Anyone who knows me knows I’m not afraid to drive down to Orlando for my annual expedition to Walt Disney World. My poor Toyota Yaris knows this all too well.
Though, I’d be lying if I said the 20+ hour drive was fun. That’s why this journey now mainly includes the Orlando International Airport instead. But, do you need a car in Orlando? I don’t think so. There are a lot of other ways to get around if you’re planning on visiting primarily for the theme parks.
When you have a city like Orlando, whose population is just over 300,000 but receives a mindboggling 70+ million visitors annually, having a car or not is an important decision. If you are trying to get around Orlando with a degree of independence (especially with luggage), you will need a car.
This is not a city with a massive public transportation infrastructure like Chicago or New York City. It’s simply not built that way.
It’s not really built for walking, either. That’s because most folks visiting Orlando stay near theme parks or in massive resorts that don’t necessarily call for leaving the bubble.
The good news is, that driving around the city is pretty easy and fairly pleasant. Orlando is a good-looking city, and the traffic isn’t terrible, which is a nice change of pace for drivers who are used to bumper-to-bumper traffic patterns.
So, as someone who spends too much time in Orlando (Disney World mostly), here are some key takeaways you should know. Suffice it to say that yours truly learned some of these tips the hard way.
What We Cover
- Getting Around Orlando, Florida With or Without A Car
- 1. Renting A Car In Orlando
- 2. What to Know About Parking Fees
- 3. Disney’s Magical Express is Kaput: What Else To Do
- 4. How to Navigate Public Transport in Orlando
- 5. Theme Park Shuttles
- 6. Hotel Shuttle Buses
- 7. Rideshare Options in Orlando
- 8. Walking and Biking Around Orlando
- Do you need a car to holiday in Orlando?
- What is the cheapest way to get around Orlando?
Getting Around Orlando, Florida With or Without A Car
1. Renting A Car In Orlando
The first thing I need you to know about car rentals, in general, is that you may not get the kind of rental you’re asking for. For example, we rented a car in Orlando a few years back and specifically booked a sedan.
A sedan is a car my partner and I are comfortable driving. Our choice was confirmed, but they didn’t have that kind of vehicle when we showed up at the lot.
In fact, they never had that kind of vehicle in the first place. They literally only rented out Jeep Wranglers. So, while the car rental company told us it was an upgrade, we didn’t view it as such.
Just know that while the rental cars are a bit cheaper here than elsewhere in the country, you may not end up in a vehicle you’re comfortable driving — without any option to change because of non-refundable deposits.
Look Into the Rental Car Companies
Before getting your rental car, do a bit of due diligence. There are quite a few disreputable car rental companies out there, and the last thing you want is to fork over a ton of vacation cash to them. Stick with reputable companies with track records.
We recommend booking a major brand through Rentalcars.com, or using a company like Zipcar, Alamo, Enterprise, or Sixt. Also, avoid booking an airport rental car if you can avoid it, because they are frequently more expensive than off-site companies.
If you plan to drive your rental car in and out of the city, consider the tollway. Orlando’s tollway isn’t terribly expensive, but the fees quickly increase.
When you are getting your car rental, ask about these tolls. Sometimes, the cars can come with a toll pass, which will be automatically charged to you, or you need to keep track to avoid an unpaid toll fee.
Child Car Seats
If you don’t bring a car seat along on your trip to Orlando, you can always rent one. When renting a car, let the company know you need a car seat.
You can use the car seat for the duration of your trip. Compared to the cost of actually renting a car, the car seats are cheap.
If you bring your car seat along as part of your luggage, make sure the company knows you don’t need to rent one. More than that, triple-check the vehicle before you depart to ensure you don’t leave the seat behind!
See Related: Best Car Seat Travel Bags
2. What to Know About Parking Fees
The downside to having a car in Orlando is paying parking fees at the majority of area accommodations. Like most touristy cities, Orlando area hotels almost always charge per-night parking fees. Expect those costs to be at least $20/night.
When you add up the costs of renting a car, associated costs of a road trip, and/or the parking charges, sometimes it’s more expensive than flying with most airlines. That’s especially true if you’re traveling as a couple or a very small family with young kids who don’t need an airline ticket.
One major upside to making a place like Disney World your destination is that hotel parking on-site is free. There was a brief period when Disney added a parking cost to hotel guest invoices, but they’ve since dropped that unpopular change.
