Transportation

Disney Cruise Line Coverage Now On TouringPlans.com

by on October 25, 2013

Disney Cruise Line's Helmsman Mickey Statue on the Disney MagicToday we’re launching coverage of the Disney Cruise Line!

It’s more than 300 pages and 400 photos – the largest expansion ever to TouringPlans.com. You’ll find detailed reviews of every ship, port, show, restaurant, bar, and activity on-board, plus itinerary, port, and Port Adventure details.

Our Coverage Includes

  • A new Fare Tracker shows you the daily price of every cruise on every ship for every stateroom category. See whether you’ll save money by booking now or waiting, and see how Disney priced the same cruise last year.
  • Complete coverage of Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island, including reviews of every Port Adventure activity, what to pack for your day, food and bar reviews, and more.

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Walt Disney World Resort Monorail Hours Limited Starting October 6

by on October 6, 2013

As a result of construction at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, the Walt Disney World Resort Monorail will be operating on a limited schedule beginning October 6, 2013. On that day and for what is projected to be two weeks after, the resort monorail will stop running at 11 a.m. daily and will remain down until 6 p.m. each day. Guests will be re-routed to resort buses and boats in order to get to Magic Kingdom, the Transportation and Ticket Center, and the other monorail resorts.

For those of you traveling on these alternate methods of transportation, be sure to remember that Disney bus and boat rules require that you fold and store strollers, walkers, and other rolling devices.

The Express Monorail will continue to run normally between the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) and Magic Kingdom during this period.

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Get to Know MCO: Things You May Not Know About Orlando International Airport

by on August 7, 2013

As a frequent visitor to Walt Disney World, I’m also a frequent visitor to Orlando International Airport (MCO for those in the know). On some trips, I’ve spent more time at the airport than I have on park attractions, or in my hotel room. Here are a few tips to make Orlando International a better place to be, whether you’re zipping through or whether you’re hunkered down for hours due to flight delays.

There's no gum at the airport.

There’s no gum at the airport.

  • You can get some last minute souvenirs at the airport. Disney has two official merchandise stores in the main MCO terminal building. SeaWorld, Universal Studios, and the Kennedy Space Center each have one. The selections are not extensive, but if you forgot to get your dog walker a thank you gift, this is a good place for a spur-of-the-moment save.
  • You can get Harry Potter treats without a wait. The wait at the shops at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter can be positively otherworldly. The airport Universal shop stocks many Harry Potter items such as tees, wands, some Honeydukes brand candies, and Zonko’s oddities, and there’s rarely any wait.
  • There’s an arcade to keep the little ones busy. Look for the King Kong arcade in the main terminal.
  • There’s free wireless throughout the public areas. The former paid Internet kiosks are now inoperable.
  • There’s no gum anywhere. While chewing gum is an ear-popping remedy for many air travelers, you won’t find gum at MCO. Similarly, you won’t find gum at the area theme parks. It’s all part of an effort to help keep the parks clean, which I appreciate, but it can be frustrating at the airport. Bring a stash from home.

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Get to Know the Disney World Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC)

by on June 19, 2013

If you’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World, chances are you’ll encounter the term “TTC.” TTC is the Transportation and Ticket Center and we’re here to tell you what it’s all about.

TRANSPORTATION

The TTC is, not surprisingly, a major transportation hub at Walt Disney World, serving as a transfer point between boats, buses, and monorails, as well as the parking center for guests driving to the Magic Kingdom.

Take a look at this map of Walt Disney World and you’ll see the TTC in the lower center of the blue blob. It doesn’t look like much, but it can be a big help in getting you from point A to point B. And knowing how navigate the TTC can mean the difference between making the trip from A to B pleasant and efficient or making it a looong night of waiting around.

IMG_0574

Here are some of the transportation related things you can do at the Transportation and Ticket Center:

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New Bus Loop To Be Added To Magic Kingdom

by on March 18, 2013

A brand new bus loop is currently being added to the Magic Kingdom.

This new area will serve as a depot for the over-sized, articulated buses that Disney tested last year. It will also provide additional capacity for the park.

