No matter what people say, Disneyworld aka WDW absolutely cannot be compared to Disneyland in Anaheim. Orlando was never designed to compete with its California cousin. WDW is a monster so to speak. Disney owns so much land that less than 25% of it has actually been developed. You may be surprised to learn that Orlando may be more cost effective to visit than Anaheim.
Orlando International Airprot (MCO)
If you are traveling to Florida, odds are you will be flying into Orlando (MCO). Orlando is the closest airport to the major tourist attractions in central Florida: Universal Studios and Disney World. Flight deals to Orlando can be extremely competitive; you will just need to be aware of booking your trip well ahead of time.
I have found in the past as a West Coast person that the best deals are often the red eye flights from jetBlue, or Alaska (formally Virgin America). If you are looking for a direct flight, United seemed to be one of the better options. It will cost you a lot more. Time may be a consideration and may be worth the extra fees. If you don’t mind stopovers, Southwest is my pick!
If you are East Coast based, American and Delta have many flights that connect in from their hubs (ie: Atlanta, Houston, Charlotte, etc.) at great prices. jetBlue as a New York hub based airlines would be my personal pick. I love that even though they are a budget carrier, they give you full sized snacks and drink service.
What about international carriers? Well, MCO is one of the largest airports in the South. Orlando International is the gateway to South America. I can say with confidence that most major international carriers will have at least 1 flight per day into Orlando. Off the top of my head, I remember seeing British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Norwegian, Air Canada, West Jet, Aer Lingus, Lufthansa, AeroMexico. There are probably more.
Transportation to WDW from MCO
Transportation all depends on where you are staying. One huge advantage Disneyworld has if you are staying on their property is that transportation to and from the airport is included in your stay. You are able to take the Magical Express straight to the lobby of your hotel. This wins me over every single time. I’m always super tired after a long flight. If you have a family this is something for you to consider.
The Magical Express is a bus service; it only requires you to have your basic hotel information available for them as you make your way to the ground transportation level. You check in with the Cast members who will direct you to the appropriate line to wait for your bus. It’s about a 30-45 minute ride from the airport to the resort property depending on traffic and how full they want your bus to be. For families, car seats are not required if you have a little one.
If you are are not staying on resort property, check with your hotel first to see if they have a complimentary shuttle. Many do! They are competing with Disney and want your business. If they do not have a shuttle, the next best option is to consider renting a car. WDW is extremely spread out and having a car will make getting around resort property a lot faster. Other transport options are shuttle and taxi. I’m not sure what there rate may be, but if you are traveling in a small group, it may be more economical.
Yes Disney property hotels are pricey, but you are paying for location. I have always stayed on property at WDW for convenience. The last thing I wanted to do was drive to my hotel at the end of the day when I was tired. Unlike Anaheim, WDW has a LOT of hotels to choose from. They are all within different budgets. I can usually only afford the All Star properties and that has suited me just fine. All I care about is a clean room and a bed at the end of the day. I spend most of my time at the theme parks.
Food is not included in your stay, but one advantage that WDW has is that the food courts at the hotels are better priced than the theme parks and seem to have a decent variety of food to choose from. There is an option to do a meal plan if you book your stay as a package deal that I would do if I was with a family. I don’t tend to at at a lot of restaurants though; on my own I snack all day.
If you have a care you can drive to a grocery store, stock up on food and store it in your refrigerator. A lot of people I have traveled with stay at WDW for a week or more and this is the best food option for them. You can have groceries delivered to you.
If you are staying off property, check that they at least have a shuttle to the theme parks or to Disney Springs. You can get around using Disney’s free WDW bus service as long as you can get to one of these places. A friend of mine took Uber everyday to Disney Springs form their hotel, but it wasn’t worth it cost and time wise at the end of the day. They spent just as much on transportation as staying at a slightly more expensive off property hotel with a shuttle.
If you are looking into off property hotels, I’d recommend making sure you know if breakfast is included and the cost of parking if you have a car the nightly fee of parking can add up fast. Theme parks also charge for parking. It’s not cheap! Here is a link to the good neighbor hotels to get you started.
This is probably your largest expense after your hotel. There really isn’t a way around it. They type of ticket you purchase though is something to consider. First off, unless its summer, I would not recommend adding the water park option to your tickets. You will be tired enough after spending all day at one of the theme parks. Odds are that your hotel also has a pool. If you need a day away from Disney, then maybe add the water park option. There is a lot to do outside the WDW complex however.
How many parks will you visit in a day? I would only recommend a park hopper ticket if you have been to WDW before. The theme parks are so spread out and large that it can easily take all day to do one park. If you have been there before, then buy a base ticket and upgrade it when you get there. Upgrading later on in your stay will save you money.
How many days will you be going for? The longer you go, the cheaper it gets to go. If you aren’t sure, buy for less time and ugrade it there. You can’t get a refund for unused days. The best Disney does is allow you to use your ticket on non-consecutive days for up to 13 days after your first activation of the ticket.
Do you have a child under 3 Great! They are free. Don’t buy them a ticket! Do you have a military member in your family going with you? They get the best discount tickets of all. AAA offers discounted tickets too; it’s not much, but $5-10 can add up if you have a family.
The Theme Parks and Souvenirs
The best thing you can do to save money ahead of time if to have little souvenirs bought for your kids ahead of time. Have a homemade autograph book, your own pens, your camera, plush toys and maybe even a costume bought ahead of time. Yes, part of the fun is buying things there, but if you are proactive you can save a little before your child knows what they want.
The Bottom Line
WDW is a place that you will most likely visit at at least a week. If you are looking at the big picture at first glance it can be more expensive than California, but at the same time, flights and hotels can be a lot more economical. It all depends on how you look at it. Don’t rule anything out until you do your research. This post is intended to just get you thinking about all of the options available to you. Happy travels!