Do you need to rent a car in Orlando?
By Helen Wright
Do you need to rent a car in Orlando? This is definitely something people struggle with when beginning to plan a trip to the Florida theme parks for the first time. The answer depends on so many different factors, but in this post, I have tried to break down the pros and cons of renting a car for your trip to Orlando.
This post forms part of passportstamps.uk Disney and Orlando mini guides. To work out whether you will need a car in Orlando, it will help to have an idea of what you want to do during your trip. If you haven’t a clue and need inspiration, return to the Ultimate Disney Trip planner. Or, to look at a sample two-week itinerary for Orlando, click here.
(Cover image: Concavo Wheels. This post contains affiliate links)
DO YOU NEED A CAR IN ORLANDO?
In my opinion, renting a car in Orlando will significantly improve your visit. If you can’t or really don’t want to drive, there are options available (some of which I have detailed below). But exploring Orlando and making the most of your time there will be significantly more difficult without your own vehicle. Theme park shuttles and resort transport are great for moving around the resorts, but if you are staying, for example, at a Disney hotel and you want to go to Universal Orlando – that will be a 25 minute drive (or cab ride), even longer on public transport or shuttle buses. Same applies for trips to other non-resort attractions such as the Florida Mall, Premium Outlets or I-drive. Of course, anything is possible in Orlando, like in most of America, life is more convenient if you have a car.
If you aren’t sure about driving in the USA (six lane highways and being on the ‘other side of the road’) or want to find out more about how car hire and insurance works, read about my experience and get some useful advice.
Renting a car in Orlando: What do you have planned for your trip?
The Disney-only experience
Some people want the full ‘Disney’ experience when they come to Orlando. For this, they arrive in Florida, take Disney’s Magical Express* or the Brightline light rail directly to the Walt Disney World resort and stay put in the Disney bubble until they have to fly home. Guests on this kind of trip won’t need a car because once at the Disney resort, they can use Disney transportation (buses, monorail, boats and cable car) to get around free of charge.
Not having a car in Orlando is absolutely fine if your plan is to do Disney-only (better, in fact, as you can avoid rental costs and parking charges at your hotel). However, there are downsides to using the Disney resort transport. Sometimes you may find yourself waiting in line or not being able to fit on the first bus during busy times. Getting around can be time-consuming, depending on the resort you are staying in, as buses serve multiple hotels. Often you have to go via Disney Springs or one of the resorts and change bus to get where you want, so it’s not always a simple plan. All the resort transportation is accessible, but Florida State law requires you to fold your stroller on the bus and so you will have to take out your child and put them on a seat or on your lap.
The restrictions of resort transport is that you are limiting how much you can leave the Disney resort property. Without your own vehicle, trips to the other theme parks, such as Universal Orlando and SeaWorld, and non-theme park attractions around Orlando will need to be taken by taxi or pre-booked transfer. Taxis are relatively cheap in Orlando (if you use Uber / Lyft) but every journey adds up and they not as convenient and hassle-free as having your own car.
*Disney have announced that Disney’s Magical Express will cease operation in 2022
Children’s car seats
A big plus of not renting a car in Orlando for families is that public transport (resort transport) eradicates the need for infant and child car seats. Travelling abroad with your car seat can be a hassle, particularly if you have more than one child. However, baby items, including car seats, are free to take on most airlines.
If this is the first time you are travelling long-haul with young children, read our post on flying with babies and children, which has everything you need to know about seat requirements, luggage, ticketing and experience. I also cover international car seat requirements and offer some good advice in this post about driving in the USA.
The full Orlando experience
I am definitely not someone who’s happy to stay at the same resort for my whole trip. I love the variety of visiting both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resorts, and Orlando is a fantastic destination to visit even if you don’t go to any theme parks at all! Plus, staying on a theme park resort isn’t the only option when it comes to accommodation in Orlando. If you plan to stay at a villa or an off-resort hotel, having a car will also make getting around Orlando, as well as to and from the theme parks, much quicker and easier.
My Orlando two-week sample itinerary will give you a really good idea of what you can do in Orlando, including Disney and Universal, and might help you decide if you do need to rent a car in Orlando.
Going to the beach in Orlando…
As well as the variety of attractions, restaurants and activities in Orlando itself, it’s worth remembering that Orlando is in central Florida. If you fancy topping up your tan on the beach, you’ll have to include a little road trip into your itinerary. We absolutely loved Tampa and I highly recommend a trip there and staying a couple of nights if you can. There is so much to do – take a look at our list of brilliant 19 things to do in Tampa! For a day trip, we also love Daytona Beach and of course, the gorgeous white sandy shores of St Petersburg, Clearwater, Cocoa Beach, Fort Lauderdale and The Florida Keys are also a short drive away.
