Now that Disney’s free Magical Express bus service has come to an end, renting a car at Disney World is more popular than ever. However, with so many alternatives to Disney’s Magical Express now available, does it really make sense to pay for a rental car? After all, Disney’s complimentary park-to-park and resort-to-park transportation, can get you almost anywhere you need to go.
However, if you think you’ll miss the freedom of owning the open road (usually congested around Disney) or you have other plans that make renting a car faster, easier or necessary, there is a lot you’ll want to know before selecting your rental agency and making a commitment.
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Do You Need a Car Rental at Walt Disney World?
Pro #1 – It’s an Easy Alternative to Magical Express
Beginning January of 2021, Disney World will no longer offer the complimentary Magical Express Service. That means you will now need to pay for a ride to your hotel. While it will likely be cheaper to take a ride sharing service, use Mears bus shuttle or even hire a private car, it’s worth checking into the cost of a rental. Often, discount codes or offers can net you a rental for about the same cost as hiring a car or booking the shuttle, depending on the number of people in your party.
While the Disney World Magical Express will continue to pick up passengers at the airport through the end of 2021, we have always experienced long waits at the airport while waiting for our bus to arrive. Even if you take advantage of the Mears shuttle after 2020, a similar service to Magical Express, you’ll likely need to wait for a full bus before leaving the airport. You can then expect to travel to a number of resorts along the route to your own destination.
When returning to the airport at the end of your trip, Magical Express picks up three to four hours prior to your flight departure time, and since they often stop at multiple resorts, you could end up being picked up extra early for your airport arrival. We anticipate that this will be the same experience for the Mears shuttle.
If you wish to operate on your own time schedule, renting a car might be the right option for you.
Also keep in mind during your Walt Disney World Vacation planning, that Magical Express assigns you a pick-up time based on your flight’s scheduled departure. Since your spot on the bus is reserved, you won’t be able to skip your ride and catch another shuttle if the airline delays your flight the day of. You’ll have to take your assigned bus and spend the hours sitting inside the airport. By renting a car, you can adjust your schedule and catch some pool time or enjoy more attractions inside the park.
Pro #2 – Accessing Sites off of Disney Property
Visiting sites outside of Disney World is another reason you may consider renting a car. While you can often book a shuttle or even hail a cab or ride-sharing service to take you just about anywhere you want to go, it could be cheaper in the long run to rent a car. It all depends on where you are going, how frequently you will be out and about, the going rate for a rental car during your visit.
Having a rental car also makes it possible to visit nearby offsite restaurants. Since food here can often be cheaper than Disney World fare, you could actually end up saving money using a rental car at Disney World.
When deciding if a rental car fits your budget, it’s important to look at all of the costs. Decide how many trips you’ll be taking offsite and add up the approximiate costs of cabs, shuttles or ridesharing. You may be surprised to find that a rental car is actually cheaper. Plus, you’ll have the freedom to chart your own course and own your own schedule.
Pro #3 – Easier Access to the World of Mouse
While many guests choose a rental car to access offsite locations, others choose the Walt Disney World car rental experience to make it easier to get around Disney World itself. While Disney’s complimentary transportation is great, it isn’t always the fastest or most efficient way to travel from your resort to the parks or other locations. You can wait up to 30 minutes for bus arrivals. To make matters worse, if you’re traveling at a popular time period, you may have to wait for more than one bus to your destination.
Then there is the complexity of traveling from one resort to another. Using the Disney World transportation system to travel between resorts for dining reservations often requires a stop at a theme park and a transfer to another mode of transport to get to the resort. A rental car can get you there faster. However, while there is no charge for day guests to park at Disney World resorts, taking advantage of a ride-sharing service may be cheaper in the long run if this is the only time you’ll be using the car.
Cons of a Walt Disney World Car Rental
When thinking about renting a car at Disney World, it’s equally as important to understand the disadvantages. Most of these involve fees or other charges you might incur. The Disney rental car experience includes extra fees that you won’t encounter by using paid airport transfer service or a hired service, making it far less economical than it once was.
The Cons of a Walt Disney World Car Rental #1: Tolls
There are several main arteries leaving Orlando International Airport that Disney-bound travelers can take. Unfortunately, each requires a toll. Tolls start around $3.00 depending upon where you get on and off and which routes you take, so if you’re budgeting your trip, make sure you have your route planned out and have added up the costs.
Florida toll roads are Sunpass enabled or exact-cash only. Sunpass is an electronic transponder that attaches to your windshield. When traveling on Florida toll roads, overhead gantries will pick up the signal from your transponder, allowing you to pass through toll collection areas without stopping. E-pass is another service used in Florida and works in similar ways.
