Planning Orlando Vacation Part 1: Rent a car or not?

Planning an Orlando vacation so that my German friend can experience the Disney and Universal theme parks there. Part 1: Rental car or no? Tied into this, what kind of accommodations should we get?

From Chris S
Posted August 20, 2011 at 2:44 PM
Hey fellow TPI readers! I could use your advice.

I'm planning on taking my German friend to Orlando sometime in the future (earliest date would probably be fall 2012). I'm from New York and have been to Orlando multiple times before, so I know a thing or two about vacationing there, but this is the first time I'm the sole planner of the trip. I'm quite familiar with the parks themselves, but could use some help with planning other aspects of the vacation. I've decided to split up my questions into separate discussion posts. First, I want to tackle the issue that is most giving me a headache, and that is basic travel logistics.

I have different ideas about whether he should fly to Orlando to meet me, or whether he should go to NY and then we go down together. I may ask about that in a separate thread.

My main dilemma is this, though: Since I am under the age of 25, renting a car is very expensive (at least an extra $100 for the week just because I'm young and more "at risk for an accident"!) Not to mention the rental car companies have to tack on almost another $100 in extra fees, which they don't exactly mention up front on the website. I know my friend and I would probably split the cost (around $500 for the week just on the car, not to mention gas), but I'm trying to make this trip as affordable as possible. So I'm trying to figure out whether a rental car is my best bet. My hotel plans will definitely be affected by whether or not we get a rental car.

Ideally, since my parents are Marriott/Interval International timeshare owners, I would stay at a villa at a timeshare resort, probably in the I-4/International Drive corridor. The timeshares are great because they are spacious and have many home amenities, like kitchens, which cut down on food bills. They can be an overall good value and, for me, would probably cost just as much as staying at a regular hotel, since my parents usually get good deals. However, not having a rental car would put a limit on going to the supermarkets ourselves (I know we can get groceries delivered, so that's not too much of a concern) as well as when we want to go to the parks.

With regards to accommodations, my options are this:

1) We stay at a Disney resort and get the Magical Express bus. We would also get a Disney dining plan. When we go to Universal, we'll look into a shuttle, possibly through Dreams Unlimited or Mears, or even mass transit.

2) We stay at an Interval resort that has a shuttle and lose a lot of flexibility with our plans. (If anyone has any recommendations about that, I would sincerely appreciate it. I know Floridays Resort has a shuttle in the mornings and evenings.)

3) We cough up the money, get a rental car, and stay wherever we want to.

Sorry for the long post, but I wanted to be as detailed as possible. I will probably be posting more questions in the future as travel plans progress. Thanks in advance!

From Andrew Carrieri
Posted August 20, 2011 at 6:18 PM
Regarding the flights, I would assume it would be cheaper for your friend to fly directly to Orlando rather than flying to NY and then to Orlando. The downside is if he flies directly to Orlando and there are delays one of you would be stuck waiting around.

On the hotels/transportation. I can't offer much help as my dad has paid for all my WDW trips (I'm 20). I would try to avoid option 2 on your list, however, unless it is an absolute dealbreaker as offsite shuttles are, from what I hear, horrible. Plus, I would think the Disney value resorts can't be much more expensive anyway. The offsite hotel buses operate on a limited fixed schedule, unlike the Disney shuttles which come every 20 minutes. Basically, by picking option 2, you are eliminating any sponteneity (what if you're tired, there is bad weather, etc.). I would go with option 1/3 depending on how the math works out.
I'm not sure how much this helps but that's my 2 cents.

From Anthony Murphy
Posted August 20, 2011 at 8:50 PM
I would say rent a car, but the under 25 thing is a bit of a money drag (I am 25).

I would say take a taxi and the Magical Express if you are staying at a Disney resort. Its a good deal, IMO

From chris cona
Posted August 20, 2011 at 9:12 PM
Okay to me your true best sceanario is to stay on disney's grounds. You will save on taxi fares and get the magical express u should just stay at one of the value ones so u get all the perks and still save money.

From Chris S
Posted August 21, 2011 at 1:55 PM
Thanks everybody for the good advice. I've been leaning more and more towards staying on Disney property, since we'd probably be spending most of our time there anyway. I'll try to see what ends up working best for us. My friend seemed open to the idea of a road trip, which would be fun, but a bit time consuming.

