Should I rent a car?

by on April 20, 2009 18 Comments

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Whether or not to rent a car seems to be the eternal question for Disney World visitors. For a long time I was too cheap to spring for a car. I lived by the mantra: Disney transportation is free and free is good. Plus, I could live without venturing off property and I didn’t think a car would really save me all that much time. Then last year I took a trip during which I stayed at all three All Star Resorts (the things we do for our readers). My friend and I thought it would be easier to resort hop so we sprung for a rental car. We were amazed to see how much time the car saved us! Between not having to wait in line for the Magical Express, to being able to hop in the car and be walking toward the turnstiles of a park within 10 minutes was pretty awesome. And remember time is money at Disney World.

For the upcoming trip we opted to get a car for several reasons. We’re going to be at the parks early several mornings. With the DHS anniversary festivities and forecasted high crowd levels, it’s in our best interest to arrive well before opening. Having a car will shave some time off of how early we’ll have to get up. Also we’re resort hopping and it will be much simpler to have your own vehicle to do this. We’ll also be able to make a stop at a grocery store to get some supplies. Since we are staying for 10 days paying for food, bottles of water, etc. on property for the entire trip would be a very expensive venture. Additionally, having a car will give us the flexibility to wander off site from time to time if we have a bit of pixie dust over load during such a long trip.

As you can see I highly recommend renting a car. But before I wrap it up let me offer a few more tips. Always check for discount codes; you’ll be surprised how much money you can save. You can also sign up for free customer loyalty programs for most rental companies operating out of Orlando International. These allow you to skip to the head of the line and make your way to WDW faster. In the name of saving time, you might actually take the bus to Magic Kingdom since you’ll be able to bypass the TTC.

There’s always a ton to think about when planning your Disney trip. Hopefully this entry has helped give you some insight on transportation front.

Next week I’ll discuss packing and prepping before the big trip!

Posted on April 20, 2009

18 Responses to “Should I rent a car?”

  • Excellent advice, Kristen. I’ve also found there are times when having a car really makes a difference, especially in terms of getting there for Morning EMH and for park hopping. Otherwise, I find Disney transportation works just fine.

    I would remind others of this tip: if you’ve booked through AAA you’ll get a parking pass, good for special AAA lots that are right up front in all 4 parks. (You will have to utilize the TTC at Magic Kingdom, though.) It makes sense if you’re an early riser. You’ll be first in line…and whether you’re leaving midday for a rest or you’ve stayed until closing, there’s nothing better than knowing your vehicle is right there waiting for you.
    (When I’ve booked via AAA I usually also get a 5-10% overall trip discount as well as a great 10% shopping pass for Downtown Disney.)

    • by David Davies on April 21, 2009, at 7:16 pm EST

      Having a car on-property is definitely a handy luxury. How much that luxury is worth in terms of time and/or dollars will vary from person to person. A lot of people also enjoy not driving while on vacation, and others are simply never are willing to “slum it” with Disney’s mass transit. To each his or her own, but a car definitely saves time and gives lots of scheduling, shopping, and dining freedom.

      In regards to the AAA Diamond Parking, I’ve never used it, but I have carried a crying baby back to a car parked there. My observations over the past year suggest that one can get away with parking there even if he or she does not have the AAA Diamond Parking pass (which you typically get from booking your trip package through AAA or by buying the pass on ebay).

      I have an Orlando-based friend with two little ones, and a cast member suggested that she always park up in the AAA Diamond Lots because it’s easier with strollers and such without bothering with the parking lot trams.

      Of course, it is wrong to use a privilege that you’re not paying for, but doing this might not put you in the same level of the inferno as those you pass their 3-year-olds off as 2-year-olds to save on park admission.

      I doubt that Disney has much of an incentive to enforce restrictions on the AAA lot right now. In fact, Disney would probably prefer that people bought packages directly from Disney rather than through AAA travel agents. However, if a ton of people started abusing the lax enforcement and it got some attention from AAA, enforcement might change.

  • We always rent a car when visiting. We fly direct into Sanford and utilize the discounts an mousesavers.We save so much time back and forth to the parks with it. A little tip is to take the bus to the MK and go back to your room for a swim or nap and then drive back to where you want to go for the evening. We saved almost 250.00 bucks last time and already have one booked for June for 10 days.($397 for a van), not bad at all.

  • by Kristen Helmstetter on April 21, 2009, at 9:21 am EST

    I’ve never used the AAA discounts, so I didn’t think of that so thanks for sharing!