If you don’t have a Sunpass transponder or the correct change on hand, a snapshot of your license plate will be taken for billing purposes. Since you’re renting a car, that means the rental agency will get the bill. Most will charge this to the card on file automatically and some charge fees on top of the cost of the tolls. When renting a car, make sure you understand the company’s toll policy and the associated charges.
Due to the amount of driving we were doing, we found that it made sense to purchase a Sunpass. Though definitely not the most economical course of action, with a Sunpass transponder mounted to the vehicle window, we sailed right through toll booth locations without stopping.
We paid $19.99 for the unit, and I front loaded it with the minimum $10. Note that Sunpass requires a $10 minimum balance be held on the account at all times, so as soon as we passed through our first toll, another $10 was charged to the credit card on file and loaded to my account. That meant that I left Florida with at least $10 still in my Sunpass account.
If you do decide to take advantage of the convenience of Sunpass, Make sure to select the transponder that can be moved between cars, not the window decal. Then, add your rental car to your account before you leave the airport. The simplest way to do this is to download the Sunpass app, where they make it easy to add your Disney car rental to your account. When you leave, you can delete this vehicle the same way.
For simply driving to Disney and back to the airport, a Sunpass is hardly necessary, but if you plan to do some driving around the Orlando area, or if you’re making multiple trips in a year, it will certainly make traveling more convenient.
For residents of the Northeast, Sunpass is Florida’s version of EZPass. In September of 2017, EZPass was usable on some Florida toll roads, but you’ll want to check your route carefully before deciding to use the EZPass. Not all roads are EZPass enabled across the entire length of roadway. Toll Road 528, for instance, drops out of EZPass access well before Interstate 4, requiring you to take several, more crowded side-roads to avoid additional fees.
Con #2, Disney Now Charges for Resort Parking
Once upon a time, the world of Disney was a welcoming place, where the customer’s wishes were the company’s demands. These days, a series of rate hikes and fees for previously complimentary services has taken many loyal customers quite by surprise. One of these is resort parking.
Unless you’re a DVC member staying at a Disney Vacation Club Resort, using points to book a regular Disney resort, or the guest of a vacation club member using their points at a DVC resort only, you’ll now pay to park your rental vehicle at your hotel, and the fees are enough to knock more than a few souvenirs out of your budget. The fees start at $15 a night for value resorts and rise as high as $25 for deluxe resorts. Moderate resorts charge a cool $20 a night fee, just to let your car sit in the lot.
Yet Another Rental Car Con – Theme Park Parking Fees
There are additional fees associated with your Walt Disney World car rental experience if you want to drive yourself to the park and are NOT staying at a Disney World resort. While there is an extra charge for resort parking when staying at a Disney World onsite hotel, the cost of parking your car at a Disney World theme park or the transportation ticket center when traveling to Magic Kingdom, is included in the cost of your resort stay.
As with many things Disney-related, there are now different expense tiers available.
Expect to pay $45-$50 a day if you want those premium up-front spots. If you aren’t afraid to add a few extra steps to your daily Fitbit, you can shave a few dollars off each day by opting for a standard spot at $25.
You’ll empty your wallet of $30 every time you park an oversized vehicle at one of the four theme parks.
Walt Disney World Rental Car Con #4 – Gas Prices
An often overlooked cost when renting a car during a Walt Disney World vacation is the cost of gas. While we did considerable driving to and from the airport, as well as some additional site seeing, we only needed to fill up the tank once, right before we returned the car back to the rental company. Still, it’s an extra $30 or $40 you could be spending on something else.
We do have one warning to the wise: Be careful where you fill up. We searched the closest gas station to the airport on Google maps. When we arrived, there were no signs advertising the price of a gallon of gas. However, after pulling up to the pump we could see that a single gallon was going to cost us close to $6.00, more than three times the going rate at most stations.
Not ready to fork over the extra cash, we drove across the street, only to find a similar price at the adjacent gas station. At this point, my son pulled up the Gas Buddy app and discovered that 2 gas stations a mere block away were selling gasoline at normal market prices.
If you do decide to take advantage of the convenience of a Walt Disney World car rental experience, beware of gasoline price gouging near the airport.
Car Rental Con #5 – You’ll Have to Leave the Bubble
One of the biggest drawbacks to renting a car for many people is the loss of Disney Magic. As you drive yourself around, you’ll encounter backstage views that aren’t easily seen from Disney’s own transportation system.
