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Should I Rent a Car?

January2013WDW 333

One question I get a lot is “Should I rent a car when I visit Walt Disney World?” If you’re not staying on property, the answer is pretty simple:  Yes. There are no resorts within convenient walking distance of Walt Disney World, even the Downtown Disney resorts, and most resort shuttles are so inconvenient they’ll wreak havoc on your schedule. If you’re staying on property however, the answer is a little bit trickier.

First, no one staying on Disney property needs to rent a car since Magical Express, Disney’s free shuttle service that runs between Orlando International Airport and all resorts, runs 24 hours a day and is there to get you–and your luggage–to your destination safe and sound. Magical Express is great for Disney as well as for guests, since guests who use it won’t have a car and therefore will be spending all their tourist dollars on property.


Of course, that’s part of the problem. If you forget to pack something, you’re pretty much stuck shopping on property where everything, even toothpaste, is more expensive. If you have something more difficult to get, like a prescription refill, you’ll need to take a cab. And if you’re looking to travel over to one of the other parks or just explore downtown Orlando, you’re looking at a fairly expensive cab fare or a very involved bus ride.

Even so, most guests don’t need a car.  If you plan on visiting Sea World, Universal, or Legoland, consider renting a car for one day or looking into special shuttles for visiting those parks. Universal, for example, offers a one-day park hopper and transportation to the front of Universal and back to your resort later that night for $139. You can rent a car from several locations on Disney property; these vendors will usually pick you up and drop you off when you’re done with your rental.

Finally, plan well and you’ll be a lot less likely to forget items, but worse case scenario, a cab rental from anyplace on property to the Target on Highway 192 is less than $25 one way. Best of all, since these cabbies are allowed to operate on Disney property, you can have confidence they’ve been fully vetted and will be fair.

I’m going to add one caveat here: Some Disney resorts are simply inconvenient.  Both Ft. Wilderness and the Treehouse Villas have an internal bus system. This means that you’ll take one bus to a central location at the resort (or in the case of the villas, to Saratoga Springs) and then get on another bus to go to the parks. This can add a lot of travel time to your trip. While many guests staying at Ft. Wilderness rent golf carts to get around, the price is so high it’s actually cheaper to rent a car.  If you’re staying at either of these resorts and time is important, consider renting a car.

I often rent a car because I like to go off property or because I tend to stay at multiple resorts during one trip, but bottom line, you really don’t need a car. There’s something to be said about getting on your Magical Express bus and letting someone else hassle with traffic for the next week or so.  As an added bonus, you’re not out running “errands” when you could be in the park and you save money too.

What about you? Do you rent a car? What are the pros and cons of renting vs. relying entirely on Disney transportation?

17 thoughts on “Should I Rent a Car?”

  1. Didn’t rent a car the last time we were there and never really missed it. We did have groceries delivered to our room, and that took care of most anything we needed offsite. Going to be trickier this next time since we’re visiting Universal for a day before going to Disney. A car rental would mean we could pick up some groceries along the way. Still, the joy of not driving for a week is probably worth the fare from Universal to Disney.

    1. Good point on the grocery delivery! If it’s just a couple people, the shuttle service/ticket combo is a good way to go to Uni. Otherwise, you’re probably best with a one day rental–and as you mention, you can run an errand or two. It’s a pretty easy drive once you’re on I-4.

  2. Really depends on your family and style. If your primary goal is saving money, then you truly don’t NEED a car.

    We have 4 children and have really needed to have the convenience of a car. We’ve never once gone without someone getting sick and three separate trips we needed urgent care/ER (The hospital at Celebration – is it University Hospital? – was AH-MAZ-ING. Better at treating children than our own Children’s Hospital. Did I mention we have 4 kids?), which would have been disgusting in either a cab or a bus (our 1-year-old was vomiting and you can’t control it). We have also needed multiple trips to pick up medication or other necessities that aren’t available (or are outrageously expensive, as you mentioned) on property.

    The other convenience is that you can leave things in your vehicle for a different time/park, meaning if you’re park hopping and you want a change of clothes for the evening at, say, the Studios for Fantasmic and you’ve spent the day at the Animal Kingdom getting soaked on the Kali River Rapids you don’t have to return to your room or carry it around all day, although we typical make at least one trip back to our resort for our personal sanity.

    For our upcoming trip, I’m considering utilizing the option of having our luggage sent directly to our resort (even though we’re renting a car) but we’ve never done this before. Thoughts?

    1. You can! use the Magical Express and after you are settled go and pick your car at Disney’s Car Care Center.

    2. Thanks for your comment.

      Okay, regarding ME for your luggage. Officially, you can’t do it. Unofficially, well . . . You can email me if you want to know more.

  3. Just my wife and I traveling have used ME and not had a car and it was great not having to drive anywhere. With that being said it was extremely difficult/time consuming to just get from Wilderness Lodge to Grand Floridian for a reservation.

    Traveling with our boys, we wanted a car and I’m glad we did. No waiting for busses, no having to stand on busses on rides back at the end of the day. Just hop in the car and go. Shorter walks back to the room from car than bus stops.

    1. Resort to resort can be a pain and WL is one of those resorts that can be tough, transportation-wise. We used a cab to get from BW to the GF last weekend. It was so convenient and with a tip, it was $17. Well worth the money, especially with three tired kids.

