Driving versus Flying to Disney

When planning a vacation one of the first major decisions is whether to fly or drive to your destination. For short or long distances it’s an easy decision, but within the threshold of a one day drive or a 3 hour flight it becomes murky. And since we are talking about a Disney World vacation that adds a whole extra layer of complexities. There are several factors to weigh and today we’ll take a look at what you need to consider before choosing your mode of transport.
Being a popular topic, let’s begin this planning adventure with vacation budgets in mind. Disney vacations can be expensive, so the difference of a few hundred dollars makes a difference. When comparing driving versus flying costs, look beyond the black and white of airplane seat price against fuel usage. There is much more to consider, such as baggage fees, parking, food, and of course time. Here are a few things to consider:
Driving Costs
  • Fuel
  • Meals along the way
  • Hotel parking fees
  • Disney parking lot daily fees
  • Do you need an overnight in a hotel along the way?
Flying Costs
  • Airline tickets
  • Baggage fees
  • Airport parking
  • Snacks/meals at airport
  • Taxi/Shuttle to hotel if staying off site
The second major factor is time. The shorter your vacation, the more important this becomes. Saving money by driving isn’t always a benefit if you have to give up a lot of time at your destination. After looking at how much difference there is between driving and flying from a monetary standpoint, factor in the travel time difference. Saving $100 and spending two days of a five day trip in the car doesn’t make sense whereas saving $500 on a 7 day trip makes more of an impact.  It comes down to what is important to you in this area in terms of balancing budget and vacation time.
For parents traveling with babies or young children, large families, or those going on an extended vacation, driving often becomes a better option due to cargo space and cost. For our daughter’s first few trips to Disney World we found it much more convenient to packing diapers, the stroller, toys, etc. in the car and have the freedom to stop whenever we needed for a break than to try cramming everything into our luggage and carry on bags and keeping to a schedule with an unpredictable child. Others might not mind the limits of air travel as much and if you only have a few days of vacation time that would be the way to go. For larger families air travel can be a budget issue. Six people in a van is much cheaper than six round trip airplane tickets; especially if your airline charges for each bag. Luggage can also be a factor. For extended stays, say longer than a week, you may have enough baggage that it’s just easier to fill the trunk instead of leaving things behind.
Heading to Disney World adds a few more things to consider depending on whether you are staying at a Disney resort or off site. A few items to think about:
Disney Resort Benefits/factors
  • Free airport transportation on the Magical Express buses
  • Pre-tagged luggage goes directly to your resort from the airport
  • Free parking at the theme parks if you choose to drive instead of using Disney transportation
  • Easy to get to other Orlando attractions if bringing your own car or using a rental
  • Can easily go back to your hotel in the afternoon for a break from the parks (a huge bonus on hot and crowded days)
Off-site hotel benefits/factors
  • May have to pay for hotel parking
  • Pay daily for Disney theme park parking
  • Check to see if your hotel has an airport shuttle or discount for Mears or other local service
  • Some hotels have shuttles to Disney World parking lots
  • Easy access to cheaper dining options and grocery stores outside of Disney (this can add up quickly)
At the end of the day it all boils down to convenience and budget considerations. We have used both 20 hour drives and 3 hour flights, which both have their benefits. I hope these tips help make your decision process easier. If there are items I left out, or you have some great tips, feel free to leave them in the comments below.