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Your Orlando Transportation Guide - How to ~Hop~ Around the City and Theme Parks

by Leap on January 6, 2022 Orlando

When visiting Orlando, one of the major planning issues and possible expenses is transportation. It’s less of a concern if you are going to one resort and staying put (say to Disney World or Universal and staying on-site, as they have frogtastic free resort transportation choices on property). But what if you want to hop around and see other parks or engage in other things to do in Orlando outside of the theme parks? Should you rent a car? Use ride-sharing services? Are there shuttles or trains? Now that Disney's Magical Express airport service has ended, it's left many wondering what the options are. But Mears is hopping in to save the day! Plus The Sunshine Flyer starts service to Disney World in February 2022. Let’s go over the Orlando transportation choices to help you find the fastest and easiest way to get around that also protects your wallet. Let's save that vacation budget for fun stuff like churros and souvenirs!

Our Hoppin' Guide to Orlando Transportation

Orlando Transportation Guide - Couple on Monorail in Masks

If you are not driving to Orlando, here are your other options for hopping around the theme parks and the Orlando area. Even if you bring your own car, sometimes it's nice to sit back and enjoy the ride instead of the being head driver or navigator on your vacation time. At this time, any shared ride, including Disney transportation, will require you to follow face-covering protocols.

The main airport that most visitors will fly into is Orlando (MCO). It's approximately 10 miles from Universal and 25 miles to Disney World. Some visitors may fly into Orlando Sanford (SFB), which is about 35 miles from Universal and about 50 miles from Disney World. The transportation options vary depending on which airport you fly into.

Car Rental

Orlando Transportation Guide - Parking at Universal Orlando

Orlando car rentals vary greatly in price depending on when you visit and how far in advance you book. For example, you might be able to find a car for about $20 per day for an economy car during an off time in January, but pay more like $200 per day for the same car between Christmas and New Year’s! It varies greatly per day, but you can always find a hoppin’ deal when you book car rental through Undercover Tourist (you'll save even more if you bundle a car rental with a hotel reservation). Ribbit!

Even if you find a good car rental deal, your hotel may charge a daily rate to park there, so factor that cost in. Plus if you visit other theme parks not associated with your hotel, you’ll have to pay a parking fee at the parks. So consider how much driving you plan to do. If you will be hopping all over Orlando, a rental car gives you the freedom and a known budget.

One way to avoid the parking fee when renting a car is to rent a car from the airport to the hotel and return it at the resort. Then, rent a car for the trip home and return it to the airport. Just be sure there are no fees for dropping it off at a different location. Check the return trip prices before you go book the first rental from the airport to make sure it suits your budget.

Your Orlando Transportation Guide-Toll Road

Remember to consider fuel costs and whether you’ll encounter any tolls — and keep in mind that some Orlando toll areas only accept exact change or may be toll-by-plate only. Most rental car companies now offer the option of paying tolls through usage-based programs. Each company has its own separate fees that vary widely, and some may automatically enroll you if you drive on a toll road, so be sure to research the company's policies to avoid potentially excessive charges. You also have the option to buy a SunPass transponder yourself, and you can receive a refund for your unused balance once you close the account. Or you can bring your own from home, if applicable — for instance, E-ZPass is accepted in Central Florida (but is not available throughout the rest of the state).

If you choose not to get a transponder and then find yourself on a toll road, you can download the E-PASS app or pay by phone at 1 (800) 353-7277. If you froget to pay your toll, you'll receive the toll fee and a fine from your rental car company. Oops! We learned that one the hard way.

Another option that may save you money and headache is to get Uni (formerly named E-PASS Xtra). This pass allows you to travel through 18 states with just one toll account while saving over the cash and toll-by-plate rates. There are no annual or monthly account fees, but there is a cost to activate the prepaid toll account.

You can move Uni from car to car, including your rental car. It is compatible with E-PASS, SunPass, LeeWay, PeachPass, NC QuickPass, E-ZPass, RiverLink, I-PASS, and QuickPass toll systems. You can purchase Uni online, through the App Store, Google Play Store, Amazon or by calling 1(800) 353-7277. Uni works on all tolls and most bridges in the following 18 states:

  • Florida
  • Maryland
  • Rhode Island
  • Indiana
  • Georgia
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • North Carolina
  • New Jersey
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Kentucky
  • Virginia
  • Pennsylvania
  • Maine
  • West Virginia
  • New York
  • Ohio

If you fly into MCO and do not plan to leave the theme park areas, you can get by without encountering any toll roads. If you venture out to do other things, factor in the toll issue. When you fly into SFB, taking the 417 turnpike (with tolls) can save traffic over I-4.

