| |

Should you have a car at Disney?

(This post may contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure.)

Should you have a car at Disney? Do you need one?

As a very experienced Disney vacationer – I visit Walt Disney World annually with my husband and two kids – I can help you answer the question “Should you have a car at Disney?” This will vary depending on where you start from and your individual travel preferences.

I'll spoil it all up front – I think having a car at Disney is a major bonus and also a timesaver, although perhaps not a necessity unless you are very short on time. 

This post was originally published in 2021 and was updated with current Disney transportation and parking information in March 2024.

Should you have a car at Disney?

Should you have a car at Disney?
Photo: Deposit Photos.

We live in the San Antonio area, so our Disney trips always start with an airplane ride. It's a 16+ hour drive for us. With stops, it would be a two-day trip for us. Each way. So, we fly.


Boy with mouse ears getting into Mazda CX-9
Walt Disney World offers robust transportation from the resorts to the park and from park to park but lots of people drive their own cars. Here's our experience.

Thinking of booking your own Walt Disney World or Disneyland California vacation?

Check out my partner, Get Away Today for the best deals and white glove service.

Meet the 2021 Mazda CX-9

Related: The Ultimate Disney Parks Packing List

I didn't drive at Disney until they nixed their free transportation from Orlando Airport

No huge secret, I was major butt hurt when Disney yanked their Magical Express bus service from Orlando International Airport – MCO in 2021. Yes, I know that was three+ years ago.

I swear I'm trying to get over it.


Even though post-Magical Express Disney means handing your own bags, it's pretty easy when you're driving. This is the entrance to Disney's Coronado Springs Resort's Gran Destino Tower. We rolled up, got a baggage cart (porters are available if you need assistance) and my husband parked the car while we went up to our room. Couldn't have been easier.

Shortly after Disney pulled the plug on the Magical Express, we had the experience of driving at Disney World. We partnered with Mazda to drive a CX-9 on our Florida adventures, picking up our loaner from the airport. While the process wasn't exactly the same as renting a car, the time and distance spent to get off the plane and get into a car was comparable so I hope this is helpful for anyone considering renting a car at MCO. 

My experience driving at Walt Disney World

Before my experience driving around Disney World, I honestly never paid attention to the traffic or the roads on the way to Walt Disney World Resort from Orlando International Airport. But, finding your way isn't a problem. We used Apple Car Play to navigate our route. The Mazda CX-9 model we drove had a built-in navigation system but we prefer to use Apple Car Play because it is what we're used to during our every day driving.

Depending on what Disney resort hotel you're staying at and the time of day, the drive from the airport is about 40 minutes. When you get near Walt Disney World, just follow the purple signs. If the signs say one thing and your navigation says something else, follow the purple signs. 

When we arrived at our resort hotel, we were directed where to park for check in. It couldn't have been any easier. 

Boy with Droid backpack going to the car after a day at Disney
Just a boy and his Droid backpack heading to the car at the end of a fun (long!) day.

Getting to and from the parks was pretty easy – again, follow the purple signs – but there was a learning curve getting to Disney's Hollywood Studios. We accidentally drove into the back lot area AND in a bus only entrance before getting where we were supposed to be. It was a little confusing but it all worked out.

In hindsight, it would have helped to look at a map versus just plugging the name of the park in to the navigation. 

When you drive through the park's gate, you'll verify that you're a registered resort guest. Since guests pay to park at the resort, this fee extends to parking at the theme parks. If you are not staying at a Disney resort hotel, you will pay for parking. 

Disney offers tram service to get from the parking lot to the entrance of EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. If you park at Magic Kingdom parking lot, the tram will take you to the transportation and ticket center where you can hop on a monorail of ferry to get to the park.

There is preferred parking available closer for an additional cost. The My Disney Experience App has a parking locator to help you remember where you parked your car at the end of the day. 

That's it! It was incredibly easy and I loved being on our own timetable. It was nice to be able to go when we were ready to go without standing in a line. 

We stayed at two different resorts during our most recent trip: Disney's Polynesian Village Resort and the new Gran Destino Tower at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort. From both locations, our drive time to the park was 8-10 minutes.

Reasons you might want to have a car at Walt Disney World

Staying off the Disney property

If you’re staying at a non-Disney resort, you’re on your own to get to the hotel from the airport. In general, the further from the parks you stay the cheaper rooms you can find. However, that means you're probably on your own to get to and from the parks each day. Make sure you factor in parking fees, time, and gas.

Extending your time in Florida

If you're checking out another Florida destination on your Disney trip then you'll definitely want to have a car. Aside from Walt Disney World, the Orlando area has Universal Orlando Resort, LEGOLAND Florida, SeaWorld and more.

You can also take extended day trips outside the Orlando area, such as The Kennedy Space Center in Port Canaveral or Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay. These two destinations are about an hour and a half from Orlando and you can easily use Orlando as a hub to check out these attractions. 

