Transportation is a critical component to planning a successful vacation. Since Orlando and Central Florida do not have a robust public transportation system, it is important that guests be aware of when they will need transportation and what options are available. From taxis, town cars, limos, shuttles, and even trolleys, in this article we will break down all of your options for getting around the United States’ top vacation destination.
Guest Staying on-site at Walt Disney World
For guests staying on-site at Walt Disney World, Disney offers complimentary transportation to and from Orlando International Airport by way of Disney’s Magical Express. You can visit this link to book the service and find out more information. You may also take a look at the Magical Express FAQ for additional information.
Once on Disney property, guests are able to use Disney’s Transportation System completely free of charge. This system, consisting of monorails, buses, and boats enable guests to visit virtually any spot on Disney property. This service is incredible because it is extensive and free. The downside is that, depending on where you are traveling, you may need to allow up to an hour for traveling one way. (For example, there is no direct transportation from Downtown Disney to the theme parks, so you need to take a bus to the Ticket & Transportation Center, then catch another bus to your park of choice.)
Two important notes about Disney’s Transportation System: It only travels on-site. So, if you are going from park to park or if you are staying at one of Disney’s on-site hotels, it usually works out quite well. But it won’t take you anywhere off-site. Second, the on-site transportation system is actually available to anyone — you do not have to stay on-site to use it. So, if you want to spend the morning at Animal Kingdom and the afternoon at Epcot, you are free to use their transportation regardless of where you are staying. You can learn more by clicking here.
Guests staying off-site from Walt Disney World
While venturing off-site from Disney opens up an entire world of new attractions and accommodations, we cannot bring our free Disney transportation with us to Universal, SeaWorld, or International Drive. So now we will look at all the different options for getting around the rest of Orlando and Central Florida.
Let’s will start with one of the most economical option for travel in Orlando, the I-Ride Trolley. For getting around the International Drive area this is by far the lest expensive option. At $1.25 per ride (free for kids 12 and under with a paying adult!), or a variety of unlimited passes ranging from $4 -$17 based on how many unlimited days you choose, this allows for a super inexpensive travel option around International Drive. However, the I-Ride Trolley has a fairly limited footprint (for example, you cannot take the I-Ride Trolley from the airport to the attractions, or from Universal to Disney.) Take a look at our Complete guide to the I-Ride Trolley to learn more about this great value transportation option.
The most economical way to travel around Orlando outside of the I-Drive area is by shared shuttle service. When traveling by this method, you will be in a 15-passenger van with other patrons. By combining your trip with others you will be able to get discounted rates for the trip. This a great way to visit local attractions and also get out to some of the farther out spots like Cocoa Beach, the Tampa area, or Kennedy Space Center.
Mears Transportation offers this service for $19-$21 for one-way adult travel for Disney/Universal from the Orlando International Airport. While going from the airport to the theme parks is the primary use for the shared shuttle service with Mears, other scenarios may apply as well. For example, if you are staying on-site at Universal or in the International Drive area and you’d like to visit Disney World, many times Mears will have a shared shuttle for this route. Check out this PDF file for more information.
If Mears doesn’t work out Super Shuttle is another shared shuttle option in the Orlando area with similar rates. They don’t have a standard rate spreadsheet like Mears does, but I priced a one-way trip from the airport to Universal using their shared shuttle service and it was exactly $19, like Mears.
Another shared shuttle option (it’s actually more of a bus) I will mention here is specific to people visiting Busch Gardens Tampa – and the best thing about it is that it’s free to anyone with paid admission to Busch Gardens Tampa. They offer this service through Mears, and offer multiple pick-up/drop off locations throughout the Orlando area. Check it out
Visiting Legoland? You’re in luck Legoland offers a shuttle for only $5 – $10 from the Orlando Premium Outlets on Vineland Ave.
Before you pay for a shuttle…
Something else to keep in mind before paying for a shuttle is that many hotels offer free shuttles to popular locations like SeaWorld, Universal Orlando, and Walt Disney World. Always check with your hotel first to find out what complimentary shuttles they offer. Keep in mind hotel shuttles are generally limited as far as departure times from the hotel and the parks, so plan accordingly. If you want the flexibility of coming and going as you please, a paid option is more likely to fit your plans.
