10 Reasons to Drive at Walt Disney World

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A few months ago I made the argument that you should be using Walt Disney World buses to get around the park.  Well, like any well respected writer (or minor blogger, but who’s keeping track) I am bound by my journalistic integrity to present both sides of any argument fairly and without bias (okay, maybe a little bias).  Therefore I now present to you the 10 reasons to rent a car at Walt Disney World:

10.  Your own music – I love some of the music that is played on the buses (jazz on the way to Port Orleans comes to mind).  I do not love other music (Mmmm…Bop on the way to Pop Century comes immediately and painfully to mind).  With a rental car and an easily made compact disc, you can make your own mix of great tracks to get you into the Disney mood.

I will warn against using old music or you might have the unfortunate experience of driving into Epcot listening to the original complete “One Little Spark.”  You may then realize that the attraction is no longer like that and spend the next 20 minutes crying in your car…or not.

I have zero driving-related pictures, so here's a nice shot of Hollywood Studios instead.

9.  No more of those darn multi-stopping Disney’s Magical Express buses– Don’t get me wrong, I love the Magical Express service as do my kids.  I do not enjoy stopping at 4 other resorts before getting to mine and it makes me insane (well, more so) when we drive right past my resort to go all the way to Animal Kingdom Lodge to drop off one family.  Driving from the airport eliminates all of that.

8.  You really get to know your way around – Okay this one may not be a selling point.  I find Disney’s road signage to be…fickle.  The signs are mostly good, but you may see the Wilderness Lodge listed on one sign on the south side of the property and then not mentioned again until you are practically on top of it.  It definitely helps to know the general direction and nearest theme park to your destination and, believe me, you will learn all of that when you get lost the first few times.

7.  Groceries – In my opinion having a case of water and an assortment of snacks is a necessity.  In my wife’s opinion, the baby needs diapers (I say if the horse gets to go on Main Street so should my son).  Getting all of these is easier and cheaper with a car.

6.  Not a people person? – Perfect because you don’t have to deal with anyone but those in your car (although that may be worse).  I enjoy people, but even I get tired of dealing with crowds after a long day in the parks. Sometimes the last thing I feel like doing is packing onto a bus (not to mention how few people would “raise their hand if they’re Sure”).

5.  Expanded food options – There are a whole bunch of great restaurants on Walt Disney World property, and there are also a bunch of mediocre ones.  One thing that both of those categories have in common is that they are expensive.  Having a car allows you to go off property to try some restaurants that may be a little more reasonable (stress the word ‘may’).

...and who doesn't love an unrelated castle picture?

4.  Storage – This is actually one of my favorite things about having a car and something that I think people overlook.  It’s a great place to keep a jacket, extra socks, band aids, snacks, or your kids (oops, I mean not your kids, that would be terrible…unless you crack a window…).

3.  Resort hopping – If you have never seen some of the Walt Disney World resorts, do yourself a favor and go visit them.  I have never stayed in many of the resorts that are offered, yet I have visited them all either to eat, drink, or just wander around.

One of the problem with resort hopping is that it is awkward to travel from resort to resort using Disney transportation.  Buses, for instance, do not run from resort to resort.  Therefore having a car is the fastest and easiest way to see all these beautiful places.

2.   Speed (and your relative need for it) – Speaking of fast, speed is my number 2 reason for driving.  Not that I’m recommending you go all Ricky Bobby and start treating World Drive as a drag strip, but it usually ends up being faster to drive.

And my number one reason…

1.   No missing rope drop for you – You can go ahead and ignore the other nine reasons (Ha! Gotcha, you already read them…sucker).  This is the biggie, and the big reason that I really like having a car.  I have fought and suffered through waking my family up early and been sitting at the bus stop at 8:15am only to sit there for 35 minutes waiting for the bus.  I then usually have to restrain my language as we arrive at the Magic Kingdom at 9:05am.  With a car, that doesn’t happen.

So, that’s my list.  If you’re curious as to whether I prefer riding the bus or having a car, well that depends.  I currently have two children in car seats, which means that we have to bring or rent seats along with a car, which adds cost, time, and aggravation to the trip.  Therefore, with my family, I prefer the buses.  If I’m sans-children on a trip, I prefer the car just for the speed and convenience.  Personally, I think either option has some good to it (10 reasons one might say).

