Orlando hosts over 70 million tourists a year, and the airports, hotels, and theme parks are experts in figuring out ways to get you about town. You will definitely find someone willing to sell you anything you need, including transportation, but you cannot be certain that is the best option at the fairest price. So, be prepared when you fly into Central Florida in order to save money and time on transportation.
Our guide on getting around Orlando helps you decide How To Get Around Orlando Without A Car or if indeed you do just really need a hire car. One important question is are you in a Disney hotel or not? Staying at a Disney resort gives you direct access to the Disney Transport system while staying outside the Disney resort area means you have to get to the system, to begin with.
The Orlando International Airport
Atrium At Orlando Airport Florida
Your Orlando transportation begins by plane in most cases, as 35 million people fly in and out of Orlando International Airport each year. And you won’t be short of airline options because 44 of them serve Orlando. The minute you get off your plane, the Orlando-attraction spirit begins at the airport terminals with lavish souvenir stores from Walt Disney World, Universal Florida, SeaWorld Orlando, and the Kennedy Space Center. So, if you forget some souvenirs during your stay, you can spend your last few dollars on gifts for the family before you depart the airport.
The airport is 25 miles east of Disney and 10 miles southeast of downtown Orlando. If you are wondering why it holds the acronym “MCO,” it is because it was once McCoy Air Force Base, which was built during World War II and closed in 1975. When it passed from the U.S. military into civilian hands, it maintained the MCO airport code.
So, what sort of transportation is available after you touch down in Central Florida?
Renting a Car in Orlando
Not All Hire Cars are Created Equal!
If you have a straight Disney-only group, you might not need to rent a car. Otherwise, get one! We promise you will want a rental to speed you away from the “World” to visit other diversions in and around Orlando and the rest of the “real world.” Orlando has much more to offer than theme parks, in the way of natural wonders, museums, and an entire Atlantic coastline to explore.
Whether you know it or not, you will more than likely want to escape the clutches of the Disney group, and from the Orlando Airport, you will find plenty of rental options, including Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, E-Z Rent-A-Car, Hertz, National, and Thrifty. Economy rentals start at $15 a day, and if you get to Disney and decide you need to scoot, there is an Alamo and National satellite location at the resort, but be prepared to pay a higher rate because of the limited competition.
We always recommend booking ahead of time to save huge costs on a hire car. Once you are at the airport you have very little choice but to pay whatever they ask. Booking prior gives you bargaining power. Our preferred provider is RentalCars.com. We find they offer the fairest policies and are very competitive in price. As such most of our USA cars are hired through them. Given a choice and with all else being equal we would go with Alamo every time.
One downside to Renting a car is Disney has worked out just how much money it could extract from you for the honor of parking your car up for the day while visiting their parks! Yep, the cheapest option for parking at Disney is $25 a day! And of course, rather than taking a stand and forcing Disney to change its policy, everyone else just jumped on the parking charge bandwagon so expect to pay for parking at most theme parks and attractions…yay! At Disney, the Parking charge is good for the entire day at any Disney park so you don’t have to pay again if you switch parks (small mercies), and compared to the cost of taxi’s or Uber/Lyft it is still a small price to pay to get you right to the park gate…well nearly at the gate!
- Preferred parking: car or motorcycle – $52 per day
- Standard parking: car or motorcycle – $25 per day
- Oversized Vehicle Parking: Shuttle, Limo, Camper Trailer, RV, Bus or Tractor Trailer – $32 per day
Preferred parking is a terrible waste of money. It still often doesn’t get you that close to the park and there are regular continuous shuttle trains ferrying you to the gates. Preferred parking can sometimes be 1 parking lot away. At over double the cost, it is scandalous! People Pay it out of fear they need to. It is pushed hard at the gate and people think they will be severely hindered without it. It is not the case. Don’t Pay for it!
One big advantage of staying at Disney was this charge was waived for Disney guests! This is a huge perk to staying in Disney Hotels.
People have come up with potential ways around the charge such as parking at Disney Springs and getting the Disney Transportation system. This, however, strips most of the advantages of having a car away, and leaves you back at the mercy of the transport system and 2 or more hours of your day wasted.
The last point, most rental car companies do not rent to folks under 25, and a credit or debit card is always required. However, Action Car Rental on McCoy Road in Orlando rents to 18 and up, but charges an additional $15-$25.
