Car Rental Strategy for Walt Disney World
Things to Consider

Senior writer Mike Scopa shares his experiences with car rentals!

When putting together a trip to Orlando, it's normal for us to first think of where we'll be placing our heads at night. Will we sleep on or off Disney property? Also, if we sleep on the property, where exactly will we stay? There are so many options to choose from that sometimes we are torn among these choices. However, price is usually a driving factor in the decision.

We also think about the best way to tour the parks and that means what type of admission media to purchase. Ticket options and the thought of purchasing an Annual Pass may also be driven by not only price but what benefits can be realized by each choice.

The food budget is always up there as a priority. This budget line item is usually driven by the type of restaurants planned for the trip and the dining frequency of the travelers.

Of course all this happy vacation time cannot take place until you arrive at Walt Disney World and that means deciding your means of travel. For some, the thought of driving to Orlando has great appeal because it offers the opportunity to not just save on airfare but to also avoid the need to rent a car while visiting Mickey and friends.

But let's talk about one of the most overlooked expenses in a Walt Disney World vacation -- the decision regarding whether to rent a car.

What about those folks who don't have the extra time to drive to Florida? They get there by flying and may feel the need to rent a car. What options do they have?

Arguments for renting a car are as follows:

  • It will save time. This is true in most cases when you want to zip from one park to another or if you want to visit a special resort or visit DownTown Disney.
  • It is more comfortable than Disney Transportation. Well, you cannot argue with that because you'll always have a seat, something you cannot guarantee on a monorail, boat, or bus.
  • It allows for flexibility. Yes, it does because you can go anywhere you want at anytime, even off the property without being at the mercy of a transportation schedule.

Of course let's look at some arguments against rental cars where you will hear guests say:

  • I don't want to have to drive while on vacation. This is true for some folks because they don't want to worry about parking and gas and all that jazz.
  • I like the buses because they take me right up to the front of the park. Well, sort of. You are closer to the front of the park and do not need to take a tram from the parking lot. This argument is best made for the Magic Kingdom.
  • It's too expensive. For the price of renting a car for a week I can buy either admission media or have several nice meals. But what is expensive? Also, how much do you value your time?

That last item is the one I want to focus on because it is not necessarily true.

Since the first time I rented a car in Orlando back in the 1970s, I have learned that patience and research go a long way toward getting the right deal for rental cars when visiting Mickey and friends. I'd like to share what I've learned. Keep in mind that most of these "lessons" have come within the last several years.

  • Big savings come in little packages. What does this mean? Simply that when you rent in Orlando try to rent the smallest size car you can. Why? Well, besides the lower rental fee per day, you will also realize savings on gas, and gas is not cheap these days. Renting the smallest car you can is not always the cheapest vehicle to rent. In late 2005 and in early 2006 I rented a mid-sized SUV for less than I could have rented a smaller vehicle. It's always good to check. Also, the smaller the car the quicker the air conditioning can do its work during those hot, summer months.

  • Join the club. Many of the car rental agencies offer free club memberships (such as Quicksilver for Alamo and Emerald Aisle for National) and in some cases, not all, you may get a great deal. However, it's the credit you get for renting with that agency that may pay off for you down the road. Being a member of these clubs in most, but not all cases, allows you to go from the plane and right to your car... a timesaver.

  • Are you picky? In the case of some car rental agency clubs you can go over to where the cars are parked and choose your car. It makes for a quicker and easier way to start your vacation. However, be careful, as some agencies will tell you which car is yours. I am hesitant to tell you which agencies do this because policies do change so please check with all the agencies before making your decision.

  • Online reservations. I love the fact that I can make my reservations online. I find it to be a game to find the best deal for my needs. Years ago, the further out you made your reservation the better the rates. Not so much anymore. For example, the day that I wrote this article, I checked to see how much it would cost to make a reservation one month in advance for a one-week rental of a compact car in Orlando. The price: $572. This was without any discounts. Making the same reservation one week in advance, with the same agency, the price was $316. Again, this is without discounts. So feel free to make a reservation in advance just to secure a car, but don't settle for the first price. Applying a discount could easily drop this price well under $300.

  • Discounts. Where do I start? The online sites offer deals, club memberships offer you deals, even airlines offer you deals. If you are a member of any organization, like AAA or AARP (my favorite) then seek out their discounts. Also, always check for the latest in rental discounts.

  • Discounts and more. Lately you will find many other "carrots" placed in front of your face to use this agency or go through this path to rent a car. Don't ignore them because although they may not always give you immediate benefits, they may pay off for you down the line. For example, Southwest Airlines one time offered me double Rapid Rewards Points if I rented my car through them with Alamo. I believe that after checking all the other discounts that it would cost me only an extra $30 for the entire rental by doing so. It paid off in other ways because it got me that much closer to a free flight later that year. This is just one example of how doing your homework and looking at what works best for you can help with your car rentals. Sometimes the cheapest is not always the best.

  • Pre-pay or not? I have never taken this option before but on my next trip I may strongly consider this option, especially if I can combine it with a relatively good discount. Not all rental agencies offer this payment option so you will have to check with each agency.

  • Pre-Pay Gas? With gas prices the way they are this is something I am paying more attention to these days. Gas prices fluctuate and maybe one of these days the convenience of not having to fill up the tank before returning the car will pay off. This comes down to what is convenient for the individual. If you have to fill up before returning the car then you need to take note as to where the gas stations are and build that "gas-up" time into your departure schedule.
  • Insurance. On one of my trips I returned to my rental car in Disney's Hollywood Studios guest parking lot to find a crack in my windshield. I immediately called my insurance company and they took care of this for me. It's important to know what your coverage gives you and in many cases your credit card company will cover you. Play it safe and check before you pick up the car and are asked if you want additional insurance.