Thanks for reading!

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Posted on January 18, 2012

25 Responses to “10 Reasons to Drive at Walt Disney World”

  • Anyone that visits WDW and doesn’t rent a car is out of their minds, IMHO. Don’t fall victim to “The Mousetrap.” Having a car saves you more time, money, and hassle than any one thing you can include in your WDW vacation plans. I’ve EASILY found great cars from MCO on-site rental agencies for around $110 to $120 for up to 7 days.

  • This is a great list!

    I rented a car for our trip, mostly because I’m from Los Angeles and couldn’t bear the thought of spending 9 days without one. Lol.

    Actually, I love the independence a car gives you.

    We were able to buy groceries and discounted Universal park tickets (gasp!) from the local Walmart. We went to Dunkin Donuts for breakfast one morning. I shopped at all three Disney outlet stores in Orlando. We never once had to buy groceries or other supplies from Disney. It was so convenient to have a car.

    As for the rental, I got a great deal from Enterprise, via Hotwire, for $9.26 a day for 9 days. Yes, you read that right. And then they upgraded me to a full size vehicle because they ran out of compact cars.

    Parking at the resort? PERFECT. We literally parked 10 feet away from our front door. And luckily, our front door was only 50 feet away from a bus stop.

    Yes, we did use resort transportation on a couple days. And it was convenient when we did. But even then, when we wanted to go to Downtown Disney from Magic Kingdom, we were told there was no direct bus that did this. The Cast Member told us to hop on the first resort bus we saw and then connect from that resort to Downtown Disney. Luckily for us, the first bus we saw was for our resort – so we hopped off the bus at our resort and hopped in our car for a 4 minute drive to Downtown Disney.

    I realize we may have gotten lucky all week and it makes me biased, but it’s definitely a bonus in my book to have a car at WDW!

  • We are renting a car for the first time on our upcoming trip. Staying just off property too for the first time. Looking forward to seeing the difference of having a car.

  • The signage issue at WDW is ridiculous! I know my way around, very well, but it you’re a first timer, do not depend on the signs to get you to your destination. Also, on the groceries, there are lots of car services from the airport that will stop at a grocery on the way to the resort.

    I like having my car (I’m local, anyway), but I love the stress relief of just letting someone else worry about the transportation while I’m at Disney. One of the many reasons I love staying at the resorts.

    • The signs take you where THEY want you to go. I learned the most efficient routes around the resorts to the parks by riding the buses. Most of them take the un-marked routes around the property. Google maps is your friend especially when staying off property. Never EVAR take the main drag thru the Downtown Disney hotel district when staying off-site to enter the resort. It’s a huge cluster. I stay off Palm Parkway quite a bit as there are a ton of great “Lake Buena Vista” area hotels off 535 (the closest and nicest off-site area to plant yourself while at WDW, IMHO) while out there and that road itself connects to the resort via a back road thru cast areas wonderfully. If staying off 192, Sherbeth is the ONLY way to get onto property IMHO. Runs you smack dab into DAK and DAK Lodge. Hang a right and you’re quickly on your way to all the other theme parks. Don’t hassle yourself by heading towards I4…totally out of the way.

  • We’ve always managed to get to rope drop on time with Disney transportation. My number one reason for a car would be the resort to resort hopping. Nothing worse than having a nice dinner at Sanaa and then catching two buses to get back to Pop!

  • I’m still not sold on a car being the absolute fastest way to the parks from your resort. With a car you drive to the toll plaza, wait in line to have them check your card/parking permit, park, walk to the tram line, wait for the tram, ride the tram, then you’re finally ready to go through bag check and into the park. We had a car for part of our trip this past December and it seemed like that took just as long if not longer than waiting for and riding the busses.

    If your plan is to visit many other resorts for food, etc., by all means a car might be your best bet. But for the parks, I’m still in favor of the busses.

  • Excellent article, as always Brian. My family will never go without a car on property. And there are great deals to be had. I love the flexibility, freedom and speed a car affords. It is well worth the rental cost.

  • We used to be rental car people, then we decided to economize on one trip and rely entirely on Disney transportation. We haven’t rented a car since. Two downsides that do bother us — resort-to-resort travel, as Laura B. points out; and traveling to and from Downtown Disney, which always seems to take absolutely forever. But those downsides haven’t been enough to persuade us to rent again.