    Its really amazing how great the discount codes can be. We saved a bundle for the upcoming 10 day trip too. At one point I did some work for the UG with car rentals and it involved getting quotes with and without the codes. I feel sorry for the poor saps who don’t know about them.

    Thanks for reading!

  • by Beckypooh1972 on April 21, 2009, at 12:44 pm EST

    If you have babies or young children in tow, a car is essential for several reasons. For one, all the supplies, diapers, wipes, etc you need are much cheaper off site. Also a car is nice when you need to make a quick getaway with a grumpy or soiled toddler and it’s much easier to get all your stuff out of your car rather than on and off a bus. By the way, the tram from the parking lot is no picnic with all your gear however you have a guaranteed seat on the tram whereas the bus is dicey. We were actually turned away by a bus driver at Pop, because even though the bus wasn’t full there weren’t any seats left. We had to wait another 15 mins. for the next empty bus because he wouldn’t allow us to stand with our toddlers, and 2 umbrella strollers in tow. We were glad we had our rental car for that trip and only used the bus a couple of times for MK. in order to bypass the TTC.

    • by Kristen Helmstetter on April 22, 2009, at 2:57 pm EST

      thanks for the insight! since I don’t have kids (and probably won’t for quite some time) these sorts of things aren’t even on my radar.

  • Rent the car, rent the car, rent the car.

    Did I mention rent the car?

    I guess I should qualify that it may not be necessary if you’re on the monorail line. But it’s still quite useful, and the wait for a bus to, say, Downtown Disney from the Poly can be intolerable (40 minutes for us once!) Plus, those buses will stop at several resorts, which is not advantageous if you’re headed home quickly.

    I would even go so far as to disagree with the Guide by saying that if you’re staying at an Epcot resort (Boardwalk, Y/B) you should even drive the car to Magic Kingdom. We had horrible luck with Boardwalk buses to the MK, and I’ve heard the same from others. And at Y/B, you have to squeeze on to buses with Boardwalk, Swan and Dolphin folks.

  • I second the recommendation to get a car.

    If you do the math and compare like-to-like, you might find that you can save $$$ by getting an offsite hotel room and renting a car. Not being made of money nor willing to part with more than necessary to get a little magic in my life, I find that whenever I comparison shop Disney hotels versus offsite places, I can’t bring myself to pay the premium that WDW charges. I love the look and feel and the pools and whatnot at many Disney resorts, but my trips are usually a 7 day blitz of theme parks with maybe 1 day off in between. I can’t justify spending a premium for a bed, a bathroom and a TV. And, the free continental breakfast at many offsite hotels is a money and time saver. While I appreciate the EMH advantage of staying at Disney resorts, we’ve always found that we can get enough rides by getting to the parks before rope drop and following a plan.

    Here’s a cheapskate tip for you. If your group size is small enough (5 people or less) book an economy car, which should be the cheapest option available. The rental companies actually seem to have very few of these cars on hand, so more than likely you’ll get a bigger vehicle for an itty-bitty price.

    You might really get a tiny car however so don’t book anything that would be impossibly small for you.

    Another tip: use this web site to book a rental car, I did it a couple of years ago and got a pretty good rate:

    • Hey Josh,

      Great point about economy cars and off-site resorts. I’ve done this the last couple of trips, and it really cuts down on costs. My last trip, I spent more on one night at the Dolphin than I did on all my other nights off-site combined.

    • by Kristen Helmstetter on April 22, 2009, at 3:05 pm EST

      yes we almost always book the cheapest car possible for this reason. this time the price difference for an upgrade was a big $7 for the entire 10 days so we sprung for it hehe. Plus we’ll have 3 people and one of my traveling companions comes from England with a HUGE suitcase so we wanted the extra space.

  • I’ll be at WDW tomorrow for four nights and this time we do not have a car. When we return in August for two weeks we will be driving so I’ll use the car for all resorts except for MK. Maybe. And AAA parking is a BIG yes from us. Get hold of a pass and take advantage of not needing the trams at EP, AK, and DS.

  • by Karen Provencal on April 22, 2009, at 8:44 am EST

    I completely understand the benefits of having a car. but call me crazy, I am the exact opposite. I want to relax on vacation. So we are never in a hurry to get anywhere. I don’t want to even think about gas, directions, parking etc. I’m more than happy to hop on the Magical Express from the airport with the kids and be shuttled around the World all week long by bus, rail or boat.

    • by Kristen Helmstetter on April 22, 2009, at 3:03 pm EST

      Everyone’s got their own agenda when they are at WDW. I completely understand your sentiments so enjoy the free transportation!

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