The Frog Family enjoys nothing more than a great, well-planned trip to Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando or the other theme parks. Of course, there is plenty of planning that goes into a trip to Orlando. Getting to and from Orlando is one of those big logistics. After all, you can’t get that dream vacation started without first arriving safely in Orlando!
While driving is an option for many frog squads that grace relatively local ponds. Even so, you can frequently find frogtastic enough deals to make flying a more cost-effective and efficient possibility. For many of us who are beyond a hop, skip and a jump away from Orlando, flying is the only choice. We're here to offer you the most critical ins and outs of Orlando International Airport to help you have a fun, safe and smooth travel experience from touchdown to take-off.
Orlando International Airport Overview
The Orlando International Airport hosts Aer Lingus, AeroMexico, Air Canada, Air Transat, Alaska, American Airlines, Avianca, Azul, BahamasAir, British Airways, Caribbean Airlines, CopaAirlines, Delta, Edelweiss, Emirates, Eurowings, Frontier, IcelandAir, JetBlue, LATAM, Lufthansa, Magni Charters, Miami Air, Norwegian, Silver Airways, Southwest, Spirit, SunCountry, Sunrise, Sunwing, Thomas Cook, United, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic, Volaris, WestJet and World Atlantic Airlines.
Depending on your airline, you will end up at Terminal A or B. You can check out where you’ll be headed ahead of time, or follow the signs guiding you at the airport. With 129 gates at MCO, it’s not hard to get lost … or distracted by the fun Disney and Universal stores. (Hop tip: If you forget to grab a souvenir for your cousin Kermit during your trip, simply pick one up before your flight home at one of these on-site shops!)
Other Orlando Airports
Orlando International Airport (MCO) is our main focus here. However, Orlando has a much smaller, secondary airport that is an option to fly into as well. We find that Orlando-Sanford Airport (SFB) has two main differentiators. First, budget airline Allegiant Air flies in and out of SFB. Second, and most importantly, this smaller airport is about 30 minutes further from “Tourist Town” than MCO. This means that while you may find a much better deal on flights, you will rack up more cost in taxi fares to arrive to your destination — whether that be Disney, Universal, SeaWorld or downtown. It’s also important to know that Disney’s Magical Express does not offer transportation here.
We have had a few first-timer frog friends accidentally book flights at SFB instead of MCO, thinking it was the closest airport. It isn’t a bad option, you just need to factor in whether it's actually a cost savings or most efficient for your family.
Navigating Orlando International Airport with Kids
We know that airports can be difficult to navigate — especially if you have tadpoles in tow. Luckily, Orlando International is pretty straight forward and has great navigational tools. Throughout the airport, you’ll find interactive kiosks that allow you to search for your gate, find restaurant options and map out where you’re headed. Luckily, Orlando International Airport is one of the kid-friendliest airports around.
At the main hub where terminals A and B meet, you’ll find quite a few fun places to shop if you have some time to kill. Let your tadpoles explore the SeaWorld store for a Shamu plush, or grab a chocolate frog from the on-site Universal store’s massive selection of Harry Potter merchandise. There are two separate Disney stores at the airport that have all of your theme park snack favorites, as well as classic and trendy merchandise to take home with you. There’s even a pin station! Don’t forget to take pictures with all of the great Disney displays.
If you (or your wallet) have had enough of the theme parks, there are a few other fun places to keep your tadpoles entertained. Natalie’s Candy Jar is an adorable, classic candy shop that will have your little ones ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the fun flavors. This is a great place to pick up a couple fun snacks for them to enjoy on the flight. Nothing can make a flight more enjoyable than snacking on your favorite sweets!
Right next door you’ll find an arcade. This is the perfect spot to let your tadpoles burn off energy before a long flight. There’s a nice seating area outside for mom and dad to relax while the kids game away. We consider Natalie’s Candy Jar and the Arcade to be the dynamic duo of destinations if you have free time! There is also a 3,000-gallon aquarium that is a good place to pass the time and see some of our fishy friends.