This is probably the most familiar option for most people and is also relatively economical. Mears is once again the largest provider of taxis in Orlando. They have a fleet of over 600 up-to-date cars with GPS and even include a handy fare estimator to get an idea of costs. For a one-way ride from the airport to Universal Orlando, you’re looking at roughly $46.00. Depending on the size of your group this could be even more economical for you than the shared shuttle route because you pay per vehicle used, not per person.
Keep in mind that for transportation from major destinations like the airport or any theme park via taxi, you do not necessarily need to make arrangements in advance. At these major destinations there are always many taxis waiting to pick up guests. Please note that this is for taxi service. If you want another service, like a shared shuttle or towncar, you will definitely need to make arrangements in advance.
Finally, regarding taxis, use only metered taxis when at all possible. All of the Mears cabs (Yellow Cab Company, Checker Cab Company, and City Cab Company) are metered. If you have to use a non-metered taxi that is not one of the reputable ones listed previously, make sure you negotiate a fare beforehand; otherwise it’s likely you will be overcharged.
There are a number of options if you prefer to pay a little more for comfort while traveling around Orlando. Our recommendation is to use Orlando Airport Towncar Service. They have a great reputation and fantastic reviews, and I personally have had a great experience with their service. For pricing, a towncar for up to four passengers traveling one-way to Universal is $55.
Another option for luxury traveling around town is Tiffany Towncar. Their luxury sedans are a flat rate of $60 to Universal and I’ve heard only good things about their service. Many people are willing to pay the extra $10 – $15 for them compared to a taxi because of their stellar service and the comfort they offer.
Quicksilver Tours is yet another towncar company with a solid reputation.
Finally, if all else fails, Mears once again has a variety of options in this category, offering luxury sedans, vans and SUVs. For a one-way trip to Universal via luxury sedan is an estimated $66, for an SUV or van it’s $78.
Stop at the grocery store
Along with transportation, another big travel expense is food. That’s why a lot of guests prefer to rent accommodations with full kitchens, so they can prepare some meals and save money. But how do you get your fridge stocked if you don’t have a car?
MH Transportation is one of our favorite transportation services in the area because, included with the price of your service, your party gets to stop at any location on the way to your hotel for 20 minutes. That means, if you want to stop at the grocery store on the way to your hotel, you can easily do so. Currently they are offering transportation for up to four passengers one-way to Universal for $55.
Quicksilver Tours also includes a grocery stop with roundtrip transportation from the airport.
Charter Buses & Tours for longer trips around Central Florida
When making longer treks around Central Florida (Tampa or the Kennedy Space Center come to mind), charter bus tours are a great option for traveling. There are two major companies to consider when choosing this option:
Gray Line of Orlando is the option that probably receives the highest reviews. Starting at $99.00 you get round-trip transportation, tickets, and more for your visit to the KSC. They also offer tours and transportation to Cocoa Beach or Clearwater for around $75.00.
Florida Dolphin Tours offers comparable tours and rates to that of Gray Line for the KSC. Starting at $99.00 for adults and $89.00 for children this is another great option for seeing the KSC and has also received great reviews. They also have similar beach excursions like Gray Line for Clearwater & Cocoa Beach and they both are $75.00 for adults.
Always do the math
Finally, when deciding which transportation option is the best for you, it is really important to follow the math all the way through. For example, according to Mears website the shared shuttle service is $30 roundtrip for an adult from the airport to Portofino Bay Hotel. So, if you are traveling by yourself, that isn’t a bad price at all. However, if there are six adults in your group, that brings your total to $180. That’s a lot of money, and in fact, you can get a luxury SUV from Orlando Airport Towncar Service that seats up to six passengers for $170 roundtrip. So not only is the SUV option less expensive, but it also is a private service, so you don’t have to wait for other passengers to arrive and then make multiple stops on the way to your hotel.
So, be sure to run the math all the way through to ensure you’re getting the best price and value!