In this post, we discuss having a car at Walt Disney World, including parking fees, reasons to have a car, alternatives to having a car, and how having a car can impact your strategy for visiting the parks. If you’re wondering whether it might make sense to have a car at your next Walt Disney World trip, read on to get an overview of all the factors you need to consider.
Basics of Having a Car at Walt Disney World
We’ll start with an overview of what you need to plan for if you have a car at Disney World. If you’re undecided, our next section will discuss how you might evaluate the pros and cons of having a car.
Renting a Car for Walt Disney World
The most obvious way to rent a car for Walt Disney World is to rent from an agency at Orlando International Airport. We’ve never done this (and either way we would encourage you to read more than just our review of agencies). We recommend using Kayak for car rentals, but be sure to read reviews of specific agencies.
Alternatively, you might want to rent a car while on Disney property. This is especially worth considering if you just want a car for a short period to go off-property. We highly recommend checking out this MouseSavers list of rental options at Walt Disney World. That list is good for spots at Walt Disney World.
Disney World Gas Stations
There are a few gas stations at Walt Disney World, and even more off property. Here are a few:
Magic Kingdom Speedway (you can get here easily when parking at Transportation and Ticket Center, or you can get there by going around the parking lot via World Drive to Seven Seas Drive to Floridian Way)
Epcot Resorts Speedway (located just off Buena Vista Drive at Epcot Resorts Blvd)
Disney Springs Speedway (located by Disney Springs)
Disney Resort Parking Fees
If you’re going to have a car, besides gas and rental fees you’ll probably be paying for parking. We’ll cover Disney hotels here, guests of other hotels should check with their hotels about parking rates.
Guests of Disney hotels will have to pay an overnight parking fee if they have a car. Prices change every so often and are based on when you made your reservation, but we’re just going to give the current highest prices (as of July 2019):
Value Resorts: $15/night
Moderate Resorts: $20/night
Deluxe Resorts: $25/night
The Campsites at Fort Wilderness Lodge come with a free parking spot (guests of the Cabins have to pay for parking). DVC members do not have to pay for parking when staying at DVC properties.
We discuss driving to parks in much more detail below, but for now we want to note that Disney hotel guests and most annual passholders will not pay for parking at the parks. Other guests will have to pay at least $25 for standard parking at the parks.
Tips for Navigating Disney World
Google Maps is great but imperfect. We recommend using Google Maps to navigate Walt Disney World, but you should know that because different areas are accessible to different groups—Cast Members, security, regular guests, etc.—you’ll need to also keep an eye on the overhead highway signs to make sure you’re going the right way.
Follow the Purple Signs. If you stick to following the overhead purple signs, you’ll never leave the Disney World campus. This might not always be the fastest route to your destination, though.
You can’t drive directly to Magic Kingdom. As discussed more below, guests are not allowed to drive directly to Magic Kingdom, even just to drop someone off. You’ll have to utilize the Transportation and Ticket Center.
Should I Get A Car at Walt Disney World?
Now that we’ve covered what will go into getting and having a car, lets cover why you might want to have one or what you could do without one.
Reasons to Have a Car at Walt Disney World
Besides driving to theme parks—which we cover as a separate matter below—there are a few reasons you might want to have a car at Walt Disney World. Let’s discuss some of them.
Your hotel doesn’t have (good) transportation. This is the most obvious, but if your hotel doesn’t have good transportation to the parks or to the airport, you may want to get your own vehicle.
Save on ___ by going off property. From meals to merchandise, you can save money if you take the time to use your car to shop off Disney property.
Visit other theme parks (or other attractions). The most notable nearby theme park resort is Universal Orlando, but Busch Gardens is also a moderate drive away. Central Florida has several tourist destinations you might want to visit as part of your trip.
Getting between hotels. You’ll benefit from having a car if you have meal reservations at different hotels. While Uber/Lyft and Minnie Vans are also good options, the free option of taking Disney transportation between hotels usually requires a lengthy trip with a transfer at a theme park.
If you don’t have meal reservations, know that you may sometimes not be allowed to park at another hotel you’d like to visit. For example, the Boardwalk area has many good bars and restaurants, but the parking lots at the hotels over there are often closed to non-guests because of limited capacity.
Alternatives to Having a Car
Guests of Disney hotels have access to free transportation to all major destinations on Disney property and to/from Orlando International Airport (via Disney’s Magical Express). While Disney transportation can be time consuming, it saves you the cost and hassle of having a car.
Guests of other hotels will have to check with their hotels to see what their transportation options are. And always read hotel reviews to see what guests say about the transportation.
Additionally, if you’re thinking about bringing a car, consider whether you’d be better off using Uber/Lyft or Minnie Vans for your purposes. We have a guide to using Uber at Walt Disney World. We’re very comfortable with Uber and we don’t have to wait for a car with a carseat, so we’re a little biased toward that service.