I hope I haven't made renting a car in Orlando too complicated for you. The purpose here is to give you some guidance as to what works best. Keep these points in mind:

  • Determine which agency best serves your needs.
  • Join the car agency club to gain membership benefits.
  • Look for discounts everywhere.
  • Rent the smallest car possible.
  • Make sure you understand your insurance coverage.

Before I forget, here's some important information. Not every rental car agency is located at Terminals A and B at Orlando International Airport. Here is the list of those agencies at these terminals:

  • Advantage Rent A Car
  • Alamo
  • Avis
  • Budget
  • Dollar Car Rental
  • Enterprise Rent A Car
  • E-Z Rent A Car
  • Hertz Car Rental
  • L and M Car Rental
  • National
  • Thrifty

There are 14 other agencies that are near the airport, but they require a shuttle to get to these off-airport locations, and that takes time. If you would like to check these agencies, go to for the entire list.

Note that you can also find some car rental locations on Walt Disney World property:

  • The Walt Disney World Car Care Center houses both Alamo and National offices onsite. It is located near the Magic Kingdom and provides shuttles that will pick you up from any WDW hotel and take you to the Car Center to pick up your car.
  • The Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel is another location on property for both Alamo and National. So if you stay at this resort... catch my drift?
  • If you are in the military and stay at Disney's Shades of Green Resort, you have the option of renting from Hertz Car Rental, which has an office at that resort.
  • If you happen to stay at one of the hotels near Downtown Disney you may be interested to know which agencies are located nearby. Listed in the order of my preference they are:
  • National at Buena Vista Palace
  • Avis at the Hilton
  • Enterprise at Royal Plaza
  • Budget at Doubletree Guest Suites
  • Dollar at Wyndham Lake Buena Vista

This gives you some options, such as not having to drive to and from the airport, saving gas and maybe one day's rental. Be sure to check out car pick-up and drop-off at different Orlando locations for the best deal.

If you do rent at the airport and like to return your car with a full tank there are several Hess service stations on Buena Vista Drive where you can gas up. One is located across from Downtown Disney and the other is located a few miles up the road, close to Disney's Hollywood Studios. There is also one on the right side of World Drive as you exit the Magic Kingdom. These three locations are the most popular ones used by guests.

There are a few gas stations, including Hess, that you will find on your way back to the airport, and in recent years they have seemed to have lower prices than those on WDW property. These are good to know in case you want to make sure you are returning your vehicle with a full tank of gas.

As always, regarding whether or not to rent a car during your stay, which agency to go with, and other options, doing your homework will result in the best decision opportunities for you and will make for an enjoyable Walt Disney World vacation... something Mickey wants, too.

Happy motoring.



Dan Cotterell from Canada writes: Use the Disney bus from the airport to your hotel and as soon as you check-in call the car rental at Disney. They will send a shuttle over to pick you up, do the paper work and save approximately $100 over renting the same car at the airport. It is much more comfortable taking the bus from the airport than driving to the resorts (and no toll cost). Dropping your car off at the end of the vacation is easier and taking the bus back to the airport is much more convenient. When it is time to leave your resort you check out at 11 a.m., and the hotel will store your baggage. When you are approaching your departure time, you return the car and their shuttle will take you back to your resort and then you jump on the Disney bus. We have rented cars from the airport many times, but the last time we went we tried the above and it worked out very well. You also save the gas it takes to travel from and to the airport. Because we were able to keep the car well past check-out time, we went back into one of the parks, had a great lunch, went over to Downtown Disney, shopped, filled the tank up with gas. Then we drove over to the Magic Kingdom parking lot and dropped off the car. They dropped us off at our resort and everything went as smooth as clockwork. And because we were so close to every place we wanted to go we only used $14 in gas for a 10-day stay (we had an SUV for four people). We found that we would normally lose close to two days of our vacation because of check-in/out, and getting the car back to the airport on time.

Kim Brown says: If you will be renting a car while on your WDW vacation and flying, check flying into Tampa Airport. Twice we found that we saved so much money flying into Tampa vs. Orlando. We always rent a car when we go and the drive from Tampa to WDW was almost the same amount of time. Also, the airport seems much more low key.

Mike Nowicki emails: I take one more step when renting a car. Knowing for sure that I am headed to the World for a vacation, I immediately make a car reservation for the best deal I can find. Check back often after that as prices will fluctuate like airline prices (though usually not as much) and better deals can sometimes be had. You can cancel a reservation easily with no penalties if you find a better deal later.

Stephanie Lundgren Parker, Colorado, shares: We spent six nights at Pop Century Resort and then took the three-night Disney Cruise. The cost of Disney transportation from our resort to Port Canaveral was extremely prohibitive and the thought of loading all of our luggage onto a Disney bus to get to the "moderate" hotels to rent an Alamo car was unappealing! The solution came from Enterprise Rent a Car. Their advertising slogan is "We'll pick you up!" and that they did. I made our reservation prior to arriving in FL and then called the morning of check-out and they came to pick up my husband to rent the car. It was very convenient and did not cost anything additional. Thank you for all the amazing information about everything Disney, you made our trip the, "trip of a lifetime!" and I would not have been able to do it without you!