Driving to Walt Disney World

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We spend a lot of time on this site talking about what we do when we get to Walt Disney World.  That makes sense, considering the elaborate algorithm and space age technology that Len developed to perfect Touring Plans.  If you’re like me, though, you’re usually just as concerned with how you’ll get there.

The decision usually comes down to two choices – do I fly or do I drive?  This is a particularly thorny question when you’re like me, and you live close enough to do either.  I’m just north of Atlanta, so a drive to Disney can be done in one good afternoon, anywhere from 7 to 9 hours, depending on traffic and the willingness of my travel companions.

Driving usually wins out for me, because by the time I get to the airport early, take the hour long flight, Disney’s Magical Express and Online Check-In, I only save about 2 or 3 hours by flying.  If you are going to drive to Disney, though, there’s some things I recommend you keep in mind. 

  1.  Know your exits – I have trod the path between Atlanta and Lake Buena Vista on I-75 and the Florida Turnpike so much that I know every exit between here and there and what it contains.  For example, I know that Ed and Barb’s Cream Donuts is at the end of the road on exit 427 in Florida, and it closes by 1 p.m.  So if you want a key lime or strawberry cheesecake donut, you better leave Disney early when headed back this way.    Knowing what exits have what is key to driving survival.
  2. Know traffic patterns – This is especially true if you are leaving or driving through a major metropolitan area like Atlanta.  Sometimes there’s no choice, but leaving after work on a holiday weekend or on a Friday night is never a good idea.  Traffic backs up in several locations between my house or office and Macon, GA, about 75 miles away.  Knowing what time of day to go can save lots of time.
  3. Know your travelers – Are you driving solo?  With a spouse or significant other?  You can make really good time.  Driving with kids?  Maybe not so much.  If you have kept the first two tips in mind, you’ll understand how to manage the drive to stop and let the kids entertain themselves, or conversely, where to stop for coffee to fuel the rest of your drive.  You’ll also know how far you can make it without stopping for the night.

Those are my three rules for any car trip to Disney.  But there is all sorts of fun you can have on one of these trips.  I used to be a huge fan of the Ocala Welcome Center that Disney hosted at exit 350 off I-75 in Florida.  There was a giant Mickey outside the building that we would always take our picture by, and we would go inside and watch a preview video of what we would see when we arrived at Walt Disney World.

I also love playing car games, like the Alphabet Game, with my wife or kids.  That’s when you try to spot the letters of the alphabet in order on billboards along the side of the road.  The I-75 route has plenty of them, so it’s not too challenging, but still fun.  It gets cutthroat when trying to find a “Q,” let me tell you. 

I’m also a connoisseur of fine dive restaurants and off the beaten path places to eat.  Through the years, I’ve traveled all over finding these sorts of places, with the help of books and websites like Roadfood.  There’s some pretty good ones along the way.  I mentioned Ed and Barb’s Cream Donuts in Lake City (exit 427), but there’s also the New Perry Hotel in Perry, GA and NuWay Wieners in Macon, GA. 

No matter which drive you take to Walt Disney World, it’s always good to make the journey as much fun as the destination.  I know that isn’t easy, considering where you’re headed, but it’s fun to try, isn’t it? 

What about you?  Do you drive to Disney?  What kind of tips or tricks do you use to pass the time?

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Posted on December 27, 2010

20 Responses to “Driving to Walt Disney World”

  • We live in Louisville and have done both. We prefer to drive, mainly due to cost but also because we just like family road trips. We usually leave the night before and drive all night, getting to the hotel about an hour before rope drop. We check in, get our tickets and head to the parks. We’re too excited to sleep! :)

    But we have older kids, so traveling a relatively long distance isn’t as big a problem for us. If they were little ones, we probably couldn’t do it, much less do it as easily as we do.

  • We live in suburban Detroit and prefer to drive. Even with today’s gas prices it is cheaper than flying and renting a car. We leave very early in the morning and drive till we’re tired, typically 10 hrs or so, then stop for the night. That will get us to around Macon. The next day is a shorter drive. It is just my wife and I, she reads or naps and I drive. We enjoy it and like to observer the changes in the seasons. We went down early this month and snow and ice in the mountains was nice.

  • We’re down in South West Georgia so we always drive. It’s a 4 hour car ride from our driveway to Disney Property. That’s how we’ve justified 40 plus trips, “it’s only a 4 hour ride”. We sometimes get up early, drive down, hit a park for 4 to 5 hours then drive back the same day. I know, crazy right? But it gives us a Disney fix in between extended stay trips. Annual passes and a passion for Disney photography is a dangerous combination.

  • Except for a couple of times I’ve pretty much always drive to WDW from where I live in Sandy Springs, GA. I’ve done it in as little as 6.5hrs (driving solo at zero-dark-hundred in the morning, mind you). Like others I enjoy having the convenience of my own vehicle while there…and the drive gives me time to let my mind decompress from Life for a bit before getting to the resort/parks.