What to expect if you decide to rent a car in Orlando
If you decide to rent a car in Orlando, I highly recommend you make the booking in the UK before you leave. We virtually always use holidayautos.co.uk or Hertz.co.uk for the best and most user-friendly deals for UK drivers. Feel free to shop around for better prices on car rental in Orlando, but we have been caught out before with hidden charges, untrustworthy agents and long waiting times. Hertz and holidayautos.co.uk (which provide a voucher, usually for Hertz or Dollar) have been the most consistent, competitive and reliable in our considerable experience.
Picking up your car at Orlando International Airport is so easy. You are directed to the ‘ground transportation’ area for your terminal and from there, make a beeline to the car rental provider you have chosen. Once initial paperwork is sorted, simply cross over the road to the parking lot, head to the numbered bay for your vehicle and drive out via the exit booth, where an agent will check for existing damage and confirm your details. Returning the car is even more simple, just drive in and leave the car in the marked area. An agent check your mileage and for any damage and then you can head straight into the terminal for your flight!
I always take photos of the car, including the licence number and mileage, as you never know if you will need these details (if your car is stolen or you are in an accident, for example).
Which car to rent and Rental costs
For two adults and two children, plus luggage, we usually go for a mid-size SUV. When we visited with five adults, we upgraded to a large SUV. If you are travelling with other adults, (or even long-legged teenagers), or you have a wheelchair, pushchair or extra luggage, I would opt for the bigger car.
An average cost for a mid-size SUV with basic insurance for seven days is £250. It’s worth noting that extras such as child car seats, GPS and young driver premiums are paid for on site at the destination (not in advance) and are in addition to the rental fee. For detailed information about car rental insurance, visit our post onrenting a car in America. Fuel is very cheap in the USA (compared to in Europe) so you won’t spend that much on fuel – even if you drive to the Florida Keys and back! Car rentals charge a premium if you bring the car back empty, so we always go for the option to return with a full tank of gas. There are multiple gas stations between the tourist area and the airport.
What to do about children’s car seats
Child car seats are $10 per day, per child, which is quite significant over a two week trip. We have our own US Approved car seats (for more information on using European car seats in the USA, see our travelling with a baby post) which we bring with us from the UK.
We purchased our car seats from Walmart and they were around $65 each. The closest Walmart to Orlando International Airport is 4.4 miles away (Walmart Supercenter, 5991 S Goldenrod Rd, Orlando, FL 32822) and it’s vital to purchase the seats in advance and book a click and collect for the day you land, as stores don’t always have them in stock. Walmart doesn’t always accept international credit cards but you can pay with PayPal.
Logistics-wise, you have two options: One driver can take the rental car to Walmart to collect the car seats and return to the airport to pick up the family and children. MCO (Orlando International) has a huge choice of restaurants, shops and lounge areas so you will have plenty to do while you wait. Or, you can choose to all drive to the Walmart together. Obviously, your children won’t be legally strapped in for this journey, so I am not able to officially recommend you do this. On occasions when we have travelled, I have put my baby in the Ergobaby carrier, facing me and I sit in the back with the seatbelt on (under her bum, not across her back) for short journeys, such as small taxi rides, and we strap our toddler in using the regular seatbelt. Obviously you can choose the best option if you feel comfortable with this but, a reminder that it is illegal in the state of Florida for children to travel without proper restraints.
Buying a car seat might be too much hassle for one trip, but if you plan to visit the USA on multiple trips during the years that your children are required to be in the seats, you can save hundreds of pounds. Plus, provided the seats aren’t damaged, you could even share the cost with friends who are also flying out on holiday with kids.
Keep an eye on parking charges at your hotel
One thing to watch out for when you book your hotel are parking charges at your resort. Most hotels at Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and Disney Partner hotels charge for parking, so be sure to build that into the cost of your stay when you are planning a budget. As a guide, parking at Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel (deluxe) is $25 per night and at Art of Animation (value), it’s $16 per night. Guests staying at Disney resort hotels can park at the Disney theme parks for free.
TOP TIP: Some packages from the UK with Virgin Holidays, staying at Universal Orlando resort (preferred and premier hotels) include hotel parking.
So there you have it! Hopefully, after this you will have a clearer idea on whether you will need to rent a car in Orlando.
Still in planning mode? Take a look at some of our related posts on Orlando and Disney:
Plan your trip with our Disney Trip Planner
Where to get the best deals on Orlando theme park tickets
Save money on your Disney trip by getting your official Disney merchandise in advance – here is how.
What to pack: Follow our guide on what to wear at the theme parks
How much does a trip to Disney REALLY cost? We break it all down for you bit by bit.
The best stroller for Disney World
What is the cheapest way to book a holiday to Orlando?
Think you love Disney? Try our REALLY HARD Disney quiz