If anybody else has anything they'd like to add, feel free. I'll probably be asking more questions as the vacation planning progresses, so stay tuned for that.

From Tom Ewart
Posted August 23, 2011 at 10:38 AM
I would say instead of the rental car, stay on property, the Dining plan will save you some money and you will worry less about food and transportation. You will probably eat better as well. Don't for get if you rent a car and are not staying on property that you have to pay to park... Don't forget the extra magic hours are really nice if you are staying on property (you really should take advantage of them).

From Chris S
Posted August 23, 2011 at 5:57 PM
The extra magic hours are very enticing, especially since my friend has never been to Disney World before.

From Diane Jurgaitis
Posted August 26, 2011 at 5:15 PM
Hi, Chris! Always a good idea to start planning early. I always prefer to stay at a Disney Resort. The Value resorts are only about $80./night. If you spring for a limo from the airport instead of the Magic Express, most of them will make a 30 minute grocery stop & you can stock up on water, snacks & breakfast items. No amenities like the timeshares, but more flexibility with transportation w/o renting a car. You'll also have the option of splitting up (you want to stay later, your friend doesn't, or vice versa). If you're driving, you'll both have to arrive/leave at the same time. We took Mears Transportation to Universal & Sea World from Disney resorts & it worked fine- way less $$ & headache than car rental. They'll pick you up at your resort and drop you back there. Have a great trip!

From Mark Fairleigh
Posted August 28, 2011 at 9:44 AM
Chris, if you're primarily hitting the Disney parks then definitely stay on-site, use Disney transportation, and don't worry about renting a car. Take a cab or car service to Universal.

I'd say the same if you were planning just for Universal. Staying on-site is so crucial there if it's a first visit since you never have to use a car and get express pass access on all rides, with the exception of Forbidden Journey and Rip-Ride-Rocket, all day.

From Tony Duda
Posted August 28, 2011 at 12:48 PM
You didn't say if your visit is for 5 days or 10 days so advice for either can be different. I'll assume it's for about 5 days. The short version is to stay at a Disney value resort with the "free" dining plan. Both of you fly to Orlando and use magical express to get to the resort. Call Dreams Unlimited(DU) (I never used them but they have a good reputation) to do the room booking and dining plan deal. To get the dining deal, you will also have to buy multi-day park tickets. Ask DU what number of days is the minimum needed (Disney will always sell you the maximum possible). Also look into the on-line only Universal 2-park admission-plus-transport ticket that DU advertises. You may be able to avoid overbuying the Disney parks tickets and going to Universal without much waste.

The dining plan sort of works like a college dining plan, you get so much food credits per day. But you also can underuse it one day and use the saved food credits the next day.

From Chris S
Posted August 29, 2011 at 9:06 AM
I imagine we'd probably be going for about 7 days. I figured one day for each park (Disney and Universal) and one day to relax. Nothing is set in stone, though, so it could all change.

I've used the Disney dining plan once before (in 2005) and found it to be a pretty good deal. From my understanding, the number of restaurants participating in that plan has decreased since then, but a good number still participate. I figured we'd probably go for the one that gives one snack, quick-service, and table service meal per day... for the days that we go to Universal, we could combine table service credits and use them to go to a signature restaurant.

I briefly looked at Dreams Unlimited's website one day and saw that they had a 2-day Universal pass for sale that included transportation. The more I look into this trip, the more it would probably make sense to just stay at Disney property, given the Magical Express shuttle, the dining plan, extra magic hours, etc. I might look into staying at a Universal on-site hotel too, but I'd try to schedule this trip during the off-season so not getting complimentary Express passes and early admission is not that big of a concern for me. I think if DU got us to the park early enough and we planned our days well, we could see most, if not all of what we want to see at Universal.

From Andrew Carrieri
Posted August 30, 2011 at 7:47 AM
The problem with staying on site at Universal in your case is that there are only three hotels and none are cheap (you seem to be on a budget). If you can get a good deal, they are nice but the cheapest one-the Royal Pacific is certainly more expensive than a Disney value. I would say if you can afford it, go for it but if not, you can always buy universal express separtely.

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