Also, if you’re renting a car, it’s likely to provide transportation to and from the airport or other offsite locations. Unfortunately, there is very little magic associated with driving around Florida byways with the associated traffic. If you’re looking for the complete escape from reality offered by a Disney vacation, than consider taking a Mears shuttle from the airport to your resort and utilizing the complimentary transportation system for travel across Disney property.
Renting a Car for Your Walt Disney World Vacation from Orlando’s MCO Airport
So, you’ve added up the pros and cons and have decided that renting a car for your Walt Disney World trip is your best option. Fortunately, if you’re flying into Orlando’s international airport, renting a car is easy, with 10 rental locations right across from the terminals. You’ll find twenty additional rental agencies nearby. Since they all provide shuttle service to and from the airport, you’ll find it relatively easy to get to your car.
The following Car Rental Agencies are located directly onsite at MCO, across from baggage pickup:
If you’re looking for the fastest access to a Walt Disney World rental car experience, consider reserving with one of the companies listed above. Walking directly across to the rental center will save you time over taking a shuttle. However, agencies serviced via shuttles are often cheaper. If you’re using an aggregator site to book your reservation, such as Expedia, Priceline or Kayak, always be sure to check whether they are quoting you an airport provider or another agency branch that serves the local geography. The last thing you want to to do is arrive at MCO only to find you’ll need to hail a cab or ride sharing service to find your way to the car rental company where you have a reservation.
Do I Need a Reservation to Book a Rental Car at MCO?
While most car rental companies will serve walk-up travelers, it is always a good idea to make a reservation ahead of time. According to a National Car Rental customer service representative, a reservation with their company will hold a car for you up to twelve hours after your scheduled flight arrival time, provided you give your airline and flight number while booking the reservation. Theoretically, this should mean that a car is available and waiting for you when you arrive, even if your flight is seriously delayed.
However, we’ve had experiences with Budget and other rental agencies when the rental class we reserved several months in advance was completely sold out when we arrived at the counter on time to pick up our car. Our comfy large-sized sedan was once “upgraded” to a fast and furious Dodge Challenger that may have been fun to drive but had none of the convenience we needed for carrying 5 passengers.
Worse yet are stories of passengers arriving at the rental counter only to find that cars have been completely sold out. This is happening quite frequently during the COVID-19 era of travel as rental companies rebound from a massive sell off of cars that took place during the height of the pandemic.
While there is no absolute guarantee that a company will hold your reservation, you do stand a much better chance of securing a rental car if you reserve ahead.
Saving Time When Picking up Your Disney Car Rental
If you don’t relish the idea of standing in long lines before you even step foot in a Disney park, then you’ll want to brush up on rental agency processes and procedures.
Orlando International Airport is a busy place, serving over 49 million passengers annually. That means airport rental counter lines can be long, even when you’ve booked a reservation in advance.
Fortunately, many agencies offer options to by-pass the counter and proceed directly to your vehicle. National, Avis, Hertz, Alamo and Budget all offer express pick-up for members of their loyalty programs. Signing up is free and can be done directly from the agency’s website.
Don’t be scared off by the term “loyalty program”. You don’t need to have previous rentals on record with the company to enjoy the express pickup service, as long as you have a loyalty account.
We frequently use National and scored a great deal through them on our last trip. By booking a mid-sized car, we were able to skip the ticket counter and go directly to the “Emerald Aisle” where a variety of cars were waiting. We selected a premium SUV, complete with leather interior and all the amenities, drove to the exit counter, and in a few minutes, were on our way.
Other companies have similar services available. For example, Avis allows you to book any category of car and skip the counter. Simply walk out to the garage, find the row for your selected booking, and take any car. Again, you’ll be quickly checked out at the exit.
To enjoy express benefits like these, you’ll need to make sure your loyalty account is up to date with pertinent details, such as your drivers license number and credit card.
What if I Only Want to Rent a Car for a Few Days?
If you’re only looking to rent a car for a few days during your trip, you might want to consider renting from one of the car rental companies located at Disney World.
Alamo is considered the “official” Walt Disney World car rental agency. As such, they have multiple locations across Disney property. While not as “official” as Alamo, National also has locations onsite. You will find rental centers for both agencies located at the following locations:
- Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel (location ORLR74)
- Shades of Green (open to active and retired military members only)
- Walt Disney World Car Care Center
Both counters at the Dolphin are open daily from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. Shades of Green rental counters operate on a more limited schedule, opening at 8:00 but closing at noon.