Driving to Parks at Walt Disney World
One big perk of driving to Walt Disney World is that you can drive to and from the parks. Parking at the parks costs $25 for standard parking and $45 or $50 for preferred parking. Guests of Disney hotels enjoy free theme park parking as a perk of their stay. Most Disney World annual passholders also get free parking.
A few years ago I was a real sass about bus transportation at Walt Disney World. I still think it's far from perfect, but at least in my experience it has improved significantly. That said, you'll still occasionally see horror stories about incredibly long waits.
What's more, transportation problems are sometimes unavoidable. If you've ever tried to take the bus to a park about 45 minutes before open, you might notice the bus line goes from zero people to multiple busloads in just a few minutes.
The bus stops only accommodate one bus at a time. In mornings, you’ll usually have at least one mobility scooter per bus. It winds up taking a while to load these buses and get them to the parks.
Parking lots are scheduled to open one hour before the park opens, or 30 minutes before the park opens for a morning event (like Extra Magic Hours or Early Morning Magic). It’s common for them to be open before this scheduled time, though. In particular we’ve often arrived more than 30 minutes before Extra Magic Hours.
For these reasons, having a car makes it much easier to control your arrival time for rope drop at Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios. Relatedly, on most days these parks have pretty efficient operations at the end of the day, so you shouldn’t have an awful time getting out of the parking lot.
As for Magic Kingdom...
Driving to Magic Kingdom
Not all guests will be able to avoid driving to Magic Kingdom, but guests of Disney hotels have the option of taking a bus to the park, and we recommend they do that.
Magic Kingdom is a mixed bag when it comes to driving. It's the most popular park, which means you'll have the longest bus lines. This will particularly be true at the value resorts, which cater most heavily to families.
But driving to Magic Kingdom requires parking in a lot, taking a tram to Transportation and Ticket Center, then taking a monorail or ferryboat to the park. This equates to roughly 30 extra minutes of transit time.
So if you wanted to be at Magic Kingdom at 7:30AM (for an 8AM open), you’d probably want to leave around 6:45AM from most Disney hotels if driving. The thing is, most days the bus won’t have any sort of line 75 minutes before the park opens, so it’s usually going to be easier to take the bus to Magic Kingdom.
At night, leaving Magic Kingdom is awful whether you’re taking the bus or driving. Drivers have to pack into huge lines for the ferryboat or monorail, while bus riders will be left waiting in long lines for buses.
The Bottom Line
Whether or not you have a car at Walt Disney World is heavily circumstantial. There’s really no clear cut evaluation that will apply to all families.
Top Reasons To Have a Car at Disney World
Gets you to and from the parks easily (except Magic Kingdom)
Gets you to and from other hotels (if applicable)
Easy access to spots off Disney property
Top Reasons Not To Have A Car at Disney World
Rental costs (if applicable)
Hotel parking costs (if applicable)
Theme park parking costs (if applicable)
Alternatives To Having A Car at Disney World
Free transportation provided by Disney and/or your hotel
Uber / Lyft / Minnie Vans
Personally, we draw the line at rental car costs, and we very rarely drive to Magic Kingdom from the hotels. When we have access to a car in Florida, we’ll use it for Disney World trips. We find the hotel parking costs to be worth the convenience of getting to Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios, along with any meals at other hotels.
But if we’d have to pay for a rental car, we just don’t find it to be worth it. If you use Uber/Lyft or Minnie Vans for urgent transportation and just “bite the bullet” with free transportation otherwise, you’ll usually be able to find a sweet spot of convenience and price.
All Your Other Disney World Planning Questions Answered
Don't be overwhelmed by Disney World planning! Take a second to check out our most important content and you'll not only be an expert, but you'll save big $$$ along the way.
Just starting out? Check out our Walt Disney World planning guide! If you're still picking dates, we've got everything you need to know about Disney crowd calendars. For picking your hotel, check out our Walt Disney World hotels guide.
When it comes time to book, we've got you covered with posts on how to book cheap flights, how to get the best deal on your Disney hotel, and where to find discount Disney World tickets. And of course everyone wants to know whether or not they should get a dining plan—check out our Complete Guide to Disney World Dining Plans!
Don't forget to master your Disney World FastPass+ strategy a few months in advance. We'll keep you out of long lines so you can maximize the magical time in the parks! We've got park-specific guides as well: Magic Kingdom FastPass, Epcot FastPass, Animal Kingdom FastPass, and Hollywood Studios FastPass.
Know what to ride with our guides to: Magic Kingdom rides, Hollywood Studios rides, Epcot rides, and Animal Kingdom rides! Plus learn about the water parks with our guide to Blizzard Beach and our guide to Typhoon Lagoon!
Finally, before you head out, be sure to check out our to-the-point packing list, 10 essentials you forget to pack for every Disney trip. And if you're interested in saving, there's no better list than our 53 Ways to Save on your Disney trip from start to finish.