Construction on this new area is expected to start today, March 18, 2013.

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A Walt Disney World Transportation Primer: Monorails, Buses, and Boats, Oh My

by on March 13, 2013

In addition to the dozens of fun and fabulous attraction ride vehicles you’ll encounter during a Walt Disney World vacation (Hunny Pots! Doom Buggies!), you’re also likely to go on some plain and practical rides during your visit. These are the many types of transportation vehicles that do yeoman’s work getting you from point A to point B on the 40 square miles of Disney property. Here’s a primer on the types of transport you’ll find on your trip.

You may use many forms of internal transportation during your visit to Walt Disney World.

Disney’s Magical Express bus service has its own rules, but all of the other forms of transportation listed below can be used by anyone, any time, for free.

Again, except for Magical Express, transportation use has no requirement that you be staying on property or at a particular resort. You don’t have to have any sort of ticket to use these transportation vehicles. The drivers don’t have any mechanism to take payments or tickets or anything like that. Really, it’s free. You may very rarely see some fine print that some transportation is only for resort guests. In 15 years of frequent WDW visits, taking thousands of trips on Disney internal transportation, I have never been asked where I’m staying as a condition of boarding a vehicle. On the three to five most crowded days of the year, you might be asked to show resort ID to get on the monorail to the Magic Kingdom, at some times of the day. This is simply for crowd control purposes at the park and has nothing to do with limiting your access to the transportation itself.

You can get anywhere on Walt Disney World property using only this free Disney-provided transportation, but bear in mind that many types of trips will require a mid-route transfer. For example, to get from the Magic Kingdom to Epcot, you’ll need to change monorail lines at the Transportation and Ticket Center, or to get from the Animal Kingdom Lodge to the Beach Club, you’ll need to change buses at the Animal Kingdom park or switch from a bus to a boat at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Disney’s Magical Express

by on July 25, 2012

Disney’s Magical Express is a service that provides free bus transportation to and from Orlando International Airport and Disney’s resort hotels, for guests staying at those hotels. While the word “FREE” always sounds good, there may be some situations where using Magical Express does not make sense. There are also some tips and tricks that can make your Magical Express experience better if you do choose to use it. Here’s what you need to know.

Who can use Disney’s Magical Express?

The Magical Express check-in desk at MCO

Registered guests of Disney-owned hotels are eligible for Magical Express Service. These hotels are:

  • Art of Animation
  • All-Star Movies, Music, & Sports
  • Animal Kingdom Lodge & Villas, Jambo & Kidani
  • Beach Club & Villas
  • BoardWalk & Villas
  • Fort Wilderness Cabins & Campgrounds
  • Caribbean Beach
  • Contemporary & Bay Lake Tower Villas
  • Coronado Springs
  • Grand Floridian
  • Old Key West
  • Polynesian
  • Pop Century
  • Port Orleans French Quarter & Riverside
  • Saratoga Springs
  • Wilderness Lodge & Villas
  • Yacht Club

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Frequently Asked Questions About Tipping At Walt Disney World

by on March 21, 2012

One of the most frequent areas of confusion for Disney guests is the topic of tipping. International guests may be unfamiliar with American tipping in general. There are some Disney travel situations where guests tip differently than at other travel destinations. And some folks are just plain miffed that they have to tip at all.

With an aim at reducing anxiety, here are some frequently asked questions about tipping at Walt Disney World.

TRANSPORTATION

I’ve arrived at Orlando International airport, do I have to tip anyone here?

At the airport, and throughout your trip, you should tip anyone who handles your luggage for you in your presence. The rule of thumb is that you tip about a dollar per bag, or two dollars if the bag is extra heavy. If you’re claiming your bags yourself and taking them to a cab, rental car agency, limo service, or Magical Express bus on you own, then you won’t need to tip anyone while you’re in the airport. If you use a porter to assist you with moving your bags from the luggage carousel to ground transportation, then you tip the porter.

No need to tip your inter-park bus driver.

I’m taking Magical Express to my Disney resort, do I have to tip the driver?

