8 Important Reasons to Rent a Car at Walt Disney World

Jennifer Kaufman Avatar
Amphicar at Disney Springs.

With changes to Disney’s transportation system in 2022 (farewell Disney’s Magical Express service) renting a car is definitely becoming the right choice for some families. Here are all of our reasons why you might want to rent a car at Disney World, where to rent a car at Disney, and how to get the best deal.

yellow monorail going by Grand Floridian resort
Monorail Yellow, cruising by Disney’s Grand Floridian, is one of 12 monorails at Walt Disney World. Monorails are just one part of Disney’s vast internal transportation system. Photo Credit: Jennifer Kaufman

Why We (almost) Always Rent a Car at Disney World

With countless busses, monorails, boats, the Skyliner, trams, Segways, and horses, the Walt Disney World resort area has an incredible internal transportation system for guests staying on property. (I’m sort of kidding about the Segways and horses. They have them, but you’re not really allowed to show up at the Disney parks on horseback. At least as far as I’m aware.)

But what if you’re not staying on property? With the demise of Disney’s Magical Express and the addition of parking fees at Disney resorts it has never been a better time to explore off-property Disney hotel options.

Or what if, like us, you just can’t stand to be on someone else’s timetable? Never fear, it’s easier (and probably cheaper) than you may think to rent a car at Disney World.

Here’s why we do it, even though we stay on property:

1. Airport Flexibility

Yes, we keep saying it but with Disney’s free Magical Express shuttle service gone in 2022 the motivation to fly into Orlando International Airport (MCO) isn’t as strong. Before most families flew into Orlando airport specifically for the option to get to the resort with no thought involved. We’ve rounded up a list of how to get from the Orlando airport to Disney World in 2022.  If you have a larger family it may be more affordable to rent a minivan rather than pay for six seats on shuttle service. Families should look at surrounding airports near Disney to find the best prices on airfare if they plan to rent a car at Disney World.

Airports near Disney World include Orlando International Airport (MCO), Orlando Sanford (45 minutes), Tampa (1 hr 15 min), Daytona Beach (1 hr 15 min), St. Pete-Clearwater (1 hr 45 min), and Sarasota Bradenton (2 hrs). Opening yourself up to these options if you’re going to rent a car at Disney World allows you to explore some budget carriers like  that don’t fly in and out of MCO.

2. Time is Money

If this were the only reason I could give, we’d still rent a car on our trips. Despite traveling to Disney theme parks frequently, I will be the first to admit I’m a total grouch when I have to wait on someone else to get me where I want to go. Disney buses “come frequently,” and although timing is available in the My Disney Experience app we haven’t always found it accurate. Bus timing and reliability was SheBuysTravel Nasreen Stump’s biggest issue with her recent All-Star Movies stay. Time spent waiting for Disney buses and other transportation is time that could be spent better in the theme parks.

Disney added on-property parking fees back in 2019 with the fee varying on the hotel level you’re staying at. One free space is included on campsites at Fort Wilderness resort. Value resorts are $15/night, moderate resorts charge $20/night, and deluxe resorts will cost you $25/night to park. While no one relishes in added fees it is nice to know that resort guests will not be charged when parking at the theme parks in addition to overnight parking fees. Please note that Shades of Green, Walt Disney World‘s Swan and Dolphin, and the Swan Reserve have their own parking fees and free theme park parking may not apply.

Learn more about the differences between value, moderate and deluxe resort hotels at Walt Disney World.

Ample trunk space is one reason to rent a car at Disney World.
Being able to throw a stroller, jackets, souvenir bags, and whatever else we’ve accumulated is a great reason to rent a car at Walt Disney World. Photo: Jennifer Kaufman

3. Kids and All Their Gear

We are mostly out of the stroller phase, since my youngest turned four last year. But if you do have a stroller, it’s so much easier to throw it (and everything that has found its way into it) into the trunk of a car at the end of a long day, than to hold everything in your hands while trying to fold and unfold the stroller for the bus. And not lose the kids.

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you don’t have a car, please note that the monorail, some boats, and the Skyliner will allow you to roll your single stroller directly on without folding it. This is invaluable information when you have sleeping kids!

4. Nap Time

As mentioned above, sometimes the kids need to sleep – perhaps especially at Walt Disney World, right? Even if they don’t, one of our most valuable bits of advice is to head back to your hotel or resort to, at the very least, get a change of scenery mid-day. If your child is nearing meltdown status, you’ll want to make your getaway as quickly as possible.

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5. Fun Outside the Theme Parks

Whether or not you’re staying on property, it’s worth noting that Walt Disney World is so, so much more than just four parks and a bunch of hotels. With two water parks, multiple golf courses (miniature and that other kind), Disney Springs, Disney’s Boardwalk, and much more, you should absolutely check out some of the things outside the parks. While there is generally transportation available to these locations one way or another, sometimes because they aren’t as high-traffic, the bus routes are combined and/or make multiple stops along the way.