  • I’ll stick with Magical Express, thank you. You forgot to warn people reading only this that Orlando has the worst traffic of any City except Los Angeles, not in volume but in craziness. And the signage is no help. And heaven help you if you do not have toll fare for the highway!!

  • I agree about the horrible signage! That (and the lack of street lights) were our biggest pet peeves about driving around the area.

    Thankfully, we never hit bad traffic – either that or living in LA has made me immune to what other people consider bad traffic. Though it has probably also made me a fan of driving down little known streets with the help of a trusty GPS to get to my destination.

    I also found the Touring Plans book to be a HUGE help. We skipped the car on Magic Kingdom day and Animal Kingdom day and took the bus, as advised.

    But for the rest of our time – and for the rest of the parks – we just got there early enough to not have a line getting into the parking lot and we were so close to the front gates that we literally only walked 2 minutes to get to the turnstiles.

    Also, I was incredibly surprised when the Cast Members in parking just took a passing glance at my annual pass and waved us through. In Disneyland, they have to swipe my pass before allowing me through, which takes longer. I was literally at the parking booth for all of 5 seconds before we were on our way to our parking space. And I was told that if we were staying at one of the resorts, parking in the parks is free, so I’m assuming resort guests would have the same process. (I was a resort guest, but I also upgraded to a Premiere Pass for this trip so I just used that for parking.)

  • We drove on our last trip and it was more than worth it. We were able to go where we wanted, when we wanted. For early morning breakfasts at other resorts we just hopped in the car and went, no bus-hopping involved. My mother-in-law had an incident where she hurt her foot at Downtown Disney and I was able to get my car and drive her straight to her building without her having to hobble to the bus stop and wait who knows how long.

    It also saved us a bunch of money. I think round trip from Texas it was less than $200 in gas. (We stayed with family in Pensacola, so we saved an extra night or two on hotels too!)

  • We have always hired a car as we also stay off site. I love Disney but for my family being a 10 minute drive away is all part of the excitement. We usually stay just off the 27 and drive in via the I4 and every time we drive past it we shout Mickey Pylon, Mickey Pylon (I hope you know what I’m talking about) We get to eat where we like, shop where we like and visit everything else at our convenience. We’ve done Boggy Creek Tours, spent an afternoon at Gaylord Palms, and driven to the coast. On our last trip (December) we were in Orlando for 3 weeks and we learnt a lot about getting around – eg for Downtown Disney different exits depending on which end of DD you want to visit, AK is quicker if you come in on 192, Disney signage can take you all round the houses so using a map is essential. And we agree with Brian music is very important, we like to check out the radio stations and always come home with a few holiday tunes (most played) that become the backing track to the vacation movie. This year we found one that played Christmas tunes 24/7. Thanks for the great report :)

  • I always want a car at Disney. I just find it more convenient than waiting for buses/monorails/boats. Especially if I stay until park closing – Disney transportation can be brutal at closing. I always use my AAA Diamond Parking Pass. (you get one when you book through AAA). It gets me within walking distance of the entrance gate to all of the parks except the Magic Kingdom. (Full disclosure here: I work for AAA, but I am a Disney fanatic and visit WDW at least once a year). Plus, if you stay at a Disney Resort, your theme park parking is free. It’s a great feeling to be able to just walk to your car – and go – after a long day in the parks.

  • We tried both on our last trip, and by a landslide the car was much faster than the buses. I have another trip planned in Nov and we are staying outside the World this time. I am going to see if this makes a difference in getting to the resorts and I’ll report back. :)

  • Firmly in the rental car camp. Almost always stay on-site. Agree with everyone about the signage. Also, be aware that Disney likes to direct traffic the way they want it to flow. There are many shortcuts once one really learns the highways and byways of WDW. The only time that I don’t reoutinely use the car is going to MK. For all of the other parks, a car is pretty convenient. The best thing to do is get a copy of the “real” property map and just explore.

  • by Laurel Stewart on January 19, 2012, at 9:55 am EDT

    Ha! Your “Mmmm….Bop” comment reminded me of my last stay at Old Key West – every time we got on the bus one of us would say, “I sure hope we hear some Jimmy Buffet on this trip!”

