Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How Long Does it Take? - Orlando Airport to Walt Disney World

Have you ever seen the guy on vacation constantly scribbling away in his little notebook? Ever wonder why he's going through the trouble to do that? Well, I'm that guy. No, not "That Guy" from the Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor, but rather the guy who doesn't rely merely on recall to relive the events of his vacation, but rather on actual facts. Does it really matter that much? I'll leave that to others to judge, but for me I like having access to a reliable list of what I've done, when I've done it, and if anything noteworthy happened that I might want to remember later. It's great for remembering amusing moments or writing trip reports and it also provides me with data that help me make better decisions while planning and during future vacations.

One of the most common questions people ask when planning a Disney vacation is "How long does it take to __________?" This is the first in a series of articles in which I will share how long it takes me to do different things on my Disney vacations. In doing so, I will endeavor to answer that question of how long different activities will take. Getting from the airport to the Disney property seems like a good place to start.

So, how long does it take to get from Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World? Well, that depends. First let's make clear what we're measuring, then I'll note a couple different scenarios, and finally I'll share my experiences. If you aren't interested in my detailed explanations (the "long answer") and want to cut to the chase, then skip to the "Summing it Up" section at the end of the article.

I've measured travel time from the moment I step off the airplane until I park the car (or get dropped off by bus, cab, or shuttle) at my hotel (on Disney property). Alternatively, you could measure the time from the moment the plane touches down or arrives at the gate. You could also measure how much time until you set foot in your hotel room, until you bring all of your luggage into the room, or until you are ready to leave the room for your first activity after arrival, but I think that would measure more than just travel time from the airport (ie: how fast your plane gets to the gate, efficiency of baggage claim and rental car or shuttle pickup, or the speed of the hotel check-in process), so I've kept my measure simple. I'll talk about the time it has taken me from when I am first standing in the airport until I arrive at my hotel to check-in. I've completed that journey in as little as 1 hour 7 minutes and as long as 4 hours 45 minutes (though that involved a brief trip to Tampa before checking in).


Since I've started renting cars and not traveling by Disney's Magical Express (more on that below), my average time in the airport has been just over 45 minutes. My times have ranged from 30 minutes to 1 hour 18 minutes. The longest of those times stands out as an anomaly, as it included one of my longer waits at baggage claim and a lengthy delay while Avis ran out of rental cars and I had to wait until they found one for me. The only two other times I have needed more than 50 minutes to get through the airport involved a twenty minute wait to get to the rental car desk at Thrifty and a series of minor delays that added up to a long stay during a June trip.

Getting to baggage claim typically takes me ten to fifteen minutes, including the tram ride and a trip to the bathroom. I walk purposefully and relatively quickly, so the same trip took nineteen minutes when I recently traveled with my sister and her then nine month old son, however, part of this time was waiting for the gate-checked stroller after leaving the plane. Once arriving at baggage claim, there seems to be very little middle ground when it comes to my wait times. I seem to either get my bag within a minute or two or wait ten to fifteen minutes. I've never had a moderate wait (and fortunately, have not yet had a bag "delayed" or lost when traveling to Orlando).


Since rental car delays have been my biggest potential bottleneck, I'm a big advocate of rental car "express" programs that let you go right to the garage where a car is waiting for you. This doesn't always work flawlessly, but it cuts out waiting in line at a rental car desk and also lets you walk straight out to the rental car garage (which can save several minutes in Orlando's airport).

If you are taking Disney's Magical Express and do not require stopping at baggage claim, then I've spent as little as 30 minutes and as long as one hour in the airport. During the longer waits, the delay was either waiting in line to be sent to a bus or waiting on the bus for it to actually leave. I don't have enough experience to predict which scenario will occur, so I suggest making plans for the worst case scenario and being pleasantly surprised when you arrive sooner than you planned.

Even more unpredictable with Magical Express is when you will actually arrive at your resort. I've been the fourth stop and the first stop and that can make a big difference in your total travel time. When I was the first stop, my time from stepping off the plane until arriving at my resort was 1 hour 10 minutes. However, in other instances it has taken 26 - 32 minutes from when the bus stopped at the first resort until it arrived where I was staying. That has led to total travel times from getting off the plane to arrival at my resort ranging from 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 hour 51 minutes. Planning for an hour and a half seems reasonable, but two hours is a safer worst case scenario.


When driving, the speed you travel will have some effect on travel time, as more than half of your journey will be on the highway. If you wish to measure your driving speed against mine, then suffice it to say that I'm likely to neither be the fastest nor the slowest car on the highway, though I have, on occasion been known to violate the posted speed limit. You will also pay tolls along the way, so a Florida SunPass or E-Pass lets you pay those tolls without stopping. I have neither of those devices, but I do bring an ample supply of quarters to be ready with exact change. You also have the choice of two different routes from Orlando airport to Disney World. I've had my shortest trip to the parks taking the North Exit and using Interstate 4, arriving at Coronado Springs 27 minutes after leaving the airport. The I-4 route also saves a little money on tolls, but I've also had some of my worst travel times (more so returning from the parks) using this route, so I'm now wary of using the North exit when traveling near rush hour. My times have been more consistent when using the South exit and SR-417, generally a little over 30 minutes. SR-417 has exact change only lanes at its toll plazas and I'll usually zip through these, even when there is a substantial line of cars waiting for the other paid lanes. Also beware that the Osceola Parkway exit from SR-417 requires exact change (or a SunPass/E-Pass) for the 75-cent toll. Your GPS won't warn you about this.

Lately, my travel times have been longer as I generally stop for groceries on the way to my hotel. Having food for breakfast and snacks saves time and money and I like to save more time by stopping for food while I'm already "out" from my resort. If you choose to do this, then plan where you want to stop and familiarize yourself with the route before you leave home. Some of my longest trips from the airport have been when I decided I would figure out where to stop along the way, and then ended up taking unnecessarily circuitous routes to my destination. I now usually stop at the same SuperTarget right next to the highway, since I know how to get there, know where things are inside the store, and don't have to stray very far off course to make this stop. In the past, all of those factors have slowed me down. Now, on recent trips I've taken as little as 51 minutes to get from the airport to All-Star Music, even with a stop at Target. During my earlier visits when I wasn't sure where I wanted to stop, didn't know the layout of the store, and didn't have a shopping list (knowing ahead of time what you want to buy is a big time saver) my trips from the airport to resort ranged from just over an hour to 1 hour 32 minutes.


So what's the answer to the, "how long does it take to get from the airport to Disney World?" question? If you're taking Disney's Magical Express, then expect about 1 hour 30 minutes (though be prepared for a two hour journey). If you're driving, then 35 minutes is a safe estimate or 1 hour 30 minutes if you plan to stop for supplies along the way. However, you can shave at least twenty minutes, if not more, off that time if you pre-select somewhere along the way to stop and prepare your shopping list ahead of time. Having quarters for exact change may also save a minute or two during busy travel times, and selecting the right route during rush hour (usually SR-417) can be even more important.