  4. We always rent a car when we stay off site, cause if we have an early Breakfast reservation we drive to the Resort and inform the Security Guard of our Reservation and they allow us to park in the Resorts parking lot. It also allows us to get to were we want to go quicker.

  5. I always rent a car until the last time we visited and I will never rent a car again. Because I go so often, I am in no hurry to see everything. I don’t mind waiting for a bus/boat. We used to rent a car, go to Walmart and also use the car to go to Animal Kingdom because the bus ride was so far from our resort. It saved $200-300 for the week. I always thought getting on the bus 3 hours before my flight was too long but when we went a car I have to leave that early anyway to get the rental back. This next time I plan to order groceries to be delivered. Anyone have a good site/store to order from?

  6. We always rent a car when we come to orlando. Reason being, we travel by to Disney on the Amtrak. Disney does not have a pick up there. Renting a car is easy, Hertz has a office right in the train station. Also we travel to Busch Gardens while in Orlando as well. Also alot nicer at the end of the night when you are tired & ready to go back to your room, you don’t have to wait in line for a Disney bus.

  7. Well, we drive (from Maryland) so we always have our car. In the past, we never used our car and were extremely happy with bus service. However on our trip this past January (stayed at Art of Animation), we used our car to drive to Downtown Disney … it was a godsend!!! The bus trip to DD is usually so long so driving ourselves was a huge time saver! We wished we had driven to the water park too since that is a long bus trip as well. So, there are some benefits to renting a car if you fly. It just depends on what you’re doing on your trip.

  8. If you have regular park tickets, and not hoppers, you can avoid the extra cost of a rental and use the bus. If you have an Annual pass or park hoppers and wish to go two or three parks in a day your wise to rent. I use Costco Travel to rent the cheapest cars in Orlando. It cost me $186.00 for 8 days or $23.25 a day. Going through the rental car website would have cost me $339.00 for the same car!

  9. I have stayed at a Downtown disney resorts. The bus service to the parks is convenient and you dont have to pay to park. BUT if you do breakfast with charactors or so on you will need a car they dont always leave that early for your time and they only go to parks no place else. Then you must catch monorail or other trasnportation (my advice if you do DTD resorts CAB it to a early breakfast we did and it is cheap about20$). All other trips I stayed at Disney resorts (which we much more prefer!) and did not rent a car. BUT remember esp durring a busy season like Holidays and weekends the lines are HORRIBLE just to catch the bus back to your resort. I have waited through 3 pick ups just to get on a bus. BUT also disney was fast about it less than 30-45mins. But I have decided that next time even with staying at a disney resort we are going to rent a car. We did take a cab twice to two of our breakfast with charactors (Cape may cafe and Ohana’s I did not want to hassle with bus to Epcot or MK and then get on monorail and to the resort to eat). It was not expensive and we got dropped off right at door and I could sleep later and leave at 7AM since my breakfast was at 730 and we were at our park by 9. But also like stated in the blog we did not get to go to outlet mall to shop or a fun eve at City walk at Universal and I like to hit target for cheap gifts for people (sorry you want Disney org go on your own trip LOL). So next year I am renting and driving my car to all parks we go to then you can bus it or monerail from park to park then go back at end of day and drive your own car RIGHT to your resort area and have a short walk back to your room. Last visit we stayed at Art of Animation and since it was just my daughter and myself we did the mermaid suite! Beautiful and loved the resort BUT LET ME TELL YOU ALMOST A MILE WALK FROM OUR ROOM TO THE COUNTER SERVICE AND BUS; not good if you are a coffee drinker at 6am and NO coffee maker in room! Never again; I will just have my car and sometimes take Disney bus. Also do NOT rent a car at the airport rent off aiport they come get you and take you back to resort and just take magical express to airport. The price at airport was RIDICULOUS! Save up to 150$ renting somewhere other than airport.

  10. When the kids were younger ( 0-8 ) we never rented a car but as they grew older it was nice being able to go outside the parks to see other attractions, dine at area restaurants and just bumm around the area on a free day or evening. I also have become comfortable with the area roads and the airport which helps a lot.
    I found also if you poke around online there are some very good deals to be had especially off season with rental cars. We were able to get a mini van for 9 days the second weekend of February with all taxes and a prepaid toll option for less than $400.00. We were able to then go to Universal, Tampa, St Augustine and still had time to hit all the Disney Parks. But again, with the kids getting older it’s easier and more enjoyable.

  11. You don’t necessarily need a car to go fill a prescription. There’s a place in Celebration called Turner Drugs that will fill prescrips for you and deliver it to your hotel! Just ask the people at the front desk for a card with TD’s phone number and you can set it up yourself. (Obviously this depends on what kind of prescrip you need, but Turner Drugs carries most regular medicines.)

  12. We rent a car every time we go down to WDW. We have family and friends down there that we like to visit. Aside from that, I used to work for WDW and I like to navigate the area. Additionally, we don’t feel as rushed when we have the rental car because we aren’t relying on the bus system to get to ADR’s and ticketed events. Last year our rental car came in quite handy when our daughter ended up getting sick with an ear infection. We drove to the walk-in and then drove to the pharmacy. We like the convenience of it :)

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