Even though some hotels offer on-site car rentals, these cars are available at premium prices that are much higher than the airport rental locations.

The plus side of renting is convenience, not sharing space with other passengers, being able to take longer car trips to, say, air boats or the coast, and managing your own child car seats.

  • Pros of car rental are convenience, the ability to physically distance from others, knowing your costs and not having to make extra stops. Plus if you stay at a Disney World property, you can get free parking at Disney theme park lots (although you will pay a nightly fee to park at the hotel).
  • Cons are that you may find that you do not need a car much, or you may need to navigate and deal with the stress of parking when you do drive. Watch out for tolls or parking fees at hotels and theme parks.

Ride-Sharing Services

Your Orlando Transportation Guide-Ride Share Drop-off and Pick-up Area at Theme Park

A common way to get about Orlando (and many other cities) is ride-sharing via app-based companies such as Uber and Lyft. The upside is convenience and not having to navigate anywhere or pay for parking at the hotel or theme park. The downside is that there are no standard rates, so it’s hard to budget. If you want to leave as everyone else is leaving the park, the prices will go up due to demand. The bigger the vehicle you need, the more expensive it is. And you have to pay both for your way there and the way back. Plus at peak times you may not find a ride right away or find surge rates. Expect to pay between $15 to $40 each way (we’ve seen options up to $90 for Lux Black XL vehicles!).

If you use the Universal CityWalk parking garage as a pick-up location, there will be an extra $4 charge. But you will not pay that charge if you are dropped off at the garage, or if you are picked up or dropped off at a Universal hotel. So choose your location carefully!

If you are using a ride-sharing service and you want to make a quick stop at the store, you can usually talk to your driver and add a stop to your visit. It may be cheaper and is definitely faster than taking a trip to the store and taking a separate trip back to the hotel.

If you have small tadpoles, you’ll have car seats to worry about. You can request a ride with a car seat, but it can usually accommodate one child in a car seat. So if you have two little ones requiring seats, this may not be the best option for you. Plus you’ll pay extra for a larger car to accommodate the seat. Those costs can add up over multiple uses.

While temporarily unavailable, Disney does offer an on-site rideshare option, called Minnie Van. The Minnie Van service operates through Lyft but is more limited in its area of service; a Minnie Van will only take you to or from the airport, cruise dock or the theme parks. On the upside, the Minnie Van is the only ride-sharing service able to take you directly to your campsite or cabin at Fort Wilderness (for regular Uber or Lyft rides, you meet near the Outpost instead and would then need to take the internal bus system, walk, bike or hop on the golf cart back to your site or cabin). Minnie Vans are driven by actual cast members and generally have several car seat options available. They can also fit larger parties, and there are handicap-accessible vehicles available too. The downside is the price, which starts around $25. We find that the Minnie Van service is especially "worth it" for larger families or those with several tadpoles to buckle in. In our experience, the service has been exceptional and we're hopful it may return.

If you are flying into SFO, you'll pay more on Uber and Lyft than if flying into MCO because it's farther. Budget $60 each way.

  • Pros of ride-sharing services are convenience, and this option can be quick. You'll get direct door-to-door service for the most part.
  • Cons are dealing with child car seats, surge pricing and potential add-on fees or unpredictability. Large families will need larger and more expensive vehicles.

Shuttles

Orlando Transportation Guide - Girls on a BusAre there any shuttles to get you around Orlando? You may look into either airport shuttles (from MCO) or shuttles that transport you between theme park areas or from hotel to theme park. Find out if your hotel offers shuttles to the theme parks. Some off-site hotels have free theme park shuttles.

One of the popular ways to travel between Walt Disney World and the Orlando (MCO) airport is Disney’s Magical Express. This complimentary motor coach takes hotel guests between Walt Disney World Resort hotels and the airport. Note that the service is going away, starting Jan. 1, 2022, so it won't be an option this year, at least for free through Disney. However, Mears, the company that operates Magical Express, announced "Mears Connect." This new service will take over in 2022.

The new "Mears Connect" service will offer direct express service between the airport and Disney World Resort. This will fill the void Magical Express leaves behind. Guests can expect the following:

  • Scheduled service
  • Luggage handling
  • Airport terminal staging
  • Return trips from resorts to the airport

These services have a fee. Look for the launch of the custom reservation platform. Mears will also continue to provide transportation to all theme parks in the area, such as Universal and SeaWorld.