On the “grown-up” side of things, there are plenty of fun places to shop for you too. My favorite stop is LUSH to get my favorite bath bombs to throw in the pond when I get home. Sometimes you need to decompress after an action-packed vacation, right? There are also all of the essentials such as on-site banks and a TSA Pre-Check Center. (Quick tip: If lines are long at your airline’s desk, and your baggage is already checked, you can find general check-in kiosks that allow you to print boarding passes from a variety of airlines across the airport.)
We also love that the Orlando Airport offers a wide variety in dining, from something quick and budget-friendly like Chick-Fil-A, to a nice sit-down meal at Macaroni Grill. Flexible options are perfect for frog families like ours!
There is also free public wifi and also five lounges at Orlando International Airport for passenger use:
Security at the Orlando International Airport
Orlando International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the country. The lines almost always look especially long, and they can be during peak seasons over even peak times of day. But we have also found the airport and security personnel at Orlando International Airport to be among the friendliest and most efficient that we've hopped to. If you want to have the best shot at lower waits, we generally recommend booking the earliest flights available, but then you might also have grumpy tadpoles (it's a trade off). While there’s always the chance that you can stroll through security with no wait, we recommend allotting about an hour to get through the line — just in case. If you typically arrive at your local, low-key airport two hours ahead of your flight, we recommend getting to the Orlando International Airport three hours in advance.
Standard airport security procedures apply here. Be prepared to remove all food and large electronics from your bags (anything larger than a cell phone) and put them in their own separate bin. We know this can be a hassle if you’ve stocked up on snacks for the trip, which by the way, we highly recommend to save money and prevent any tadpole meltdowns. No beverages are allowed through security, so don’t make the mistake of buying each tadpole an apple juice just before heading through. Also, don't forget about those souvenirs on the return trip. There were tears when we made the ultimate mistake of not checking Lily's Wizarding World of Harry Potter snow globe, and it had to be surrendered.
Gates at the Orlando International Airport
Once you get past security, you'll hop on a train to your intended gate. From your terminal, you'll have two trains to choose from. At this point, you need to know your gate number. If you make a mistake and hop on the wrong train, you'll have to take another train back to the terminal, exit the secure area and go through security AGAIN. (Yes, we've made this mistake. We like to consider it part of our research to help you.)
At the gates, you'll find more shops, a food court and other services. Yes, you can get your Starbucks fix. If there is enough time, you need a little pampering and you've got someone watching the tadpoles, we highly recommend escaping to the Xpresspa, which is in three of the four gate areas (there is also a location in the main terminal). If you're looking for a refreshing dining respite from the airport hubbub, we highly recommend Cask & Larder, on Airside 2 and serving Gates 100-129. Set under the tree at this farm-to-table restaurant offering Southern-inspired cuisine and you'll almost believe you're picniking outside. You worker-bee types can also plug in your device along the counter/bar areas.
Disney’s Magical Express at the Orlando International Airport
As a mom, I would like to personally thank the generous genius who thought of offering Disney’s Magical Express. This is a complimentary shuttle service offered to Disney Resort hotel guests. The Disney-adorned bus will be the first touch of magic you see upon your arrival to Orlando International Airport, and we love how it plays fun Disney videos during your trip to the resort. As if you weren’t excited enough already, this will really get you in the spirit for your vacation.
Disney’s Magical Express is in the Main Terminal Building on Side B, Level 1 in the Ground Transportation area. It’s all the way in the corner, so just keep walking and following the signs. It’s there, we promise! There is a plethora of signs that will easily guide you, even if you’re not the most navigational frog. You’ll take the train from your gate and arrive on Level 3 of the Main Terminal Building, then proceed to Side B and take the escalator or elevator to Level 1. If you have checked baggage, be sure to stop first at Level 2 for baggage claim. However, Disney will send you special luggage tags and will grab these for you, if you want! They will be delivered directly to your room later that day. While at first the idea of not seeing our luggage arrive made us nervous, we have never had any problems with this — and it takes such a burden off of our plate!
