For those of you who don't know the Orlando area very well and plan on renting a car from the Orlando Airport and driving yourself, the 528 (also called the Bee Line) that takes you from the airport to the theme parks or the beaches is a toll road, so have quarters or dollars ready for that.
If you are taking the 528 to the convention center or theme parks, you will pass through 2 sets of tollbooths, both cost 75 cents. If you have the exact change ready, you can go through the lane labeled with a blue sign that says "Exact Change". If you don't have exact change you will go through the lanes labeled with green signs that say something like "Change Provided".
If you accidentally run a toll without paying a photo will be taken of your license plate and it is possible that the expressway authority will send you a ticket for toll violation, but most of the time they let it go unless you have run the tolls multiple times in a short period of time.
Other toll roads in the area are highway 417 (aka the Greenway), the Florida Turnpike, highway 408 (aka East-West Expressway), highway 429. The toll prices differ depending which toll booth you are going through and how long you have been on the road.
with all the shuttles available (free or otherwise) maybe a car is not essential, but it certainly gives you that extra flexibility & independence; we picked up the car from Avis in town after we arrived - I didn't fancy negotiating my way out of the airport and then finding my way to the hotel on strange roads after a long flight
When flying into Orlando the best car/limo service is Happy Limo. They are very customer friendly and handle their business well. However, we advise those wanting transportation around Orlando to stay away from Quicksilver. They are not customer friendly and their prices are not all that great for what you get. They do not handle their reservations in a professional manner and when making mistakes it is the customer at fault not them. Even if you have to pay a few extra dollars make your vacation more relaxing by starting out with a customer friendly car service like Happy Limo.
Although most attractions are located near each other (e.g., Disney), you still need a vehicle to get around town. Plus, we ventured out to St. Augustine, Kennedy Space Center and Miami, so the car came in very handy.
driving at night is a nightmare if your from england as we are not used to the massive suvs and trucks that they have. because of thier size the headlights are so high that when they are behind you you cant see anything at all. next time ill hire one of those big jeeps. daytime no problems at all, its very easy to get around. dont let this put you off it is a fantastic place to go and we cant wait to get back.
It might be a hassle and you might spend more time driving than in a bus, however to see everything the Orlando area has to offer you definitely need a car. Most hotels/motels/ offer shuttlebuses to the theme parks but you will be operating on their time schedule-not your own. and probably spend more time waiting around for the buses than necessary especially if you are visiting in the summer time during the height of heat and rain. Anywhere in Florida is not the place to be without a car as you are in a definite disadvantage.
If you don't have a vehicle and don't want to spend a lot of money on taxis, you might want to consider renting a car. We stayed in the Orlando area for a week, so my parents rented a car that we used for getting to and from the hotel and the places that the resort shuttle didn't go to (shopping, etc). Dad rented it in advance and we picked up the car when we arrived at the airport.
You will find that when you go to any of the theme parks in a car, that the car parks are immense. It is always best to take a note (preferably written) of where you parked your car.
All of the lanes are named and numbered, so it is easy to remember where you parked.
At the disney parks they have small road trains to transport you to and from the car park, and will drop you off close to your parking zone.
In addition to this if you have any trouble either finding your car, or have trouble starting it, then there are mobile attendants who will always assist you.
I found that it is really necessary to have a car here.
Although it can seem quite expensive to hire one after all the different insurance bits and pieces have been included, the benefits certainly outway the costs.
Around the Lake Buena Vista/Kissimee area there are few side walksand there is little transport apart from taxis and this can get quite expensive. plus with the car you have a lot more flexibility on times of travel and destinations.
A lot of hotels have courtesy transport to and from the theme parks but the timing of these is a little restrictive, plus if you want to go outside to the space centre or across to the other coast then a car is a must.
While there have been some horror stories of people with cars, I think that if you follow the guidelines given by all of the hire companies then you wont go far wrong.
We have been 5 times now with no unpleasant after effects.
The one thing that did surprise me was that the drivers over there seemed to be more courteous and patient than in the uk. If you get in the wrong lane, put your indicator on and someone will always let you in. In England forget it. i really feel that it was easier to drive there than at home, but then again it aint New York.
One thing to remember is to have plenty of change for the toll booths, its quicker.
The best thing we did was ride the free WDW park buses between the different hotels and visit the Grand Floridian and Wilderness Campgrounds, among other places. Without that shuttle we never would have seen the petting zoo, found out about the hayrides, seen the wedding pavillion, etc. We also rode the boats between the hotels on the main lake - lots of fun and free!
Now we know way more about the hotels than a guidebook or webpage could tell us, and we know where things on WDW property are - without having to drive around ourselves.
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