You’ll see a sign at the front of the bus telling you that driver will accept tips. If you’re just hopping off and on the bus, you shouldn’t feel obligated. However, if the driver is helping your store luggage under the bus, go by the dollar per bag rule.

Did you notice that I said you should tip anyone who handles your bags “in your presence”? If you’ve used the yellow Magical Express luggage tags and had Disney take your bags directly to the hotel for you, then you won’t see the person who’s doing your luggage transport. In this situation, you’re off the hook for tipping.

I’m taking a shuttle to an off-site hotel. Do I tip the driver?

It’s the same situation as Magical Express. If the driver helps with your bags, offer about a dollar a bag.

What do you mean “about” a dollar a bag?

Assuming that you have normal weight bags, aim to tip a dollar a bag. However, it’s good manners to round up, and poor form to ask a bellman or porter for change. This means that if your family has three or four suitcases and all you have a five dollar bill in your wallet, give the porter the fiver.

I’m renting a car. Do I have to tip anyone?

Not at the airport, but maybe later.

I’m taking a limo service or town car to my hotel. Do I tip the driver?

Depending on the agency you’re using, the tip may be included in the price. Be sure to ask this when you set up your booking. In general, plan to tip about 15% of the fare. If the driver has done something extraordinary for you, such as making an extra stop or assisting with car seats or colossal amounts of luggage, tip more.

I’m taking a taxi to my hotel. Do I tip the driver?

Yes. Taxi drivers also get about 15% of the fare. Again, if the cabbie does something above-and-beyond, tip more.

Does the taxi tip level remain the same for shorter trips?

Generally, yes. For shorter trips on WDW property you may end up with a ride that costs seven or eight dollars. In a situation like this, it’s often easier for both you and the driver if you round up to ten dollars. It’s considered poor form to tip the driver in coins. Always round to the next higher dollar in your tip.

Taxis are one situation where asking for change for the tip is OK. For example, if your cab ride is $11 and you have a twenty in your wallet, it’s perfectly acceptable to say to the driver, “Here’s a twenty, can I have six back, please.” This tells the driver that you’re paying the fare and giving him a $3.00 tip.

What was that “maybe later” you said earlier with the rental car tipping?

All the Disney resorts have self-parking which is free for guests. No need to tip anyone if all you’re doing is self-parking your own car or a rental car.

The deluxe resorts also have valet parking available for a fee. If you use the valet parking service, in addition to paying the daily rate (currently $14), you’ll need to tip the attendant each time you get your car. A dollar or two will suffice.

Do I have to tip the bus/boat/monorail driver who takes me from my Disney hotel to the theme parks?

Nope. This is a no-tip situation, but a smile and a cheery “thank you” would be nice.

Is there anyone special I need to tip when I’m leaving Walt Disney World?

If you use the Resort Airline Check-In service at your Disney resort, you should tip the agent who tags your bags. These folks are not Disney employees. Consider them in the same way you would porters at the airport and give them about a dollar a bag. Remember, Resort Airline Check-In is responsible for getting your luggage onto your plane. It’s better if they’re happy.

You do tip the folks at Resort Airline Check-In.

AT THE HOTEL

Ta da! I’m at the hotel. Who needs a tip first?

Much of the tipping at your hotel is centered around luggage assistance. Yet again, if someone touches your bag, they should be tipped about a dollar a bag. If a bellman not only takes your bags to your room for you, but also provides additional information about the hotel or the workings of your room, then a bit more may be in order.

You’ll also give a dollar a bag to the bellman who helps you with luggage when you’re leaving the hotel.

All this tipping for moving my bags is really adding up. How can I economize?

You can avoid a lot of tipping if you transport your bags yourself. This may not be feasible for guests with medical challenges, copious amounts of luggage, more small children than adults, or owners of non-wheeled luggage. However, if you’re able-bodied and each member of your party can handle their own rolling bag, then by all means deal with your own luggage and circumvent the tip stream.

What’s this I hear about tipping mousekeeper housekeepers?

Yes, this is a thing.

