Driving to Walt Disney World
Have you ever wondered if it’s "worth it" to drive to Walt Disney World? Flying and driving, I’ve traveled both ways several times and appreciated both means for their own advantages. Here I break down for you the differences and offer tips should you decide to drive. The costs mentioned here apply to those guests driving from near Wheeling, WV or flying out of Pittsburgh International Airport.
Flying to Orlando is by far the most popular method of travel for our UNIGLOBE clients. The convenience is obvious with much shorter duration and free Magical Express bus service to your Disney Resort and back to the airport at the end of your vacation. Flight costs for a roundtrip non-stop flight between Pittsburgh and Orlando averages around $300-$350 per person, with the occasional “good deal” of around $200 per person. For a family of 4 or 5, this adds substantially to the overall vacation cost. To some, the limitations of luggage restrictions and price difference can make it appealing to consider driving down instead.
If you look at a map, you will notice Orlando is pretty much a straight shot down under Wheeling, just a few interstates and a fairly easy, albeit long drive. Other than it taking more time, the advantages to electing to drive are numerous. These include potentially lower cost (compared to flights even after factoring in fuel, food, and lodging- reviewed below), the ability to leave Disney property for shopping or dining, free Disney Parks parking with an onsite stay and the ability to skip the courtesy buses, etc. Again, the primary draw-back is of course longer travel time and needing more time overall off from work/school to accommodate the drive on each end of your vacation. New as of March 2018, Disney has implemented daily resort parking fees which can also affect your decision. Daily fees were increased in 2019. Rates at Value Properties is now $15/day, Moderate Properties is $20/day, and Deluxe Properties is $25/day.
Let’s review some of the costs of driving. From Wheeling, WV you are looking at just under 2000 miles roundtrip. You will want to make sure you are taking a reliable vehicle in good enough shape for the trip, fresh oil change, full of washer fluid, etc. Obviously, one of your biggest expenses is your need for fuel. For my trip in a 2010 Town and Country minivan, I needed 5 fill-ups for the roundtrip. Rounded to the nearest dollar this totaled $163. Additionally, portions of I-77 require toll. The total for the roundtrip is $12 (Three tollbooths requiring $2, each way). Toll is slightly discounted if you have EZ Pass, which for the ease of not having to actually stop at the toll booth, I highly recommend. The drive time to Orlando, not counting stops is right around 14 hours. We tend to make it about 16 hours. That’s a long day! To avoid both fatigue and missing most of our first day at Disney, we tend to depart a day before our Disney stay, and get a hotel room somewhere around Savannah GA. This gets the bulk of your driving done day 1, with just a few hours to go on your Disney Vacation arrival day. But it is necessary to add in the hotel expense. We choose to be loyal to the Hilton family of hotels to accrue reward points for future stays, but you could do any decent road side motel. I would budget $150 for a one-night stay. It could very well be less than that, but it’s better to overestimate and this will assure a clean, quality location and most likely include a free breakfast. Making the trip home without stopping is a bit easier provided you have 2 drivers, but you may wish to split the drive here as well, in which case again you will want to budget in that hotel cost. If we want to keep this completely accurate, you will also want to allocate money for meals during travel. We tend to pack lots of snacks (see below) and only stop at one restaurant per day of travel, two if you are going all day. My personal dining total for 3 meals over the roundtrip rounded to $30. Kids may be somewhat less, but you will want to factor that into your costs. You may elect to purchase gift cards for your favorite eateries at help acquire fuel points at your local grocery store. By my estimates, for 2 people driving including food, tolls, and one hotel on the way down while driving straight through on the return trip, is $385 where airfare for 2 would be approximately $400-$650. Not much of a financial savings when you further factor in resort parking fees (see below). By comparison, 4 in one vehicle driving is $445 whereas airfare for 4 would be in the between $800 to $1300. Again, if you plan to stop for an overnight on the return trip, add $150 to those. Depending on your vehicle’s gas mileage, your dining habits, and hotel preferences you may arrive at a different value.
As mentioned above, Disney recently implemented overnight resort self-parking fees. These rates vary based on the category of resort at which you stay and include tax. Value Resorts such as the All Star Properties incur a rate of $13 per vehicle per night. Moderate resorts such as Port Orleans is $19 per vehicle per night, and Deluxe Resorts are $24 per vehicle per night. Depending on your length of stay, this can factor into your decision to drive or fly. Let’s say you are staying 5 nights at All Star Music. You will incur a parking fee of $65. The same stay at Grand Floridian will cost $120. Worth mentioning is resort guests can still drive to the theme parks without parking fee at those parking lots.