We put together a full Disney Parking Guide
Taking Shuttles in Orlando
Mears Transportation is the boss of shuttles and taxis in Orlando, and also provides luxury sedans, SUVs, luxury vans, limousines, and charter buses. In all, Mears has more than 1,200 vehicles ready to get you where you need to go. From the Orlando International Airport to Disney and Universal, Mears is the most visible transportation concessionaire.
If you have a Disney hotel reservation, you can use the park’s motorcade from the airport. The motor coaches, which are run by—you guessed it—Mears is known as Disney’s Magical Express. This transportation perk makes things simple, and you feel like you are saving a lot of money, but rest assured it is built into the total fees that Disney charges you.
The process of shuttling you to Disney begins at your home. Disney sends you tags for your luggage, which you attach before you check your bags at the airport. Then, once your luggage arrives in Orlando, a delivery service snatches them up and drops them off at your Disney Resort hotel room. Then, you and your crew board a bus, after enduring two long lines, a nightmare you will have to withstand at every stage of your Disney journey.
The Magical Express is not without its flaws. On your way to your hotel, you will stop at up to five other hotels, and you and your bags will not arrive at the same time as you unless some Disney miracle occurs. More than likely, you won’t see your luggage for six hours to the entire rest of the day. Those who are unprepared for this will surely experience a dampened mood because they might not have what they need to get out in the park right away. Therefore, pack a change of clothes that are appropriate for the park, a swimsuit, sunscreen, and other items you might need in your carry-on so that you waste no time upon your arrival. Universal Studios is working on a similar system, and hopefully, it will have shorter lines and fewer kinks.
We did not stay at the resort, but Mears sends air-conditioned vans to the airports, our hotel every 15 to 20 minutes and the same is true of every hotel in the area, with roundtrip rides to the International Drive area for $32 and Disney for $36. Kids 3 and under ride free and the fare for children 4-11 is $24 to I-Drive and $27 to Disney. You can pre-book a ride here.
Also, many independent hotels offer complimentary shuttle service for guests, but we found them to be wildly unpredictable, and they only take you to the gates of the major parks, and not restaurants or other worthwhile, smaller attractions. You can always use the Disney transportation system once you are in the park network but this is very cumbersome and can take a long time to get where you want.
Riding the I-Ride Trolley in Orlando
To get to other activities along International Drive take the I-Ride Trolley. It is efficient and cost-friendly. A day pass is $6, a 3-day pass is $8, and for five days, you pay $10. A single ride is $2 with discounts for kids under nine and seniors. The I-Ride Trolley runs daily from 8 a.m. to 10:30 pm. and offers two lines. The Red Line stops at SeaWorld, the Orlando Eye, and numerous restaurants, shops, and other attractions, before stopping at Orlando Premium Outlets. The Green Line also hits SeaWorld and follows a similar route, but it is the express line, making fewer stops along the way. One of the stops is only a long block from Universal Orlando, so you can hoof it if you are trying to save some dough.
View Maps of the Trolley route here
On our second stay in Orlando, we did not rent a car. Instead, we stayed at a hotel on International Drive and used the super-cheap trolley to see several attractions while taking our much-hated hotel shuttle for our days at Disney. I estimate that we saved $500 on transportation, and used that money to do more activities.
The Disney Transportation System
While Universal is easy to navigate by foot and offers free buses and ferries as well, Disney requires a fleet of 300 buses called the Disney Transportation System (DTS) to get guests around the park, which qualifies as the third largest bus system in Florida behind Miami and Jacksonville. Getting between the Disney hotels, theme parks, and water parks throughout the Walt Disney Resort and the Downtown Disney Area is WORK, requiring long waits and sometimes transfers, as well as many standing-room-only spots on the buses, but it is all Free, or at least, a part of “the package.” Each day, waiting and commuting will eat 1-2 hours of your day. Depending on which hotel you are in and where you are heading.
The Disney Transportation System is particularly overwhelmed at opening and closing times, and buses start running two hours before the parks open and close. Sometimes, you will use a monorail or tram to get around from hotels and parking lots. For example, the Resort Monorail serves Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Polynesian Village Resort, the Grand Floridian Resort, and takes guests to Magic Kingdom.
The entire DTS is complex and time-consuming, rivaling a person’s first few whirls on New York City’s subway system. So, it is important to go into the process with a level head, an open mind, and a good attitude in order to endure all of the waiting and commuting in order to have fun in the end. The main upside, however, is the sheer number of “cast” members Disney employs. There is at least one person at every major stop and always someone to ask in case you are unsure of anything. Don’t be shy, this is their JOB!