Family with leis at Polynesian Village, an attraction that's easy to access when you rent a car at Disney World
The Spirit of Aloha Luau show at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is just one of many things outside of the four parks you can get to easily with a car. Photo credit: Jennifer Kaufman

6. Visit Resort Hotels

No matter what you call your home away from home on your Disney vacation, the restaurants, tours, decor (especially at Christmas!), and entertainment at each of the Disney resorts on property should be on your radar. Guests can visit other resorts using complimentary Disney transportation but it can be challenging. For example if you’re staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge and were heading to Riviera to eat at Toppolino’s you’d have to go from AKL to a theme park or Disney Springs then catch a bus or Skyliner to Riviera. Driving is much easier. To drive a vehicle onto a property other than the one you’re staying at you must have a dining or experience reservation.

7. Rental Cars Allow You to Explore More of Florida

While we’ve rarely left Walt Disney World property when we’re in Florida, we know a lot of folks like to take full advantage of their time in the sun. There is so much to do and see within a short drive of Walt Disney World including adding a beach day near Disney, exploring Tampa, or even adding on an additional adventure or theme parks.

white mazda cx-5 in front of cvs
After hours pharmacy trip? You’ll save a lot of time and money being able to drive there yourself! Photo Credit: Jennifer Kaufman

8.  Grocery/Pharmacy Runs

Walt Disney World is absolutely doable without wheels of your own. More than any other place I’ve ever been, you can get everything delivered to you – from groceries and baby gear to medication. There are even on-property urgent cares. That said, having a car for a pharmacy run (or seven, on our last trip) is nice. These types of errands always strike at inopportune times. Having a car makes it easier.

Car Rental Companies and Where to Rent a Car at Disney World

The majority of guests will use a car rental location at their arrival airport. You’ll step off the plane, head to the car rental counter to pick-up your rental vehicle, and then drop off back at the airport on your departure date. Orlando International Airport boasts a myriad of rental car companies. On airport options include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, Payless, Sixt, and Thrifty. There are a whopping 28 off airport car rental options in the area. Personally we look to the larger companies where we know what to expect. If you decide to rent with an off airport option research policies and read reviews.

If you don’t need a rental vehicle for your entire Disney stay but are just looking to take a day trip be sure to look at the Walt Disney World Car Care Center (1000 West Car Care Drive Bay Lake, Florida 32830). Located near Magic Kingdom this is a convenient option that you can get to on Disney’s complimentary shuttle. Rental car companies available at the Car Care Center are Enterprise, Alamo Rent a Car, and National Car Rental. Past guests may remember that there was a car rental location at EPCOT area resorts the Swan and Dolphin hotels. This option has closed.

How to Save Money on a Disney World Rental Car

A few quick things we remind our friends about rental cars are:

Look at available discount codes when renting a car at Disney World.

You may get initial sticker shock with add-on fees. Many companies offer discounts based on age, profession, and military service. Look at all memberships you have. We’ve found AAA discounts, USAA discounts, discounts through Costco, and even AARP discounts. Did you know you don’t actually have to be a specific age to join AARP and get the discounts? Yup. Anyone is eligible. Promotions also exist based on the time of year for one way rentals and more.

Check the price repeatedly or use an app to do it for you.

Rental car prices fluctuate wildly. When you book your July rental in January they know you want it. The cost is higher. If in June they realize they actually have a lot of excess inventory they’ll slash those prices. They aren’t going to tell you that. Make calendar reminders to check the cost again or use AutoSlash’s track a rental function to watch for cheaper options automatically.

Don’t forget about tolls.

You’ve arrived into Orlando and in your bleary joy filled rush for Lake Buena Vista and all things Disney you jump on the toll road. The rental car company is now going to charge you for that toll and a daily fee for each day of your rental even if you only had tolls on two days. It’s a money maker for them. Either plan around tolls or sign up for a visitor toll pass ahead of time. Then decline your rental cars toll coverage and pick up your pass in the Orlando Airport using the app provided. Easy and saves you a ton!

Research ahead of time if you need to find a rental car that doesn’t require a credit card in Orlando.

We see this come up a lot in discussion. Most rental car companies require a credit card. I’ve seen renters picking up who were surprised by this fact, or thought their debit card would be enough. Always do your research. Some locations require a debit card with a Visa/Mastercard logo. Some put a hold on for the entire rental amount plus a several hundred dollar deposit. You may be required to show a return airline ticket. There may be a minimum age. Your drivers license address must match your current address. Above all else just because you were able to rent through a specific company without a credit card in another destination doesn’t mean the process is repeatable. Different locations may have different policies.

Learn more about how to save on rental cars here. 

Make the Best Choice for Your Family

It’s certainly not a requirement to rent a car on a Walt Disney World vacation. You can use Uber, Lyft, or multiple available paid shuttle services to get to the Walt Disney World resort area from the airport.