It’s polite to leave about a dollar per day, per person in your party, as a tip for the cast members that make up your room. If you’re a family of five, this means a five dollar tip for your housekeeper each day. You’re supposed to leave the tip separately each day, rather than at the end of your stay, because there likely will be different cast cleaning your room over the course of your visit. You’re also supposed to leave the tip in an envelope with a nice note that says “thank you.” This makes it clear to the housekeeper that the tip is indeed for her, and not just a bit of cash that you forgot you left on the dresser.

Many guests make fun projects for their kids based around decorating the housekeeper tip envelopes. A quick Google of “Mousekeeping Tip Envelopes” will give you lots of links to people who are more creative and patient than I am.

Now it’s time for Erin’s true confessions: I rarely tip the housekeepers. If the housekeeper does something special like make towel animals or arrange my kids’ stuffed animals in a Mickey-centric Last Supper tableau, then yes, I’ll leave a few bucks in appreciation. Also, if my kids have been super messy (um, the sand was supposed to be wiped off your feet before you got to the room), I’ll leave some cash to assuage my guilt. But otherwise, I usually don’t.

Clearly this is some glitch in my programming because I go absolutely insane with rage when people undertip at restaurants. A housekeeper is clearly working just as hard in a service job as a waiter. Do as I say, people, not as I do.

Even if your Jungle Cruise driver is so good he makes you cry, he still doesn’t get a tip.

Do I tip those random helpful people at the hotel?

Generally not. Disney has greeters and random helpful, cheerful souls all over the place. They don’t expect to be tipped for answering simple questions, opening doors, or pointing you in the right direction.

Are there exceptions to this?

If someone actually does something for you, offer a tip. For example, if you call down to housekeeping for more pillows or towels, give the person who brings them a few dollars. If a bell desk cast member calls a taxi for you, give them a dollar or two.

What about the concierge?

Every Walt Disney World hotel has a concierge desk where you can ask directions, pick up tickets, get assistance with dining reservations, etc. For basic requests, there’s no need to tip. If you find a concierge particularly helpful or if they make multiple meal or recreation reservations or solve a thorny problem for you, offer a tip of $5-10. Most likely this will be firmly, but politely, declined, but it’s kind to offer.

If you’re staying at an off site hotel and a concierge there provides you with assistance, you should tip $5-10 for simple requests, and $20 or more for complicated requests. This most assuredly will not be declined.

DINING

Is there anyone I’m supposed to tip at a counter service restaurant?

No. There’s no need for tipping at counter service venues.

Restaurant tipping information is provided in several languages.

How much am I supposed to tip at table service restaurants?

I’m just going to say it: You should be tipping 18-20% at table service restaurants, possibly more if you’ve had truly exceptional service or have lingered at a signature restaurant.

Eighteen to twenty percent? Really? I though I was being generous by tipping fifteen percent.

Yes, really. The 15% thing is just so 1990s. No flames, please.

I super-double-plus promise you that I’m not making this up. 18-20% is now the tipping norm in U.S. metro areas (of which Orlando is one).

To keep everyone on the same page, Disney restaurants often place a little card about tipping in the bill presentation folder. The card says: “We are often asked about gratuities. No gratuity has been added to your bill. Quality service is customarily acknowledged by a gratuity of 18% to 20%. Thank you.”

Many of the questions we receive on the Walt Disney World Moms Panel are related to tipping. To keep myself educated on the topic I’ve been collecting articles about tipping for the past four years. I have sources ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the most recent edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette that will back me up: you really should be tipping at least 18% at table service restaurants.

In all cases, remember that you’re tipping on the bill, not the bill plus tax.

OK, that’s what I should do, but is it what I absolutely have to do?

Of course it’s really up to you to decide how much you want to tip. If you’ve taken root in the land of 15% tippers, then it’s up to you to decide if that’s where you want to stay.

There are, however, a few situations where the 18% tip is mandated. These are:

  • Parties of six or more. The 18% gratuity will be assessed regardless of the age of the guests (babies are included) and regardless of whether the bill is broken up into separate sub-checks.
  • Guests dining at prepaid restaurants and dinner shows including: Cinderella’s Royal Table, Hoop Dee Doo Review, Spirit of Aloha Luau, and Mickey’s Backyard BBQ.
  • Guests using the Tables in Wonderland discount card or Cast Member discount.