Hiring a Car Service in Orlando
We found that it was cheaper to reserve a car service for five people. Using the Mears shuttle would have cost our crew of five, $190, but reserving an SUV for up to seven people runs $120 to $170. You must reserve a car 24 hours in advance from one of several options, including Mears, Tiffany Towncar, and Quicksilver Tours. Quicksilver offered a free 30-minute stop at a grocery store on the way back from the park in order to restock our extended-stay hotel which was equipped with a kitchen. We didn’t even ask, and we were informed that they offer it to all of their customers, which is a nice touch to help tourists save money.
Uber and Lyft in Orlando
With such a strong force such as Mears in Orlando lobbying for control of every tourist transportation dollar, it is no wonder that Uber and Lyft had to fight for their right to transport people around Orlando. In fact, Uber never did win the battle on a local level. It took state regulation to preempt local laws and regulations in order to pick up people at the airport. Now, Uber and Lyft can pick up anywhere in Orlando and all about Central Florida. From the Orlando Airport to the area around the Walt Disney Resort, you will pay under $40 for an UberX, and less than $50 for an UberXL, which is a large SUV that can accommodate up to six passengers.
Getting around the resort area is fairly cheap. An uber fare from the resort areas to the parks runs from around $10-25 each-way depending on the trip so pretty reasonable when you think there is a $25 parking charge per day at the Disney Parks.
While people who use these services should definitely consider them it can be a bit unwise to experiment with them in a new and unfamiliar place. We tend to shy away from recommending them in new locations unless you are well used to how they operate.
Hiring a Taxi in Orlando
You will always find a cluster of taxicabs at the airport and outside of the theme parks, and a few at your hotel, but they are not your best option. We checked the fees, and the standard rate for a taxi in Orlando is $2.50 for the first quarter of a mile or the first 80 seconds of wait time. This charge is followed by 60 cents for each quarter of a mile thereafter. Your final cost will be around $75 to get to the Disney hotels, and $65 to Universal from the airport, not including a tip.
With so many options we can’t understand why people still fork out so much for taxis in Orlando. Probably just for convenience and visibility. This may seem harsh as taxis have been the Stalwart of transportation for decades. But things are evolving and it’s time to evolve or die as far as taxis are concerned.
Your best bet for legitimate taxicabs with experienced drivers and standard fares in Orlando are Diamond Cab Company, Transtar, and Yellow.
Using Public Transportation in Orlando
Public transportation is a real bummer in Orlando. You’d think that the bus lines would work well and be efficient since it serves a large community and international tourists galore, but it is quite an embarrassment. There are few shelters to wait out buses, so you might find yourself beneath a scorching sun or a shower for long periods of time, as the region only runs one or two buses an hour per route.
The LYNX system is run by the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority, and one-way fares are $2, day passes are $4.50, and week-long passes are $16. If you decide this is your best option, there are several routes that will get you to Downtown Disney where you can transfer to their free transportation services. Consider the following:
Route 8 serves most of International Drive, including SeaWorld and the Convention Center, following the I-Ride Trolley route.
Route 42 begins at the Convention Center and boogies out to the Orlando Airport in a long 75 minutes.
Route 50 starts in downtown Orlando and goes to SeaWorld, Disney Springs, and the gates of Magic Kingdom.
Route 56 connects Kissimmee to the gates of Magic Kingdom.
Bus 300 goes from Downtown to Hotel Plaza Boulevard.
Bus 301 goes from Pine Hills to Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Bus 302 goes from Rosemont to Magic Kingdom.
Bus 303 goes from Washington Shores to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
The Final Word on Transportation in Orlando
Almost everything that Orlando tourists want to do is within a 10-mile radius, with a few exceptions for those travelers who want to experience Florida’s rich culture that doesn’t include a theme park or do additional sightseeing in Florida’s Everglades or along the state’s coastline. Because of the many attractions in Orlando, transportation is easy to find, but your budget determines how you plan to get around. Conservative travelers will want to use public transportation, Disney’s free services, and the I-Ride Trolley. For those with extra cash and the need for convenience, rent a car or take an Uber. We recommend that you avoid taxis or paying for Mears shuttles. These are not friendly means of transportation and they are costly to boot.
Have Your Say?
How do you plan on getting around the Orlando Area? What methods did you use on the last trip? Have you used the Disney Transport System? Were you stung by Disney’s (and other others Parking Charge? Let us know in the comments below. Or let us know if you have any questions or want to know the best way to get from point A to point B?