  • Drivers here as well. We are a family of 5 in Nashville, TN and driving to Orlando saves us thousands in airfare (we go multiple times a year). We love the flexibility of getting to our vehicle anytime we wish, and coupled with the fact we like to stay in larger condos just off property it works well for us.

    The signs aren’t great, but Orlando is a really easy town to learn your way around, at least when it comes to the tourist-y areas. Also, the traffic is Orlando is NOT that bad at all, even during rush hours and busy tourist times. I’m caught in worse here in the Nashville area almost daily!

  • by Kevin Crossman on January 19, 2012, at 10:19 am EDT

    I think the Early Bird item can’t be underscored more. On our last trip we did use the bus system to go from Pop Century to Magic Kingdom and back and we had a great experience – we waited five minutes going and literally walked right up to a waiting bus on the way back. But, if we waited 20-30 minutes for a bus, both ways, we probably would have been upset.

    If you have two adults in your party, it is pretty easy to get around WDW property. The “about the world” brochure they provide when you check-in to a WDW resort has a very nice map.

  • I’m a DVC member and my home resort is Boardwalk. I live in Indiana so I have always flown to save vacation days/travel time. I haven’t rented a car in 8 years. Resort location has a lot to do with that. From BW, I can walk to DHS and EPC. Being so close knocks out the transportation time for these two destinations. So the only other typical Disney Transportation destinations (bus) are Downtown Disney, AK, and MK. Getting to those parks is a much bigger pain by comparison. I imagine that there are similar logistical benefits to staying at other resorts (i.e., the MK resorts on the monorail). So it seems that where you stay would also enter into your decision of having a car or not. In full disclosure, I have traveled recently with family and friends who drove to WDW and a car was available. Soooo much easier to head to other resorts and Downtown Disney with the car.

  • We’ve driven from our home in NC several times and also have flown.

    We had car service the time we flew, stayed at Beach Club and never missed the car. That was a no-kids trip.

    With kids we drive (air fare for 4 is too much) but we don’t always use the van to get around. We use it for Animal Kingdom, Water Parks and Studios. Epcot and Magic Kingdom we use Disney Transportation (we love the boats from Wilderness Lodge). My biggest reason for loving having a car is #4…STORAGE…especially for winter trips when you leave home with heavy coats. We also bring a bunch of water and just store it in the van till we need it. We’ve never done an off-site food run, even when we stayed at Old Key West…we just bring our food from home. Once we get to Orlando it’s all about the Mouse for us and we don’t want to waste our time grocery shopping once we get there!

  • I’m another car supporter. In addition to already mentioned perks like ease of resort-hopping and speed of transportation (I have some horror stories about a few times I’ve used WDW busses), the ability to go off site can really come in handy–for instance, when I had to take my sister to the ER at Celebration Hospital at 4am last trip, it was very handy to have a car and a good GPS instead of having to get an ambulance for her non-life-threatening injury. We always stay on site, and I love the monorail & boats, but the flexibility of a car can’t be beat.

  • I was always a car guy until my last trip – we had 19 people, and renting 4 cars sounded silly, so we took Magical Express – it was fun to be on the bus together. We stayed at Bay Lake Tower, and a car really wasn’t necessary there. We could walk to the Magic Kingdom and take the monorail to Epcot, so we had only two “bus” days to Animal Kingdom and the Studios. Of course, we planned our meals around the travel – we dined at restaurants at the monorail resorts and Wilderness Lodge, all accessible by “fun” transportation. And we used Garden Grocer for groceries, which even with a car I’d do again – SO much easier than wasting a couple of hours shopping on your trip.

    I think if you’re either staying at a monorail resort or an Epcot resort, you really don’t need a car (as half the parks are accessible by a “fun” mode of transport, and there are plenty of places to eat a walkable distance away). Any other resort and especially offsite, I’d probably stick with a car.

  • We usually drive from Ontario Canada. This past summer we flew and didn’t rent a car. There were a few times wished we had rented a car. Having a car at your disposal gives more freedom on the trip. On a very rainy day, it would have been nice to have been able to drive to the mall for some shopping.

  • We have done both. It is so much faster to drive than take buses. Even with having to go through the parking plaza, park and walk to the park. Of course, we are always at the park early and there is no line at the parking plaza and we get to park close. The only park where it is even close to being faster to take the bus is Magic Kingdom because of the added step of getting from Ticket and Transportation to the park itself.