You can see the Mears attraction transportation options here. If you prefer a van service from MCO, you can save a few dollars on this Mears Orlando (MCO) airport round-trip transfer to Disney World.

Disney's other transportation options once you're at the resort — Skyliner, monorail, boats and buses — will not be affected by the changes to Magical Express. But what if you want to visit SeaWorld Orlando, LEGOLAND Florida, Universal Orlando or take a day at Discovery Cove or go on an airboat? There are a few limited options.

Your Orlando Transportation Guide-Mears Shuttle

The Sunshine Flyer is another new option, starting service in February 2022. It offers service direct from MCO to Disney World. All aboard! The buses are themed as 1920s rail motorcoaches, and the bus drivers and staff are dressed as rail conductors and engineers. Luggage handling is expected to launch by summer 2022. Sunshine Flyer Motorcoaches have 3-point harness seatbelts at each seat. You can bring child safety seats or put your child on your lap. when you enter the Sunshine Flyer staging area you will not wait more than 20 minutes for a bus.

If you have a ticket for Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, your park ticket gets you FREE transportation from select Orlando locations with Mears Taxi service. We love free stuff! Call (407) 422-2222. This shared-ride service is temporarily suspended, but keep checking as the situation changes. You will have to get yourself to and from the Orlando pick-up locations, but that is going to be a lot less money than getting any other ride from Orlando to Tampa Bay.

Are you staying along International Drive? You can save a couple dollars per person on this van service round-trip transfer between MCO and your hotel. When traveling to Disney World or Universal Orlando, consider the round-trip Combo Theme Park Express. In the morning, you’ll get picked up curbside on International Drive for drop-offs at either Universal or EPCOT. From EPCOT, you would use Disney World transportation to get to your destination. In the evening pick-ups are from Magic Kingdom, EPCOT or Universal. Groups of 10 or more and people who use wheelchairs should reserve in advance. Speaking of wheelchairs, if you need assistance with luggage from baggage claim, request a porter or skycap to assist you in getting your luggage to the pick-up area. There are multi-day tickets for consecutive days at a discount. You’ll pay per person and tadpoles 3 and under are free.

Another option along International Drive is the I-RIDE Trolley, which connects the ICON Park, SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica Orlando, the Orange County Convention Center, the Orlando International Premium Outlets and the Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets. Both single ride fares and unlimited ride passes are available daily at low costs.

  • Pros of shuttles are they can be convenient, sometimes free and you do not have to worry about car seats.
  • Cons are price per person may add up, transportation may take extra time, and shuttles may fill up and leave you waiting ... and waiting.

Orlando Transportation Guide - Magical Express

Take the Lynx Bus

If you are comfortable with public transportation and a bit of a walk at times, the Lynx bus system can get you to or near the theme parks. The #50 travels between the Walt Disney World Transportation and Ticket Center, Disney Springs Transfer Center and a stop near SeaWorld Orlando. When traveling between Disney World and Universal, the #303 runs between locations on the Disney World property and Universal Orlando parking garage. Schedules may vary by day.

  • Pros of the Lynx bus are that it's affordable transportation.
  • Cons - Drop-off locations may not be close to park entrances. It's a more local way of getting around. That means it's less glamorous and vacation-friendly than options designed specifically for theme parkgoers.

Brightline Railway

Woot! Woot! All aboard! Orlando is becoming more accessible to South Florida beach residents and vacationers. Brightline is constructing a new rail line that will bring passengers from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach to Orlando. There’s a station being built at the South Terminal of the Orlando International Airport. Future construction includes a Disney station at Disney Springs and a Tampa station. Service at Orlando is expected to begin in 2022. The Disney Springs station is estimated to be completed in the second half of 2023. The train will top speeds at 125 mph. The expected travel time is approximately two hours from West Palm Beach to Orlando. This will be a game-changer in terms of Orlando transportation.

  • Pros of the railway is that will provide fast and relaxing transportation from South Florida to Central Florida.
  • Cons are that it's not available just yet.

Hopfully, we've shed some light on your Orlando transportation options. We know it's a tough decision to make with many factors. If you decide to spring for a car rental, bundle it when you book your hotel reservation to save up to 50 percent off!  You'll prepay when you reserve, but you can cancel for free for stress-free travel planning. Don't froget that you can save on Orlando theme park tickets when you purchase through Undercover Tourist! Ribbit!

Related: Rent or Ride? Car Rental Considerations for Your Orlando Vacation

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Disney Skyliner at Disney World

Keep hopping!

Keep hopping, Leap!
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