The phone number of Dolphin’s Alamo/National desk is (407) 934-4930. In addition, National also has a rental location at the Buena Vista Palace located near Disney Springs
Avis and Budget have also scored onsite accommodations. You’ll find the Avis rental center at the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista. The Budget location is situated at the Doubltree Suites by Hilton. Both hotels are located near Disney Springs. To access any of the Disney Springs locations, you can take a Disney bus from your resort to the Marketplace at Disney Springs and then walk to the hotel, though using a ride sharing service, such as LYFT, will be much quicker and more convenient.
Renting a Car from the Disney World Car Care Center
If you’re looking to book a car for only a few days, there aren’t many options as convenient as booking from the Disney World Car Care Center. Reservations with either Alamo or National can be booked from any rental car booking site. Just select 1000 West Car Care Drive Bay Lake, Florida 32830 as your beginning or ending destination for accurate rates and availability.
If you plan to stay at a Disney onsite resort and use Disney World transportation to get around, you might like the idea of using a rental car to travel from the airport to your resort and then returning the car at the Disney World Car Care Center. We looked into this once, and a weekly rental through either Avis or National was running a little over $300. A four-day rental, returning the car to Disney’s center, when we were done using it was less than $100.
Getting to the Car Care Center is no problem for guests staying on property. Disney is happy to arrange transportation to or from your resort or one of the four theme parks as long as you schedule it in advance.
Alamo provides for after-hours returns by allowing you to deposit the vehicle’s keys in a lock-box, but you’ll need to provide for your own transportation from the Car Care Center.
When using the Car Care Center for your Disney car rental, or any other onsite location, tolls encountered on Florida roadways, as well as onsite parking fees, will still apply, so limiting your rental to just those days you need a car could save you some money if you don’t mind shuttling around to pick up and drop off the vehicle. You can also elect to pick up or drop off your car at Orlando International Airport and use the Car Care Center for the other end of your rental.
Tips for Your Disney World Car Rental and Saving Money
While a Walt Disney World car rental can be a convenient way to travel during your trip, it isn’t always the most economical. However, there are ways to save on a car rental that can really trim your costs.
The first is to take advantage of any club affiliations that you have. For example, Costco offers discounts on rental cars to members that in the past have even covered the cost of a membership for us. You can also check aggregator or discount sites, such as Kayak. These sights do the legwork for you, searching out the best rates and returning them in list format. As mentioned previously, you’ll always want to double check the location of the rental counter being quoted as these sites may return results that include locations nearby the airport but not serviced by a shuttle.
Other online travel sites, such as Priceline, work out discount deals with rental companies, allowing them to rent out excess inventory at a savings to you. At Priceline, you can also make an offer to rental car companies, listing the price you are willing to pay for a certain type of vehicle, and see if any will bite. When using sites like these, always read the fine print and make sure you understand the rules and restrictions associated with both the service and the rental contract, before obligating yourself to any committments.
Another, more direct way to save money, is by booking a special offer provided by the rental car company. Most are available through a special deals or offers section on the company’s website and can score you class upgrades or free days.
Probably the best way to access discounts is by finding an offer code. Many large companies negotiate contract rates for employees with rental car companies that can also be used for personal use. It’s a good idea to check with your employer before booking to see if they have a code available for use. Corporate codes can offer some of the steepest discounts around.
If you don’t have access to a corporate code, check with your credit card company. Many cards, especially those offering travel rewards points, feature discounted rates with certain agencies.
While it used to be a simple matter to locate a discount code by searching online, finding and using sourced codes is no longer as easy as it used to be. Sites that once used to list corporate codes have been asked to remove the information. Still, it’s worth searching for rental car discount codes and trying them on your online reservation. If they don’t work, you’re only out a few minutes of time, but if you do manage to score a working code, you could save up to 35 percent or more on the cost of your rental.
For a more sure bet without much hassle, but sure to sign up for rental car loyalty programs. It’s free to join, and many agencies reserve slightly better pricing for their members.
Walt Disney World Car Rental: The Choice Is up to You
When deciding whether to partake of the Disney car rental experience, you’ll want to consider whether doing so saves you time and adds to your experience. If fighting traffic on Orlando highways, navigating unfamiliar streets, or leaving the “Disney bubble” isn’t to your liking, you’ll find that Disney’s complimentary transportation alternatives will get you around just fine.
If you find a car rental is necessary or makes your Disney experience easier and more pleasant, you’ll find every major rental agency at Orlando International Airport. Just keep in mind that only Alamo and National operate out of Disney’s Car Care Center.