A rental car may not be right for your family, but if any of our reasons resonate with you – especially the one about being particularly impatient (I know it can’t just be me!) – please at least don’t overlook the option. Whichever decision you make, you’ll be in the most magical place on Earth.

And even if I have to ride a bus, I’ll take that over being home almost any day.

Do you usually rent a car or rely on the free transportation when you visit Walt Disney World?

Jennifer Kaufman is a stay-at-home mom of three travel-crazy kids: twin girls and their little brother. Commonly known as “that Disney family”, she and her husband have discovered that the very things that draw them to Disney destinations – the story, the attention to detail, and the “little things” – can often be found anywhere they look. She has always had an insurmountable case of wanderlust, daydreaming of what it would be like to pick up the family and move to Europe for a few years, or perhaps live off of a boat for a while. As she waits for such a grand adventure, she has dedicated herself to exploring the stories and details wherever she travels, and finding the joy in the everyday moments at home. Jennifer and her family can be found in articles, videos, and podcast episodes at The Delightful Life.
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16 responses

  1. Now that resorts charge a nightly parking fee, having a car is more expensive – even value resorts charge guests $13 per night to park. We used to always take the buses, but after quite a few trips standing in a LONG line at the end of the night with sore feet waiting for bus, then waiting a long time for ECVs to load, then standing on the bus jammed in like sardines for the ride back, and constantly being late to rope drop in the morning because there just aren’t enough buses running in the morning – I had enough. I spend a lot of money to be at Disney and spending a couple extra hundred dollars to have a comfy ride that’s ready to go whenever I need it is totally worth it. So worth it. I will never go to WDW without a car again. Ever.

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  3. We have taken 3 Disney vacations with our boys, and tried money saving methods (flying into Sanford the first time, and renting a car and staying off-site last year), which always seem to backfire. My advice is to just book everything through Disney, stay on site, take the Disney shuttle from the Orlando airport, enjoy the Disney transportation, and relax! You’re going to spend money no matter what, so enjoy your vacation and don’t add unnecessary stress.
    If you must rent a car, do NOT rent from Sixt Rent a Car. We rented a van for a family Disney vacation and returned it undamaged on 6-24-16. Upon return, a Sixt employee inspected the vehicle thoroughly, and said, in effect, that the car was OK, and we were good to go. There are four adult witnesses in our party who will attest to that. In addition, Sixt emailed us a return receipt on 6-26-16, with no mention of any damage.
    18 days after the return on 7-12-16, we recieved an email from Sixt accusing us of damaging the vehicle. I refuted their claim, and asked for photos. They sent blurry photos taken in the dark, of which the date taken properties had been removed from the photo files.
    157 days after the return on 11-29-16, we received an email from Alternative Claims Management asking for $1680.99 for damages. I again refuted their claim that any damage to the vehicle occurred while it was in our care. I received another email on 3-15-17 asking for $1207.68. It included some new photos taken in the daylight, which looked like someone had taken a baseball bat to the vehicle. It was obvious damage to the hood, which would have immediately been noticed upon the vehicle’s return.
    Renting from Sixt was the worst travel decision we’ve ever made. If you’re renting in Orlando, choose a major company who is set up at the airport, and avoid waiting around for a shuttle to hell.

  4. Another great option for alternate transportation throughout Disney, and especially between resorts, is Uber. It’s very efficient and fairly inexpensive. It also saves the hassle of walking or finding a tram back to the parking lot (especially at MK where you have to go the whole way to the TTC).

    1. We do love using Uber in WDW! Last I experienced you couldn’t actually take it to or from the Magic Kingdom, but you can take the quick walk to the Contemporary and get one there!

  5. Great advice! Thanks 🙂

  6. I agree. Having your own transportation is nice. But you also have to consider the cost of parking. Most of those places you mentioned charge for parking and when you also take into the account the cost of the rental car, you’ve added a fairly significant expense to your trip.

    1. That’s an excellent point, and one I didn’t think of. If you’re staying on property (or have an annual pass) parking is free though, so many people will probably overlook that as I did. Super pricey if you have to pay though, so worth making a note while crunching numbers. Thanks!

  7. #7 is so valuable! Its a time saver (and a major convenience) to be able to make that necessary grocery run, especially when staying at a ‘home away from home” resort 🙂

    1. We have always thought this, especially since we have had trips on which we needed emergency runs, etc. On our most recent trip though, we were literally at the pharmacy 6 or 7 times as two different illnesses made their way through our family. We’d have probably given up if driving there wasn’t an option!

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  9. I would not have co side Ted this car rental option before reading your frank advice. Thank you.

    1. Thanks! It’s obviously not necessary and for many travel groups the likelihood of truly needing car go down. Always worth having somewhere in mind though. Each trip is different!

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