Using an alternate airport

Most people are going to fly into Orlando International Airport, MCO, but an increasing number of flights are going in to Orlando Sanford International Airport. If you’re really scoping out the best airfare or seeing other things in Florida outside of Walt Disney World, check flights into Melbourne or Daytona Beach.

If you are renting a car, make sure you crunch the numbers first. Alternate airports may have higher car rental rates than MCO so make sure the savings in airfare isn't costing you more in car rental.

You can also rent a car at Disney World. Alamo and National rent cars at Disney World. The Car Care Center is near Magic Kingdom. 

Super Quick Trip

I think there's never enough time at Disney World. The ideal trip length is five to seven days, but that's not always possible. When you don't have a lot of time, you might not want to spend it waiting on a bus. 

You still have to deal with traffic and parking and then walking to the entrance but you can generally get from place to place faster if you've got your own wheels.

If you’re spending a full week at Disney, waiting in line for a bus might be no biggie but for families who are trying to squeeze as much magic as they can into a couple of days, having your own car may be what works best for your family. 

Driving the Mazda CX-9 at Disney World was a win for us. It's comfortable – even though our park to park and resort to park trips were short – and it had plenty of room for our luggage. Plus it has cooling seats which is a must for Florida driving.

The 2021 CX-9 – An awesome third row SUV with a luxury feel

The basics:

  • Cost: There are five different trim levels available on the 2021 Mazda CX-9. Sport, Touring, Carbon Edition, Grand Touring and Signature. Sport starts at $34, 160 and Signature starts at $46, 805. Pictured here is the Signature AWD in Machine Gray Metallic Parchment. This particular fully loaded model is priced at $48,200. You can compare the different trim packages here.
  • Fuel Economy: Up to 20 MPG in the city and 26 on the highway. Expect to average about 23 MPG depending on what kind of driving you usually do. 
  • Safety Features: Standard safety features (the upgraded trim levels will have additional features) include advanced front air bags with seat belt-use, passenger-weight sensors, front side-impact air bags and side-impact air curtains with rollover protection, 3-point seat belts for all seating positions, anti-lock brake system with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, lane-keep assist child safety rear door locks and more. Check out the Mazda website for full specs and to build your own model. It's super fun to see all the options.
While we usually equate mid size crossover with mid size families, the Mazda CX-9 is sleek enough to appeal to lots of different people.

Who is this car for?

While I think any crossover with a third row screams “family car” this sleek looking ride will appeal to anyone who needs some extra room, although the appearance of the Mazda CX-9 is so posh, maybe it just whispers it. 

The second row captain's chairs are super roomy. Granted, my kids just graduated out of booster seats (which they are SO happy about) but there's ample legroom for adults in the second row if you need to transport other adults. I think the third row is a little small for most adults.  Climbing into the third row is a little bit of a squeeze but it works in a pinch. This would be fine for transporting extra kids.

If you have more than three kids, I wouldn't recommend this as an everyday car but it's great for a two kid family. We were super comfortable during our week driving the CX-9 and would consider buying this model in the future. 

I really liked the ease of configuring the third row and the rear cargo space. We didn't – and generally won't – use the third row but I like being able to change up the rear space easily. We had five suitcases – which is a LOT for us – plus four backpacks – and we had plenty of room. 


Let me know if you have additional questions about driving at Walt Disney World or the Mazda CX-9. I hated to leave both!

Easy to drive and park. Lots of room inside. Comfortable. And, COOLING SEATS – A must for Florida!



If you are looking for a roomy third row, this is really it. The seats were narrow and unless the second row is pushed far forward, there's not much legroom. That said, most mid-size crossovers' selling point isn't going to be the roomiest of third rows.


This is the second row pushed all the way forward. It's still a little bit of a climb to get into the third row.


We had four small suitcases like this one plus a larger bag plus backpacks. There was still lots of room.


More Disney Planning Articles:

Six Reasons to use a Disney Vacation Planner

Disney World Do-Overs

Six reasons to do Disney without kids

More Florida Travel Ideas:

Hammack Beach Resort (near St. Augustine)

How to plan a trip to Destin

Southwest Airlines flies direct to Bradenton/Sarasota from these four cities


Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. I love the cargo room in the 2021 Mazda CX-9. Good to know about the travel/transportation restrictions at Disney World. I think renting a car is the better option.

  2. So if things were “normal” at Disneyworld with busses running regular schedules etc, would you still want a car at Disney? We’ve always driven there but used Disney transportation to/from parks.

    1. Hard question to answer for me personally – but maybe! We would probably never drive to Disney World so if/when we do have a car there, it would be because we rented it and wouldn’t rent a car to leave it sit parked at Disney during our trip. I have never liked waiting in line for the buses, TBH.