With airfares continuing to skyrocket, I thought I'd share a few tips this week about driving to Walt Disney World. My family and I usually drive to WDW (about 12 hours one-way), mostly because it's far less expensive (even with the recent jump in gas prices) than flying. Five airline tickets can be quite a pill to swallow.
Driving to Walt Disney World presents it's own special opportunities and challenges. In previous posts, I talked about driving around Walt Disney World and about how to take advantage of the Central Florida Greenway to avoid driving on I-4 through Orlando.
This week, I want to talk more about the though process when considering driving versus flying and what kind of time frame you should think about when planning your drive.
To Drive or not to Drive, that is the question
When considering how to get to Walt Disney World, there are several factors to consider when thinking about driving versus flying.
Some of the things to keep in mind when considering flying are:
- Airline fares - how much is each ticket and how many tickets do you need?
- All those fun fees - you're going to want to take some clothes to wear, so just how much will those bags cost you?
- Airport destination - can you fly into Orlando International Airport (MCO) and, thus take advantage of Disney's Magical Express? If not...
- Airport transfers - if you're not flying into MCO (because of a cheaper rate into another airport) then you'll have to find some way to get from the airport (Tampa, Sanford, Daytona Beach, Melbourne, etc.) to Walt Disney World, which leads to...
- Car Rental rates - most people decide to rent a car if they're flying into an airport other than MCO. You'll need to factor in the costs for car rentals
- Departure and Arrival times: Depending on when you can arrive (and, later, depart), you might be able to get an extra half-day in your trip. Also keep in mind the time required to get to the airport, go through security and collect bags at your destination.
Some of the things to keep in mind when considering driving are:
- Mileage - You're hitting the road and you're going to be covering a lot of miles -- most likely hundreds of miles, if not more than a thousand, and that means you'll need a lot of...
- Gas - Gas prices are about a predictable as Charlie Sheen's career right now. Prices continue to fluctuate greatly. You need to know how large your car's gas tank is, what your car's average mileage per gallon is, and then calculate how much gas you'll need to get to WDW and back.
- Time - it's no surprise that driving takes longer than flying. Do you have enough time to drive or will driving eat too much into your available time?
- What's along the way - I strongly encourage stopping along the way. You want to get to WDW safely, and that means taking a few opportunities to rest and stretch. A drive to WDW can turn into a family road trip adventure. Are there some fun places to stop along the way? No, this isn't National Lampoon's Vacation, but it might be a chance to see a few sights.
When you boil it all down it comes to one key decision: Time vs. Money. It's probably going to be cheaper to drive, but it's going to be faster to fly. Which is more valuable to you? Time or Money? Which can you afford to spend more of?
For me, and my family of five, we usually drive from Virginia. Here's the calculation that led me to decide to drive: Flying to WDW (MCO) costs as low as $225 (round-trip) per person out of our regional airport. Right now rates are much higher ($300+), but I'll go with the lowest amount here. Flying into MCO means we can use Disney's Magical Express and not incur any transportation costs. Total cost: About $1400.
We do have a low-cost airline that flys into Sanford. Those rates are about $49 a person one-way (about $99 one-way once you add in all the fees), but then there's transportation costs to consider (like renting a car). Total cost: $1200+
It's about 750 miles, or 12-hours drive time to Walt Disney World from the house (according to online mapping pages). Given that the car's gas tank can hold 20 gallons of gas and gets about 20 miles to the gallon, one tankful of gas is equal to about 400 miles of driving, which means I need two complete tankfuls of gas to drive one-way. Adding in an extra tank of gas for safety, the round-trip total is five tankfuls or 100 gallons of gas. As of this writing, gas is running around $3.55 a gallon for a total of $355 in gas.
When we drive to WDW, we like to break up the trip into two days. We usually leave on day one and drive at least half way (depending on when we can leave - sometimes it's not until late afternoon). Then we get up early the next morning and complete the drive. I like doing this so that when we get to WDW, it's no later than 1 p.m., and often much earlier. Also, I'm not dead tired from driving for 12 hours and can enjoy the first day in the parks. We do the same thing on the return trip. We leave WDW in the late afternoon and drive about half way. This gives us a good half-day at the parks before we have to head home. So, adding in the cost of two overnight hotel stays of about $100 each -- that's an additional $200 to the drive costs.
Adding in the cost of wear and tear is a bit of a guess. I found a AAA source that indicated the maintenance costs for a minivan was around 6-cents a mile (not including gas). So I'll use that number for argument's sake. 750 miles x $.06 = $45 each way ($90 round-trip)
--- Flying: $1200-$1400
--- Driving: $645
Of course, I haven't factored in time yet. To put it simply, flying to WDW takes around 7-9 hours from the time I leave the house to the time I arrive at my resort, depending on layovers and Magical Express.
Driving can take as little as 12 hours if I go non-stop. More often it takes about 18-20 hours depending on how far we go before we stop for the night on travel day 1.
So the real question is -- how much is 10-12 extra hours at WDW worth? For me, it's not worth upwards of $700 or more. For others, it might be, especially if the drive time is much longer.
So there you go -- some of the factors you need to consider when determining how you're going to get to Walt Disney World. There is no right or wrong approach. It just depends on your priorities at the time.
No matter which way you go -- by air or by road, please do so safely!