If you fall into one of these categories, take extra care to look over your bill. You’re certainly welcome to add more to your tip if you received exceptional service, but you don’t want to inadvertently double tip.

I’m eating a buffet. Do I have to tip the same amount as at a regular table service restaurant?

In my experience, the servers at Disney’s buffets work just as hard, if not harder, than those at traditional table service restaurants. There’s a lot more clearing and refilling than at other meals. However, if you feel that buffets are in a different category of dining, then it’s up to you to decide your tip level. But remember, if you’re a party of six or more, an 18% gratuity will be automatically added to your bill.

Most Disney restaurant bills include suggested tip amounts.

Do I have to tip if I’m using the Disney Dining Plan?

Yes, you do. Many years ago, the tip was included with the Dining Plan. It’s not any more.

If I’m paying with Dining Plan credits, how do I know how much to tip?

If you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, your bill will include a notation about how much you would have paid had you been paying cash. Tip based on that amount.

If you’re a big eater on the Dining Plan, your tips over the course of a vacation can end up being quite substantial. Be sure to factor this into your budget.

Do I have to pay my restaurant tip in cash?

No. You can use any acceptable form of payment at Disney World to pay your tip. Cash, credit card, debit card, room charge and Disney gift cards all work well.

What happens if I have really bad service? Can I stiff the waiter?

Personally, I have never had truly horrendous service at Walt Disney World and have only had semi-bad service a handful of times in upwards of a thousand dining experiences. The likelihood of you having a horrible server is minimal.

However, if you do encounter service that’s sub-standard, the best thing to do is speak to a manager at the restaurant. They can work with you to rectify any negative issues. It’s better to get the problem fixed than to walk away angry.

Also, remember that your tip is related to your service, not to the food. If you’re unsatisfied with your food, speak to the manager, don’t take it out on the waiter.

Only a few dining experiences have the tip included in the price of the meal.

I’m having a night-cap. What do I tip the bartender?

If you’re just having drinks, one to two dollars per drink is the right amount. If you’re also getting food, go with 18-20%.

I’ve had looong day in the parks. We’ve decided to get room service. What do I tip?

The In-Room Dining menus state, “A $3.00 delivery charge, applicable sales tax, and an 18% service charge will be added to all orders.”

It’s not obligatory, but if the server who brings your food to your room is extra nice or helpful, you could hand him $3-5 to be extra nice back.

IN THE PARKS

I’m a mover and a shaker. Can I tip the cast member at Soarin’ a sawbuck to sneak me into the FastPass line?

Um, no. But you get points for creativity. Cast members doing their regular job in the parks are not allowed to accept tips/bribes/grift/etc. If they are seen accepting tips, this is grounds for dismissal.

A cast member has completely made my day. She (pick one or more) helped my child find her favorite character, got me a new ice cream cone after I dropped mine, let me drive the Jungle Cruise boat, told me about the high-value Toy Story Mania targets. Can I tip her as a thank you?

You’ve got your heart in the right place, but still, no tipping for regular parks cast.

But I reeeeaaally want to thank them properly.

Some super sweet guests carry a small bag of thank you cards or tiny treats from their home town when they go to the parks. They’ll offer these to cast members who have shown them a special courtesy. Cast are allow to accept these de minimus tokens.

While giving a kind cast member a Statue of Liberty pencil sharpener is nice, what’s even better is giving the cast member some documented props. Guest comments weigh heavily in cast member performance evaluations. Your positive remarks can help good cast members get promoted into better jobs. To make an official comment, pick up a comment card at the Guest Services office at the parks. If you’d rather wait until you get home, you can send comments to:

Walt Disney World Guest Communications
PO Box 10040
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-0040

The e-mail address for Guest Communications is: wdw.guest.communications@disneyworld.com.

Be sure to include the cast member’s name and hometown (both noted on their name tag), as well as a description of the cast member’s good deed and approximately where/when it happened.

Is there really no one at the parks to tip?

There are a few small exceptions to the “no tipping in the parks” rule.