3. Disney’s Magical Express is Kaput: What Else To Do
One of the perks of staying on the Walt Disney World Resort property was getting free Disney transportation. The Magical Express (ME) would pick you up from the Orlando airport and whisk you away to your Disney hotel. Sure, it took a little while if you had terrible luck and arrived just as the bus departed, but it was free.
Although the ME has gone away, getting to the hotels isn’t that difficult from the airport. There are a few options to get you there. The easiest is to grab a taxi or rideshare, though that could cost you upwards of $70 or more.
With one exception (which I’ll address later), we recommend hopping aboard a Mears Connect bus. This bus service can be reserved in advance to get you from the airport to Disney World hotels.
Mears Connect also goes to other theme parks as well. The service is offered for Universal Orlando, SeaWorld® Orlando, Legoland Florida Resort, and even Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. These shuttle tickets are an effortless way to save money.
See Related: Orlando CityPASS Review: Is It Worth It?
As I mentioned earlier, there isn’t a huge public transportation system in Orlando. Still, the city isn’t without its means of getting around. Once you visit Orlando and make use of the various buses and trains, you’ll get the hang of it in no time.
LYNX Bus Service
Orlando’s bus program goes all over the city. More than that, it will also take you through various parts of Orange and the surrounding counties.
LYMMO Downtown Circulator
Although it sounds like some weird kitchen gadget, the LYMMO Downtown Circulator is downtown Orlando’s premiere transport option. This speedy bus gets you around quickly because it has its own priority lane, which stops traffic from impeding it.
Not just an Orlando-centric mode of transportation, SunRail is a commuter train that meanders through central Florida. This is a terrific way to see more of the surrounding area and some of the non-theme park attractions. Shocking that they exist, I know.
See Related: Is Orlando Safe? What You Need To Know
5. Theme Park Shuttles
You can access theme park shuttles if you’re visiting Disney World or Universal Studios and staying on-site at either. These park transport options are free for hotel guests and help you avoid both hotel lots as well as parking lots in general. After all, theme parks are known for their excessive parking charges.
In addition to taking you to the various Disney parks, the Disney park shuttles will also take you to Disney Springs as well. You can also access other transportation options from Disney World, depending on which hotels you stay at. These include the Friendship Boats, a riverboat, ferries, the monorail, and the Skyliner.
6. Hotel Shuttle Buses
Resort and hotel options off-theme park property are not excluded from the shuttle bus game. Many Orlando accommodations have free or low-cost shuttles to local attractions like Disney or Universal Parks.
You will save time and money by utilizing these buses. It’s worth noting that these buses usually make trips far less frequently than their theme park resort counterparts. Some of these area hotels with shuttles include:
- Holiday Inn Resort Orlando Suites – Waterpark, an IHG Hotel
- Wyndham Orlando Resort International Drive
- Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando International Drive Convention Center
- Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort
Although liable to be on the spendier side, there are plenty of rideshare options around Orlando. The airport sees a lot of prowling drivers from the usual go-tos like Uber and Lyft. You can also use something like Curb to hail and pay for actual taxis if you prefer.
As for that rideshare “exception” I referred to earlier, Disney has their own rideshare program through Lyft called the Minnie Vans. These adorable red with white polka-dot bespeckled vans are an absolute delight!
See Related: Best Bars in Orlando, Florida
8. Walking and Biking Around Orlando
Outside of its major tourist areas like Disney Springs or International Drive, Orlando isn’t the most walkable or bikeable place. This is almost criminal, as a lot of Orlando is quite pretty, complemented by Florida’s amazing weather. One of the city’s nicknames is actually “The City Beautiful”.
Luckily, the Central Business District (Downtown) and South Eola are the two most pedestrian-friendly areas of the city and among the prettiest. The skyline is particularly splendid, being extra shades of gorgeous at sunrise, sunset, and when illuminated at night.
Don’t expect to get around easily on foot unless you’re staying in Downtown, South Eola, around the university, or the super touristy theme park regions. Biking is a little bit easier, but even then, a lot of the main thoroughfares through the city aren’t super bike-friendly. That said, you can still find the odd Orlando bike tour to see the city’s highlights.
Do you need a car to holiday in Orlando?
You don’t really need a car to explore the city. Many accommodations offer shuttles to area attractions, and taxi or rideshare services are also readily available if you need them. If you desire more independence, get a car.
What is the cheapest way to get around Orlando?
For budget-focused travelers, it should be a comfort to know you don’t necessarily need to rent a car in Orlando. That’s because several public transit options help you get around. Just try not to use things like the LYNX buses during peak times, especially if you have a large family and don’t like crowded transportation.