There’s a check-in station for Disney’s Magical Express that offers super easy and efficient support. (We wouldn’t expect anything less from Disney!) Make sure you have your MagicBands ready to rock, as the first “swipe” of the trip will be used to check you in and confirm your transportation. In our experience, they only need to scan one per group, but have every member of your party’s bands accessible just in case. Don’t make the mistake of packing these in your checked luggage like we did the first time. (While the cast member can eventually find your reservation information, this is strongly discouraged as it adds a lot of time and stress for everyone involved.) The cast member will direct you to the appropriate line, and shortly thereafter, you will board and head to the most magical place on Earth! Disney’s Magical Express does make stops at multiple resorts, so kick back, relax and enjoy the ride. We like to take this time to rest up for our first day.
Car Rentals, Ride Share & More at Orlando International Airport
As we mentioned before, Orlando International Airport is an incredibly high-traffic airport. If your plan is to rent a car, be sure to book this ahead of time. On more than one occasion, we have seen every single rental car vendor sold out of vehicles. We recommend doing so as soon as your flight is confirmed. A bonus is that prices tend to be cheaper the further out you book, so you can hunt for the best deal!
The rental car companies are located on both the A and B sides of the terminal on Level 1. Simply follow signs for ground transportation, and you won’t be able to miss the long wall of vendors. Orlando International Airport offers the choices of Advantage, Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, E-Z, Hertz, National, Payless or Thrifty. The streets of Orlando can be pretty chaotic, so definitely go for a car you will feel comfortable driving that can accommodate your entire frog squad and cargo.
If you’d rather have someone else drive for you, there are always options such as Lyft. There is a small fee (usually less than $5) for pickup and drop-off at the airport. Always check for deals before confirming payment! You can search online to see if there are any discounts or promo codes. You will meet your driver at the Ground Transportation area on Level 1. These apps do a great job of mapping out the Orlando International Airport, so you’ll know exactly where to find your driver.
As with any airport, there is a near-endless list of taxi and car services available. You can find all those that serve the Orlando International Airport here. If you have a large party and no need for rental cars, we find this to be a good option. You can also opt for a shuttle service such as Mears.
Hotels at Orlando International Airport
If you fly into Orlando International Airport late at night, or have a departing flight early the next morning, staying at an on-site or nearby hotel is an excellent option. Luckily, Orlando International Airport has quite a few great ones to choose from. If you have young tadpoles, we really advocate for this approach to avoid adding on to existing airport stress with exhausted, grumpy little ones. And if you don’t arrive until after midnight, it may not even be worth the expense of paying for a “full night” at your actual hotel near the tourist destinations, as oftentimes these are more costly.
Right at the center of the Orlando International Airport is the Hyatt Regency. Can it get any more convenient than that? If you have an early flight the following morning and don’t want to worry about arriving on time or transportation, this is your best bet. This hotel has great rooms and a Roman-style outdoor pool with runway views. Not a bad way to spend the night!
Not on-site but incredibly close-by is Homewood. This hotel offers complimentary shuttle service to Orlando International Airport and free breakfast. (I’m a sucker for free food.) Standard rooms are 1-2 bedrooms with full kitchens and can fit up to six adults! It is within walking distance of several restaurants and overall a great option whether staying for a night or a week.
The Holiday Inn Express is just a few miles away from the airport and offers a free hot breakfast, complimentary Wi-fi and many other standard amenities. A huge differentiator here is that your furry friends are welcome — even large ones!
Well, there you have it. The Frog Family’s Insider Guide to the Orlando International Airport. We hope this helps you travel with ease when you’re headed to your favorite tourist destinations. Read more about traveling to and from Orlando airport. Have a tip or time saver we haven’t mentioned? Share it in comments below.