You can tip cast involved in your personal beautification at the Harmony Barber Shop, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, or Pirates League. For the Barber Shop, tip about 15% of your bill. At one point tipping at the BBB had been prohibited, but in recent years this rule seems to have been relaxed. If you feel so inclined, you may offer a 15% tip to the Fairy Godmothers in Training or the Pirate tutors.

What about tour guides? Do I tip them?

Not the Walt Disney World tour guides. They’re not allowed to take your tip. If you’re with a private tour group, a tip very well may be expected. Speak with your tour carrier for guidelines.

ANYTHING ELSE I SHOULD BE THINKING OF?

Outside of the parks there are plenty of relaxation and recreation opportunities. These activities are often outsourced to contractors. For example, Nikki Bryan Spas runs the spa services at the Grand Floridian and Saratoga Springs resorts and Sammy Duvall runs the water sports centers. Contractors generally are allowed to accept tips.

We’re treating ourselves to a massage. Do I tip the masseusse

Plan on tipping 15-20% of the bill for any personal care or grooming service. Massages, manicures, haircuts, facials, and those poolside hair wraps all merit a tip of at least 15%.

I’m taking my beloved out on the town and we’re leaving the kids behind. Do I tip the sitter?

The cast at the Disney childcare centers (Neverland Club, etc.) will not be expecting a tip. If you’re using Disney’s in-room sitting subcontractors such as Kids Nite Out, then a tip should be offered. This could range from rounding up the bill by a few dollars to an extra $100 or more if the real-world version of Mary Poppins has tamed your unruly mob. For a normal, competent sitter, a tip of $10-20 is a nice gesture.

I’m going water skiing at the Contemporary. Do I tip the boat driver?

Offer a tip of at least 15% for any specialty recreation. This includes boat drivers, waterski instructors, parasailing guides, tennis instructors, and the like. For golf instructors and caddies, use standard golf club etiquette on tipping.

Tips for your water sports guide are welcome.

I’m still lost, what do I do?

When in doubt, ask other guests, or ask at the Guest Services offices in the parks. They’ll give you the scoop on tipping norms.

If you had one piece of advice to give me overall, what would it be?

Carry a lot of singles.

That’s it?

When in doubt about tipping, remember the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In other words if you, or your parent, or child, or best friend were in a service role, how would you want them to be treated. Tip accordingly.

And at the risk of getting all soapboxy here for a sec, if you’re traveling with kids, think about the example that you’re setting for them. Do you want to teach your kids that it’s OK to stiff the waiter?

With that in mind, you heard it here first, I vow that from now on I will leave a tip for the housekeepers and will teach my kids to do the same.

I’m bizarrely intrigued by all this. What were some of those resources you mentioned about tipping?

Ask and ye shall receive. Here are some places to learn more about tipping:

So fellow travelers, what are your thoughts on tipping? Do international guests think we Americans are crazy? Have you made any tipping gaffes that are keeping you up at night? Let us know in the comments below.

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Cheap Flights and Orlando Sanford Airport

by on March 8, 2012

Visiting any of the Disney Parks is an expensive proposition. TouringPlans.com has a tool to find least-expensive park tickets, and travel agents can watch for discounted lodging. However, as gas prices rise, transportation becomes an increasingly larger portion of our vacation budgets.

To mitigate this, on a recent trip I altered my normal Walt Disney World routine by flying into Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) on the low-cost Allegiant Air. The airfare was great–less than half of what competitors were charging for flights to Orlando International Airport (MCO). This cheap flight, however, came with more than a few caveats.

Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB)

Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) is on the opposite side of downtown Orlando from Walt Disney World. Its dominant commercial carrier is Allegiant Air. Beyond that, the airport mostly serves charter flights from the United Kingdom and Brazil.

For travel to Orlando tourist destinations, SFB is not especially convenient. If you use I-4 and avoid tolls, it is 45 miles from Epcot and requires driving through the heart of downtown Orlando and its traffic. Or you can take FL-417 and pay tolls each way while driving around 50 miles. Even with no traffic, this will take about an hour, and a cab would cost more than $125 each way without tip or tolls. In contrast, Orlando International Airport (MCO) is about 22 miles from Epcot, requires just $2-3 in tolls, and is a $60 cab ride. Or, if you are staying at a Disney Resort Hotel, Disney’s Magical Express service provides slow-but-complimentary bus transportation to and from MCO (but not SFB).

