Should you rent a car at Disney World? If you want to enjoy everything Disney has to offer then the short answer is yes.
Last week my family had the incredible opportunity to attend the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. Going into the celebration we’d planned on just using Disney transportation throughout the parks rather than choosing to rent a car at Disney World.
I’m so glad we didn’t.
For other theme parks, I don’t recommend renting a car but having a car at Disney World made an already incredible vacation even better, and I didn’t think that would be possible. I was lucky enough to be given a Kia Optima to drive for the week through one of my partnerships and seriously, it saved us so many times. And it gave us the chance to plan the Disney vacation that we wanted.
Walt Disney World transportation is fantastic but in my opinion, having a rental car or your own car (if you drive) to use throughout the trip is even better. Let me preface this by saying that I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who stayed on-site in a Disney resort. If you’re not staying on-site, you’ll need to rent a car (or have your own) regardless.
12 reasons to rent a car at Disney World
1 – Renting a car at Disney is cheap
I included this first because I didn’t want you reading through the rest of my post and thinking yeah but I can’t afford a car or renting a car is so expensive. In Orlando, it’s not.
We actually priced out renting a car at Disney before I was generously given the Kia Optima to drive. I could’ve booked a seven-person van for eight days for $200. That’s SO cheap compared to everywhere else I’ve ever rented a car. Renting a car starts at like $18/day depending on the season and I can guarantee you that if you can splurge a little and do it, having a car to drive around will save you so much time that it’s worth the money.
2 – A car makes taking breaks during the day easier
I have a toddler, a toddler who melts down if he doesn’t get a nap in the middle of the day. A Disney World vacation is not for the faint of heart, or for those who need sleep. Having a car allowed us to go to one park in the morning, come back to our hotel (yay for All-Star Movies) to take a nap, and head back out to close out another park (or the same one) later that night. And I can’t even imagine trying to wait in line for a bus or having to take the monorail + bus back to our hotel with a tantrum ready toddler.
3 – Having a car allows you to park hop quicker
The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World has a really handy spreadsheet with the travel times for driving yourself vs. Disney transportation and driving yourself is faster like 95% of the time except in the case of Magic Kingdom, which is kind of a pain in itself to get to. And tons of other resources for planning your trip!
If you’re planning to park hop like we did, it’s simple when you have a car. Find a parking spot at one of the parks (every park but Magic Kingdom has a parking lot right outside their front gates), take the continually running tram to the front of the park, and walk right in. When you’re ready to leave, just hop back in your car and drive to another park instead of having to take one monorail to another monorail. Or taking one monorail to a bus that takes you all the way to the other side of the park.
4 – Parking is free throughout the parks and resorts
Speaking of parking, if you’re staying on-site at a Walt Disney World resort, you get free parking at all of the theme parks. And parking at the resorts and in Disney Springs is free for everyone. Just tell the cast member at the parking gate where you’re staying (or show them your parking pass) and they’ll let you right through. If you’re staying off-site parking is $20/day but paying it once will allow you to park at all four of the major theme parks throughout the day.
5 – Having a car makes dining at resorts so much easier
One of the biggest perks for us of having a car was that we could get from resort to resort quickly. In general Disney transportation goes from resort to park or park to resort, not from resort to resort. We wanted to do a couple of in-resort meals like a dinner at O’hana (in the Polynesian) and a breakfast Animal Kingdom Lodge, and needed to travel to both directly from our resort. If we wanted to take Disney transportation we would have had to walk to Epcot and take a bus to either resort. Instead, we jumped in our car and drove right there, saving us a ton of time.
6 – Your child can ride in a car seat in a car
This may not apply to you, but I always feel much more comfortable when my toddler is traveling in a moving vehicle if he’s in a car seat. I’m that mom. Car seats are not allowed on Disney transportation so being able to strap him in as we drove around Walt Disney World made me feel better.
Speaking of safety, the new 2016 Kia Optima has some of the coolest safety features. If you look closely in the picture below, you can see little lights on the side view mirror. Those lights are telling me that someone is in my blind spot. And if I put on my blinker to change lanes and someone was there, it beeps at me to tell me to stop. It’s pretty magical, to use a Disney term.
The Optima also comes with an awesome full view back-up camera (again, magical), a sensor that tells you if you’re crossing the lines (no more falling asleep at the wheel) and connect to your phone (no more talk texting). With so many kids walking around and drivers trying to figure out where they’re going, having built-in safety features makes the Kia Optima a top pick in my car book!