  • That must be some donut if you leave WDW early in order to make it before the shop closes! I can’t imagine leaving early! :)

    And I don’t drive it. 1400 miles. Ugh.

  • We live 17 hours and we make the drive each year without stopping for the night. It’s actually a great part of each trip. Time spent together without worrying about doing laundry, paying the bills, etc. On the way there we talk about all we hope to do and on the way home we re-live our trip. My partner and I have done this three years in a row with our daughter (5, now). We’re very lucky though as our little girl is a great car traveler!

  • Like the other Georgians here, we drive. It’s 5 hours from our home NW of Savannah and, during the year of our annual pass, we would head down for weekends whenever the mood struck.

  • We drive from Columbia, SC. It’s about an 8 hour drive. Our last trip was with our 19 month old. We were concerned about the trip because she does not like long drives. So we kept on telling her that we will be going on a long long long long trip soon. We got up about 4am thinking that she would sleep for the first part of the trip and we were wrong. She was awake until we stopped for breakfast. Once the tummy was full she passed out until we reached Jacksonville. However, she did not fuss the entire trip. We believe that it was because we communicated to her what we were going to do ahead of time.

  • by Darryl Bedford on December 28, 2010, at 10:27 am EST

    We live in London, Ontario and plan on driving again. I recently bought the book Along Interstate 75 by Dave Hunter for our next trip. Think of it as touring plans for I-75! I have GPS but I found it a nuisance to try and figure out exactly what is at the exits ahead. The maps in the book are drawn with I-75 represented as a straight line with what is on your left on the left side of the page and what is on your right on the right side of the page. The only complaint I have about the book is that it ends at the Florida border. You would have to buy his other book to get maps of I-75, I-4, the turnpike, etc.

  • We always fly. Living in Indianapolis and there being only two of us, it just wouldn’t be efficient to drive. The gas alone might be cheaper than the plane tickets, but that’s not the only consideration for also. We would also have to factor in wear and tear on the vehicle, and more importantly, the value of our time. It would take about 16 hours to get to WDW, which is at least one lost day of time.

    If we were in Georgia or any of the Southern states, we’d definitely drive. We’re just too far north for it to be pragmatic.

  • by John Schneider on December 28, 2010, at 12:19 pm EST

    We just moved to the eastern section of the country (North Alabama) and drove down to WDW in early Dec. We could have made it in one day, but it was nice to try and do some touring since we’re new here. The one mistake we made was we made a stopover in Tallahassee as there was supposed to be a Christmas Market/Fair going on, but we had no idea the amount of traffic we were going to encounter, and not being familiar w/the city, we didn’t know any ‘secrets’; spent an hour trying to find a parking space w/no luck, so we went back to the hotel. Other than that, I would drive again in a heartbeat.

  • I live in Tampa so we always drive lol

  • It’s been a few years since we’ve driven from NJ. I like the drive and I like having our car there with us. Our strategy involves I-95 and is to leave home around 9pm at night (on a weeknight) and drive around DC and on past Richmond, VA. We’ll stop for some sleep, usually around 2 or 3am. We’re back on the road again, around noon and on down to I-4. Once we are on I-4, I feel like we’re there! Total driving time is somewhere between 16 and 19 hours and depends on traffic. I’ve done this route probably dozens of times over the past 20 years. I can proudly say I have never stopped at South of the Border! ;-)

  • We’ve discussed driving, but so far on our dozen or so family trips (and a few before being blessed with our child), we’ve flown. We have the Southwest credit card and put everything we possibly can on it so that we can earn free flights. It would be about a 16 hour drive for us, not including stops, so like Tom (above), we’d rather spend our time at Disney than getting there. We may change our minds in the next year or two, but we’ve already booked our flight for our summer trip!

  • I can remember we would drive to Disney World 2-3 times a year from Kansas City. We would memorize the attractions at the towns that we would always stop at. I keep wanting my kids to experience the drive down (We still live in KC) but my wife still has a hesitation (Yeah, I think she is the smarter of the two of us). Still the memories that I have driving down (good and bad) are something I wish my kids can experience.

  • Since moving to North Carolina in 2006 I generally drive if someone goes with me and fly if I’m going solo. If I can get a flight for under $200 then it’s worth it to me to spend that time at Disney rather than getting there.

  • We’re debating how to travel for spring break from Lexington and I think driving is going to win out unless I can figure out transport from the OTHER orlando airport. Its a 16 hour drive from here but when we did it last year, it wasnt horrible. Just long lol

  • We live in Toronto Ontario and it takes about 23 hours with stops. We always seem to eat at the same restaurants such as Cracker Barrel. My kids bring their dvd player, DS sytems and games. Deck of cards is a must too.

    • by John E. Levis on January 2, 2011, at 4:52 pm EST

      Seems Cracker Barrel is a favorite among WDW fans. That’s our favorite stop for meals on the road for breakfast and dinner. Plus, there is always a decent hotel nearby.