I get a lot of questions from people asking whether it's better to rent a car or use Magical Express. Like many things Disney, the answer is "it depends." This article will go through the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
There are three big advantages to Magical Express
- It's free
- It's easy - no need to pick up your bags
- It's generally stress free and kind of fun!
This is offset by three big disadvantages:
- Less flexibility during your trip, especially if you plan to head off of Disney property (for, say, a trip to Universal, Sea World, or NASA)
- A bit less flexibility on departure (Disney's return bus times are non-negotiable and are quite early for flights).
- It is only available for guests flying into Orlando International Airport (not Sanford), and only for guests staying at Disney resorts (and not the Swan and Dolphin resorts, either).
Renting a Car
Advantages to renting a car are:
- Flexibility. You can easily head to a grocery store, and you can drive to non-Disney destinations.
- Convenience - depending on the resort you're staying at, driving can sometimes be quicker than Disney transportation to some (not all) Disney destinations
- It's more expensive. Especially if you're a large group (renting a minivan or multiple cars), the expense can add up!
- It's one more thing to worry about and think about. Getting back to the airport involves another two steps (getting gas and returning the car)
So what do I suggest?
It really does depend on the group visiting Disney, and where they're staying. But here are some thoughts:
The resort you stay at makes a difference.
If you're staying at a monorail resort, then both Magic Kingdom and Epcot are easier (and more fun) to get to by Disney transportation than a car. A car is still (marginally) quicker to get to Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios, but most people spend more time (especially nights) at Magic Kingdom or Epcot. Also, f you're staying at an Epcot-area resort, then Disney transportation is quicker and more fun than driving to THREE of the four parks (all but Animal Kingdom).
However, if you're staying at a resort with only bus service to the parks (such as the All Star Resorts), then a car will be quicker and easier for transit to three of the four Disney parks (all but Magic Kingdom), so a car is more valuable there.
The ages of your traveling group makes a difference
Do you have younger kids? It may not make sense to drive - you need to walk more in the parking lot (or wait for a tram). Disney transportation drops you near the front of the park. In addition, Disney's Magical Express from the airport is considerably more "fun" for a kid than a drive in a rental car - rather than wait for luggage and then wait in a rental car line, you just head straight to the buses.
The size of your party makes a difference. I once planned for an extended family trip with over fifteen people - they used Magical Express and loved having everyone on the same bus heading to Disney together at the same time - much more fun than being in four cars - it felt like the vacation started sooner!
Whether you want to rent a car or use Disney's Magical Express as transit from the airport on a Disney trip is a decision that depends on a lot of factors. It is best to consider what makes the most sense for your group. If you're a group of 15 people with young kids staying at the Bay Lake Tower and focusing on the Disney parks (especially the Magic Kingdom), then a car makes no sense. If you're a couple of adults staying at the Art of Animation Resort who want to visit Universal for two days, then a car definitely makes sense. Most people won't be at those extremes, and will have to make a decision after weighing the advantages and disadvantages of renting a car vs. Disney's Magical Express. Ultimately, it all depends on your own needs!