of the Magic Kingdom hotels, we go there and then its just a hop on the monorail to the hotel – takes an extra 5 minutes, or get the ferry across to start off our evening in style! Eating at the Boardwalk hotels gives us an opportunity to stroll the Boardwalk afterwards, and then just get the bus back from Epcot. So for us, it is nothing like an issue, but for those that like to be a bit more direct, might prefer their own vehicle.

Your options

Hiring a car is just one of a few options:

  • A town car. This will be a fixed price joruney in a nice car, with a chauffeur. And it is worth checking out – it can be closer to the price of a taxi than you might think.
  • Get a cab. Disney to Universal is about $35 each way. Disney to Florida Mall is about $40 each way. It’s on a ticker so if you get stuck in traffic, you’ll pay more. Plus the cost of tipping.
  • Mears Attraction Shuttle, which you pre-order the previous day and is essentially a shared journey to the theme parks and back, for a fixed per person price. If there’s only a few of you it works out cheaper than a cab, but not if you’re a large family – typical prices are usually around $19 per person for a round trip to most of the parks, so to Universal it will be cheaper for 3 adults, but not for 4. However these shuttles usually make multiple stops – at hotels and at different parks. The advantage is that you go to the bus section and not the cars, so are closer to the entrances.  I’ve not yet tried it myself, but it is a definite option if you don’t want to consider a car.
  • Hire a car for just a few days. Disney have an Alamo car rental place on site – they will pick you up and return you right to your hotel. So consider just hiring the car for a few days if that is all you need rather than your whole trip.

When you’re taking into account the costs of hiring a car, bear in mind you need to price the cost of paying for the hire car plus insurance plus the cost of parking at the parks. At Disney it is $14 a day for a car or free for guests staying in Disney hotels. These costs should be priced against the cost of any extras you’ll pay for without one, such as cabs or Mears transfers or even the transfer from airport to where you are staying if you’re not in a Disney hotel and you’ve not booked a package where this is included.

We tend to get to Disney and stay there so we don’t need a car. In the past though, we have stayed on International Drive and the shuttles provided to the other parks have been more than adequate for our needs – and when they weren’t we used a cab. The odd times we needed the cab did not add up to the cost of a hire car. I have heard so many people saying that it is impossible to visit Orlando without a car and that simply isn’t true. What is important is that you look at your personal circumstances and requirements and select the option that works best for you and your family.

BRiTMiCK is a blog aimed at British visitors to Walt Disney World, helping you to make the most of your holiday. Follow @Britmickuk for the latest on whats going on at BRiTMiCK and other Disney sites.

3 Responses to “To car hire or not to car hire?”

  1. wendy 26. Feb, 2011 at 6:25 pm #


    really informative thank you.

    I do agree with you in most respects – and I have lived that bus not arriving and staying at the comfort and having only set times for the buses. Problem with me is that the biggest part of my trip is visiting all them there Malls.

    Not sure if its still valid (its a while since we have done it) but if you buy the bulk Universal ticket it did have free bus fare over to Bush Gardens, It picks up in various spots aong I-Drive or you may need to get you to SeaWorld carpark. Well worth investigating as even with a hire car its sooo much easier than trying to drive.

    Also remember even if you are staying on Disney that the free disney airport transport can depend on where your plane lands. For us in the north of the country the majority of flights land in Sanford not Orlando Internal – so no magical express. Then you have to figure in the cost of the transfers from the airport. Transfers for a family of 5 can cover nearly a weeks card hire.

    • BritMick 26. Feb, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

      Thanks for your comment Angela and you make a really great point about the Magical Express. With flights from the UK becoming so expensive, more and more people are taking indirect flights and those too often come into Sanford. Definitely worth taking into account when making the decision whether or not to hire a car. I’ve heard some tickets include transfers to Busch Gardens too and I agree it would definitely be worth taking advantage of that, car or not. Thanks for your thoughts!


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