Planning a trip to Mickey’s Florida home? I know a lot of families on the East Coast drive to Walt Disney World, but since I live in California, my only reasonable option is to fly. Even if you live closer to Orlando than I do, there are often good deals to be had so it is sometimes equally cheap to fly – even for families of four or more.
Before you book your flight and make your trip, it is important to be prepared, especially if you are taking a trip to Walt Disney World for the first time or don’t fly often. Here are my very best tips for flying to Walt Disney World.
Flying to Walt Disney World: Planning & Arrival Tips
1. Check all your airport and airline options.
Traveling to Walt Disney World is always better when you’ve gotten a good airfare deal to Orlando. To do that, you need to know the full range of air travel options available to you.
Most people fly into Orlando International Airport (MCO), but have you ever checked alternate airports? Orlando has a second smaller airport, Sanford International (SFB), that could work. It’s only served by a few minor airlines (most notably low cost carrier Allegiant as well as quite a few charters). There’s no Magical Express transportation, but deals do pop up. Another option is Tampa International Airport (TPA), which is only about 1 1/2 hours away.
For those less experienced in booking flights, remember that Southwest Airlines flights are not listed in airfare search engines like Expedia, Orbitz, Hipmunk, and others. You need to go directly to Southwest.com to search for and book Southwest flights. Southwest is one of the largest carriers into MCO, so don’t miss out on some of the best potential deals by forgetting to run a separate search!
2. Prepare your kids (and yourself) for flying.
I know most families don’t fly quite as much as my crazy family does, so a trip to Walt Disney World may very well be your child’s first time on a plane. With a little preparation, the vast majority of kids do quite well. If you think your child might be a nervous flyer, read a book or two about flying and talk about what they will see and experience.
As a flying parent, I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to be prepared, especially if you have younger kids. This means having the equipment and supplies you need to make flying with kids a success. Pack plenty of snacks and entertainment (electronic as well as old-fashioned tech free options). I have dozens of posts that cover all aspects of flying with kids so give a few of these a read:
- Top Tips for Baby’s First Flight
- 5 Essential Things to Do the Day Before Flying with Kids
- How to Survive Flying with a Lap Toddler
- The Ultimate Diaper Bag Packing List for Air Travel
3. Plan for the Magical Express EARLY.
Disney World offers free ground transportation to all guests of Disney hotels, called the Magical Express. The Magical Express is a full size bus that goes from the airport to your hotel (each bus can have up to 4 stops at different resorts). The best part of the Magical Express is that your luggage is taken directly from the plane to your hotel room meaning there’s no need for you to stop at baggage claim.
For that magic to work, you need to get vouchers and baggage tags that you will put on your luggage before you leave home. And Disney usually needs at least two weeks to get those to you. Be sure to request them early (via your My Disney Experience online account). Otherwise, you can still take the Magical Express but you have to handle the intermediary step of retrieving your own luggage.
4. Evaluate your other ground transportation options.
Not everyone likes to ride the Magical Express and it is, of course, not available for guests staying in non-Disney hotels. Be sure you are educated on the best alternative ground transportation options at MCO before you arrive.
Most guests rent a car, since car rentals can be quite cheap in Orlando. The car rental counters are located in airport and picking up and returning a car at MCO is about as easy as it gets for a major airport.
Taxis and shuttles are another option, although at about $60-70 to Walt Disney World, they are pretty pricey. For those of you who are ride-sharing fans, Uber and Lyft are FINALLY allowed to pick up curbside at MCO as of July 1, 2017. You’ll save a bundle over cabs using a ridesharing service and can even get Uber car seat service if you are traveling with little ones.
If you have kids ages 5 and under, be sure you’ve planned for car seats as Florida law requires them. See my post Do I Need a Car Seat for Disney World to evaluate your options.
5. Pack a full change of clothes for everyone and any other essentials in your carryon bag.
But there’s an additional reason to pack a quality carryon bag. If you are taking the Magical Express, it usually takes several hours for your bags to be delivered to your room.
This means you should carry the basics that you need with you in your hand luggage. Think: medicines, clothing changes, baby supplies (diapers, food, formula), and bathing suits if you plan to hit the hotel pool while waiting for check in time. If you plan to visit the parks right away, make sure you have your Disney daypack packed and with you!
6. Know where you need to go upon arrival.
MCO is a fairly easy airport to navigate, but I always recommend taking a look at the airport map before your trip to save time. You do want to get to Walt Disney World as fast as possible upon landing, right?
There are four separate sets of gates each connected to a central airport building by air trains. This central building is separated into the Terminal A and Terminal B, which are really just opposites sides of a long rectangular building. Luggage claim is on the lower levels of both Terminal A and B, so check which terminal your airline uses before heading down the escalators.
Note particularly that the Magical Express departs only from the lower level of Terminal B. There are, however, car rental counters and taxi pickups in both the lower levels of Terminals A and B so no need to change terminals after you get your bags to make other ground transportation connections.
Flying to Walt Disney World: Departure Tips
If you plan to take the Magical Express from your Disney resort to MCO, make sure you have all the details you need in place. Assuming you have entered your return information online when you made your original reservation, you will receive a departure time notice under your room door the day before you leave. Usually the bus will depart about 3 hours before your flight time. If you don’t get it, call! Otherwise you may not have a reservation.
On departure day, be sure to make your bus. If you miss it, Disney may not accommodate you on the next one, meaning you’ll be stuck taking a cab or transportation of your own.
8. Plan for traffic (& getting gas).
If you are driving a rental car or taking a shuttle or taxi to the airport, be sure to give yourself enough time for contingencies. While Orlando traffic isn’t terrible compared to some major metropolitan areas, Orlando does get its fair share of traffic jams. Give yourself extra time. And definitely be sure to leave a few extra minutes to fill up on gas and return your rental car.
9. Be prepared for long security line on departure.
Orlando has some of the most notoriously long TSA lines in the country. If you are departing at the end of a peak holiday weekend, they can be quite bad. Leave extra time.
I luckily have a service called CLEAR that worked like a charm in Orlando for cutting the lines, but it is pricey and probably out of reach for infrequent travelers. If you do have it, then you will get your money’s worth at MCO! Consider also getting TSA Pre-check and make use of elite lines, family lanes, or whatever other tricks you are eligible for to get through the crowds (see my guide complete guide for speeding through airport security for more tips!).
check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!
Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Blue | Disney 101 Loop:
- 1st Stop – My Pixie Dust Diary | Choosing a Resort
- 2nd Stop – Trips with Tykes | Tips for Flying to Walt Disney World
- 3rd Stop – Disney with Toddlers & Preschoolers | Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
- 4th Stop – Family Travel Escapades | Benefits of Staying on Disney Property
- 5th Stop – This Roller Coaster Called Life | Tips for Driving to Walt Disney World