Despite its inconvenient location to Disney World, SFB’s small size allows you to spend less time in the airport. For example, it took me about 5 minutes to walk quickly from my gate to the rental car counter, where I found no line. As a result, I was in my rental car less than 15 minutes after deplaning. And the security lines were not bad–unlike those at MCO, which often have posted wait times!

There also are reasonably priced gas stations, restaurants, and stores off East Lake Mary Boulevard a few miles west of SFB’s entrance. This contrasts with MCO, where the main roads from Disney World are limited access toll roads that deposit you directly into the airport.

Allegiant Air

Although its base fares are good, Allegiant has fees for nearly everything. Before purchasing a ticket, it is important that you understand the airline’s nuances.

  • Allegiant uses many small airports. These airports may not be convenient to your home or destination, requiring you to a rent a car and/or drive further. So make sure you know which airports are involved in your flight.
  • All flights are non-stop; there are no connecting flights.
  • Not all flights operate every day.
  • Base fares do not include seat assignments (although they can be purchased).
  • When buying tickets via the Internet, purchasing at the lowest fare requires clicking “No Thanks” on hotel and car offers, as well as avoiding optional fee-based extras like assigned seating, priority boarding, and checking a bag. Watch where you click.
  • Checked baggage fees are high, especially if you wait until check-in to pay for your bag. Bag fees are also flight-specific.
  • The allowed carry-on size is smaller than on other airlines, and dimensions are rigorously enforced. The parties before and after me in line were both forced to check bags that they were able to carry-on with other airlines.
  • No snacks or drinks are included with your fare, but you can purchase them on-board.
  • Purchasing seats via Internet or phone incurs a fee. Only in-airport purchases avoid this “convenience fee.”
  • Seats do not recline, and there are no seat pockets in which to store junk.
  • Boarding takes place in strictly enforced groups. First those with assigned seats and priority boarding. Then those with only assigned seats. Then those with kids under 7. Then others based on order of check-in. Since there is open seating, people swarm around the gate until their groups are called. There are no organized “stalls” like with Southwest.

How It Worked

Allegiant Air serves my closest home airport: Newport News, Virginia (PHF). I paid $97.08 after taxes and fees for a round-trip ticket about 6 weeks prior to departure. I declined all extras, so I carried on my bags (which I would have done on any flight) and had no assigned seat. At that time the cheapest non-stop round-trip ticket to MCO was about $235. And from casual observation, I’ve deduced that a “good” fare from any local airport to Orlando is around $180. Thus $97.08 was a smoking deal.

For this trip, I stayed at an off-property vacation home and required a rental car. Cars at SFB were slightly more expensive than at the intensely competitive MCO, but I found an acceptable rate of around $30 per day. And since I was traveling to and from the airport outside of rush hour, I was happy to drive the toll-free route through downtown Orlando.

All-in-all, this was a money saver for me. I could have saved about an hour of driving time and a couple gallons of fuel had I flown into MCO and rented a car there, but I also gained time because of SFB’s simpler, less crowded facilities.

I had to wait in line to check-in (Internet check-in is not an option unless you pay for an assigned seat), but the lines moved fine, and the flights were on-time and pleasant. They also were not crowded: even with open seating, I was next to an empty seat on both flights. And all Allegiant workers I encountered were friendly, even when they broke bad news to customers that their oversized carry-on bags would have to be checked for $35.

In summary, using SFB and Allegiant might make sense when:

  • You’re going to rent a car no matter what.
  • Allegiant’s prices (including all fees) are so low that you save enough money to easily pay for a rental car, fuel, tolls, and parking.
  • Allegiant is the only airline to offer a non-stop flight from your local airport.

Have you flown into Orlando Sanford or on Allegiant Air? Is Allegiant’s low-cost experience too jarring for most travelers?

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10 Reasons to Drive at Walt Disney World

by on January 18, 2012

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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