7 – You don’t have to cut your day short with the Magical Express
I LOVE that Disney provides free transportation to and from the airport in the form of the Magical Express. It’s fantastic and a perfect solution for people who want to save money or who aren’t going to need a car. But what you don’t know ahead of time is that you have to be ready to board the Magical Express three hours before your flight and that it will take much longer to get from the airport on the Magical Express than it does in a car.
One of the coolest services that Disney provides is that a number of the airlines have representatives at the resorts that can check your bags directly at the resort. So instead of lugging your bags around or storing them with the resort, you can check them into your flight then enjoy your final hours bag free. This service is available whether you’re using the Magical Express or not!
8 – You can keep things in your car that you don’t need in the resort
Even at Disney, resort rooms are fairly small and no one needs to be trying to maneuver their way around a stroller to get to bed at night. We kept our stroller, a bag of snacks (that would go into the park), and other things to entertain my son in the car at all times. They were always ready to go to wherever we were going, I didn’t have to remember to put them in the car, and they weren’t taking up room in our hotel room.
I was really surprised by how much space the Kia Optima had not only in the trunk but throughout the car. Even my mother-in-law commented on how roomy the interior was. We were able to fit our stroller, all of our suitcases, and four people in the car with room to breathe. Definitely a good choice if you’re not a light packer.
9 – Having a car allows you to enjoy both inside and outside Disney World
You may just want to go straight from your resort to a park and back. If that’s the case, you can skip this point. But if you’re like me and want to get a massage at the Grand Floridian or go see a movie at Disney Springs one night, having a car is so helpful. To get to my massage (which was amazing by the way), I just hopped in my car and drove the 10-15 minute drive to Senses at the Grand Floridian. If I’d taken Disney transportation, I have no idea how long it would’ve taken. Pretty sure I couldn’t have done it during nap time like I did.
And that one day during nap time, I sent my husband out to Target because we ran out of diapers and sunscreen. Pretty sure Disney doesn’t take you to Target.
If you want to be able to explore, get a car.
10 – You can skip the transportation lines
No matter when you go, you’re going to stand in lines at Disney World for rides, for tickets, for food, and probably to buy all the things. No need to stand in one more line just to get on a bus to take you back to your resort. You will likely sit in some parking lines in your car but sitting in a line in your car (screen time for the win!) is different than literally standing in line waiting to get on a bus.
This is especially helpful if you’re leaving right after a parade or fireworks when busses are really busy because everyone is trying to leave. Skip the line and walk directly to your car.
11 – Disney World is easy to drive around
Walt Disney World is huge, but it’s all super easy to get around. We stayed at both All-Star Movies and the Beach Club Resort (Epcot Resort area) and went to all four parks, Disney Springs, and a couple of other resorts during our trip. I can honestly say I don’t think any of our drives took more than 10-15 minutes and we didn’t hit lights or traffic anywhere we went. I’m sure there will be times when this isn’t the case, but we found Disney incredibly easy to drive around.
Navigating is a different story. The signs can be a little confusing when they say things like “Epcot Resort Area,” rather than having signs to the individual resorts. You really need to have done your research ahead of time to know which resorts are in which resort areas. Luckily I knew the Beach Club resort was in the Epcot resort area.
I was so grateful to have the built-in navigation system on my Kia Optima. I just picked a point of interest (Magic Kingdom) and followed the directions on the navigation system to figure out where I was going. So even if I wasn’t 100% sure what a sign meant, I could follow the navigation system and still get where I wanted to go. It may be the first time on vacation that I didn’t get completely lost.
12 – Having a car at Disney World allows you to plan the itinerary you really want
I’ve already mentioned this numerous times but I’ll just close with this. Having a car at Disney World really allows you to plan the trip you want, not one that fits the transportation schedule. This is what our schedule looked like last week and if we were taking Disney transportation, it never would’ve worked. Or we would’ve just had MUCH less time at each of the parks, making it almost not worth it most nights.
- Wednesday – Hollywood Studios in the morning, nap time back at All-Star movies, dinner at O’hana in the Polynesian, and extra magic hours at Magic Kingdom
- Thursday – Animal Kingdom in the morning, nap time at Beach Club Resort, dinner back at AK
- Friday – Epcot in the morning, nap time at Beach Club, Typhoon Lagoon for dinner, extra magic hours at Hollywood Studios
- Saturday – Disney Springs in the morning, nap time at the Beach Club, Magic Kingdom until close
We park hopped like crazy and it worked because getting between parks and resorts only took us a few minutes.
I was invited by Disney to the Disney Social Media Moms Conference and generously given a car by Kia to use for our trip. While I received free products, perks, and discounts on our trip, that in no way impacts these thoughts.