If you decide driving is the way for you to travel, here are some TIPS to help you along the way! Packing is definitely different based on driving vs flying. Both for logistics and comfort, I recommend packing a suitcase for the Disney part of your stay, and a separate backpack (or smaller suitcase) for your travel down. This smaller bag would have your overnight necessities: toiletries, pajamas, an outfit for the next day for each person in your family/group. Be sure to dress comfortable! Leggings, sweatpants and the like sure do feel better after many hours than jeans. If you plan to hit the parks upon arrival, you would be wise to also have a park backpack ready to go as well. (Refer to this blog entry about what to bring into the parks: Packing-your-Park-Backpack). Additional items to pack also include a cooler full of beverages (tip- freeze several water bottles the night before and use them as your ice in the cooler rather than loose ice cubes), road snackies (suggestions: almonds, carrots, grapes, individual packaged cheese or peanut butter crackers, Pringles, pretzels). I tend to put all my car snackies in a laundry basket to keep them all together, and then use the laundry basket at the resort. (If time permits I like to return with clean clothes, so we tend to use the pool side laundry facilities. If this appeals to you, also pack a ziplock bag with a few laundry pods and dryer sheets). For trips that we know we will be driving, we tend to skip the Disney Dining Plan. This is a great savings for us overall. One of the advantages of having your own vehicle is being able to run to a grocery store. We stop in Orlando prior to arrival and get some basics, primarily breakfast items. And since we have some extra room in the van, I also pack a cheap toaster purchased just for such instances. That may sound a bit ridiculous, but having my crew eat Poptarts and bagels in the AM before hitting the parks helps us save money in the long run! We stop at the Resort food court for some individual butters/peanut butters and plastic knives to get us through our stay. I also pack various size ziplock bags. They come in handy for packing snacks for the park or putting wet clothes in after a water ride or rain.
If you have smaller children, I recommend that you pack car entertainment. There is little worse than the incessant asking “are we there yet?” DVDs/players go a long way, as do neck pillows and a favorite blanket. Additionally, playing the license plate game is a wonderful time killer/attention diverter. You can print a list of states here: License Plate Game. You may also wish to consider doing “100 mile gifts”. Every 100 miles, give your child a gift to use on their trip. These can include a small coin purse (with shiny pennies and some quarters for the penny press machines), pins for pin trading (purchase a generic lot from eBay), a lanyard for the pins, a Disney themed refillable water bottle, an autograph book for meeting characters, coloring book/crayons, etc. Glow necklaces are great for just enough light for after dark travel. They are great in the parks at night as well.
Additional tips: I cannot recommend highly enough applying RainX to your windows. It’s one of those rare products that ACTUALLY does what it claims to do! Driving in the rain is so much easier with it, often rendering your wipers unnecessary. As far as navigation goes, do yourself the favor if you don’t already have it of downloading the app WAZE. This crowd sourced app will not only give you very accurate directions, distances, and projected arrival times, but also alerts you to road hazards coming up ahead of you including traffic, construction zones and police presence. As you will likely be using a phone for your navigation, you will also want a phone charger. If your car doesn’t have an outlet or USB port, look into getting a portable charger to use along the drive. Portable chargers come in handy in the theme parks as well.
Recommended stops: For wonderful food that isn’t your standard fast food fare, I recommend a stop at Tamarak in Beckley WV. It’s right off I-77. As mentioned, Savannah, GA is a nice place to stop for the night. IF you arrive early enough in the day, you can visit the historic district and its charms, or for a bit of shopping, or even a ghost tour. A little further down, Flagler Beach, FL is a wonderful little beach town just 3 miles off I-95 that has a few great oceanfront restaurants. My personal favorite is the Funky Pelican. There is a beach access right by the restaurant so you can grab a brief walk on the shore for pictures as well. A lovely retro ice cream shop is just about a block south of the Funky Pelican and worth the stop as well. The Florida Welcome Center has clean bathrooms and offers free Florida orange juice and lots of visitor information pamphlets.
Once you arrive at your resort, can have free luggage assistance help get things to your room, tipping is customary. If your room isn’t ready when you arrive, they will hold your items so you can hit the parks!
Now that you have made the drive, how is your vehicle advantageous at Disney? Well, you may elect to drive to the parks. It can be quicker than the buses, definitely less crowded. Of course, you’re A/C won’t be all ready for you in the way the buses are, but I don’t find that to be too much of an issue. I do NOT recommend driving to Magic Kingdom, however, because you have to park at the Ticket and Transportation Center and from there still need to either take the Ferryboat or Monorail to the Park. It’s not so bad on the way there, but at the end of the night, it’s long and frustrating. Better off to leave the transportation to the Mouse for that one. You also have the ability to leave Disney property. If you want to visit a Walmart/Target they have lots of Disney souvenirs much less expensive than the parks (note: they do not say Disney World, but rather Orlando). You can also visit either of the 2 Disney's Character Warehouse locations. These are the Disney outlets where merchandise goes once it’s out of season and drastically reduced prices. Christmas ornaments, Disney Cruise line swag, Disney World t-shirts, etc- it’s one of my favorite parts of having a vehicle at my disposal.
So, there you have it! Driving is definitely a viable option to get to Walt Disney World. As always, I am happy to elaborate and answer any questions for clients booking through UNIGLOBE Ohio Valley Travel.